Where are we going? What dramas will we witness and be a part of? One could answer questions like these by consulting social science theories, but they have little to say about the long run of 100 years. Experts are available, but often they contradict each other or are blatantly self-serving. Why not consult the older generation? I asked my mother, born in 1908, what was the most dramatic event in her life. She thought for a moment, then said,
It was when the Fourteenth Regiment from Brooklyn came home from the war [in 1919]. All the men from the neighborhood were in the regiment, and they all marched through Brooklyn to their armory. We were in the crowd on the sidewalk and we looked and looked for my brother Don, but he wasn’t there. My mother was shocked and didn’t know who to ask. Later we heard he was left behind to guard Germans.
Sheer terror and, happily for most Americans, relief from terror were hallmarks of the 20th century. No wonder it was sometimes called the “age of anxiety.” By consulting the feelings and stories of individuals, we get a grounded sense of what mattered and what will matter. Twenty-first-century globalized Americans will want relief from anxiety, authenticity rather than anonymity, and a sense of the coherence of things rather than fragmentation. How do we know that? Because the storytellers and thinkers of 1900 and thereabouts have told us so.
In 1900, the average person had less than one-fifth of the purchasing power of the average person in 2002, due in part to goods prices five times