Today we explore the fallacy of “chronological snobbery”, a term coined by C.S. Lewis that describes the idea that the intellectual, artistic, or scientific contributions from previous periods are inherently inferior to those of today. This comes from the notion that, because civilization has advanced over the millennia in certain areas, people in earlier eras were therefore less intelligent, less capable, and generally inferior.
Obviously an integral reading of history describes the ongoing unfolding of various developmental intelligences and capacities over time, which might convince us of a certain superiority over our ancestors. But this in no way means that yesterday’s ideas were less brilliant than today’s ideas, or that all people in previous periods were inherently “inferior” to people today. Development is a measure of complexity, not superiority.
This common fallacy offers an extra challenge to integral historiographers, who need to discern both the historical subject’s overall kosmic address and their surrounding intersubjective matrix, as well as the kosmic address and intersubjective matrix the historian is translating their ideas through, without allowing any of these to overly bias their view of the others.
We are in every way standing on the shoulders of giants. It is our accumulated history — all of our inherited knowledge, wisdom, art, culture, science, technology, etc. — that allows more people today to actualize more of their developmental potential than ever before. For the careful historian this is not a matter of “chronological snobbery” — it is a sober account of genuine progress, and historians should not be hesitant to acknowledge the ever-ripening fruits of history, without declaring all previous eras to be fruitless.
Ken unpacks his own approach to integral historiography, helping us to better understand our own place in history — and history’s place in us.
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