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Or growing uniformity?

WE ARE whimpering our way into a new millennium, and we'll be lucky if anyone hears. After the flurry of historic events of the last 1,000 years, we're going out not with a bang, but with a soft whisper.

History records the loud events, the great epic occurrences that define a particular time. The truly exciting and remarkable events of history are giving way to a smoothing out, a global uniformity that makes it hard to distinguish one event from the next.

Our first millennium moved slowly. It took 1,000 years for the Christian church to develop and spread. It took a few hundred for Rome to rise and fall. It took the entire millennium for civilizations to begin tinkering successfully with the concepts of nations and states.

But in the second millennium, we've sped things up. Technological advances have developed one after another, each new one changing the world's landscape. Religions have sprung up and quickly spread throughout the world. Nations and whole empires -- regimes the size of Rome in its heyday -- have been built in the historical equivalent of a day, and toppled just as quickly.

The more things have changed, the more they've become very much the same. With technology came the development of the market economy, and with that the concept of liberal democracy.

Technology brought us material goods, goods that people wanted. To get them, they had to modernize, had to introduce technology and democratic states with free markets. As more and more states gained information about material goods, more and more states restructured around the pursuit of them.

We've come to the point where history no longer revolves around the clash of ideas and ideals, but around material pursuit. Good or bad, social and political movements for the past several hundred years have become more about material gain and equality and less about instituting one party's ideas.

Once information -- which is becoming ubiquitous with technology -- makes its way into a culture, that culture finds out about material goods and wants to move toward a society where they can be enjoyed by all.

We've seen it here in America, in the former Soviet Union, and in most modern states. We're starting to see it in China, where a country is waking up to the world of consumer wants and abandoning a state based on political ideology.

The world is becoming uniform. We all want the same thing: material comfort. We have come to agree that there is one preferable way of attaining that goal: establishing democracies. Soon we'll all have the same goals and will agree on the same means of achieving them. We'll have accomplished all that we want: A world in which there is material wealth and in which every state grants its citizens the freedom and protection to pursue it. We'll be done making history. Nothing new will happen.

There will be no clash of ideas because the central idea will be established: acquire wealth. The few wars we'll see will be over property rights, and the outcomes will be easily mediated because we'll all agree on the same principles.

We won't have a need to clash over ideas and ideals. We'll unite around our common desire to attain material goods. That singleness of goals will preclude the need for intellectual debate. Any discussion about our society will serve no purpose, since no one will want to change the good, materially wealthy thing we've got. Any debate will be mere commentary.

Philosophers will go out of style because there will be no need to seek a new truth. Literature on the grand scale will cease to exist, because there will be no need for new ideals, since we'll agree that the best one has been found. Once the last democracy is established, there will be no revolutions, because there will be no room for improvement.

We'll continue to speed up the rate of change. Once each state and economy is the same, change will occur swiftly and everywhere at once. Each technological advance will be incremental and meant only to improve the status quo.

At the same time, we negate the need for social change. As long as we have our bread and circus, we're happy. If our governments allow us to do that, we'll be satisfied. The only change we'll require is in technology, to feed our increasing appetites for goods. History no longer will move in grand cycles. It'll run laps around the same short track.

It's not so bad, this world of small changes that we're heading toward. Everyone will be happy and well fed. There will be peace and harmony and uniformity across the globe. All the heavy lifting of history will have been done. There will be no need for us to shout about what is right or to holler into the annals of history about changing this or that about the world. We'll have arrived at the end point. The history we record will be a mere whimper.

(Tom Bednar is a Cavalier Daily opinion editor.)


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