The following piece first appeared in The Congressional Quarterly Researcher; October 1999


 

Should we celebrate the year 2000?

by David Kessler

Yes. The argument that there was no year zero and that therefore the millennium ends December 31, 2000 is correct only so long as we define "millennium" as a thousand year anniversary of the beginning of our calendar, use the current version of that calendar, and ignore past errors in the calculation of that calendar. In fact, there have been several errors in calculating the present calendar (most historians place the birth of Jesus between 4 and 6 B.C.), the current calendar is not even a thousand years old (New years day used to be December 25), and the term "millennium" is not date specific; it has traditionally been used to refer to a 1,000 year period of peace and prosperity which is yet to come, and could begin at any moment.

The dispute of 2000 versus 2001 is a false controversy based in competing priorities; the latter date is championed for mathematical reasons, while the former is championed for psychological ones. Neither side disagrees with the other's logic, only with the belief that mathematics could be as important as psychology, or vice versa. By the time 2,000 is over we are all going to be tired of - mathematically incorrect - announcements for every event's "last occurrence of the millennium." Very tired.

Those who stand for the accuracy of 2001 often mock their perceived opponents as thinking a millennium has 999 years. In fact, those planning celebrations for 2000 have no desire to subtract any amount of time from a millennium; They know that 1,000 years is a powerfully symbolic number, the same way 2,000 is. Poetry teaches us how resonant round numbers are, and classic science fiction has convinced us that 2,000 represents a semi-mythic future where everything is different.

Holidays like New Year's Eve allow us to pause and reflect on our lives and on society in ways that we don't often look while in the midst of things. The end of a decade, a century, or a millennium, invite us to reflect all the more profoundly on our situation (would $300B of third world debt relief be under consideration were it not for Jubilee 2000?). Celebrating 2000 should not be an occasion for arguing mathematics, but for spurring people to look at the world around them with an eye for positive change.

The calendar shows us that numbers can have a great psychological weight, and now, on the threshold of the year 2,000 we are told to wait a year to celebrate because 2,000 is not the mathematical millennium. Well it is the intuitive millennium, and it's worth a good celebration. I suspect that society will be more sane for not having tried to hold back for a year, and we can be sure there will be "real millennium" parties to attend come New Year's 2001.