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George and Abraham, sittin’ in a tree…

When I did that “George Washington’s dentures” post last week, I totally forgot we celebrate the big guy’s birthday today.

This bit of high Victorian kitsch is called “The Apotheosis.” Gosh, our great grandparents were weird, weren’t they?

I read a lot of hundred year old books. This is partly because I like them and more than partly because I’m too cheap to pay for Kindle books that are still in copyright. Anyway, I always say: if you want to understand a particular time period, don’t read books about the era, read books from the era. And, frankly, a hundred years is about as far as you can go back before the syntax gets all scratchy and hard. Well, two hundred, maybe.

Anyway, I can’t help being struck by how unimaginable they would find our times. Not technologically — some of them did a pretty good job guessing where science might take us (in fact, if anything, they were overly optimistic) — but socially, ye gods. How everything has changed.

Then the next exercise is to try to imagine what it is about our times that our grandchildren will find amazing, silly or obviously flat wrong. We can’t, of course. We’re too much of our own time to see it. It’s like trying to stick your elbow in your ear.

What the science fiction guys do is extrapolate trends out in a straight line. But that’s not how social history works. Not consistently, anyway. Some things trend and some things swing back and forth and we’re lousy at guessing which will do what.

And then there’s Bigfoot. It’s only since I’ve moved over here I’ve come to a sense of how much the two World Wars smashed up the place. The society, I mean — they recovered from the property damage pretty quickly. I don’t think the Black Death rattled people the way the 20th Century did, in total.

Speaking of Yersinia pestis — does anybody else have that itchy feeling that we are way, way overdue for that next plague or comet or rain of frogs?

February 17, 2014 — 11:16 pm
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