Things worth doing are remembered. Ergo, to do something worth doing, we’ve got to impress the future. We were the Age of Enlightenment’s future – and we’re impressed. Grudgingly.
Hate the Enlightenment #1
The most annoying thing about the ‘marvellous achievements’ of the Enlightenment is that everything they did was so obvious!
Wait – what are you saying? Apples fall from trees? Well, no shit, Sherlock! Call it what you like, Sir Isaac – I say gravity-schmavity.
Freedom, democracy, reason, capitalism, scientific method, religious tolerance – yawn! It’s all a bit, well, obvious, isn’t it? I could have come up with trigonometry. It doesn’t take a genius, does it?
But, I suppose, if you look at it from the point of view of an English peasant living on a bog, the Age of Enlightenment must have looked like one spell-bindingly incredible feat after another.
Hate the Enlightenment #2
The other reason to hate the Enlightenment is that they’ve done everything already!
- Shakespeare has already written all the plays worth watching (particularly annoying for me).
- Mozart has already come up with all the decent tunes.
- Gallileo has done astronomy and Newton’s got physics sewn up.
It’s not that I’m jealous, but they had it so easy! (see Hate the Enlightenment #1)
The only things left for us to do are bloody impossible – like describing a complete theory of the universe or coming up with a rhyme for orange*.
Impress the Future
But that’s the way it works – remember?
If I keep thinking like an English peasant living on a bog, everything new is always going to feel impossible.
Why is it that, if we look back in time, the achievements of the Enlightenment look inevitable; but when we peer into the future, everything new suddenly looks impossible?
If only we could look into our future from the perspective of a still more distant future, so that it looks easy, obvious – and amazing.
What of our generation’s achievements will our ancestors look back at in two hundred years and be jealous of?
We can never know for sure, but we’ll never impress them if we stay stuck in our own mental bogs.