Short-term Memory

1239448_10101716135896975_1920941713_nOkay, I’ll go for a 9/11 post…but I’ll make it quick.  I’m seeing a lot of images on Facebook like the one above, posted by friends of various political persuasions.  All these friends can appeal to what they have in common, after all–a unifying sense of patriotism and national identity. I’m struck by these images, I suppose, because of my curiosity about what we think we’re appealing to with slogans like “Never Forget.”  Because that’s what they are, right…slogans?  Made by folks who distribute them for public consumption and dissemination…?  And yet, there seems a very present sense that we’re tapping into a shared experience, a common feeling–one that reminds us that we are “Americans first.” Enter Emile Durkheim.  If we’re Americans first, and if our shared concept of community and identity is so palpable, why do we need to be reminded so often to “never forget”…? Could it be because national identity, like so many other acts of identification, is not a real and abiding thing but rather something contingent and always on the verge of breaking down?  If so, it would seem this bit of social formation–that is, national acts of remembrance–is a product of short-term memory and thus something we need to remind each other of every now and again to keep hold of the event’s (seemingly obvious, natural, deep, etc.) importance.

5 Replies to “Short-term Memory”

  1. Makes me think of this statement by Eugene Debs in _Appeal to Reason_, 1915.

    “Capitalists wars for capitalist conquest and capitalist plunder must be fought by the capitalists themselves so far as I am concerned, and upon that question there can be no compromise and no misunderstanding as to my position. I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth; I am a citizen of the world. I would not violate my principles for God, much less for a crazy kaiser, a savage czar, a degenerate king, or a gang of pot-bellied parasites.”

  2. Bingo, but the very existence of the slogan shows how poorly we comprehend the work achieved through ritual…as work achieved through ritual. It suggests that our memory depends more on the content of the message than it’s mere repetition.

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