April 29, 2008
The Planet of the Dead
Loved last night’s Long Now lecture — actually a debate between Niall Ferguson and Peter Schwartz. It was historian vs. futurist, conservative vs. liberal, pessimist vs. optimist. Unfortunately it was also incredibly great speaker vs. merely good speaker as well, so I feel the futurist/optimists didn’t quite get their fair shake… but so be it.
My favorite phrase, and image, from the entire evening was this one. Niall Ferguson countered the claim that the past is a foreign country, saying: No, it’s a foreign planet… a planet of the dead… and its population far outnumbers our own.
And historians try to understand that strange place. Ferguson said, with no little glee: “I prefer the company of the dead to the company of the living. And it’s a good thing, because I spend most of my time with them.”
The counterfactual anthology Virtual History, edited by Ferguson, is great. I haven’t read any of his solo books yet, though.