A recent three-day family vacation brought me to the impressive Seattle Art Museum, where I marveled over the collection of artifacts from around the world and what they may say about how my own slice of civilization is changing.

The Romans and the Greeks developed culture, commerce, institutions and rules to govern all of it, which enabled them each to stand atop Western civilization for about five centuries. I couldn’t help but wonder if our own experiment will last that long.

If I last for another baker’s dozen years, I will have lived through a full third of this nation’s life since it became independent.  Some changes over that time have been gradual, like the number of manual devices that became electrical: toothbrushes, guitars and car windows. Other things were pretty much one way all my life, but recently have changed.

Until a few years ago, student debt wasn’t really a public issue. Now it’s two public issues: one threatening both the American economy and graduates’ ability to earn a living, and the other, a cultural change in values relating to paying back what one owes.

For most of my life I don’t think there were many municipal ordinances telling people how many cats or dogs they could own. Now, even Clark County, Nev. – located physically next to a county which permits legal prostitution – has one, as do many other localities. There were no courses in animal law when I attended law school.

Until recently, when the pharmaceutical companies were finally able to develop a vaccine for some possibly fatal disease, there was no widespread reluctance to use it, except for religious reasons.

Travelers not half my age have witnessed the emergence of a new opportunity in transportation by organizing and commercializing the sort of college ride-sharing board we once used to get home to visit our families. Uber is now a verb in dozens of countries. In my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, the company announced this week it expects to add 3,000 drivers by the end of next year to the 2,500 registered there. Suburban residents with disabilities that make driving difficult have newfound freedom to get around where public transportation is scarce.

Since around 1890, the United States has been the world’s largest economy. Last year, China claimed the title, according to both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, using gross domestic product adjusted for purchasing power as the measure.

Until recently, every piece of landmark legislation enacted by the U.S. Congress that provided benefits for large numbers of citizens enjoyed bipartisan support.

Until recently, the president of the United States and the people of the United States pretty much had the same friends and enemies among the nations of the world.

Some of this may matter, if we are going to extend our streak.

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