Chronocentrism Makes This Time Seem Unprecedented. But It's Not Really.

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

By Daniel Farber Huang

June 30, 2020


Photo by Étienne Godiard on Unsplash
Photo by Étienne Godiard on Unsplash

To those of us facing it today, the extreme stress, uncertainty, and even horror that COVID-19 has imposed on both our individual lives and the entire world may feel unprecedented in the history of history. Times are hard, devastating even, and it can be both difficult and downright scary to imagine what the future will hold.


Although it may not eliminate the immediate fear many are experiencing today, some may find it grounding, comforting even, to learn that across human history many have likely felt they too were experiencing the crisis to end all crises. Fortunately for all of us, those earlier generations somehow endured, survived and eventually thrived again. So will we.


For context, let’s take a step back for a moment. It’s reasonable to assume many of history’s conflicts and wars between and among communities, societies and nations can be attributed to one side believing their values, beliefs or way of life is somehow superior to the other’s. The other side probably feels the same way in reverse. And one side believes it is their obligation to convert their “inferior” counterpart to their “better” way of life. It’s not hard to come up with a list that follows this pattern, everything from the Spanish Inquisition, too many wars to mention, British colonialism to today’s domestic politics. In practice, when one culture believes it is superior to another and tries to get pushy, it usually doesn’t end well.


Over a century ago, the social scientist and Yale professor William Graham Sumner described this attitude as ethnocentrism. He called it “the view of things in which one’s own group is the centre of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it”. Ethnocentrism is when people assume their way of life is the “best” way of life.


Time can be viewed the same way. In 1974, the sociologist Jib Fowles suggested the idea of chronocentrism, which he called “the belief that one’s own times are paramount, that other periods pale in comparison.”


Put another way, according to Urban Dictionary, “Chronocentrism is the belief that, of all the billions of years of history, the times you live in are the culmination of the workings of the Universe.”


Certainly these times are important. To us. But objectively speaking, times during the black plague, the Renaissance, the invention of the printing press, rap music and the internet were important. To the people living it at the time.


Put even another way, Abraham Lincoln in an 1859 speech in Milwaukee - one year before being elected President where he would battle the worst ethnocentrism in his country’s short history - gave context to the troubling times people were then facing.

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him with the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass away’,” Lincoln said.


All of us at Paradigm Crunch hope you and your loved ones are safe, healthy and well. Together we will get through these challenging times.


This too shall pass.




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