Social amnesia is a collective forgetting by a group of people. The concept is often cited in relation to Russell Jacoby’s scholarship from the 1970s. Social amnesia can be a result of “forcible repression” of memories, ignorance, changing circumstances, or the forgetting that comes from changing interests. Protest, folklore, “local memory“, and collective nostalgia are counter forces that combat social amnesia.
Social amnesia is a subject of discussion in psychology and among some political activists. In the U.S., social amnesia has been said to reflect “the tendency of American penology to ignore history and precedent when responding to the present or informing the future… discarded ideas are repackaged; meanwhile, the expectations for these practices remain the same.”
Fits of social amnesia after difficult or trying periods can sometimes cover up the past, and fading memories can actually make mythologies transcend by keeping them “impervious to challenge“.