A time for critique

Can we fairly judge history? Isn’t morality contingent on context? Aren’t there times that call for conquest, not peace? Labor, not rest? Hate, not love? Justice, not forgiveness? There are no, or few, universal moral values across time or space, and to impose them as such is condescension.

Yet, if we cannot judge the past, then how can we judge the present that it left us? And if we cannot judge the present, how can we overcome the brutality of history?

The insight through this impasse is the recency of history.  Compared to the age of human existence, nearly three million years, the last few thousand years of recorded history is but a blip, about 1/600th.  (And consider now that life on Earth is four billion years old, or 800,000 times older than human recorded history — and so on.)

Our brains are better at processing moments, days, seasons than centuries, millennia, epochs, eons.  But if we begin to fathom just how unfathomable the length of time preceding our current context is, how much longer we flourished as nomadic tribespeople, then we may surmise how precious little time we have had to develop modern culture.  We have not come so far as we think.

Take, for example, the concepts of freedom or property.  We have been working those out for a very short time.  Might not they need to be rethought?


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