State of the Future
by Ernest Lilley
Review by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu.com Editorial ISBN/ITEM#: EL0602
Date: February 1, 2006 / Show Official Info /
I recently asked some SF savvy friends what techno-whiz-bang-SF-tropes they'd most like to see come to pass. Neural computer links with constant data access. Cars that drive themselves, or at least know enough to keep from running into each other. Vacations on the moon. Autodocs that can cure everything from broken bones to the common cold. Nobody mentioned world peace, ending starvation, global literacy, or curing aids, not to mention cancer, avian flu, and ebola.
The thing that strikes me is that the things they claim to want are mostly within our grasp. Just too expensive for individuals to afford. Sure, some of those technologies are still nascent, but the difference between the future we have and the one we feel we were promised is often a matter of money. If you talk to people who believe they are channeling a former life, I understand that there turns out to be a disproportionate number of reincarnated royalty and persons of wealth. So it is with us. If you look backwards to the protagonists of proto SF, you'll find that they represented either a very wealthy, or very lucky portion of the population...not everyman. Everyman was some downtrodden slob addicted to consumer culture and powerless to stop alien invasions. It's nobody's fault but our own that most of fandom grew up to be everyman, rather than Richard Ballinger Seaton, wealthy scientist industrialist.
Even so, we've got the future we wanted, for the most part, it's just that having, as our favorite Vulcan philosopher points out, is not as pleasurable as wanting. Getting the pleasure part back then is to want something we don't have yet. A new future.
So, what should we look for when shopping for the future of today? How about a better world for all? I don't mean one crisscrossed with hypersonic nuclear blimps and dotted with space elevators. I mean one where people don't live in fear for their lives and face the threat of starvation every day. If that sounds boring to you, don't fret, it sounds boring to me too. So let's put that on the agenda as well. No terrifying, no starving, no boring. Check.
The problem isn't our level of technology. We've got food enough for all, and even if global warming heats up the northern latitudes we'll still be able to move crops northwards. The world may face climatic change, but it's unlikely that it faces climatic failure.
The problem is that we're depending on techno-hacks rather than social-hacks. That we haven't learned how to get along. Want to know why Fundamentalism is on the rise worldwide? Today it's for the same reasons as it was in the early Twentieth Century, because liberal secular intellectuals can't help but marginalize the concerns of the un-enlightened. Since they also can't bring themselves to annihilate them, which I'd maintain isn't possible for either group, but keep hoping they'd somehow die off on their own, the annoying forces of unreason rise up every few decades to take control of society for a while, until their policies get repressive enough for the mass in the middle to toss them out again. For a while.
The answers don't lie in the technological hack, they lie in the social hack, in learning to get along. I'm not saying that getting along doesn't require the readiness to use force by the way. To say that violence never solves anything is correct, at least from a certain point of view, but to ignore the potential for violence is to beg for its release.
The goal of the next fifty years should be to create a social structure that doesn't disenfranchise everyone who doesn't have a college degree but that gives them a stake in the process. The alternative is for one oppressive mono-culture or another to take over the world, and while that might work, it probably wouldn't be a culture based on the beliefs of SF fans.
This is a tall order. It requires the very thing that we were trying to get away from. Engaging mundane society rather than cutting ourselves off from it. But cutting ourselves off isn't really an answer, as you'll see if you attend any fan group for a while...because any group manages to recreate the struggles of the outside world within it.
Sure it would probably be easier to come up with a faster than light drive...but hardly more useful. Until we learn how to get along, learning how to get away will only spread the seeds of our discontent over a broader venue. There's a certain charm in that notion, even so, evoking visions of humankind driven onward to the stars to find elbow room and new adventures on the high frontier. But it's also a notion that accepts that we're slaves to our natures, and where is the freedom in that?
I'm all for going to the stars. But first let's save the world.