…Or, Why I Hate Subjunctive History

I hate subjunctive history.

It’s absurd; it’s misleading; it’s epistemologically vicious, and it’s stupid.  I say trash it, get rid of it, pay a dubious-looking voodoo artist in New Orleans an inordinate sum to push pins through its glassy, grammatical eyes.  Anything to make it stop.

But what exactly is subjunctive history?  

Subjunctive history is a recounting of the past that purposely locates itself in the realm of the counter-factual, the possible.  For example, statements of the form “If Barack Obama weren’t black, then he would not have become the President of the United States” fall under the umbrella of subjunctive assertions about the past.   They can easily be recognized by their “If…then” form, the odd use of the word “were,” and their tendency to throw shit on any topic about which they purport to be true.  

Plain and simple, subjunctive history is foolish because it takes a necessarily un-true statement and tries to make it sound veridical.  It is logically absurd (not to mention plain dumb) to say something like “If George Washington did not have wooden teeth, then he would have smiled more often.”  How could such a statement EVER be true?!?!  The fact of the matter is, the big GW DID have wooden teeth, and he didn’t smile very often.  By what authority could you claim to know something about a circumstance that never happened?  NONE!

Fail me not, dear reader, for I can sense some of you may find this discussion lagging.  Ok, Ok, sure, you say, subjunctive history runs into some metaphysical problems in the realm of philosophy.  Big Deal!  What about everyday life?  Surely, if we make statements about subjunctive history on a regular basis, then they must be understood and serve some practical purpose.  So what if you silly philosophers don’t like them?  Get over it.

The problem as I see it, dear friends, is that subjunctive history causes problems not merely for those perpetual splitters-of-hairs residing in Emerson Hall, but is the source of much distress and discontentment in even the most common of happenings.  How many times have you heard statements beginning with phrases like, “If I had more time…” “If only we hadn’t done x…” “Maybe if it had just…”  Listen now, and listen closely.

STOP IT!!!!!

The world is everything that is the case, and nothing more. (Thank you, Wiggtenstein)  To dwell on past “possibilities” is to deny one’s self the opportunity to be aware of what is currently happening all around us!  Stop thinking about what could have been, start thinking about what is happening!  There’s a whole world out there waiting to be trodden upon, explored, and otherwise molested.  Go forth!  Fondle away!  Take your place as the God-designator subjugator of all that is, was, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.

Stop thinking about what could have been different and start living the change you want to see in the world.


P.S. And enjoy some ice cream while you’re at it.



Filed under Caterwauling, Philosophy, Uncategorized

2 responses to “…Or, Why I Hate Subjunctive History

  1. Evelyn

    George Washington’s teeth were actually made out of ivory, not wood. 😉

  2. Maia

    Back off, man. Counterfactual histories *are* useful for those in the business of unearthing causalities — if we think Obama’s being black is an important factor leading to his election, thinking about “what-if-he-wasn’t” can be instructive. Slash counterfactuals are what drive Marvel’s alternate universe plotlines, and what would the X-men be without Days of Future Past? That’s right.

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