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Looking backwards, looking forwards

To consider the changes of the last decade as we commence the next one.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To consider the changes of the last decade as we commence the next one.

Preparation and materials

  • None required.


  1. At the end of the twentieth century, the world was united in optimism. The great conflicts of the twentieth century between democracy and fascism, and between capitalism and communism, had all ended. A global consensus was emerging: that having free trade and representative democracy was simply the best way for a state to be. A few outliers remained, but they would gradually be swept up by the wave of freedom engulfing the world. The American philosopher Francis Fukuyama best captured the general mood with his book The End of History and the Last Man, published in 1992. Fukuyama’s point was that the great struggles and ideological battles that have marked history have all been solved. For better or for worse, it seemed as though the United States had established herself as the ideal nation: all other nations would do well to imitate her as closely as possible.
  2. Compare that view of the world with how we see it now. There are many differences. The USA is not the world’s only superpower; more and more, the opinion and actions of China matter. A wave of Islamic politics has spread across the Middle East and beyond, and poses a direct challenge to the economic and political consensus of the West. After the collapse of the USSR following the end of the Cold War, Russia is once again a powerful, proud nation. And war, having been seen as an aberration, is now the norm. A global war on terror, without a clearly defined goal or enemy, has determined that many Western nations, but particularly Britain and the USA, are constantly in a state of war. This has had a detrimental effect on civil liberties: governments have claimed that it is necessary to imprison individuals without charge and launch assassination missions against perceived enemies. The risks of this are held by many people to be immense.
  3. What the past decade has shown us, above all, is that the period between the end of the Cold War and 9/11 – the event that set the tone for the rest of the decade – was not the ‘End of History’ but a momentary pause in which one state amassed enough power to be the world’s sole super-power. On a global scale, such a period has never before been seen, and it is possible it never again will be. But the optimism of the period was not wasted. Great advances in technology have been made over the past ten years. The internet has spread across the world, promising a new relationship between humanity and information, and developing a new society along with it. The Human Genome Project released a complete map of the human body’s construction in 2003, promising new advances in medicine and philosophy.
  4. Finally, a notable fact about the past decade is that, for enormous numbers of people, life has got better. The rapid growth of the Chinese and Indian economies has created an emerging middle class in these titanic nations. South America, long seen as an economic backwater, has seen many nations such as Brazil, Argentina and Chile become global players. But as wealth has increased, and been dented by the financial crisis at the end of the decade, questions about humanity’s damaging effects on the natural environment have emerged. With a large scientific consensus built around the theory of global warming, it is clear that the goals of the next decade must involve a more harmonious relationship with the world around us. .

Time for reflection

Light a candle and pause.

Think back over the past ten years of your life – you may be struggling to remember all that way back!

Can you remember 9/11 clearly, or has your memory become tangled in the film of the event that we still frequently see?

How could we take the events of the past ten years and build on them constructively?

Now consider your life over the next ten years. It is almost impossible to imagine where you will be and what you will be doing at the beginning of 2021!

Think about the direction that you would like to take.

Now decide three things that will help you to go there. Write them down, somewhere safe, after this assembly. And keep looking at those targets.


‘Fragile’ by Sting, available to download.

Publication date: January 2011   (Vol.13 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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