Narcissism, we are told, is epidemic in our modern culture. Oh, it’s blamed on a lot of things: social media, selfies, Instagram, the Kardashians, everybody-wins-nobody-ever-loses childhood games. But that’s picayune. Small potatoes. I think it’s time we stepped back and considered the 10,000 foot view.
My dad always used to say, “Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.” That’s the crux of our modern narcissism. We don’t know this one big fact about history:
Every generation thinks they’re so, so right.
That they’ve got Life all figured out.
They mock past generations.
Past generations did it.
Future generations will think we are ridiculous.
And the beat goes on. And on. And on.
We are no exception.
I know, I know. We consider ourselves “cutting edge” in technology, science, medicine, environmentalism, trade, et cetera. We actually believe that we’re the generation of homo sapiens who have finally gotten it right. We’re NOT ridiculous! Past generation were laughable, believing in all that snake oil and superstition, but future generations will admire us. We’re so, so advanced.
We’re all so blasted sure of ourselves. So “right.” So didactic. So proselytizing. So pushy.
Give it five years…or five hundred…and we will be considered the nincompoops of the twenty-first century, hardy-har-har-har. They did what way back in the 2000s!? They believed wha-a-a-a-at!? Where’s my knee, I gotta slap it!
Then give it another five hundred years…and our dearly held beliefs may come up trumps again. You never know.
Why this article now? Oh, I dunno. Maybe because I’m looking at my thirties in the rearview mirror. Maybe because, for the first time in my life, I’ve got enough years under my belt to have some perspective on old Father Time. (Nostalgia is also a new development!)
Maybe because every single week the DailyMail prints a “new scientific study” that completely contradicts the “new scientific study” they published last week. After watching this game of scientific badminton for several years, I’ve lost respect for the Very Smart People of this day-and-age.
We’re just a blip really. A tiny blip on some 8th graders timeline school project in the year 4072 A.D. That’s what we are. Quaint people who once thought there were so enlightened, so advanced, so brilliant. Wherefore narcissism? It hasn’t got a leg to stand on.
What is true of life, is also true of food. In his 2011 book The Table Comes First author Adam Gopnik writes…
It’s a rule:
The good food of twenty-five years ago
always looks unhealthy;
the good food of fifty years ago
always looks unappetizing;
and the good food of a hundred years ago
always looks inedible.
I remember way back in the 1980s after my grandfather’s heart attack. Taking his cardiologist’s advice to lose weight and eat low fat, my entire family revolutionized their menus: low-fat ice cream, fat-free “cheese” (gag!), low-fat cookies, margarine.
Meanwhile, my roly-poly-never-dieted-and-never-sick-a-day-in-her-life Great-Grandmother said, “It’s not fat that makes you fat. It’s starch.” We all thought she was nuts. That’s just Great-Grandma, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Isn’t she quaint, old-fashioned, unenlightened and funny. We do love her so.
Then the whole LCHF low-carb, high-fat diet plans came into vogue. We tried it and all lost weight. Lo-and-behold, Great-Grandma was right all long. (And died at age 98, still roly-poly, of absolutely nothing!)
Or take modern farming techniques. With million-dollar machinery and kick-ass chemicals, one farmer can raise more acres of crops in one decade than our forefathers with their oxen and sod-busters could dream of raising in a lifetime.
But it all comes back around. On the Château du Gros Chesnay in Fille-sure-Sarthe, France the soil for crops is turned by horse-drawn plow “in order to prevent the soil from being torn up too deeply.”
I knew it! I had a feeling the horse-and-plow would come back into vogue. Just as leeches came back into vogue as a medical treatment.
There’s nothing new under the sun. Everything we mock as foolishness today comes back around as wisdom tomorrow (and vice versa) so we shouldn’t get our egos too inflated nor take ourselves too seriously.
Consider the legendary haute cuisine of Auguste Escoffier with his elaborate culinary creations swathed in layers and layers of aspic giving way, less than a hundred years later, to Chef Alain Passard of L’Arpège on the Rue de Varenne in Paris who serves:
“…a plate of tomatoes—just these tomatoes, sliced the right thickness, salted, and with a dab of balsamic…
Everything that is cool one day, is panned the next. It doesn’t pay to get too cocky.
We mock women of the past for injecting goats milk, paraffin and industrial silicone into their breasts to increase the size. Who knows what future generations will think of us for our plastic surgery techniques and materials!
Why were you and I born now, at this particular time in history? Why weren’t we born in the day of Alexander the Great or Louisa May Alcott? I don’t know. All I know is we should try to be a blessing to those whom our path crosses “for such a time as this,” to quote the Book of Esther. No one can be us as well as we can be us.
Let’s view ourselves from the perspective of history – past and future. It’ll prick our little narcissistic bombastic pomposity right in the ass and give us the Erma Bombeckesque charm of humility.