There’s a special kind of irritation I feel whenever somebody starts trying — earnestly and urgently — to tell me about some New! Amazing! and Probably Subversive! thing that I already know. It’s a combination of “I will not be manipulated by emotional argument, dammit!” and “You mean you only just now heard about that?” and “Stop being on my side, you’re annoying me!”, with the exact proportions varying by subject matter.
Scientific theories mostly just get the middle, or “I thought everybody knew that” reaction. I remember being mildly surprised, for example, the first time — back in the eighties, I think it would have been — that I saw plate tectonics described in the popular press as a new and until-recently controversial geologic theory, because everybody I knew had known about plate tectonics for ages. Granted, I spent my high school years back in Texas attending meetings and field trips of the local rockhound club with the rest of my family, and the local rockhound club had more than one professional oil-field geologist in its ranks . . . but when you’re that age, what your parents and your parents’ friends know is pretty much your personal definition of “common knowledge.”
I had the same reaction, with a bit more annoyance and grouchy resentment, after first encountering the East Coast wiccan/new age/alternative spirituality community. It’s hard, for example, to take Robert Grave’s The White Goddess seriously as any kind of revelation when you read it for the first time back in high school because your father recommended it to you. (And when your opinion back then was the same as it is now — that the book is an interesting account of how Robert Graves wrote poetry, but as far as sober or even drunken historical or anthropological fact goes, it’s rubbish.)
And politics . . . I realize, for example, that for some people, the massacre at Wounded Knee is one of those shocking things that their schoolteachers never taught them about. But I was able to put together a class report on the incident in junior high from books in my family’s library, a couple of years before Dee Brown and later Russell Means put a national spotlight on it (for a little while, at least.)
None of this stuff was secret. My parents weren’t political activists or students of esoterica — they were a civil engineer and a school librarian, and the closest either of them got to alternative religions was Episcopalianism† and (in my father’s case) Freemasonry. They just happened to have inquiring minds and a lot of books and a willingness to let me could read anything on the bookshelves that I was able to reach.
So it tends to annoy me when people carry on as though any of this was new.
†As my mother’s aunt said to her on that subject, “Mildred, I never did understand why you had to go and join that foreign church.”