While the vagaries of time have been dangerous enough to the threats of Egyptian history, the worst threat to the memory of Egyptian pharaohs was other Egyptian pharaohs. One would think that Egyptian rulers would want to emphasize the lengthy ties that their own title had into the far away past. Yet over and over again Egyptians would destroy the historical remnants of the past in several ways. For one, whenever there was a change in policy or worldview, Pharaohs would try to destroy the ways of the past to try to obliterate those ways from memory. They would also try to destroy previous rulers’ temples and other buildings and re-use the materials of their monuments to glorify themselves. For reasons like these whole dynasties, like Egypt’s second dynasty, have been nearly wiped out of historical memory because the tombs were destroyed. Among the more notable aspects of the tombs that has prompted a lot of commentary by historians has been the question of human sacrifice of courtiers of the Egyptian rulers. It seems as if the airbrushing of history began almost as soon as history itself did.
What are the motivations of seeking to destroy the history of the past? There are likely some consistent motives that lead people to want to wipe out history. A great many people are embarrassed by the past. There is a magical belief in the eyes of many people that by destroying the record of the past that we can destroy the shame of the past and destroy the memory of the past. Regardless of what people say that they believe about God, it appears that there is still a magical belief that we can shape the past in the present by virtue of what is remembered and how the past is presented and viewed, rather than accepting the past as something that is real and something that can be used to inspire a better future, in the sense of a before and after photo.
How do we see the past? Characteristically, I have tended to see the past as inspiration for a better future. This is not necessarily the most popular use of the past, as a great many people tend to be irate at the fast and seek to attach blame. Who we blame for the problems of the past is certainly something that says far more about ourselves than about the past itself. One of the problems with objective reality is that we are subjective beings. We are compelled, for a variety of reasons–including our desire to see ourselves as being objectively right–to try to make sense and to understand and judge reality, even though it is extremely difficult for us to see reality accurately, or even to recognize the ways that we are blinded by our own biases. Even when we admit our own filters and perspective we usually seek to justify ourselves, regardless of the approach that we take to the past.
How will we be judged by the future? I suspect we will be judged poorly in our generation as far as how well we have preserved the past and the record of the past when it comes to future generations. Whether one is dealing with the destruction of historical sites or the obliteration of monuments or the deliberate misrepresentation of historical texts, our age does history in a terrible fashion. Rarely has a generation thought itself so faithful to the past and to the objectivity of reality and done a worse job at it than we ourselves did. Rarely have those who presented themselves as friends of the ways of the past and those who thought of themselves as representing a glorious future combined to destroy the record of the past and make a better future even more elusive than it is in general. But that is how life works.