An initial rave, with and in response to Panu Pihkala.
We are frequently told we should live in the present, and focus on the moment, as a mode of therapeutic behaviour. At the same time people complain about other people’s lack of history and their lack of understanding of how events connect together.
This article briefly explores the dilemmas of this issue.
If we live solely in the present then, to some extent, we are stripped of our conscious past and our experience. We can call this having a short time horizon.
As is well known, experiences are given their meaning by their context, and one context is always our previous experience. This context and experience, also suggests to us how we could act in the current situation. Sometimes we can get stuck in repeating the acts, but sometimes we can learn from that past. Without the past we have no space for conscious reflection and action – so we might make no conscious progression – we are simply locked into automism, and ‘pure response’ to what appears to be happening to us.
This is helped by our ways of living.
The Internet helps us live a haze, as its multiple links can always take us everywhere, so that we do not develop a continuous train of thought, we are always accepting in the moment and only have reflex like criticisms of what we read. If we like it, then it is correct and we might pass it – the act of passing it on, is also an interruption of thought – if we don’t like it, then it is false and we can forget it – we don’t have to ponder, we can just abuse.
We go over text by quickly scanning rather than with attention, to select what we want to know, to bolster what we want to know, or confirm what we want to know. This behaviour makes us more vulnerable to manipulation. When we present something which turns out to be embarrassingly wrong we can delete the whole thread, so we don’t have to be reminded of our failure, we just live in the present.
Because we move on quickly and keep to the present, then we do not for example, have to read books, we can just accept the summaries by those who tell us what we want to hear.
Our places of work, in general, are restructured, and re-organised almost at whim. Many people do not even have a place in the workplace which is their own – they are shifted around deliberately, networks and connections are constantly broken – new software changes our ways of proceeding. We build only on ‘flexibility’ – which generally means accepting that we should “do as we are told”.
As part of the acceleration of life, it can be inconvenient to remember the past. What is the use of knowing MS-DOs or CPM now? What is the use of remembering the hardships of earlier days, when we have the hardships of now – and do younger people really want to be told of the problems of being young in the 1970s, as an aid to life? Is it remotely relevant to them?
This lack of past is convenient for society’s dominant forces, because we cannot see events getting worse, or learn how to avoid them, and we cannot learn from the past.
We don’t have to know anything about Marx, socialism, worker’s rights or whatever, because that was the past, and we are in a different and better(?) world, which has no interest in what the past can teach, except perhaps in flashes.
It seems to be the case in the contemporary world that followers repeatedly dismiss the past lies of their heroes, and anticipate that their leader’s current statements must be the truth because they have no reason to distrust them – partly because they cannot remember the past lies, or the past times the pronouncements did not turn out as expected. Knowing everyone has no past, there is no attempt by those leaders to construct a coherent and vaguely true narrative – other than the narrative that they are always successful or always correct, no matter how often they fail. No one can check them, and if they do then it is not relevant, because of the new important conflict that has arisen.
Indeed leaders may attempt to overwhelm people still further by generating constant upheaval and scandal, so that the past is always overwhelmed by the present.
Low time horizons strip away both meaning and recognition of the complexity that is fundamental to the world. As well as stripping away the past, we strip away the future.
Without a sense of time, then we cannot understand events that move in time, and change radically over time, like pandemics and exponential increase of cases – we are probably not very good at understanding that anyway – we just reduce the event to this moment. The figures at this moment are always static and deniable. “Life can go back to normal,” to booze, physical contact and social eating, without there being any change, or any possible consequences of that action. Indeed it is doubtful whether people think hard about the consequences for those who are less healthy than themselves. Those people can look out for themselves – everything is simple – there is no effect.
With climate change, we can assume the change is somewhere in the future, therefore not troubling to us now, which also helps those who profit through generating climate change. With the constant new information, refutations and scandal, the majority of people will not remember last years’ fires, they may be open to being persuaded that those fires were not that bad, by people who could have a longer strategy to make the situation worse, or who are just reinforcing their own defenses against awareness. Without history people will not notice the heat as it increases, because they adapt and get used to it, until it is too late.
The shallow time horizon lowers the change of us seeing the trajectory of changes as they pass – things have been as they are now, forever.
In this process, we are possibly defending against anticipated trauma – the knowing that we, and our children, are probably doomed. If so, this is part of a flight from personal death into an eternal present, where it can be no worse than it currently is – it is a mode of denial and defense, backed up by the routines of our lives