27 March 2014

Blinded by the New

I clearly recall a conversation I had during my freshman year in college. I happened to join in with a group of students going somewhere and the conversation turned to cars. At one point I said, "I would love to own a 1929 Duesenberg." A girl I was next to said "Ooooh, that's and old car. I only like new ones."

Over time I found her attitude to be symptomatic of our culture. We are dazzled and fascinated by all the new consumer items, presented to us as technological progress certain to make us happy and more productive. This girl could see cars only as something to amaze her by unsuspected features and as a status symbol. It never occurred to her that an automobile can be an art object, that it can be appreciated for its beauty, that some cars are artistically superior to others.

Now, I quite agree that the autos coming out now days are far superior in durability and safety, among other characteristics, to cars from the early 20th century. I am also aware that there are plenty of people who, like me, appreciate art over industry, relationships over gadgets. What I am saying is that as a culture, we ignore the past to such an extent that we no longer understand where we come from and therefore do not understand who we really are or how we got here.

It is also clear that marketing depends on this blindness to the past for its very existence. If we were content with what we have, we would not buy nearly so much. Therefore practically nothing in the media sets out to have us value the past or see it as relevant. Our acquiescence in this situation makes us easy prey for those who wish to take our money and for politicians. The latter depend on our ignorance of history to feed us their version of who we are and then convince us it is our interest to vote for them.

We need to study our natural and our written history. Without it we cannot understand who we are. If we don't know where we came from, we cannot see where we are headed. We also need to study geography. If we don't know where the rest of the world is, we don't know where we are.

My character Angela Fournier craves this kind of historical and geopolitical context because she's driven to understand herself and the people around her. We would all be better off if we followed her example.

Find her at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid

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