"Things have changed since those days."

Where do we learn this tiny bit of ideology? In class discussions during the past week, this same basic idea was brought about while talking about war and society's treatment of women.

The argument goes: the past was "different," things have "changed." We're better now; we've figured things out more today.

Have things really changed?

I'm paraphrasing what one person said in class: "The wars were different back then -- they were just for money."

Then last night, talking about a poem from the 1970s (Marge Piercy's "Barbie Doll"), one person said: "Women don't get treated like that anymore," and, "It was worse back then."

It's hard to define ideology -- this Merriam-Webster definition is muddled. I'd define "ideology" as the whole of opinions that go to make a worldview. Opinions aren't true or false; they're just opinions.

I think saying that "The wars were different back then -- they were just for money" is opinion. I think the ideology it supports is the idea that human civilization is moving forward, and things are getting better, so we in today's world are having new experiences. After all, we've got laptop computers and powerful mobile phones, and most people have cars, and so on. Things are different that way.
So, with arrogance we think, "Oh, this war we'll get things right!"

But I don't think things are really different; things ain't really changing.

The amount of information the human brain can store has not changed in 100,000 years, if the scientists are right (and I think they're right). I would hazard to say that 100,000 years ago, the human beings of those days had the same types of experiences with their society. Wars had many reasons -- cultural differences, the need for people to belong to a group and act violently against those not in the group, the need for resources (food, land, firewood, rubber, oil). Our technology allows us to kill more efficiently, perhaps, but the act of war hasn't changed. Nope.

And the societies of 100,000 years ago were really uptight about their women, especially their daughters. If those young women messed up, they got pregnant, and were stuck with a child for the rest of their lives. So mothers and fathers put a lot of stress on young women -- they told them to play with dolls that were like babies and told them how to land a man that could protect them from violence and poverty. We're still doing that, and they're doing the same thing in Saudi Arabia, except there they put the little girls in burquas, while we put them in beauty-pageant regalia:

It's the same thing, I think. It's about "helping" young women, leading them, making them conform to social expectations. Is one way better than the other? Does one way make the whole society happier than the other, or more content? I really doubt it.

On TV, I saw an older woman getting heart-bypass surgery, because all her life she had eaten greasy, processed food, smoked a couple packs of cigarettes every day, and drank nasty cheap beer all the day long. Is she happier because modern technology is allowing her to eat bad food, smoke Marlborough Reds, and drink Natural Light beer?

So, the argument goes: things are different, we've changed that, we won't make that mistake again. In my opinion, this bit of ideology allows people to make the same old mistakes again and again.

In 1488, Spain said, "Let's attack England. Things are different now; we can do this." Disaster. In 1861, the South said, "We're the future, and slavery still exists, so it always will, so we're going to fight to protect our way of life." They thought themselves "modern," I'm sure.

I like that thought -- every new day, someone, somewhere is thinking, "Things have changed since those days," and proceeds to make the same disastrous mistake someone made five hundred years ago, or even 100,000 years ago.

"If we could just kill that one guy, things would be a lot better." Somehow, plans like this fail really often, and a lot more than that one guy gets killed. I don't know how or why, but that's the way it seems to work.

So when we study texts like short stories, poems, songs, and films, and "close read" them, we try to find those universal human conflicts, and how they're expressed just a little bit different at different points in time, and how one person describes one thing one way, and another person describes the same thing just a little different. It's interesting.

So, have things changed since those days?

March 2017

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