Jim Duffy: End of history? Millennials are creating a fairer world

Jim Duffy sees signs of hope for the future after belatedly realising the importance of understanding history.

Mary, Queen of Scots, seen played by Saoirse Ronan in the 2018 film, may not have been on Facebook but, at a fundamental level, she was much like modern people today (Picture: Focus Features)

I always wondered what use a degree in history would be to anyone. I recall studying history in first and second year of secondary school. I think we did the Jacobites and Mary Queen of Scots etc. All very boring and I cannot remember much at all.

I then opted to drop history and study geography instead. Yes, a much better use of my time and a more useful degree at the end of it where I could use maps and understand tectonic plate shifting. But, upon reflection now, perhaps history might have been just as useful if I had taken the time to think it through a bit more.

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My short insight into Scottish history revealed a fair bit more. There was, of course, mystery, romance, infidelity, betrayal, revenge and power plays – a bit like the Tory conference. But actually, when I look backwards in time, it makes me ask the question – was life better then and what is the best period to live in?

One will always hear older people harping on about the good old days. Whether they were indeed better is all a matter of experience and perspective. But I think that today is the best it has ever been. And it will only get better and better. You’re not convinced?

Forget Trump and all the angst and aggression that spouts forth from Capital Hill just now. Trump will vanish in a few years. He will get old and die. And maybe then his wife, the First Lady, will spill the beans and show us what she is truly made of. The Brett Kavanaugh affair will be another chapter in America’s political history where hopefully, women will have made inroads into what is acceptable and unacceptable in high schools and at college parties. Putin will also go away with all his multi-millions, retire into the countryside and ride his horse bareback. Just because he can. And another crop of politicos will emerge from this epoch and things can only get better. Hold on ... did Tony Blair not adopt that tune when he got into power? Nevertheless, politicians will come and go and the world will go on. We have to simply cope with them and all their bulls*** policies, while we make the world go around. And what an exciting time there is ahead.

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Technology bashing is all the rage just now. I’m not a fan of Facebook and again last week it let itself down with data breaches. But, big tech and the little tech that is following on will have a positive impact on our lives in the longer term. Of course, entities like Facebook are still forming and evolving, so things will go wrong. But, once this era’s tech sorts itself out, then even better stuff will follow. Only this week, the inventor of the internet, Tim Berners-Lee, revealed a radical new plan for a “New Internet”. Alongside his new vision, we have the cryptocurrency – Tron – which is designed to help decentralise the internet, giving more control to the end user. So, while technology is rapidly trundling along with speed bumps on the road, it will only get more useful, fairer and people-centric. I’m optimistic about this.

Next up and probably the most exciting prospect for the future is our young people. I think it’s fair to say that my generation, born in the 60s and 70s, was a lot more pliable and amenable to the state and being told what was good for us. We accepted more and, despite fightbacks like the miners‘ strike, the Battle of Orgreave and the Poll Tax protests, we have been generally easy to manipulate. But, youngsters nowadays have eyes wide open. They are questioning more. They are not accepting what adults teach them, without Googling and looking for more context. And this crop of twentysomethings with millennial thinking will, I believe, provide better insight into a much fairer, equitable and just society. In an age where many unspoken about topics were, well, not spoken about, this generation will learn and not forget.

From #MeToo to numerous other global hashtags, their mindsets have been recalibrated to fairness and respect. One only has to look at how they are treating injustices like homelessness. Tossing a homeless person 50p no longer cuts the mustard. This generation wants to build them homes and really help them reintegrate into society. And do you know, they might just pull it off.

There is great hope and optimism starting to bubble away as we use the current re-calibration of politics, power, technology and geo-political stand-offs to set up a new path for the next 50 years. But, we still have to play our part in shaping up how this will look. We still need strong people with courage to stand up in US Senate committees and essentially put themselves through the ringer. We still need to stand up and be counted, questioning this current crop of politicians, academics and entrepreneurs on what they want to achieve and why.

But above all, we still need to study history. And learn from it. Of course, technology has changed. Mary Queen of Scots wasn’t able to post her status on Facebook or charge her electric car overnight for a trip to Edinburgh where she would buy her clothes using a contactless card.

But, human nature, humanity and what makes us who we are, has not really moved on all that much. A simple delve into the past, looking beyond what the historian or curator wants us to see, reveals that we are just the same beneath the veneer of progress.

And this is why we should be hopeful and things will get better...