Historicism is one of these concepts which I first encountered during my readings for my long ago abandoned MA thesis on Nietzsche, Hegel and matters which were in vogue in the mid 1990s such as the End of History.
Historicism essentially holds to the idea that human nature changes over time, that as civilisation grows in sophistication, we change, hopefully for the better.
[Nietzsche argued something different – that the advent of Christianity saw us abandon our heroic nature, and adopt the morality of slaves.]
Whilst we are far less hairy than our distant ancestors, and probably cannot digest raw meat too readily, I am starting to think that probably Historicism is too optimistic about both human nature and our intellects.
Back in antiquity, long before we had electricity, people used to believe that plagues and earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and other catastrophes were signs of the wrath of gods, needing to be assuaged by sacrifices. The exiled Athenian general and historian Thucydides was rather sardonic about such not so idle superstitions amongst his countrymen in his writings.
Early church doctor Saint Augustine, in his City of God, had to do a lot of intellectual fancy footwork to explain why the collapse of the Roman Empire around the ears of his fellow citizens was not the fault of the rise of Christianity. Earlier Christians, of course, are commonly believed to have been fed in large numbers to lions in Rome in order to offset the wrath of the gods.
Such views have continued to be held until more recent times. Look at the Spanish Inquisition and the witch burnings, including in Salem in early colonial America. These were the products of superstition and ignorance.
The Darkness was here yesterday, as Joseph Conrad wrote.
And perhaps it is here today.
The two years of this pandemic has been an object lesson in the susceptibility of large volumes of people to ignorance and modern superstition.
In previous times, where education of limited availability and there was a vested interest in keeping the people ignorant (for example, prior to the King James Version, the existence of any English translation of the Bible was banned in England so that the clergy could have a monopoly on access to and understanding of scripture), ignorance was a sad fact of life for the overwhelming majority of the populace.
Now, in the first world, where education is universal, ignorance is a choice, and therefore quite possibly unforgivable.
I read a lot of peculiar things on the internet. One of the most peculiar yet sophisticated is the theory (complete with elaborate graphics) about the various covid vaccines being actually graphene nanotubes holding the virus, programmed to release it into the bloodstream when triggered by a 5G signal.
Another intriguing one is that the various pandemics of the past century or so, going back to the influenza pandemic of 1918-20, have each been triggered by the sudden proliferation of a new type of electromagnetic radiation, with the introduction of radio, TV, then mobile phones and now 5G each more than just coinciding with a pandemic.
A supposedly leading astronomer is believed to have argued that the virus has come from Outer Space, and that the appearance and waves of disease are connected to various meteor showers at various times and parts of the world. [I am not sure how that theory can be consistent with the very terrestrial microbiology of the virus.]
What I am getting at is that whilst we are more literate than our ancestors, and we are more skeptical about the supernatural than we were, such that we do not really believe in the wrath of the Gods or witchcraft, we have not changed that much. Instead of angry gods or malevolent witches, we remain susceptible to beliefs that there are all knowing cabals which are trying to control us or enslave or destroy us. Or that there are aliens with such plans in action.
Such stuff is very easy to find on the internet, along with other topics designed to stultify rather than enlighten us.
We don’t cry ‘Witch!’ anymore, but we do something similar in relation to developers of vaccines, particularly in countries like the USA, where so many people have supposedly achieved university level educations.
That seems to be an enduring problem with human nature. Whilst we now have access at our fingertips to all the information that humanity has ever discovered, we choose so frequently either wilful ignorance or the contemporary equivalent of superstition.
Looking online at pictures of cats, whilst most unproductive, seems to be a much more harmless use of social media and the internet generally.