Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Pastor Future? A Re-Formulation of Ortega's Question

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Pastor Future? A Re-Formulation of Ortega's Question

Article excerpt

Ortega on the Past

In The Revolt of the Masses, Jose Ortega Y Gasset (1) described a game played in the nineteenth century "literary salons." Cultured ladies and domesticated poets would ask one another the question: "In which age would you have chosen to live?" Respondents would "wander in imagination through the highways and byways of history in search of a time in which they might most happily pitch their tents" (p.26). Ortega explained this response by suggesting that nineteenth century individuals, though living in a time of plentitude, still felt linked to the past; "[t]heir gaze was turned backward, they looked to a past now being fulfilled in themselves" (p.26). He identified the nineteenth century as a time that "saw itself as the culmination of the past" (p.26).

Ortega then queried what a twentieth-century individual would say in response to such a question. He asserted that there would not be a looking back to the past; rather, there would be disdain for the past because it would be viewed as "a restricted space, a narrow redoubt wherein he could not breathe" (pp.26-27). With such a view, the twentieth-century individual would instead look to the present and the future and thereby fail to ground him or herself to the past in any way. Ortega said that "the man of the present believes that his own life is more of a life than all former lives in the past" (p.27). The past, then, is rejected, ignored, deemed unworthy and unrespectful.

We re-formulated Ortega's question and asked 253 individuals - 33 Americans who are in the late forty to early fifty age range, and 225 traditional college students (i.e., 18-24 years of age) - this hypothetical question: "If you could step into a time machine and press any year to go to - forward or backward in time - what year would you pick?" Though not an exact corollary to the question Ortega alluded to, our hypothetical question opens the door for an exploration of time preferences among these individuals.

We begin with a discussion of time orientation in American culture, accounting for the culture's emphasis on the future. Against this backdrop, we present our findings, quoting respondents so as to retain their voices. We draw primarily upon the work of Fred Davis and David Lowenthal in the interpretation of our findings.

Future-Orientation In American Culture

The United States seems to deny its history. Rather, a present- and future-orientation purportedly characterizes the American's sense of time. Indeed, this time orientation constitutes part of our dominant ideology. Americans have historically valued progress, improvement, advancement, "newness." One of the dominant American values that sociologist Robin Williams identified back in the 1950s was that of progress.

With this focus on the future, the past, it seems, does not exist. Ortega lamented the dissociation between past and present, viewing it as characteristic of a lack of respect for the past. He associated this with a retrogression toward barbarism - i.e., "toward the ingenuousness and primitivism of those who have no past, or have forgotten it" (p.80). What are the contributing factors to this country's traditional disregard for the past?

Social scientist Ernest van den Haag (2) links rejection of the past with people's immigrant backgrounds, the melting-pot nature of the school system, and the rapid rate of change which "makes the experience of the old seem old-fashioned and diminishes their authority" (p.90). David Blight (3) holds the dominant American value of individualism responsible: "The overweening force of individualism in an expanding country had ever made Americans a future-oriented people, a culture unburdened with memory and tradition" (p.1172).

Sociologist Peter Berger (4) emphasizes the geographical and social mobility that characterizes American life. "People on the move physically are frequently people who are also on the move in their self-understanding" (p. …

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