The joy of forgetting

I just read (on a plane) The Labyrinth Index the latest novel in Charlie Stross’ Laundry series (a mashup of HP Lovecraft and Len Deighton). The central conceit is a spell which causes Americans to forget the existence of the President whenever they go to sleep. After reading the book and nodding off, I had a dream that someone has a similar office in Australia, with a couple of deputies, one in charge of the bush and another in charge of the money. On waking though, I couldn’t remember any of these.

Update: Apparently, I’m not alone.

16 thoughts on “The joy of forgetting

  1. Happy New Year, John. If there were such a person, I suspect they will fortunately be completely forgotten by late May 2019.

  2. The joy of forgetting is the same as ignorance is bliss.

    The world would be a lot happier if we forget about the inconvenient fact of climate change. Australia would be a lot happier if we forget about the number of lives lost and the genocide in WWI which is fought for land grab. In fact, a lot of Australians would be a lot happier if we simply forget that this large and beautiful land used to belong (not a good choice of word going by their cultural values but you get what I mean) to the Aboriginals. I can go on and on.

    Learning and remember from history and scientific discoveries is the only way human civilisation would increase the chance of “permanent” survival and not be ended by environmental disaster (not limiting to climate change of the near future), wars with increasingly destructive weapons, and/or other catastrophes.

  3. I’m trying to move on but every time I see a ‘news’ shot of ScoMo grinning under yet another cap I see Alfred E Neuman aka the face of MAD magazine. Even the teeth line up. Subjectively unfair I know, but
    then it’s my personal nightmare…

  4. I was on a flight, to or maybe from NYC, and to kill time watched Stanley Kubricks 2001 Space Odyssey. Just when Hal was gently expelling Dave the pilot broke in to announce something Very Important. Given that Space Odyssey had successfully replaced dialogue with white noise it was a bit disconcerting, was Hal now in charge of the plane?

  5. Rough stuff. Can you imagine how much more dire if they forgot the existence when they were awake?

  6. I am sitting at the Pumpkin Hour on my tiny screen in the dark and the warm. I’ve just read that doorways make us forget, and labyrinths help us to find ourselves. I thought that maybe we just don’t get to go through enough doorways in our lives. Then I read this. Are you me?

  7. We are told that little children hold the secret of happiness. Given that they seem to have an inordinate ability to forget their own past, this may be a true guide to happiness. As for doorways being forgettable things, having been a teacher for thirty-four years I noticed how my students forgot as they went through the doorway of my classroom. They tended to forget to do the homework set, many forget everything we had just learnt and a few forgot various expensive items like smartphones. So maybe the doorway option is viable. At my advanced age I find that I do not have to remember to forget things.

    By the way “rog” I will never forget that one line from “2001 A Space Odyssey that HAL said in a menacing tone
    ” Where are you going Dave?”
    Chilling! Yet presumably spoken by a computer from the year 2001. some things cannot be forgotten.

  8. George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    Remembering the past with regret generates pain in memory, thus an idea of pain rather than pain itself. Repeating past mistakes generates real pain once again in the present. As David Hume noted, real pain is more intense than the idea of pain.

    There’s no joy in forgetting, only amnesia and then new accesses of real pain from repeated mistakes.

  9. Thanks John, good to get a sense of what you read in your leisure time. Are you a science fiction fan? Paul Krugman is. It’d be interesting to get your take on novels that influenced you. It was good in Pikkety’s Capital in 21C that he used Austen and Balzac to support his arguments. What are the great “economic novels”? Certainly Charles Dickens’ Hard Times springs to mind. Grandgrind could very much be a stand in for some contemporary neoliberal academic/technocrat. The only difference being that Gradgrind comes to see the error of this ways. Unfortunately a lot of these “Very Serious People” are beyond redemption.

  10. Should I avoid the obvious jokes about economists liking science fiction? 😉

    That said, I like science fiction myself. My main interest there is dystopian science fiction. That’s essentially because I believe that dystopian futures (as possibilities) are now what we most likely face. Having said that, there are hard science fictions and more speculative and fantasy science fictions. Is anyone writing hard science fiction now, I wonder, about the almost certain dystopian future we face from limits to growth and climate change?

    Margaret Atwood is interesting because she genre-blends hard science fiction and speculative-fantasy sf in the one narrative. But a genuine, pure hard science fiction, no punches pulled, is probably unlikely. Any known exponents? I say unlikely because it would be too grindingly frightening and depressing for entertainment.

  11. Ikonoclast could read some Kim Stanley Robinson, particularly more recent work (the ‘Forty Signs of Rain’ trilogy, and the near-future drowned New York novel ‘New York 2140’). But Robinson maintains surprising optimism in the midst of hard reality and hard political projections. More bleak are the works of Paolo Bacigalupi, particularly ‘The Water Knife’. Adam Roberts is a brilliant futurist and a deep thinker about likely societies in several books. There are very many more of the exponents Iconoclast fears unlikely.
    Enjoy finding them!

  12. chrishod,

    Thanks, I hadn’t really tried finding them but I might now. I’ve been too busy on other projects to read much fiction. But as the possibilities in my life slowly but steadily foreclose one by one (I’m 64), I imagine I will driven back to more fiction reading again. Moving pictures can never convey the breadth and depth of ideas that the written word can.


    Ikonoclast, “cli-fi” is a branch of sci-fi that deals with a future under climate change. I don’t know to what extent you can classify if as science fiction, given that many of the worst predictions regarding climate change will probably come true. It’s going to be 43c in Melbourne tomorrow. I think we’re living in the dystopia already (throw in the rise of the strongmen, rule by oligarchs, fake news, etc). I think the last 50 to 60 years will be seen as some golden age, a halcyon period. I have a fear that my entire superannuation nest egg will be destroyed by the price of a bag of coffee.

  14. @ JF “What are the great “economic novels”?

    To name just two — Brecht’s Threepenny Novel, and, more recently, Stephenson’s Quicksilver

  15. JF,

    “I think we’re living in the dystopia already.”

    I tend to agree. It’s the beginning of it anyway. But then most of history has been horrendous for most humans. The last 50 to 60 years were the exception as you mentioned, at least for denizens of the West.

  16. @JF & Ikonoclast

    Saying we’re living in dystopia already is much too grim and does not do justice to people who lived in the past thousands of years of human history.

    Even though there are still wars around the world caused by self-serving justice, the vast majority of the world’s population is living in peace and prosperity period compared to history.

    It is this long period of living in peace and prosperity that has made the general population careless about looming problems, whether it be the eternal struggle of resource and rights distribution between social and economic classes, environmental disasters like climate change, and destructive arms race and foreign relations etc.

    I’m not saying we should push the world back to dystopia so people will bring out their pitchfork and fight to make things right; but as in my original post, we need to learn and remember, and never enjoy ourselves in the joy of forgetting or the bliss of ignorance, else history is deemed to repeat itself.

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