The Futurist, March, 1998:
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Travis Charbeneau 3421 Hanover Ave., Richmond, VA 23221 email@example.com Phone: 804 358 0417 www.travischarbeneau.com
Fin de Millennium Travis Charbeneau slug "fin" 797 words
PULL QUOTE: "Millennial fever reveals our fascination with time."
From Stonehenge to the latest daylight savings switchover, humans have been preoccupied with time. For example, we like to divide our lives into digestible segments. Tens are convenient, so we say "teenager," "thirtysomething"; "life begins at 40." Decades also register, as in "Roaring Twenties" and "Swinging Sixties." And we label centuries, mere ticks of the geological clock, as the "Age" of this or the "Era" of that. Towards the end of the last century, especially during "The Gay '90s," the decadent tone of Western literature, art and society in general was attributed to the emotional and psychological upheaval of "fin de siecle" ("end of the century"). The decadent style, whose most famous practitioners included Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, embodied flamboyant moral corruption, a fascination with and celebration of the artificial, and a clever if desperate pessimism. We also have a strong emotional response to the approaching millennium, which, again, is related to our innate fascination with time. Millions today hate daylight savings time simply because humans distrust human meddling in the scheme of time, even though humans invented it. When the work of Sosigenes persuaded Julius Caesar to introduce the radical Julian calendar in 45 BC, the hopelessly superstitious Romans were universally unnerved. Likewise, when the Council of Trent introduced the more-accurate Gregorian calendar in 1582, setting the clock ahead by 11 days, outraged rioters cried, "Give us back our 11 days!" As a modern, sophisticated people, we tend to smile at such irrational behavior, even as we refuse to acknowledge the existence of the 13th floor in skyscrapers. We might consider whether we, too, are suffering from irrational numerological perplexities respecting the calendar -- the anxiety of a millennium's end, a fin de siecle times ten. Surely the end of a millennium is more awesome than the mere turn of another century, even so peculiarly awesome a century as the twentieth. Whatever visions the nineteenth-century Decadents may have had about the future, surely their worst nightmares were exceeded by reality. Ours has been at once the most terrible and wonderful century ever, an appropriate finale for the last thousand years of what passes for progress in human civilization. Noting the fierce character and furious momentum of this "progress," who can look forward to the next millennium without a sense of dread? Contemporary appreciation of the apocalyptic is hardly the exclusive province of religious fanatics or UFO cults. And there is no shortage of decadence as the second millennium winds down. We have endured scandal-ridden preachers and politicians, corporate raiders, militia madmen and "the end is nigh" gurus. We have viewed pornography on the Internet and listened to vulgar lyrics on CD. More substantially, we have ravaged the environment, automated both work and play, and invented "compassion fatigue" as a defense against the incomprehensible scope of suffering in the late twentieth century. We can reasonably expect the list of depravities to lengthen as our millennium approaches its end. Regardless, we should not forget that the future remains to be shaped. The disappointing near past and present need not tarnish a still-innocent twenty-first century. Decency and good sense are not the exclusive province of our ancestors, nor of those who hold a nostalgic, "traditional values" view of those ancestors' lives and times. Despite _fin de siecle_ syndromes and fear of the unknown, moving into the future does not mean accepting an increase in personal misbehavior, political incompetence, ecological crime, or technological mayhem. On the contrary, any human future at all, by its very existence, has become a highly moral proposition. Unlike ages past, where tomorrows -- good or ill -- were at least guaranteed, our tomorrows must be _achieved_. Substantial moral progress may be a requirement of human survival. In the case of modern war, the nuclear weapons that made us such efficient combatants also forced the industrialized nations to abandon the ancient game. If even a semblance of world peace holds, amid micro-genocides and tribal warfare, this would amount to amazing moral progress. It can be argued that through technology we have painted ourselves into a corner where total war became an adventure we could no longer afford; that morality, old or new, had nothing to do with it. It would be characteristic of our species to act from expediency rather than spiritual motives, but the motivation is not so relevant as the end result, which is to make even the micro-genocides seem increasingly unacceptable. Apart from nuclear war, we are gaining the capacity to fatally pollute the planet, to disemploy humans altogether, to feed or starve the nations, and to clone our favorite celebrities. These ever-greater powers imply ever-greater responsibilities. Wielding such power as we traverse the _fin de millennium_ may finally force us to build a resounding "must" into our evolving values, instead of the forever-wistful "should."