On The Devaluation Of Relics And The Past

You ever notice how we’ve turned the term “Relic” from one of reverence into a pejorative?

It’s probably reflective of how many modern mindsets tend to regard the Past as not something to be learned from, or venerated, or indeed kept alive – but instead something to be abrogated, abjured … brushed under the rug, and in many cases “best left forgotten”.

So elements [or, indeed, people] which are themselves *from* the Past, are thus denigrated – thought of, implicitly, as “obsolete” rather than “wondrous”; and regarded with suspicion or outright scorn when they dare grace us with their ‘presence’.

Part of this, of course, is due to the pace of both technological and societal change. Consumer goods which were designed for the marketplace five – and more especially, ten [‘quelle horreur’] – years ago are often not fit for purpose a few years, or occasionally even a span as short as a few months after their release and purchase … whether due to having been superseded by the latest model with improved and different functionality [think mobile phones, which have come a huge way since mine was made to the point that internet, social media, apps, cameras better than some *actual cameras*, and gigs upon gigs of internal storage are now standard], or because the goods in question these days aren’t really designed to last for that long before breaking down so you have to buy another to replace it.

We therefore have a somewhat justified suspicion of the nature and quality of ‘older’ goods then, I guess. Even though in many cases, much older material may actually be more durable or even situationally superior to its latter-day equivalents/descendents [something something MiGs with ‘obsolete’ vacuum transistors being laughed at by American technicians who neglected to realize that same would render the jets unaffected by a nuclear blast’s electro-magnetic pulse…].

But even if we accept a preference for newer technology and consumer goods, this doesn’t mean that older means nor mechanisms are, or should be (outright) obsolete. Text-messaging hasn’t replaced face-to-face conversation or the letter; Twitter [despite the best efforts of a certain President] is yet to truly suborn the political Press Release [even though, to be sure, these are far more often emailed out to hopefully-hungry journalists rather than shoved under the doors of Parliamentary Press Gallery members by overworked Press Secretaries, as in Days of Yore].

And perhaps more worryingly, the movements to more wholesale adoptions of “new” in eschewment of “old”, can lead on to all manner of undesired and unforseen consequences [the present-day social isolation/atomization resultant from the modern workplace being a cubicle with a computer in it, for instance; or the way in which the aforementioned phones-with-email etc. now mean that many workers are effectively “on-call” for *well* more than their on-paper hours and even into remote holidays and hard-won family-time. There are entire books written, meanwhile, about how social media is helping to subtly re-program and re-wire the brains of younger people towards more ADHD-looking neural functioning].

Alongside this, we have the people – well, the sorts of people, anyway -to whom “Relic” is most often applied as a term of abuse. The kind of person who appears as if they are mentally affixed to a different era, or who quite literally hails from such a time and place, and has travelled to us via the latter part of the much-vaunted “space-time continuum”.

It is understandable that certain attitudes and aptitudes much more common in our collective [or individual] pasts might be looked upon with disdain here in the shared Present. The demand for specialized slave-wranglers [outside, arguably, of some HR departments and recruitment firms where there’s a certain crossover of skill-set], and the spouters of a belief in particular races filling the aforementioned quotas on the basis of pre-ordained “superiority” as found in select Biblical verses, for instance, is … not exactly high and nor should it be. Quite the contrary in fact.

But by simply writing off every person, construct, or important item which might happen to hail from a time [and perhaps a place] much distinct from our own as a “Relic”, in the sense of something to be consigned to a museum [and the shift of Museum from ‘place you go to see things and learn about the past’ through to ‘dusty, musty place which is functionally an un-checked archive where things go to be forgotten” – an Oubliette, in other words – is another example of this sad trend in action and in askance] or otherwise discarded due to its temporal incongruity … well, that’s problematic and dangerous, as well.

How are we to know what kernels of ancient wisdom might yet prove relevant in our contemporary situations? Particularly if it’s all consigned to the figurative [or, heinously, literal] ash-heap? What if something is ‘perennial’ or ‘timeless’ instead of being so temporally fixed as to insta-decay upon exposure to Modernity and Modern scorn?

And what if, in some instances at least, “Old Ways” actually ARE better than what we practice at present? [the cap on the exploitation of the common labourer at 40 hours a week would be one instantly obvious example – steadily erodied in no small measure over these last few decades thanks to technological ‘progress’ and changing societal/economic ‘expectations’ to the contrary of actual human life]

Once upon a time, to designate something a ‘Relic’ meant to observe its status as something of immense value. A precious artefact of a bygone age, when craftsmanship was quite likely superior to the present – and representing an ethos which made the society which produced it, frequently even to our modern eyes, a ‘great’ one. [I know that Ancient Athens is uh … hagiographized to a considerable extent these days, and that this is the same city-state which saw little issue with slave-holding and making the sort of geopolitical belligerance upon its various neighbours that would make even the late Cold War United States blush – but it is hard to imagine a tighter time-period or geographic area to have produced an equivalent or greater amount of beauty and worthwhile thought, literature, heroic deeds and all the rest of it than Athens at its height.]

Indeed, such a thing might quite literally be Holy, and not simply due to its potentially immense age.

But now, it means the opposite. Something “worthless” in our contemporary context – or worse, which is actively harmful and garishly out of place [well, out-of-time in at least two or possibly three senses of the phrase].

I believe that this is, in no small part, because the Present, Modernity, and much of that which goes with each, is overtly *threatened* by the Past, and its implicit challenge [to either live up to its standards, or to exceed them – and especially ‘on its own terms’].

Hence the popularity of “Relic’ as a pejorative. Because to simply and sneeringly label something ‘obsolete’ purely based on its age or the ethos of its construction, is to avoid actually engaging with the thing itself – and seeing whether it, too, might have a viable … nay, VALUABLE .. place among our Present.

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