Such distant secondhand accounts are not enough, Dr Fanta concludes. To be deterred from placing themselves back in danger, people have to hear disaster tales from eye witnesses who can convey the visceral emotion of having lived through them. The group’s findings thus suggest that one way of teaching history more effectively might be to bring eye witnesses into the classroom. That approach will not work for ever, of course. Over time, witnesses’ own memories fade, and then the witnesses themselves expire. 

This is from “Public policy: Memories of disaster fade fast,” The Economist, April 17, 2019. It’s mainly about natural disasters and how, about 25 years or so after the disaster, people forget about it and fail to remember the lessons, or even to learn them in the first place.

As soon as I started reading it, I had an ah-hah moment. I wondered how so many young people could say that they’re attracted to socialism. It was a disaster that, in its Communist version, killed, arguably, about 100 million people in total. Most of the deaths were in China and the Soviet Union, but there were also many deaths in Cambodia and a number of other communist countries. But if people are not hearing disaster tales from those who experienced it, they will not know. It’s worse than that. People aren’t reading disaster tales about socialism and they aren’t hearing them even from people who didn’t experience them. The disasters were common; the tales are not, except for sub-groups.

The writer at The Economist had a similar thought near the end of the piece. He or she wrote:

The forgetting that Dr Fanta sees with respect to historical floods might also explain the recent rise of vaccine hesitancy and right-wing extremism, he suggests, as the survivors of now-preventable infectious diseases and Hitler, respectively, die of old age. Having not experienced those realities, or heard about them first-hand, many people alive today have quite simply forgotten the horror. 

Do you notice something missing? I do. Yes, it helps explain the rise of right-wing extremism, but it also helps explain an even bigger phenomenon that has infected the Democratic Party, much of academia, and much of the mainstream media: the rise of left-wing extremism.

HT2 Tom Nagle, who reads The Economist avidly.