QOTD: Fragility of Cultural Memory

 

Civilization hangs suspended from generation to generation, by the gossamer strand of memory. If only one cohort of mothers and fathers fails to convey to its children what it has learned from its parents, then the great chain of learning and wisdom snaps. If the guardians of human knowledge stumble only one time, in their fall collapses the whole edifice of knowledge and understanding.

–Jacob Neusner

 

Nearly every day I lament, as do others, the cultural and spiritual losses of our country. Those many pillars that have been passed on by our own parents—religion, morality, patriotism, loyalty, democratic principles—are being degraded by the newer generation. Did we fail to pass on these important values? Are these values so fragile that in one or two generations they begin to disappear, wounded and ignored?

Or have we been betrayed by those who were supposed to be the other guardians of our culture: the universities, liberal religions, secularism, politicians, utopians and others, who think they can create a better world, seemingly out of unrealistic hopes and dreams?

Unfortunately, the sources of these problems are legion, hard to pinpoint and resolve.

Is the future of our society as desperate as I suggest, or do you see glimmers of hope?

 

Published in Culture
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There are 30 comments.

  1. Arahant Member

    The books, they are still there. The knowledge is not lost or forgotten, just little accessed by people with their noses stuck to their phones.

    • #1
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:22 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  2. Man With the Axe Member

    There is always hope that the slide into the cultural abyss is actually a pendulum that will at some point swing the other way, much as has happened in other eras. The decadence of the post WWI era comes to mind. There have been religious reawakenings throughout history.

    This is a hope on my part, not a prediction.

    • #2
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:23 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. David Foster Member

    Man With the Axe (View Comment):
    There is always hope that the slide into the cultural abyss is actually a pendulum that will at some point swing the other way, much as has happened in other eras. The decadence of the post WWI era comes to mind.

    The decadence of Weimar Germany slide into Naziism. The decadence of inter-war France (perhaps not as decadent as Germany, but with politics that were almost equally chaotic) slid into defeat. Britain, it is true, recovered a fighting spirit.

    • #3
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:27 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    The books, they are still there. The knowledge is not lost or forgotten, just little accessed by people with their noses stuck to their phones.

    Indeed. Thank goodness that they haven’t burned the books–yet. I’m sorry–I shouldn’t be overly dramatic, but I’m feeling so sad about the losses.

    • #4
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:28 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Arahant Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    The books, they are still there. The knowledge is not lost or forgotten, just little accessed by people with their noses stuck to their phones.

    Indeed. Thank goodness that they haven’t burned the books–yet. I’m sorry–I shouldn’t be overly dramatic, but I’m feeling so sad about the losses.

    Who is in charge? G-d is in charge. Despair not. Be filled with joy. G-d is with us always.

    • #5
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:30 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Man With the Axe (View Comment):

    There is always hope that the slide into the cultural abyss is actually a pendulum that will at some point swing the other way, much as has happened in other eras. The decadence of the post WWI era comes to mind. There have been religious reawakenings throughout history.

    This is a hope on my part, not a prediction.

    It is my hope as well, @manwiththeaxe. But I don’t think Progressivism has made inroads to this degree in the past–the universities are more Left than ever, the politicians have swung far left, outrageous green proposals have been made and lies promulgated. But I’m an optimist at heart. So you’re not alone!

    • #6
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:30 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    The books, they are still there. The knowledge is not lost or forgotten, just little accessed by people with their noses stuck to their phones.

    Indeed. Thank goodness that they haven’t burned the books–yet. I’m sorry–I shouldn’t be overly dramatic, but I’m feeling so sad about the losses.

    Who is in charge? G-d is in charge. Despair not. Be filled with joy. G-d is with us always.

    Thank you.

    • #7
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:33 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. Man With the Axe Member

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Man With the Axe (View Comment):
    There is always hope that the slide into the cultural abyss is actually a pendulum that will at some point swing the other way, much as has happened in other eras. The decadence of the post WWI era comes to mind.

    The decadence of Weimar Germany slide into Naziism. The decadence of inter-war France (perhaps not as decadent as Germany, but with politics that were almost equally chaotic) slid into defeat. Britain, it is true, recovered a fighting spirit.

    That’s a good point. When the pendulum swings away from decadence it isn’t always pretty. 

    • #8
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:36 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Man With the Axe (View Comment):
    There is always hope that the slide into the cultural abyss is actually a pendulum that will at some point swing the other way, much as has happened in other eras. The decadence of the post WWI era comes to mind.

    The decadence of Weimar Germany slide into Naziism. The decadence of inter-war France (perhaps not as decadent as Germany, but with politics that were almost equally chaotic) slid into defeat. Britain, it is true, recovered a fighting spirit.

    So @davidfoster, I know you have an extensive historical perspective. How do you see the present in this country?

    • #9
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:37 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Man With the Axe Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Man With the Axe (View Comment):

    There is always hope that the slide into the cultural abyss is actually a pendulum that will at some point swing the other way, much as has happened in other eras. The decadence of the post WWI era comes to mind. There have been religious reawakenings throughout history.

    This is a hope on my part, not a prediction.

    It is my hope as well, @manwiththeaxe. But I don’t think Progressivism has made inroads to this degree in the past–the universities are more Left than ever, the politicians have swung far left, outrageous green proposals have been made and lies promulgated. But I’m an optimist at heart. So you’re not alone!

    All that is true. Perhaps the hope lies in the younger generation, having been corrupted first by the teachers (products of the corrupt teachers’ colleges), and then further corrupted by the universities, will figure out that the bill of goods they have been sold is a bunch of falsehoods, as they slide further out of prosperity and freedom and into a world of want and despotism. 

    Maybe the historical analogue is the rebellion against tyranny in the Eastern Bloc (Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc.)

    • #10
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:40 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  11. Vectorman Thatcher

    David Foster (View Comment):
    The decadence of Weimar Germany slide into Naziism. The decadence of inter-war France (perhaps not as decadent as Germany, but with politics that were almost equally chaotic) slid into defeat. Britain, it is true, recovered a fighting spirit.

    There was some decadence in Britain between the wars, but its major problem was horror imposed by the losses of WWI combined with the rise of Socialism. It took Churchill to wake up the masses rather than to capitulate like the French.

     


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    • #11
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:42 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. SkipSul Moderator

    Susan Quinn:

    Nearly every day I lament, as do others, the cultural and spiritual losses of our country. Those many pillars that have been passed on by our own parents—religion, morality, patriotism, loyalty, democratic principles—are being degraded by the newer generation. Did we fail to pass on these important values? Are these values so fragile that in one or two generations they begin to disappear, wounded and ignored?

    Or have we been betrayed by those who were supposed to be the other guardians of our culture: the universities, liberal religions, secularism, politicians, utopians and others, who think they can create a better world, seemingly out of unrealistic hopes and dreams?

    I think our forebears failed to fully live what they professed, and failed to fully understand it. You can try and teach the next generation all you like, but if you do not live what you teach, it’s not as likely to stick.

    That’s only part of it, of course. Each generation faces challenges to what it takes for granted, and sometimes fails to articulate why things are necessary because it no longer remembers. Then when those things are challenged, there is no adequate defense. Or maybe the right things are defended in the wrong ways or for the wrong reasons.

    And of course there are challenges that are entirely novel as well (or they often seem novel at first glance, but are repeats of very old and dangerous ideas).

    But the point is that it’s never enough to teach, or to take things for granted, or to assume either strength or fragility when something has not been tested. They have to not be merely taught, but made and remade anew each time, so that each generation assumes them as their own.

    • #12
    • September 10, 2019, at 9:15 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    I think our forebears failed to fully live what they professed, and failed to fully understand it. You can try and teach the next generation all you like, but if you do not live what you teach, it’s not as likely to stick.

    Fascinating, @skipsul. How far back are you going when you say “forbears”; are you referring to the Founders or the generation before us, or all of the above? I’m not at all challenging you, but wonder what your meaning is. I’m in complete agreement that if we don’t live what we preach, we have no credibility and therefore no ability to influence others.

    • #13
    • September 10, 2019, at 10:44 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. SkipSul Moderator

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    I think our forebears failed to fully live what they professed, and failed to fully understand it. You can try and teach the next generation all you like, but if you do not live what you teach, it’s not as likely to stick.

    Fascinating, @skipsul. How far back are you going when you say “forbears”; are you referring to the Founders or the generation before us, or all of the above? I’m not at all challenging you, but wonder what your meaning is. I’m in complete agreement that if we don’t live what we preach, we have no credibility and therefore no ability to influence others.

    I was citing it as one factor among many for when culture does shift or even break. If we look at the decline in religious observance, for instance, we don’t have to look more than a couple of generations back to see its roots.

    For instance, the slow decline of the so-called “Mainline” Protestant denominations, and the growth of the Evangelicals and non-denominationals in the 60s through 80s, was partly* driven by the perception the Boomers had, that if you couldn’t show up in a suit and tie then you weren’t welcome in church – before the doctrinal disputes split wide open, there was a cultural criticism that the older denominations had ceased living the faith even while preserving its forms. So a lot of people started or moved to more casual churches where, for them, their faith felt lived and alive.

    This is just one example that comes to mind, and even on its own it was but one factor among many others.

    The rapid overall decline of religious observance today is, I think, another example. Do people live like their faith matters? Do they live like they believe it? I think for a great many of the “nones” as they are called, the odds are pretty good that for their parents and elders, faith may not have been really lived out.

    • #14
    • September 10, 2019, at 11:21 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  15. Rodin Member

    I fear the “recovery” (which is likely just a different future with more individual liberty under an unknown constitution and societal structure) will be a long time in coming. Mark Levin had Dr. Epstein on Sunday to outline his research on how Google is manipulating our society through “ephemeral experiences”. The value of this manipulation both in commerce and in politics (supporting that form of commerce) makes it unclear that Google et al will actually be defeated before the public is so controlled by these “ephemeral experiences” that the power of a democracy can be brought to bear upon them. I am put in mind of “soma” from Brave New World. Some peoples will continue to exist outside their ambit but not in numbers that represent meaningful political and culture force. The embers will burn low but persistently until someday when something unexpected happens to reverse the spell. A fish does not notice the water in which it swims. The people will not notice the loss of liberty when they are constantly told and re-enforced about how “free” and “virtuous” they are. Google will put goggles on us all and we will live the virtual reality experience that they dictate. Well, except that some of us won’t.

    • #15
    • September 10, 2019, at 11:43 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    I was citing it as one factor among many for when culture does shift or even break. If we look at the decline in religious observance, for instance, we don’t have to look more than a couple of generations back to see its roots.

    For instance, the slow decline of the so-called “Mainline” Protestant denominations, and the growth of the Evangelicals and non-denominationals in the 60s through 80s, was partly* driven by the perception the Boomers had, that if you couldn’t show up in a suit and tie then you weren’t welcome in church – before the doctrinal disputes split wide open, there was a cultural criticism that the older denominations had ceased living the faith even while preserving its forms. So a lot of people started or moved to more casual churches where, for them, their faith felt lived and alive.

    This is just one example that comes to mind, and even on its own it was but one factor among many others.

    The rapid overall decline of religious observance today is, I think, another example. Do people live like their faith matters? Do they live like they believe it? I think for a great many of the “nones” as they are called, the odds are pretty good that for their parents and elders, faith may not have been really lived out.

    Thanks so much, @skipsul for these examples. I thought this was where you were going. The examples are legion. I was raised with a superficial version of Judaism, so much so that I went to another religion. It turns out that Judaism offered what I wanted all along, and more. My grandparents were following some observances, but with little devotion or spirit. It was just how they lived; I doubt that G-d had little to do with it. And rather than their following a strong value system, just surviving was primary for them.

    We could point to many aspects of our society, particularly the morals and values, that were given lip service, but not “lived.” There is so much distance between the times when these social and cultural values were alive and embraced, that I wonder how we can ever get them back.

    • #16
    • September 10, 2019, at 11:44 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Rodin (View Comment):
    Google will put goggles on us all and we will live the virtual reality experience that they dictate. Well, except that some of us won’t.

    Maybe those of us who are self-aware (like you and me, @rodin) will fight the takeover long enough, with each others’ support, that we will be “The Resistance.” I wasn’t surprised by what Dr. Epstein said.

    I doubt that there will be one shock to wake us up. As traumatic as it might be, there may need to be a number of losses for people to see over the “Google goggles.” But the question is, will they be inspired to do so, or will they turn to those who have corrupted them to “make things better”?

    • #17
    • September 10, 2019, at 11:49 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. SkipSul Moderator

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    I was citing it as one factor among many for when culture does shift or even break. If we look at the decline in religious observance, for instance, we don’t have to look more than a couple of generations back to see its roots.

    For instance, the slow decline of the so-called “Mainline” Protestant denominations, and the growth of the Evangelicals and non-denominationals in the 60s through 80s, was partly* driven by the perception the Boomers had, that if you couldn’t show up in a suit and tie then you weren’t welcome in church – before the doctrinal disputes split wide open, there was a cultural criticism that the older denominations had ceased living the faith even while preserving its forms. So a lot of people started or moved to more casual churches where, for them, their faith felt lived and alive.

    This is just one example that comes to mind, and even on its own it was but one factor among many others.

    The rapid overall decline of religious observance today is, I think, another example. Do people live like their faith matters? Do they live like they believe it? I think for a great many of the “nones” as they are called, the odds are pretty good that for their parents and elders, faith may not have been really lived out.

    Thanks so much, @skipsul for these examples. I thought this was where you were going. The examples are legion. I was raised with a superficial version of Judaism, so much so that I went to another religion. It turns out that Judaism offered what I wanted all along, and more. My grandparents were following some observances, but with little devotion or spirit. It was just how they lived; I doubt that G-d had little to do with it. And rather than their following a strong value system, just surviving was primary for them.

    We could point to many aspects of our society, particularly the morals and values, that were given lip service, but not “lived.” There is so much distance between the times when these social and cultural values were alive and embraced, that I wonder how we can ever get them back.

    A priest I know likes to put it this way: Do we need GD? Or have all our needs been otherwise fulfilled? It’s a tough challenge.

    • #18
    • September 10, 2019, at 12:24 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. David Foster Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    So @davidfoster, I know you have an extensive historical perspective. How do you see the present in this country?

    I try to be optimistic, but it’s hard. There are so many people who you can’t even argue or debate with, because not only are their positions rigid, their positions are all interlinked, so there is no starting point.

    Social media has been a huge detriment: most political ‘discussion’ and ‘persuasion’ on FB and Twitter consists of circulating simplistic memes (without any factual links in support) and insulting the opposition. Twitter is especially toxic as a medium for on-line mobbing.

    Blogs are a much more beneficial media form; it is very unfortunate that so much online energy has switched from blogs to social media.

    Perhaps the best argument in favor of optimism is the increasing ridiculousness of the Left, which we can hope more and more people will finally recognize.

    • #19
    • September 10, 2019, at 2:16 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. David Foster Member

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    It took Churchill to wake up the masses rather than to capitulate like the French.

     

    In fairness, the French put up more of a fight than is generally recognized. French casualties *killed* in the brief campaign of 1940 were about 100,000, out of a population base much smaller than our own.

    See my post about the military and social/political factors leading to the defeat here: An Unexpected Defeat.

     

     

    • #20
    • September 10, 2019, at 2:20 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  21. Front Seat Cat Member

    I’m trying to reconcile this post with the one about guns…..sigh…

    • #21
    • September 10, 2019, at 2:40 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. Man With the Axe Member

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Perhaps the best argument in favor of optimism is the increasing ridiculousness of the Left, which we can hope more and more people will finally recognize.

    A few minutes ago I saw an article on Vox arguing for giving the vote to children of any age so long as they could fill out the ballot. And it was not ironic. They really mean it. 

    • #22
    • September 10, 2019, at 2:57 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Man With the Axe (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Perhaps the best argument in favor of optimism is the increasing ridiculousness of the Left, which we can hope more and more people will finally recognize.

    A few minutes ago I saw an article on Vox arguing for giving the vote to children of any age so long as they could fill out the ballot. And it was not ironic. They really mean it.

    Good grief .

    • #23
    • September 10, 2019, at 3:01 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Coolidge

    Susan Quinn:

    Civilization hangs suspended from generation to generation, by the gossamer strand of memory. If only one cohort of mothers and fathers fails to convey to its children what it has learned from its parents, then the great chain of learning and wisdom snaps. If the guardians of human knowledge stumble only one time, in their fall collapses the whole edifice of knowledge and understanding.

    –Jacob Neusner

     

    Nearly every day I lament, as do others, the cultural and spiritual losses of our country. Those many pillars that have been passed on by our own parents—religion, morality, patriotism, loyalty, democratic principles—are being degraded by the newer generation. Did we fail to pass on these important values? Are these values so fragile that in one or two generations they begin to disappear, wounded and ignored?

    Or have we been betrayed by those who were supposed to be the other guardians of our culture: the universities, liberal religions, secularism, politicians, utopians and others, who think they can create a better world, seemingly out of unrealistic hopes and dreams?

    Unfortunately, the sources of these problems are legion, hard to pinpoint and resolve.

    Is the future of our society as desperate as I suggest, or do you see glimmers of hope?

     

     

    • #24
    • September 10, 2019, at 5:10 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Coolidge

    My hope is in the Torah. They may put every piece of writing ever written online and make every book ipad accessible, but when you open the ark in a synagogue, an actual Torah scroll must be there (according to halacha or Torah law, which is eternal), written by a scribe, in special ink, on parchment.

    • #25
    • September 10, 2019, at 5:19 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  26. Jon1979 Lincoln

    I think it was Jonah Goldberg a few years ago who made the point that we’re born into a family unit that mimics the ideal socialist system, in that the parents abilities provide for the needs of the child. That doesn’t work in the adult world, because it incentivizes people not to grow up, but a lot of people reach adulthood not understanding that, and wanting society to cater to them in the same way mom and dad did.

    For the left, that means they’re always getting a new supply of young adults who want the end product of the benefits, without either knowing or caring how the product gets there, just as your toddler doesn’t really understand the financial process that allows him to ask his parents for money to buy some toy or candy. So for the right, it’s a perpetual battle to get enough of those people to figure things out by the time they start their own families, and you don’t have a situation where a majority of voters elect politicians who promise them free stuff, paid for by Other People’s Money.

    (In an unfortunate way, it helps to still have real-life examples of the end-game of socialism in places like Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea, to provide a real-world example to the millenials and Gen Zers of where something-for-nothing always ends, since the older generations had the low quality-of-life examples in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc to force them to rethink their love of Big Government. And it worked for the most part with the Boomers — 50 years ago, the left was salivating at the new 18-year-old voters, thinking the anti-war Boomers would keep them in power for the next half-century. Instead, they’re now hoping those racist/sexist/homophobic geezer Boomers will die off already, so the progressive millenals and Gen Z voters can take over.)

    • #26
    • September 10, 2019, at 6:42 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  27. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    As long as Hillsdale College exists, all is not lost. We conservatives, who study and take to heart the founding documents of this country, who home-school their children, who live out their religion, will be the hope of the world. Do not despair, Susan.

    • #27
    • September 11, 2019, at 10:47 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  28. Henry Castaigne Member

    Susan Quinn:

    Civilization hangs suspended from generation to generation, by the gossamer strand of memory. If only one cohort of mothers and fathers fails to convey to its children what it has learned from its parents, then the great chain of learning and wisdom snaps. If the guardians of human knowledge stumble only one time, in their fall collapses the whole edifice of knowledge and understanding.

    –Jacob Neusner

    It’s like we are tired together by mystic chords of memory or something. 

    • #28
    • September 13, 2019, at 11:08 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  29. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn:

    Civilization hangs suspended from generation to generation, by the gossamer strand of memory. If only one cohort of mothers and fathers fails to convey to its children what it has learned from its parents, then the great chain of learning and wisdom snaps. If the guardians of human knowledge stumble only one time, in their fall collapses the whole edifice of knowledge and understanding.

    –Jacob Neusner

    It’s like we are tired together by mystic chords of memory or something.

    Indeed. But those chords are so delicate and easily frayed. And I don’t think we appreciate them as we should or could. Thanks, @henrycastaigne.

    • #29
    • September 13, 2019, at 11:23 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  30. Shauna Hunt Member

    There is so much good in the world, we just need to look harder to find it. It’s there. It’s also important to celebrate the small victories. This quote defines how I feel:

    While there are some things wrong in the world today, there are many things right, such as teachers who teach, ministers who minister, marriages that make it, parents who sacrifice, and friends who help.
    We can lift ourselves, and others as well, when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues. –Thomas S. Monson

    • #30
    • September 13, 2019, at 2:01 PM PDT
    • 5 likes