In the late 1990’s, the Cranberries saw their run of hit albums end with the album Bury The Hatchet, which unfortunately did not end up doing well after the initial single “Promises” did not perform well on the American charts. That song, which gave an ironic tinge to the album, featured the anger at the band about the broken promises involving the politics of Ireland. Although my own Irish ancestry tends more to Scot-Irish than Irish, and more to Anglo-Irish than to Celtic Irish, for what it’s worth, it is instructive to see that in many conflict-prone areas that there are promises that are made, and not kept, and the people who suffer are not those who win prizes but those who live in the affected areas whose lives are not bettered in the aftermath of failed reconciliation.
Why is it that people would seek to cultivate forgetfulness? What is the advantage of having people not remember? Memory has a lot of advantages, in that it gives us context and something to compare the present to. This is not to say that history or memory are necessarily infallible, only that they provide insights to bring to bear against the problems of the present day. If we know what was promised in the past, we know how the performance today lines up against the promises. Those who seek to erase the past seek to remove that accountability for what was said in the past, because one can then always change the narrative to reflect the exigencies of the moment rather than being held accountable to what one said last week or last month or last year or whatever the case may be. Similarly, a people without historical perspective cannot see the ways in which the present is vastly worse than the past in ways that may lead us to respond negatively to those who have brought this decline upon us.
There can indeed be a bitterness in memory. Yet memory is like any other gift in that it is how we use it that determines whether it is good or bad. Our memories give us the power to compare the present and the past. We can use such an opportunity to cultivate a respect and honor for the past that may, we hope, bring honor and credit upon ourselves by those in the future who can read of our good deeds and hopefully enjoy the positive results of them and praise us accordingly. Alternatively, if we behave wrongly and foolishly and unwisely, we can expect that those who come after us will curse our memory for the disaster we brought upon ourselves and them. If we cultivate wisdom and crave insight and knowledge, we will seek to preserve and expand the realm of memory and cultivate historical understanding in ourselves. If we know ourselves to be fools and wish to cover our tracks, we will pervert history and seek to cultivate forgetfulness so that we are not found out and condmened.
We live in a world where forgetfulness is cultivated. People do not see the promises of God as being all that relevant because they have denigrated in general the value of the past as a model for the present. This denigration of the past means that people do not hold others accountable to a high degree for making false promises because all promises are viewed as merely temporary and tactical in nature and not implying a genuine commitment to those terms. So it is that politicians do not always suffer for the false promises they make because all politicians are assumed to be corrupt liars when it is at least theoretically possible for someone to be an honorable statesman of high moral character. So it is that people do not value the reward of those decisions whose value consists in fidelity to obligations made for an indefinite period of the future. If we do not trust ourselves or others to be faithful, we will not bind ourselves to others when we do not consider ourselves or those we would bind ourselves to as being people who act in good faith. And in such situations, it is best if we all simply have a bad memory, so that we are not exposed for what we are.