Peering into history it is easy to find things that seem ridiculous – like trepanation, the medical practice of drilling holes in the skull to “cure” migraine headaches. Understanding that we are not exempt from history means that someday, people will look back on our world and discover mind-boggling stupidity in things we think ordinary or even clever. So what are we doing that eventually be revealed as incredibly dumb?
There are three possible headings of things our great-grandchildren will mock. These are superfluous things, acts of ignorance, and things that will be described as “they should have known better.”
Fashions, pastimes and other popular practices are almost always laughable in retrospect. All the superfluous trappings are ripe for ridicule. Clothing, fads, all the all passing fancies of popular culture age poorly. Parachute pants and big hair wore out faster than bell bottoms or dancing Flappers. Our duck-faced dub-steppers and mustachioed hipsters are already irritating. These things are made to be temporary, so there is no point in worrying too much about short-lived sensations like reality television and spray tans.
Similarly, ignorance is an unending hallmark of the ages – one that we cannot hold against our forebears, and our descendents should forgive in us. Medical belief in the four humors, or its use of leeches in bloodletting seem comical, but we can forgive. Time marches on, science progresses. We cannot blame people for failing to stop the bubonic plague when germ theory was centuries away from discover. Someday our battles with cancer will seem feeble but it will always be recognized as sincere.
Finally, we must confront the troubling category. There are things we know and do that are simply so wrong that we should collectively “know better.” It behooves us to identify this stuff as soon as possible and simply stop doing it.
My guess is that our early twenty-first century will be derided for (at least) three things. They are as follows.
- Willful ignorance, otherwise known as political correctness.
The best example may come from the 2005 question raised by then-Harvard President Larry Summers. At an academic conference he mused whether or not the under-representation of women in the hard sciences and engineering might be the result of “innate differences” between men and women. Because he asked this question he lost his job. There was no allowance for scientific inquiry, difficult questions, or the simple realization that maybe, just maybe, men and women are different. Summers may be right or he may be wrong, the point is that rather than find out, the politically correct horde decided it was easiest to just shut him up. Other examples abound.
- Lack of moral confidence.
Multi-culturalism has sapped our ability to think clearly. The diversity-mongers force nations and corporations to behave as if every culture is equally noble, and deserving of tolerance. This notion is, in the parlance of Futurama, “pure weapons grade bolog-nium.” Free cultures are better than cultures that subjugate. Codified caste systems, forced female genital mutilation, infanticide, tyranny, and on and on – are all wrong. Without the moral confidence to make judgment and act accordingly, we diminish our own worth and “tolerate” nothing short of needless suffering.
- Belief that we are alone in time.
Human nature has no history. The works of Shakespeare are relevant today because people – our hopes and fears, our bravery and cowardice – remain unchanged. The nineteenth century, bolstered by a faith in the blossoming advances in science and technology, birthed a notion of the perfectability of man. Since then social tinkerers have scrubbed notions of good and evil, of nobility and shamefulness, in pursuit of thwarting human nature. Shortly thereafter along came Karl Marx who added to this the theory that logic itself was not universal, that different classes had not merely different faculties in reason, but differing processes of reason altogether. The pervasiveness of this type of thinking has isolated us in time, ignorant of age-old truths and confident in nothing but our ability to create and define ourselves.
Despite all our advancements, we are not nearly as powerful as we like to think. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner will can continue to advance.