Someday, 200 years from now, the era in which we are living will seem transparently about ... X. We know what the Quattrocento in Italy was about. I always imagined clarions with banners trumpeting the end of the Middle Ages the moment Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. It's harder with our own time: what are we all undergoing?
Let's first set the parameters. The current era, I'd say even the current historical century, began in November 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet sphere of superpower influence collapsed.
Globalization could only begin in earnest once there was one world without substantial barriers to the movement of capital, goods, services and labor. Even China's authoritarian government is subject to global rules and, in the long run, its battle for political insularity is a losing one.
Politically and militarily, of course, our era began on September 11, 2001. Or rather, that is when the conflicts and pressures of the new era became globalized. The one surviving superpower Gulliver confronted thousands of Lilliputians armed with unconventional weapons and tactics, seeking nothing more than to destabilize and destroy.
Do Osama and his cohorts have an alternative worldview and plan for the world? Not really. A global Muslim theocracy is a chimera, no more likely or feasible than global Stalinism was.
Of course, a new Dark Age is possible. The signs of one have been in evidence since 1968.
That year, to my mind, marked the end of a common, rationalist, empirical and apollinian perception of reality, regardless of ideology, essential to a civilization, ended with the dawning of a countervailing constellation of views that could be labeled Woodstock Nation, Aquarian or Marcusean -- the famous counterculture. From Paris to Peking, as the Chinese capital was then called, there arose a vaguely hallucinatory, intuitive, dionysian gestalt that rejected linear mental structures and their social expressions.
Indeed, in music, art and lifestyle there had gradually been a renaissance of interest in mediaeval notions, such as balladeering, mysticism, monasticism, bawdy revelry and brute authority. The empires of the day seemed doomed -- and they were.
Today, a new feudal structure, the multinational corporation, vies with roving bands of jihadists (the new Barbarians), a coterie of electronic brigands, all amid the menace of global warming and the inevitable detonation, somewhere and at some point, of a thermonuclear weapon by some apocalyptic gang wishing to leave its indelible graffito on the sands of time.
Let all that ripen and -- voilà -- instant second Middle Age. Yet everything tells me this is too facile.
"History does not repeat itself," Mark Twain reputedly said, "but it does rhyme a lot."
At the end of the present stanza -- 100 years from now? -- I dare say that what is happening now will make sense, will have an aura of inevitability, will so obviously have ushered the "solutions" that will create the problems of the next great era of crisis.
Then, if I were alive, I would slap my forehead and realize what I was missing in the grand transformation I sense, yet whose contours are hidden from my grasp.
A few predictions: Osama will be dimly remembered then, a new dark age will pass us by within a few inches of a hit and our children and grandchildren will show us up for the fools we really are.