I was listening to something the other day and the guy talking made a point about public attitudes toward homosexuals. His point was that attitudes have changed quickly. He said something along the lines that just a few years ago homosexuals were treated as bad as blacks in the south during segregation. The implication being that just last week we maintained separate accommodations for the homos. I just laughed as I’m used to the Progressive Timeline.
I was not fully engaged, but my recollection is that the person talking was young-ish, maybe 30’s. For a white male born in 1985, for example, the Civil Rights Movement is as real as the French Revolution. These events are just items from his history text in high school. His teacher probably had no first hand recollections and no one he knows has an emotional connection to it. Therefore, he has no emotional connections to it. It’s just something from long ago.
Gay rights, on the other hand, are in his timeline. Picking a side and defending it was a big part of how young white males defined themselves in the 2000’s. The fact that his parents most certainly laughed at comics like Paul Lynde or watched Liberace perform on TV is unknown to him. He does not even think about the implications of his belief that a generation ago homosexuals were kept on lavender plantations. That would mean his parents were monsters by today’s enlightened standards.
He does not think of those things and it is not unique. Steve Sailer likes to point out that people have trouble keeping relative numbers in their head, like the actual number of homosexuals they see in their day. I’d point out that people struggle understanding time, beyond the present day. There’s now, the past you experienced and the way way back, like when Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs around Eden. It’s why people struggle to accept evolution. It takes too long.
When I was a boy, my grandfather would talk to me about Russia, the Bolsheviks and the Cold War. Having escaped the Bolsheviks, he had a keen interest in them and wanted me to know what he knew about communism. I’ll never forget one conversation I had with him when he said the Cold War is forever and there was no winning. The best we could do is keep them from conquering the world.
I was a kid, but the idea of anything lasting forever sounded a bit dodgy. More important, a society run by blood thirty fanatics trying to impose an illogical social order would run afoul of reality eventually. I was young so I could not see things through the eyes of my grandfather, but it always stuck with me. I thought of that day while watching the Berlin Wall topple over as Europe celebrated the end of the Cold War.
My grandfather’s tales are real to me. His father’s tales are unknown to me because I never knew him. I never heard him tell those stories. The result is my historical framework starts around the Great War. My sense of the past starts at that point and becomes increasingly clear and intense as we move closer to my age. I feel like I know the Reagan years completely, even though I have probably forgotten most of it, but I lived through it so it looms large in my mind.
This is why Hitler remains a specter that haunts the imaginations of the people of today. The average age of Americans is 37 so that means most people know someone who knew someone that experienced Hitler. If you are 37 your parents are probably in their 60’s and their parents, your grandparents, lived through Hitler. In 20 years, the number of people who knew someone who knew Hitler will be much smaller. In another generation, it will be no one and Hitler will be just another face in the history text.
The other side of this is how the Cult of Modern Liberalism shuffles the past so easily to fit their current agenda. Utopian cults are obsessed with the future as it is the locus of their belief system. The promise land is just over the horizon so all effort must be made for the final push to reach it. This obsession with the future not only prevents seeing the world as it is, but forces the believer to rearrange the past to fit the narrative. This is easily done when the past feels like a foreign country.
At the dawn of this current period in the West, Francis Fukuyama famously wrote, “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” This was from his book, The End of History and the Last Man.
Looking back at this, it seems laughable, but smart people really thought the long twilight struggle was over and the folks from the Mayflower had finally won. After all, their entire intellectual life was organized around the struggle for liberal democracy against the great enemy of totalitarianism. In fact, it was this struggle that defined western liberal intellectual life. Once the struggle was over, then it only made sense that history was now over.
This historical amnesia is a not permanent feature of man. Bronze Age people knew they were an old people. So much so, in fact, many Bronze Age rulers would commission research on how their ancestors dressed and decorated their palaces. The idea was to not forget the past. Egyptian rulers dressed the same way for 1500 years for a reason. The past was what you were so to forget it was to die, in a way, by killing those who came before you and made you.
We’re in a strange age in that respect. Mass media has some role in it. Huge news today is forgotten tomorrow, because we are buffeted on all sides from media bullhorns demanding our immediate attention. It’s not that people can no longer remember the past; it’s that they don’t have time to remember it. Instead of fitting the present into the timeline, it is tossed over our shoulder so we can rush off to the next thing.
Where this all leads is hard to know. There’s some data to suggest we have become increasingly dumber since the 1800’s. This could simply be demographics. In 1800 the population of England was roughly 10 million, while all of Africa was 90 million. Britain now has 65 million people while Africa 1.2 billion. The population of the lowest IQ population has grown at twice the rate of one of the brightest. This trend is accelerating so the average IQ will drop with it.
But, the mass culture has something to with it too. There’s really no reason to remember a lot of things when they are easily looked up on-line or off your phone. Being smart today is about knowing where the information is located or how it is associated with other known information. Remembering stuff is just not very useful. History, after all, is just formal remembering so it makes sense that history is dying as any sort of remembering is giving way to technology.
Then there’s the fact we are on the verge of a great automation of work that will make remembering the past even more pointless as the life of man becomes pointless. Children have no reason to dwell on the past or think of the future. Instead, they enjoy the day playing with their toys. Perhaps the growing amnesia in the West is just part of the slow infantalization of man. One day people will loom at the their surroundings and wonder how they got there and who made them. Perhaps even imagine the machines were made by gods.