Yesterday, on my way into Chipotle, I crossed paths with a guy wearing a bright pink t-shirt that screamed the following, in all caps: “I STAND ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY.” Unsurprisingly, he looked rather proud of himself. He also looked like he might punch you if you questioned his political beliefs, so I simply sighed and went on my merry way into Hillary Clinton’s Fake Favorite Restaurant.
But seriously: What did the guy want? A trophy? A shirt declaring you’re “on the right side of history,” regardless of the issue—in this case, it was gay marriage—might be the most self-centered, self-congratulatory garment in the entire world. The only competitor that comes to mind are those t-shirts with the arrows pointing to the wearer’s biceps that say “WELCOME TO THE GUN SHOW,” and those at least have the merit of being funny.
Much has been said about the absurdity of stating that a person or idea is “on the right side of history”—a belief that history is a linear, upward trajectory to an ever-improving society, punctured by occasional purifying conflicts. Looking back at the actual past, alas, tells a different story: History, if anything, seems cyclical, and it is alternately weird, crazy, confusing, and cruel. Villains sometimes win. Dictators rise. People enslave other people. Wars erupt. There may be good and evil, and there may be ultimate cosmic justice at the hands of God, but human history has no “right” side for one reason: Bad things will inevitably happen again. (I, for one, have a close eye on Japanese robot “nursemaids” and the growing, lurking army of driverless cars.)