Possible Futures

Every society, I think, speculates about its own future, and sometimes its own demise. Lately I’ve seen and read a lot of the latter. Films aside, three blog posts have caught my attention. Firstly, Salon had this piece: “How America will collapse (by 2025)“. It gives several possible predictions; here are three:

(1) “Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying the bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers, great and regional, provocatively challenge U.S. dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace. Meanwhile, amid soaring prices, ever-rising unemployment, and a continuing decline in real wages, domestic divisions widen into violent clashes and divisive debates, often over remarkably irrelevant issues. Riding a political tide of disillusionment and despair, a far-right patriot captures the presidency with thundering rhetoric, demanding respect for American authority and threatening military retaliation or economic reprisal. The world pays next to no attention as the American Century ends in silence.”

(2) “The oil shock that follows hits the country like a hurricane, sending prices to startling heights, making travel a staggeringly expensive proposition, putting real wages (which had long been declining) into freefall, and rendering non-competitive whatever American exports remained. With thermostats dropping, gas prices climbing through the roof, and dollars flowing overseas in return for costly oil, the American economy is paralyzed. With long-fraying alliances at an end and fiscal pressures mounting, U.S. military forces finally begin a staged withdrawal from their overseas bases”

(3) “Determined to fight fire with fire, the White House authorizes a retaliatory strike. Confident that its F-6 “Fractionated, Free-Flying” satellite system is impenetrable, Air Force commanders in California transmit robotic codes to the flotilla of X-37B space drones orbiting 250 miles above the Earth, ordering them to launch their “Triple Terminator” missiles at China’s 35 satellites. Zero response. In near panic, the Air Force launches its Falcon Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle into an arc 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean and then, just 20 minutes later, sends the computer codes to fire missiles at seven Chinese satellites in nearby orbits. The launch codes are suddenly inoperative.

“As the Chinese virus spreads uncontrollably through the F-6 satellite architecture, while those second-rate U.S. supercomputers fail to crack the malware’s devilishly complex code, GPS signals crucial to the navigation of U.S. ships and aircraft worldwide are compromised. Carrier fleets begin steaming in circles in the mid-Pacific. Fighter squadrons are grounded. Reaper drones fly aimlessly toward the horizon, crashing when their fuel is exhausted. Suddenly, the United States loses what the U.S. Air Force has long called “the ultimate high ground”: space. Within hours, the military power that had dominated the globe for nearly a century has been defeated in World War III without a single human casualty.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a post today on the dystopian impulse:

Kant’s age was more optimistic than ours, and he assumed that a plan meant a story of progress. But in a pinch, a story of regress will still serve a similar, consoling end: The immensity of the future becomes friendlier, more human-sized, when we assume that it has a bearing. And even dystopias reassure us that history moves in a discernible direction, a genuine arc of the universe unfolding through knowable rules.

Dystopian writing, then, can offer us the safe scares of a haunted house. A more radical brand of fiction about the future would still treat our problems with gravity, but it would also be a Copernican kind of fiction; it would not put our lives, our age, or our problems at the center of history. It would start, in other words, from the frightening and less-familiar thought that history has no direction and no center.

Finally, the one I found  most interesting, John Médaille’s “Will There Be Zombies?

To sum up, the technical problems of rebuilding the world, the problems that seem insurmountable, will turn out to be trivial: there is enough knowledge and resources to accomplish that task. But whether we are able to do it is another thing. The modern world begins by discovering—or rather inventing—the autonomous individual; the self-made made man who has no connections save contractual ones freely chosen and broken at will, for indeed there can be nothing higher than than individual will. Such a man is already half-way to being a zombie. And we must admit to ourselves, that we are all zombies, to some degree we are influenced by the technologies of persuasion and “need-creation.” We are all people who feel a need to work to buy what we don’t need, and then to discover new needs, which we must work even harder to fill. The modernist project ends with post-modernism, and with the true zombie, that is, with the creation of emptiness.

On a practical level, we need to first prepare ourselves. We must know what we really want and buy—or make—only what we really need. Growing a tomato is an act of resistance; fixing a car rather than buying a new one throws a wrench into the system. And making your own music defeats the entertainment industry, while entertaining your children and your neighbors defeats the whole wicked world. Educating one’s children, with or without the dubious help of the schools defeats both government and industry. And all of these provide the seeds from which a new economy, and a new civilization, a liturgical civilization, can be built, one that will fill the zombies and make them human again, and us as well.

We need to be looking around our neighborhoods and areas for resources to solve all the problems when the professional problem-solvers no longer can. If we look closely, we are likely to find more than we suspect. But mostly, we need to be looking at our neighborhoods to find our neighbors; all too often our neighborhoods are not at all neighborly, but rather anonymous and temporary housing, not real places but only real estate. By finding real neighbors, we will find real solutions. And here I make the assertion that to find anything real is to find something genuinely Christian. And only in a real Christianity will we build a real world.

To conclude, I say again, let us be of good cheer. To be sure, we must be realistic about the dangers we face and the hardships we will, no doubt, endure. There will be a certain madness abroad in the world, and this is unavoidable in times like these. People, deprived of comfort and customs, and anxious over the next meal or a place to sleep, will at least be mad, and likely prone to madness. But they are unlikely to fall victim to mere ideology, and we may have it in our power to calm their anxiety. And I suspect that we will discover that the things we will have to give up are not things that we really wanted anyway, and that what we stand to gain is what we were always looking for. And what we gain, we may give, and give to our fellow-zombies, who in their true emptiness of heart want only to be filled with the truth. This, I suspect, is our vocation, our calling, and this is our moment.