Just a thought: it's always seemed strange to me the unwillingness of people who lived through the 60s to let them go, in much the same way that conservatives who lived through the academic culture wars of the late 80s and early 90s never let them go. The world always must be interpreted through the framework of those times, regardless of whether they inform the world as it exists now: this seems especially true of academia, where it was sometimes hard to get my colleagues at Princeton to believe there was no academia-wide conspiracy against conservatives, and that standard paradigms and 'theory' in its various permutations are out--no one in international relations works in terms of realist-v-liberal, and Catherine MacKinnon and Alan Bloom are equally irrelevant. In attributing these to anything in particular, I've tended to assume it was the effect of older people remembering their youth in all its vibrancy, and forgetting that youth was 30--or 50--years ago.

But I do wonder: perhaps there's something in the nature of contemporary American conservatism that makes this much more likely: conservatism has dedicated itself so much to remembering that it has forgotten how to forget. Yes, there are things of great importance that fall out of cultural memory even though they continue to have an impact. There are also many things of the moment whose impact is vastly overstated and really do cease to have any motive force. The trend is to conservative thought is to remember everything, and so vastly overstate the influence that past trends have on present trends; it makes it difficult for anything to be novel because it assigns some intellectual patrimony to everything, even when it is unclear on how those things are to be linked.

Thus people who defend, say, the hook-up culture must be picking up on trends from the 60s and 70s, because they have to be picking up on trends from somewhere (one wonders whether two people might independently arrive at the same thought, a Newton and Leibniz of social thought). But this also attenuates the real work of linking these trends, because vague cultural influences supercede acknowledged ones: the question is not whose work is being cited, and what arguments are being lifted in large part if without citation: it is what geist is being channeled, which allows influences and trends to be as vast and multifarious as need be (an excellent example being the size of the part of the country that subscribes to quote-unquote traditional sexual morality: a majority or minority, depending on who is asking).

No comments: