This will be a bit of a rant, but I’m posting it here because I’m curious whether others have had a similar experience.
I was reading this post Michael Kruse linked to about the fall of the Berlin Wall and I realize that I know almost nothing about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Which reminded me of something I’ve really felt is is lacking in our education system.
We really need a “recent events” class or something, because I took multiple versions of American History (middle school, high school, college) and not one of them got further than World War II. I know much, much more about the Revolutionary War than I do about the Vietnam War. I know much, much more about the Civil War than I do about the Cold War.
I suspect there’s a weird inverse bell curve to our knowledge of history, such that we know what happened 50+ years ago because of history classes, and we know what happened since we (hopefully) started paying attention to the news, but there’s a 30 year blind spot. The year in American history about which I know least is probably the year of my birth. And what I do know is unlikely to be very accurate. What I know about the European colonization of the Americas or the New Deal comes from textbooks. What I know about the ’70s and ’80s comes from Forrest Gump.
And yet this is likely to be the most relevant for understanding the world, right? Knowing about what precipitated World War I matters (the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand), but not much more than the French revolution. We’re still dealing with the fallout from the Cold War, and that is particularly relevant to questions about government involvement in the economic sector. Many folks hold up the example of the fall of Communism as why the free market is better, and I don’t even know enough about the events of my own lifetime to be able to evaluate that claim. I’m a pretty informed guy, and yet I resort to reading Wikipedia articles about Gorbachev, because articles written today by people of an older generation assume a level of knowledge I don’t have. And so we talk past each other because some of us think We already tried that in the ’70’s, you idiot, don’t you remember Carter but they don’t say that, and others of us only know Republican excesses, not Democratic ones, so we think There’s nothing self-evident about the idea that regulation is bad, so why are those old people such ideologues?
Ironically, we relate worst with the generation closest to us, because a common frame of reference is assumed, and yet nothing could be further from the truth. I can relate to my grandparents, because I learned about the world they came of age in, and we are socially conditioned to realize we come from different worlds, but my parents are a mystery to me, although we never act like it.
If my theory is right, the generation coming after me, who will live in a world to large degree shaped by 9/11 and the war on terror and whatever we eventually call the current economic crisis, will be those who know least about what happened. And I and people my age will act as if they know more than they do, because they were born in 1998, for Pete’s sake, they were there, but they weren’t, because they were 5 or 10 or maybe 12, and if they are very lucky they will have learned about American history up to the Kennedy assassination, flattened by history into being as relevant as Lincoln’s.