Generational Forgetting

I see a mention over here of something called “generational forgetting.”  I like this term, and I sometimes talk about the syndrome (I assume) it labels.  The pattern it labels is scale free and once you have recognized it you’ll see it everywhere.  It goes like so:

  1. Problem arises that creates pain.
  2. Solution demands collective action, creation of a complex institution or widespread change in social norms.
  3. Such a solution emerges; via solidarity and institution building (driven by the pain of the problem).
  4. The pain is  dissipated.
  5. The institution and norms switch into a  maintenance  mode (driven by fear of the pain, and  collective  memory).
  6. Time passes, new generation arrives, memory of the pain becomes based in stories rather than  experience.
  7. Norms and institutions decay as they are critiqued and defunded.

This pattern, and it will often be cyclic, is particularly intense around problems requiring collective action.  During step two all the usual conservative talking points will be deployed, and particular variants of them honed.  When we get to step seven, like bitter zombies, they will all rise from the dead hoping to reclaim the day.

There millions of examples of this.  For example if you work in some organization you will probably have little trouble thinking of some social norm inside the organization that appears to require a lot of ongoing persuasion (moral-suasion) to maintain.  The actors who are engaged int hat persuading are doing the work of #5; and if you dig you can usually retrieve horror stories from phase 1.

I’m sad to see that the term “generational forgetting” isn’t actually widely used.  It appears less than ten thousand times in Google search.  It appears to be a term of art used in the back rooms of the social science ivory tower, where the pack in the graduate students.

2 thoughts on “Generational Forgetting

  1. Faré

    In other words, “collective action”, politics, bureaucracy, “institutions”, and the Establishment doesn’t work, and cannot work — except at sustaining itself at the people’s expense.

  2. bhyde Post author

    Faré, apparently your ready to demonized all the various labels that might be put on collective action?

    Obviously these do work. Does anybody seriously contend that they don’t require contributions from people?

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