Transience of Culture

December 28, 2011

Ashley and I went to the Royal Ontario Museum today. It was an extraordinary experience - I hadn’t been to a museum since I was a kid and was blown away. I really enjoyed the Greek, Roman, and Japanese exhibits, but we also went to the special Mayan exhibit, which was quite packed. What I really took away from this experience, upon reflection, is the transience of culture. Our society exists as it does at this moment for just this moment. It is constantly changing, and looking back at ancient cultures in the aggregate, spanning centuries or even millennia, is awe-inspiring to me.

 I’ve read some right-wing American history books and I’ve seen pundits on news cable shows both describe their country as the Greatest Thing in All of History. It’s not the point of their sentence; it’s usually a dependent clause:

Since America is the Great Civilization in All of History, blah blah blah something negative about universal healthcare.

They drop it all the time. It’s a very naive and simple-minded thing to say, since not only are you neglecting the societies that have come before you and done things that are as remarkable as our modern wonders, given the tools they had, but you’re also forgetting that your culture is changing and, in fact, has already changed over time. Referring to a society as a whole, immutable thing, is a a misnomer.

I wish we could see the fashion trends span the decades in ancient Egypt, the rise and fall of the Aztecs, and the tides of Christianity sweep over the Roman Empire.

I wonder what people, in a thousand years, will wish they could be able to see about us.

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