The politics of history. I’ve touched on this before – in the past most people could assume that the people they encountered would share the same basic assumptions and attitudes to life. Not that they all agreed with each other, but that the terms of disagreements, too – even war – came from the same shared background.
For example, whether or not you are religious, Christianity has for the last 1600 years or so, influenced almost every aspect of European life – not just directly religious activity, but politics, art, family life, pretty much everything. It isn’t really possible to understand the history of Europe without knowing something of Christianity; and European art, literature, politics are full of references to stories which were simply the background to everyone’s life.
I expect there are still some people who are surprised to learn that Christian Europe is not the centre and entirety of the world, or indeed that it ever really was. Take a look at Peter Frankopan’s excellent and revealing history, The Silk Roads https://www.amazon.co.uk/Silk-Roads-New-History-World-ebook/dp/B00XN8UG3C/ but in general it’s unquestionably good that our lives are no longer so narrowly confined in this way. However, it does mean that it is much harder to find a common place of understanding. And even easier to retreat into the few certainties that we do have, and to condemn those who do not share your views.
I was about to say “I’m not talking about statues and colonialism” but I think that actually I am. The culture wars in Britain over whether pulling down a statue equates to rewriting history are at heart a discussion of what “history” is. History is political. It is always political. Because the stories you tell yourself about your past are the foundation of what you believe to be your place in the world now. What you believe to be the truth depends almost entirely on what you believe to be the salient facts. Who defeated Hitler? Lonely Britain? America? The Soviet Union? Or Hitler himself?
I began this by implying that we’ve lost a common ground – for good or ill. Now I see that we’ve never really had a common ground. The answer, though, is not to construct a new one by force or by wishful thinking, but to understand that others think differently, have different perspectives and ways of seeing, and that we should navigate our way through the world accordingly – to see what other people see.
Is this about writing? Of course it is. Because writing is about life. Stories are about truth, and nothing that is simply one-sided can be true.