The Beginning of History

Harrison Whitaker
6 min readNov 28, 2023

In the spirit of publishing old pieces I never got around to editing, here’s another brief essay I wrote sometime in 2021. I haven’t really looked at it sense, so it’s probably a bit dated. Nevertheless, better out there than nowhere at all.

In the late 1980s a guy named Francis Fukuyama said that history might be over. A few years later he said that history is now definitely over, he even wrote a book about it. The idea was that western liberal democracy and market capitalism were so ascendant in their global positioning after the collapse of the Soviet Union that worldwide adoption (acquiescence?) was now all but guaranteed. And since democracies apparently don’t fight each other and countries with McDonald’s don’t fight each other and fighting is basically all that history is, history was over. Case closed.

Anyway here’s a picture of Dr. Fukuyama about six weeks into a global pandemic that killed millions:

I don’t mean to dunk on Fukuyama, who has been rocketed to the position of “Wrongest Guy Ever” by everything from Islamic terrorism to Chinese despotism to a shaman in the U.S. Capitol building. I respect people who write entire books based on provocative and daring premises, even when they are wrong or stupid. The world is full of boring books that are titled Enigmatic Phrase: How Something Became A Thing That Mattered and are basically just beefed up Wikipedia pages. Fukuyama was wrong, okay, we get it, can we move on, yes.

What were the conditions that allowed Fukuyama to make such a joke as the one seen in the image above? A recommendation by the CDC that everyone wear masks in public, a anomalous run on many consumer staples, and a general sense of unease about how well society would function during a prolonged pandemic, sure, but what were they really?

I suppose the baseline condition you need for a pandemic is that somebody somewhere get exposed to some kind of virus somehow. Some early-stage shady sleight-of-hand by the Chinese government coupled with the incompetence of most other major governments coupled with a general feeling worldwide that, yes, public health is important but not as important as making sure everyone gets to work on time and produces the same amount of plastic products as before definitely helps. But all you really need is a sick person, ideally one with friends.

It’s both frustrating and appropriate that, to so many people including Fukuyama, “history” basically just means governments and organizations doing stuff. Surely the actual first and greatest moment in history was the first time a person recognized her reflection in some water and became terrifyingly self-aware or something like that, but instead the furthest back we go is stuff about Sumerian beer rationing — cool and all, but seems a bit late in the game to be the origin point of history.

Maybe history should start where property begins, with that malicious figure from Rousseau who fences in a plot of land. A good a moment to kick off with as any, but there’s a lot of ground to cover between that and the Indus script. More on all this later.

Fukuyama later revised his thesis somewhat after getting spooked by the rise of biotechnology, which he thought posed a tangible threat to liberal democracy. Little did he know that the natural environment and our own irreverence towards would do this for us. Cases in points:

Climate Change Is Leading to Premature Births in The Brazilian Amazon

The Everyday Chemicals That Might Be Leading Us to Our Extinction

Global Warming Could Make Life in The Tropics Impossible

In essence, we’ve alchemized nature itself into a kind of biotechnology that strains liberal democracy to its very limits. Not convinced? Let me share two facts with you: climate change and deforestation almost certainly played in a role in the development of the current pandemic (and will do so again), and the country that came out of 2020 with the strongest economic bounceback was China — not a socialist utopia, but no liberal democracy either.

China and Vietnam are two of the last ostensibly communist countries on Earth but at the same time they make a lot of shit that capitalist countries buy with capitalist money and exploit lots of workers in the process. Fukuyama was definitely correct in his prediction that capitalism would win, but I think if he predicted it would manifest itself in the scary chimerical version of capitalism found in the East today he probably would’ve been committed.

The point I’m trying to make here is that one massive thorn in the side of every democracy is lethargy. There’s a scene in the movie World War Z where a character explains how North Korea eradicated its zombie crisis by forcibly pulling out the teeth of its entire population (zombies, of course, infect through biting). Cut to real life: in some cities in China during the early days of the pandemic, people could only leave their households every 2 days and had to carry a identification card with them at all times for accountability purposes. On an unrelated note, just a few months later people could go to raves and waterparks.

This isn’t praise; it’s my clumsy attempt at realpolitik. There’s every reason to think that climate change will bring with it more disasters — biological, meteorological, social, economic — more quickly, and liberal democracies have yet to make the case that they’ll be able to keep up.

If we don’t have any written records of the “true” beginning of history, be it the intentional use of fire or the first attempt at agriculture or whatever, why not make our own? I think it’s stupid that the Mesopotamians currently own square one of the historical narrative, and I am narcissistic so I think we should instead.

If I sold you a car for $10 but told you that you had to pay me an additional $5000 in a decade, how much would you say that car costs? Surely $5010, but not for the first 9 years 364 days of your ownership. If you died right before the decade was up, you got away with only pay $10 for a $5010 car, you sneaky bastard.

What if I told you that you could ensure stability and prosperity for a large chunk of mankind for decades, maybe centuries, before your overexploitation of the natural world turned against you in an irrefutable way? No sneaking out of this one!

Humankind has been winning the war against nature for about 150 years or so now. Nature is now successfully fighting back with guerilla tactics — I heard she’s been lighting fires from Australia to Brazil to California and back — but soon will resort to full-scale confrontation instead.

This image is called The Palace at 4 a.m. and was created by a guy named Alberto Giacometti. Here’s what he had to say about it:

A period of six months passed in the presence of a woman who, concentrating all life in herself, transported my every moment into a state of enchantment. We constructed a fantastical palace in the night — a very fragile palace of matches. At the least false movement a whole section would collapse. We always began it again.

History occurs in slow motion while it’s happening, but when you turn around to look at it, it’s one big instantaneous shipwreck. We made our first false movement some time ago — 6000 years, 150 years, 70 years, whatever — but only now, for the first time, is a whole section collapsing. Maybe the whole thing. History begins once we start to rebuild.



Harrison Whitaker

Haver of opinions. Lover of some things, hater of others.