There is something magical in that countdown in New York’s Time Square on New Year’s Eve — when close to a million people, farther away than the eye can see, in a crescendo of multitudinous voices, yell out, “Ten!” — “Nine!” — “Eight!” — “Seven!” — “Six!” — “Five!” — “Four!” — “Three!” — “Two!” — “ONE!” — “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
I’ve been long fascinated by fin de siècles — and even more by fin de milia –: many of us, if we live long enough, will get to see hundred-year turns (as when 1899 turned to 1900), but precious mortals in our planet’s history have been lucky enough to be alive when both occur at once (1999 turning to 2000). I’m guessing many of you share this fascination with me.
As an historian of ideas, I’ve long been aware that century-turns prove to be seismic — not because they are, but because they are perceived to be. That’s why fin de siecles are well worthy of study. Why is it that the last decade of each century is so destabilizing? Why is it that all the old established beliefs and assumptions of that time period are put under the microscope and questioned, with more fierce intensity, as each year in that decade arrives and passes? And why is it that the last year is the most unsettling of all? Indeed, it sometimes seems that society, on that memorable New Year’s Eve, heaves into the sky all its beliefs in one idiotic Hail Mary Pass, under the assumption that nothing is ever going to be the same on the other side of those 9s.
But hundred-year turns pale into a mere shadow in comparison with millennial turns — both of which we experienced ten years ago. On the basis of previous millennial and 500-year turns, I have long predicted that our generation will experience societal change and upheaval on a scale that will stagger the mind. What those changes are likely to be, we can only speculate at this time.
And speculate we will, beginning with Blog #2, and continuing until it is time to explore other venues. I promise no definitive answers — only a discussion that ought to interest all those who exercise their brains on a daily basis.