Sep

24

 I'm a big science fiction fiend. Growing up, I went through the Asimov trilogies (and lots of his other works, some of which took on new meaning after getting drunk with him at a bar at a science fiction convention), the John Campbell stories, Niven's Ringworld series, Haldeman's Forever War series, and Dickson's Chylde series, with the latter as a particular favorite. Lots of things we now coming to reality were talked about in these novels and stories. As a group, these writers (excepting Haldeman and Heinlein) tended towards optimism about the future–the human condition would improve, albeit with changes in what was defined as work and how societies functioned in the process of that improvement. Then an interesting thing happened during the 1970s/1980s. While many of these authors continued to write, the new writers were hardly optimistic. When I was at the local Barnes and Noble this evening, I was struck by how dreary the worlds portrayed by current science fiction writers have become.

Is it that we as a society are lacking in optimism about the future–so much so that we are no longer able to imagine one with a positive image (I understand that there are those on this list who will suggest that this is merely my perception, to which I acknowledge it as so being)? Much of the talk about raising/lowering taxes represent incremental changes. I'm thinking about paradigmatic changes; those are the changes that might address some of the challenges of the moment, whether it's water, energy/natural resources, pollution, health and disease control. Perhaps it's the dreamer in me, but if we can't imagine a future in which the human condition is uplifted/bettered, how are we going to achieve it?

Ralph Vince writes: 

David,

I've been noticing much the same thing, particularly with the 20-somethings I am routinely around. The dark, negative future they all, pervasively envision is something I have never seen in such one-sided fashion before.

I've given this a lot of though in recent years and have come to a few conclusions you may or may not agree with — regardless, I'm interested in yours and others thoughts on the matter.

I think we DO progress — I think man's progress is ever-upwards in fits and starts, but, viewed through the lens of 3 or 4 generations, has persistently been higher. I think much of this is incremental, almost unnoticeable however.

Lately, I see changes in pop-culture themes that would make me think that the dark era of the past decade or so is coming to a close. I've mentioned walking into a high-end furniture stores, and the colorful, Dr. Suess-looking furniture invoking a sensation of almost giddiness. I see it in the extreme use of bold colors in television ads of the past 12 months or so, in women's fashion and the elaborate, loud footwear now, and hear it in the driving vocals, unwavering, non-tremulo female power voices replacing the warbling songbirds of the recent past.

The mass mood is changing, it's moving in a new direction already. You won't see young men in pinstripes, though you may, by next year, see the resurgence of seersucker (I've been trying, really, really hard on this last one!)

However, just as change occurs incrementally, it also comes in BOOMs. Jonas Salk, Louis Pasteur……Air conditioning, transistors…….the magna carta.

The Santa Maria.

I've alluded to the enormous undertaking of the interstate highway system (post 1950s) and the transcontinental railroad here as things that paid off many fold.

And we've just been stuck in a period of stasis which I think is bigger than politics and politicians, era's where things are just intractable, and the stasis, like large fields of ice, just take time til things become dynamic again.. To-wit, I present Barack Obama's administration. I truly think he/they IS/ARE committed liberals. I think there truly DID intend to close Gitmo, and many of the other things that didn't get done and are being pointed to (I'm not taking a political stand here, not making excuses for the administration, just pointing to evidence to support my "over arching stasis as a natural impediment to dynamism" idea. We've had periods in history where this HAS been the case. (the natural state of politics in a democracy IS stasis. I think had Obama NOT had a supermajority in his first year, a situation where he has to have every one of his party on board and, it would have been easier for him, and odd twist in our politics)

At some point, the stasis will give and dynamism return — I would venture a guess as a consequence of some unforseen invention again that elevates our existence in a quick burst once again.

I think the more "paradigmatic changes" as you say, are very rarely, historically, the result of political structure changes, of which there have been few throughout human history. Usually, it seems, these changes are a result of increasing the geographic perimeter of our existence. These things HAVE transformed cultures. Were the Romans not transformed by their excursions into Britain and particularly the Eastern Mediterranean? Wasn't the old world transformed by Columbus and the Iberian explorers of the 16th century? At some point (I will not be here) our perimeter will expand, and political structures will amend to the new reality — new problems will be solved.

In the immediate, when I see the one-sidedness of dark expectations among the young-n-naive (who will not all be right), and I see the mass mood of culture assume a new energy, I don;t think we will see an paradigmatic change any time soon (are these things even predictable?) but I do think we'll see a more optimistic era here in the coming years, regardless of who holds political office.

Russ Sears adds: 

Ralph,

While I admire and agree with both your optimism and lovely essay. I believe the turn to pessimism for science fiction has a much simpler explanation. The education system and elite culture has made it a crime to be a boy and has marginalized the importance of exercise, sports and competition for the intellectual boys. The results has been a rigidity of thinking, especially amongst those scientifically inclined. This ignoring of innate emotions causes internalization and depression It has been sad to see as my daughter is attracted to these intellectual young men, but is put-off by the cloud of doom many carry around.

There is an emotional side to all thinking, What the "rational" mind thinks must subconscious join with base instincts signals of the mind to be accepted thought. Rigidity in thinking, without a recognition of the emotions, is the opposite side of the "angry" trader. It causes one to miss the short term bringing out the canes, and the long term emotional side to central planning, fed policy and brinkmanship politics. In both cases, I believe can be shown, that these time periods are not independent random variables, within statistical significant.There also appears to be a symmetry that plays out between short vs long term non independent market movements and respectively stocks vs bond markets. Which I find quite beautiful. But I will leave both these as exercises for the reader.
 


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3 Comments so far

  1. astro the dog on September 24, 2012 4:48 pm

    http://www.crab.rutgers.edu/~goertzel/fourthturning.htm

    Its hard for a family dog to vote…but do solely trust all Americans to make a better choice than me, but more if your a GOP member you may want to stay home, and allow all the DEMS to vote…

    In the long run, it could be the best thing for your party.

    Being a dog of course…LOL I have a hard time to pulling the handle, or now pushing the button.

    The link will talk about the turning point we are entering, and suggest a more closer look into the years both sides of 1848 in how the world change…of course in the end,,, for the better..its always that way indeed..I guess!

    This election will be far worst than the 2000 year election, much more troubles.

  2. JDT on September 25, 2012 3:46 pm

    @Ralph Vincent

    The shift towards bright color, especially neon as well as changes in pop music over the past 12-18 months are not a shift towards optimism per se but rather towards borrowing from EDM (electronic dance music) culture. And please note, we could have a debate on EDM vs rave culture, suffice to say EDM is embodied by events such as Electronic Daisy Carnival.

    The mainstream has shifted to the naked pursuit of happiness and borrowing the slightly syrupy, feel-good vibe from a scene devoted to the pursuit of the next up is a natural response to the gloom of the past several years.

    One might note that EDM is fueled by ecstasy (MDMA) and compare that to America’s economy which is likewise powered by artificial chemistry at the present. Currently the latter is rolling along however it remains to be seen if there is an upcoming suicide Tuesday.

  3. astro the dog on September 26, 2012 10:59 am

    The shift towards bright color, especially neon

    It is a very negative signal, as things are never what they seem to be.

    Would go further that the gloom and the doom may have importance on 09292012 for major world events to unfold.

    This allows…

    09292012

    0+9 = 9
    2+9 = 11
    2=0+1+2 = 5

    911 and the sign of ‘end’ 5 = end and or death

    should be quite interesting…with bright colors every where..:)

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