Very good essay today in the New York Times about the questionable belief that today’s health problems are the result of “our Stone Age genes [being] thrust into Space Age life.” The author calls this a paleofantasy: the idea that at some point in the past things were perfect, and they could be perfect again if we followed the ways our wise forebears.
This same fantasy is operative in many fields. In Constitutional Law for example, scholars spend a lot of time trying to divine the Framers’ Original Intent. Much social policy seems directed toward recreating an ideal family, of the kind that is thought to have existed sometime in the 1950s. But where paleofantasy really flourishes is in the religious arena — especially fundamentalism, which seeks to recreate the faith experience of the earliest adherents in some idealized past.
In most cases, our fantasies about the past do not correspond with actual events.