The Past in Our Future (RELS 348)

A response to Roger Cohen’s story “The Past in Our Future”, International New York Times, 27 November 2013

In this news article, author Roger Cohen describes his experience taking his young daughter to see a preserved section of the Berlin Wall in Germany. This section of the wall was preserved in a form that added onto a museum. This, with the help of information posters, was intended to help keep the history of the tragic experience lived by the German and the rest of the European people alive in remembrance. Cohen seemed to be taken aback by his daughter’s comments regarding her inability to relate to the devastating impact the Berlin Wall had on the world. Cohen believed his daughters comments were due to her age as she was born years after the Berlin wall came down. Cohen on the other hand, had experienced the wall and the impact communism had on the whole of the world; believing change was not possible and Europe would never be whole. Cohen reiterated how the world wars and divisions of various obsolete Empires were due to the progress by various leading nations which viewed that specific leadership as needed for that specific point in time. However, looking back the outcomes were disastrous.

Cohen believed time pushed forward at a rapid speed, but with the increased usage of technology we are able to slow our worlds and become virtual beings trapped in our mobile devices. Cohen looked back at his own familial lineage and realized with each new generation various artifacts of information regarding the family was being lost. Cohen goes on to describe how his father attended a school after the Boer war, which was named after the British Monarch at the time. His father’s school had taught values to the children which was to give up most respect to the teachers and reiterating beliefs in the Christian God. However, Cohen is Jewish. His father was segregated from the others during prayer. The year Cohen’s father graduated there was an interesting article in a magazine which said that technology was increasing the advances of face to face contact than in the past.

Various countries were now closer than in the past and the sense of long distances is decreasing in size due to technological advances. This all was believed to lead to world peace and a continued growth of wealth among the world. Cohen makes a valued point stating this is still being negotiated today. What was said in the past is still being said today, but that should not be the case as peace and prosperity should already have happened; just being maintained now. Instead there is still alienation of different groups among the locals, while advancements in technologies can lead to various exclusions and downfalls within the world. Cohen believes with the increase technology we are losing our insights in the bigger picture. Cohen does side with technology advances aiding Global South countries with reducing poverty, but believes we are running in circles with wars and political and religious turmoil’s among groups. Cohen then adds how the internet has allowed for surveillance by the authoritative governments to run rule over its people. This has contributed to the societal downfalls and lack of social well-being. Cohen believes every dilemma we are faced with is nothing more than what were issues in the past. We partake in acts to only understand the meaning behind them later.

Overall, I found this article to be truthful in the fact that we are all affected by historical events, while time is a continuum. I also believe there is a sense we lose some worth in past major historical events and the continued growth of technology contributes to the good and bad attributes of our world. As stated, I think Cohen had valid points with regards to how we as society are constantly going in a circle of time. Repeated events in different contexts are played out by us and only after the event is acted out do we see there is a relation to the past that should have been avoided. I believe we do not understand how our acts affect society until we review what changed and we revalue our own belief systems. This is a part of what we discussed in class as being aware of our own biases as this affects our ways of thinking. How we view a certain topic is based on what we are taught.

If we are constantly being socialized to believe a certain way than we do not see how our actions are affecting ourselves individually and the rest of society. This can be seen throughout the paper when Cohen would reference the Berlin wall, various wars and even when his father and the rest of the Jewish boys being segregated from the Christian prayer. There is a leader telling a passive group what to think and how to go about certain situations, most often by violence. This reinforces the inequality and lack of knowledge individuals acquire to believe there is an issue with their standard of living. This is seen as imperialism we discussed in class. Where citizens of authoritative counties have skewed perceptions of reality based on the biases of the leaders. There is a shared way of thinking among the citizens that favors the government (Simon, 1991).

New world ways of thinking are frowned upon by these countries as they do not align with the dictatorships goals. I believe when a mass consciousness has been created among people through ongoing social awareness, there is a creation of new thought which helps promote change. This will help alleviate violent revolutions and instead promote social change through education and knowledge building for the good of society (Simon, 1991). This can be seen as one of the aspects that helped the destruction of the Berlin wall. Another important aspect was by having moral leaders take on the role to lead the revolution for others to follow and see the repercussions of their past actions (Elliot, 2014). As discussed in class, this involvement of moral leaders leads to the use of hegemony. Where there is peace in place of violence to promote change. Like most social change, we need to constantly review and reconstruct society’s goals (Simon, 1991). I relate this back to the time as a continuum where we are constantly going in circles of re-evaluating what is right and wrong, how to promote change and how to keep the power for the good of humanity.

I believe we forget the impact past events have had on our present day. This can be seen as what we discussed in class with how each empire had its own rules and ways of living, building upon one another, making each era better than the last. For instance, the Persian Empire tolerating various cultures, which led to the Darius Empire; which split up into three different districts to help better rule the world. For me, having more than one way of thinking, more than one culture to look at a situation, led to an idea to split the rule which helped better the environment and continue a strong Empire. I believe what had happened in the past contributes to our future; how we act, address issues etc. When Cohen was taken aback from his daughter’s comment it showed the generational differences because I believe it was due to lack of education. We as society are over focused on the media aspect of our reality; as stated previously we forget past events contribute to our current understanding. I believe the media is a socialization factor that serves the government (McMillian, 1991). It is at our finger tips. Here imperialism is advocated in our lives of how to act, what to do and how to view the world in an undercover fashion. It is constantly around us through advertisements. The advanced technology ruins the creativity of the people to think on their own and create their own meanings of the world (McMillian, 1991). We are at the mercy of the latest celebrity gossip instead of getting involved in third world political issues. We need to act together and be united to make a difference (McMillian, 1991).

I do believe the media does have some positives as it is able to help globalize world resources and allows that closer communication aspect Cohen mentioned. Although we are hundreds of miles away from others we are close in the social realm. We can advocate for change when there is an unjust law being passed etc. Increased technology I believe has allowed various new ways of thought to emerge. This I believe has effected how we function in society, having new knowledge discovered, how beliefs in religion is outweighed by science, and how there is an increasing advancement for equality among different groups within all countries. However, I do not agree there is a closer face to face contact as Cohen mentions as I believe we do lose our social skills with the increased technology as the convenience level helps people not have to commit to seeing others in person. As discussed in class one must look at primary and secondary sources and judge based on that to attain the truthful knowledge to help creatively build one’s own assumptions. One must be weary with all sources to determine what to believe and how to interpret the findings.

Overall, I believe this article is a good starting point for others to start getting involved in political and societal issues around the world. What had happened many years ago due to communist thinking has affected our world today. We go through repeated cycles of historical events that we believe is right for that time based on the power of the hierarchical system we allow to rule over our societies. There is an increased acquirement of education and knowledge by developing worlds based on quick advancements of technology. How we find a medium between what we discover and how we use it for the good is the real issue we must address in the next steps of new world order.


Cohen, R. 2013. “The past in our future”. International New York Times. Retrieved March 27, 2015 from

Elliot, B. 2014. “Why did the Berlin wall fall?” The Imaginative Conservative. Retrieved March 27, 2015 from

McMillian, S. (Interview by). 1991. A conversation with Dr. Nawal el Saadawi. Retrieved March 27, 2015 from

Simon, R. 1991. “Gramsci`s political thought: An introduction”. In Gramsci`s political thought

(pp. 11-42). London: Lawrence & Wishart



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