Self-deception, historic recurrence, and the wisdom of Rudyard Kipling

“As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man.”

Photo by Dario Veronesi on Unsplash

“Historical phenomena pass through a fixed sequence…returning to what is understood to be an original point of departure, and beginning the cycle again.” -G. W. Trompf

Sound familiar? Rudyard Kipling thought so. He went and wrote a whole poem about historic recurrence, titled “The Gods of the Copybook Headings.”

Understanding “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”

“The Gods of the Copybook Headings” revolves around two groups of metaphorical deities: the Gods of the Copybook Headings and the Gods of the Marketplace. The Gods of the Copybook Headings represent reason, wisdom, the laws of nature, and immutable common truths. Meanwhile, the Gods of the Marketplace represent wishful thinking, foolishness, empty promises, and shallow pursuits.

“Men’s deeds conform to regularities and there remains necessity, or decision-involving situations, which induce typical responses.” -Machiavelli

You probably don’t need this reminder. Human nature is very, very predictable. Individuals might change, but humanity as a whole tends to stay the same.

Self-deception and historic recurrence

Kipling devotes three stanzas of his poem to describing three separate cycles of events. All three stanzas form the same pattern.

“Our desire to defy nature, conquer natural law and evolve toward a state greater than our flawed humanity brings advancement, but leaves us susceptible for manipulation by the Gods of the Marketplace.” -Tiffany Madison

Sometimes reality is not enough. Think about it for a moment. Why do we still love fairy-tales and superheroes? Why do we watch movies or play video games?

Back to the idea of social progress…

If history repeats itself, and if human nature doesn’t change, then what happens to social progress? Are we really progressing?

Luckily, it’s not over yet

Now that you have been thoroughly depressed, don’t give up on humanity yet! The end of Kipling’s poem contains a lot of ambiguity, allowing for either an optimistic or nihilistic perspective depending on your personality.

“From cycle to cycle, however, there could be a progressive accumulation of technique and wisdom.” -G. W. Trompf

Are we doomed, or do we have a chance to break the cycle? I guess it’s up to you to decide. Click here to read Kipling’s entire poem. What is your interpretation?

Freelance content writer, social media marketer, and fiction author. Also (mostly) immune to caffeine and criticism, I simply love to write.

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