The twenty-first century: Professor Druckermann looks back.

The year 2100 began as expected: a few fireworks, a few noisemakers, and a few political speeches commemorating the beginning of a new century. Dr. Druckermann was in his office early the next morning. He had promised to write a history of the last century for a satellite news journal, and he was already past deadline.

It was a big assignment. The North Dakota State University professor cast his gaze out his window to the palm trees swaying in a warm January breeze. The country had changed in a century, in so many ways. How could he begin? "Even my name is obsolete," he chuckled to himself. In German drucker meant printer; druckermann related to the person who worked on a printing press. But paper had long become obsolete. Even the concept of ink pressed to a substance manufactured from crushed trees challenged imagination of his younger students.

To help find a theme, Dr. Druckermann navigated his iWafer to the university archives photo division. Alas, as he already knew, the selection would be meager. At the beginning of the new millennium nearly everyone abandoned film for digital imaging. Unfortunately for generations to come, early digital technology turned out to have little archival permanence. Today Dr. Druckermann could call up hundreds of photos from 1900, but only a handful from 2000. The rest had disintegrated, lost forever.

What he did find was an eclectic collection from a long-defunct student newspaper called the Spectrum. Someone had printed them in black and white and so they were inadvertently preserved. He spotted one from 2010, a group of female students crossing campus. They had attached to their feet narrow straps of cheap-looking plastic sewn onto pads of seemingly colored foam. Every woman had both tattoos and body piercings. "I know this was popular then, but I still can't believe it," he mused. His great-grandmother once indiscreetly showed hers to him when he was 5. It was a blue swirl of ink on the small of her back which resembled a snake. What were they thinking? He shook his head.

Clicking through a few more images, he came across something amazing: a large storage cabinet filled with rifles. Real guns, stored right on the university campus. I could begin my story of the century here, he thought, but few would believe such a thing ever existed.

The country long ago became fed up with the enormous violence of unrestrained gun rights. A federal license program enacted in 2044 assured citizens who wanted guns could still get them--but they would have to submit to a substantial program in gun safety, a careful background check, and a limit to the number of firearms owned. The gun murder rate in America fell from what was once highest in the developed world to a low of a few hundred a year.

The expected opposition from hunters didn't materialize. America's hunters were already used to buying licenses. A second license to own a gun was only common sense.

It was such a brutal, shocking time in American history, sighed Dr. Druckermann. Technology had changed so quickly, so dramatically. But American society seemed as backward-focused, as fearful, as greedy as ever. That the country could spend more on its military than the rest of the world combined seemed to concern no one in 2000. It was only 45 years later that the Seventh Persian Gulf War had ended so disastrously. The nation was bankrupt, many thousands of young Americans had died. The world's great superpower--China--had propped up Washington with massive loans only in order to maintain the lucrative Walmart chain it had recently acquired.

That was the last straw. Dr. Druckermann's grandfather had described how a cost-cutting Republican president moved to reduce the country's military by half. No longer could the United States easily jump into war after war, at enormous cost of blood and money--it no longer had the capacity. The U.S. military left today ably defended America's shores. And that's where it ended.

Dr. Druckermann's position on this change was controversial, he admitted. But he truly believed that Americans' loss of interest in maintaining an enormous military capacity was related to the disintegration of a culture that killed for sport and for fun. Hunting had been enormously popular in the time of his great-grandfather a century ago. Even his grandfather recalled being invited as a small boy to shoot at wild birds just for fun. In 2100 hunting, while still legal, had become rare. Americans had lost the stomach for violence toward small and defenseless animals.

Even the symbolic violence of college sports had lost luster over the last century. Of course football, basketball, soccer and the rest still existed, an after-class hobby for athletic youth majoring in undemanding subjects. Its popularity ranked about at the level of an old-fashioned video game--boring, but a way to kill time between class and the daily fitness program that universally kept everyone trim and energetic. Coaches for the athletes were recruited from the health and fitness department, paid a modest stipend. Whether North Dakota State had winning teams Dr. Druckermann was unable to say. No one really kept track.

But this growing distaste for violence in sport and in combat did not mean America of 2100 had lost its courage, its resolve. Dr. Druckermann adamantly argued that his generation was as tough and as patriotic a generation as America had ever seen. Did not Congress in 2055 demonstrate its oft-repeated respect for equality by finally establishing universal health care for everyone? What saddened Dr. Druckermann still almost a half century later was that it had taken so long. "The nation's greed over decade after decade of partisan wrangling directly or indirectly caused the deaths of many thousands of Americans," he wrote in a paper he presented to the Association of Humanitarian Historians (AHH) conference as a graduate student. "Many were children. In truly disgraceful examples of inexplicable disregard for its citizens, sick Americans were reduced to near-begging by way of fundraising car washes and church suppers launched to help pay for medical treatment."

Was it unfair present-mindedness to be so shocked at what Dr. Druckermann believed was his democracy's long history of neglecting its own less fortunate? Not really, he thought. After all, while the United States refused to take care of its sick, all other developed nations had long before made a commitment to take care of theirs. It was a shameful chapter of American history, but Dr. Druckermann believed it had to be told. After all, much of the country at that time also actually had legal capital punishment--the last country of the developed world that continued to execute its own citizens. So many Americans put to death, some later found innocent of any crime, some of them hapless mentally ill or retarded.

Fortunately, capital punishment had been banned fairly early in the century, in 2020. People were surprised to see the country's murder rate actually drop, and by quite a lot. Today that surprised no one. "Brutality begets brutality," recalled Dr. Druckermann, quoting an obscure world war media historian named Ross Collins who had so long ago sat in Dr. Druckermann's chair.

But such things were not surprising for the early twenty-first century, given the country's wars, murders, hunting, factory farming, puppy mills, impoverished street people and general disregard for common decency. It was a primitive era. People fearful of those who were different from them sought by law to deny basic civil rights. Why so many targeted the gay population in particular Dr. Druckermann could not understand, though he was normally proud of his ability to empathize with motivations of people in the past. Such folk also were generally intolerant of many groups, sometimes violently so. Most historians traced the "New Era of Unreason," as the time was called, to World War I. The force of emotions over rational thinking didn't really begin to wane until the mid-2050s.

Clear evidence for the growing ascendance of rational thought in American culture could be found by studying the Ecumenical Council of 2060. Dr. Druckermann's story would probably include the council's deliberations at Oral Roberts University, a venue chosen for its admirable honesty in having renounced a long history of past intolerance. The Oral Oracle of 2061 included a pledge from every spiritual leader to return to the American ideal of keeping religious faith a private matter. Today no American student would accept religious moralizing, or abuse of minorities in the name of someone's God.

Making such a private thing a matter of public debate seemed nearly as obscene as the state of political discourse in the days before the Political Ethics Act of 2066. Public outrage forced Congress to outlaw lying in political advertising, to limit campaigning to no more than two months, and to fund all campaigns through government grants. "To think that at one time our leaders could lie about one another on TV!" one student had exclaimed in a media class a few years ago. "What kind of democracy did our ancestors think they were so proud of?"

But Dr. Druckermann knew there was much to be proud of: the twenty-first was a century of growing enlightenment. A wide split between rich and poor almost tore the nation apart in violent riots of 2030. It had been followed by the kind of responsiveness that made the country great--a law requiring top industry executives earn no more than 10 times the salary of their workforce. Ten times as much! That seemed to Dr. Druckermann's students to be a great amount indeed. But when he told them American CEOs in 2000 commonly earned a hundred times as much or more--they just didn't believe him. He had to show proof in his database of the long-dead Wall Street Journal listing CEO salaries from 2000.

Still, these tycoons of the last century saw fair competition in their wealth from an entire segment of society that made money in a more dangerous way--by selling illegal drugs. Why did the nation choose for decades to deny research clearly showing the nation's violent crime could be almost completely eliminated by simply making legal most drug use? When Washington moved to legalize many drugs, particularly marijuana, and then to control distribution through government-owned "Pot Pits," the entire infrastructure of organized crime collapsed like a house of iWafers. Mexico even benefitted--this country's great neighbor to the south became a placid and safe oasis for retirees. One of several explanations for America's strong budget surplus of 2099 was the money saved by a government that refused to continue a fight against a pointless "war on drugs," as someone euphemistically called it a hundred and twenty years ago.

In fact, war metaphors in general had lost favor. Pornography, as everyone in 2100 knew, was defined as violence. Dr. Druckermann had done some work on this, but he, like his fellow historians, was still unable to explain why the perfectly natural and universal act of sex was once considered "pornography," somehow immoral, even evil. But it was a time when the dark, irrational side of organized religion still controlled the natural spiritual nature of many Americans. Today the spirit of rationality, Jefferson's ideal of 300 years ago, had come to pervade this great land.

And so Dr. Druckermann began to write: "Our forefathers a century ago would not have dreamed of the changes that have come to America in the last 100 years." But Dr. Druckermann was wrong--his ancestors had indeed dreamed of such a world. It just had taken a century to create it.

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