The past is long, the present is short
We are living in the dreamtime
And it will all fad away
Your culture is, at most, 70 years old. Maybe less.
Everything you take for granted that makes your life possible, everything without which your life would be completely unrecognizable, perhaps not even livable (for you, anyway) did not exist for the vast majority of people 70+ years ago.
Air conditioning. Electricity. Running water. Grocery stores that carry virtually anything you want, any time you want. Clothes you didn’t make yourself.
The general expectation that your children will survive their first week of life.
The general expectation that you and your loved ones will not be crippled by Polio or killed by dozens of other infectious diseases.
Not spending your days in back-breaking agricultural labor and hoping desperately that it rains this year.
Pants on women. Women with their hair uncovered.
Almost all of your values, as you understand them, like equality and freedom of religion, were not popularly believed a hundred years ago. People who thought whites and blacks were equal were generally regarded as mentally unhinged in the mid-1800s. Freedom of religion was understood to only cover Christian denominations, and Catholics were only sort of considered Christians. Parents had a right to decide whom their children married, in order to protect the purity of their family line–a notion we would now call “eugenics”.
Even in the fifties, many American women did not go out with their hair uncovered–a practice we now condemn as Medieval and barbaric among Muslims.
The Spanish Inquisition did not end until 1834. The last auto-da-fe took place in Mexico in 1850.
Auschwitz was liberated 70 years ago.
America and the rest of the West in 1900 or the mid-1800s would be totally foreign to you.
One of our great flaws is that we have completely forgotten this. We act as though the good times have always been here, they will always be here, and that there’s no possible way we could accidentally destroy them.
We take them for granted.
1. Don’t get too uppity about 70 years of good times. Good times can end. They probably will.
2. If you like the changes that have happened over the course of the past 400 years or so–if you like things like freedom of religion, if you like not torturing confessions out of prisoners, remember that these are NOT essential features of your society and must be carefully protected or else we will lose them.
3. We should not feel shame for our past (which is probably no worse than anyone else’s.) We should feel triumph at everything we have overcome and how much we have improved. Nor should we feel complacent, or try to recreate some mythical version of the past: the world is changing, and so must we.