There is no sword about to fall on your shoulders. The world isn’t coming to an end.
To those of you rapidly paging down to yesterday’s blog, no there is no contradiction. The people – at least for now – in charge of our destiny as a people are performing acts of astonishing malpractice. Things can get very, very sticky. As sticky as a wad of chewed up gum that got covered in stickfast.
So, what am I talking about now? Do I really expect you to think there is no problem?
No, of course I don’t. Look, you silly critter, when did anyone ever promise you a problem free time to live in? Not only was that always highly unlikely – you have read some history, right? – but you’d probably end up finding it boring if it came about.
We are in an exceedingly tight spot and our foreign policy of speaking softly and carrying an apologetic stick is going to get us in wars. On the other hand we are and have always been the most innovative civilization in the history of mankind and we have some awesome fighting machines. (And those are just our guys. You should see the mechanical ones.)
What I’m trying to say here is that there is no predetermined outcome. Decay and loss of power and civilizational strength is a choice, not an inevitable destiny.
The big difference between 1984 and Friday is that no one dropped a Heinlein character in the middle of 1984. The big difference between The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and Brave New World is not much greater.
In other words, you’ve been sold a bill of goods by the cultural elite that kept all the entertainment and information industry locked tighter than a drum until very recently. Not that they wanted to consign you to depression and despair, mind. No, they had a bright dream of their own (some of them still do) which went something like this: capitalist society is doomed, therefore it collapses, and beyond it arises the great day of equality and perfect communism, where we shall all be like onto gods and—
The problem is that capitalism proves remarkably hard to kill, and then when you manage to kill it, SOMEHOW the bright day of perfect equality never dawns, possibly because a society that makes humans into things can’t function because humans aren’t things. But I digress.
So the poor dears have to try harder to show you how bad capitalism is, and then when communism doesn’t work, well, frankly they’re just fed up with humanity, so they show you how that doesn’t work either, so that in the end what passes for all literature and entertainment and art becomes the loooooooooooong sustained whine of a two year old who’s just found out he can’t have a pony and (appropriately) a little red wagon “But I waaaaaaaant perfect communism! You promised you’d give me perfect communism!” followed by “I only can’t have perfect communism because capitalism is a poopy face, humans are poopy faces, reality is poopy face.”
Or, if you prefer the “high end” of that kind of expression, as translated to science fiction, the future is rusty and closed to the possibility of new invention and technology and nothing works, and it feels like the 1930s redux, and then they all die.
These are the people who say space travel isn’t really sf, and no one would have adventures in space, but of course, if you read them these are people who grew up in comfort unimaginable to kings and princes of even a few years back, and who think you can’t have fun anywhere, and that, frankly, we should all listen to them when they say incredibly stupid moralizing things like “you can’t go to space until you learn to take care of the Earth.” (Why? The Earth might very well turn out to be the least of our worlds. Our cradle, sure. But anyone who knows how reality works, knows if we had had to stay in Europe till we learned to take care of it, we’d never have expanded to the New World. Because part of learning is to experience new things.) This is sort of like SF written by the devotees of a scatological cult.
Wait, it is SF written by devotees of a scatological cult. They believe the Earth is overpopulated, human invention has finished its run and we’ll never get further technologically, and besides, no system of society works. (What they mean is that no system works perfectly, which is how they demand that all systems but socialism work, and of course socialism doesn’t work at all.)
They got hold of the publishing houses late seventies which is when most people say they stopped reading SF – though they don’t tell you why, because most of them don’t know. They just know that there was nothing on the shelves for them.
Well, I’m telling you why: because at that point the supposed writer-entertainers started selling gloom and doom as our only future, the same gloom and doom people were getting from their schools (we were all going to freeze to death) their newspaper (coming ice age because of the sins of industrialized society) and even their scientific publications (coming ice age for sure, the only good thing was that it would probably exterminate humanity.)
I think I was twenty nine when I realized that all these prophecies of doom weren’t true. I remember the big sigh of relief when I realized the Earth probably wasn’t overpopulated (Statistics suck, overpopulated is not what you think it is, when tech allows us to survive on the produce of smaller and smaller areas and at any rate, the world, MOSTLY is full of empty space) and that even if it were, that was just a spur to invention and with more people we had more minds to invent things. I’d assumed till then I was living in twilight years (and sparkly vampires hadn’t even been invented yet.)
Yesterday a lot of people in the comments said they hoped the feeling of doom would pass, just like it passed before. I agree. I mean, I remember the Carter years, and the people preparing to go back to the Earth. There’s always something a little silly about that, anyway, because when a crisis like that hits, it hits in ways you don’t expect.
At any rate, a lot of us are having 70s flashbacks, and in my case they are worse than most. (I appreciate that a lot of Russian immigrants agree with me, but to them I want to say “you have it easy. You didn’t see the fall and if you had it wouldn’t be in a modern society. In my case… PTSD might better describe what’s happening.”) But they’re also reassuring in a way, because we didn’t end up in the soup then and maybe we’ll escape now.
Don’t yell at me. I’m aware – very aware – we are all of us in much worse shape than in the seventies, for several reasons, among them a slow bleed away of competency due to our execrable school system. But – this is important – while our kids are uneducated it doesn’t mean they’re stupid, and nothing wakes you like a bucket of unemployment in the face.
Also, the feeling I have about the American economy is that of a barely restrained horse, wanting to be racing. Many things could loosen it and two of the simplest would be the end of regulatory insecurity and permitting us to exploit our vast mineral wealth, to wit oil.
Never happen? Don’t bet on it. Now the things after that, including a simplification and defanging of the tax code… that I can’t promise you. But I think we have a fair shot at the first two.
And if we don’t? If it all goes pear shaped?
Well… Portugal – and other countries – have lived through bankruptcy. There was civilized life of a sort still going on in Lebanon in the middle of the civil war. Things just become very weird, and ways of doing things become odd, and supplies can become irregular (which is why it’s a good idea to have some stop gaps laid by.) Yeah, you might have to be more careful when going out. Yeah, you might have to fence your yard. No, you won’t like it. But in the end all of that are minor adjustments. Yes, even the bars on the windows and tall walls around the houses are minor adjustments. You aren’t catapulted suddenly back to the 10th century with no reprieve.
Remember the difference between a dystopia and a dystopia with a Heinlein character in it. Be a Heinlein character.
In other words, to paraphrase the man, if faced with the choice between being a live lamb or a dead lion, be a live lion. As he noted, it’s often easier.
Don’t give up. Don’t accept decay as an inevitable fate. Fight. Improve. Think up new ways to do things, and new ways to get around problems.
We’ll do. We’re humans and humans survive.