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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote egyptian goddess Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Historiography
    Posted: 20-Apr-2009 at 11:35

Here is a new topic for people to consider.

To start discussion on historiography, I'd like to begin with questions relating to the concept of postmodernism. So here is my discussion question:
 
To what extent can the denial of historical events, such as holocaust denial (by David Irving) be attributted to the rise of postmodernist condition?
 
Just curious to see people's views on this.
 
 


Edited by egyptian goddess - 22-Apr-2009 at 10:27
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Parnell Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Apr-2009 at 12:45
Postmodernists basically believe that history isn't really that important because very little can be proven, and what is or can be proven is simply shaped by those who leave behind the traces of the past (IE, State records) What I always find amusing is that in the early 1960s, very few postmodernists were historians and very few historians were postmodernists. Now it seems that most historians have adopted some aspects of the postmodernist debate. Thankfully postmodernism as a whole has been largely debunked as a vain and typically irrelevant intellectual innovation of the 1960s and 1970s.
 
Personally I'm from a traditional school of historiography. I don't really regard the 'purpose' of history as in anyway being too important (Except maybe as a guide to 'past politics'. Bringing to mind a great quote from Seely, "All history is past politics") but find its importance in its storytelling form. There are lessons in history but historians must be important in trying to allow the reader or listener to come to his own conclusion. History is an excercise in reason, especially when you begin to tackle primary source material.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Apr-2009 at 16:07
I agree with Parnell about postmodernism. It has indeed infiltrated into the writing of 'history' where it has failed as dismally as everywhere else.
 
On the question of the purpose of history I differ slightly, being essentially an economic historian seeking to derive knowledge that will help illuminate present and future policy. It's essential in economics especially because economics has gone so far off the rails in attempting to produce systems deduced from a priori assumptions regardless of the roots in reality or not.
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Edited by egyptian goddess - 22-Apr-2009 at 10:57
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Maharbbal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Apr-2009 at 13:24
I wouldn't have such a hard appreciation of post-modernism's influence upon history. Granted it led to a fair amount of senseless slightly hysterical debates and to the emergence of the Latino-studies, Afro-American studies, whateverelse studies, not mentioning the feminist studies, which are a gross loss of place on the library's shelves.

But people like Barthes and Foucault have also written and inspired a fair share of brilliant historians (granted mostly continental): people like Carlo Ginzburg (the Cheese and the Worms), or Daniel Roche (History of common things). Foucault himself has written several very interesting books (an History of madness and an history of prisons). The Italian microstoria and the French histoire sociale both come directly from post-modernism.

You may not agree with some of their conclusions, preconceptions or methodologies but they were pretty brilliant.

PS: not sure what this Windshuttle guy has to do with post-modernism, he sound more pre-modernist (archaic if you wish).


Edited by Maharbbal - 21-Apr-2009 at 13:29
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Knights Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Apr-2009 at 13:31
Keith Windschuttle is noted for being a hardline empiricist and outspoken opponent of postmodernism. He was involved in an intellectual debacle known as the 'history wars', I believe. He has written a lot surrounding the emergence of 'black armband' history in regards to the Australian Aboriginals. 

Edited by Knights - 21-Apr-2009 at 13:36

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Apr-2009 at 15:49
Originally posted by egyptian goddess egyptian goddess wrote:

I’m sorry Parnell but I don’t agree with your view that the purpose of the historian is not significant- I am glad that you acknowledge political purposes but I think it goes further than that have a read and I apologise its so long and almost reads as an essay LOL

 

My study of historiography has revealed that historians are indeed “people of their own time” (Carr), the context which they write in, influences their history.

Nope. It influences their view of history. It doesn't influence their history. For instance it makes no difference to whether they had measles as a child or not. Depending on their context they may think it a good thing they had it or a bad thing they had it but what they think makes no difference to whether they had it or not.
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While most historians have advocated that the purpose of history is to reveal and record the objective truth,
History has no purpose. It isn't the kind of thing that has a purpose. People and possibly other animals have purposes: history doesn't.
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Macintyre forms the argument that historians often manipulate facts to suit a culmination of political or national motivations.
Very true. Postmodernists do it all the time. Some policemen are corrupt: that doesn't mean law is a bad thing.
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This concept is particularly evident in the historical accounts constructed by Christian monk and historian Venerable Bede, whose primary purpose of constructing history was to propagate the bible and miracles performed by Christ and God to inspire Pagans to convert to Christianity. Bede essentially summarises his purpose in constructing history through his statement: “For if history records good things of good men … encouraged to imitate what is good…[the] reader is encouraged to avoid all that is sinful and perverse and to follow what he knows to be good and pleasing to God”.
That doesn't mean he distorted (deliberately or uncosciously) facts to bolster his message. He simply believed - naively possibly - that the way God worked in the world was that the truth would exemplify the good.
 
The Ecclesiastical History isn't all that reliable, granted, but it isn't because of his "context", it's because he had limited resources and access to evidence.
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Similarly, historian Edward Gibbon’s purpose for constructing history was essentially associated with serving his military and political motivations. This is reflected through his statement, “Wars and the administration of public affairs are the principle subjects of history”. Therefore Carl Becker was justified in stating, “we build our conceptions of history based out of our present needs and purposes”.
Again you are mixing up the purpose of the historian with history itself. Propagandists of course distort history, just as they do current events or evolution (or creationism for that matter). That makes no difference at all to the underlying reality.
 
Your mistake is similar to that of those who glibly assert "You can't believe what you read in the newspapers' or 'see on television' or whatever. Most of the time you c an believe what you read in newspapers. If Australia wipes out England in a 5-match test series all the newspapers report the fact. You don't get English patriotic papers claiming England won, or neutral countries saying it was a draw: you get the same scores in every newspaper that covers cricket.
 
Of course different people will have different explanations for the defeat (victory from Kights' point of view). But the history - the historical facts - are not subjective in the least.

Quote  

Consider the Australian Academic Keith Windschuttle’s history:

 

In his infamous “The Fabrication of Aboriginal History” (1997) it is apparent that a historian’s personal context or a nation’s ideology influences the selection of evidence in the construction of history.  This is evident as through my study I have discovered that while Windschuttle’s historical rival, Henry Reynolds’ histories were largely influenced by a period of Aboriginal recognition and reform, Windschuttle’s as part of a wider right-wing conservative campaign uses his history to justify contemporary decision-making, in that his history seemingly justified the Howard government’s refusal to support the Land Rights Movement and it’s reluctance to say “sorry”. Therefore, differing approaches to the construction of history is undoubtedly associated with the dominant political ideologies and purposes, as Robert Mane states, “sometimes the…historians of the disposition [have] and even more direct legal or political role”.

As Knights points out, none of that affects when the first fleet arrived in Australia: it doesn't affect either the fact that most of the Allied troops at Gallipoli were from Australia and New Zealand. There are many opinions about the gallipoli campaign, but for credibility they all have to marshal and conform to the same set of facts.
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Moreover, approaches to the construction of history changes due to the individual historian’s personal context, Keith Windshuttle appeared to posses a level of abhorrence towards the Indigenous Community of Tasmania as evident by his views that the Tasmanian Aboriginals were “violent, treacherous, bloodthirsty, cowardly and godless” (Cited in Macintyre).

That's an opinion. At least the first four adjectives are: the last is a fact that should be testable against the record. They either had gods or they didn't.
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Moreover, in the History Wars Stuart Macintyre quotes Windshuttle stating, “You can’t really be serious about feeling sympathy for someone who died 200 years ago”. This therefore calls into question whether you can really say that pthe purposes of the historians don’t matter when reading history. Essentially, Carl L Becker is accurate in stating, “we build our conceptions of history based out of our present needs and purposes”.
What does anyone's 'present needs and purposes' have to do with the Battle of Hasting being fought in 1066 and even won by the Normans? Saying that whether or not the Normans conquered England under William I depends on the context of the historian saying it is simply ludicrous.

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Clearly then, the purposes and aims of history, which are constantly changing to conform to each epoch’s social and political ideology, is imperative when considering the construction of history or reading history- whether you agree with the postmodernist stance or not.

History has neither purpose nor aim, any more than the moon has a purpose going around the earth. I'm not aware that postmodernists as such necessarily think it does, but only someone in a confused and confusing state of mind could say that it does.
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While the pursuit towards objectivity, is traditionally the fundamental purpose of history, the study of historiography has indeed revealed that each historians’ construction of history differs as their purposes seemingly differ.
It hasn't revealed that at all. What we all knew all along is that propagandists create propaganda. That's nothing to do with historiography in particular, it's part of the human condition. Unless you're prepared to argue that reality is illusion (which is a different topic) then you have to accept that reality exists, and is at least approximately describable.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Apr-2009 at 16:05
Originally posted by Maharbbal Maharbbal wrote:

I wouldn't have such a hard appreciation of post-modernism's influence upon history. Granted it led to a fair amount of senseless slightly hysterical debates and to the emergence of the Latino-studies, Afro-American studies, whateverelse studies, not mentioning the feminist studies, which are a gross loss of place on the library's shelves.

But people like Barthes and Foucault have also written and inspired a fair share of brilliant historians (granted mostly continental): people like Carlo Ginzburg (the Cheese and the Worms), or Daniel Roche (History of common things). Foucault himself has written several very interesting books (an History of madness and an history of prisons). The Italian microstoria and the French histoire sociale both come directly from post-modernism.
Foucault is not a postmodernist. At least not according to him he isn't. Not in his context that is Smile And Barthes was many things. Roche as far as I'm aware is simply an historian in the traditional sense who realised the importance of paying attention to things that were traditionally treated as insignificant or trivial. Something on which I agree with him: any social or economic historian would. Much the same goes for Ginzburg, from what I know of his work.
 
Not everyone younger than me is ipso facto a post-modernist.
 
PS: and histoire sociale in France goes back to the early 19th century:see the references at http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Histoire_sociale
 
My favourite book in  this vein from France is LaDurie's Montaillou. That's modern social history, and there's not a smidgeon of post-modernism about it.


Edited by gcle2003 - 21-Apr-2009 at 16:13
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Parnell Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Apr-2009 at 17:49
Well said gcle. I was going to post a rebuttal but you said everything I would have and more.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Paul Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Apr-2009 at 18:05
What's a postmodernist?
 
Postmodernism was an attempt in philosophy to provide a more accurate model for the way the world works. The postmodern condition was a diagnosis of the world based upon observations rather like a doctor would diagnose someone with a STD based upon symptoms. The patient wouldn't then run round screaming I'm a Gonorrheaist, a load of over exited academics then start calling themselves Gonorrheaists to then start wring books on Gonorrheaist History, Gonorrheaist Psychology and so on.
 
You can't be a postmodernist, there is no such thing as postmodern history but no-one calling themselves a postmodernist has ever bothered to actually read a book on postmernism by the philosopher so doesn't realise this. It's best just to laugh at them and disregard anything they say.
 
Now to the question at hand.
 
 
Originally posted by egyptian goddess egyptian goddess wrote:

To what extent can the denial of historical events, such as holocaust denial (by David Irving) and the slaughter of Aboriginals in Tasmania [Australia] (by Keith Windschuttle) be attributted to the rise of postmodernist thought?
 
If we change the word from thought to condition, the answer it is almost entirely guilty.
 
If we backtrack the clock 100 years to before the postmodern age, there would have been an official history learnt in schools (similar to today) this would however have been taught by rote. Pupils would have been discouraged from questioning what they learnt, there would be few books around and people taught to respect the writers opinion by the mere fact he was one the few allowed to write a book.
 
Upon leaving school the culture of the world would be one of unquestioning belief in a lot of areas and respect and deference to authority and people who know better. If someone came along such as David Irving challenging an official view, he would have found it difficult to get published, difficult to get publicity, hard to find readers and then found few willing to go against their conditioning and believe him.
 
The definition of the postmodern age is one where the grand narratives no-longer hold sway, we have become a more cynical, irreverent people, so we now err towards disbelief. The cultural change from a world of belief in expertise to one of disbelief with out personal experience has made mainstream holocaust doubt possible.


Edited by Paul - 21-Apr-2009 at 18:11
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Apr-2009 at 18:33
Originally posted by Paul Paul wrote:

If we backtrack the clock 100 years to before the postmodern age, there would have been an official history learnt in schools (similar to today) this would however have been taught by rote. Pupils would have been discouraged from questioning what they learnt, there would be few books around and people taught to respect the writers opinion by the mere fact he was one the few allowed to write a book.
 
Upon leaving school the culture of the world would be one of unquestioning belief in a lot of areas and respect and deference to authority and people who know better.
So there wasn't a Russian revolution after all? Cubism was just a dream?
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If someone came along such as David Irving challenging an official view, he would have found it difficult to get published, difficult to get publicity, hard to find readers and then found few willing to go against their conditioning and believe him.
Actually it was almost as easy to get published in early Victorian times as it is to blog on the internet nowadays. As long as you only charged a penny and put in enough sex and violence you could get away with anything - plus ça change.... A hundred years ago it got a bit more difficult because of increasing capital costs, but you could usually rely on the Guardian to take up counter-establishment causes...again, plus ça change....
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Parnell Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Apr-2009 at 21:30
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The definition of the postmodern age is one where the grand narratives no-longer hold sway, we have become a more cynical, irreverent people, so we now err towards disbelief. The cultural change from a world of belief in expertise to one of disbelief with out personal experience has made mainstream holocaust doubt possible.
 
Not so sure about that. The grand narratives were all but dead by the 1920s (Apart from the bumper volume to volume accounts of the Great War and a few other big topics of the period) The postmodernists didn't begin to corrupt history writing until at least the mid  60s.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote egyptian goddess Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Apr-2009 at 10:26

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Edited by egyptian goddess - 22-Apr-2009 at 10:59
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Edited by egyptian goddess - 22-Apr-2009 at 10:59
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote egyptian goddess Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Apr-2009 at 11:53

Actually I was told that the purpose of history in general, as a medium is to inform us of the past. Apologies for positing a simplistic and trivial argument, I will refrain from making further contributions to this discussion

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Apr-2009 at 13:01
We are told many things. That we are told them doesn't mean they are correct or even sensible.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Apr-2009 at 21:47
Alright everyone.  Let us try and make this a fruitful discussion rather than a cat-and-mouse game of telling people who is right and wrong.  Historiography is largely based on opinion afterall; the "facts" are which person started what movement.
 
Must we not first begin with a running definition of what a school's method of analysis is?  What we are talking about now seems to be Postmodernism, which is a very difficult thing to define.  It has so many possible definitions depending on the discipline and time period.  It is like "nailing jelly to a wall" in the words of Peter Novak.
 
Originally posted by egyptian goddess egyptian goddess wrote:

To what extent can the denial of historical events, such as holocaust denial (by David Irving) be attributted to the rise of postmodernist condition?
 
Seemingly Postmodernism, when taken to its logical extremes, or even at the outset of analysis, allows the practitioner to assert whatever they want.  There are no facts or "monolithic" rules by which one must abide.  There definitely is no truth; or, truth is subjecitivzed and relativized to the extent that it becomes the practitioner's own internal truth. 
 
Of course, ones who deny the Holocaust and the like will be shot down as cranks.  But within much more specialized areas of history they can thrive like roaches after a nuclear strike.  If they are writing on touchy subjects such as race or women's history, they will be allowed to continue writing historical quackery because it has become politically incorrect to refute them whether it is with real evidence or out of old school misogyny.
 
Originally posted by Maharbbal Maharbbal wrote:

But people like Barthes and Foucault have also written and inspired a fair share of brilliant historians (granted mostly continental): people like Carlo Ginzburg (the Cheese and the Worms), or Daniel Roche (History of common things). Foucault himself has written several very interesting books (an History of madness and an history of prisons). The Italian microstoria and the French histoire sociale both come directly from post-modernism.
 
These people, along with Bourdieu in anthro and Durkheim in sociology, are the ones I generally think of as having an influence on the development of postmodernist thought.  Foucault especially is important.  His vocabulary has been appropriated into something like an academic language which is flashed around in publications and at conferences.
 
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

Nope. It influences their view of history. It doesn't influence their history. For instance it makes no difference to whether they had measles as a child or not. Depending on their context they may think it a good thing they had it or a bad thing they had it but what they think makes no difference to whether they had it or not.
 
I think Marx et al. would have a big problem with this assertion.  The material conditions in which people operate actively influence historical experience and consciousness.
 
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

History has no purpose. It isn't the kind of thing that has a purpose. People and possibly other animals have purposes: history doesn't.
 
This is a pretty bold assumption!  From what basis are your arguing this?  Personal experience, subjective viewpoint, divine revelation?
 
Perhaps the better way to talk about this is whether or not history has teleology.
 
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

Of course different people will have different explanations for the defeat (victory from Kights' point of view). But the history - the historical facts - are not subjective in the least.
 
This is all fine and dandy.  However, it is more difficult to explain how historians arrive at and interpret the "facts."  Obviously this is the purpose of historiography.  What is the point in making this assertion if you believe that there is no point in at least trying to aim for objectivivity?
 
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

What does anyone's 'present needs and purposes' have to do with the Battle of Hasting being fought in 1066 and even won by the Normans? Saying that whether or not the Normans conquered England under William I depends on the context of the historian saying it is simply ludicrous.
 
What is the purpose in using such divisive language against egyptian goddess?  She has come here with an interest and wants to discuss it.  It does not appear as if she is one of the other people whom you have chosen in the past to engage in total intellectual warfare with such as Drgonzaga.  Our (or at least my) objective as moderator is to retain members and not purposefully scare them away.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Paul Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Apr-2009 at 01:41
Originally posted by Byzantine Emperor Byzantine Emperor wrote:

Seemingly Postmodernism, when taken to its logical extremes, or even at the outset of analysis, allows the practitioner to assert whatever they want.  There are no facts or "monolithic" rules by which one must abide.  There definitely is no truth; or, truth is subjecitivzed and relativized to the extent that it becomes the practitioner's own internal truth. 
 
Practitioner of postmedernismConfused - I suppose you mean us all, we all live in the postmodern age, but we hardly get a choice about that or to practice anything. Is a fish in a fish tank a practioner of swimming?
 
There are most definately rules by which one must abide.
 
Practitioner's own truthConfused. - You mean a conservative politician supoorts lower taxes and labour politician higher ones. Isn't that just having a different opinion?
 
 
 
Originally posted by Byzantine Emperor Byzantine Emperor wrote:

 
What is the purpose in using such divisive language against egyptian goddess?  She has come here with an interest and wants to discuss it.  It does not appear as if she is one of the other people whom you have chosen in the past to engage in total intellectual warfare with such as Drgonzaga.  Our (or at least my) objective as moderator is to retain members and not purposefully scare them away.
 
 
I agree she put up no intellectual theory so should have been granted non-combatant status. When I saw the post this morning my first thought was another one bites the dust.
 


Edited by Paul - 23-Apr-2009 at 01:46
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pikeshot1600 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Apr-2009 at 01:45
As is too often the case, argument is more popular on AE than analysis.
 
It may be part of the reason the forums are showing some signs of stress - actually signs of withering away. 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Parnell Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Apr-2009 at 09:26
Originally posted by pikeshot1600 pikeshot1600 wrote:

As is too often the case, argument is more popular on AE than analysis.
 
It may be part of the reason the forums are showing some signs of stress - actually signs of withering away. 
 
 
 
A bold statement!
 
Actually, argument is the life blood of history. So long as its conducted in a civil manner that is.
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