Too Much in the Moment

Much has been said about “living in the moment,” and there is in fact some truth to the need to live in the moment, simply because we cannot undo what has happened in the past, nor can we do much about the future, except prepare for it, and there is such a thing as over-preparing for a future that may never come, or a future that bears little resemblance to what we’ve predicted or imagined.

Unfortunately, as many wise individuals have declared, the past and history have a tendency to repeat themselves, or at least rhyme, as Mark Twain put it, and the saddest and truest rhymes are those based on human failings. This unhappy truth has a great bearing on one of the greatest weaknesses in current U.S. culture and education – the lack of knowledge and understanding about past U.S. culture and history by younger Americans, and an almost total ignorance of even recent past world history. The failing is compounded by a great lack of knowledge of basic economics and politics and an over-emphasis on present-day culture and instant satisfaction, supplied in large measure electronically.

What most young Americans know about Hitler, for example, is that he killed a great many Jews [and some even doubt that] and started World War II. Most cannot explain either World War I or World War II. Nor do they know anything about the student protests surrounding the Vietnam War. They don’t know and can’t explain the factors underlying the Russian Revolution, and the Great Depression is essentially two meaningless words to them. Oh, they may be able to cite various dates and events, but understanding is almost nil – and irrelevant to them.

On the other hand, most can recite from memory an incredible array of present-day trivia. They’re glued, if not welded, to their smartphones. Most of them are against any form of discrimination, which wouldn’t be so bad if so many of them didn’t confuse unpleasant facts and honest discussion of difficult ethnic and racial issues with hate speech. They don’t, in general, like learning facts and situations contrary to their beliefs and hopes, and they avoid doing so as much as possible. And to make matters worse, far too many educators are indulging this incredibly childish view of the world.

In short, most of today’s younger generations are largely living in the moment, shutting out the lessons of the past and ignoring the future ramifications of what is happening now. Oh, a significant percentage of the top ten percent of students and young Americans, perhaps half, don’t fall into this categorization, but, as history shows, five percent isn’t enough to save a nation against the ignorance, the indifference, and the self-centered anger of the remainder, or to stand against a revolution of the disappointed when the satisfactions of the “moment” vanish, possibly for generations.

2 thoughts on “Too Much in the Moment”

  1. Ryan Jackson says:

    This reminds me of many comments and responses to when Extra Credits covered the South Sea Bubble. Shock and surprise that not only was the financial trickery involved in our recent troubles not exactly new, but that it had been done on a much much worse scale than we endured.

  2. Brian K says:

    The teaching of history should first explain what happened, why and what lessons can be learned from the past. Second, it should be the starting point for learning critical skills, political judgement and the forming and expressing an opinion. At least.

    The history that is taught today is a reductionist exercise condemning past wrongs and a pretentious effort to ‘heal old wounds’. Such a morally critical approach is far too sophisticated for the youngest students in public and high school. It warps their world view and results in angst, doubt, anger and hatred of their country, nation and culture.

    This self-indulgence and anti-intellectual approach carries on into post secondary school. It puts the past through a politically correct meat grinder removing all context and renders history a tool to use ‘in the moment’.

    To paraphrase the immortal Vin Scully: History is used much like a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, not illumination.

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