Saturday, 10 May 2008

The Movement of History

I make no excuses for projecting my own thoughts onto the world in this post. I have little else to go on, for am I no real historian nor thinker.

We live in a constantly changing world, or so we are told, and it becomes part of our day to day survival to cope with that change: we need to change our ways of living, speaking and thinking to ensure we are not separated from the community, although the community itself is increasingly vague to us. We know some people, sure, but few of us could honestly say we share the views and assumptions of the people in either our real, physical locality or our internet habitat: however much we leave approving comments on blogs we like there will always be the divergence of views caused by thought, independence and history.

For such a changing world the movement of time seems to be remarkably solid. I mean that very quickly the past, or other ways of living, begin to seem unlikely, even impossible; from tiny things like the changing coin to the vast sand-shifting of ethics. Our experience, though varied, seems to be immersed. It did not take long of governance by New Labour for a Tory government to seem almost unthinkable, and for the long years of Tory dominance of politics to seem less than a memory. In many places, with silent pits, the memories would be strong: I mean culturally, even philosophically: in the years 1999-2004 (roughly) I think, the assumptions, arguments, practicalities of Conservative government were so alien to the commentariat and swathes of the public (including, to be fair, myself) as to be meaningless, irrelevant, unexisting.

I don't know if this is making sense but the point I am making is that I think the changing world, in certain ways, makes us unable to remember. It keeps us mired in the present, and thinking of the future (at the moment), with particular regard to global warming, in a kind of fearful fascination. I would have thought we would remember more sharply things being different because it wasn't that long ago: but this is partly what is driving us to worship youth: it is not just beauty, or sexuality, or ability, but the fact that it is, at any given moment, youth which is best attuned to the state of the world at that point, best able to cope, completely unconcerned by trying to adapt. Youth fits, it works. The rest of us find it harder because we are (to greater or lesser degrees) different from the world we live in.

So the study of modern history assumes a keener aspect, and becomes more popular because it is history, it is the story of real or nearly real people in a world we can see has changed. Other types of history (say, medieval) are about other worlds, and so don't interest us so much. Modern history is about our world. The nazification of the school history syllabus and of the bookshelves is a testament to the fact that we are still trying to understand our cultural origins in that time. We see our society as evolving from that, rather than before - take the notion and enacting of human rights, though it may have its origins in the Enlightenment or French Revolution, the key document of our time is the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I think there is also a powerful part of our culture that still cannot understand how it all happened and why it all happened.

I've written on this idea before of course - that the twentieth century is not quite over, and that, possibly, we are suffering some kind of extended anxiety problems caused by 45 years of living under 4 minutes' notice of destruction (ok it was a bit longer than that until the early sixties). But that isn't entirely what i mean here. I mean a culture (though it is so mixed now as to make even the singular noun questionable) which has come into existence only five minutes ago, furnished with a history that it does not remember, but it does remember being at one point in time and at that nexus emerging into something resembling life. From there it has turned, shifted, slid, slanted and cracked so that we just do not, really, remember what it was like.

I don't mind if you think this is a lot of contradictory, muddled cobblers. It is a kind of live-thinking exercise, no pre thought has gone into this post at all except a vague sense that i'd like to put finger to keyboard. If you like it, great. If you don't, also great.


Crushed said...

No, I've often thought it myself.

Even with little things. the street at the bottom of this street USED to be a main road once. Now it is bypassed, but once it was a main road. Never in my lifetime, but it was.

I am the first generation in a thousand years, that sees it as a main road, cut into two by an underpass.

But we are all tied by our birthdate. Us, we don't know of Vietnam, but we saw the Berlin wall fall. Ten years either way, it's a wholw diffeent worldview.

The Tin Drummer said...

The first in a thousand years...and that splits us from those who came before us.

My guess, CBI, is that you and I have more in common with those born 500 years before us than those born 10 years after, at least if my experiences teaching mean anything at all.

Crushed said...

I don't know.
I think people are born in periods, and it is the landscape of their formative years, that matters.

I think we have more in common with our parents, perhaps, than those born ten years later.

Both us AND our parents grew up in the Hiroshima to Yeltsin timeframe. No, we didn't remeber Vietnam, or the sixties, but they were just earlier chapters in the same book.
Not like our grandparents growing up BEFORE the holocaust, in an era of coloured shirted movements and Empires.

But a child reaching eighteen now, does not know of thatcher- or of an iron curtain. Hunfary to them, is just another country, like Italy but a bit further away, not in a totally diffeent world. To me, partly, it always be, it's a 'behind the curtain' country.

But yes, history DOES speed up. Values change quicker and quicker, as communication becomes easier.