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Why we don't value the past

Conservatives often pine for a "bygone" era when people were supposedly so much better off. Now this is not really reasonable because often we're forgetting about the bad parts of those eras and overselling the good parts. But there's a real grain of truth in that sentiment, and I'm going to try to deconstruct it and attempt to explain why this might be happening.

As a society, we are systematically devaluing the past. We don't honor our parents as much, we don't read old literature as much, we time after time fail to learn from history, we don't follow the Constitution, we don't sit down and work to understand the scriptures we claim to follow, and we don't try to learn from those of others (how many of you have read the Ramayana, the Qu'ran, the writings of Buddha, Confucius, or Baha'ulla? Jefferson had read at least the Qu'ran). We ditch understanding for novelty; we buy cheap products that are new and flimsy instead of reliable and featureless products of the past. I see this in my workplace - scientists are always looking for the next new toy instead of really trying to solve problems with tried and true techniques of the past.

The contention that I would make is that this is a philosophical extension of the consequences of an inflationary society. That sounds silly, but you can find strong, indirect mechanisms to explain all of these, usually involving profit changing from a mild incentive to becoming necessary to stay afloat. You'll notice how we're over and over getting pissed of at how once-venerable institutions and individuals have "whored" themselves out for money, for taking the cheap way out instead of the high road. Inflation fundamentally devalues (material and value) contributions of the past, and by encouraging debt creation and defecit spending, overvalues the future. People naturally, and rightfully so, are attracted to novelty (see Bourdieu's "Distinction") but to overvalue novelty, especially when directly coupled to survival - is dangerous.

If we can continue to meet these inflated expectations, we're alright, even if what we're doing is morally questionable. But there's always immense pressure to try new things to keep up - and when we fall short of what we'd hoped for, there's chaos as a whole lot of misplaced value has to unwind itself. The best we can hope for is that it doesn't unwind too violently.

Now, this is not to say the past is always valuable; a lot of dumb things were said and done in the past. But to, with broad strokes, cast a broad, indirect judgement on everything in the past to have been relatively less important than the future, is dangerous, especially since it encourages us to forget about it - we won't be so capable of learning from the mistakes of the past let alone mimic its successes.

The sum point is: economics, and monetary policy, because it is most universally accepted medium of social exchange, comes around to modify society, even if the changes are so gradual and generational that everybody is duped into thinking that's the way things always were. Unfortunately, the more we devalue history, the less capable we are to identify the mistakes we are making today... and tomorrow... even as debt accumulation means more of society is riding on safe passage through the treacherous waters of the future.

So these days, I'm listening to people who are older than me (although I don't have to agree - learning can be learning from other people's mistakes), and working through how I'm understanding things. I'm working on ways to protect my past, while remaining open-minded about the future. I'm learning history. I'm learning economics. What I'm finding surprising is that it's not as hard as I thought it would be.

BJ Lawson had a wonderful notion about an inflationary society and what it means for the environment - the desperation to keep up with inflation means that investors sacrifice long-term, sustainable solutions for those solutions that enable greater returns in the short term - because sour assets can be flipped and the buck can be passed easily. Which goes a long way towards explaining why, for example, capitalism in a regime of secular inflation has failed to deal with the impending crisis of peak oil... And furthermore, conservationist movements which are endowment-based find themselves in tougher and tougher position to maintain their levels of spending and preservation - even as donors' comfortable giving levels decrease.

So we know that economics can have a wrenching effect on society. I think it's also tearing apart our moral fabric and our ability to learn from the past. Sooner or later, we may forget almost everything that happened before us, and when that comes to pass, all hope will be lost.

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We Don't Value the Past Because we Don't Know What it IS

We Don't Value the Past Because we Don't Know What it IS: READ!

reedr3v's picture

Thank you for posting this very

thoughtful essay. I've often felt regret that so many values and virtues of the people who made this country strong have been devalued. But the tie to inflation never occurred to me. Good insight.

my theory of money

I have a theory that our inflationary times has an effect on our perception of time itself. This has to do with the evaluation of currency.

♦♣┴We need to build political strength and political will┴┴╤

We need to build political strength and political will.


I posted this again apparently. Great essay. And the other essay was good, but I have questions about the critique on television's supposed wholesomeness, if there ever was one.

#$#We need to build political strength and political will^&^

We need to build political strength and political will.

nice article

Thanks for posting this. It almost seems like a chicken or the egg story because is one of the things a consequence or cataylst of the other?

I blieve that as a group, our values are consistent across the boards. Our economic circumstances is a reflection of core values. There was a time when many would never think of buying anything on time payments. If you can't pay for it now, save up and pay for it when you can. Once this shift took place, the ball really started rolling and we are are holding on to see where it will take us.

Sometimes it's easier to diagnose a spiritual problem out of the context of morality or faith, etc. If we solve our economic problems, we are on track to solve many other "related" problems.

I happen to think we devalue the present more than we do the past.

my 2 cents!


Of course if we listened to our faith..

We also would not have this problem. "Keep honest weights" is an oft-forgotten part of Deuteronomy (25:13-15). It sounds strange that a verse advocating something like NIST might be in the bible, but the way cheaters would swindle others out of their gold (or other commodity) was by having different quantities to measure gold coming in versus gold going out. Quality control in those days wasn't what it is now - an ephah could have changed from day to day.

" Unfortunately, the more we

" Unfortunately, the more we devalue history, the less capable we are to identify the mistakes we are making today... and tomorrow..."

Couldn't agree more. I've always said ... History is a way of helping future generations avoid the mistakes of the past.

It's just too bad more people don't study history.


IT'S hep to be jet set...

This was very good ... until you got to "peak oil"

Peak oil is a lie straight out of hell. A very quick education can be gotten at youtube by viewing "Lindsay Williams: the Energy Non-Crisis." Now, I have to admit that I'm not a proponent of "progress" for profit's sake. I think a little regress ... back to when people could actually do useful things other than peck at keyboards ... would be great.

In a nutshell, oil is NOT A FOSSIL FUEL. It is a renewable resource created near the center of the earth. The Russians proved this by successfully drilling where our US "educated" geologists would never dare to tread. The oil moguls have been lying about it to keep us at their mercy. Rare oil is expensive oil. In fact, the relatively cheap oil we have right now is aimed at destroying the Middle East and Russian economies. After that, the price is destined to soar again.

Another great history lesson on youtube is: "The Century of the Self," a 4-part BBC production about how and why America was turned into a dumbed down consumer society. It's a MUST SEE if you want to understand our "consumer economy." It's all based on promoting SELFISHNESS! This is why I am not a capitalist ... I'm a distributist ... where small is beautiful and super big is illegal. Period! This system provides productive work and great security for everyone.

Whatever bad things happened in the past, people could usually turn to each other ... families stuck together .... friends helped friends. Today's society has been atomized so that large segments of people feel very much ostracized and alone ... especially as they get older and start feeling more vulnerable. This creates fear which the government just loves to play on.

A deliberate wedge has been slammed between succeeding generations so that young, computer literate know-it-alls, have no respect for their elders and even kill their own offspring with abortion, when it suits them. They may be young now, but they'll soon be old coots with no lifeline when the government decides they're expendable.

How do we suddenly stop this freight train speeding downhill towards disaster. How do we back it up the hill again? I don't think we can anymore. I think very shortly God will intervene in an extraordinary way to warn the world and wake it up to reality. (Before I'm misunderstood: I am not suggesting there will be a rapture ... which is a silly heresy concocted in the 19th century by the Protestant Millerites).

There are numerous very credible Roman Catholic prophecies which predict such an event. My advice to Catholics: get to confession before it happens. Those in a state of grace will fare much better than those in mortal sin. Even so, it's not going to be an easy thing to go through. And please don't think you can attend any "church" and be safe ... The Catholic Church is the one and only true church. It alone offers salvation because it alone was created by Jesus Christ.

Even if oil is not a fossil fuel,

There has to be peak oil.

Our consumption patterns have to date been exponentially growing.

Eventually, to sustain that pattern we will have to consume as much oil as the mass of the Earth.

The earth is not entirely oil.

Abiotic, biotic, whatever your belief in where oil comes from.

Peak oil MUST occur. The question is when.

I think we're at it now. Keep your head in the sand, man.

I'm no proponent of unbridled consumption

My purpose in pointing out the falsehood of current "peak oil" blab is to help people understand that "peak oil" like "global warming" is a ruse to control all the societies of the world through managed oil shortages. It also doesn't hurt their cause that they can bleed us dry.

I, frankly, long for the day when smaller and simpler is better. However, the powers that be have created a world so dependent on oil that they can jerk it around by raising and/or lowering oil prices. When enough people refuse to believe them, the game is over.

I offered you Lindsay Williams' eye-witness testimony about the amount of oil, not to mention natural gas, sitting in just one tiny area of Alaska. But you haven't looked at the video yet. So, whose head is in the sand?

By the way, here's an interesting fact that might put things in perspective for you: every person on earth could move to the state of Texas, have a plot of land and a 1400 sq. ft. house, have places to work and play and shop, and the rest of the world would be empty. Now, based on the massive size of the earth, versus the size of Texas, I think it could comfortably make enough oil to keep us supplied for a very long time.

no oil for pacifists

We need to build political strength and political will.

We need to build political strength and political will.


I think free market capitalism would be the best way to deal with declining oil stocks. Let people decide what they are willing to pay. Problem is, that we don't have free market capitalism. People don't look far ahead enough into the future to find sustainable solutions and realize profit because the upside risk is too high. On the other hand, an inflationary system carries with it counterparty risk (which is harder to estimate, and subject to the "well it won't happen to me" perception).

As it turns out, I'm against drilling in Alaska (but I think that should be up to the Alaskans) - but if I were in charge, I would ask (but not force) alaska to not drill - but my primary concern is not environmental but rather one of national security - I'd prefer for that stuff to be there if we need to drill it out for the military.

Dude, your math is wrong. a 1400 sq ft house is approx 40 ft x 40 ft, which means a square mile is 100 x 100 of these houses, or 10,000. times 300,000 sq miles in texas is 3 billion, which is only half the world's population. It's also not a matter of how much oil there is, it's a matter of how accessible the oil is. When you first start drilling for oil, the pent up pressure allows the oil to be tapped without any energy input. Eventually, to gather oil, you must begin doing things like pushing steam, or brine, in to get the oil out. Where does the energy to heat water to get steam out come from? Oil. So your net energy return diminishes. Soon, the oil sticks to the rocks due to capillary forces, so you need to change the surface tension with surfactants = detergents. Where do you suppose detergents come from? Oil.

This is the problem with shale oil, it's stuck in a rock where the geology is not amenable to easy tapping, and even though there's a lot of it the, net energy required for extraction does not make it competitive unless the price of oil gets really high, and we're not sure exactly how much we can get out.

Chemical and Engineering News had this article where they were talking about injecting genetically engineered microbes to get at the oil. It sounded like a great idea until you read: you have to feed the microbes with sugar. Reading between the lines, where do you suppose sugar comes from? Corn. Which is grown using pesticides and fertilizer. Pesticides come from oil, and fertilizer is made using the haber process which creates ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen - which requires an energy input - which, guess what, comes from oil.

The whole thing boils down to a pretty interesting application of the central limit theorem. Because of all of these factors, the productivity of any given oil well seems to obey a similar time-dependence. Since the creation of new wells is also subject to a certain time-dependent distribution, the overall sum of all these processes is close to a bell curve. And all of this has nothing to do with biotic or abiotic origins of oil.

I'll get around to watching the video tonight.

my theory of money

I have a theory that our inflationary times has an effect on our perception of time itself. This has to do with the evaluation of currency.

♦♣┴We need to build political strength and political will┴┴╤

We need to build political strength and political will.