Monday, August 28, 2006

What You Can't Say

It's an old article, but a good one. I just stumbled across this treatise from Paul Graham entitled "What You Can't Say" that tries to answer this question: If we think that a lot of the stuff people accepted as "right" 50 years ago is stupid and wrongheaded, what do we think now that people in the future will similiarly scoff at? It delves into the changing nature of taboos.

Certainly the fact that they value open-mindedness is no guarantee. Who thinks they're not open-minded? Our hypothetical prim miss from the suburbs thinks she's open-minded. Hasn't she been taught to be? Ask anyone, and they'll say the same thing: they're pretty open-minded, though they draw the line at things that are really wrong. (Some tribes may avoid "wrong" as judgemental, and may instead use a more neutral sounding euphemism like "negative" or "destructive".)

When people are bad at math, they know it, because they get the wrong answers on tests. But when people are bad at open-mindedness they don't know it. In fact they tend to think the opposite. Remember, it's the nature of fashion to be invisible. It wouldn't work otherwise. Fashion doesn't seem like fashion to someone in the grip of it. It just seems like the right thing to do. It's only by looking from a distance that we see oscillations in people's idea of the right thing to do, and can identify them as fashions.
Long, and well worth the read.