After recently meeting with a constituent with advancing dementia, I reflected that we are what we remember. Thinking again, though, I concluded that the past is much more significant than that.
We are shaped even by things we have forgotten or never known, as our lives are coloured by what has been. Where we are born, what our parents did or were and the kind of world we have inherited from long dead generations quite different from us, like it or not, make us what we are.
Socrates knew that it’s not the world of our senses that matters, but the timeless absolutes beyond them. The immediate is an illusion, as in an instant now is then. It is seductive history – our own and other people’s – that should excite us. We are informed by what we’ve done, where we’ve been, who we have loved or hurt and, most of all, by what to draw from those experiences.
How sad then is the current popular preoccupation with the instantaneous, the trivial, the here and now! It is indicative of the brutalism of our age that we so frequently disregard the sagacious advice of elders (excepting Ming Campbell, of course) and deride the institutions and traditions bestowed upon us by the sages of years gone by. As the past is abandoned, the future is sacrificed in a headlong rush to gratify immediate material desires. The borrow and spend culture, in which many regard thrift as anachronistic, is a product of this hedonism. Ignorant of their inheritance and careless of their legacy many people live diminished lives driven only by today’s threats and thrills.
Few would contest that at the heart of Conservatism is an understanding that collective wisdom of ages is necessarily more significant than the preoccupations – the fads and fashions – of the moment. But there are those yet to grasp that this core belief simply cannot be reconciled with liberalism’s greedy individualism.
For quality of life to grow we must know again what was taken for granted for generations; that the debt we owe to those who have gone before and our duty to those who will follow dwarfs the sensuous present. True contentment lies in the sacrifice of immediate self interest in the pursuit of eternal truths.
John Hayes MP