The more I read history, the more I realize that nothing new is new. We aren’t going to hell in a handbasket. Or rather, we’ve already been there and back time and time again.
I think that’s a really important insight about studying the past. We too often lose perspective on our own time in the context of history. We are smug about our apparent superiority or absurdly downcast about our present troubles.
Learning about history teaches humility, fear, and optimism. I think we have a lot more reason for realistic hope about the future than, say, Europeans in 1914 or 1939. When you look at the mass murder and totalitarianism that dominated the 20th century, we are very lucky indeed to live at a time when hierarchies are breaking down and new possibilities are opening up. Lots can and will go horribly wrong, but I think there’s a rapid revolution underway in our cultures, economies, and inner lives. I’m excited to see how the battle between networked individuals and centralized power works out.