Morton West High School


Mr. Glazik presents:


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One of Zhu Isao’s last sessions was a discussion of what purpose the study of history might have, and how it might help them now in their current predicament.


Zhu was tentative in this matter. “It may be no help at all,” he said. “Even if we gained a complete understanding of what happened in the past, it might not help us. We are still constrained in our actions in the present. In a way we can say that the past has mortgaged in the future, or brought it, or tied it up, in laws and institutions and habits. But perhaps it helps to know as much as we can, just to suggest ways forward. You know, this matter of residual and emergent that we discussed--- that each period in history is composed of residual elements of past cultures, and emergent elements that later on will come more fully into being--- this is a powerful lens. And only the study of history allows one to make this distinction, if it is possible at all. Thus we can look at the world we live in, and say, these things are residual laws from the age of the Four Great Inequalities, still binding us. They must go. On the other hand we can look at more unfamiliar elements our time, like China’s communal ownership of land, and say, perhaps these are emergent qualities that will be more prominent in the future; they look helpful; I will support these. Then again, there may be residual elements that have always helped us, and need to be retained. So it is not as simple a matter as “new is good, old is bad.” Distinctions need to be made. But the more we understand, the finer we can make distinctions.”


-Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt (2002), 740