Thursday, May 26, 2022

A Dimming Of A Hopeful Future

 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.)

14 comments:

  1. Nylon123:46 AM

    Yah, those aerocars from the Jetsons never caught my imagination but maybe all the "civil" unrest since the late 60s have managed to bring down the expectations of people. A twenty year "War on Terror" and Social Media since the turn of this century have driven the pedal to metal. For the record a 1986 Nova was the first new vehicle I bought, got me from point A to point B cheaply and carried enough stuff doing so.........:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nylon12 - The Jetsons is an endlessly fascinating view of what the US thought the future would be like, perhaps even more so than any other program. And yes, following events have probably dimmed that vision - no plan surviving first contact at all.

      I think ours was 1987/88 model that TB The Elder provided to make sure that my sister and I could safely get to and from college. That thing was a reliable workhorse and had great gas mileage.

      Delete
  2. I think that space has been a poor representation of the future because those predicting it during our childhood didn’t fully understand the enormous cost and resources required to get there. The space shuttles made it look easy until they didn’t. I think better examples would be found in computers, internet, vaccines, healthcare, etc. All those have changed unfathomably in my life time and changed my life in ways unpredictable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ed, you are certainly onto something there - Space in the 1950's and even 1960's was something we thought worked differently than it did. That said, I think there was a belief in the hopefulness of the future that space engendered that the other items you list - computers, internet, vaccines, healthcare, etc. - did not and maybe do not. Space in a sense was full of limitless possibilities; the InterWeb or computers also in a sense have limitless possibilities that we will probably never explore fully (certainly in our lifetimes), but carry no sense of adventure or a calling of ourselves to a higher plane. I think we are poorer for it.

      Delete
    2. One area of life that gives me hope for the future and the nearly limitless possibilities is our understanding of the human genome and CRISPR. I don't think it will be long before there are gene therapies to cure most diseases still considered fatal. But on the flip side, the ability to use the same things for evil is also available. Space had the hopefulness but I thought it also had it's dark side too. I'm thinking of life ending asteroids, hostile alien life and such. Neither Star Trek or Star Wars were very cheery futures.

      Delete
    3. Ed, I view the human genome and CRISPR with the same sense of impending doom as splitting the atom: great potential, lots of ways things can go wrong, sometimes unintentionally. Or be used for nefarious purposes (there is a fair amount of science fiction about that).

      Bleakest Assessment of the Future In Science Fiction: Warhammer 40K: "In The Grim Darkness of the Far Future, there is only War".

      Delete
  3. One episode of STNG that really caught my attention was the one with the little video game. Wound up sidelining everyone with dopamine hits. It was a prophecy. The hard work and earned dopamine hit from doing something worthwhile is scarce now... and with it went the vision for the future.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. STxAR - Interesting, in that accomplishment also represents a dopamine hit. We have exchanged the greater satisfaction of actual accomplishment for the smaller dopamine hits of social media and games. As with my comment to Ed above, we are the poorer for it.

      Delete
  4. Anonymous9:05 AM

    Ha! I loved the Jetsons and as a child of the 60s, I loved the "space race" years. Shoot, I still love all of it and was thrilled to see the images from Mars! I like that a lot of it has been privatized now, since I think that only optimizes the future of space exploration and the practical benefits that come from it. I'm choosing to be optimistic. (And despite what Star Trek led us to believe, I have to wonder about the "Fermi Paradox") -Kelly

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kelly - Like a great many things, privatization will bring opportunities that government sponsorship will not (as it always manages to do). The reality (probably past my lifetime) is that space as a frontier will be more than think it is now, but less than dreamed it would be.

      In terms of the Fermi paradox (I had to look this up to refresh myself), I often fall back on C.S. Lewis far less scientific opinion: What if the reason Earth has never been visited is the fact that we are effectively in a cosmic quarantine zone, mostly for the good of others?

      Delete
    2. Anonymous7:41 AM

      Excellent speculation by Lewis! -K

      Delete
    3. Kelly, in Lewis' Science Fiction (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength - all highly recommended) - Earth is essentially a quarantine zone in the overall cosmic scheme of things due to humanity's fall. It is like that person that believes themselves to be highly popular and cannot understand why anyone does not want to associate with them.

      Delete
  5. Oddly, one sentence in this is what I had planned to write about tonight. (Teaser) We are so very, very lucky.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John, I feel we should stop this sharing of information or our nightly secret Falcon-X radio calls may be monitored...

      Delete

Your comment will be posted after review. If you could take the time to be kind and not practice profanity, it would be appreciated. Thanks for posting!