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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Political Amnesia Is the Enemy

We all know, all of us in America anyway, that Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer. It's about the downtime ahead, the vacation that's coming, the shutting down of the serious in anticipation of fun in the sun.
Officially, it is also about honoring the dead, and there will be parades by veterans and flags flying on TV newscasts. Most of it is set in the present with little referencing of the past or memory itself.
Memories work on us on every level, especially when they slip out of mind. A memory exhibit at San Francisco's Exploratorium museum touches on the usual: "You get to school and realize you forgot your lunch at home. You take a test, and you can't remember half the answers. You see the new kid who just joined your class, and you can't remember his name. Some days, it seems like your brain is taking a holiday -- you can't remember anything!"
But memories are not just individual properties. Societies have memories, or should. And our news world and information technologies could or should have the capacity to keep us in touch with our collective memory, our recent history, the only context in which new facts find meaning.
I like to joke about my own "senior moments," but cultures have them too -- and often, not always by accident. In our culture, it is often by design. The frequent references we hear to "political amnesia" is not just commentary but an allusion to a social pathology, a deliberate process of actually disconnecting us from our past and history.


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