We’ve been on similar ground before.
Last night I was finishing my book about the Curies, and was reminded of the build up to World War II. It’s funny how a national curriculum that appears most efficient if you spend seven years studying the rise of Naziism ingrains you with a sense of doom.
The immediate thought was the connection between recession, desperation, and the desire to grab on to answers and solutions, ignoring the horrors they might contain. I would hardly be surprised to see us fall into a brutal dictatorship fairly shortly.
In my previous exploration, I assumed our descendants would see us as grossly selfish monsters, the people that sold the world, that ate it alive. I’m tempted to think that this is optimistic (and not just because I increasingly wonder if there’s any guarantee of us really having descendants for that much longer).
Are we likely to be paving the way for greater, huger horrors. We’ve passed our roaring noughties, and slumped into an even greater depression. There does appear to be some repetition here. Resources are scarcer (if we’re honest about them) and the world is more aware of all its corners. I don’t know if the latter is going to fan flames or douse them. I don’t know anything.
This is the problem with the future. I think historians will be able to see the big picture of the now better than we can, even though we can actually see with eyes. We’re too obsessed with our immediate perspective to look at the big picture. In fact, it’s probably much easier to be prophecying doom when you don’t know what’s coming next than to be explaining how bad things really happened when looking back at the evidence.
And I don’t even think we’ve really got our heads around the nineties yet, let alone the present. A lot of assumptions about the end of history seem absurd from point of view of the post- crash, post-post-9/11 era. And will our latest obsessions be what people will notice?
The world is changing around us, constantly, and it is to big to comprehend. In the future, we’ll build stories to make it all make sense. We’re already doing this, but without endings, stories are unreliable.
Histories don’t really have endings, of course, but they at least point to something.
Spending all that time looking for the causes of one thing, gives those causes a teleological zing. The Wall Street Crash was a natural result of the bubbled over-excitement of the twenties, and led to a cascade of depression that was bound to lead to the surge of extremism, and eventually to war. The terms of the treaty Versailles sowed the seeds of Hitler’s rise to power.
The only inevitable things are those which have already happened. The historians of the future will come up with all sorts of names for us.
I reckon most of them will be calling us ‘bastards’ but then, I would.
Illustration by Jaime