My crystal ball is on the blink again. I think one of the cats peed on it.
Fortunately it still works as well as anyone else’s. None of us knows the future.
It is a curious thing of being human that we want to treat time as a two way street, seeing ahead as we see behind.
We peer into the cloudy future populated with unborn people and prognosticate: “we’re on the right side of history” or “the future is clearly less religious than the past” or– A million other things.
Now before you point at me and say “you do that too” – of course I do. Science fiction is to an extent the collective dreaming about the future. Sort of like a kid lying in bed at night and daydreaming of being grownup.
In other words, what separates the feeling of reading fantasy from the feeling of reading science fiction is that science fiction is marginally plausible.
Oh, the details might be wrong, the science might change, but how many of us reading it almost think we could be part great great grandparents to Johnny Rico? (In which case the chronology is wrong too, but we know that.)
Part of the thrill of science fiction is “it could turn out that way” while with fantasy, well, no.
But the important thing to keep in mind when peering into that sort of crystal ball is that what we’re actually seeing is not a crystalized image, a hard-nosed reality. It’s fiction. Fiction written in the light of research interacting with the writer’s own predispositions and prejudices. By which I don’t mean the litany of SJW evils like racissss and sexisss and – d*mn it, can’t they come up with a word for homophobe that ends in isssss? – but the opinions and ideas the writer brings with him to writing. You can’t be of an age to write a novel without having some opinions you’ve integrated to the point you don’t examine them. Whether those opinions are that women are exactly the same as men, or they are that men (or women) are inferior, all these are prejudices.
The other important thing to keep in mind is that “research” part. And by research in this case I mean that anyone who would make prognostications about the future, even “we’re on the right side of history” blurted on their blog needs to have read broadly enough in history and the biographies of people who lived at the time, to be able to say so with any degree of confidence. This reading should not confine itself to a single point of view, or a single century.
Now, I have done this – no great virtue, I read history for fun – and I can look to the past and see some trends for the future. I can see our self proclaimed elites as not all that different from various out of touch classes of the past, which is why I say in the end we win, they lose.
OTOH the past is an imperfect mirror. We now have technologies and abilities they didn’t have, and furthermore could acquire new ones at any minute. One of those “mind-control” things that DARPA is rumored to be studying comes through and it’s game over. The elites can control a mass of sheep and the boot stomps on the human face forever. (Or does it? Perhaps sheep controlled by mind rays don’t produce enough food. Perhaps nutritional deficiencies loosen the mind control. Perhaps–)
That is the other important thing to remember. The past through tomorrow might be a good idea for time travel, but tomorrow through the past is always imperfect. You’re reading shadows and penumbras.
Humans are complex creatures and the civilizations they create are infinitely complex and confused. You can’t ever be sure you have all the factors that led to the fall of Rome, for instance. At least every other year we get another theory that “explains” it, but all of them together they’re still not complete.
You can look at our society and see certain trends seen in Rome or China or monarchic France and say “we’re in trouble.” What you can’t say is “we are doomed.”
Many of these same trends were present in Regency England, and yet the greater glory of the Empire under Victoria was ahead of them. Heck, many of the trends were present in England during the War of the Roses, but look what was yet to come that would project that island out of its bonds and into global prominence.
Granted, none of this is as crazy as the SJWs claiming they’re on the right side of history because they’re victims and therefore they’ll win while fighting against the twin forces of Christianity/capitalism which brought most of the improvements in the treatment of minorities/oppressed we see today. (That setting all the captives free thing? Yeah, not an accident.)
But it’s still crazy.
The thing about the future is that it’s so hard to predict.
Which is why there’s so much room for science fiction. And why science fiction is needed. And why diversity of points of view on what the future holds is needed too.
If you only read 1984 and that was the only book ever written about the future, you’d think it was inevitable and interpret every corroborative detail in the present as “this is where we’re headed.”
But if you read … oh, Friday too, you start wondering if 1984 maybe is only in Britain, and what is happening in the rest of the world?
Then you can see “this trend leads here, but his one leads there” and start choosing what to reinforce and what to undermine, according to your beliefs and knowledge.
Here’s the thing: no SFNal future is true. No prediction of politician, dictator or king will ever be true. Not in its entirety. The smart thinkers with thick knowledge of history will be right some of the time.
However prophets of total doom or total victory for their side are almost always totally wrong. The future like the past is never unambiguous.
Which is why I can say I think we’ll win this one, but I won’t say “we’re on the right side of history” nor do I seek moral authority from it. My moral authority resides in the side that has made life the most comfortable for the most people in all of history, and in believing more comfort and more people are a good thing.
I don’t seek the approval of future generations, who likely will have their own priorities, nor do I rest on their imagined backs to say “Oh, look, I’m moral because generations yet unborn will agree with me.”
Beware of anyone who does that. He’s either brainwashed, a fool or a charlatan.