Sunday, October 17, 2021

On Our divided Times

 James just quoted a paragraph from CS Lewis's Introduction to what was them a new edition of Athanasius, "On The Reading Of Old Books," and an excellent paragraph it is.

Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books.

If you ask me what those assumptions are, I will say it is a hundred things we do not notice, and I am not likely better at seeing such things as the next man.  Yet I do think there is one difference among us that is growing, of those who live and breathe and have their being electronically and those who live lives more like our grandparents did.  Yet none of us has lives very much like their grandparents, and they were the pivot generation that saw the introduction of flight, automobiles, radio, the telephone and some other major technological changes. There is more similarity in lives from 1900 backward, and we have been hopping for it ever since.


Narr said...

Hitler, FDR, Wells, and Barth all would have agreed that homosexuals should keep it on the downlow.

That's one.

Christopher B said...

Not a refutation but some tangential thoughts.

I saw a post on FB a couple of days before this that lamented using cell phones for text and email instead of voice communication with the poster again oblivious to both the thousands of years of asynchronous communication across time and space, and the probable irony of using a cell phone to share the meme (cave paintings, anyone?). I know hardly anyone of any age who has not largely dropped the habit still common not more that thirty years ago of making a mad dash to pick up a ringing phone. We may be living in an anomaly.

An Army officer lecturing on WWI made the comment that an officer transported from 1914 to 1918 would have been presented with weapons, organizations, and tactics utterly foreign to his training and experience. Transport an officer with battle experience from 1918 to 1998, however, and he would likely recognize the logical progression of the weapons and tactics that had been worked out in the preceding four years. Things change but then stasis sets in, perhaps for a much longer time than it took for the change to take hold.

There's often more similarity than appears at first glance, especially because we forget things that were once commonplace. To a person from 1918, for example, texting and emailing in 2018 could be simply more convenient telegrams and letters. They could have been familiar with the emerging radio and mass popular entertainment (movies), and certainly would recognize the telephone, online shopping (Sears catalog), and package delivery services. They might wonder why the post office had gotten so inefficient. We might be the ones who have lost touch with what people did before, and how they organized their lives.

That person from 1918 might also recognize a lot more about our current national and international politics. Immigration (from Eastern Europe) was a concern. There were the Palmer raids, the first Red Scare, and the drive for Prohibition (the first war on drugs). Global travel, though slower, was likely more common place than we who grew up in the Cold War probably imagine. World flash points are similar.

Strauss and Howe generation theory predicts that the generation we've seen since the mid-2000s start of the current Crisis would be an Artist archetype, with overprotective but pre-occupied parents, highly socialized, and more conformist than the team-oriented Millennials now entering middle age and individualistic Gen-X's entering elderhood.