- Sociology: The belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture.
- A tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own.
- Sociology: The belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own period of history as the most enlightened and all previous cultures are judged through its lens;
- A tendency to view alien and historical groups or cultures from the prejudicial perspective of one’s own time period.
Most people are familiar with the concept of ethnocentrism and understand it to be a negative and unwanted social practice.
In 2017 I find a much more troubling phenomena taking place that causes me concern -which is a close cousin to ethnocentrism. I call this growing practice “temporalcentrism,” in which we believe in the inherent superiority of our time in history, over all others, while believing all of history must be evaluated through the lens of contemporary prejudices and practices.
Well, so much for thinking I had an original thought. I have never formally heard this term so I did a quick online search only to find that:
“Temporocentrism” is the temporal equivalent of ethnocentrism…Applying the context of ethnocentrism to a chronological vantage point, then, temporocentrism is the belief, whether consciously held or unconsciously, that one’s own time is more important than the past or future. Individuals with a temporocentric perspective judge historical events on the basis of contemporary standards rather than in their own context, often resulting in fallacy.
It is akin to harshly criticizing a washboard and clothesline because they are not yet a washer and dryer or an abacus because it had not yet evolved into a computer.
Bad idea kids.
I am not suggesting that those who practice temporalcentrism (not to be confused with “tempuracentrism,” the belief that all foods should be deep fried…sorry) find contemporary society a utopia with no problems…they do. What I am suggesting is the notion that the “enlightened” norms and ethics of the day far surpass those of yesterday, is, well, temporalcentric (I like my spelling better).
Why is temporalcentrism a dangerous idea?
- It unnecessarily belittles and shames periods of history and historical figures in an unfair and uncritical light without context.
- It gives us an unrealistic sense of the superiority of current day values and attitudes.
- It breeds both ignorance and arrogance resulting in fallacial thinking.
Temporalcentrism unnecessarily belittles and shames historical figures and periods of history.
Let us look at temporalcentrism through the lens of slavery and American history. Please understand what I am saying here. I believe the concept of slavery is humanity at its worst. It is evil, disgusting, sad, horrid, atrocious and shameful. Which is why this temporalcentric 2017 blogger has a very difficult time understanding how it has been a practice of humanity since prehistoric times. Yet historians inform us that, “Slavery dates back to prehistoric times and was apparently modeled on the domestication of animals. From the earliest periods of recorded history, slavery was found in the world’s most “advanced” regions. The earliest civilizations–along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia, the Nile in Egypt, the Indus Valley of India, and China’s Yangtze River Valley–had slavery. The earliest known system of laws, the Hammurabi Code, recognized slavery.”
To believe slavery commenced as a human practice in America circa 1619 is misguided as that began a new period in slavery, the western slave trade. Slavery was not a uniquely American practice as American forefathers were following a generally accepted human practice since recorded world history.
I am in no way, shape or form suggesting American forefathers were entirely blameless in regards to perpetuating slave practices; what I am suggesting is, in attempt to rid myself of temporalcentrism, to consider that the strong and ever-present global practice of slavery at the very least provides some explanation and context as to why otherwise noble men of character could own slaves.
I would rather attempt to reach understanding before the application of shaming. That said, perhaps we could tone down our idolatrous praise of our forefathers (when visiting Washington DC some years back I was sickened to learn that the mural painted in the rotunda of the nation’s capital depicts the “Deification of George Washington,” ugh) and simply understand them for who these very human men were and we cannot discount them as products of their cultural contexts in that assessment.
When certain norms and ethics are woven so deeply into the fabric of society not only are such decisions to abide by them both unconscious and automatic, they are expected as it is the norm many were birthed into. In the case of women’s suffrage, for a women to vote and usurp a man’s authority was generally as horrid and wrong in 1800 as much as they are championed and embraced in 2017. As the wise fictitious filmmaker Christof stated in one of my favorite films, “The Truman Show,” we simply accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented.
Norms, ethics, and social practices change over time and to completely and entirely judge one’s moral character in a completely different era, through different time periods, is like saying the model T was a shitty car because it lacked seat belts and air bags.
If one does not bother to closely examine the overall social, political, religious, technological, sociological, psychological contexts of any given point in history, one will never understand it. Perhaps it is just convenient and, well, lazy, to throw all of history under the bus because it does not align with our contemporary thought forms and practices.
Temporalcentrism gives us an unrealistic sense of the superiority of current day values and attitudes.
Let me put it this way: If we are now an enlightened and evolved culture, we must now be doing everything “right,” right? Wrong. How do I know this? Look back in history and we see practices that we cannot remotely fathom today…what would make us think our contemporary society is any different?
In a hundred years, what will society look back at us and wonder what in they hell were they thinking? Could it be factory farming? GMO’s? Gasoline powered cars? The consumption of mass amounts of fast food? Eating animals? Our current media practice of guilty until proven innocent? Trump? Traditional marriage? Gender? Separate bathrooms for men and women? Heteronormativity? Political correctness run amok? Our addiction to entertainment? Hell, I could not tell you what they will look back at and scratch their heads; or else I would stop or start doing whatever it may be, yet, I can tell you with relative certainty that they will look back at us and scratch their heads, or worse, shame our vile and ignorant generation over such matters that we currently barely take note.
Temporalcentrism breeds both ignorance and arrogance.
Ignorance because temporalcentrism turns a blind eye to contemporary practices that are so pervasive they are invisible to the mainstream of society, and, arrogant to think that current thought trends and practices are the end all, be all of progress…that we have somehow arrived.
Temporalcentrists can be so smug.
Enter the idea of anachronisms, which is something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time, especially a thing or person that belongs to an earlier time. Can we judge the entirety of human history through the lens of 2017? We could, yet then we would be missing out on the process of human evolution and thought, how and why people behave or believe the way they do and what one’s beliefs informs us of certain periods of time in history.
Would I have preferred misogyny and slavery, among other atrocities, never existed? Of course, but they did. And since they did, it only behooves us to study such phenomena and ask what were the confluences of social factors that resulted in these horrors? What was the justification? How could such tragic institutions exist at such a widespread and acceptable level that some contend still strongly exists? What was the recipe for its demise? How do we commit as a society to ensuring such things never happen again?
Perhaps the greatest temporalcentric queston of all time is Hitler’s Germany: How the hell did god-fearing, family loving men and women turn into mass murders? We must escape contemporary thought patterns and social constructs to even begin to answer that question and attempt to recreate the basic contextual historical understanding to ensure it never happens again.
I, for one, want to watch and learn from the evolution of change. If we continue to evaluate history through the norms and assumptions of contemporary culture, we will be blinded by these contemporary norms and we will lose our ability to be self-reflective and critical. We ought to be in the state of continually challenging and questioning our contemporary norms and practices, not judging the entirety of human history through them.
“Twin Sirens hide in the sea of history, tempting those seeking to understand and appreciate the past onto the reefs of misunderstanding and misinterpretation. These twin dangers are temporocentrism and ethnocentrism. Temporocentrism is the belief that your times are the best of all possible times. All other times are thus inferior. Ethnocentrism is the belief that your culture is the best of all possible cultures. All other cultures are thus inferior. Temporocentrism and ethnocentrism unite to cause individuals and cultures to judge all other individuals and cultures by the “superior” standards of their current culture. This leads to a total lack of perspective when dealing with past and / or foreign cultures and a resultant misunderstanding and misappreciation of them. Temporocentrism and ethnocentrism tempt moderns into unjustified criticisms of the peoples of the past.”
I could not have said it better myself.