[Note for Tomdispatch readers: With this post, I'm following so many of you offline for the year. I thank each of you who hung in there with TD through 2006. Have a recuperative holiday season. Let's hope for a distinctly better 2007. You can count on TD returning early in the New Year.]
2006 was a year just grim enough that a bit of perspective seemed a necessity. So Tomdispatch ordered up a little dose of the recent past from the distant future â€” a trick not normally easy to accomplish, but just about nothing is beyond Rebecca Solnit, this site's resident historian of hope and author of the remarkable book Hope in the Dark (now in a new, expanded edition) â€” not even a Tomgram from 2026. I look forward to the more modest future â€” the future of the small and innovative â€” that she promises. Enjoy. Tom
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The Age of MammalsLooking Back on the First Quarter of the Twenty-First Century
By Rebecca Solnit [For Solomon Solnit (b. Oct. 18, 2006)]
The View from the Grass
I've been writing the year-end other-news summary for Tomdispatch since 2004; somewhere around 2017, however, the formula of digging up overlooked stories and grounds for hope grew weary. So for this year, we've decided instead to look back on the last 25 years of the twenty-first century â€” but it was creatures from sixty million years ago who reminded me how to do it.
The other day, I borrowed some kids to go gawk with me at the one thing that we can always count on in an ever-more unstable world: age-of-dinosaur dioramas in science museums. This one had the usual dramatic clash between a tyrannosaurus and a triceratops; pterodactyls soaring through the air, one with a small reptile in its toothy maw; and some oblivious grazing by what, when I was young in another millennium, we would have called a brontosaurus. Easy to overlook in all that drama was the shrew-like mammal perched on a reed or thick blade of grass, too small to serve even as an enticing pterodactyl snack. The next thing coming down the line always looks like that mammal at the beginning â€” that's what I told the kids â€” inconsequential, beside the point; the official point usually being the clash of the titans.
That's exactly why mainstream journalists spent the first decade of this century debating the meaning of the obvious binaries â€” the Democrats versus the Republicans, McWorld versus Global Jihad â€” much as political debate of the early 1770s might have focused on whether the French or English monarch would have supremacy in North America, not long before the former was be beheaded and the latter evicted. The monarchs in all their splashy scale were the dinosaurs of their day, and the eighteenth-century mammal no one noticed at first was named "revolution"; the early twenty-first century version might have been called "localism" or maybe "anarchism," or even "civil society regnant." In some strange way, it turned out that windmill-builders were more important than the U.S. Senate. They were certainly better at preparing for the future anyway.