The Rhyme Scheme
It does seem clear that there is a direction in history, with certain undeniable rules: Power always corrupts, always. When Europe unites, there will be a war. When major empires crumble, they leave vacuums of power that create a period of chaos. Scientific advances both tend to extend our lives, but also often ultimately get appropriated into more exciting ways of ending lives. And, as I can’t bring myself to be any form of existentialist, I must assume that these rules somehow relate to a macro being played out that with some eventual finish line. There is an end to the game, somewhere, at some time. Just as the rhyming stanzas of a poem progress the story, and lead to its conclusion, and ultimate point, so does human history.
While some things are clearly getting better (technology, life expectancy, transportation, education), the downward spiral of recent history is clearly more in the realm of morality and spirituality. But, as I previously stated, even though we like to see things change in some sort of linear fashion, these areas cannot be quantified and are not a matter of simple cause and effect progression (or deterioration). Even in the relatively short history of the United States there can be seen periods of moral decay, revivals, and even moralism run amok.
These events themselves are cyclical in some sense. Revivals changed the spiritual landscape at the turn of the century, such as the rise of Pentecostalism starting in Topeka, Kansas in 1901. This led to a moralism that had both positive and negative social effects, as seen in Women’s Suffrage and Prohibition respectively. Suffrage and Prohibition created a backlash of anti-moralism in that same decade as seen in the massive rise in crime, and other social ills. All of these things are far more complicated that simple single cause and effect. But they are linked. -Ryan