The Man-Made Millennium

By Hoffmann, Gregg | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

The Man-Made Millennium


Hoffmann, Gregg, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


GREGG HOFFMANN [*]

NOW THAT the Y2K bug has passed without taking any major bites, the soothsayers have moved on to predictions for the new millennium.

Some predict the 21st Century will lead to revolutionary changes in environmental and energy policies, new findings in medicine that will further prolong life, faster and more comfortable transportation, increased integration of the global village, plus other optimistic projections.

Others see continued racial and ethnic division, misuse of technology for the purposes of power and domination, favoring of material wealth over spiritual and moral growth, further degeneration of the environment and other pessimistic possibilities.

Several things about predictions and the new millennium are worth pointing out from the perspective of general semantics and critical thinking. First, the millennium is man-made (pardon the sexism in that term). Nothing in nature changed at the instant that midnight 12/31/1999 became morning 1/01/2000, other than the perpetual change that always goes on in nature.

There was no click of nature's clock, because the clock is made by us. We developed the Gregorian calendar that says we're now in the 21st century. We, in fact, have developed time systems, as a way of mapping the continuum of life. We decided when a day or week ends, or a month, or a year, or a century.

Thus, we have no real reason to expect things to suddenly become drastically different because we have entered the 21st Century. It provided a great excuse for a collective party around the world, but let's recognize that it was a party celebrating what really is an artificial, man-made division of nature, which does not necessarily recognize our divisions.

Applying this argument to predictions about the future, you can argue that the future does not exist, except within the realm of our minds. As I write this column, I have no real way of knowing whether I will live long enough to finish it. All I can really be sure of is that I just hit letters on my computer to create these words.

Since I am not suffering from chest pains, I can assume I will be able to hit more letters, but I can't be sure. Therefore, predictions about the future really represent nothing but our assumptions and inferences, made now about a point in time that we aren't really sure we'll see. That's very important to keep in mind when making and listening to predictions about the new millennium.

That's not to say that we can't talk about the possibilities and probabilities of certain trends, or of things happening. A scientific approach to researching the past and present can lead to converging inferences and projections about the future, but a true scientific approach also recognizes that: (a) something could change that will require an adjustment of our predictions, and (b) predictions primarily are made up of language and other symbols which we substitute for the territory we are trying to map. …

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