Solipsism of the present

We have a great advantage over a historical past and a hypothetical future – We exist. This undeniable superiority inspires in us a certain arrogance. Human nature provokes a solipsism of the present, where our actions are deemed obviously more important than anything people have already done, or may do in the future.

I’ve been reading A Defense of Nonsense, a rich essay by the fantastic G.K. Chesterton. Forgive me if I quote at length:

There are times when we are almost crushed, not so much with the load of evil as with the load of goodness of humanity, when we feel that we are nothing but the interiors of a humiliating splendour. But there are other times when everything seems primitive, when the ancient stars are only sparks blown from a boy’s bonfire, when the whole earth seems so young and experimental that even the white hair of the aged, in the fine biblical phrase, is like almond-trees that blossom, like the white hawthorn grown in May. That it is good for a man to realize that he is ‘the heir of all the ages’ is pretty commonly admitted; it is a less popular but equally important point that it is good for him sometimes to realize that he is not only an ancestor, but an ancestor of primal antiquity; it is good for him to wonder whether he is not a hero, and to experience ennobling doubts as to whether he is not a solar myth.

We are both descendants and ancestors of a longer history than we care to imagine. But we have a great advantage over a historical past and a hypothetical future – We exist. This undeniable superiority inspires in us a certain arrogance. Human nature provokes a solipsism of the present, where our actions are deemed obviously more important than anything people have already done, or may do in the future. Perhaps this feeling wanes when one becomes a parent, and you are no longer a peak in human evolution, merely another worn link in the chain.

As I have said before, before, there are times when I feel as though we still exist in some kind of kooky pre-enlightenment era, where nonsense prevails and in the future historians will ridicule us for our narrow mindedness. We have invented the technology to harvest power from the sun, yet our system somehow deems it more appropriate to spend billions on securing a worryingly finite oil supply, instead of at least optimising the solar harvest. Some people genuinely believe that they – and their land – have identities that persist outside their own mind. Others spend millions on make-up, and millions more on make-up remover.

What sort of ancestor do we want to be? At present, it looks like we are set to become nothing more than a mad old grandfather. Full of incoherencies and self-contradictions, he talks about things that do not matter. He might have been interesting once, but now he sits in the corner, ignored.

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