In itself there is nothing about the historical pattern of reversal, of development undermining its own foundations, which is novel or peculiar to this period as distinct from any other. This is how endogenous historical transformations work. They are still working this way.
* * *
Proponents of perpetual progress, Pinkerists as we call them around this table, don’t dig undermining foundations. Those foundations, both literal and metaphorical, are the rock upon which the inevitable advance of history have been constructed. Forever onward, forever upward. Sure, some of the edifices may be a little rickety. Some even rotten to their very core. That doesn’t mean you tear them down. Our task is to renovate them, refurbish them, use their bones as scaffolding to climb up toward ever brighter futures.
Harumph, say we wavists. Tis foolhardy to believe that anything’s inevitable, even death and taxes, according to longtermists and the lawyered-up wealthy. Life is based on contingency. The future is nothing but contingent. History is not a march of progress. History is simply the march of time. Foundations always crumble.
Rising tides ebb (unless, of course, we factor in the current climate crisis, haha). Booms go bust. Fallouts follow. In the aftermath, we can only hope that all has not been lost, that more remains then what we began with back down at the base of the first hill. Build back better is nothing more than a cynical marketing slogan. Our task, our mission if we should choose to accept it, is to build back different, grammar and the status quo be damned.
* * *
But what gave the period its peculiar tone and savour was that the coming cataclysms were both expected, misunderstood and disbelieved… And when the world finally stood on the brink, the decision-makers rushed towards the abyss in utter disbelief.
Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire