Trace the History of Talk 2000
People have been talking about the year 2000 long before the Talk 2000 forum was launched. This essay introduces five key conversation threads about the millennial year, which have kept people talking about 2000 for the past 30 years.
The first conversation thread about the year 2000 has been “Threshold 2000.” This thread takes A.D. 2000 as the millennium, the 1,000 year rule or reign of Christ. Whether literally or figuratively, it sees the year 2000 as a cataclysmic shift, a turning point, a tidal wave of global transformation that will sweep away an old civilization and usher in a golden age. The metaphor here is the edge of a cliff.
This is not a new idea. For more than 500 years, psychics, seers, pundits and prophets have been transfixed by the year 2000. No other year in all of human history, before or beyond, has gathered such incredible prophetic bets as A.D. 2000, talked up by such luminaries as Isaac Newton to Michel Nostradamus, Jeane Dixon to Ronald Reagan.
Some swear it will bring doomsday. Others claim it will usher in a utopian age. Either way, those who see 2000 as a threshold date look toward 2000 through millennial lenses.
The year 2000 attracts us for the same reason people have been attracted by millennialism, utopianism or progressivism. We believe that paradise is not behind us, but just ahead, perhaps within our reach, or that of our children. Despite the mess we find ourselves in, we believe in the possibility of transformation.
Threshold 2000 talk has been particularly attractive to bible teachers. Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth became the best-selling book of the ’70s. He convinced millions we were a terminal generation, not due to an environmental apocalypse, but because of a nuclear Armageddon. His latest book is called,Planet Earth–2000 A.D. (Western Front, 1994).
Not just bible prophecy, but “New Age” teachers now talk about the new millennium in catastrophic terms. A first class example of millennial talk is the MMList, an esoteric forum on the new millennium originating from America Online “Millennium Matters” folder. It provides documentation on supposed earth changes and personal revelations about the coming millennium period. In the article, “Requiem for the Twentieth Century,” Michael Grosso shares how the apocalyptic imagination pervades our historical mind and how metaphysical longings affect our future vision.
In an article entitled, “ Postdoomdayism“, James Gollin develops the idea that an appreciation of the environment, culture, and history is redefining millennialism from a religious fringe obsession to an intriguing new interdisciplinary focus on the world as global system.
The millennium myth of 2000, however, is full of tensions. Cultural historian Hillel Schwartz calls it a two-sided coin. Before you get to paradise, you must pass through Armageddon. You will usually find a couple of “Threshold 2000” threads on Talk 2000, documenting the influence of Christian or New Age millennialism on popular culture.
The second thread of conversation from 1965 – 1995 about the new millennium is “Trends 2000.” Unlike “Threshold 2000”, “Trends 2000” highlights the continuity, achievement and growth of humankind. If “Threshold 2000” peers through millennial lenses, “Trends 2000” prefers to view things from mountaintop vistas to put the bimillennium in perspective.
One of the earliest “think-tanks” to talk “Trends 2000” was “The Commission on the Year 2000” of the mid-’60s, led by sociologist Daniel Bell. Packed with distinguished educators, government officials and researchers, this commission saw its role not so much in “making predictions, but to the more complicated and subtle art of defining alternatives,” as U.S. society moved toward the turn of the century. Get a unique view into “Trend 2000” talk by reading Daniel Bell’s 1967 article on the Commission entitled, “The Year 2000–The Trajectory of an Idea”.
With the year 2000 on our horizon, there is an irresistible urge to look backward and then forward, retrospect and prospect. These actions express our human instinct for putting things in order.
Lists now sum up the achievements of the past 2,000 years and chart possibilities for the new epoch. Standing on the summit of 2000, thousands of writers will wet their index fingers, raise them to the sky and see which way the wind is blowing.
In Roman mythology, Janus was the wind god who brought new beginnings. It is no accident that the first month of our year is named January. In most cases, Janus was pictured with two faces, one old which looked to the past with wisdom and one young which looked to the future with idealism. There’s no doubt the turn of the millennium will pass in review under both perspectives.
One of the last books by the great science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, was written along these lines. Asimov’s March of the Millennia (Walker, 1991) sought to recap the highlights of human history.
Since we live in an age which has extended both the past and future horizons, the efforts to sum up the past will be monumental, and the attempts to preview the future will be gigantic. In fact, they have already begun. Since 1980, Canadian futurist Don Toppin has been looking at the third millennium from the mountaintop of “Trends 2000”. Here is a 1994 article by Toppin entitled, “Shaping the Great Millennium”.
On Talk 2000 you will usually find several “Trends 2000” threads seeking to integrate a future vision with a historical consciousness.
The third pattern of year 2000 talk is “Agenda 2000.” It sees the year 2000 as a milestone date to work toward. It aims to tackle unfinished agendas through setting local, national and global goals. This image is a finish line, calling us to enter the race.
John Naisbitt feels the year 2000 compels us to examine ourselves and resolve our problems so we can meet the new millennium with a clean slate. Those problems we do not willingly confront, it seems, are being thrust upon us.
“Agenda 2000” programs usually have one or two horizons. One is an action plan for this decade, the other for the new century. The latter approach asks, “What will be the major, first-intensity issues facing the world as the new century opens?” The former says, “If we are serious about addressing them, how far can we reasonably expect to move along the path toward solutions in the intervening years before 2000?”
By the late ’80s, research showed that more than 2,000 groups existed with year 2000 goals. And that number was growing weekly, within government, business, education and religion.
“Agenda 2000” programs have been launched by many countries. The United Nations alone has many “Agenda 2000” programs or agencies working for education 2000, health 2000, transportation 2000, literacy 2000, food 2000, economics 2000, peace 2000, environment 2000, and indigenous peoples 2000.
Perhaps the most well-known “Agenda 2000” program is the Earth Summit Strategy. On June 13th, 1992, nearly 100 world leaders met around a single table in Rio de Janeiro for the largest face-to-face meeting of national leaders in the history of the world. The main binding agreement, signed by all 172 participating nations, including the United States, was called “Agenda 21”. This was a comprehensive global action plan to confront and overcome the most pressing problems facing our planet. Read the enclosed “Agenda 21 Summary” to get a feel for how they relate to the millennium milestone.
Many of the charter members of Talk 2000 are leaders of “Agenda 2000” groups. You will likely find one or two threads talking about various millennial goals or organizations, from the First Millennial Foundation to the National Millennium Foundation, from the AD 2000 Movement to World 2000.
Rather than view A.D. 2000 as a milestone, many have been talking about the year 2000 as a mirror, in order to see ourselves better. Convinced we have not arrived, this image calls for renewal, revival, renovation, restoration and renaissance in light of 2000. The image here is one of rebirth, and experiencing the new millennium through personal and social transformation.
Typical of this thread is a concern for the human condition. Robert Heilbroner’s An Inquiry into the Human Prospect (1974) or Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium (Cambridge, 1988) are illustrative of this call for “Renewal 2000”. Also in Shall We Make the Year 2000?, (Sidgwick, 1985) Jacobus Beus explores decisive challenges to western civilization; and Voices on the Threshold of Tomorrow (Feuerstein, ed., Quest, 1993) offers more than 100 views of the new millennium from a metaphysical perspective.
Fearing the turn of millennium frenzy will leave us meaningless, adult educator John Ohliger has written The Millennium Survival Kit (Basic Choices, 1990), to explore the enigma of time and our relationship to it. His article, “The Millennium: Are You Ready For It?” reveals his concern for “Renewal 2000”.
While some see 2000 as a sign of the future, some realists see it only as a continuation of humankind’s hatred, greed and delusion. You will usually find some threads on Talk 2000 from this “Renewal 2000” perspective, which look at how the bimillennium calls for a mid-course correction.
The fifth year 2000 thread from 1965 – 1995 has been “Jubilee 2000.” This paradigm sees 2000 as a global jubilee. Ancient Jewish law called for society to start all over again every 50 years through its Jubilee Year. Land was returned, debts were forgiven, prisoners were set free. Everyone got a fresh start, a new lease on life. A whole year like that was cause for celebration. Many see the year 2000 as having jubilee potential. As a once-in-a-lifetime experience from 1999-2001, it is seen possibly as the greatest commemoration in the history of civilization.
Since the late ’80s, popular culture has been thinking about the turn of the millennium in terms of Times Square 2000. Talk from this “Jubilee 2000” framework looks at the millennium from New Year’s Eve ’99 or 2000. Read advertising columnist Leslie Savan’s article, “The Biggest Party Ever!”, for a commercial “Jubilee 2000” perspective.
Rather than just theme the year 2000 from Times Square, people have also been talking about the year 2000 from the perspective of Bethlehem’s manger square. After all, A.D. 2000 represents the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ.
The leading proponent of 2000 as a Holy Year has been Pope John Paul II. Since his inauguration in 1978, John Paul has talked repeatedly about how the “Great Jubilee of the Incarnation of Our Lord” beckons us to cross a threshold of hope. His most comprehensive statement on the Holy Year was released in the fall of 1994. The document is called Tertio Millennio Adveniente (Vatican Press).
What Columbus was to the quincentennial of 1992, Christ will be to the bimillennial of 2000. I wrote the first book-length treatment of Christ’s 2,000th anniversary in The Star of 2000 (Bimillennial Press, 1994). It explores how Christ’s birth some 2,000 years ago, has become a modern day, “Star of Bethlehem” for civilization. Tributes to the poor Man of Nazareth will fill the Holy Land and likely be reflected in gospel concerts, books, dramas and religious pilgrimages. Read the preface, “A Magnet Hung in Time” from The Star of 2000 to appreciate the impact that Christmas 2000 will have on society.
Akin to this vein, “Jubilee 2000” talk looks for parallels between the birth of the first and third millennium. Many people are universalizing the bimillennial of Jesus to ask present day questions like, “If the first millennium brought us ‘Peace on Earth,’ how can the third millennium bring us ‘Peace with the Earth’?” Some people with more evolutionary “Jubilee 2000” perspectives speak about a “Planetary Birth” at the dawn of the third millennium.
This article has attempted to give Talk 2000 readers some handles on how people have talked about the year 2000 for the past 30 years. These mega-threads are by no means fixed, and are quite fluid. For example, you could easily start with a “Threshold 2000” premise and conclude your post by calling for “Renewal 2000”.
To the degree you are aware of various ways of viewing the year 2000, to that degree you will be able to talk 2000 with others in the common square and build a public philosophy for the advent of the third millennium.
Jay Gary is the host of Talk 2000, and the author of The Star of 2000 (Bimillennial, 1994). In that book, he further develops the history of these five Talk 2000threads as the “Five AD 2000 Mega-Images” which have led us into a historic bimillennial era.
This article was written for the Talk 2000 Web Site in September, 1995.
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Most recent revision: November 29, 1995
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