A piece of the fabric of space-time fractured in my office today and a description of a course to be offered in 2279 slipped through. Weird, that.
It is the year 2279. Here Professor Hubert Morgan talks about the popular history course on the era of transition from 1985 to 2065 when somehow the global system survived a series of crises without collapsing. Instead, the basis for the peaceful global union we have today was forged.
People come to the course with a variety of expectations. They know that this was the era of globalization, economic crisis, the collapse of the sovereign state as a system of governance, intense global warming, energy crises and famine, but they also know that the story had a happy ending. Not only did they solve their problems through a mix of technological ingenuity, political creativity and adaptation, but they forged an ongoing era of peace, known as the Global Union.
In my course I try to as much as possible get them to experience that era the way the people living through it did — not knowing for sure what was happening, finding it hard to let go of old concepts and ideals, and fearful of the future.
We start at 1985 – the year when both globalization and the information revolution started to take off. We spend time there, learning about the culture, the state of the world, the films (students especially enjoy one called “Back to the Future”), the games, and the music.
People choose various media experiences – that was the age of motion pictures, television, and the emergence of music on compact discs – large cumbersome devices that nonetheless opened the door to the era of digital music. The idea is to immerse themselves in this strange but fascinating past before heading onto the roller coaster of the next eighty years.
Students take awhile to understand ideology. Ideology is now seen as a kind of mental prison forcing people into stagnant modes of thought, but politics was ideological in those days. Students need to understand the bizarre “Cold War” and why it was so difficult for people to think outside narrow political or national boundaries. It’s not that people were stupid or bigoted, they simply saw that world of ideology, ethnicity and states as natural.
We also explore why warnings on the growing economic imbalances, the loss of oil as a major energy source, and global warming were ignored and even denied. One student described it as “cultural group think.”
I think the part that often most startles them is the “trips” to virtual farms to see how animals were treated and food produced. Even though they know it’s not real, when talking to the farmers the odors, inhumane treatment of the animals and the way in which chemicals and other additives are simply dumped into the food chain sometimes makes some students physically ill. Of all the things that make life 300 years ago so wretched, most say food production is the biggest reason they wouldn’t want to go back!
Of course, the worst part of that era — 2015 to 2045 — can’t help but grab attention. Looked at as a thirty year “era” it’s easy to understand it and figure out why things worked out the way they did. In our course we try to accentuate the uncertainty people living through that era experienced – they truly feared global instability, mass warfare, disease and even human survival.
We follow the side stories of the scientists, politicians, thinkers and cultural icons that strove to keep civilization together and built ties between the impoverished suffering states of Africa and parts of Asia with the technologically advanced people in Europe and North America. Students recognize how fragile these connections were, especially early on, and how easily they might have been destroyed by fearful nationalism and bigotry. The wisdom that global cooperation was necessary was a hard sell only on!
The final era is that of consolidation, from 2045 to 2065 when the Treaty of Global Union was signed and most of the severe problems of the 21st Century were solved. This includes the new economics in which the ideologies of capitalism and socialism were jettisoned for a pragmatic approach that combined ideas from all, but focused on human liberty and opportunity as the core values. Massive debt was wiped out as all old currencies were simply abolished and the world started a new with a global currency and blank slate. In retrospect all that seems to have been inevitable, but students learn how gut wrenching and scary it was while the issues were debated.
In the course we trace how the information revolution led to the capacity to massively decentralize government and bring it closer to the people, making possible a “Global Union” of core shared rules but little centralized power. They realize how odd such an arrangement would look to an early 21st Century human so used to seeing centralization and de-centralization as mutually incompatible.
The new science of energy, food and climate is perhaps the most intriguing. We all learn it as natural, and look back at the materialism, consumerism, pollution and poisonous chemicals as a barbaric aspect of the old era. In this class students learn how that was taken as natural, and how dramatic the change in thinking was — so dramatic that absent global catastrophe it might never have happened.
The virtual trips to the era are life like. It is as if we have traveled back in time, our ability to use holography to create worlds that appear completely real to our senses makes this possible.
This course reminds us of crises caused by the era of greed, corruption, materialism, lack of respect for the environment and pursuit of pure self-interest without regard for the common good. By learning about the past we can better understand our present, appreciate what we’ve accomplished, and remind ourselves that humans do best when we understand we share a common destiny, both with each other and with our planet.