It's useful looking at the mafia, because everyone sort of believes in it. They believe it existed, in some sense--that there were international organizations of wealthy, powerful criminals who somewhat-secretly influenced markets and politics. They believe there were murders, and cover-ups, and crooked judges, and crooked cops, and crooked Senators, and they even romanticize it. It's not just a historical theory that they sort of support, like the fact that there was a battle at San Juan Hill, but something that they actually-actually believe in.
And in some lesser sense, many of them believe that there was a Council of Nicaea, and that some of the world's most learned and influential men gathered together to employ the memory hole, revise history, and selectively script a civilizational narrative. They believe that insane barber-surgeons used to bleed people to cure bacterial infection, and they believe that there was a Church of England, and that Henry VIII created it for selfish reasons. Some of them even feel that Puritan settlers with blankets from the smallpox ward took devious actions, or that there may have been economic, rather than spiritual, motives for manifest destiny.
And yet, at some point in so many individuals' perceptions, everything changed. When was it? After the Civil War? After Nagasaki's bombing? After Ronald Reagan left office? After Dubya? At some point, all of a sudden, every single conspiracy stopped. At that point, everything became well meaning. From that day forward, all professionals were honest and accountable, and everyone was trying their best. Misguidedly, perhaps...but from then on, there were no more conspiracies, no more sizable mistakes, and certain parts of the world could be identified by their utter purity.
Granted, Fox News is biased, or something like that, and there are a few homophobes left, but other than that, everyone is pretty much good-hearted and honest. Even the most evil of evil folk work in simple, overt ways. They never think to disguise their workings, or to cooperate with others without disclosing that cooperation to the general public. They lie only about sex.
Today's Wise Men are indeed wise. Today's learned thinkers are rational, and whatever private philosophical prejudices they have do not affect their work. Simply put, all that old stuff is gone. For the very first time in history, there are no conspiracies left. There are a lot of things we don't understand, which we'll understand with later funding, but the things that we do understand, we have right. Unlike all of those generations that came before us, we know what we know, and we know what we don't know. We're right about what we're right about, and we're able to graciously admit our temporary ignorance as to what we're not right about. For the first time in the history of life on our planet, we've become knowledgeable, yet humble, and we have solved all the mistakes of the past. This time, we can trust ourselves. Fetch the box of leeches, would you? Second shelf on the right.
What is it that drives such attitudes? The way most westerners view the world is similar to the painful way some western Baby Boomers feel about the music they were sold during their young adult lives. They accept the decrees of learned men in matters of belief, because their time period is completely unique in its general level of rightness and understanding. And everyone else who felt that way beforehand, and who will feel that way generations later, is wrong, because this time, my time, is utterly different. (We're the ones who actually know what happened. We have, uhhh, tradition. Where necessary. And also, erm, the scientific method. Yeah! And checks and balances, or something like that.)
The given is the given, and that's a given. What a curious arrogance settles over these years. At other times around here, there was the humility, the surrender, of not being so completely sure. People even argued about fundamental things like that, even though they'd mastered the shaping of, like, iron.
The modern academy, well, that's a given. They peer review as well as law enforcement internally self-investigates, so we know that's all right. And they excommunicate anyone who disagrees, producing an endless consensus, which reassures us, because a consensus means the experts agree. But everything else falls victim to this, too, even the supposedly tenderest of our sensibilities. Constantine may have murdered his wife and child, but the Bible is the Bible, because it is. I mean, it's not like they did anything unethical at Nicaea. Not those guys. In the most expensive murder investigation in modern history, it was suddenly imperative to destroy all the structural steel evidence, which cues us in that such evidence must not've been important. So too the lost books. After all, how stupid do you think Constantine was? In either case, he surrounded himself with smart people, like the Penguin and the Riddler.