The presumptuous present

Could it be that our pride in the benefit of hindsight, our conceited belief that the passage of time has made us better than our predecessors ultimately comes from the fact that ruins always lie beneath our feet, and we are always looking down, rather than back, on the past?

The historian dealing with documents looks back on the past, but the archeologist looks down on it. Down on the past from the height of the observing present. From a stratigraphic point of view, the further one goes into the past, the deeper one needs to dig, so the higher one stands above it. And the higher the temptation of arrogance is. Perhaps distance should make us humble, bewildered and deferential even, when confronted with the violence that time does to the passing instant. Instead, we grow presumptuous and oblivious, hydroponic even, like plants growing without soil.

Thankful? A word lost on the lips of the modern age. Gracious? The taboo of a generation discontent with the remains of its genealogy. The enchantment of the renewed beginning, the reconstruction, the pious destruction of the idolatrous past. The smirk of the downward glance.

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