Despite Fukuyama’s premature pronouncement, we have decidedly not reached the end of history. Each new moment seems destined for the books, for study by some subsequent generation. It feels like existing in a holographic diorama in an ultramodern (likely virtual) museum. To create history, while being mindful of its future effects and at once avoiding the mistakes of the past is an almost impossible task, a neat trick, a tough ask. Any yet that is what we must do.
This is not the first critical challenge that we have faced as a people, not the only pandemic. Whether located occidental or oriental, our species survived dark times and prospered by relying on the progress of science, technologies, medicines, modes of thought. Conversely, our times of suffering resulted from the denigration of rational inquiry, from the polarization of politics, from civil insurrection, from the fundamental clash between religion and science.
Nuances exist, sure, but the central lessons of our history are obvious to those that care to examine them. When unified, when inspired, when the wants of the few are subsumed to the needs of the many, there is no foe, military or epidemiological, that we cannot defeat. When driven by fear, by greed, by lust for power, there may be the temporary appearance of victory, but the long view reveals failure and shame.
In the United States, we have long had occasion to champion our triumphs, to celebrate the hegemony that we believed that we deserved. Now we reckon with our history in a way that we have never been forced. Subjugation allowed for a specific story to be told, a whitewashing of a complex narrative, a glossing over of the bloody colonization and pillaging of the American continent. Our sins have now risen to consume us, as they inevitably would.
For an unfortunately large part of the American population, our backwards history is a source of comfort. These folks yearn for a time when success and safety was gained not by merit, but by ill-gotten advantage, by the color of skin or the form of reproductive organs. Faced with a new reality, they cling desperately to a past that is thankfully on its way out. Not gone, no: we have much work still to do.
Symbols and boastful, hateful rhetoric remain as vestiges of a cruel history that we struggle to escape. Validation of the Confederate flag as anything other than a museum piece ignores the violence that such cloth recalls, the innate shudder of heart at seeing it fly aloft. We cannot leave a sanguine history for our heirs unless we explicitly reject our past transgressions and embrace equality and opportunity for all. Allegedly founding principles of this country, those lines from our formative documents have seemed about as honest as marketing copy.
We will be judged for the decisions that we make at this seminal time. We have been granted a period of introspection, we are absorbing the energy of protest against tyranny, we have a calibrated compass to correct the errant course of our present. We have no excuses; our world has revealed itself to us and we can either internalize the vision or pretend that it is an apparition.
I picture sitting as an old man, with Violet’s daughter in my lap, describing to her the rawness and possibilities of this current crossroads of history. I would much rather explain how we gathered our senses and moved toward the light, rather than sheepishly apologize for plunging her into darkness. Help me prevent my future granddaughter’s tears.