Simple stories, complex facts by Jeremy Henzell-Thomas

When I was studying history at ‘A’ level in 1964, our syllabus identified
1492 as the year in which ‘Modern History’ began, the year that Columbus
‘discovered’ the ‘New World’. I was not told that it was also the year in which Columbus, in his relentless search for gold and slaves, instituted shockingly cruel and genocidal policies in the Caribbean islands he had ‘discovered’, including the rapid decimation of the populations of indigenous Arawak Indians. Neither was I told that it was the year in which Muhammad xII, the last Emir of Granada, surrendered his city to the Catholic Monarchs after a lengthy siege, bringing to an end 780 years of relatively peaceful co-existence under Islamic rule in Al-Andalus. And no mention was made of the Alhambra Decree in the same year, expelling all Jews from Spain unless they converted to Roman Catholicism. Clearly, I was expected to assimilate the dominant ‘narrative’ from a Eurocentric perspective, a straightforward ‘story’ about modernity, progress and outreach as pivotal features of Western civilisation and hegemony.
In Deceit & Self-Deception: Fooling yourself the Better to Fool Others, Robert Trivers refers to ‘false historical narratives’ as ‘lies we tell one another about our past.The usual goals are self-glorification and self-justification… False historical narratives act like self-deceptions at the group level, insofar as many people believe the same falsehood’, unconscious of the fallacies that went into constructing  the narrative. In ‘The Power of False Narratives’, Robert Parry gives us an example in the defeat of a modest gun-safety bill in the US Senate which is ‘further vindication of Orwell’s cynical observation that “who controls the past controls the future” since the American  Right  has persuaded  millions  of Americans  that a false narrative about the Second Amendment is true.’ And Trivers is also surely right that ‘if a great majority of the population can be raised on the same false narrative, you have a powerful force available to achieve group unity.’
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