During my last visit to Old Home and The Ranch, Uisdean Rudah and I were having our weekly "Dinner And A Discussion" event, which often tends to devolve into a discussion about a specific ongoing item or activity in the world around us.
In this case, it was space.
"Did you see the video of the Mars helicopter that I sent?" Uisdean Ruadh asked. When I responded in the affirmative, he followed up with "What did you think?"
"Eh", I replied. "It was interesting, I suppose. A drone video. That is nice."
"The fact we are controlling it millions of miles away is not impressive?" he responded, almost incredulously.
"It is, I suppose" I responded. "But this is not the first time we have done so. And really, is this the future of space that we are hoping for? Radio signals and drone videos?"
What emerged from the discussion was a rather in depth thought consideration of the future.
The future, as has been said by others (and myself) is not what it originally was portrayed to be. I remember going through library books in the mid to late 70's that were written in the '60's about the coming future of space. Pastel drawings of colonies in space, complete with farms and families floating in zero gravity, filled my mind.
Even if the pictures were largely imagined and based on "artists' interpretations", what they had was a vision of progress for the future - and indirectly of hope, hope of a better more interesting and more expansive world.
As I related to Uisdean Ruadh (and he agreed), the future today is a lot less hopeful.
By "less hopeful", I mean in the general main media, 24/7 approach. Visions of the future now spun for us are of a world that is smaller and smaller and less and less: live on less, live with less, do less. The visions of outer space and spanning the Solar System and exploring beyond have been replaced with a vision of owning nothing, having no aspirations beyond those which are allowed, and compressing one's life foot print to as little as possible in the name of a series of effectively unreachable goals.
This is not a vision of the future. This is a footnote.
I cannot imagine - except that I live with my children - how such a vision can and will impact young people, let alone people of my own age bracket. To essentially live in an age where there is no greater life to be aspired to, no frontiers to push back, only existence - this feels like the mindset of decline, not of action.
If one could could characterize the 20th Century in a way, one could make the argument that it was "The Century of Progress". Not all of that progress was good (progress is in itself not an inherent good; there is plenty of progress that is actually a retrograde action), but that there was a sense that there was a brighter future to aspire to. It feels - at least to me it feels - that there is no brighter future now. We seem to live in an age where our eyes are no longer fixed on the horizons of possibilities or edge of imagination but lower and lower, on the ground in front of us or even beneath us.
I am not arguing that somehow space travel represents "The Future" per se (even if it did, we are in that awkward part of all novels where space travel is slow, painful, and no fun), but that the underlying hope of what space travel represented has disappeared, replaced by nothing more a goal of existence. It is as if we exchanged a high performance sports car for a 1980's Chevy Nova or a Kubota tractor for a push mower: it will do the job, but is hardly something to get excited about.
If there is a future to be had - at least in this world, not considering The World To Come - we can no longer look to society or the world to find it. We can only look to ourselves and those that are of like mind. Perhaps it is as author Rod Dreher suggested in The Benedict Option, it will be up to us to create another sort of small community amidst the backdrop of a world view gone bleak: that of a future we want to be in (or we want those of like mind to be in, if older), not that which we are being sold.
(Postscript: For those that are interested in ongoing space events, one could do far worse than to make The Silicon Graybeard a regular stop. He follows space news regularly and translates it into what it means for those of us that just look up in the night sky.)