Being an amateur historian of sorts means I read a lot about people long dead and put my every day into the context of the things I have researched. It can be an exhausting way to look at the world, but at this age I think I have reached the point of no return. I am just obsessed with the tiny details, which of course got me thinking about all the garbage we generate and what that means to the future.
Yes, I assume there will be a future. As a species we are remarkably adaptable, and I am a natural optimist, so of course I think there will be a future. Just like our world doesn’t look like the world of the people who erected the Cahokia Mounds, people will look back at this time with curiosity, and in some cases, disgust.
Which gets me to the thing I have been noodling on this morning, the way in which the future looks back on the past. When in school, there is this assumption that gets planted in our brains of history being a long story, well documented and agreed upon. Part of that I am sure is because we are wired to think in narratives, but part of it is the fact that no one is going to believe you if you don’t confidently assert that Alexander definitely fought the battle of Gaugamela in a particular way.
The truth is, of course, entirely different. What actually happened in history is mostly pieced together based upon the things people though were important, and the trash heaps out back. I blows up my brain sometimes when I think about this particular scenario…
Three thousand years from now a team of archeologists and historians unearth my home, which was leveled by the impact of a nearby explosion, but much of it was preserved due to the climate conditions. Records were lost from this time frame because most garbage was kept on the internet during the turmoil of this century. It is a treasure trove of books, records, food waste, and economic detritus. So much that it goes on to define textbooks for the next century because of the wealth of the find.My collection of Wu-tang and Max Richter albums on vinyl defining the future’s understanding of our culture.
That is basically how a lot of our historical knowledge came to be. The garbage left behind providing an incomplete picture of the world, but do to its abundance in certain discovered spaces, defines our understanding of ourselves and where we come from. The whole meme about the Roman Empire isn’t a reflection of what is wrong with men, but what is wrong with how we look at and understand the history of our society. If Edward Gibbon had found other books, other sources, would he have written in detail about the Celtic or Carthaginian experience over that time frame?