Thankful To Still Be in the Game
The arduous adventure of being on the right side of history.
In 1992, during my junior year of college, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama, published The End of History and the Last Man to great fanfare. In this book he posited that the end of the Cold War was the final triumph of Western liberal democracy. At this moment, humanity attained
not just the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: That is, the end-point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
It was an expression of extraordinary optimism, and as I recall, many of us felt it at the time.
Alas, it wasn’t to last long. Just nine years later, we experienced the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which triggered a series of horribly destructive wars abroad. During this same time, corporate America was rocked by a series of scandals that culminated in the Financial Crisis of 2008. This was followed by a period of increasingly vitriolic partisanship. Since then, principles of liberal democracy have been steadily eroded by an emphasis on all that divides us into competing groups instead of our common humanity and allegiance to our Constitutional Republic. Far from reaching the “end of history,” we often seem to be regressing to a very dark place, before liberal democracy became ascendant.
Part of why reasonable adults of my generation and older find this so distressing is because, for about twelve years between 1989 and 2001, we shared Fukuyama’s optimism that humanity had overcome atavistic irrationality and reached a state of enduring civilization shaped by reason and law. It was therefore all the more shocking to witness humanity resume the age old struggle of irrationality vs reason, greed vs moderation, aggression vs restraint, and tyranny vs liberty. In fact, Fukuyama and his fellow optimists were deluded. Human nature never changes, and history will always be shaped by the same age old struggle.
Not long ago, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. related to Dr. McCullough something he’d heard his father say on a few occasions—namely, that it was a great privilege to live during a tumultuous time of conflict because it provided the opportunity to strive for truth and justice. The reward for this effort was the great satisfaction of being on the right side of history.
If you read this post on Thanksgiving Day and you still have your health, a comfortable place to live, and some family and friends around you, you can be thankful for these blessings. If you are—like many of us—distressed by the conspicuous fact that much of humanity is not behaving well, take heart in Robert F. Kennedy, Sr.’s remarks to his young son.
We grownups find ourselves in the midst of a difficult period that is often disheartening, but we are still in the game and working hard so that truth and justice will prevail. It’s an arduous adventure, but we are doing some good. And who knows? Maybe we’ll even succeed.
I’ll close with recalling the time the aging Roberto Duran stayed in the game against middleweight champion Iran “the Blade” Barkley. Duran was ten years older with a six inch reach disadvantage. To top it off, the middleweight division was three divisions above Duran’s natural fighting weight.
For good reason, many thought he was nuts to seek such a fight that he had no chance of winning. As it unfolded, he took several terrible blows that would have knocked out pretty much anyone else. Watch the 15:00-minute highlight reel to see old “Hands of Stone” miraculously turn the tide and prove his doubters wrong.