Peace movements financed by war-profiteers who are still in the bank and gun business or whose subsidy is derived from munitions' sales are unlikely to conduce to the new paideuma. Pacifists who refuse to examine all causes of war, from natural fitfulness on through the direct economic causes, are simple vermin, whatever their level of consciousness, their awareness or unawareness of their actions and motivations.
Ezra Pound (GK, p. 117)
It's going to take some time before Billy Collins arrives in the future. But when he does, he hopes, people are going to be waiting for him to tell them what it was like in our day.
He's planning to tell them about a sky he once saw, and a woman he once knew (he'll never forget the way she wore a white bathrobe), and the time he visited the site of a historic sea battle in a narrow strait.
Then he's going to get out his maps. He's going to explain to his audience that there were mountains and valleys and that we called this "geography"; he's also going to tell them that goods used to be loaded onto ships that sailed on the rivers and that we called this "commerce".
Finally, he's going to tell them about what we called "history"; that is, he going to tell them "how the people from this pink area crossed over into this light-green area and set fires and killed whoever they found".
He imagines they are going to listen to all this without raising any objections. He thinks they are going to be drawn to his account of the past "like ripples moving toward, not away from, a stone tossed into a pond".
[The above is a prose paraphrase of "The Future" by Billy Collins, which appeared in the New Yorker (February 4, 2008.) As paraphrase, however, it is oddly complete. I don't think it misses a single "poetic" effect in the original.]
Collins's poem is worth comparing to Borges's "Utopia of a Tired Man", which I discussed yesterday. When addressing the future, Collins is not, apparently, going to mention that many of us insisted on calling what he describes "war", "murder" and "attrocity" and filled public squares to denounce these activities. Or perhaps he will say that this, too, we called "history". The whole thing is presented as a kind of silly mistake.
If "the people of the future in their pale garments" have forgotten history then, let us hope, they have remembered why they have not bothered to remember. They will then not be taken in (in the very picturesquely irenic way Collins imagines) by another liberal who puzzles over why nations war with each other.
The liberal democrat imagines that national borders are not worth fighting over. They present nationhood as a quaint platonic fiction. They normally live in countries whose borders are not currently disputed.
They think war is a mistake that is glossed over with a euphemism like "history". The idea that nations are part of the methodology of war does not occur to them. (Much less what racket war, in turn, is part of.) They would not abolish nations. They would have people remain politely in their assigned "light-green" and "pink areas", which are not so silly as to do away with, but silly enough not to fight over.
In the future, they hope, people will listen to them puzzle over this silliness.