Epilogue: Where Do We Go From Here?
This is where I leave you.
“But we’re so close to the end,” you might say.
End? History never ends, as long as there are historians to re-tell it. At this point, you are historian enough to re-tell the most recent history your way. The “conclusion” of this year’s story is up to you.
I mentioned in the beginning that, very commonly, the past 70 years or so take up something like seven chapters in a textbook, whereas the first chapter can cover something like 300 years (as ours did). It’s not that the Western world has gotten any more complex (it’s always been complex, just like anything else). It’s just that we’re not sure what’s really significant to the late 20th century with all these texts that are out there. We don’t have enough distance from events to make that type of definitive conclusion. What will be our “Renaissance”—or our “Dark Ages,” for that matter? What will be the one trend that people in the 23rd century will say, “That was what the 21st century was all about—everything else we can ignore or put as a sidebar in the textbook”?
This school year, we have seen how the Western world has come to dominate the entire world throughout the second millennium. Will that dominance continue in the third millennium? It’s far too early to predict that.
But it’s never too early to evaluate your own time. We’ve seen how the folks who question their society are the ones who change it. To sum up this year in one sentence:
Questioning the past is the only way that the present becomes the future.
Pessimists may say that questions have taken on more and more destructive answers—we’ve seen that with questions like: “How do we keep these revolutionary ideals?” or “How do we get more natural resources for our factories?” or “How do we create order in society?” or “How do we end the war?”
However, I say that questioning—particularly the type of snarky questions that punk teenagers ask all the time—is the basis of keeping or replacing values. In this historian’s view, these values keep on improving for each generation—as long as that questioning and critical-thinking is grounded in a moral center. If the answer to the question is, “We should keep doing what we’re doing,” that’s great. However, that answer will only become valid if we ask the question deeply enough.
Good luck “finishing” the book.