The View From Here
Takoma Park, Maryland July 23, 1998
or, The Future isn't want it used to be
Get my digressions out of the way
Science Fiction can't and doesn't try to predict the future.
We missed the internet.
Millenianists Logical critique
The last 4,234 times a charasmatic preacher said the world would end on July
8, 1998, at 1:23 pm, that preacher was wrong. Why will this one be right
b> Why does God care if you wear a hat?
c> The combination of deep spiritual belief, a desire to see the infidels
perish, and only the nice people like us saved, is interesting pyschology. There's
a certain echo of the ten year old waiting for a bus in the rain, and Mom's late,
and I'll die of drowning or pneumonia or something, and then they'll be sorry. Death
will reveal how we suffered nobly and how saintly we were. The fascination with
rules, numbers, patterns, and prediction is part of the same phenomenon. Sagan's
Demon Haunted World
B. Sweeping generalities here
1) Tomorrow will be like yesterday
2) I'm not quite sure when the future -- the idea of a future different from
the present or past -- was invented.
3) Pre-renaissance (pre generalized and distributed wealth and technology) you live
and suffer a lot, you die, you go to heaven. King is always on throne, nothing ever
changes, the world is static. Some religions have shampoo instuctions attached:
repeat as needed.
4) Renaissance -- measurement, time, discovery, exploration. (Also the plague meant
there were suddenly half as many people sharing the same accumulated wealth.) The
plague itself was change.
5) The Enlightenment -- the clockwork universe. Ordered, rational, conforming to
rules. Take Newton and run with it. Know the states and position of everything in
the universe at any given time, and you can predict where it was and where it will
be for all time. Dull and complicated math shows this is not true.
6) 19th century
13) In the future, all nouns will become verbs.
1) Industrial Revolution
a> Social Darwinism
3) Evolution-- struggle -- one group (species or social class) against the
other -- inevitability -- historic trends -- progress
4) scientific racism -- stealing a riff from the chain of being (God-Angels-Men-Animals-Plants)
(White Men on top, all others inferior in some order or other)
7) 20th Century
1) If you will, the age of uncertainty -- and not just Heisenberg. The
age of uncertain control over massive forces. Weapons, radio, propaganda,
2) But at the same time, the age of limitless possibility, directed
by Darwin's ideas of development and progress. We went 10 miles an hour
in 1840, 30 mph on a train in 1860, 50 mph by 1900, and the cars of
today, 1930, can do 60. So we'll be going 200 miles an hour by 1960.
The car, the train, the aeroplane, the jet plane, the rocket. Bigger,
faster, stronger, newer, better.
8) 1939 Worlds Fair
1) The World of Tomorrow as war developed. Bright and shiny new appliances,
the Trylon and Perisphere, the City of Tomorrow, Democracity, robots,
2) The sub-current. The Book of Record of the Time Capsule of Cupaloy.
A message from Thomas Mann and Einstein. Instruction manual on how to
speak and read English, how to find benchmarks and use them to triangulate,
how to build a metal detector. Assumptions, in short, that the World
of Tomorrow would be in ruins.
1) I lived there for two years. The basic plan was drawn on a cocktail
napkin. A swooping X. A city of Isms. Socialism, modernism -- post-modernism.
Fifty years of progress in five. The future as seen from 1955. TV tower
and superhighways. The future was TV and cars. Lego-style buildings.
Identical building with glass walls to strip privacy. (Brasilia television.)
The planned, mass-produced city designed to control how people lived.
10) The fashionable post-apocalypse. Everyone blows everything up and we're
all dead, except for the brave survivors -- it occurs to me as I write this
that it's a form of millenialism. I'll be dead and then won't they be sorry.
This idea is so formed in our society as to be a cliche. I think it informs
and encourages the nihilism of punk rock, kids in big shambling clothes, body
piercing, etc. You can see today's fashions in the Mad Max movies or Max Headroom.
11) Secular apocalypse. Nuclear winter. Asteroid impact. Global warming.
12) Thalliamide to Viagra. Three Mile Island to Windows 98. Our perceptions
of technology, and what we do with, and what we'll do with it next, have swung
wildly back and forth. Technology was big, scary, dangerous, impersonal and
implacable. Now it's small, accessible, and friendly, though irritating at
times, the way a cuddly pet is. Windows crashes and we lose a day's work,
instead of Dr. Strangelove. Technology gone mad is a VCR blinking 12:00, not
the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists clock moving toward midnight.
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