I’ve been thinking about the future a lot recently. I don’t know if it’s a case of the literature I’ve been reading, the fact that another General Election is fast approaching or if it’s simply a case that we have just celebrated the high point of the Christian calendar in Easter Sunday. Whatever the case the future is something which is playing on my mind quite a bit and what this future will look like.
In my previous post I began with a quote from the Jim Carrey film The Cable Guy to illustrate how technology has evolved in the recent past and how it almost exactly mirrors the vision dreamed up by someone in 1996. But isn’t it interesting to look at how our idea of what the future will look like has shifted considerably over the years, even in the last few years alone?
Look back to the days of the early to mid twentieth century where in Hollywood cinema this vision existed of the world of the future in which society would have continued to evolve, we’d be flying hover cars on the moon or something to that effect and if any aliens showed up humanity would utterly annihilate them. Meanwhile in Europe an altogether different view was coming to the fore with writers such as George Orwell (1984), Pierre Boulle (The Planet of the Apes) and Franz Kafka (The Trial) were presenting works which showed the future as being not some beautiful harmonious utopia but rather a place in which you either had to conform to the regime or face the consequences of your actions. The works were shocking then, and frankly still are. There’s a great paradox here of looking to the past for a vision of the future which we may have already passed by and seeing how the two stack up together. Did the future live up to the expectations of the past? Did we learn from the mistakes committed by heinous warmongers of the past?
Well if we look at the idea of war for just a moment, I don’t believe we’ve learned too much. Or if we have it’s that if we want to wipe out an entire group of people we no longer need an army, but rather an innocent youngster flying a drone thousands of miles away from the target. A far cry from the Art of War, but no less cost effective. It’s shocking to believe that even in war times there is a profit to be had. Back in the early thirties filmmaker Charlie Chaplin was crafting some of the finest pieces of cinema to ever grace the silver screen. However in 1940 he created the now infamous The Great Dictator. This was to be Chaplin’s first audibly speaking role in his films and such an impact he made. The closing scene of the film show the Jewish barber character who has impersonated the dictator Adenoid Hynkel making a speech in which he cries out for universal brotherhood and peace. It is a deeply impassioned scene and one I return to often when I feel in need of a bit of inspiration. Was this achieved? Our world has experienced almost constant states of war in the years since then, with another constant fear under the surface about where world leaders will go next in their quest to be the new superpower. A frightening prospect brought to life in the Stanley Kubrick classic Doctor Strangelove (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).
The more I look at mass media and particularly to cinema I see less and less productions which give a view of the future as being something which shall be peaceful, utopian and advanced. But rather a frankly frightening world where we will have reverted back to a not-quite-primeval state, but not a kick in the ass off it either. Technology can only advance so far, and the world’s resources can only last for a limited time. We are burning a hole in the ozone, we are melting the world’s polar ice caps. We are killing species after species and don’t seem to care that insects that pollinate (such as bees) are dying at an alarming rate. As long as we keep feeding the machine of consumerism, keep calm and carry on then apparently everything will be fine.
If we look at something like V for Vendetta is it not just possible that the world we see could actually be rather close to the one we are living through at present? Look to the works of David Mitchell (not the comedian!) and see his vision of the future which is one we seem to be hurtling towards at a break neck speed.
So what’s the answer?
There is a million dollar question if ever there was one. I don’t know what the answer is frankly. Because when I think of the future and frankly see it as being more akin to the one presented by authors such as David Mitchell it gives me great cause for concern. For instance in the year 2037 I shall be 50 years of age. Even typing those numbers 2037 seems a bit strange and even impossible. What way will our society have advanced by that stage? Will our technology continue to hurtle forward into the absolute unknown and finally crash as all things that hurtle at such speeds inevitably do so? Will some madman (or woman) finally have pushed The Button and ended us all? I haven’t a clue.
So what do I do to cope with these fears? I carry out small acts of kindness. I try and make someone’s day a bit brighter and a bit kinder. I try my best to live up to the challenge set out by Bobby Kennedy in 1968 when he echoed the words of the ancient Greeks: To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. And I believe that’s what we’ve all got to do. And that may be all we can do. I leave it to the brighter minds to determine how best to deal with capitalism and the seemingly unimportant fact that the top 10 richest people in the world have more wealth than the poorest 5 billion combined.
There is peace on earth. It mightn’t be of a universal kind imagined by Charlie Chaplin but as long as there are good, true and beautiful people who are willing to fight for the cause that is worth fighting then I think we’ll be doing alright. As long as children are given the chance to be children and not have their innocence stolen away then I think they will turn out alright. And as long as we let the message go forward that every person who exists is loved, is willed and is needed then the world should be just fine. But we absolutely must do our bit. It’ll do no good waiting for someone else to take up the reins.
Tacitus said of Rome: “They made a desert and they called it peace.” When I look back at the age of 50 or whatever I don’t want to see barren lands, I don’t want to see poverty or war. And frankly I will fight with every fibre of my being to ensure this does not happen. Where I am now, I am. Where we are, we are. Where we are headed is yet unknown. It could turn out to be a desert called peace, but likewise it could be something rather beautiful. So I shall hold on to hope, and I hope you do the same.