Back to the Future

Being the 8th in a miscellany of short posts to mark the 12 days of Christmas.

Year-end retrospectives are big right now. There’s something about transitions from one year to the next — arbitrary though the start/end points of that year may be — that evoke appraising glances backward. And so we have magazines filled with top-10 science stories, newsmaker of the year, and best movies/songs from the previous 12 months.

This time of year is also the occasion for appraising glances forward: What will the coming year bring in various areas of endeavour? And so we have peeks ahead to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and political pundits predicting the outcomes of impending elections and ongoing conflicts.

Although some significant proportion of these one-year predictions will fail, a news event from early December nicely illustrates the even more serious limitations of prediction over the long term. On 08 December, the news was abuzz with Merkozy’s next steps to save the Eurozone — ‘Merkozy’ being Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, just as the tabloids refer to supercouple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as ‘Brangelina’. Although Germany’s Chancellor Merkel and France’s President Sarkozy might reasonably object to a naming convention that treats them as a couple, super or otherwise, the oddity goes deeper than that.

As someone once said, if you had gone to sleep in 1944 and woken up in 1974, would you believe that Japan and Germany lost WWII? Not likely. Their tremendous economic resurgence — aided, abetted and largely funded by the United States — would have been unimaginable when they surrendered unconditionally to the Allies in 1945. And if you had gone to sleep in 1944 and woken up in 2011, would you believe the current close relationship between France and Germany? ┬áNot likely. As two fiscally responsible countries in a sea of irresponsibility, however, today they find their interests more closely aligned than anyone could have predicted when Allied Forces liberated France from five nasty years of Nazi occupation.

Looking back 60 to 70 years, we are rightly amazed at how two countries bombed into capitulation have rebounded, and at how unimaginably the broader political landscape has changed. Yet the incremental changes each year along the way have seemed more or less unremarkable.

Looking ahead 60 to 70 years, our children and grandchildren will live in an amazingly different world that we cannot begin to predict. But, as Dandridge Cole wrote, although we cannot predict the future, we can invent it. Year after year, small changes can add up to a huge difference. If we will, we each can choose the small difference we make in the coming year.


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8 Responses to Back to the Future

  1. In the words, of RFK, and apropos your last lines…

    It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of other, or strikes out against injustice, he send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

  2. Sid says:

    Happy New Year!


  3. Marjorie M. Gibson says:

    May I add to the above comments a quotation from the Talmud, by a Rabbi Tarfon : “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from trying”. This bit of wisdom seems to be along the same lines as some expressed above, that you must do what you can, and who knows where the ripples will go. MMG

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      MMG – There now, I hoped that if we stumbled around long enough you would toss in that quotation, which I remembered only vaguely. It’s so easy to do nothing because one can’t do it all.

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