Thursday, June 10, 2010

What Is Your Vision Of The Future?

As a sci-fi movie aficionado, I've always been fascinated with visions of what life on our planet might be like in the future. When I was younger, my views of the shape of things to come tended toward techno-utopian visions like Star Wars. It may not have been utopian in the political sense where an evil Empire had subjugated the Old Republic, but it was filled with technological marvels such as intelligent robot servants, messages that could be sent holographically and spaceships that could travel at light speed. Of course it was set in a galaxy far, far away, but I couldn't help wondering when those technological advances might become a reality on my home planet.

But as I became more educated, my understanding of how our technological advances have been predicated on the consumption of finite resources, particularly oil and natural gas, altered my views on how our future might evolve. Earlier this year I wrote a review of Avatar that took this understanding into account within the universe that James Cameron constructed. Just substitute unobtanium as the resource of the 22nd century where we use oil now and the motivations driving the characters from Earth make sense. But what I didn't address in the review I wrote is: how realistic is this scenario as a vision of the future? In order for the world of 2154 as James Cameron depicts it to be realistic, we would need to have a technological breakthrough where we could safely transport human beings faster than the speed of light to other solar systems that contained planets whose natural resources we could plunder (or not, depending on the pluckiness of the natives) for our own benefit. It's a nice fictional construct that sustains an exciting universe (this is science fiction, so I buy it within the context of that medium) but ultimately I don't believe that such a breakthrough is realistic.

So my vision of the future tends to be more in the tradition of the dystopic futurist films of the 70's. I've always been a big fan of Soylent Green, which had a distinct vision of the world of 2022 as the backdrop to an entertaining, hard-boiled, film noir crime mystery. Made in 1973, this movie illustrated the effects of overpopulation and how civilization has adjusted (quite raggedly) to that reality. There's a great scene between Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson talking about "the greenhouse effect" as they peddle a stationary bicycle designed to provide them with electricity. Finally, there is the issue of food distribution where the demand is overwhelming but the supply of foods we take for granted, like meats or fruits, is meager. While I believe the way this situation is resolved is too extreme to occur realistically in 12 years from now, there are many aspects of this world that may become reality if we continue on our current non-renewable resource consumption binge.

The future might not be as gloomy as that. Logan's Run, while still a dystopic vision, is a lot more fun. The authorities had their own disturbing methods of dealing with overpopulation, but prior to their "carousel" designed to thin the herd, young people seemingly had their every whim catered to. Many aspects of this are unrealistic to me due to their techno-dependence; we simply won't have enough energy to "beam" human beings from one area of a dome the size of the Great Mall of America to the other, even if such a method of transport were invented. But I do believe the high levels of promiscuity featured in the film are a distinct possibility for the future. When an entire culture faces deprivation of some sort, be it economic or political, people react by seeking out pleasure wherever they can find it to numb the pain of their sucky reality. So I expect a lot more drinking and screwing in the future, among other things.

There was another 70's futuristic tale that as a story I found messy and sometimes pretentious, but conceptually was fascinating. Zardoz was a movie set in the future where the entire working class of people had regressed to primitive levels. The only thing that seemed to keep them going would be when they would be visited by their god, Zardoz, who addressed them as "his chosen people". Zardoz was actually a flying machine constructed by the upper class of people who retained superiority by using their monopoly on technology to keep the masses scared and ignorant, dispensing nuggets of wisdom from on high such as, "The gun is good. The penis is evil". The point of this is that those in charge are using religion to control the masses and convince them to kill whoever they want. That's what I think the point is. It's a surreal, confusing tale told in a sloppy fashion. But it sticks in my mind.

My own vision of the future contains many elements of these films, but with differences in how they will specifically manifest themselves. I don't believe that Peak Oil will completely destroy technological innovation, but I do believe that future technological advances will be allocated to those who can afford it, and the disparity between social classes will become much greater. Only the upper crust will be able to actually own new technology. I agree with Walter Mosley's vision in his book Futureland, where the working masses place in society is determined by the number of subscriptions they can afford. As class disparity increases, reactions will vary from increased pleasure seeking in affordable recreations; be it sex, inebriation or other forms of distracting entertainment, or an increase in religious fervor that necessitates abstaining from those same affordable recreations deemed "immoral" by those seeking to purify the world of what they believe has lead to their worsening predicament. Politically, this will drive Americans to elect leaders that alternate between being even more "warmongering" than Bush and when that fails to achieve any increase in prosperity, they will elect leaders even more "hopeful" than Obama. But as long as our government fails to address the fact that there are no easy solutions, that we are going to have to scrap our Infinite Growth Paradigm, relocalize our highest economic priorities and change the way money works so that it exists in harmony with the way energy works, they are going to continue to be disappointed and discontented. It won't be a Mad Max future, but it won't be The Jetsons either.

But what do you think? What is your vision of the future socially, politically, economically? Is there some type of unobtanium resource that we will discover that can replace oil and natural gas to provide us with the fuel we need to power a technologically advanced future? Will we be able to invent a way to transport humans faster than lightspeed? Where are we headed spiritually and what role will religion play in shaping our culture? I am curious to get different points of view about our possibilities for the future.


Yogi Tea said...

Great Article! I believe that the future will be more like one of my favorite science fiction films, "Silent Running" with Bruce Dern about the diminished resources on Earth and how spaceships were created like giant greenhouses to grow forests, agriculture, etc. Loved the Drones. By the way it was Not about Jamaican Bobsleders.

Robert Paulsen said...

That's a 70's science fiction film I haven't seen! I'm very curious to rent that, especially after reading your description of it. Sounds intriguing, and no, I'm not expecting Doug E. Doug to make a cameo. ;)

Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

I love this post, and will definitely have to check out Soylent Green, which I had not heard of before. I think we are slowly heading in the direction of using our minds more, not necessarily for inventing (although I certainly hope there will be more of that; there needs to be), but for communicating. I don't really mean telepathy in the literal sense of thought transfer, but more like energy transfer that we can pick up on. It's hard to explain; we'll have to discuss it in depth sometime. Of course, this is coming from someone who's worked in the New Age industry for 12 years! ;)

Robert Paulsen said...

Soylent Green is great, if you ever want to borrow it, I've got a copy on DVD. I definitely want to have a deeper conversation regarding how we use our minds more to better our world in the future. It would be great to be able to discover untapped resources that we previously were unaware of. I think that might come to pass on both a figurative and literal level; human energy comes not only through our physical labor, which most economic sectors usually measure, but through mental energy. Perhaps the future might entail harnessing mental energy to focus on PSYCHIC energy. That's part of the concept behind the movie The Men Who Stare At Goats. Is that part of what you're talking about? I think our understanding of that field is still in its infancy, hopefully the future will bring about deeper progress.