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January - March 2012

The Ruins in Bright Angel Wash

History as a Consumption Good


Monday, January 2, 2012

   The Ruins in Bright Angel Wash It is the end of 2011 and the weather has improved over the last ten days or so.  We've had temps in the 50s in Flagstaff and I have been jumping back into some serious efforts to get into shape.  A few days earlier than this hike I went up to the top of Mt. Elden, here in Flagstaff, which is just a tick under 9,300 feet in elevation (from 7,000 foot Flagstaff).  It felt good and the trail was fine.  So, I decided to do a hike down the Bright Angel trail.  I knew that the trail would be icy, and I was not disappointed.  But, I also knew that it would be a nice warm day down in the canyon and that there wouldn't be too many folks on the trail.

To read the full hiking blog, go to The Ruins in Bright Angel Wash
located in the Hiking Grand Canyon section of the Kaibab Journal.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

   History as a Consumption Good I like history.  Well, probably not everything, but you know what I mean.  I especially like reading about Grand Canyon history.  And, my interest has led me to gather information that is not widely disseminated.  In other words, I am something of an amateur historian.

     So, following my presentation at the 3rd Grand Canyon History Symposium this past month, John Stark, manager of the local public radio station KNAU, asked me about the importance of history - i.e., what this symposium is all about.  My answer was, "It's not important."

     Got your attention?  It may seem a bit suspect, and, of course, totally politically incorrect.  After all, there is Santayana's well-known phrase about how those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  Or, my favorite version comes from John Brunner's book, Stand on Zanzibar, that the only thing we learn from history is that we don't learn from history.  So, how can I assert that history isn't important?

     Well, it just isn't.  It is a consumption good and I like it just like I like shrimp scampi.  Umm . . . I could really go for some right now!  Anyway, the point is that we "do" history because it interests us, just like all the other things we do.  These activities aren't, per se, important.  Not like meeting the basic needs of providing food, clothing and shelter.  My presentation was on the Charles D. Walcott expedition in the Grand Canyon over the winter of 1882-1883, about which very little has been written.  I find it fascinating, and you can hear me say so in Stark's interview for KNAU (click on the "Listen" button).  I also got a brief shout out from the Grand Canyon News.  But, if nobody ever heard of Walcott, it wouldn't really matter would it?

     I have encountered this before.  I remember watching an archeologist on the local cable channel doing a presentation on some dig sites around Flagstaff.  He was remarking about how his research was helping to "answer important questions" about the ancient inhabitants of this region.  At the time I asked myself, "What important questions?"  I couldn't come up with any.  Because there are no "important" questions, only interesting questions.  And, I for one, am interested.  But, I don't pretend that they are "important."  But, when your job depends on getting money to conduct this research, I guess you have to say that these questions are important.  I think the emperor with no clothes is probably a suitable analogy here.

     Indeed, this past week I have been watching a show that details what the filmmakers call the top ten discoveries of ancient Egypt.  Absolutely fascinating, from Khufu's ship found next to the big pyramid at Giza to the huge statues built into the cliffs guarding the temple at Abu Simbel.  But, are they "important?"  Of course not.  Well, that is, they aren't important unless Stargate is real!  Then, of course, all bets are off.

     So, this brings me to something of a epiphany - that's probably an overstatement, so whatever word can be used that would mean a "small epiphany" will suffice.  Of late, I have developed an avid interest in the so-called Austrian School of Economics, as manifest by Ludwig von Mises, et al., and I spend a lot of time perusing the Mises.org web site.  I have taken 6 or 7 on-line classes through them and have started to read some of the major works that are associated with this school of thought.  I haven't yet read Mises' Human Action, but it has come up in a number of classes.  As I understand Mises' perspective, he argues that we can learn about the way the world works through the use of our rational faculties (starting with the axiom that human action is purposeful) and we don't need to resort to anything else.  That is, while there may be "lessons from history," we don't need history in order to learn these lessons.  Of course!  I thought so.

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