As any child in a school History lesson will tell you, people living in the past were clearly clueless. Of course you can’t get rid of bubonic plague by ringing the church bells! Obviously the earth is not flat!
And we in the present are totally clued in. After all, we’ve invented the internet, we’ve virtually rid the world of terrible diseases like smallpox and polio. We’ve put men and women into space and landed robots on Mars!
But as any History teacher will tell you, things are rarely as simple as that.
Not everyone in the past was a fool
Yes, there were some weird and wacky ideas for avoiding infection and treating patients during the many outbreaks of plague during the middle ages and later periods. But for every patient drinking vinegar or whipping themselves, there were also measures which bear a striking resemblance to what we have been through in 2020.
Sufferers were isolated in their homes or in plague hospitals. Ships were restricted to port to control movement of people and goods. Indeed, in Venice the authorities isolated ships for a period of forty days, hence the word “quarantine” (after the Italian for forty).
And there is no denying that popular opinion had the earth as flat until surprisingly recently. But perhaps based on the reports of Phoenician sailors, Plato was teaching his students in the fourth century BC that the earth was round. And a man in Alexandria called Eratosthenes even calculated the exact circumference of the earth : https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/history/ancient-greeks-proved-earth-round-eratosthenes-alexandria-syene-summer-solstice-a8131376.html
So, let’s not pretend we are the only clever ones. And there is no way we are right about everything, anyway.
What will people laugh at us for in years to come?
So, what mistakes are we making today that our descendants will cringe about in the History lessons of the future?
There are lots of conspiracy theories, of course.
Some say our use of mobile phones is causing unseen health issues. Reports have suggested that they are linked to areas like cancer, damage to fertility and reproduction, DNA damage and the health of our children.
Amplified by social media, the anti-vaccination movement continues to put forward the potential dangers of vaccination as a way of dealing with public health emergencies. You might expect during a global pandemic that vaccination would be overwhelmingly popular. A survey of 1000 New Yorkers in April 2020, however, found that only 59% would take a Covid vaccine and only 53% would give it to their children.
Or maybe it’s what we eat, our consumption of processed foods or our obsession with dieting to lose weight.
The point is that, at the moment, we don’t know. History will ultimately decide.
So, let’s not get complacent. There will be things that we do everyday that people in the future will sit in their classrooms and cafes laughing at us for.
So, my question for current History students, their teachers, and indeed everybody else, is what normal activity have you done today that might prove hilariously stupid to future generations? What do you do regularly that your descendants in the future might laugh at you for?
Leave a comment below and let’s see if we can learn from the past to improve the future.