One of my early attempts at writing something other than political analysis. Written back in 2009.
Karl Marx spoke of historical determinism, a process by which human history moves through stages until it arrives at Socialism, both inevitable and modeled to perfection by the material and spiritual forces that preceded it. Marx, of course, probably suffered from dyslexia, because he mixed up the last two stages. It is Capitalism rather than Socialism, which is the superior ordering mechanism in society. We know this because our textbooks tell us so.
Now Capitalism rules the world, and we’re told that this indicates that history has now ended, closed its’ doors, and will henceforth not be accepting any new applications for potential revolutions. Oddly enough, our supra-history society still seems to suffer from its fair share of problems. Major ones like drugs, crime, and unwholesomely-titled, government-funded films like ‘Young People Fucking’ constitute the more glamorous side of social ills plaguing Canadian society. However, there exists a substratum, or ‘b-team’ of social ills that remain outside of the cable news limelight. Two clutch players on this b-team are ignorance and fear.
In the past, tyrants lived in perpetual fear of the masses gaining access to the fruits of knowledge. They believed that those living under their boots only needed that which was necessary to carry out their laborious duties. Turns out they shouldn’t have been worried at all. Even if the peasants gorged on the fruit, they would only be interested in whatever baby names were popular with the aristocracy at the time. Such is the situation we find ourselves in nowadays. We aren’t peasants, as evidenced by the size and clarity of our televisions, but when it comes to knowledge that isn’t required by our livelihood, it will only be sought under the strict conditions that it somehow pertains to organized sports or celebrity gossip. Big deal, right? History is dead. We have arrived at our utopian system and are finally able to kick back and debate President Obama’s suit selection or marvel at how ugly people can have beautiful voices; we’ve earned it.
Numbers are fast filling the vacuum in our heads where knowledge used to reside. Numbers don’t suffer from ambiguity and subsequent mischief. They don’t force us to undertake debates on annoyingly complex subject like what freedom means to different people. Plus, the crippling incomprehension that is inflicted on the everyman when dealing with sums over a million make numbers the ideal tool for governments to employ when wanting to appear like they are hard at work solving society’s problems. Numbers make for easy mass consumption; they go down smooth and leave little aftertaste. If there are X homeless people wandering the streets of Toronto, the problem requires Y amount of government money to solve. Or, if Joe Flaherty happens to be in charge at the time, Y amount of trucks to drive them up north and drop them off at the side of the highway.
It’s not that we don’t appreciate those who put in their time before us. We’ve simply concluded that the pursuit of knowledge is a big drag. Plato, Rousseau, Bacon, Locke, Marx and the like all thankfully did their necessary part to give us an opportunity to have more democratic, inclusive debates, because you don’t need a PHD to have an opinion on Angelina Jolie’s haircut. Even if sometime in the far-off future doctors did make the shocking discover that history was in fact alive, albeit in a prolonged coma, it would likely remain in such a state because our language will have long since discarded all words that don’t correspond to the more pertinent topics of our time, thus leaving us to debate topics of society and utopia while only using words like ‘paparazzi’ and ‘pedophile’.
Pre-end history sure was a scary place. Plagues, wars, revolutions, and the occasional crucifixion must have inflicted their fair share of fear and anxiety. How could a medieval blacksmith get along with hammering his anvil under the constant threat of some renegade posse breaching the walls and raping everything that wasn’t nailed down? What’s more, there weren’t even Valium prescriptions back then. Persistent anxiety attacks must have been the order of the day. It’s hard to imagine how they pulled it off, because even though nowadays we’ve been wrenched free from history’s maw and have nothing to fear, we’re paradoxically scared of everything.
Our crippling fear, like everything else, is not our fault. Our tribal origins have left us hard-wired to be constantly guarded against panther attack. We’ve dutifully carried our vigilance all the way to life at the end of history, so much so that it is in turn perceived to be the panther’s natural habitat. You enjoying that glass of milk? Sorry to be the one to tell you, but it’s actually a panther. That weird guy on the bus? A panther, maybe even a pedophile. Those cigarettes you’re addicted to? You better goddamn believe those are panthers. What is the best course of action when confronted by panther? The answer is complicated, and can range from Omega 3 fatty acids to a Glock Nine.
While life at the end of history knows many panthers, none are as sleek or grand as terrorism. The word itself is enough to put other lesser fears to shame. Sure it’s possible those suspicious looking bees in your backyard are Africanized and in the process of organizing themselves against you, but are you terrified? Probably just a little unsettled, maybe even scared. Terrorism, on the other hand, can really get a cold sweat going. So much so that all public transit riding, gym-faring Canadians of Middle Eastern descent have now renounced their once-treasured gym memberships, unable to endure the stares of fellow passengers whom are locked in thought, frantically calculating how many panthers can fit into a gym bag.
Oddly enough, our ongoing preoccupation with the analysis of professional sports statistics has caused us to miss terrorism’s most stunning feature. It seems that the terrorists never got the newsletter that was circulated around the Western world concerning the end of history. This of course could be an honest mistake, one that once cleared up will result in terrorists giving up; accepting that history is over and they missed their chance to establish a worldwide Caliphate. The alternative however is the disorienting prospect that history is in fact not over, in which case we’ll all need to lazily get out of bed and start coming up with ideas on where to go next. Ideas which, given our substantially diminished capacities in this regard, will probably advocate that we co-opt the terrorist utopia, re-brand it as freedomacy, and pass it off as our own invention.
Life at the end of history can be more than a little depressing if dwelled upon. Thankfully most of us lack the capacity to do so, and the topic seldom arises in People magazine. Governments can bring their best numbers to the table in an effort to solve all of our problems, but ultimately history is going to stay dead. When you’ve arrived at perfection, what’s the point in pushing forward anyways?