The Past, Present, and Future(s)  

Dr. Charles F. Urbanowicz/Professor of Anthropology
California State University, Chico/Chico, California 95929-0400
530-898-6220 [Office]; 530-898-6192 [Dept.] FAX: 530-898-6824
e-mail: / home page:

June 25, 2001 [1]

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© [All Rights Reserved.] For a 20-minute presentation on June 25, 2001 to SIR 110 [Sons In Retirement], Chico, California. I thankfully acknowledge semi-retired Anthropology Professor Keith Johnson for a suggestion for today's presentation. A follow-up presentation, incorporating some of the above information (yet, with a different slant), will be presented later this week at a City of Chico meeting (available at


This paper draws upon numerous classroom lectures and public presentations, the most recent of which was on March 12, 2001, for a Chamber of Commerce Luncheon in Redding, California, entitled "Where Does The Future Come From? (Subtitled, "You Haven't Seen Anything Yet!)." That presentation, as well as this one, is available on the World Wide Web. A presentation entitled "The Past, Present, and Futures: Part II" will be made on June 28, 2001 for the City of Chico Management Team, and is also available on the World Wide Web.  

"I quote others only the better to express myself."
(Michel Eyquem de Montaigne [1533-1592] French philosopher/essayist)

I have subtitled this brief presentation as "Reflections on June 25, 2001 From a Fifty-Eight Year Old Person (resident of Chico, California, Since 1973)." Let me explain:

#1} I have been a member of the faculty at CSU, Chico since 1973, twenty-eight years in the area. If, when I arrived as a new faculty member in 1973, someone would have told me that they had been a member of the faculty for twenty-eight years, I might have done a quick calculation in my mind: "1973 minus 28 equals the year 1945! WOW! That person is old and has seen a lot of changes! They've been here since the end of World War II!"

#2} I will now see new faculty joining CSU, Chico in August 2001 (some 30-40 faculty I am told) and if anyone goes through the same calculations that I did when I tell them I have been here 28 years: "2001 minus 28 equals the year 1973! WOW! That person is old and has seen a lot of changes!"

The individual who joins the faculty of CSU, Chico in August 2001 will be the temporal (cultural) equivalent of my joining the faculty in August 1973; there have been numerous changes in 28 years (and I am older) and I cannot resist the following: the August 2001 CSU, Chico faculty member (who survives the ever-changing RTP [Retention, Tenure, and Promotion] process) will hear from the new faculty of 2029, 28 years from now, WOW! That person is old and has seen a lot of changes!" Incidentally, most of the ~190 students I will have in my classes in fall 2001 will have been born ~1983/1984! If their "memory culture" doesn't "kick in" for ten years ago, as a retired colleague of mine (Professor Jim Myers) once pointed out, that means they really only have a working memory of events since 1993/1994: so the war in Vietnam, the Berlin Wall coming down and the unification of Germany, the break-up of what was known as the Soviet Union, President Reagan testifying in the Iran-Contra Trial, the invasion of Panama, minimum wage of $4.25/hour (instituted in 1991), the "first" President Bush--all of this, and more, is ancient "history" to them! Everything is relative to the individual experiencing it, including (or especially?!) age; as Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1625) (who lived to the ripe old age of 65) wrote: "...age appears to be best of four things--old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read." Bernard M. Baruch (1870-1965), at the age of 85, stated in 1955: "To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am."

We must all learn to live life to the fullest at every moment: I have known young people with an "old attitude" and individuals older than myself with an exceedingly young attitude! As Harlen Adams (1904-1997) stated it: "The most important word in the English language is attitude. Love and hate, work and play, hope and fear, our attitudinal response to all these situations, impresses me as being the guide." (I was fortunate to have shared the stage with Harlen for a few moments in the 1996 CSU, Chico production of La Bohéme.) Attitude is key and as the distinguished jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) remarked at the age of ninety, upon seeing a beautiful young woman: "Oh, to be seventy again!" Incidentally, it is interesting to note that a 2001 Summer best-seller entitled The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America, by Louis Menand (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux), documents the life and times of the above mentioned Holmes, as well as William James (1842-1910), Charles Sander Peirce (1839-1914), and John Dewey (1859-1952). The book could well be subtitled, "From Civil War To Cold War" for it is fascinating to see how current contemporary ideas have developed from these four individuals (all productive for lengthy periods of their life). (See, for example, Hillel Italie, 2001, "Scholarly Tome A Smash: Book Chronicle Lives Of Four 19th-Century Intellectuals" [Associated Press], Las Vegas Review-Journal, June 15, 2001, page 13A.)


1942->2001: BACKGROUND

So much for the "Past" in my title, or is it the "Present"? Studs Terkel, born in 1912, published an interesting book in 1995 entitled Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century By Those Who've Lived It and David Brower, age 79, had a chapter which began as follows: "What do I think about age? I think I've learned to accept it. I never expected to get this old. With no effort on my part, I'm now about to be eighty and an elder. I find a certain freedom in this." Midway through the chapter he had the following, which has stuck with me for years: "There'll be nobody like you ever again. Make the most of every molecule you've got as long as you have a second to go" (1995, page 1 and 3).

What I am saying, which I am sure you know, is that (#1) we are all unique, (#2) our attitude is important, and (#3) who we are right now has depended on (#4) what we were in the past and (#5) who we are right now (#6) will influence what we become in the future, and (#7) you can't predict the future, only invent it! It is all connected and "age" is a relative thing, depending on the attitude and abilities of the individual.

Consider, for example, the illustrious Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) who, at the age of 69, was tried (and placed under house arrest) by the Catholic Inquisition for his heretical view of the structure of the universe; consider Mahatma ("Great Soul") Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) who was assassinated at the age of 79 because he was too powerful an individual; or the Nobel Prize Winner (in Literature) Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), who was thought to be a failure, until he galvanized his nation (at the age of 66) when he became Prime Minister at the beginning of the Second World War; consider Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919), although painfully stricken with arthritis, who continued painting until the last day of his life (at age 78); consider Angelo Roncalli (1881-1963), who at the age of 77 became known as Pope John Paul XXIII as well as; or, finally, Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926), the Indiana-born Socialist labor leader about whom the following has been written:

"...led the famous Pullman strike that immobilized the railroads in 1894. Several times he ran for president on the Socialist ticket, and in 1918 [at the age of 62] he was sent to prison after being convicted of trying to obstruct the draft for World War I." Phyllis Theroux, 1995, The Book of Eulogies: A Collection of Memorial Tributes, Poetry, Essays, and Letters of Condolence (NY: Scribner), page 98.

Consider William Steig, who began writing children's books at the age of 61 and now, at age 93, is enjoying the success of his book Shrek!, made into a most successful and very enjoyable film! We need to look before we judge and as you can hear in the movie and as it appears in the novel Ellen Weiss wrote: "They judge me before they even know me" (Shrek: The Novel [NY: Puffin Books], page 86). Finally, please note the power of an individual as evidenced by the headline on page 1 of The San Francisco Chronicle on May 24, 2001: "One Man's Choice Makes A Sea of Change" (by Marc Sandalow, page 1 and page 16) which referred to Senator James Jeffords, age 67 (born May 10, 1934), and his decision to switch political affiliations! Wow! The power of an individual!



In 1960, after I graduated from high school (Jersey City, New Jersey), I attended New York University (New York City) and 40 years ago I flunked out of NYU; born in 1942, and based on my nineteen years of experience to 1961, there is no way I could have predicted that in 1971 I would be conducting fieldwork for my Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Oregon in the Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga (after completing four years of service in the United States Air Force from 1961-1965). There is no way I could have predicted that I would be here today, in 2001! We cannot predict the future but we certainly can work on inventing it, if we understand the past ("evolution") and have an awareness of the present.

My wife and I, and our nine-month old son, arrived in Chico in 1973 and there is no way we could have predicted that he would marry a fellow Chico State student in 1993, graduate in 1995, and that we would have two grandchildren (ages five and three) in the year 2001 and our son and his family would be living in Chico. Likewise, there is no way I could have predicted the growth of this area; indeed, elementary schools were closing when we came to Chico in 1973 (Hooker Oak Elementary School comes to mind) and now look at the "permanent portables" that seem to abound! Growth and development appear to be inevitable when one now looks around and Chico has increased in size and it will continue to grow:

"This year [2001] could set new records for Chico building, if what's going on at the Planning Department is a measuring stick. City Planning Director Kim Seidler said it's typical for cities to see a 'winter lull,' or a time when planners aren't seeing people filing the papers necessary to build projects. Not so this year. ... Chico needs 'roughly 1,000 units a year' until 2020, according to [Jim] Mann [of the Building Industry Association] [stress added]." Michelle MacEachern, Building Shows No Sign Of Slowing. The Chico Enterprise-Record, February 19, 2001, pages 1 and 8A.

What will happen? Who knows? But we need all of the information possible to invent the best possible future for ourselves and our descendants as well as those who are yet to be born.



From my limited perspective, one of the problems in attempting to make "predictions" about the future is our collective hubris about both the present and the past! I am of the opinion that "experts" of every generation view the activities of that generation as the most exciting, important, and "progressive" events that ever occurred ever! In my classes I attempt to convey the importance of "the past" (or history) in understanding the present (or contemporary events) and I continually stress the importance of evolution and placing things into perspective. Consider if you will the following words:

"Nobody who has paid any attention to the peculiar features of our present era, will doubt for moment we are living at a period of most wonderful transition which tends rapidly to accomplish that great end, to which indeed, all history points--realization of the unity of mankind. . . . The distances which separated the different nations and parts of the globe are rapidly vanishing before the achievements of modern invention, and we can traverse them with incredible ease; the languages of all nations are known, and their acquirement placed within the reach of everybody; thought is communicated with the rapidity, and even by the power, of lightning. On the other hand, the great principle of the division of labor, which may be called the moving power of civilization, is being extended to all branches of science, industry, and art. . . . The products of all quarters of the globe are placed at our disposal, and we have only to choose which is the best and cheapest for our purposes, and the powers of production are entrusted to the stimulus of competition and capital [stress added]."

These words come not from 2001 but from the May 1, 1851 Inaugural Address of the Prince Consort Albert (1819-1861), on the occasion of the opening of the "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations" held in London (Michael Sorkin, 1992, Variations On A Theme Park: The New American City And The End of Public Space, page 209). Every generation finds it difficult to believe that that which comes after the present generation might in fact be better than that which is happening right now. We look to the past, as well as the future, with a nostalgic eye (or memory) not necessarily based in fact!

There is an excellent 1974 book by Otto L. Bettman, founder of the Bettman Archives, entitled The Good Old Days--They Were Terrible! (NY: Random House) and in it he documents the numerous problems that were part of the reality of life in the "good" 'ol days: gambling was rampant in the nation, working conditions horrible (12 hour days in the steel mills), child labor laws had yet to be enacted, life expectancy was short, and drug use (opium had been a national habit since 1840) was widespread! Sound familiar? Look around us now and can one even imagine what "they" of the future will say about the "now" we are existing in?

Change is the natural order of things. Along with out inability to predict the future (only invent it) cities and colleges of the future will change. Colleges and Universities won't disappear, but they will be altered and that faculty member who joins CSU, Chico in 2029 will look at the faculty who joined in 2001 and say "2029 minus 28 equals the year 2001! WOW! That person is old and has seen a lot of changes!"

Consider Peter Drucker (born in 1909) and his not so sanguine 1997 words in Forbes magazine: "Thirty years from now big university campuses will be relics" (Peter Drucker, Forbes, March 10, 1997, pages 126-127). Don Tapscott, 1998 author of the influential Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, had this to say about the article:

"Educators really took note when none other than Peter Drucker shocked the post-secondary world in the March 10, 1997 issue of Forbes magazine. Confirming leading educators' worst nightmare, he stated publicly: 'Thirty years from now big university campuses will be relics.' Referring to the impact of the digital revolution, Drucker said: 'It is as large a change as when we first got the printed book.' He continued: 'It took more than 200 years for the printed book to create the modern school. It won't take nearly that long for the big change. ... Already we are beginning to deliver more lectures and classes off campus via satellite or two way video at a fraction of the cost. The college won't survive as a residential institution. Today's buildings are hopelessly unsuited and totally unneeded [stress added]." Don Tapscott, 1998, Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation (McGraw Hill), page 153; and see Robert Lenzner and Stephen H. Johnson, 1997, Seeing Things As They really Are. Forbes, March 10, 1997, pages 122-128.

Generalizations about higher education aside, perhaps specific information on CSU, Chico is more appropriate: I hope "Chico State" will survive, for it is a unique and wonderful campus to work on, in a unique and wonderful environmental setting: but it is changing. A June 2, 2001 article in The Chico-Enterprise Record was entitled "Building a Better Chico State" (by Roger Aylworth, page 1 and page 10A) and it pointed out that construction on campus will soon begin, to the tune of some $30,000,000, and, CSU, Chico will be continuously changing! Incidentally, it was comforting (to me at least) that the article quoted Dennis Graham (Vice President for Business and Finance) commenting on "high-tech classrooms" (which will be "wired for voice, video and data transmission") instead of what had been referred to on campus in the past as "smart classrooms!" I had always wondered, and expressed my concern to various individuals: did the term "smart classrooms" imply, in the past, that every classroom which was not a "smart" classroom was a "dumb" classroom?! I hope not, because I have taught, and do teach, in "high-tech classrooms" as well as "other" types of rooms and it is not the technology that engages and involves students in any educational setting! The faculty are the greatest strength of any classroom, from K-12 through the university!

Beginning to end: my best guess about the future is that it cannot be predicted since, obviously, too many things can happen (including totally random events that no one has control over, such as electricity shortfalls, brownouts, and budget deficits, just to mention a few!). The future can, however, be invented and just as we (as a species and as individuals) learned in the past, we will have to continuously learn new things now as well as "in the future."



"Any teacher who can be replaced by a computer deserves to be!
[stress added!]" (David Smith; as cited by Mike Cooley, 1999, Human-Centered Design.
Information Design, edited by Robert Jacobson (MIT Press), pages 59-81, page 73.

As an anthropologist, the concept of evolution forms the basis of my theoretical perspective. Life is cumulative and we have evolved and (should we survive as a species) we will continue to evolve. I am an individual who is interested in people and the interactions of people with the environment about them (including people interacting with people). The anthropologist Gregory Bateson (1904-1980), who was once a Trustee of the University of California system, wrote that the "unit of survival [or adaptation I add] is organism plus environment" [stress added] (Steps To An Ecology of Mind, 1972, page 483) and this phrase has stuck with me for almost thirty years. I strongly argue that if we, as individuals (and as a collective), are to survive we must (a) be aware of and (b) adapt to the ever-changing world around us.

I am also interested in ideas associated with Charles Darwin (1809-1882) who published the first edition of Origin of Species in 1859 (he revised it five times before he died in 1882) and at the age of 72 (in 1881) published the last of his twenty-or-so books: The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through The Action of Worms. Darwin borrowed a phrase from the eminent sociologist Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), namely "survival of the fittest." As an anthropologist looking at the future, I find (and often see) an organic (and clearly Darwinian) metaphor applied to changes in education: those individuals (and institutions) which are most adapted and fit will survive and (as stated above) "you ain't seen nothing yet!"

In the Bateson quote mentioned above, he went on to write about the human mind:

"The unit of survival [or adaptation] is organism plus environment. We are learning by bitter experience that the organism which destroys its environment destroys itself. If, now, we correct the Darwinian unit of survival to include the environment and the interaction between organism and environment, a very strange and surprising identity emerges: the unit of survival turns out to be identical with the unit of mind" [italics in original; stress added]." Gregory Bateson [1904-1980], 1972, Steps To An Ecology of Mind (NY: Ballantine Books), page 483.

Universities and colleges and towns are changing, because they must:

"'We used to educate farmers to be farmers, factory workers to be factory workers, teachers to be teachers, men to be men, women to be women.' The future demands 'renaissance people. You can't be productive in the information age if you don't know how to talk to a diverse population, use a computer, understand a world view instead of a parochial view.... [stress added].'" Byrd L. Jones and Robert W. Maloy, 1996, Schools For An Information Age: Reconstructing Foundations For learning And Teaching, page 15.  

Incidentally, long before I read this, I came up with my own summary statement of Anthropology that is as simple as the ABCs: The Appreciation of Basic Cultural Diversity Everywhere! 

You ain't seen anything yet but we can't predict the future! The stock market, for example, is a "gamble" and not an investment for the future, as shareholders of numerous companies are aware; and I quote the words of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain (1835-1910):

"October is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February." (In William A. Sherden, 1998, The Fortune Sellers: The Big Business of Buying And Selling Predictions [John Wiley], page 96.)

I am really an optimist when it comes to the human condition for as Churchill once remarked on his own optimism, "It does not seem too much use being anything else." The wonderful Jane Goodall (born 1934) wrote the following in 1999, and I thoroughly believe in it:

"My reasons for hope are fourfold: (1) the human brain; (2) the resilience of nature; (3) the energy and enthusiasm that is found or can be found or can be kindled among young people worldwide; and (4) the indomitable human spirit [stress added]." Jane Goodall [with Phillip Berman], 1999, Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey (NY: Warner Books), page 233.

As I approach my "retirement" years, I find myself "making the time" to read (or, actually re-read) some of the classic works I was supposed to have read as I was flunking out of New York University 40 years ago and a phrase concerning life, surviving, old age, and death from The Histories of Herodotus (484 B.C.-425 B.C.) came to mind: "But mark this: until he [or she!] is dead, keep the word 'happy' in reserve. Till then, he is not happy, but only lucky" (Aubrey de Sélincourt, 1954, Herodotus The Histories [Penguin Books], page 25). Life is short, sweet, and precious and we are all lucky individuals to be here in Chico, CA.

Finally, Herodotus was a traveler and although I have not been to the Middle East, there is an Arabian proverb that I should like to end with: "Four things come not back--the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity." I'd like to thank Gordon Fercho for giving me the opportunity to share some thoughts this day.

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This presentation draws upon earlier ideas, words, and items on the web (from most recent to oldest): [March 2001 presentation ] [May 2000 presentation] [March 2000 presentation ] [July 1998 Gambling/Gaming presentation ]'98_Millennium_Paper.html [January 1998 presentation ] [October 1997 on Teaching] [September 1997 on Sabbatical trip] [1991 presentation on Education and Technology] [1990 presentation on Science Fiction/Science Fact] [1977 presentation on Evolution, Technology, and Civilization]

1. © For a 20-minute presentation on June 25, 2001 to SIR 110 [Sons In Retirement], Chico, California. I thankfully acknowledge semi-retired Anthropology Professor Keith Johnson for a suggestion for today's presentation. A follow-up presentation, incorporating some of the above information (yet, with a different slant), will be presented later this week at a City of Chico meeting (available at Please note that the June 28, 2001 web page will have numerous additional web addresses that might be of interest to some readers. To return to the beginning of this page, please click here.

To go to the home page of Charles F. Urbanowicz.

To go to the home page of the Department of Anthropology.

To go to the home page of California State University, Chico.

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© [Copyright: All Rights Reserved] Charles F. Urbanowicz

24 June 2001 by CFU

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