The Culture of Oblivion


By Carolina Vásquez Araya

The human brain has a mechanism capable of eliminating the memory of pain.

Over the years, the most decisive events in the history of humanity take on the sepia tinge of old photographs. They are gradually transformed into legends or, at best, into isolated events that have been stripped of their impact on present-day reality. This is how they are taught in history classes, perhaps with the purpose of isolating them in a time capsule to sterilise their significance.

However, these milestones represent moments when the road has twisted to mark a new, though not always better, path. As societies move forward pressured by the challenges of survival, their moments of pain and loss are left behind in a haze conducive to forgetting, which represents the enormous risk of repeating the cycle over and over again, abandoning, along the way, the dreams and ambitions of creating more just and humane societies. It is the culture of forgetting, a collective disease that, like a cursed virus, has conditioned us to leave the most valuable lessons behind.

One of the consequences of this collective phenomenon is the resurgence of movements marked by racism and fascist violence in countries that experienced the worst of Nazism during the greatest and cruelest human hunts in history, but also spread to the rest of the planet. It is an exercise of power and perversion whose germ seems to be present in the very core of the human species, as manifested in other hunts, perpetrated under rules that segment communities into those who have the right to live and those who are to be exterminated.

A similar process occurs in the face of resource depletion, the destruction of ecosystems and the deadly indifference of those who have the power to intervene to change the course of events. Human communities – part of the problem as well as part of the solution – just watch, sceptically and conformist, as their world is destroyed. Evidence of species extinction, a consequence of the lust for wealth and power, goes hand in hand with images of civilians – turned into “collateral damage” in the midst of war attacks of enormous magnitude – whose sole purpose is economic and geopolitical control for those in power.

The mechanisms of memory elimination are activated as soon as reality begins to get in the way of our little everyday world and to trouble our conscience. It is the way to shake out of our mind something that we have no way to influence; it is the mechanism of the crab that looks for an empty shell on the beach to hide from its predators and move on with its life. The problem is that we have no shelter to protect us from the destruction of those elusive frameworks of coexistence on which we have based our trust. Among them, the purified and abstract idea of the meaning of democracy.

On the road to oblivion and conformity we have ended up abandoning our active role as members of organised societies. The rules of the game have been changed and we continue to play the game without knowing the tricks of the adversary, because we do not know who he is either. Like the crab, we seek precarious refuge in oblivion. And, like the crab, we think we are immune to the trained eye of the predators around us.

We are exposed to the effects of the past every time we try to forget it. @carvasar

Previously Published on pressenza with Creative Common License

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