A. What I have Learned
First, I’ve learned that I can write a history of the universe! It’s something that theoretically anybody could do, but the truth is that very few people have. I want to express some closing thoughts to summarize the experience and what I’ve learned.
A decade ago, I was relatively well-studied, but it troubled me that my knowledge was spotty. I wanted to know, in the grand scheme, what are the most important things that have ever happened, and how do they tie together? Writing this book in logarithmic format forced my research to stay close to those central questions.
I realized early on that the middle chapters were the least familiar. Most written material addresses just the last few thousand years, Chapters 1 – 3. There is also a sizeable body of modern literature about the origins of the world and life, Chapters 9 and 10. It’s much harder to find good books about Chapters 4 – 8. As I began to write each middle chapter, I feared that I would find nothing to say and would end up with a boring chapter-ette. That never happened. Every single chapter was full of fascinating prehistory and important trends that cast light on the present. I loved them all! I hope that this book can inspire increased attention to “middle” prehistory, whether in schools or for personal enlightenment.
Most likely, one of the reasons that these middle chapters are poorly represented in public discourse is that they contradict religious beliefs; most people simply “refuse to believe” the emergence of humans from the animal kingdom. The dissonance between science and religion was one of the main questions that sparked my interest in the book. The last two centuries of science had convinced me that ancient religious scriptures are not literally true. I wanted to understand why most people were unconvinced by science, why they were still so emotionally attached to religious beliefs, and how I could express my perspectives to them. Although that is an overarching theme of the book, I was a little disappointed that there were very few occasions to discuss it directly. There is so much to learn about the world that the whole science-and-religion issue is only one small thread running through the story.
Many people think that without religion there is no meaning. Yet we all want to know where we came from. Ancestor worship was one of the earliest religious practices. It is only natural to trace our ancestors as the generations grow exponentially. That’s where it gets really interesting! We are related to all life on Earth, and the very atoms in our body originated in stars. These profound origins are more transcendental to me than any mythology, and their power lies in their truth.
Two related themes that came up repeatedly in my research were gradualism and categorization. The questions we ask about history reflect the biases of our human psychology and attention spans. We want to know, “What caused X” and “When did Y first happen?” We like pat, precise answers. Yet when you look closely, you find that transitions are always blurry. To review just one example, archaeologists thought that modern human behavior erupted suddenly 40,000 years ago, until they started to find earlier examples. Now we know that humans developed a continuum of behavior over 150,000 years. The question now hinges on the definition of “modern”. Nature does not progress in fits and starts; only discoveries do. Nature does not adhere to neat categories; our minds create those.
B. What the World Needs
In this book, I have expressly avoided predicting the future or using normative language. Now that we are right up to the present, it is a good point to consider, “Where do we go from here?” Understanding the present and planning for the future are legitimate functions of history.
We live in a world of institutions that were handed down to us from the past. Most of them were not designed to be perfect, fair, or efficient for all time. They were simply good at surviving, and most originated in environments very different from today. All are subject to questioning and improvement. Some of humanity’s most pressing needs are at our largest and smallest levels of society: global governance on one extreme, family planning and individual health on the other.
1. Global democracy
Geopolitically, we are at a momentous transition between competition-based nationalism and cooperation-based globalism. Today’s international relations theory is an outgrowth of the 17th-century European Westphalian order. 1 This framework predates democracy, globalism, and macroeconomics. Today we have a UN and a body of international law, but the realities of global travel, finance, communication, and commerce are far outpacing these legal structures. Is it time to start forming a truly global government designed for the 3rd millennium?
There are compelling arguments for gradually transforming the UN into a global federation of republics. The UN does not have accountable elected officials. It lacks a clear consensus (or means) for phasing out dictators or stabilizing power vacuums. The international currency exchange dwarfs national economies but lacks central control. 2
There is great resistance to globalization, especially in 2020 as right-wing nationalism sweeps the planet. Some concerns are legitimate, but a great deal of anti-global rhetoric is emotional, irrational, and often based on failure to recognize common humanity. Maybe it will help psychologically to understand our shared journey as a species.
The development of a GFR would ideally follow decades of open debate and preparation, which would be history’s most fascinating democratic process. There are enough challenges already without digressing into conspiracy theories about secret cabals and alien lizards.
2. Happy, healthy children
To put things in perspective, the worst killers in the world are not the most dramatic or emotional dangers like war, terrorism, and crime. The top causes of preventable death are conditions aggravated by poor lifestyle choices or impoverished environment: heart and lung problems, strokes, AIDS, diarrhea, and diabetes. 3 We are our own worst enemies, killing ourselves with drugs (especially tobacco and alcohol), obesity, recklessness, and raising children in squalor. Any campaign to make the world a safer, healthier place must address lifestyle education.
That begins with parenting education for teens; the best time to intervene in a child’s life is before conception. Upward of 30 million unplanned children are born each year 4 , and these children are at increased risk of poverty, crime, and public assistance. 5 Imagine a world in which all struggling parents-to-be waited, planned, and prepared to bring their children into a supportive family! This is not just a matter for the poor. Childrearing is complicated in dual-career families, where it also merits great planning.
Universal lifelong marriage-with-kids is a model that, for right or wrong, broke down last century. A little liberalization of the nuclear family is acceptable after a million years, but it must be done responsibly. Young adults are starting to realize greater flexibility in matters of love, sex, parenthood, and career. Hopefully, this will culminate in fewer couples’ rushing in to pressure-cooker relationships and child-traumatizing breakups. Happy, healthy kids are the only sustainable basis for a better future.
C. Parting Words
Life is 90% beautiful, 9% imperfect, and 1% terrible. It always has been that way and surely always will be. On the other hand, humans have shown dogged determination to tackle their worst problems head-on. There is plenty of reason to hope for further progress against poverty, violence, unrest, injustice, and disease. In this millennium, change need not come from world leaders alone. It may be up to ordinary people to take care of themselves, raise their children well, and forge friendships across borders.
II. About The Writer
Scot Fagerland is a professional tutor (sometimes to the rich or famous) in Los Angeles, CA. He tutors most academic subjects, specializing in math, science, English, and standardized exams for high school, college, and graduate students. From 1996 to 2013, he was an adjunct instructor of mathematics at several two- and four-year colleges, including the UCLA Extension, Mt. St. Mary’s University, and Framingham State College (MA). At Santa Monica College, he was an early forerunner on RateMyProfessor.com. He was twice nominated for General Studies Instructor of the Year at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, where he taught statistics and economics. Scot is also a patent attorney with a small solo practice. He holds a BS in Applied Mathematics from the California Institute of Technology, an MS in Engineering Science from the University of California at San Diego, and a JD from the UCLA School of Law. Since 2014, Scot has blogged about all scales of history and prehistory at www.TheEvolutionOfHuman.com .
Scot has chosen to call himself a “writer”, not an “author”, until and unless he is published.
Email Scot at ScotFagerland@gmail.com
Stay up to date with Chapter 0: The Last Few Years (blog posts)
Scot’s other blog posts on topics such as philosophy, education, and writing / publishing.
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- Henry Kissinger, World Order, Penguin Books (New York, 2014) Kindle ebook edition, location 204. ↩
- Alex Andreou, “The rise of money trading has made our economy all mud and no brick”, The Guardian, (11/20/2013), https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/20/money-trading-economy-foreign-exchange-markets-economy (accessed and saved 1/28/19). ↩
- World Health Organization, “The Top Ten Causes of Death,” (5/24/18), http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/ (accessed and saved 2/01/19). ↩
- I calculated this based on figures from the Alan Guttmacher Institute’s 1999 report, “Sharing Responsibility,” p. 42. Of roughly 200 million pregnancies each year, about 40% (80 million) are unplanned. About half of these (40 million) are aborted – which by itself is a grisly statistic. Finally, about 85% of the unaborted (30 million) survive pregnancy and birth, based on a widely quoted 10 – 20% range for miscarriages. Rough figures. ↩
- Emily Monea and Adam Thomas, “Unintended Pregnancy and Taxpayer Spending”, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 43(2):88-93 (5/19/2011), https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1363/4308811 (accessed and saved 1/28/19). ↩
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