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Knowing vs. "Nowing"

A recent WSJ editorial written by Gerard Baker noted a relatively new phenomena he called, "presentism." He defines it as 'the urge to view historical events through the sentiments of the present.'

Without his nomenclature, I have been speaking on this phenomenon for the past couple of years, especially focused on the easily deduced social outcomes (maladies) this type of thinking can wreak on us individually and collectively.  I thank Mr. Baker for coining the term, as it may help us to put a handle on this bulky and weighty idea.

I refer to those who use the wide lens of history, science, social economics and the like to view and define reality as “Knowers.”  In that light, let’s refer to those who believe and practice the dogma of presentism as “nowers.”

To my mind, presentism refers to the growing number of individuals who contextualize all trends and happenings only in the context of now (and  maybe the recent past.)

Visual artists would refer to this as a “tight shot.” This type of thinking excludes or denies any reference to a possible “bigger picture.”  Adversely, a bigger picture like an overhead shot, may provide more information that would better inform the observer.


Picture a number of ants moving single file on a table. Now imagine expanding the boundaries of that picture to include a large crumb of toast with a dropped glob of jam next to it. Bigger pictures help contextualize what is being seen with more information. 

A knower looks for context beyond how something appears or is experienced.  They can distinguish between a fad and a trend. The way smart "Knowers" contextualize can lead to clearer thinking, better understanding, and better decisions.  It also helps them avoid the type of knee-jerk decisions, panic and apocalyptic thinking that can mislead the “nowers.”

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