There's a lot of things to admire about the past.
Sure, it was a time of less attractive people, where ugliness was a deadly virtue and fun was a practice popularly frowned upon, but there are some things it did well.
Bloodymindedness coupled with wilful ignorance - the secret to many a successful relationship - was always a great strength of those days of yore. When the beforetimers did things, they did them for no discernible good reason and without a hint of planning, much like one would expect of a child, the elderly or the hard of thinking - this is, of course, utterly charming behaviour. We all know someone whose irascibility or ignorance is a source of secret pleasure, if for no better reason than smug superiority. The past offers a whole world of such individuals.
But there are things the past does that are unwise. Its traditions are amongst these things. A man of great intellect once said that anything good enough for his grandfather was not nearly good enough for he. Wise words indeed, and some of the few to survive the wheel of years.
There are a couple of ways we can live our lives by such a notion. The first is to reject everything good enough for our grandfathers. For most of us, this will regrettably include one or more pastimes that are still enjoyable today, if in a vastly improved form. So that is frankly impossible. The pursuit of pleasure is the whole point of modernity, and to discard even the slightest hint of novel experience is to spit in the face of all that is civilised.
So we must temper our resolve slightly. We must, in essence, choose the nature of our rejections. My grandfather had a mania for collectable cars. He has garages full of the blasted things, all cantankerous beasts smothered in the cloying scent of motor oil. As a point of order I reject them. Godawful machines they are, with handling like kettles and engines that roar like a freshly poured beer. Instead I make a point of only ever owning new cars, preferably fresh from the showroom or at least no older than two years. Rebellion must cost a significant amount of money, you see, or else it's just being an unruly peasant.
The ancestors of others had a penchant for words. Not particularly interesting words, on the whole. They would sit in their thatched huts playing with their filthy bedsores or whatever it was that people of note did in those days, all the while copying their interminable treatises on the latest use of heroin in baby formula or somesuch. Invariably they spelt or structured their words according to some horribly unfashionable ye olde word technique, with the result that any person of culture today would sooner eat a live spider than read them.
Regrettably nostalgia has meant that books relevant even today have been tainted with the sins of the forefathers. Their utter disregard for the social niceties of their descendants, coupled with their descendants' blindness to the faults of the long-dead, has meant that horrible crimes against the English language survive even to this very day.
A fellow JUer was kind enough to bring one of these examples to my attention recently. It was in, of all places, the bible. While on one level it doesn't surprise me - priests aren't known for their talents with words of more than one syllable - it is always distressing to see attachment to inadequate grammar prevalent amongst otherwise thoroughly modern men and women.
It is perfectly acceptable, of course, to affect certain quaint attitudes in style and form, a kind of subtle reminder that you know that I know that you know it's all for the nooky. But to knowingly break a minor rule simply because an ancestor thought it was a good idea?
The mind boggles, it truly does, and in fact it does more than boggle - it reels, breathless, at the magnitude of the crime and the villainy of the perpetrators, who by their actions seek to tear down the artifice of civilisation and replace it all in one horrendous swoop with the barbarity of the past and the dying screams of the disaffected.
But fret not, my dear companions, for there is a solution. It lies in the most obvious of places, the human heart.
All we must do to avoid such a fate is to continue our bold and necessary efforts. We must continue to reject the past. We must continue to be selective, to abandon traditions wherever possible, to underthrow the tyranny of time and unshackle humanity from the chains of precedent. We must live in the moment, of the moment and for the moment.
We must refuse to accept the validity of the past, for its lessons are ones writ in suffering and stupidity and its people plagued by horrors too mundane to speak about over a chilled beverage.
In essence, we must judge the past by our current standards. Inevitably we will find it wanting. But that is perfectly acceptable - if we are to improve on history we must know what makes us better.
Because nothing that was good enough for our grandfathers is good enough for us.