October 25, 2009
The past is an ever-persistent now, more than ever!
A Wall Street Journal book review (of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age) makes an important point about the inherent conflict between digital and human memory:
We once could improve ourselves by shedding our pasts. Now the past is always with us.The past is more than merely with us. The past is in the present, as never before -- to the point where it literally overwhelms the present by blurring all time distinctions.
A lot of people have written about the insane increase in the number of laws and the criminalization of nearly everything, and I think this inability to forget is leading to a much more unforgiving attitude on the part of everyone. It becomes impossible to forgive things that always seem right there in front of you no matter how old they are. Saying something like "that happened a long time ago" -- once a reasonable statement grounded in common sense -- now sounds outdated, and almost lame as a defense. And yet sometimes the passage of time does matter. Times change, and customs with them.
A perfect example is the way Richard Nixon's various grumblings to his aides are brought to new life and judged by contemporary standards. Nixon is now seen as a racist, an anti-Semite, and a homophobe, and while no one would defend any of his remarks, the fact is that attitudes like Nixon's were shared by innumerable powerful men of his day and his generation. In short, his peers. To overlook this is to overlook reality. Yet when we see Nixon as "the most racist" or "the most sexist" president, we give LBJ or FDR or JFK a pass -- only because tapes of their mutterings are not available for scrutiny on the Internet. Nixon is forever -- and permanently -- distorted simply because of the persistence of memory.
Yeah, I know that's a Dalí title. Nixon is permanently hung out to dry like the famous Dalinian watch!
Yeah, I know that's Coco who got PhotoShopped in there instead of Nixon, but I'm just too lazy to PhotoShop Richard Nixon into Dalí's art. Besides, my memory is already cluttered enough, and thanks to the persistence of memory, Coco's breed is being persecuted at least as persistently as Nixon memory, and I think it sheds some light on how the persistence of memory is distorting legislation.
The pit bull will do as an example. For those don't like pit bulls and think it's an example of my bias, please hear me out anyway, for the memory mechanism works the same way for almost anything.
As I tried to explain before, humans have only a limited ability to endure reading pit bull horror stories:
human beings have only a limited capacity to endure reading horror stories about mauled children, and if there are, say, a half a dozen such stories a year, if each story is widely circulated, then a cumulative effect is created, and the reaction tends to be along the lines of "how much more of this must we as a society endure?" The ugly fact is, these stories are very hard to read; it makes me sick to read about a child being mauled to death. Add to this the fact that in many instances there are gruesome pictures of little girls who survived "pit bull" attacks, pictures showing awful disfigurement, details of the years of plastic surgery which will be needed, and all of these pictures and stories will remain online forever, and little wonder that people say, "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!" Never mind that banning a breed will no more prevent child maulings than banning a type of gun will prevent its misuse.So, even if there are millions of pit bulls with six fatal attacks on children annually, each attack becomes a permanently recorded online tragedy with gruesome pictures, and if it happened in 1999, it will look just as gruesome and just as new this year, or in 2019. Except that in 2019 there will have been that many more each year, that many more victims, and that many more people screaming "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!" "How many more pit bull attacks must we endure?"
And how many more drug overdose deaths before we finally get tough and do something? How many more oil spills? How many more My Lais massacres? It is as if everything that happens will henceforth always be happening, and will always be in the present. By being more persistent than ever before, memory is distorted accordingly.
How long must we tolerate the persistence of memory before we say "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!"?
Sometimes I wish I could do what they used to do in the old days, and just fuhgeddaboutit.
Do we have to relearn how to forget?
posted by Eric on 10.25.09 at 12:27 PM
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