In October 1881, violence spilled out into the streets of Tombstone, Arizona. The conflict had been stewing for months, but the pretext was legal wrangling over whether guns could be carried in town. It took 30 seconds and 30 shots, but it launched Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday into history.
Does it take a bit of the sheen off the legend of the gunfight at the OK Corral to know that, 132 years later, law enforcement is still squabbling over this exact same issue with the residents of that same town? Indeed, this article from the Arizona Republic (which was founded in 1890) reads as if it could have been published about Wyatt Earp’s struggle to enforce his firearms law in Tombstone’s saloons. Instead, it was published in February 2020.
We’ve talked about how time is a flat circle, that per the Stoics, history is the same thing happening over and over again. You could change a few words from today’s report about the latest pandemic numbers and split them unnoticed into Gibbon’s recounting of the Antonine Plague. You could take the latest leak out of Washington or the White House and convince somebody it was from Tacitus’ recounting of Nero’s regime, just as you can take Seneca’s descriptions of a noisy day in Rome (as opens Stillness Is the Key) and publish it in a New York Times story as a contemporary report.
With all the change of history, with all the progress we’ve made, we’re still people. Places are still places, cultures still cultures—with all their unique tendencies, flaws, and patterns. We like to think we’re so different, that we’ve so moved on from the past, but have we? This is why the Stoics said we needed to understand human nature, it’s why we needed to understand history.
Don’t go around being surprised or shocked at the dumb things people do or the evil they are capable of. Your expectations must be realistic. You must also be prepared and ready to protect yourself. Because people are people and places are places, and they’re going to go on being that way for as long as life continues on this planet.