The Future I Was Promised (from Eurotrib)
BY De Clarke
Now I find myself facing the possibility that my lifetime occurred during an astonishing period of Good Old Days, an efflorescence of cheap energy and technoculture that may never recur — a one-shot deal. It seems hard to believe that anyone will be looking back on us with anything other than sullen rage, envy, blame, and hatred;, or perhaps in the best case an obscure and muddled religious awe. We — my parents’ generation and my own — will be the ones who “did it,” who screwed everything up, who were so stupid that knowing what we know we refused to change our ways and sentenced our grandchildren to some very dysfunctional situation… at least that’s what I fear.
I don’t look forward to the future any more. I was promised a bright Star Trek future, all shiny and clean. Now I look at hungry Chinese ex-peasants sifting recyclable materials out of multi-acre, mountainous waste dumps with their bare hands and I think, This is the future we have made for ourselves, nice innit. But the funny thing is, the more I look at where we actually are today… the less thrilled I am, on sober reflection, about that shiny Star Trek future I was originally offered.
Futurism, the art or rhetoric of envisioning the future, is at the heart of all our politics. What we believe about the future and the past fuels [ahem] our strategies and allegiances in the present. The narratives with which we make sense of the world, our lives, and history are cautionary tales; we direct our efforts to seeking certain outcomes and avoiding others, heading for “the happy ending” or as close as we can get to it, trying to “learn from the past” (or from the narrative our imaginations and prejudices have imposed on the past).
One of the most powerful narratives of Western industrialism has been Progress — the storyline being that “in the bad old days” everyone was poor, sick, hungry, unhappy, stupid, bullied and short-lived, and by the continuous improvement of technology these conditions have been more and more ameliorated; this trend will continue until we reach a Happy Ever After of abundance, freedom, health (maybe even immortality), luxury, high intelligence, universal leisure etc. The Good Days are yet to come! Nothing in the past is of the least value, because we have outgrown it and exceeded it in every way.
So here I want to talk about this narrative in the context of the Space Dream and the Jetsons Future, the Gernsback Continuum, the World’s Fair and Tomorrowland: the idea that our confinement to this ball of rock is the Bad Old Days, and we will look back on it from a future of abundance, when we mine the entire solar system for minerals and energy and colonise distant solar systems, finally transcending the limits of Earth.
Ironically one of the things we do (and spend a lot of money on) while pursuing the Space Dream, is intensive research into how to survive in a closed ecology. Some years ago I commented that the failure of Biosphere was hardly a good advertisement for our progress in this area. One futurist of my acquaintance, on hearing this cynical comment, protested:
“The Biosphere project was a fraud from the beginning and is now no more then an amusement park. The real research on closed environmental systems is being done by NASA and the Russian space program….”
Read full post. It’s well worth it!