True history is remarkable and complicated with incredible characters and eccentrics who, most of the time, made things up as they went along. History looks back at events and finds patterns of behaviors that seem to line up as if it was all a carefully planned campaign. It never was. The present is chaotic because the effect of decisions can never be predicted with certainty. If it could, then leaders would have been ahead of the COVID response rather than always reactive. In America, we just had the July 4th celebration. Okay, I’ll come out and say it; I’m not too fond of July 4th, Independence day in America. My main reason is the damn fireworks. I’m an animal lover, and I suppose an animal rights activist of sorts, and most animals are terrified by fireworks. I know when and where the organized displays are, and I can prepare the animals for that, but some people set their own off at the most inappropriate times and in ridiculous places and without warning. Animals don’t understand what is happening. They are petrified. Have you ever questioned why we humans love firework displays?
I researched it. It all has to do with our senses, and a part of our brain called the amygdala, a little ball of nerves that detects fear. Yes, fear. Humans love to fear, but only if it is controllable.
Advertisers, new program producers, and firework manufacturers understand this, as do politicians. Like lightning, fireworks warn us of something. First, we see the flash because it travels to our brains at the speed of light, and then sometime later, after a moment of fear, we hear the boom. The light flash triggers the amygdala, and it releases dopamine which feels good to us and flows until we get the resulting boom. Dopamine regulates pleasure. Ironically, the quick dose of fear is like a pleasure drug. I suppose that’s the same reason so many people are addicted to fearful news headlines. Fireworks shorten the fear duration because there are constant flashes and constant bangs, so we get a squeeze of dopamine every few seconds. Our brains love it. Interestingly, I also read that fireworks synthesize new wavelengths of light. That causes us to go oooh and ahhh. The new wavelengths stimulate our senses in the air, but on TV and computers, the same displays do nothing for us because the technology cannot transmit the same wavelengths. A firework display is a drug to our minds, but only ours. So if, however, you are into letting off spontaneous fireworks, please reconsider because of the terrifying effect it has on most animals. This year I was invited to Pageant of the Masters opening night, a world-renowned unique art show in Laguna Beach, California. It was a beautiful balmy evening, and I was privileged to spend it with some extraordinary friends. First, there was the spectacular pre-show picnic. One of our group is a volunteer actor in the show. One minute he was drinking wine with me in his casual clothes, and the next, he was a grey marble statuesque Hiawatha on stage. The transformation was quite remarkable. The group I was picnicking with attend this event every year and are used to the experience. For me, this was my first time. I got a considerable dopamine rush, and I did a lot of oohing and ahhing. This year’s theme is Made in America, and over a couple of hours, the narrator took us through a carefully plotted heroic history of this great continent. He had a deep, resonant voice and was quite captivating, but of course, the narration itself was a sort of dumbed-down version of historical events. I know why they do it. The goal is to excite the audience, and after a lengthy picnic, no one needs much encouragement to whoop and holler at the story of July 4th. But the truth is far more intriguing than the myth. Any successful independence from an oppressive power is something to celebrate. Back in the late 1700s, England was just such a tyrannical power under the influence of King George III, who some historians believe suffered from bipolar disease. Britain was at the center of the industrial revolution. It went about conquering impoverished countries and stealing their mineral resources regardless of massacres to achieve that. Nothing could get in the way of industrial progression. Marked by a series of military conflicts, King George’s life and reign involved much of Europe and places farther afield in Africa, the Americas, and Asia. The disputes were over who got to plunder the most resources. I can dumb down history too. Britain defeated France in the Seven Years War, becoming the dominant European power in North America and India. France wanted revenge. Just like a famous new company that expands too quickly and ends up mismanaging cash flow into bankruptcy, with all its wars England’s treasury was depleted. To help pay for its campaigns in India, Britain tried to lay heavy taxes on the colonists in America, but no representation allowed for the colonists back in the British parliament. That’s tyranny in anyone’s book. The colonists were outraged, but only after French Ambassador Benjamin Franklin stoked them into outrage. This allowed France to manipulate an uprising and open up a second front in America. If the history of wars shows us anything, fighting a war on two fronts never ends well, especially when the distance between continents is so great. One wrong decision after another by the British leadership, we now assign nostalgic names, like the Boston Tea Party, which the narrator at the Pageant mentioned as an actual party with images of noble militants throwing chests overboard. The party in the term is a party of men, and they were far from noble. The tax levy was essentially a British government bailout of the British East India Company, which was hemorrhaging money and weighed down with unsold tea. Its most prominent investors were British aristocrats. History repeats itself. It was no different than a government bailing out a stressed bank-owned primarily by wealthy financiers. The Tea Act allowed the company to unload 544,000 pounds of old tea, commission-free, on the American Colonies at a bargain price.
Cheaper tea sounds good, but for the ‘Sons of Liberty,’ many of whom were merchants and others tea smugglers — the Tea Act smelled like a ploy to get the masses comfortable with paying a tax to the Crown. Even with the added tax, the tea was cheaper than the local mafia tea smugglers charged. The dumped tea into the harbor was not the Kings, as dumbed-down history books tell, but private property and the ships were American-owned. In today’s money, over $2 million of merchandise was destroyed, not as an act of rebellion, but by tea smugglers who wanted to protect their market. A lot of British aristocrats lost a lot of money, and they were out for revenge. France saw an opportunity.
If British Parliament had not reacted, America would likely not have become independent at that time. But the aristocrats convinced mad King George to pass what is known as the Intolerable Acts or the Coercive Acts, a series of punitive measures meant to teach the rebellious colonists who were boss.When French insurgents had successfully whipped up a fervor of indignation, Britain raised a new mercenary army formed mainly of Irish poverty escapees and prisoners to restore order. King George promised Ireland independence in return. That never happened, and as history repeats itself, the same promises were made and broken in other conflicts, including World War I. Britain sent ships of amateur soldiers to the colonies. Talk about chaos and bumbling leaders. 25% died on the Atlantic crossing from seasickness, 25% were incapable of fighting for a month after landing due to various illnesses and malnutrition, and 25% absconded because they didn’t want to fight their cousins. They sold their weapons and uniforms to the rebels and became colonists themselves. History is also funny at times.
Why mention all this? Firstly, very few independent historians exist, and independent history is much more interesting than the dumbed-down versions spewed out in schools, media, or even an art show. Wouldn’t it have been cool if the Pageant also took the risk of challenging the common thinking?
Secondly, when I study actual history, it arms me to see the cracks in the dumbed-down news spewed at me in the present. My parents always told me never to take anything at face value. They had lived through a terrible war and, in hindsight, recognized how they were manipulated by newspapers, newsreels, and war propaganda to believe things that later turned out to be a fabrication.
This period we are experiencing, called by some sages The Great Age of Transformation, will also become history. In hindsight, the leaders will be reported to have made acts and decisions that were influential, genius, or catastrophic. Others claimed as heroes and villains.
But we are living it now, so we know the truth. It is chaos. There is no plan. Everything is reactive. The present always feels chaotic. Everyone makes it up as they go along.
Observing this helps because we protect ourselves from being manipulated. We have a better chance of being freethinkers.
A version of this article is also published on medium.com