March 22nd, 2011

don't fear death

The Gray Zone

We also tend to simplify history; but the pattern within which events are ordered is not always identifiable in a single, unequivocal fashion, and therefore different historians may understand and construe history in ways that are incompatible with one another. Nevertheless, perhaps for reasons that go back to our origins as social animals, the need to divide the field into “we” and “they” is so strong that this pattern, this bipartition—friend/enemy—prevails over all others. Popular history...is influenced by this Manichean tendency, which shuns half-tints and complexities; it is prone to reduce the river of human occurrences to conflicts, and conflicts to duals—we and they.... The desire for implification is justified, but the same does not always apply to simplification itself, which is a working hypothesis, useful as long as it is recognized as such and not mistaken for reality. The greater part of historical and natural phenomena are not simple, nor simple in the way we would like.


Primo Levi, taken from his essay “The Gray Zone.”