Sunday, April 04, 2010

Proposition: History Is Fungible

I disagree. History is not, and should not be fungible.

What is "fungible"?

The Biblical Joseph's Egyptians may have brought all their bags of grain to a central storage facility during the years of plenty, and if they later (during the famine years) received bags of grain back, the grain they took out probably wasn't the identical bag they'd deposited up to seven years previously.

Grain is fungible.

Stock options that have the same price and expiration date are fungible, as long as everyone gets what they are entitled to.

During various bankruptcies and bail-outs, we were told that money is fungible. That might depend. If all the money is government money, then maybe so. However, if some of the money in the pot is retirees' personal savings, or flexible spending Health Savings Accounts, or wages/salary/bonuses earned by individuals in previous years and stored in a legal deferred compensation fund, then it's not truly fungible. Not if an element of confiscation is involved.

Corpses of mice might be fungible. I'm reading Martyn Lewis's "Cats In The News" (ISBN 0-356-20282-8) and in the chapter on "Working Cats" there is the tale of Towser a mighty mouser employed by a distillery in Tayside who "produced" 28,899 mice. I don't suppose the managers' delight would be greatly diminished if some of the mice were innocent of feeding on the distillery grain, and had been caught outside.

It would probably be a moot point for the mice, too. If mice are fungible to our managers of grain stores and distilleries, would humans be fungible to aliens? It would depend whether they simply wanted to wipe us out, and put a bounty on our heads, or if they wanted slaves, or breeding specimens for their zoos. In which case, we would not be readily interchangeable for storage and shipment purposes.

Which reminds me of the story about the two polar bears at a zoo in Hokkaido who showed a surprising lack of interest in mating.

Apparently, the length of a young polar bear's hair makes it difficult to determine its gender! Those not knowledgeable about such matters might have trouble recognizing an alpha female hyena for what she is. I see considerable potential for politically incorrect situation comedy if aliens had visited ancient Greece in its glory days, and had captured Achilles and Patroclus (for example). Or Sappho and Mica.

Martyn Lewis's book has a very interesting chapter on selective breeding, and the story of the Scottish Fold, and the myths surrounding the origins of the Maine Coon.... and the genetic aberration that produced a single blue tortoiseshell Devon Rex tom.

If an alien human Fancier (equivalent of a Cat Fancier) wanted to create a new breed of humans, a shipload of us certainly would not be fungible. He'd have specific requirements about our physical appearance, coloration, markings, health, age, hardiness, natural resistance to parasites and disease, and our disposition. He probably wouldn't want an aggressive strain.

Our history would probably be fungible to an alien human Fancier.

Just as cars fetch much higher prices at the Barrett-Jackson auctions if they have an interesting provenance, so the glamor of a breed is enhanced if its first exemplar is rumored to have belonged to a tragic royal personage and been smuggled across an ocean (or a galaxy) --perhaps by glamorous berserkers-- and then allowed to run wild upon arrival upon a foreign shore.
According to one blogger (whom I discovered when checking to see who else has proposed that History is Fungible), their own nation's History may be fungible to politicians in need of a good illustration of a point they wish to make.

I deplore the deliberate dissemination of misinformation. Either History is a serious study from which we can learn, or we might as well drop it as an academic subject. That's why I refuse to mess with History by writing fictional accounts of real person's lives (unless the research is scrupulously done and documented, and a suitable disclaimer is included in the novel, which I have seen and applauded.)

Fungible history seems to be in fashion at the moment. I'm not talking about Steampunk which has rules. Recently I listened to a thumping good story on audio book which I will not name since I am sure my next comment would constitute a spoiler. A central plot point was the premise that two (named) consecutive, elderly leaders of a foreign country had not died naturally, but had been cleverly assassinated on the orders of a couple of rogue members of a rival power's secret service.

It was obviously a work of fiction, but I found that offensive.... primarily because the victims were named.

However, when creating a parallel alien world, we could fill our creative blenders with different human dates, battles, leaders, heroes, seminal addresses, treaties, discoveries, inventions, revolutions, disasters and plagues, mix them up and produce an alien history.

Or would the order still matter?

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