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March 10, 2014 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

History That Hasn’t Happened Yet

As a History student who promotes the past and its significance, a debut column focussing on ‘the future’ seems altogether contradictory. Indeed, the very future content of this column seems dicey at best as I grapple with ideas/events that are happening at present, or indeed haven’t happened yet. However, maybe the future and the past aren’t that different. The future is informed by where we are and the present is informed by where we came from. If this is the case, what does history mean for the future? For what is the future if not history that hasn’t happened yet?

Our fears for the future are often tangled together with our ideas of the past.  In the same way you learn not to wear white pants to a party again in form two, the world is scared of its own skeletons. We’re scared of Russia’s power and its government’s seeming lack of humanity because the last time Russia had some clout it involved war, gulags and a large Communist bloc. We’re scared of Iran’s nuclear weaponry because the world can end, and because it almost did in 1962 when the Soviet Union and the United States played the world’s most dangerous game of nuclear poker. We worry about Xinjiang separatists in China because there have been more wars based on some warped sense of patriotism than I can count on my hands.

Without wanting to make sweeping generalisations about human nature (as I am not wont to generalise; nor to sweep for that matter), there remains so much of history in which humans seem to repeat themselves. People seem to have a sense of unease about this ‘future’ of ours, regardless of how repetitive history implies it is. We have always worried that things have gone too far. We worry about Lady Gaga the same way the 1950s worried about rock’n’roll. Miley’s twerking is Elvis’s hip-gyrations. Shock tactics have come and gone in the same way before, and guess what, it’s still not a big deal.

But are we doomed to live a future according to the past? In the past 50 years, the human race has revolutionised ideas and technology that were previously hundreds of years in the making.  Is everything cyclical? If history shows us anything, it’s that this abstract concept ‘the future’ is unique in that it can be a source of fear and a source of hope. The ‘future’ has kept people going in times of genocide; it has spurred the idea of peacekeeping and goals of being carbon neutral by 2016/2020/tbc.

I suppose we can assume that we’ll learn from some things that are happening at the moment, whereas others seem doomed to repeat themselves. It will be the hope of this column to explore just that.


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