Historians Are the Last People to Ask About The Future of Texas

In the debate over Texas independence, many voices clamor for attention. Politicians, economists, activists, and, yes, historians all have their say. But when it comes to forecasting the future, one group stands out as particularly ill-suited for the task: historians. This might seem counterintuitive. After all, isn’t the past the best guide to the future? Yet, as Texas stands on the brink of a monumental decision, it’s crucial to understand why historians, with their rearview mirror perspective, might be the worst advisors on what’s next for the Lone Star State.

With all the major news about the Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM) and TEXIT, it seems that most major media outlets covering TEXIT are relying on historians for additional commentary on the issue. They are stuck on 19th-century-based counterarguments. Historians offer perspectives rooted in the past, but these views can often miss the mark when applied to the present and future. For instance, polling shows strong voter support for TEXIT, reflecting a contemporary desire for change that cannot be understood solely through historical analogies.

Historians live their lives looking backward. Their expertise is in dissecting and interpreting events that have already happened, piecing together the motivations, contexts, and outcomes of bygone eras. This retrospective focus shapes their entire worldview. They are trained to see patterns and cycles in history, to draw parallels between the past and the present. But this very skillset, invaluable as it is for understanding how we got here, can become a liability when trying to chart a course forward.

Imagine driving a car using only the rearview mirror. You’d miss the roadblocks and opportunities directly ahead and be utterly unprepared for the twists and turns further down the road. This is the predicament historians find themselves in when they attempt to speak authoritatively about the present or the future. Their rearview mirror perspective makes them adept at explaining why things happened but leaves them struggling to anticipate what will happen.

Take, for instance, the current movement for Texas independence. Historians might draw parallels to the Texas Revolution of 1836 or the secession of 1861. They might point out the similarities in rhetoric, the recurrence of calls for self-determination, or the echoes of economic grievances. But these analogies, while intellectually stimulating, can obscure more than they reveal. The context of 2024 is vastly different from that of the 19th century. The economic, technological, and geopolitical landscapes have transformed beyond recognition.

Moreover, historians are particularly prone to what I call the “historian’s fallacy”: the belief that the future will unfold just as the past did, following the same patterns and leading to similar outcomes. This fallacy can be dangerously misleading. It ignores the unique factors at play in the present and the unprecedented challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. The movement for Texas independence in the 21st century is not a carbon copy of past secessionist movements. It is driven by contemporary issues such as federal overreach, economic autonomy, and cultural identity in a rapidly globalizing world.

Then there’s the issue of present bias. Historians are trained to rely on solid, vetted sources—documents, artifacts, and records that have stood the test of time. But current events unfold in real-time, often unpredictably and chaotically. Today’s data is messy, incomplete, and sometimes contradictory. Accustomed to the clarity of hindsight, historians can struggle to make sense of the present’s noise and confusion. This makes them less effective at providing timely, actionable insights.

Furthermore, historians tend to focus on long-term trends, often at the expense of short-term realities. This focus can be valuable when trying to understand broad societal shifts, but it can also neglect the immediate, day-to-day factors that drive political and social change. The decision to pursue Texas independence will hinge on immediate concerns—economic viability, political will, and social cohesion. These are issues that require a keen understanding of the present moment, something that historians, with their long-term lens, might miss.

While we should never forget our history or the inherited legacy, we should never be shackled to the past examined through modern personal biases. I’d rather be counted as a fool for dreaming and working for a better future than be the proverbial Indiana Jones of outrage archaeology. Our goal should be to learn from history, not be imprisoned by it.

As Texas contemplates its future, it needs voices that can navigate the complexities of the here and now and the uncertainties of the horizon. Those voices come from the people living today’s reality and cannot afford to carry that broken reality into the future. Historians walk backward into the future, which always means that if you follow them, you’re at risk of stepping in horse crap or falling into a woodchipper.

While historians offer invaluable insights into how we arrived at this point, their rearview mirror perspective makes them less suited to guide us into the future. The movement for Texas independence is a forward-looking endeavor driven by contemporary realities and future aspirations. As we stand at this crossroads, we must seek guidance from those who can see the road ahead clearly without being tethered to the past. Only then can Texas truly chart a bold and independent course for its future.

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