Imagine if we could somehow travel to the past and alter events in order to change present reality. Books and films have explored this to some degree, but not enough for my tastes. I think this idea should be taken seriously. Nobody is really travelling back in time anytime soon, of course. Time travel is at best a long, long way off and maybe impossible. But I believe we can gain useful insights into current social conditions and challenges by imagining how differently things might have developed with a new turn or twist imposed on the past. For example, a classic “change the present by changing the past” imaginary scenario is to go back and kill Hitler, thus preventing World War II and the Holocaust. Of course, it might not be as simple as that.
Could you kill Hitler before he ever did anything wrong? Could you shoot a teenaged Adolf? Or strangle him as a baby in his crib? It would be tough to kill an innocent (so far) person but the thought of saving 60 million people or so down the line undoubtedly would be sufficient motivation for many. However, if we kill Hitler and there is no World War II, would that guarantee a positive future? Maybe not. What if the resultant peaceful 1940s are instead a time of rising tension between the Soviet Union and the West? It’s possible that World War II would end up occurring in the 1950s but fought this time between the Russians and Americans. And, if the buildup had so scared them that they both developed nuclear weapons, it might have meant the end of civilization. Therefore, killing Hitler before he became the Führer would be the worst possible thing to do. But what if the time travellers don’t micro-manage history and instead of tinkering with individuals or single events focused on greater targets?
What if they travelled back in time and rather than whacking some dictator, tried to uplift an entire society? Such a thing would likely be beyond the abilities a few time travellers to accomplish on their own. But what if they simply presented their case to those in power at some critical point in the past? Imagine, for example, speaking with key American leaders after the US Civil War and explaining to them that the end of slavery presents a golden opportunity to place America on a course of fairness and opportunity for all people that will save or enhance millions of live and make America far more prosperous in the long term.
The same could be attempted to address the inequality of women. Time travellers could approach persons in power in past centuries and explain to them that in the future it will self-evident that women are as smart and capable as men and that to waste so much potential is a crime against not only women but all of humanity.
Even more radical, what if time travellers journeyed back to the world of 20,000 years ago and challenged the people of that time to turn away from magical thinking because it leads to mostly misery and wasted human potential? What if they did? What might have happened if future people could have convinced our distant ancestors to place their trust in science rather than fantasy? What if the industrial revolution happened in 15,000 BCE? Where might we be now? Imagine Mars colonized 14,000 years ago, poverty and disease eliminated 12,000 years ago. Where might we be now?
What about the Cayman Islands? Where might we be now if time travellers had met with our politicians and business leaders 50 years ago? Imagine if they had convinced them to invest heavily in education and support services for babies and children back in the 1960s. What if they had managed to convince our leaders that all prosperity flows from having successive generations of healthy and mentally vibrant children?
What if the time travellers to Cayman’s past also made a compelling case to protect Cayman’s natural environment? Just imagine how much more beautiful Grand Cayman would be today if meaningful, comprehensive and intelligent legislation with foresight had been enacted. Laws passed in the 1960s to ensure we did not squander our natural wealth would mean a very different Grand Cayman today. How different would Seven Mile Beach look today, for example, if previous politicians had recognized its rare beauty and decided to forever forbid building hotels and condos on the sea-side of West Bay Road? Sure it would have meant less short-term money for real estate development. But that minor loss likely would have been dwarfed by the money made off tourists who would pay handsomely to be near the world’s most beautiful unspoiled beach. It’s a shame no one from the future visited us decades ago to give us a heads up so that we could have avoided so many blunders. But maybe there is still an opportunity for us to do something right.
Let’s imagine that we are the people of the “past” right now and we are being visited by someone from the future. What if that person made a passionate plea to us about how our actions today impact tomorrow? What if they warned us that ignoring environmental concerns and pretending that nature does not matter will not end nicely for us? And what if they told us that social disaster is inevitable if we continue to graduate substantial numbers of students from our high schools each year who are not prepared to function and compete in an increasingly digital and globalized world? What if they told us, plain and simple, that we must change course dramatically in the way we nurture and educate our young and the way in which we allow the continual degradation of our natural environment? What do you think? Would our leaders today listen and act accordingly so that the future Cayman Islands will be better and not worse?