The benefit of hindsight

According to the Book of Genesis, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt after she looked back at Sodom, Amiens, Bibliothèque Municipale, 108 (Spain, 1197 AD)

History is always about looking back, sitting down and trying to understand the past. Preserving a clear vision in the present is often risky, the maelstrom of contradicting interpretations, the absence of evidence, the weakness of the facing perspective is not something we value. The present tense is unstable. It flows inexorably, but the snapshot is always blurred. The lens can’t keep up with the changing landscape. Focus suffers from motion sickness.

The past, on the other hand, is steady. The visibility is at its highest because we have the benefit of hindsight.

The ancient world is populated with prophets, oracles and Sibyls, experts of the present and the future, but lacking the art of conjugating the past. It’s almost as though that which has been accomplished doesn’t matter at all. The benefit of hindsight is a poisoned chalice. It affords clarity at the expense of agency. The past cannot be changed however much one tries to understand it. And for this reason, it is an inexhaustible source of tragedy. Hindsight benefits only those who scrutinise the past insouciantly, often from a safe scholarly elevation. For everyone else, hindsight is dread and anxiety, a painful reminder that looking back, like Orpheus pulling Eurydice out from the Underworld, brings afflictions too heavy for man to bear. When Lot’s wife looked back at the city of Sodom one last time, she understood the meaning of hindsight. It proved to be hindsalt.

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