By Mark Antony Rossi
Santayana’s oft repeated warning “those who cannot remember the past are condemned repeat it” is routinely applied in the macro context of history. The philosophy behind the maxim assumes mere memory is enough to prevent atrocities, defeat autocratic rule and stop disasters in their tracks. While I doubt, this was his original intent I remain skeptical of memory as a social medicine. Maybe we are reading too much into a clever phrase? Perhaps his target was internal rather than external.
What if Santayana was not seeking to create a psyche-activated history awareness campaign. What if he was warning us about a foundational weakness in the human condition? A flaw in our character that breeds contempt for the familiar until we are lost in a loop of lethargy. The ultimate advice in personal development might pivot on a certain measure of fortitude to fix mistakes today to avoid catastrophe tomorrow.
Consider the alternative conclusion: humanity repeats mistakes due to unchecked vanity; not rapid memory loss. We fervently adopt stereotypes, bigger is better, older is wiser, etc., and brand them blood relatives of prejudice. Progress as a species remains phlegmatic since the facsimile of safety embraces the superficial. Lazy epithets fail to describe this lack of forward motion which is closer to self-destruction than exaggerated self-esteem. Predetermination doesn’t exist. The future is not set in stone. There is no legitimate excuse not to abruptly change course and engage reality.
Disunity from ourselves and the world is not inevitable. The naysayers prefer division as a means of control and unimaginative consistency. The solution to planetary peace perishes in utopian promises –religious or political — because these models of utopia eliminate choices of freedom as an expeditious, albeit conformist policy meant to resolve conflicts through universal fiat. True peace is an offspring of freedom and requires the persistent and painstaking work of making friends or allies one person at a time. And at the end of day if we cannot defeat inner demons plaguing the collective soul we can at least understand their impulses and learn to ignore their schemes to disrupt the better angels born in every living creature willing to work towards meaningful existence.
About the Author: Mark Antony Rossi is a poet, playwright and author of the bioethics volume “Dark Tech” now available from Amazon. His most recent plays have been produced in Liverpool and New York.