Millennium Journey: An Interdisciplinary Glance at Human Nature
Jean E. Jost and Tripthi Pillai
all life longs for the Last Day
"The Hour Before Dawn"
And there's no man but cocks his ear
To know when Michael's trumpet cries
That flesh and bone may disappear,
And there be nothing but God left.
time is at hand. Humanity
is racing toward the end of the twentieth century while the very old
Father Time of 1999 grins menacingly at our millennium paranoia.
Like a Salvador Dali melting clock sliding off a table, we
are indeed on the cusp of a millennial moment and slipping fast.
But, poised between the science we have come to rely upon for our
technology and computer capability, and the superstition we have
come to suspect for its naiveté and emotionalism, the planet's
population nevertheless remains embroiled in a "tug-of-war"
reason and fear. And
fear is winning!
What is the nature of
this precipice we are rapidly approaching, this new Millennium
hearkening Armageddon, the Second Coming, the Rapture, the
Antichrist, Doomsday, the Woman Clothed with the Sun, the New Heaven
and Earth--"dark, flamboyant cosmic Violence"? (Grosso,
succinctly, Michael Grosso calls the Millennium "the great hope
voiced by the Book of Revelation that a last conflict between good
and evil will one day end the pain of life and fix the injustice,
banish death by supernatural decree, and liberate the world"
(4). In the New
Jerusalem, a psychic transformation occurs as heaven comes down to
liberate earth, simultaneously obliterating it: "And the city
had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it; for the
glory of God did lighten it" (Rev. 21:23).
As Grosso says, the result is a world with "No sea, no
sun, no moon; the world
internalized, "lit up" from within, seen without shadow,
without ambiguity, without evil or menace" (21).
Stephen D. O'Leary finds that "mythologies of Hinduism,
Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity all offer
evidence that the desire to fix humanity in a divinely instituted
order of cosmic time has played a significant role in the formation
of cultures . . . [all
exhibiting] a common concern: to understand the successive human
ages and their culmination in a catastrophic struggle between the
forces of good and evil" (4-5). Such a dichotomous polarity of good and evil is easier for the
unsophisticated mind to conceptualize than the gray area between, or
the subtle refinements; it does not ask for fine discrimination in
the moral realm, but places accountability at the doorstep of these
opposing supernatural forces, hence exonerating humans from either
complicity or power.
apocalyptic view may have shaped cultures, as O'Leary
suggests, the reverse may likewise be true: various cultures have
conceptualized their version of the apocalypse based on their prior
self-concept and worldview. Each
group or audience is motivated to understand, rationalize, or
intellectualize evil by its cultural ethos, by what its members
collectively believe about themselves and their world. Collective guilt, fear, righteous indignation,
or rational security may shape how a group conceptualizes itself,
the world around it,
and the relationship between the two.
According to the
January 27, 1997 Newsweek article "A
Look Ahead to the Days of the Next Millennium: America's
New Century, "
thousand years ago, when mankind approached the end of the first
millennium, some people feasted, some people prayed, some people
thought the world was coming to an end . . . The portents of the
future [for the third millennium] . . . seem much more favorable now
than at most stages of a century disfigured with blood and ruin"
The ever-growing truths of science have replaced many of the
fearful myths held by our ancestors, projecting a future full of
promise and expectation rather than of doom and disaster.
For example, Sharon Begley asks "Will
the millennium bring ways of downloading the contents of a human
mind into a computer? Our
memories, personalities and thoughts are but bits and bytes of
information. All of
those could conceivably be transferred to a CD-ROM.
And copied. Or
slipped into a robot"
Cowley speculates that "The
day your local tissue lab can grow you a functioning hand or heart
is still decades away, but the scenario gets more plausible every
the coming century,'
says Dr. Joseph Vacanti, a surgeon at Boston's
Hospital . . . 'I
learn to generate living prosthetics for every organ in the body'"
(66). What revolutionary advances in the next millennium will offer
inhabitants is beyond human conjecture.
The scientific and technological successes of humanity during
the past millennium have brought us to a new dimension of health,
comfort, and efficiency undreamed
of by the medieval world. The quality of life for all the planet's
citizens appears beyond our wildest imagination. This conception, of course, exemplifies the rational view of
change, denying the magical, mystical or fearful dimension.
Past cultures have taken both paths to understanding previous
millennia, as their conception of reality and economic and political
position within society determined. The following overview gives merely a taste of previous
cultural responses to impending change.
The Greek tradition
which give us the words "eschatology" and
"apocalypse" (eschaton "last" and apocalypse
"unveiling") also presents, in O'Leary's words, "the
cosmic progression from an Edenic golden age through successive ages
of silver, bronze, and iron" (5),
a slowly corrupting universe ultimately in need of divine
motif is strikingly recreated in various traditions, from opposite
sides of the planet. Perhaps
it represents a deeply based psychological primal fear of
disintegration, of chaos, of disorder taking over, and a way of
coping with the reality of evil, through an intervening deity or
Messiah who saves humanity from outside forces, other groups, or
even from its own moral degeneration. Or perhaps a less emotional
approach marked certain cultures, as the Greek concern with reason,
ethics, and philosophical investigation of individual and communal
action, spawning a more distanced, balanced view of the last days.
Further, optimism--from a deity or human wisdom--offers
another chance, a new Eden, a happier post-lapsarian existence after
this salvation from chaos. One might recognize a parallel in the
Christian Fall and Redemption.
psychological framework in mind, we now turn to history.
What did our predecessors on this earth believe about
their millennium--in Europe and elsewhere?
How did they conceptualize this fear of disorder?
How did our ancestors interpret their uncertain future in the
past? How did they cope with the dread and foreboding of such a
momentous calendar? How
did they handle the impending crisis, the fear of disorder, the
anticipation of the unknown? Let
us journey back to the past, perhaps on that magical horse Pegasus,
or, if you prefer technology, a
Time Machine, to explore some literary, historic, religious, and
socio-historical dimensions of the millennium. Just how much has
humanity changed in the last thousand years as it faces a new
millennium? Can this
newfangled world actually profit from the experience of its
progenitors, or is it doomed to repeat the fears and mistaken
assumptions of the past?
THE MILLENNIUM MYTH
According to Grosso,
historically the millennium myth
"tells of the end of time and the rebirth of love, the end
of history and the dawn of a golden age" (1).
Thus, it is both traumatic in the end of an era--often of
destruction--and celebratory, in the institution of a better one.
Its roots are deeply embedded in human consciousness, which,
Grosso says, sees history as "a journey with a goal, a drama
with a climax . . . a human adventure heading for a showdown, and
humanity . . . on a collision course with the Eschaton, the end of
the world" (1). Obsession with this seductively elusive phenomenon
encompassing both the fearful and the rational, engaging politics,
history, economics, anthropology, and theology has consistently
fomented catastrophic disaster, both communally and individually. By
absorbing new visions and shedding the old, this myth gathers and
loses momentum, becomes current, even elastic as it accrues new
nuances in different ways in different times and places. Throughout,
however, the myth holds that deep and radical regeneration of human
society is possible (Grosso, 15), but cosmic chaos will ultimately
result in cosmic regeneration.
For Grosso, "[t]he wholehearted plunge into the shadowy
disorder of evil makes psychological sense only on the assumption of
a countervision of redemptive power" (19). Some cultures
have chosen to focus on the destruction threatening their peoples
with fear and trembling, while others have waited in joyful
anticipation for its salvific/ saving graces to rejuvenate,
especially their physical and social ills.
II. EGYPTIAN TRADITION
While later versions
of apocalyptic faith are generally threatening, the early Egyptian
civilization almost cherishes the notion--celebrating transition to
an improved life. Its
conception of apocalypse is personal, not universal or social; it
presents no Doomsday of public punishment, but an elaboration of the
afterlife, in which worldly joys continue.
What Was Life Like on
the Banks of the Nile:
Egypt 3050-30 B.C. notes that at death, with the comforting
jackal-headed guide Anubis to lead the way, one chooses certain
relics of this life to accompany the soul on its inevitable, but not
destructive afterlife journey.
The underworld was thought to be in the west where the sun
died daily, so the western bank of the Nile was a common burial
ground. At death,
the spirit, or Aka,
is said to soar through the sky with the sun god by day, returning
to a well-supplied tomb at night. Consider what King Tutankhamun and
other royal leaders chose for their journeys:
lovely artifacts of gold and gems, various implements and
signs of comfort, probably perishables and foods he enjoyed.
When the funeral procession reached the burial chamber, the
mummy was set upright in its coffin as the priest touched the mummy's
face three times with various tools, rubbed its face with milk,
embraced the mummy, and presented it with clothing, a haunch of
beef, and a bull's
heart. He then invited
the corpse to enjoy the feast set before him.
Illustrations from the thirteenth-century scribe Ani's
Book of the Dead reveal
this case Ani himself--lead by the hand by Horus, standing before
Osiris for the final reckoning.
In a final gesture of humility, Ani proclaims his innocence: "There is no wrongdoing in my body.
I have not wittingly told lies,"
and is allowed to join Osiris and achieve immortality.
Thus this view of millennium held by a culture secure in its
place in the world is non-threatening and non-dangerous. The notion
of a devastating catastrophe, a punishment for wrong-doing, a
calling to accounts on a grand scale is absent, replaced by a
personal joyful culmination. This
society, marked by an absence of guilt or fear, comfortable in its
value system, secure in its interrelationships with other nations,
and intrarelationships within its own group, created no vision of
fear and devastation. Its afterlife is a joyful occasion of celebration.
III. THE VEDIC TRADITION
The Millennium in
India is perceived as an ongoing cyclic process rather than a single
momentous act partaking of both fear and optimism for one's
future reincarnation. It
promises each individual another chance to improve his or her
spiritual state. This opportunity for growth, retracing one's
previous steps and correcting one's errors, is a continuing process
because of free will and the ability to judge good and evil.
According to Coomaraswamy and Nivedita,
cycle, or Day of Brahma, a kalpa . . . is 12,000 years of the devas,
or 4,320,000,000 [four billion three hundred twenty million]
earth-years. At the beginning of each Day when Brahma wakes, the
"Three Worlds" so often spoken of in the myths, together
with the devas, rishis, asuras, men, and creatures, are manifested
afresh according to their individual deserts (karma, deeds); only
those who in the previous kalpa obtained direct release (nirvana,
moksha), or who passed beyond the Three Worlds to higher planes, no
longer reappear. At the
close of each Day the Three Worlds, with all their creatures, are .
. . resolved into chaos
(prayala), retaining only a latent germ of necessity of
remanifestation. The Night of Brahma is of equal length with the Day.
If all humanity fail
to correct errors, and rather pursue immediate pleasure, then the
dreaded millennium will occur. This "Praylaya" denotes
destruction of the present, and thus a culmination of the gods'
anger or disappointment; the "Kalyuga," or black age of sin,
results when creation falls to its lowest form or level. According
to the Vedas, since creation began in perfect goodness, and is
devolving toward evil, removing itself farther and farther from
Brahma, its source, it eventually slides into the "eve of
destruction" or Kalyuga, like Dali's clocks, the last stage
before a new creation.
When life no longer
works to benefit mankind or creation itself, Shiva, the Destructive
Force among the Trimurti, brings on Praylaya by opening his third
eye, located vertically between his eyebrows on his forehead; this
he does only in the presence of immense evil that cannot be humanly
controlled. When his eye opens, it sets the whole universe aflame
purging it in the process, and thus enables the universe and mankind
to start afresh. In
this, the fourth and final stage of Brahma's Day in which we are
currently living, called Kali Yuga or Iron Age, according to Baba
Hari Dass, "the climate is one quarter virtue and three quarters
sin; human stature is 3.5 cubits [six feet]; lifespan is 100 or 120
years" (as quoted in
Morales, 1996). In this
era, Brahma, the creator, will re-create, replacing the evil world
after its destruction by Shiva. Lord Vishnu, the third of the
Trimurti, holds creation in his hand, does not interrupt the natural
flow of mankind, but functions to preserve the equilibrium.
Humanity, however, may disrupt world harmony without
intervention from Vishnu because people are said to have free will,
to be created in the gods' image, and to share in the divinity
itself. Vishnu can
exercise his power, sharing in the godhead, but humans still possess
free will and control over both personal and social realities.
When the majority of
humanity act destructively, becoming self-centered and ignoring the
external world, then will Shiva open his third eye. The only escape
from constant regeneration of spirit into new matter is to achieve
perfection: arrive at Nirvana, returning to the divine source as a
permanent part of the universe. Although the "Pralaya" may
be seen as temporarily destructive, its purpose is to initiate a
new, better creation as the individual reappears in an absolutely
purged environment. While there is no specific date in which Pralaya
is thought to occur, Shiva determines when the earth cannot hold any
more evil, but needs to be destroyed and re-invented.
Again, the audience and philosophy of this belief system
determines its shape: the conception gravitates toward perceiving
reality as a reasonable construct rather than a fear-based,
threatening one in which irrational forces determine reality.
IV. THE JEWISH TRADITION
The only monotheistic
group except for the Persians, the early Jews, since the exodus from
Egypt, believed that "the will of Yahweh was concentrated on
Israel" (Cohn, 19).
As a result, they reacted, as Cohn notes, "to peril,
oppression and hardship by phantasies of the total triumph and
boundless prosperity which Yahweh, out of his omnipotence, would
bestow upon his Elect" (19-20).
Prophetical books dating from the 8th century foretell of an
immense cosmic catastrophe leading to a new Palestinian Eden.
Because of their
neglect of Yahweh the Chosen People must indeed be punished by
famine and pestilence, war and captivity . . .
subjected to a sifting judgment so severe that it will effect
a clean break with the guilty past.
There must indeed be a Day of Yahweh, a Day of Wrath, when
sun and moon and stars are darkened, when the heavens are rolled
together and the earth is shaken . . .
a Judgment when the misbelievers--those in Israel who have
not trusted in the Lord and also Israel's enemies, the heathen
nations--are judged and cast down . . . . But this is not the end:
a "saving remnant" of Israel will survive . . . .
When the nation is thus regenerated and reformed Yahweh will cease
from vengeance and become the Deliverer . . . dwell among them as
ruler and judge. He
will reign from a rebuilt Jerusalem . . . where the poor are
protected, and a harmonious and peaceful world . . . . The moon will
shine as the sun and the sun's light will be increased sevenfold.
Deserts and waste lands will become fertile and beautiful . .
. [with] abundance of water and provender for flocks and herds, for
men there will be abundance of corn and wine and fish and fruit. . .
. Freed from
disease and sorrow of every kind, doing no more iniquity but living
according to the law of Yahweh now written in their hearts, the
Chosen People will live in joy and gladness.
This Jewish vision of
the Millennium, then, begins in fear and destruction as a punishment
for the sin of ignoring Yahweh, but culminates in a new and greater
joy, primarily physical. Ultimately
it is an optimistic expectation for survivors of the catastrophic
destruction. Contrast with the Vedic tradition is clear;
the former, psychically located in the spirit, perceives the
nature of evil and human behavior as instigating forces. The latter,
embroiled in physical anguish, conceives of war, cosmic harmony, and
physical contentment as a punishment-and-reward system
A second Hebrew
version, from Daniel, Ch.
VII, dated about 165 B.C.E., reflects the historic need of the time
by offering nationalist propaganda for the lower social strata.
Having previously enjoyed peace under Persian and Ptolemaic
rule, when the Syro-Greek dynasty of Seleucids conquer and outlaw
Jewish religious observances, the victims undertake the Maccabean
revolt. In the Hebrew myth, four beasts symbolize the four world
powers--Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Greek. The last, they believe, shall
devour the whole earth, tread it down, and break it into pieces.
When Israel overthrows Greece, personified as the son of Man, she
"came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of
Days. And there was
given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people,
nations and languages should serve him: his domination is an
everlasting dominion which shall not pass away" (
Daniel, Ch. 7, quoted by Cohn, p. 21).
The emerging paradigm
is this: "the world is dominated by an evil tyrannous power of
boundless destructiveness. . . imagined not as simply human but as
demonic" (Cohn, p. 21). The fear of the people thus dominates their conception of
reality. When the
tyranny of that power reaches a peak, and the sufferings of its
victims become intolerable, the hour will strike, rebellion will
ensue, and an eschatological Messiah will intervene, finally saving
the victims. Originally envisioned as a wise, just, powerful monarch
of Davidic descent, as the political situation deteriorated, the
Messiah became more superhuman: the son of man riding on a cloud,
personifying the nation of Israel. The holy will inherit the earth
at this culminating epoch. This last kingdom will surpass all
previous in glory and have no successors in a joyful, permanent
resolution. Threatening historic situations hence generate a physically
based fear which ultimately will lead to a joyful physical
In yet a third Hebrew
version, "the Messiah is shown as the Lion of Judah at whose
roar the last and worst beast--now the Roman eagle--bursts into
flame and is consumed; and again as the Son of Man who first
annihilates the multitudes of the heathen with the fire and storm of
his breath and then, gathering together the lost ten tribes out of
alien lands, establishes in Palestine a kingdom in which a united
Israel can flourish in peace and glory" (Cohn, 22).
This follows the worst empire, Rome, when the mighty
warrior-Messiah routs the armies of the enemy and slaughters
Israel's enemies. The age of bliss will contain no pain, disease,
untimely death, violence, or hunger in an earthly Paradise either
forever or for many centuries.
Once again, the
audience shapes its belief system: collective guilt for neglecting
the one true god who had privileged them as the Chosen People drives
the consciousness of fear, destruction, and finally forgiveness. A
renewed Edenic kingdom free from Israel's long-endured, war-torn
environment will result, thus motivating this apocalyptic view.
V. THE EARLY CHRISTIAN TRADITION
While the Egyptian,
Vedic, and Jewish notions are primarily optimistic, the Christian
concept may be positive for the holy, or negative for sinners.
An individual's behavior thus controls the nature of
millennium, although rhetorically, fear dominates the literature.
Written about 68-95 C.E., John's book of Revelation
states: "Then I saw an angel come down from heaven with the key
of the Abyss in his hand and an enormous chain.
He overpowered the dragon, that primeval serpent which is the
devil and Satan, and chained him up for a thousand years, he hurled
him into the Abyss and shut the entrance and sealed it over to make
sure he would not lead the nations astray again until the thousand
years had passed" (John, Revelation, Chapter 20).
John proclaims that "the persecutions must end, but it
goes much further and announces the coming of the overturning of the
existing order. A cosmic cataclysm would generate a new heaven and a
new earth; all the pain
and injustice in the world was going to be wiped away, and even the
last enemy, death--the enemy that foiled even the mighty Gilgamesh--would
be overcome" (Cohn, 16). A yearning to see the present imperfect world replaced by a
superior "new age" is a constant of the early Christian
imagination: after the final struggle between good and evil, cosmic
chaos will climax in cosmic regeneration.
Fear is the dominating theme, with the promise of salvation
The ancient world,
most directly the Hebrew one, provided raw materials for this
revolutionary eschatology of the later Middle Ages. Tonally, John
deviates from other new Testament writings, exuding a will to power,
but no love, forgiveness, humility. His imagery is severe, harsh,
foreboding, threatening, and comes out of a similar tradition, the
meekness of its Messiah notwithstanding.
The relatively few thirteenth-century Franciscan Spirituals, on
the other hand, believed
the Millennium to be an age of the Spirit, when all mankind would be
united in prayer, mystical contemplation, and voluntary poverty,
clearly a wish-fulfillment: desire for peace amid strife and Italian
greed, especially among its prelates. For those suffering extreme,
relentless insecurity, (and the early Church was a minority, a
politically dangerous, radical fringe element) the millennium was violent, anarchic, and revolutionary (Cohn,
14). The audience has projected its concerns, its focus on
sin and guilt, its fears, its intensity, its expectations onto a
vision of apocalyptic fervor. Its vision of itself as sinful and the
world as evil, an occasion of sin, has shaped its conception of the
This tradition breaks
with pre-scientific medieval Christianity in a cultural revolution
which pushes artistic and scientific human achievements toward their
godlike potential. Architects built visionary cities on earth.
Leaders fused the Biblical and pagan to create a new wave of change
driving toward a humanistic Millennium. Scholars envisioned a new
image of human potential, picturing the future of humanity in
godlike terms. Magic
lent inspiration to the birth of modern technology, handmaid to the
godlike potential of humanity. Grosso notes that "the times
produced a prophet, Girolamo Savonarola, who . . . preached a
democratic Florence as the earthly locale of the new age . . . an
anticipation of the European Enlightenment" (Grosso, 61).
With the printing press, the liberal arts were rejuvenated as
the gospel of a pagan revival and a new humanity.
Instituting a new Eden rested upon human rather than divine
power. Salvation was achieved by no extrinsic force. The audience,
rejecting the previous burden of personal sin and guilt, and
reveling in the burgeoning self-confidence of its new-found artistic
and technological powers, experienced no fear, envisioned no
destructive force to overcome, but expended its energies in new and
VII. ON OUR DOORSTEP
We now take a giant
leap forward, noting that collectively twentieth-century America
displays a similar secular view of
the millennium, defined by
Webster's College Dictionary as: "1.) a period of 1000
years; 2) the period of 1000 years during which Christ will reign on
earth, Rev. 20:1-7; 3) a period of general righteousness and
happiness" (860). The collective understanding is usually optimistic, although
individual interpretations, particularly by certain religious
groups, may focus on destruction, annihilation (physical evil
generally, but occasionally moral, or sin-laced), and redemption,
namely "I can do it myself."
While most see the millennium as representing exciting
change, some remain fearful, suggesting the security of the majority
but the anxiety of a few. Perhaps
progress, technology, power, and a taste for the rational rather
than the supernatural has shaped the modern vision.
One alteration from
previous conceptions is apparent: past cultures as a group have accepted
wholesale the chiliastic phenomenon promulgated by their
communities or individuals in them, whereas current manifestations,
often seen as signs of madness, are rejected by the majority
culture. Participants are seen as deviants, unrepresentative of
community, living in their private reality.
For example, Michael
Grosso calls David Koresh, leader of the Waco Branch Davidians,
"a man trapped by his Bible-spawned beliefs . . . who used
sacred scripture to serve his own needs and advance his own
ends" (4). Neither
he nor his society accepts Koresh's vision. Authorities rejected the
minority's fatalism and hence prevented Davidian "prisoners
from sleeping by blasting them with noise and mocking them with
sounds of Tibetan chants, rabbits being slaughtered, dental drills,
reveille, and Nancy Sinatra's 'These Boots Were Made for Walkin.' .
. . They should have known that sleep deprivation causes
hallucinations, a sure way to deepen Koresh's crazy belief that
apocalypse was immanent and that he was the Messiah," says Grosso
(5). Jim Jones,
of Kool-Aid fame in Guyana, and Charles Manson, flaunting sexual
charisma and murder in California, represent other perverse,
millennially-obsessed individuals, estranged from their society by
their notions of a
destructive millennium. Perhaps
a more hard-boiled, sophisticated, materially based, technologically
oriented audience would dismiss supernatural prognostications,
labeling those who fall under their sway "naive."
However, a recent
comment on the Millennium reported in the Sunday
New York Times (Nov. 29, 1998) comes from Pope John Paul II:
he has declared the year 2000 a "holy year,"
possibly to ward off fear, and has encouraged the re-institution of
indulgences, a means of divine security for the fearful.
But the modern
audience, less homogeneous, and more individualistic, determines its
various conceptions of the millennium. Many are skeptical of any
unusual phenomena occurring, for past prophecies have not always
proven true. Consider
the following words of wisdom from Newsweek,
January 27, 1997: ("Predictions:
Cloudy Days in Tomorrowland", 86):
"The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a
novelty--a fad." President of the Michigan Savings Bank, 1903.
"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
Harry M. Warner, Warner Bros, 1927.
"Computers in the future may . . . perhaps only weigh 1.5
Popular Mechanics, 1949.
"Radio has no future."
Lord Kelvin, Scottish mathematician, President of the Royal
"[Television] won't be able to hold on to any market after the
first six months. People
will soon tire of staring at a plywood box every night."
Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century-Fox, 1946.
"We don't like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way
Records rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
"Man will never reach the moon, regardless of all future
scientific advances." Dr. Lee de Forest, father of radio, 1967.
"There is no reason for any individual to have a
computer in their home." Kenneth
Olsen, President of Digital Equipment, 1977.
As these quotations
indicate, past prophets held less than a stellar record of
prediction, and are even comical in their miscalculations. Motivated
more by a lack of imagination than either fear or rationality, these
projections for the future have grossly missed their mark.
Will the following future predictions outperform the
In 2000, IBM
predicts hard-disk drives (in PCs) will outsell television
The number of U.S. scheduled air passengers will
increase 59% by 2007, to more than
900 million a year.
By 2000, your chance of contracting malignant melanoma
will increase to 1 in 75. In
1935, the risk was 1 in 1,500.
In 2010, a
1997 dollar will be worth about 63 cents
the Millennium" Newsweek.
Beyond 2000. January 27, 1997, 73)
the most interesting is this baseball scenario, projected for Oct.
Albuquerque Gauchos stunned the Singapore Tycoons today, 17-4, in
the first game of the
new Virtual World Series.
This marked the first baseball championship to be played not
field but on a computer screen. There was no stadium, no fans
and--except in an electronic
Attendance, however, was far higher than expected; more than
people logged on.
We have no definitive way
of predicting the future, but past practice indicates we have often
underestimated human performance.
No doubt, entertainment in the future will be more creative and
stimulating than any we have conceptualized this century.
But humanists, too, may well undergo a transformation as a
result of other innovations. Meg Greenfield warns that:
insights will probably always be more to the point than the imagery
of technological marvels yet to be.
What Shakespeare [and some medievalists would add, Chaucer]
uniquely knew about the human mind and heart and the timeless human
predicament will be just as apt a millennium or two from now as it
is today and was 400 years ago. . . . There are not and never can be
any scientific rules whereby we can perfect ourselves the way we can
perfect certain objects and processes in the physical world. And in this limitation will always reside our potential glory
and our potential shame. It
will always be easier to do the scientifically impossible thing . .
. than to do the personally possible but difficult thing--the right
thing by ourselves and by others and by the technologically amazing
world we have concocted to live in. (96)
Thus, responsibility lays as heavily on our
consciences today as ever before.
Further, whether from a technological or humanist viewpoint,
this human-gendered predicament, in Michael Grosso's words, the
"psyche's passion for regeneration, its desire to shatter the
chains of death and, in Dante's phrase, to 'imparadise' our minds with
love" is indeed a recurring universal experience.
Even in fear-based societies, most append a salvific conclusion
to the projected destruction. As Grosso contends, currently enmeshed in modern technology, "we
find ourselves in an evolving universe
in which novelty and breakthrough are the rule, a universe in
which time is a creative genius, the universe itself a place for
producing miracles" (355). Futuristic forces of transformation abound today as
they have in the past. In Grosso's words, "Winding restlessly
through the centuries from the Book of Daniel to the Renaissance, from
the Enlightenment to the present, has been the idea that knowledge
would one day enable our species to recreate nature and, above all, to
regenerate human reality" (355).
A thousand years ago, there were no space-walks, H-bombs,
microwaves, cryonics, bioengineering, virtual reality, nanotechnology,
ten-dimensional space. And,
in the next thousand years, quantum leaps of progress promise an
unimagined reality. Will
they bring us closer to "the dream of a new resurrection, . . .
[a] genesis in which the energies of love are at last harnessed in the
creation of a new world?" (Grosso, 355).
Some even predict we will beat the last enemy, death, the final
destruction which so many have feared.
How will humanity beat death?
Is science the new threshold?
Or, as Grosso asks, is love "the answer to death, Eros the
sole power to charm Thanatos"? (355).
A rather mighty claim! In any event, let us end appropriately
with a prediction: "The New people are coming, Like it or not, we are swept
up in waves of transformation, and we are poised (let us hope) for a
new Renaissance, a new Enlightenment" ( Grosso, 359).
But these are not my words; they were uttered by Joachim of
Fiore 800 years ago. It
was true then. It is true
now! Be ready and embrace
the transformation bravely. The future offers hope and exciting
change, to be met with reason, and not fear.
Jean E. Jost and Tripthi Pillai
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