Chronological Snobbery

Chronological snobbery is the presumption, fueled by the modern conception of progress, that all thinking, all art, and all science of an earlier time are inherently inferior, indeed childlike or even imbecilic, compared to that of the present. Under the rule of chronological snobbery, the West has convinced itself that “intellectually, humanity languished for countless generations in the most childish errors on all sorts of crucial subjects, until it was redeemed by some simple scientific dictum of the last century” (History in English Words). It has become to believe that “anything more than a hundred years old is ancient” and “in the world of books, or opinions about books, the age at which senility sets in has now been reduced to about ten” (Worlds Apart 190).

The young physicist Ranger in Worlds Apart epitomizes chronological snobbery. See, for example, the following pontification:

You see, I have the advantage of knowing something of what is actually going on. I don’t know much about the history of science and still less about the history of pre-scientific thought. What I do know is, that three or four hundred years ago for some reason or other the human mind suddenly woke up. I don’t know who started it—Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo, or someone—and it doesn’t seem to me to matter. The point is, that for some reason people began to look at the world around them instead of accepting traditional theories, to explore the universe instead of just sitting around and thinking about it. First of all they discovered that the earth wasn’t flat… and that it was not the centre of the universe, as they had been dreaming, but a rapidly revolving and whirling speck of dust in empty space. Almost overnight about half the ideas men had had about the universe and their own place in it, turned out to be mere illusions. And the other half went the same way, when scientists began applying the new method—practical exploration—to other fields of inquiry—mechanics, chemistry, physiology, biology, and, later on, animal and human psychology and so forth. Everything that had been thought before, from the beginnings of civilization down to that moment, became hopelessly out of date and discredited. I suppose it still has an interest for antiquarians and historical specialists and similar types, but apart from that…
(Worlds Apart 7-8)

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