The Great Forgetting

Read The Great Forgetting based on The Story of B by Daniel Quinn.

For thousands of years, people of our culture (not in the usual sense of the world, but as Daniel Quinn defines it- “if food is placed under lock and key and people have to work and earn money to buy it back, then the people of that place belong to OUR culture”, in short- modern civilization) believed that humanity, agriculture and civilization all began at roughly the same time, and that they are inseparable from each other. This meant that the general belief was that humanity was only a few thousand years old.

But today we know that it is not so. We know that humanity is about three million years old, and people had led a very different life from ours, obeying the laws of life which applies to all living beings on earth. This had been forgotten in the “Great Forgetting“, when one group of people (or more, we don’t exactly know) decided to take up totalitarian agriculture, convinced that human beings were meant to be the rulers of the world, and that they weren’t meant to live like lions and snakes and butterflies any longer. Man’s destiny was surely something more “glorious” and they broke with their past.

Now, if we call this event the Great Forgetting, something happened in the nineteenth century, which could have been called the Great Remembering. Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution and others followed up his research to tell us that we are much older than a few thousand years, that we evolved from “lower” animals, and did not just appear as “civilized” agriculturalists. This was a bitter pill to swallow as it shook the very foundations of our culture, which was based on the pillar of the alleged specialty and uniqueness of man which vindicated his rule of the world.

But nothing remarkable happened, really. Things went on as before, and the Great Remembering didn’t even happen. No one thought about questioning the assumptions on which our civilization was built. It didn’t even occur to anyone that this new finding could make any difference. After all, that’s pre-history. What did it matter if man evolved from the slime around him? He was always meant to be an agriculturalist, and the ruler of the world.

Nevertheless, a century and a half later, with the world on the brink of catastrophe, at least some people are starting to ask the right questions. It’s still a tiny minority, but importantly it is a growing minority. We can’t blame the Industrial Revolution, we can’t blame cars and factories and missiles. The seeds of disaster have been with us for a long long time- a culture that casts us as conquerors of a world which is hostile and from where we have to forcibly take everything we need. We can save the world only through changed minds.

“If there are still people here in 200 years, they won’t be living the way we do. I can make that prediction with confidence, because if people go on living the way we do, there won’t be any people here in 200 years.” —Daniel Quinn

2 thoughts on “The Great Forgetting

  1. All the institutions that man has created with this ‘Great forgetting’ makes sure that any attempt to remember what was before is tabooed. We have become so much dependent on these institutions while their existence can only be justified by forgetting what was before ‘the great forgetting’ which in turn creates a vicious circle where forgetting is seen as the better option.

  2. You’re right, and the Great Remembering can happen only when enough people muster the courage to walk away from these institutions. Or if the institutions collapse- which is a distinct possibility- as our institutions have become heavily dependent on non-renewable resources, and the end is not far away.

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