Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Memory and the Future

This piece by Ryan Avent displays a rare sense of humility  in admitting how difficult it is to imagine the future and how our descendants might judge us.  To participate, consider how you think about the past, and in particular the decisions made by our predecessors.  Do you lament or celebrate the widespread adoption of the automobile, or the industrial development that polluted so much of our environment, or...  anything?  The sad truth is we think little about the past at all, the world is what it is and we try to make the best of it.

This is part of what I dislike about preservationism, the idea that we should preserve structures so that future generations can enjoy them.  Who knows what future generations will enjoy or value or need?  Think about BDS shutting down the Green Castle cart pod in part because a neighborhood planning document written in 1987 didn't contemplate food carts.  1987!  That's only 24 years ago, yet I have absolutely no idea, interest, or even desire to know what people back then thought except as a purely historical concern.  How much less compelling would be the ideas and intentions of people from fifty years ago, or a hundred?

Preservation doesn't save the past so much as it foists the present whether people want it or not.   Implicit is the belief that the way things are now is the best that they could ever be, and that any change would necessarily be for the worse.  It is narcissism writ large.

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