How will history judge?

by Micah on February 7, 2004

“Unlearned Hand”: wonders what we’ll think about America in a hundred years:

bq. Here’s the game I’d like to play, if you’d all be so obliged: name the one thing about America as it is now that the America (if it exists as such) of 2104 will look back on with the most admiration/envy/nostalgia, and the one thing the America of 2104 will look back on with the most disgust/pity.

I’d like to say that we’ll be disgusted by the amount of poverty in the 21st century–and how little Americans did to alleviate it. But that’s probably too optimistic. We’ll pity our inability to cure diseases that will have been eradicated over the next century. Much harder, I think, to decide what we’ll admire. Maybe we’ll be nostalgic for the days before our permanent attachment to computers.



Richard W. Crews 02.07.04 at 4:22 am

I truly feel that it is entirely possible that the Clinton Years will be seen as the apogee and epitome of American Culture in all ways : strength of economy, genuine admiration and trust, beneficial economic world-wide policies, responsible military, and a strong and decent effort to be good to its own citizens.

If we have seen the heights, then the disgusting thing will be how we sank : bush and the NeoCONS.The decline of respect and trust, then the lack of world partners, then the overreach, then the deficits and loss of capability, then the oil strangulation that the rest of the world rather enjoyed watching.


taak 02.07.04 at 4:29 am

People are usually nostalgic for idealized, quintessential objects unique to the past era that are easy to picture mentally and have pleasing associations. Perhaps in this case, “those giant cell phones”, “cars you had to steer yourself” etc.

Intangibles are more difficult to imagine.


Barry 02.07.04 at 4:37 am

Probably the thing which will arouse the most disgust with Demonocrat ‘America’ will be their repudiation of Bush I in year 4 of the first Bush Reign (known to Evul Furriners as 1992) :)


Glenn Condell 02.07.04 at 4:52 am

‘will be their repudiation of Bush I in year 4 of the first Bush Reign’

God, W makes his dad look like Metternich, doesn’t he?

2104 – cold war between China and the Nation of Islam thaws enough for combined action to thwart Western (Euro/US) attempts to re-assert their former ‘free-market’ geopolitical dominance. It is 50 years since Israel disappeared. Coastlines in some places are kilometres further inland than they were in 04. The irregular features of the human face and the embarrassments of the body are steadily being whittled away… the wealthiest people are among the healthiest and longest-lived in history, while Africans enjoy an average lifespan of 12.

And there’s a mile wide piece of rock a million miles away, but getting cloer, with Earh’s name on it.


Glenn Condell 02.07.04 at 4:54 am

That would be ‘closer’ to ‘Earth’..


PanJack 02.07.04 at 5:04 am

Best = Janet Jackson’s singing voice.
Worst = plastic wrapping (containers) that are nearly impossibly to remove (open up) on everything you buy.


Matt McIrvin 02.07.04 at 5:15 am

We pity the “hu-mans,” as they were called, their tiny, unthrobbing, nearly bulging-vein-free foreheads, and their complete lack of terrifying telekinetic powers. Yet we envy them the color blue, which was erased from existence in the Accident of 2088.


Gary Farber 02.07.04 at 6:02 am

The idea that in one hundred years, people will solemnly avow that the most memorable and important aspect of our day is our Presidential politics — and that they will just happen to completely agree with the political prejudices of the writer — is risible.

I’d like to ask any of the folks who have made such declarations what they think the five best and five worst policy initatives of President McKinley were.

I suspect that the unmodified state of humans today, the lack of rewired brain tissue, our lack of direct brain/internet interface, and our lack of chosen genetic modification will be a pretty big difference, with many pitying us, and our comparative mortality, and some nostalgic.

The contemporary fusses over homosexuality will be seen as quaint and difficult to fathom.

That this was the dawn of the era of nanotechnology is apt to be a major factor, though it’s difficult to say exactly how that will play out.

And, as Matt points out, the color blue will be much missed.

One sure thing: kids music — it’s not music, I tell you, it’s just noise!


Matt 02.07.04 at 6:11 am

People will miss the large animals. The Pandas and Tigers, and elephants. Pretty much anything big will be extinct. People won’t recall that some animals were dangerous, only that they were cute and are now gone.
They will think the hegemony of the United States to be almost quaint, like the brittish empire is regarded now. China and India will be the major world powers.

They will be disgusted by factory farms. They will still eat meat but it will be grown in a lab, cloned in fact. Each grows into a perfect portion with almost no fat. You can even grow your own beef, or chicken tree at home.

They will thinks us ignorent and paraniod for caring so much about privacy. Everything is recorded in the future. We all willingly implant ID chips in our bodies, they make our lives much easier.

They would be excited by the prospect of being alive at the dawn of the net.


drapetomaniac 02.07.04 at 6:48 am

I truly feel that it is entirely possible that the Clinton Years will be seen as the apogee and epitome of American Culture in all ways : strength of economy, genuine admiration and trust, beneficial economic world-wide policies, responsible military, and a strong and decent effort to be good to its own citizens.

is this the same clinton of who bombed as-shiba, gutted welfare, instituted DOMA and don’t ask don’t tell? that’s not my idea of decency.


Anonymous 02.07.04 at 8:02 am

2 points of nostalgia:

1.) Privacy rights.

2.) Property rights.

2 things that will be looked back on with disgust:

1.) The war on drugs will be seen as the horrible thing it is.
2.) Those who oppose gay rights will be seen like those who opposed civil liberties are now seen.


Keith M Ellis 02.07.04 at 9:09 am

I think the chief thing that those in 2104 will be appalled by will be the prevalence of sexism, worldwide, at the turn of the 21st century. A significant portion of the world’s women are de facto slaves and; for the most part, it is not of much present concern. Secondarily, I think our present treatment of primates will be the subject of horror a hundred years from now.

What will we miss? The world’s coastal cities.


Keith M Ellis 02.07.04 at 9:10 am

(“We” is more likely “they”. I doubt I’ll live to be 140. What is the extrapolation of the life-expectancy curve for the developed world, anyway?)


Richard W. Crews 02.07.04 at 9:40 am

I didn’t say the Clinton Years were perfect, I said they were as good as it got.


James 02.07.04 at 9:42 am

“I truly feel that it is entirely possible that the Clinton Years will be seen as the apogee and epitome of American Culture in all ways : strength of economy, genuine admiration and trust, beneficial economic world-wide policies, responsible military, and a strong and decent effort to be good to its own citizens.”
Genuine admiration and trust? I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but the same attitude that you embark upon in the second part of your post was applied to Clinton in his day, and will be applied in full measure to the individual who follows on from Bush.
I can’t find proper answers to the question posed by the post – 2004 seems too transitional, a 1943 of a year, with nothing of its own to point to. Unless there’s some mighty development just stirring itself, but presently unnoticed by us. So here’s to the backyard genius who built the first fully operational fusion reactor in 2004, but didn’t get around to telling anyone until 2045, and here’s to the birth of the man who led the Islamic Reformation, and here’s to the first female POTUS, wherever you are, and can you please be a little less like a man!


novalis 02.07.04 at 7:13 pm

Nostalgia consists of remembering the good and forgetting the bad parts of something. So, if we remember life before cell phones, we will forget our cars breaking down on the way to an important business meeting in the middle of nowhere.


Angus 02.07.04 at 7:35 pm

People won’t understand the question because, with the end of U.S. hegemony, the term “America” will no longer be confused with just one part of North America. On the other hand, hardly anyone will use the word “China” any more. China will simply be referred to as “The World”.


Donald Johnson 02.07.04 at 10:02 pm

On the moral level, I’m guessing Micah is right– the lack of effort we put into fighting global poverty will be regarded with disgust. People will read that millions of children died every year and most could have been saved with a relatively modest expenditure (people around here probably have a better notion of the money needed, but I think I’ve read that somewhere in the ten billion per year range could save millions). They’ll look at what we do spend money on and note the crocodile tears we shed over people murdered by our political foes and find it nauseating. Or perhaps funny–after a hundred or so years the sense of outrage might be moderated and people might just find the hypocrisy kind of entertaining.

OTOH, if the folks 100 years in the future are part of the Borg collective they’ll erect a monument to the Fox News Channel as the harbinger of things to come.


John Smith 02.07.04 at 11:51 pm

Most disgusting? A tie between the jury system and prisons.

Juries are selected for their ignorance of the subject-matter for decision, their non-expertise in the difficult skill of fact-finding: their deliberations are not monitored and – worst of all, they do not give reasons for their decisions.

The prisons are governed by the kind consent of the prisoners – or, more accurately, the hardest bastards, often put away for the worst crimes – and the prison guards – whose legendary corruption and brutality in California is a standard that most do not fail to attain for lack of trying.


Rex 02.08.04 at 1:54 am

“When oil was plentiful, and we could all have a surpurb standard of living by basing our entire way of life on it”

“That we never did anything about running out of oil before it was too late”


clew 02.08.04 at 3:04 am

I’ll expand on rex’s idea and give “Private automobiles” as the answer to both questions.

“You moved around in tons of metal each? With no safety precautions? And they were so loud! and they smelled bad! and EVERYONE had one, even children!….. Boy, that must have been fun.”


Joe M. 02.08.04 at 4:37 am

What they will view with disgust? The fact that we allowed abortion. (I’m assuming that there will continue to be a general trend towards expanding the number of human beings deemed worthy of society’s protection.)


CleverNameHere 02.08.04 at 7:41 am

Envy: To have been alive during a period of musical explosion.

Disgust: 22nd century Americans will view abortion the same way we view slavery. They will be unable to fathom how a supposedly enlightened, secular society maintained that an individual living organism was actually only “potential life”, and that this indisputable member of Homo sapiens was not a “person”.


pessimist 02.08.04 at 9:00 am

ENVY: the last generation before the great wars of the 21st century

DISGUST: the inequality between rich and poor (always is, always has been…)


Troy 02.08.04 at 6:18 pm

The movie Demolition Man had some good digs.

Freedom has been under assault by do-gooders for 100 years now (2004). It’s still legal to drive a car that can go 200MPH on the street. We can make totally anonymous cash transactions. Our movements are not tracked 24/7 like they will be.

There’s still relatively untouched wilderness to enjoy.

In 100 years it will take an active effort to separate ourselves from talking, monitoring nanny computers. Everything will be wired together (wirelessly). The wealthy will be able to live forever young, or at least not grow old.

Population-wise, we are now basically at replacement level + immigration, though the newer the immigrant the larger the family apparently.

As for politics, who the hell knows. America can either go back to a revival of 1920’s Disneyland Main Street innocence or down some Orwellian rathole.


Troy 02.08.04 at 6:22 pm

joe and clevername, I hate to break it to you but there will still be post-conception abortion, just like there will be legal contraceptives.

A ball of cells implanted in the womb is not a person, sorry.


CleverNameHere 02.08.04 at 8:33 pm

A ball of cells implanted in the womb is not a person, sorry.

The sad thing is I really, really, really wish I could believe as you do. Worrying about getting a girl pregnant really puts a crimp in my sex life, which, I’m sure, is a large reason so many people convince themselves that a “ball of cells” isn’t a person.

Unfortunately, it is a biological fact that the “ball of cells” is an individual living organism, and that it is a HUMAN organism. As far as I can see, the only reason one can put forth for NOT considering it to be a human at an early stage of development, is because it is highly inconvenient to the rest of us to do so.

This isn’t some religious nut speaking, I’m not a Christian. I’m an agnostic. But I believe in respecting human life, and that’s what this is. If you can convince me otherwise, I would heartily welcome it, because it would make my life much, much easier.


dsquared 02.08.04 at 11:27 pm

Since abortion has been a constant feature of human society, regarded as unpleasant but sadly often necessary, for more than two thousand years, I’d be interested to know why our friends think that the next 100 years will bring a sea-change.


clevernamehere 02.09.04 at 3:47 am


Well, first, I’d note that 100 years can be a long time. A black man in 1860 had a much, much different status than a black man in 1960.

Second, there are a number of factors at work. A) greater education – more people, through sonograms and biology classes, are learning that the unborn IS a living organism. B) I think that contraceptive technology will be greatly improved by 2104. The greatest opposition to the recognition of the unborn as people is, as I have said, due to the inconvenience that consideration would have for the rest of us. I think abortion will disappear because unplanned pregnancies will, to a large extent, disappear.

You might say, “Then, if you believe the days are numbered for this practice, why does this issue matter so much?” It’s because future recognition of fetal humanity comes too late to save those destroyed today.


Jeffrey Kramer 02.09.04 at 6:37 am

Future generations will pity us for having to get through life without Soma.


theCoach 02.09.04 at 2:52 pm

I think the pity/disgust will be regarding our morality being based on souls/blank slates (whatever your opinion of Pinker, his book does identify an incoherent foundation of much of our core beliefs about agency). They will ikely envy the lower population of humans, the higher population of exotic animals and the relative wealth of unditurbed natural geography.
They will find our inability to bridge the societes of the well off and the very poor infathomable (that people were still experiencing massive starvation, and curable diseases).


Dan Simon 02.09.04 at 8:08 pm

Obviously, in 2104 everyone will wax nostalgic about the days, 100 years previous, when there was a truly infallible source of boundless wisdom and truth–the blog, “I Could Be Wrong”. They will have nothing but pity and disgust, however, for the benighted fools who failed to recognize the inestimable gem in their virtual midst.

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