We aren’t living in the past so much as we’re resisting the future. Living in the past requires a certain amount of pining for days gone by. Trouble is, those days of yore weren’t all that great. Those who lean-in on the past as a symbol tend to cherry pick. The past was rife with problems but we either chose to ignore them (if we have the means to do so) or write them off as aberrations or paint them as not that bad.
Covid shook us from that daydream. Quite simply, we don’t have time for nostalgia or waxing poetic about the good old days. The future is here, has been in the back of the class with its hand raised for quite some time but we didn’t want to hear what it had to say.
The pandemic broke the past’s grip on our collective imagination. I’d argue most of us weren’t living in the “present.” Rather, we were living in a copy and paste yesterday. How else do we explain our decades-long look the other way on climate change? The chatter sounded something like “The Earth goes through warming cycles” or “it’s a hoax” or “that’s not going to happen for a long time” and so we went on living like we had been, which is to say, living in a world that no longer exists.
This kind of over the shoulder living is futile at best. Mostly, it’s just dangerous. The sort of view allows us to see Emmet Till, Rodney King and Tamir Rice only after their deaths.
Because we’re so consumed with the past and how we thought things used to be that we fail to see the road ahead. This backwards oriented point of view creates the potholes that we drive into.
The past should be learned from, not lived in. Residing here used to be a luxury, especially if you had the means, resources and connections to withstand whatever life through your way. One could talk about the good old days like they’d actually gone anywhere. Mostly people just wanted to gripe about younger generations and how social norms were changing in a way they didn’t understand. Well-situated folks could do this and reasonably assume they’d be fine, that the world’s moral compass may have been askew, but the actual world was fine.
In my mind, this sort of rose colored vision falls under the category of criminal neglect. Our world is not fine but so many of us are behaving as if things are hunky dory. Wake up and smell the wildfires! The future has it’s hand in our face and won’t be ignored anymore.
A global pandemic forced us to rethink our lives. Many quit their low-wage, high stress jobs because, frankly, serving someone a heat lamp cheeseburger to an a-hole isn’t as appealing as it sounds. Still others have thrived working from home but are now being told it’s time to return to work. Why? The evidence suggests employees have been doing a bang up job this past 18 months, even with having to juggle things like childcare (or lack thereof) and remote learning. What’s the point of hoping in the car and driving thirty minutes to work to sit next to someone who might be unvaccinated? Commuting was always the square peg in the round hole, but now it strikes me as immoral considering the state of the climate and Covid crises.
This is just one example but there are countless others. Why are police given so much power? There is no natural law that says people in blue uniforms and badges are above reproach. People (well, some people) made that decision! We can unmake it, but first we have to stop looking to yesterday to solve the problems we face today because yesterday made those problems.