Monday, October 11, 2010

Collective Memory Dysfunction

At the level of the individual memory, we are aware that memory impairment can occur. We all have experienced the inability to recall a phone number, a date, someone's name, and so on. This is a normal occurrence. Memories fade over time.

However, memory loss can become dysfunctional when the information that can't be recalled is essential to the well-being of the individual. Not being able to remember your own name, where you live, and the nature of your relationship to family members, for example, would impact significantly on your ability to lead an autonomous life.

Most often this type of memory loss is caused by a traumatic head injury or the progression of a degenerative disease, and for the affected individual, the loss is catastrophic. Indeed, those in close relation to the individual will say that her or she is no longer the same person.

Consequently, we have come to realize that an individual's well-being is dependent on having a healthy, functional memory, which means the ability to retain and recall what is important and to forget that which is not.

Although the dynamics of a society's collective memory are more complex and subject to the concerted efforts of groups to influence its content, how it is to be interpreted, and what is to be forgotten, the ability of society to remember its past has a huge impact on the quality of life for groups within the society and for the population at large.

At the group level, it is interesting to note how a society can remember certain sequences of events but not recall others. Indeed, the collective memory can be quite selective, depending on the moral consequences and their impact on societal choices to be taken in the present. Social injustice towards minority groups, like the North American Indigenous Peoples, will often be maintained because their historical narratives cannot gain any traction within the society's collective memory.

Unfortunately, it appears that North Americans are now engaged in a process of selective memory repression. The sequence of events in question is the inability of the political class and its economic worldview to predict the collapse of financial markets and the onset of the Great Recession.

A monumental intellectual failure of this scale must be remembered, but alas with yesterday's announcement of this year's recipient of the Nobel prize for economics, it appears that our society is continuing with its business as usual.

To draw an analogy, I would take this state of affairs back down to the individual level. It's as if our society is acting like an individual whose spouse has been unfaithful and chooses not to react. Without question, the infidelity should impact on the quality of the relationship. However, in some instances, usually when comfortable lifestyles could be jeopardized, the inconvenient truth is actively repressed and life goes on like before.

As we head into the midterm US elections in November and most likely a Canadian federal election in the new year, economic prognostications are being made by politicians as if nothing has happened recently that would call into question the ability of making any useful macroeconomic predictions whatsoever.

For instance, the Canadian Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, recently claimed that the election of a ruling coalition formed by the opposition parties would lead to economic catastrophe for the Canadian economy. To be fair to the Conservatives similar economic hyperbole is forthcoming from the Liberals, the NDP, and the Bloc.

What the mainstream media in Canada totally missed is the opportunity to call into question the validity of the entire exercise. Only two years ago elected officials were denying that we were heading into a recession, which proved to be totally false and we recorded the highest federal budgetary deficit in Canadian history.

So, given recent past record, it would appear to me that the appropriate question that should have been asked to Mr. Flaherty and should be asked in the future to politicians who make macroeconomic predictions is as follows, "if we got it so wrong about the economy in the past, what makes you think that you got it right today with regard to your predictions, what's changed?"

I know that I'm asking too much from the mainstream media. After all, they are in the infotainment industry. That's why the blogosphere is growing and gaining importance. We bloggers provide the analysis for free and we assume the responsibility of drawing people's attention to what the mainstream media would sooner have us forget.

Blog on!

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