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Are we still living in prehistoric times?

British author Herbert George “H. G.” Wells (1866-1946) is well-known for his science fiction books, including The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and The Invisible Man. But he also wrote about many other topics, such as history. And, according to Wells, it seems we are still living in the prehistory of humankind.

In The Discovery of the Future, written in 1901, Wells says that, “The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is or has been is but the twilight of the dawn.”

“It is possible to believe that all that the human mind has ever accomplished is but the dream before the awakening,” he adds in that same book. In other words, according to Wells, we have not discovered yet our true future and the true history of humankind has not yet begun.

This is a consoling and at the same time terrifying thought. First, it brings some consolation and hope to think that in the future humans will be able to eliminate and transcend many of the social challenges we now face, from political and economic inequalities to the possibility of massive self-destruction and destruction of our planet.

However, it feels unpleasant to realize that perhaps we are historically closer to the cavemen and troglodytes than to authentic human beings. In other words, it is terrifying to accept we are still living in the prehistory of humanity; that is, we are not yet truly and fully humans and, in fact, we don’t even know how to become truly human.

As Wells said, we are still asleep, we are just dreaming. We are not awake and in a sense we don’t want to be awakened. Why? Wells offers a possible answer in another work, The Outline of History (a 1208-page book written in 1920 with all the anguish caused by War World I.)

According to Wells, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” And, he says, in spite of all the attempts by Christianity and by the mechanical revolution, “Catastrophe won” (page 1100.)

So, we are still asleep because we have not received an authentic education (which is different from mere scholarization.)

And why we are not educated to the level we should? Because, in Wells’ opinion (seemingly corroborated by current events in Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela, and other places), those in power can’t imagine “the life of people better educated, happier in their circumstances, more free and more healthy” than they are themselves (page 1099.)

Wells was not idealistic or optimistic regarding the future of humankind, as The Time Machine shows it. In fact, at the end of his The Outline of History, Wells already anticipates a new war world, worse than the first one due to the power of the new weapons. Civilization itself was on trial, he said. He lived long enough to see how right he was.  

When, then, will we humans decide to wake up to finally enter our true history? I don’t know.

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