new millennium is upon us. It’s not something to be taken all that seriously
considering the fact that the year 2001 of the Christian era is the year 1379 of
the Muslims, the year 5114 of the Mayans and the year 5762 of the Jews. The new
millennium will begin on January 1st by a whim of the Roman Senators, who one
fine day decided to break with the tradition that called for celebrating the new
year at the beginning of spring. The Christian countdown results from yet
another whim: one fine day the Roman Pope decided to ascribe a date to the birth
of Jesus, although no one knew when he was born. Time laughs at the limits we
invent so we can believe it obeys us. Nevertheless, the whole world celebrates
and fears this frontier. It has become an invitation to every sort of
here, millennium there, the occasion gives rise to all manner of exaggerating
orators holding forth on the destiny of humanity. For those who would have us
believe in God’s wrath, there are predictions of the world’s end,
accompanied by great chaos. Meanwhile, time continues, without a word, its long
march through space and mystery. The truth is, no one can resist. On such a
date, arbitrary though it may be, most of us experience the temptation of asking
ourselves what the time to come will bring. Who knows what it will bring. We
have but a single certainty: in the 21st century, if we’re still here, we’ll
all be 20th century people. Worse yet, we’ll be people of the last millennium.
cannot imagine the time to come, at the very least we have the right to imagine
how we would like it to be. In 1948 and 1976 the United Nations proclaimed
extensive declarations of human rights; but the vast majority of humanity
possesses no rights other than those of watching, listening and remaining mute.
What would it be like if we began to exercise the never proclaimed right to
dream? What if we raved without constraints for a while?
us fix our eyes beyond infamy and imagine a possible world. The air would be
cleansed of all pollution, except that which emanates from human fear and human
passions. In the streets automobiles would be run over by dogs; people would
neither be driven by cars nor programmed by computers nor bought by supermarkets
nor stared at by TV’s. The television would cease to be the most important
member of the family; it would be treated like the iron or the washing machine.
People would work to live instead of living to work. The crime of stupidity
would be added to the penal code, a crime committed by those who live to
accumulate or hoard rather than simply to live—like the bird that sings
without knowing that it sings or the child who plays without being aware it is
playing. No nation will imprison its young men for refusing to go to war, but
those who insist upon going.
will no longer measure standards of living by levels of consumption nor the
quality of life by how many things one owns. Cooks will no longer imagine that
lobsters enjoy being boiled alive. Historians will no longer believe that
countries appreciate being invaded. Politicians will no longer conclude that the
poor are happy eating promises. Solemnity will no longer be considered a virtue,
and no one will take anyone seriously who cannot laugh at him or herself. Death
and money will lose their magic powers, and neither through death nor fortune
will the criminal become a sainted knight. No one will be thought of as a hero
or a fool for doing what they believe is just rather than what most benefits
them. The world will no longer go to war against the poor but against poverty.
And the weapons industry will be forced to declare itself bankrupt.
will no longer be considered merchandise nor communication a business, because
food and communication are human rights. No one will die of hunger because no
one will die of indigestion. Street children will no longer be treated as if
they are garbage because there will no longer be children living in the streets.
Rich children will no longer be treated like money, because there won’t be any
rich children. Education won’t be the privilege of those who can buy it. The
police won’t be the curse of those who cannot buy them. Justice and freedom,
those Siamese twins condemned to separation, will finally be rejoined, back to
back and inseparable.
A black woman
will be the president of Brazil and another black woman the president of the
United States of North America. An Indian woman will govern Guatemala and
another Peru. In Argentina, the Locas de la Plaza de Mayo will be held up as
examples of mental health, because during the time of obligatory amnesia they
refused to forget. The Holy Mother Church will correct the errors on the Tablets
of Moses, and the Sixth Commandment will order delight in the body. The Church
will also dictate another commandment, one that God forgot: "You will love
nature, of which you are a part." The world’s deserts will be replanted,
along with the deserts of the heart. The desperate will find satiation and the
lost will be found, because they are the ones who became desperate from waiting
so long and lost from searching so desperately.
We will be the
compatriots and contemporaries of all those willing to work for justice and
beauty, no matter where they were born or where they live. The frontiers of maps
and of time will become meaningless. Perfection will continue to be the boring
privilege of the gods, but in this clumsy and messed up world, each night will
be lived as if it were the last and each day as if it were the first.
Galeano is writer from Uruguay; this English translation is by Margaret Randall.