The good old days”... Ah the good old days! How things were much better back then. The music was much better, people were more polite, people knew how to live… And there weren't all those social networks that ruin our lives, right?… Really?
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I will stop right now to tell you that this article is not there to extol the merits of the past. Nor is it written to brag about the future. Both have perspective issues. I think we need to talk. Because talking about it is already starting to solve the problem, right?
Yet how often do we hear these speeches that remind us that before was better. Objectively. For real. And for a whole lot of things and reasons if not for the sake of it, that’s all. Yes, Glory days, well, they'll pass you by, Glory days, in the wink of a young girl's eye, Glory days, glory days… Seems like even the “Boss” from Scranton understands that when it’s gone it’s gone! So what good then is it to regret it?
And why regrets by the way? Some would say it was because it was objectively better ... These must be eagerly awaiting a time machine!
I, too, had a period in my life when I also imagined that it must be much better to live in the days before, that I would better see myself as a knight slaying the dragons (yes, they have existed long ago, don’t break down my dream!) than in the present day. Old dreams of an uneasy shy teenager.
Yet if Obama is to be believed:
"Now is the best time to be alive."
So how can he say that?
And by the way, when is this "now"? For you dear readers, it's today. For our ancestors it was before, for our descendants it will be after. In the end, as I mentioned recently, it's all a matter of point of view but my point of view is far from the standard of perception ...
In addition, our brains play tricks on us in this area. After all, in our photo albums (paper or digital) we only keep the photos of the good times. The same goes for our mind, which only remembers those sweet moments, those good times, those moments before when life seemed better to us ... except for certain traumas that mark us with a hot iron in our memory. Almost all the negative therefore got washed away to the sound of the violins of the past.
Science has a word for that: Synthetic Happiness. What’s that you’re asking? Quite simply, our brain's ability to modify our experiences, our stories, or the perception of our lived stories, to make it a positive memory at the end. An experience simulator better than a Playstation and a natural and rather pleasant way to absorb the shock of our difficult experiences.
Yes, but suddenly, the past only becomes a perpetual good memory; all things being equal. And the present remains confronted with the shock of everyday difficulties: paying the bills, watching the news and their perpetual litany of bad news, watching before crossing the road at the risk of being run over...
If our immediate experience is to be believed, the present is particularly painful, difficult and stressful!
So eventually we cling to the past, we make it a reference. The past is the certainty of existence, the comfort of déjà vu, the present is the difficulty of the experience and the future becomes the anguish of the unknown, the fear of a tomorrow without no tomorrow. With all of this, as Douglas Adam said, we come to take the past as the ideal to follow:
“When you are born, the world around you is normal. Anything that is invented before you are 35 is innovative. Anything that is invented after you turn 35 is unnatural and bad."
This tendency is dangerous because it creates a "paradigm paralysis": it is normal that the world has changed until me. But now that I'm here we have to keep everything as they were before.
Taking the past as a reference rather than as a mere indicator of possible outcomes is dangerous. Because it passes off as the one and only valid possibility, thus forgetting along the way of this bias that the past is only made of the realization of some scenarios, not all. All past events are indeed only the result of the choices, actions and decisions made by us or those before us at a time T, in a context C, with an analysis of our perception A. Each of these elements on the equation could have been different and lead therefore to a different past. So there are a lot of options that have been missed, that have missed their chance to be imprinted in history and that we have no proof of either their effectiveness or relevance.
Now let's look at our approach to the concept of what is "normal" or "natural". Our reference to normality and naturalness clings to the past, because it’s certain, because it has been lived and therefore "validated". Everything that comes after becomes "a-normal" or “un-natural".
But what is normal today hasn't always been as such and vice versa.
After all, it was okay to have slaves, to beat your children, to die young, to take the other for an animal because he was not like us... We have since evolved on these points.
To take the past as a reference is to deprive the future of imagination. See instead:
The technology did not exist before, it is not natural we should not use it
Women have always been at home, women who work it is not natural, we should not accept it...
The “we've always done it that way” comes to the fore and reminds us that we have this unfortunate tendency to cling to the comfort of the certainty of the past.
Likewise, there was a time when humans did not write. It was not natural to write. The same goes for traveling on the back of an animal, or on a vehicle. We could find thousands of examples showing that what was supposedly unnatural one day becomes so the next.
So who sets the limit? And in what period do we settle it? Who becomes the judge of the “naturalness” of our objects, our attitudes, our mentalities, our tools? What period becomes the reference period beyond which what happens no longer has meaning or legitimacy?
Sometimes we wonder if we are still part of nature. Some come to oppose nature to reason, as if our ability to question, imagine, dream, build would be a "UFO" from elsewhere than from this planet.
Humans are, however, a component of nature. An animal like any other that is indeed quite unique in many ways: our self-awareness prompts us to reflect on our place, our role and our impact. But this questioning should not lead us to consider that our place is outside nature, or that our actions are not natural.
This questioning is particular and particularly interesting. But it should not make us forget that everything that comes out of our mind is natural. And that, suddenly, it is perhaps natural for us humans to go into space, to create a digital world… Who will be able to prove the contrary without relying on the certainty that “before we did not do it!”
Certainly our actions have an impact unlike any other species. And there are lots of things in our world that don't feel quite logical and “natural”. But be careful not to fall into paradigm paralysis when, in the end, our perspective alone is not sufficient to have an objective judgment on the situation.
So what to do in the end? Hanging on to the past is clearly not a solution. The future, on the other hand, does not exist. To live in the future is to live in an unreal dream. It makes no sense to be in the present moment, it slips through our fingers as soon as we touch it with our fingertips.
Certainly, the solution lies in this balance that has accompanied humans for generations: remembering the past in order to learn from it, be well anchored (anchored, not rooted!) In our current experience so as not to miss its effects and consequences, and keep the ability to fearlessly dream about what we will create tomorrow in this race for survival that pushes every living being and perhaps the entire universe to adapt, invent, evolve, change.
Time is a concept, change an experience, life a fascinating ordeal! So, in the end, when was it better?
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