Will the torch of the Enlightenment be passed?

At this epoch of new technology, what role do we give to memory? Yet even while the global pace shows no sign of slowing, “days of remembrance” have multiplied, inheritance laws lead to passionate debates and religions are more alive than ever. What is the impact of the latest innovations and transformations on the future transmission of our heritage? Who are the new Diderots?

Legacy and its French translation “Transmission” are two sides of the same coin: one is the object, and the other, the process. They contrast and complete each other, as they cannot exist alone. They link us to one another, as we have all inherited from someone, and will transmit that heritage to others (children, students, colleagues) who, in turn, will pass it on. We have all acquired something, be it DNA, socio-cultural references, financial capital, religious or political faith, beliefs, a savoir-faire, a “savoir-être“.

But legacy is not always good by nature. One can transmit a deadly virus, like the plague or AIDS — or their digital equivalents: malware and fake news. In our open and interconnected world, we see the constant, global transmission of clothing, musical, and political fashions.

The most complicated kind of legacy is that of our memories: “A head without memory is like a fortress without a garrison,” Napoleon wrote. Would he have still written that with Google by his side? With technology, nothing is forgotten, because everything is saved. And yet we don’t understand the first thing about the innards of our iPhones … “So what?” you might ask. What is more worrying is that we no longer know how to transmit environmental acts, like planting and cultivating without pesticides …

Worse, still: Not knowing how to transmit memory of wars, of the Holocaust, of atrocities, is the best way to repeat the most barbaric horrors. It’s always possible to come crashing back to the past, as works of fiction — and sometimes, the reality of certain elections — remind us today.

The challenge of a well thought-out legacy is to reconstruct the link between generations, not by forgetting the quarrels of the past, but by moving past them. In 1789, the first article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen stated that everyone is born and remains free and equal by law. In 2019, one must remember that everyone also includes future generations.


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