“…your whole way of life is out of date when compared with theirs. And it is just as true in politics as it is in any art or craft: new methods must drive out old ones…”
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
(Corinthians speaking to Spartans, about Athenians, trying to convince them to go to war with the Athenians, in 432 B.C.)
The first line might have come from the lips of my children, as they compare their parents’ ideals to the world around us.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be so hard that one’s way of life–or ideal–is out of date, if it didn’t seem that it’s also being driven out. Can’t our way of life, we wonder, at least still exist next to contemporary ways?
It is interesting that we think of our culture as unusually diverse, and as intentionally accepting of differences—even notable ones—between various ways of life. This is part of the self-understanding of our culture.
Perhaps I’m missing something. But it seems the reality is that our age is monolithically unfriendly to ways of living other than the standard. And ironically perhaps especially unfriendly to ways of living that were common in our own not so distant past.
Here is one example. Some humans grow up and live in a community where they really know and are known by their neighbors. They have a sense of coming from and belonging to a specific place and community. Not only residing there, they work there. They make a living and forge a common life, even across generations, with a relatively stable group of people, on a scale suited to mutual knowledge and accountability. This was once the norm, and theoretically people could still live in such a way.
But by and large today, we can’t. Such a life is not really an option for the vast majority of people. I suppose we can say it is out of date.
It’s value, however, will never be out of date. So if I’m told that thinking about what isn’t feasible is a waste of time, I have a response. Keeping certain thoughts alive might just be the ground in which old realities sprout into new possibilities. Even if just for our children.
Thucydides (460-395 B.C.) was a great Athenian historian and general.
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