Our uncertainty about anything is covered up by our assertiveness about everything – that’s how children deal with the big, scary world – and that’s how Western culture now deals with its past and present.
A generation of fools, we are.
We modern Westerners have lost the significance of history, even while having the History Channel. We flip through the channels, looking for bits of the past on which to heap our boiling hot scorn, or perhaps our detached bemusement. Those people were a little dopey, amirite – racists, sexists. Who? Everyone until around the year I was born.
History comes through pop culture as a sort of entertaining curiosity – we tweet and retweet interesting photographs from the turn of the century (the 20th, that is), and feel a bit… haute in displaying our cultural sensibility. “I…… know a thing or two about the Boer War – see my retweet of that photo of the British soldier with the cigarette, staring into the distance?”
But we don’t know. We have victimized history: pulled it out of shape, boiled it down to choppy images and soundbites, and now we gawk at the past as a specimen to be scoffed at – we’re the masters of time, us postmodern men and women.
In the realm of reality, however, we are simply the forgetful children and discontent toddlers of philosophy. We don’t know history, and worse, those things we do know about the past are pushed through the merciless prism of “enlightened” postmodernism – which is to say, ultraskepticism and chronological snobbery.
Our ancestors cannot be a source of wisdom and knowledge, at least in any direct manner like in picking up an old, old book and reading it as its pupil… no, those people didn’t have the internet, or auto-mobiles. We look backwards almost exclusively to learn how not to live our lives today.
And for all of this, we are impoverished and isolated like no human culture has been over the past 3,000+ years. We are locked out of the great storehouse of human experience and wisdom as soon as we judge our grandparents as homophobic rubes who didn’t know of modern dentistry.
Yet, here we are… a collapsing civilization. We have annulled the marriage to our cultural past, we’ve crowned ourselves the kings and queens of history, and many of us expect a full-blown transhuman utopia to awaken any day now. In other words, we are the fools of all history.
In trashing the past, we’ve shredded the future. I just hope our sore descendants – 1,000 years from now – will be able to look at our time period in light of the greater scale of human history and properly condemn our philosophical idiocy as the hyperbolic moment of hubris, never to be repeated.
Yep, lively and light thoughts for tonight, I know.