Saturday, December 30, 2006

The past is dead

I suppose it is due to my most thorough historical education that I automatically view our modern society as something very strange, very odd. This week I was surveying the dark plains of my native Ostrobothnia from a sauna balcony, the freezing night lit by pale stars, the old way of living that preceded our last half-century as consumers seemed very real, very close. Slow centuries formed those fields, those roads. Not to mention that those slow centuries, or in many places, millenniums, were themselves a radical innovation after hundreds of thousands of uncounted years of hunting and gathering. Yet it is this mere decades old, frantic, ephemeral flux that is taken for granted, for permanent.

My current home town of Espoo is only a sizable suburb of Helsinki, grown from 12 000 to 220 000 inhabitants in 60 years, now the proud home of Nokia and other high-tech companies - but the past is still here to see: fields, placenames, patterns of roads and streets. But it is not seen, not imagined at all. The past is utterly dead for our society: we are completely unable to imagine other ways of thinking, of living, we can't picture what once was so real. This is will happen to us too, so immersed in this passing moment, so self-important. The high ship sails on.

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