I once had a tradition of writing yearly New Year’s Eve posts; I titled the five that I wrote after the books Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. I skipped the past few years, but it’s a tradition that seems worth revisiting. I’ve been thinking a lot about the long arc of history and hope for the future, especially how to balance the knowledge of humanity’s horrors and goodness. There is no utopia, but there is also no complete defeat. There is still hope.
I recently watched Rogue One, the latest installment of the Star Wars film series, and it hit me viscerally. We know that this film takes place before Episode IV, telling the story of the team that obtained the plans of the Galactic Empire’s Death Star for the Rebel Alliance. The characters are some of the previously unknown and unnamed people who made the mission to destroy the Death Star and (later) the defeat of the Galactic Empire possible. They are fictional version of people who are rarely in history books but whose work made the big events possible.
None of us will see the better future that hope for, but I’ve never felt that quite as acutely as I have this year. I’ve had the privilege in my life of receiving the benefits of the hard work of people long dead; I’ve seen victories and changes that I’m certain will go in the history books of the future. But I’ve also lived in a time of great horrors and I have known that there is still much work to be done. Progress isn’t inevitable and it can be reversed. It can be fought for, but (despite what I would like to be true) maybe it can never permanently be won. Even as Rogue One helps the Rebels win one battle, Episode VII tells the story of the next generation fighting against the First Order.
After a year of fearing the future and remembering the horrors of the past, as we see the resurgence of attitudes we hoped had been buried or relegated to the margins of society, this film seemed all too relevant. We had hoped we could look to a future where we could build upon the victories of the past. We face instead the need to hold the line and prevent, at best, the loss of decades of work while also working for something better in a future that we ourselves will never see.
I try not to think too despairingly about mortality and the briefness of a human life in comparison to the long history of humanity and the much longer history of the universe. We are here, and we matter, no matter how short the timeframe. We try do what we can while we are here on this little planet in our little corner of the universe. Focus more on this life and what we can do now, and maybe someone else’s life will be affected for the better, maybe our descendants will see a better future
There are people who came before us who worked hard to give us a life better than what they had and the hope that a better future. Our job is to keep that hope alive for the next generation.
Happy New Year.