A blog about belief

Looking to the future

In Culture, Politics on October 29, 2011 at 5:16 pm

In the Sixteenth century, the word “innovation” connoted a rebellion or an insurrection, a violent affront to the prevailing order. This usage suggests a small-c conservatism that’s largely lost out to the big-L Liberal value system in the West: in just about every sector of Western society we can locate something like a desire for progress, even if only on the personal level – personal progress being for the left, roughly, fulfilling one’s potential, and for the right, charitably, earning rewards. We can perhaps locate a descendant of the old contempt for the new in the religious-right emphasis on “family,” although that is debatable since a family is meant to be generative. Maybe it subsists in the anti-immigrant fringe, but it is difficult to find in its pure form. Unlike monarchs, those with the greatest interest in maintaining today’s institutions, financiers, are too embroiled in the quest for new markets to be small-c conservatives. But I wonder if those two different fundamental values, preservation and progress, are not really of a piece. In The Typological Imaginary Kathleen Biddick argues that the Christian idea of the present superseding the past, as the New Testament supersedes the Old and (in some theologies) the state of the soul at death supersedes what comes before, has dug itself into the foundations of Western thought more deeply than the religion itself. Perhaps this supersessionary notion of time makes it difficult to imagine a value system that doesn’t have something to do with the future, whether in the desire to make it better than the present or the desire that it be like the past. The thought of values that don’t involve the future in some way is alien indeed. Imagine valuing neither the continuation nor the change of a particular state of things, but something purely within a state of things, and purely in the present: imagine that what one fundamentally values in life is to eat apples, and nothing more, with nothing about the assurance of future apples underneath.

This would be, I suppose, to be satisfied being a ghost for Halloween, rather than struggling to be original.


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