One of the most puzzling things about ordinary life is the question of where all lost ballpens and drug store sunglasses go. Some eventually turn up under the cushions of the sofa or reappear under the refrigerator. Yet when compared to the sheer numbers that are bought they are never enough; and it is hard not to think there does not really exist some mysterious dimension into which they disappear.
Those who imagine that we find eventually find each other’s lost items should consider that we must come into the possession of the total number of objects aggregately purchased which would mean we would all be the proud possessors of about 135 ballpoint pens, 15 pairs of drugstore sunglasses and 17 baseball caps all of each other’s.
The same question can be asked of all the information we throw away. Where does it go?
Victor Davis Hanson has an piece in the National Review describing the systematic misplacement of what we know. Hanson argues that by a Borg-like process, the collective American brain was made to throw away whatever it knew about the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Jihad, or Nidal Hassan, and pretty well everything the Russians communicated to the security forces about the Boston Bombers.
He might have added we’d taken the trouble to forget a whole bunch of other stuff as well. Such as forgetting that Afghanistan was a “war of necessity” or that the Guantanamo prison was supposed to be shut. That there was once a promise to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed somewhere, someplace. Maybe that memory runs together with the announcement — faded now — that the Arab Spring was going to bring freedom to the Middle East. Can we be mistaken in recalling that once we knew that Iran was never going to get a nuclear weapon?
Now we no longer knew that we even knew that. And speaking of ballpens, isn’t there somewhere in our recollection the faint trace of the vow that the attackers of the US Consulate in Benghazi would be brought to justice? Jay Carney when reminded of it thoughtfully replied that was “a long time ago” as if the passage of a few months was enough to consign something to permanent oblivion. Indeed the Benghazi vow is now older perhaps than even the stirring “red line” drawn by President against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, now itself forgotten. Who can say? The dates all run together, disappearing in a point ‘a hundred years ago when white males wrote something’.
And yet, like the ballpens and sunglasses that we knew — they must be somewhere. Victor Davis Hanson has a conjecture. He metaphorically suggests they’ve been burned, like the trash in which our lost junk probably finished up and have gone up in smoke. For surely knowledge like that must be burned on one of the numerous altars with which our secular and atheistic world abounds because it is too dangerous to leave such things lying around. Hanson describes one altar: