January 30, 2007

The Long View

John Jay over at The Chicago Boyz has a great piece on the blinkering effect of taking a "temporal snapshot" view of the world:

If I take a step or two back and look at recorded history with a macro view, I get the feeling that the fact that mankind has an extremely short recorded and civilized history relative to our species’ past is extremely important. Each generation of a successful society (prior to the modern world) wasn’t quite sure what parts of its culture contributed to its success, so it clung to tradition like a security blanket. That kept society going, but it perpetuated some ugly habits, too. We cling to some counter-productive habits, such as racism and sexism, but in their day, when other automatically meant danger, and when large numbers of women who didn’t produce lots of kids meant societal death, those were survival traits.

We are slowly casting off the bad habits of millennia, habits developed to defend against societal death in an age of scarcity, famine, and unpredictable natural and man-made disasters. Some of those habits are retarding progress in our modern world, and some are part of the over-stressed glue that holds us together. Trouble is, because of our limitations in making dynamic models that include a temporal dimension, we can’t always predict the effect of eliminating a habit of thought.

So, as Zenpundit pointed out, the opposite of progress can happen, too, when societies get to the third generation outlined by the Japanese Colonel, and decide to do away with all those notions to which the old fogies cling, forgetting that the experiences of the previous generation shape the next one – change the experience of your kids’ generation, and the grandkids may well grow up wild. The modern West, especially the generation of ’68, has assumed that the material success it enjoyed was either accidental or inevitable, and so set about dismantling social constructs that did not meet the approval of the avant garde, sometimes finding out the forgotten reasons for creating those ancient constructs when things fell apart.

Yes, yes, yes. John covers a whoooole range of societal topics literally from the beginning to the end of the world, and I'm not sure after a quick dash through that I agree with absolutely all of his points and conclusions, but his underlying premise - that it's foolish and possibly disastrously so to make assumptions about the current and future state of Mankind without having a solid understanding of our past and a sense of the long view - is irrefutable.

Read the whole thing. It's long but worth it.

Yips! to the Blowhards.

Posted by Robert at January 30, 2007 10:04 AM | TrackBack

Thanks for the shout out. I'm not sure I have many conclusions, it's more a set of musings than a philosophical stand, other than a shot at those who would throw the baby out with the bathwater when looking at Western Civ.

Posted by: John at January 31, 2007 02:37 PM