Sunday’s post, on modernism and the change in values from “old-fashioned” to “old-school,” might help explain a question that I and others have pondered here: why do human beings so often prefer what is old? Stephen Walker noted the point in his comment on Yavanayāna Buddhism: people often seem unwilling to credit themselves with innovations, to accept that their ideas are new. Rather they present themselves as defending old ideas when they come up with new ones. (In his The Sociology of Philosophies, Randall Collins suggests that this is a typical pattern in human thought (especially in Japan, but elsewhere as well): “innovation through conservatism.” A while back I asked a similar question about authenticity: why do we privilege authenticity so much, when its distinguishing feature would seem to be the absence of choice?
Maybe we can start to see an answer now that we’ve had a chance to look back on the alternative. The twentieth century, in many ways, was the century of modernism – the rejection of the past as a guide to living. As I noted last time, modernism brought us Pruitt-Igoe, the grand and innovative housing project that was dynamited as unlivable. But more than that, I think, it brought us Communism, the form of government practised in the Soviet Union, China and their allies in the mid-twentieth century. Continue reading