On the eve of the Millennium, Mr. Bad looks back over the last 1000 years.
So, we're heading into the last few seconds of the second millennium Annus
Domini, or at least the last few secs of the years starting with a 1-something.
People who get real anal about this stuff say that the Second
Millennium (TM) is really 1001-2000, which really lacks any kind of
symmetry or interesting beauty to it. I like seeing the big odometer
roll over to lots of zeroes, eh? Feel free to invite me to your dorky
smugfest on 12/31/2000 for the REAL millennium party, but, hell, I'm
gonna have a bit of the bubbly tonight, too.
It's not like there's been much of a concept of PRECISION TIMEKEEPING
for 80% of this millennium, anyways. Clocks, calendars, etc. haven't
really been a big part of daily life for a lot of people. We only got
on a standardized time system in the last 200 years! And need I remind
you that this is the mill when Western Europe discovered the leap
year? We missed a whole bunch of years, and then adjusted 11 days
forward (or back... hmm, I forget) and then everybody tried to get
stuff synched up, but it's HARD. So don't attach really a lot of
significance to that it's-not-the-millennium thing. It's been 1000
years since Jan 1, 1000, MORE OR LESS -- let's leave it at that. Hell,
this is the millennium when the ZERO first came into widespread use --
so let's enjoy the ones we've got.
It's probably worth a little bit of perspective to look back on this,
the second millennium after Jesus. One thousand years is a LONG, LONG,
LONG time -- 30 generations of humanity, more or less. THIRTY
generations - that's a lot of people. Kerjillions, probably, of
people, living all around the globe and doing people things for these
thousand years. And we're here to preside over it's end! Beaujolais!
What an honor.
The whole thing is really just an interesting tick on the clock -- an
accident of measurement and arbitrary starting points. And yet, no
matter what any of us does for the rest of our lives, we will probably
never live through anything as important as this day. I mean, picture
talking to someone who was born in 978 AD. Would you ask them, "What
was the first Crusade like? Which do you prefer -- groats or barley?
Did you ever go to Charlemagne's court at Aix?" NOOO! You'd ask,
"What did you do for the year 1000?" And that's what your kids and
grandkids and great-grand-space-kids are going to ask you. Except,
like, change 1000 to 2000. What a burden.
Even so, there's not much for any of us to feel proud of at all. It's
not like we *did* anything to be born at this time. We're pretty lucky
to even be around, but for the vast majority of people in the
industrialized world, just basic survival is not that
difficult. We benefit from tremendous advances in technology by genius
predecessors, but only a tiny, tiny fraction of us can understand or
explain what those advances are or how they work.
Not only that, but -- and this is again pretty concentrated in the
industrialized world -- we more importantly benefit from the
adventurous conquests of uncounted ruthless bastards who killed and
enslaved even less counted slightly less ruthless bastards and took
all their stuff. What a weird and unsavory flow of resources from all
over. Maybe that's the biggest legacy of the second millennium:
instead of people pretty much using the stuff they can make themselves
or can find within a day's walk, we use stuff from everywhere, because
we make people send us their stuff.
The 2nd millennium will probably be best remembered as the Millennium
of the Clueless Asshole. The interesting and fascinating work of a
teeny weeny cadre of scientists, inventors, and engineers have been
turned to the task of enriching and empowering a class of heartless,
evil jerks at the expense of everyone else. Yippee for the second
I guess I should try and review as best I can the interesting advances
of this millennium. I'm not sure I know them all, but I can try. If I
miss anybody's favorite event or trend, well, sorry.
IT has, of course, been a millennium of learning. We know more about
the world -- and other worlds -- than we ever have. Telescopes!
Radios! Globes and accurate maps! The periodic table, nuclear power,
systematized botany, algebra and of course the aforementioned
zero. Spectacles! That plowshare thing that was so important for some
hard to understand reason. People made some pretty cool stuff this
millennium. Damn! Printing, gunpowder, ice cream. Canned food,
telegraphs, and Perl. Latex! There's just been a lot of stuff made.
Of course, there have been a lot of LOSSES of knowledge, too. Besides
the big losses -- like the destruction of the library at Alexandria
and the learning centers of North Africa - the obliteration of
countless cultures has meant the loss of kerjillions of bits of
data. Oral traditions passed down for many other millennia have been
terminated in this one. Who knows what vital knowledge was lost? Who
knows what we may never learn again?
But let it be known that in this millennium we've learned how to take
knowledge OUT of people's heads and put it somewhere -- computers,
paper books, whatever -- that LOTS and LOTS of people can get to. It's
hard as hell to do, but it seems to accelerate the advance of
knowledge pretty damn well. We'll see what happens in coming years;
maybe this trend will continue.
Another cool thing has been ART. More easy ways to make stuff has
meant more leisure time (more or less) which has meant more ART. Like,
check out those crazy murals on the walls of Teotihuacan! Or the
coolio stones of Easter Island. Those things are HARD!
AND, there's been lots of new materials, like oil paint, plastic,
photography, MP3s, and big ass aluminum thingies that they put in
public parks. It's made making things look like other things really
EASY. So easy, in fact, that in the last 10% of the millennium it's
been kind of like an anti-goal of art.
Writing, too, when you think about it. Maybe we're just getting bored
with describing things and trying to figger stuff out. Maybe there's
too many other ways to do that, so that we just use art to noodle
around now. I dunno if that's good or bad.
Probably the most interesting story in at least Western history has
been the final gasp of the Roman Empire. The fall of Constantinople
in the Eastern half, and the ecumenicalization of the Papal regime in
the Western half, has meant that that particularly annoying political
institution has pretty much breathed its last. Beaujolais! They were
Besides the walloping that most smaller civilizations took in the
millennium, another interesting thing was the total CLOMPING the
bigass Chinese one took. But they bounced back GREAT. Wow! In the last
5% of the millennium, they really have taken off, and MAN they look
like they're gonna kick some ass in the 3rd millennium. Of course,
they probably don't care that much about AD and all that, but still,
good job, China, eh?
Like, as a trend, the whole big WORLD politics thing has been a
general rise of the concept of the nation-state. It's really been a
great millennium for nations. They rocked. They wrote history as the
history of nationhood. Which is OK, I guess. But still, it's weird.
Maybe the coolest thing to come out of this millennium has been the
rise of the individual human being. Like, there's been a (painful and
bloody) refocussing of Western religion on the individual's self
realization from general humanity churchiness. And politically, ideas
like democracy (which had a brief flourish in the 1st millennium BC,
then fell off for about 1500 years) and basic human rights have made a
real big ol' surge.
Not that it's been easy -- worldwide, slavery as an institution has
only ended in the last 150 years or so, with lots of pockets still
hanging around. And despite the lip service, countless
indiscriminating massacres -- not to mention the nuclear bomb and the
Holocaust -- have shown that the idea of the sacredness of the
individual human is not entirely universally respected.
But there's been a lot. There's been unionization, and civil rights,
Gandhi and Martin Luther King and all that. It's possible that in the
future people will look back on us not for the horrors, the
unfairness, the reshuffling of the resource deck. Maybe instead our
descendents -- human and machine -- will remember this millennium for
the tiny seed of human decency towards each other that's been
planted. I dunno. But that'd be pretty cool, eh?