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The Second Millenium - A Look Back
1999-12-31 21:39:58


Y2K Madness
 
Hey, sexy mama: wanna kill all humans?
-- Bender

 

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.

Millennial Perspective

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 millennium!

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.

Learning

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.

Art

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.

Politics

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 bastards!

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.

Philosophy

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?

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

kabdriver@pigdog.org


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