Historical Myopia, Part II: The Search for Alien Bricklayers

step pyramid

A previous post of mine explored historical myopia- the idea that today is always worse than the past. An example I used was air travel; the common refrain today is that flying is as glamorous as a Greyhound bus, while air travel decades ago mirrors an episode of Mad Men.

We take the “good” part yet dismiss the context, the fact that only a tiny percentage of Americans could afford to fly decades ago. Along with other tropes such as the loss of family dinners, mom & pop stores, and the soaring costs of everything from soap to automobiles this form of historical myopia draws on our own experiences and those of no more than a generation or so before us.

There is another manifestation of this phenomenon and perhaps the best example is the current love affair people have with aliens and their supposed interventions with ancient civilizations. I realize this is a humorous and possibly trivial illustration but it is part of a broader idea that humans too often tend to view the past through the lens of the present.

Giorgio A. Tsoukalos of Ancient Aliens on History Channel

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Historical Myopia: The Good Old Days Were Not Always So Good

broken tv

Global warming, global cooling, nuclear war, epidemics, mass shootings, overpopulation, extinction, depressions, recessions, artificial intelligence, Seth MacFarlane. “Today” is the precipice of our own destruction and “yesterday” always better, simpler.

The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich, 1968                Time, "How to Survive the Coming Ice Age", 1977                Family Guy

The tendency to romanticize the “good ol’ days” is not unique and not necessarily a bad thing. It is what I like to call historical myopia (not sure where the phrase originated but I’m not taking credit for it). Myopia is the medical term for near-sightedness, meaning an inability to see clearly at a distance. We have a tendency to pick and choose events and eras from the past that today seem better but too often our memory is distorted or only partially informed.

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