A Long Ramble On Time & Memory

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 am 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 firsthand recollections and no one he knows has an emotional connection to it. Therefore, he has no emotional connections to it. It is 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 would point out that people struggle understanding time, beyond the present day. There is now, the past you experienced and the way way back, like when Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs around Eden. It is 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 will 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 thirty-seven so that means most people know someone who knew someone that experienced Hitler. If you are thirty-seven 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 are 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 is not that people can no longer remember the past; it is that they do not 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 ten million, while all of Africa was ninety million. Britain now has sixty-five 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 is 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 is 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 infantilization of man. One day people will loom at their surroundings and wonder how they got there and who made them. Perhaps even imagine the machines were made by gods.

21 thoughts on “A Long Ramble On Time & Memory

  1. ” 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.”

    How deluded!

    The “folks from the Mayflower” were in search of a place to establish their own form of religious totalitarianism.

    Their burning of witches was no different from ISIS’s beheadings.

  2. I had Bruce Charlton’s blog bookmarked for some time because he has been one of the few commentators to realize that people are getting stupider.

    However the process is happening too quickly for his explanation, genetic mutation, to really work (I also stopped reading him because he offered crazy opinions on other subjects too often). The trend has been notable to me in the past half dozen years alone. I put the blame on the rise of facebook/ twitter/ smartphones, with television having done alot of damage over the decades earlier.

    • If some new mosquito borne virus resulted in the death of all right handed people who were infected, humans would greatly decrease in numbers, but become decidedly left handed in a couple of generations. Assuming the virus did not mutate to kill the left handed, researchers would be baffled looking back at this event, assuming no written records.

      On the other hand, if left handedness suddenly becomes associated with high status, it will take generations for selection pressure to decrease the number of right handed relative to left handed people. But over time, the pressure would grow stronger as left handed people came to dominate.

      The point is, human social evolution is a lot like bankruptcy. it can happen slowly, then all of a sudden or it can happen all of a sudden, almost out of the blue. The technological revolution has suddenly made it easy for the stupid to fill the public space with their noise.

  3. Worldwide Idiocracy advances day by day, because there are ever-more lower IQ marginal humans who must be placated so the privileged elite can keep their status. Doctors Without Brains keep traveling to Africa to save more lives to enable more lower-IQ population growth. The elite turn large areas of their countries and cities into Third World Dumping Grounds as a (temporary) pressure valve. And hey, why not give the Muzzies their desired kill-the-infidel playgrounds in metros, airports, hotels, nightspots, and public events?

    The elite will be safe in their gated communities and well-stocked boltholes. As you say, the next events will come soon, propagated extravagantly by the media, and nobody will remember the last atrocity for long

  4. The passage of time, and the distancing of events, is accelerated not only by the urgency of now, but by the fact past events are continually re-evaluated and revised. You might think that the past — particularly the recent(ish) past — was observed sufficiently by intelligent people to allow us to establish facts. Instead, the fanciful minds like to show that we are so much better now in believing that A=B rather than the reality of A being just plain A. But the belief that A=B will soon be revised to show that 100 years ago, say, A definitely was probably C and shortly, the argument that A=D will be heard.

    In short, we cannot agree about history because we like to view it from now. For further evidence look at the story of the wild west as shown on film and the change in styles and attitudes: I can recall in the ‘fifties the short-haired cowboys had by the ‘seventies grown fashionably long hair. Not sure where we are in the wild west hair length stakes, but we certainly have far more black cowboys and gun-toting women than before.

  5. Prior to the general acceptance of the idea of evolution, people spoke of the “ancients” with great reverence, as an ancestry of the human species who were wiser, better informed and knew far more than those present. Men did not see themselves as living out their own times in part of a great trajectory of evolutionary improvement on the human condition, but rather believed more in a human degeneration of sorts which was to be mitigated by passing on the culture. Education’s main goals were the preservation of what the ancients knew and bequeathing that knowledge to the next generation.

    The general modern belief in evolution is largely responsible for the belief that history is irrelevant. I have noticed that liberal moderns like to say “they just need to evolve” when criticizing conservative people. Darwin is soooo 1800’s. Is it any wonder that there is data supporting the idea that we have become increasingly dumber since then?

  6. A lot of people think the flow of history and evolution is smooth, or linear or both. They are crazy. There is no such thing thing in this quantum universe as a smooth curve or a straight line.

    Surges and withdrawals, pulses, great clunks in the machinery, that is reality.

    In my small part of the BC Rockies the gophers, the deer, the coyotes have population surges and retreats. We too are due for a big die-off. I don’t like it, I hope it does not include me or mine, but it is coming.

    “slow infantalization of man”??? Nope, just a phase. As Heinlein said, the only real capital crime is stupidity. Pretty soon many (most?) of the stupids will die. How? Dunno – I often fear I am one of them.

  7. “If you don’t know history then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it’s part of a tree.”
    …Michael Crichton

  8. We know that much of what we have had passed down to us was through oral tradition. The ability to memorize very long stories with great detail was a necessary part of early human settlement. There was, to some degree, a selection bias toward the cognitive skills that allowed a person to retain and retrieve vast amounts of data. Writing and then cheap printing made this skill useless.

    Or maybe we are using the innate ability to memorize large quantities of information to now memorize vast quantities of metadata. Which might mean that we are adapting to the flood of information by learning efficient search algorithms.

    • It could be. I’ve always been a guy who remembers where in a book is the quote I need, but usually not the exact quote. I don’t remember the page in the book, or even the name of the book, but I’ll remember in detail where I was and what I was thinking when I read it. Then I’ll recall the book cover and where I put it on the shelf and then roughly where in the text I saw the quote. I remember things by association, but I can’t remember the name of the cross street at the end of my block.

  9. Socrates: At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

  10. I have gotten interested in Commonplace books. It was a way of remembering what you had read, a knowledge database of sorts. Still, it doesn’t compare to the Norse, where you were not a warrior if you couldn’t compose a poem or recite a saga from memory. I believe that societies that memorized their genealogy were specialized. Only a few people would have that knowledge memorized.

    The other part of this is a society where old people are perceived to have no wisdom to pass along. But we have a society where we really don’t know how to grow our own food or hunt for it. That’s a scary development too.

  11. Bob Marley said it best, “If you know your history, then you would know where you coming from.” And presumably, where you’d be going. Many people no longer know history, because it’s not taught in the schools anymore, at least not the way it was taught generations ago. Today it’s known as “social studies”. Leftist control of the educational system insures that history is a quick lesson in general themes, with emphasis on Bad Deeds done by America since its founding.

    While it’s great to say “I can just google that”, in reality it becomes nearly impossible to develop critical thinking skills if you do not have a body of knowledge in your brain to be recalled at will. Without facts at your disposal you are left with opinion. Opinion makes for persuasive emotional argument, but is hardly a substitute for critical thinking.

  12. It’s amazing how many people don’t understand the impact of WWI, because it’s not in their historical range. I’ve read that the other problem is that we’ve cut ourselves off from our cultural heritage. So much of our culture was built on King James bible, political thinkers like Locke and literature like Shakespeare. When you stop studying and learning those things, you can no longer relate to that culture.

    • And the American Republic is, of course, one of the final fruits of that culture and those influences.

      Karl Marx was influenced by Charles Darwin. Explains a lot?

  13. This reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote in 1945. He was writing about “the uneducated Englishman”, but now it’s true of pretty much everyone today:

    “I find that the uneducated Englishman is an almost total sceptic about history. I had expected he would disbelieve the Gospels because they contain miracles; but he really disbelieves them because they deal with things that happened two thousand years ago. He would disbelieve equally in the battle of Actium if he heard of it. To those who have had our kind of education, his state of mind is very difficult to realize. To us the present has always appeared as one section in a huge continuous process. In his mind the present occupies almost the whole field of vision. Beyond it, isolated from it, and quite unimportant, is something called “the old days”– a small, comic jungle in which highwaymen, Queen Elizabeth, knights-in-armour, etc. wander about. Then (strangest of all) beyond the old days come a picture of “primitive man.” He is “science,” not “history,” and is therefore felt to be much more real that the old days. In other words, the prehistoric is much more believed in than the historic.”

  14. The favorite saying of a friend of mine is “first you’ve got to care”. He’s right, of course; you have to show up, you have to study things, and you have to care. Otherwise, you are like the masses in our current Western Civ – atomized, ignorant, unaware, disengaged, etc.

    It appears that you have been observing and analyzing society for much of your life, having acquired the habit from your grandfather et al. So you are one of the most wide awake fellows in blogdom. You are not very common, you know.

    My father was very conservative (Goldwater, Wallace) but I never was as I grew up. I was molded by pop culture into a typical middle class hedon with vaguely liberal notions but with no commitment to anything political. In my sixth decade the internet went mainstream, and I found myself discovering conservative writers and beginning to wake up. I’m now at the point where I check this page at work periodically throughout the work day. Who knows what the future holds?
    So most of us are brainwashed, some of us are cultists, and virtually all are semi-somnambulant. No one thinks history is relevant, and few are knowledgeable about the past. “Enjoy the day playing with their toys” indeed. This will not end well.

  15. The descent of the west under socialism–it’s cultures and it’s populations–was masked, ironically, by the war against international socialism. When that war was won the descent was revealed, and even accelerated. “It’s a Republic, if you can keep it.”

  16. ” Being smart today is about knowing where the information is located or how it is associated with other known information. ” Which is dumbassery’s biggest force multiplier. I remember the dawn of the “everyone is online” age. Naive as I was, I thought this was a great thing — with a few minutes’ googling, you’ve got all the resources to become expert-level informed on any subject you have the IQ to master. Alas, I’d forgotten about confirmation bias — all we do online is scour “our” sources to find “facts” for whatever we’ve decided to believe anyway. I see this all the time with history students — they just can’t, can NOT, grok that X and Y don’t fit together. X is in chapter 5 and Y is in chapter 6, so they’re both “history,” and will this be on the test? Trying to teach critical examination of sources is like trying to teach fish to ride unicycles.

    • A stupid guy trying to use a hammer as a wrench does not invalidate the hammer as a useful tool. That’s the way it is with on-line tools. Smart people understand how to use key word combinations to fetch what it is they want from the web. I may not recall the name Ashurbanipal or even part of it, but I can find because I know he was the last great king of Assyria. In a prior age, you had to remember the name. Thumbing through books until you found it simply took too long.

      We know that much of what we have had passed down to us was through oral tradition. The ability to memorize very long stories with great detail was a necessary part of early human settlement. There was, to some degree, a selection bias toward the cognitive skills that allowed a person to retain and retrieve vast amounts of data. Writing and then cheap printing made this skill useless.

    • 1. What do you mean “we” Kimosabe?
      2. I found “reference librarian” to be the title of by best allies,
      But they’re deadly adversaries in Trivial knowledge “contests”.

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