Resistance to novelty

Nearly all pre-modern societies were loathe to experiment, try new things and embrace novelties. A measure of how modern we are is how difficult it has become to defend tradition, established practice and old stuff and resist the language of innovation and new-must-be-good.

As a species, we are risk-averse. We save energy and make decisions to capitalise on individual achievements to serve the collective.

We are naturally suspicious of things that have not been proven to be efficient or beneficient. Things grow old because they have been successful. Even an old individual human being is proof of his or her own succes as an individual. He or she survived. They proved their salt. For most of human history, wisdom has been associated with old age. That’s no surprise. Old age has escaped the equivocation of youth. It worked. A young specimen, on the other hand, is always at a crossroad. Will he make it? Will she pass the test of time? Old people tend to disdain the young. Insofar as they break away from established rules and ways of being, the youth reenact the wager which the elders thought they’d won.

For ages which had not yet made progress one of their defining missions and change their rallying cry, all things new were met with either suspicion or denunciation. After all, epidemics, so feared in the ancient and medieval world, always begin somewhere else. The familiar microorganism, bacteria or virus, can never kill you. It is the pathogen from far far away that can inflict the worse damage in a population. Epidemiologically speaking, the new, rather than the old, is to be feared.

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