July 6, 2007


No embrace of modernity (Christopher Pearson, July 07, 2007, The Australian)

JULIAN Barnes, the English novelist, neatly summed up one of the prevailing vanities of our times, saying he was sick of the way "we expect the past to suck up to the present". Most of us, and many professional historians, view the past in a narcissistic way, emphasising the elements that may serve to show modern man in a flattering light and reassure us of our own relative sophistication and moral superiority. We tend to see previous generations mainly through the prism of our preoccupations and governing assumptions, rather than on their own terms, and judge them accordingly.

It's part and parcel of the Whig view of history, the triumphal march of progress. The Enlightenment broke the shackles of superstition and unleashed reason and empirical inquiry. The undoubted advances in science, technology and medicine during the past 300 years have lent so much plausibility to that scenario that most of the developed world takes it for granted.

In a sense, we are all slaves to the zeitgeist. The only significant critiques of modernity come from radical Islam and the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

Most importantly, we're terrified of judging ourselves by their terms, because we'd come off so badly--such is the impetus for relativism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 6, 2007 3:21 PM

So when we judge them by our terms - they look bad. And when we judge us by their terms - we look bad.

How is that relativistic? What makes their terms absolute and ours relative?

Posted by: Brandon at July 6, 2007 3:48 PM

We do Brandon. Multiculturalism is the tempo of this Age. Self evident truths was the tempo of theirs.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at July 6, 2007 4:20 PM


And were their truths so "self-evident"? A lot of them don't seem that way now.

Posted by: Brandon at July 6, 2007 4:27 PM

No one ever thinks that today is the pinnacle of achievement. The relativist left thinks the golden age occurred in the 1960s. Which of course was when they were just entering adulthood and hadn't yet screwed things up.

The late substitution of "self-evident" for "sacred" in the Declaration was a catastrophic mistake.

Posted by: b at July 6, 2007 4:46 PM

With the exception of music, certainly. I mean, the 80s ruled.

Posted by: John at July 6, 2007 5:55 PM

No, when we judge them by our terms they look quite good.

Posted by: oj at July 6, 2007 7:05 PM

Really, now? Slavery, despotism, poverty, disease, the past really looks like a shining city on a hill now doesn't it?

Posted by: Brandon at July 6, 2007 10:43 PM

Brandon, we have all that now. But the West once understood that Slavery was wrong for everyone. Now we excuse it as "cultural". The West once understood that poverty was bad for everyone. Now we call improving alien lives "cultural imperialism". The West once understood that disease was bad for people. Now DDT is "bad for the enviroment" which of course, trumps stopping Malaria . Once the West cheered when we removed despots. Now 1/200 of the lives lost to cars each year is too high a price to pay.....
What truths to you think are no longer self evident? Are men not created equal? Life no longer a right? Liberty cost too much? what?

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at July 7, 2007 12:49 AM

Yes, slavery was a preferable institution to total war and genocide, which we moderns use. Chattel slavery was a different matter but did improve the lot of Africans. Their despotism was far less intrusive than our democracy. Poverty is mental. Disease was no fun, but all they had to do was wash up a little--modernity did nothing about it.

Posted by: oj at July 7, 2007 7:47 AM

Brandon, the shinning city on the hill corrected those ills and we're still tweaking the corrections. You sound like a leftie who can't have a happy moment as long one cigarette smoker (pot smokers get a bye) exists or one SUV (other than theirs) is still on the road.

Things aren't perfect, but we're still working on it.

All you gloom and doomers. Get out and behold the smiling faces of your fellow Americans. It'll do you a world of good.

Posted by: erp at July 7, 2007 7:52 AM


I sound like a leftie? No, you're just not listening to me.

My point is not that the present is univerally better than the past. It isn't. Nor will I accept that the past was universally better than the present. It wasn't.

OJ, you're just excusing the flaws of the past to make the present look bad.

Posted by: Brandon at July 7, 2007 9:22 AM

Brandon, some of us think you are excusing the flaws of the present to make the past look bad. What did the past have to compare to Abortion? Millions of babies sacrificed on the alter of neoBaal. That's not all, now we debate eating their hearts to gain their strength.......

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at July 7, 2007 9:34 AM

Features. Not flaws.

Posted by: oj at July 7, 2007 9:36 AM

Brandon, I don't mean you're sounding like a leftie because of your views, only because a leftie can't ever be happy because everything in the universe can't ever be lined up to his satisfaction.

Posted by: erp at July 8, 2007 9:21 AM