“The world is changed… much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”
I’ve lately had the sensation of living in the future – not the future of robots and flying cars (both in still-tragic short supply) but the future of my life, the future of something New and Different. This has caused me, in turn, to consider just what it is that is new or different, and just what is meant by Future, Past and Present.
We are all of us the epic heroes of our own tales, the centers of action and narrative direction, the most dramatis of personae. So it is fairly obvious to see why my internal libretticist would determine this to be a turning point in the action: some months of great preparation leading to a grande moment, followed by a change of scene and a journey into the unknown. The curtain falls, the screen fades to black, End of Book Two – resume in medias res some months or years along when sufficient interest and tension has built along my next act.
Human that I am, I look for patterns to justify this perception, and believe that I have found them. From where I stand now, the 2000s look like a migraine-filled interregnum – citizen of a country making awful decisions, resident of a planet trundling into irreparable change, confused twentysomething unsure of my place in the world or in myself. The Bush years, even while ongoing, always had the eerie unreality of a dream state. That they were succeeded by the election as President of a black man named Barack Hussein Obama was no less hallucinatory, even if I have the pictures on my cell phone to prove it.
And now awake, and the dream was more and less true for good and bad, but we must live with what was wrought through sleepwalkery. I am an adult (or something like it) in this world after kidhood in the pleasant-smelling 1990s, but even while history spins around again the wheel’s not quite the same for its rotation. Anti-government zealots were just as crazy and well-funded in the bad old days of the Arkansas Project and Tim McVeigh, but today’s wingnuts are self-consciously the stars of their own reality television shows and the media an ever-more-efficient conduit for that effluent.
But then there’s always authoritarians, aren’t there, no matter the names they use or the shirts they wear. My villains of copyright maximalization, seedbank patent-squatters and cynical political operatives sure seem to be wearing black hats: everyone does in silhouette.
I can’t really worry about that, though – can’t have access to more than one subjectivity, can’t have the cut-shot pan-over Cinemascope wide angle. Acting As If is the best I can manage.
So for me, right now, I’ve arrived in the future. Things change always, but a period of flux is over and a new dynamic will be the setting for our action over the next little while. It’s a world where the benefits of communications technology accrue in innumerable ways to increasingly huge numbers of the world’s people, but where material economic growth will remain stagnant for the forseeable future – especially for those of us who already have more than our fair share (but not those with way, way, way more than their fair share). It’s a world where despite these unmistakable improvements to our everyday lives (all of us: next year or the one after, more than half of the citizens of Earth will be able to call each other on the phone; soon after, two out of three, and we haven’t even begun to think about How This Changes Everything), the main task of my professional career and political life will be fighting a rearguard action against Know-Nothings who reject a rationalist worldview: people for whom evidence is bias or proof of its opposite. It’s a world where the institutions – national and international – that have done such a good job getting us Here (for good and for ill), are terribly ill-suited to getting us to some better definition of There. Some of those will get better: many will get worse.
But here we are, innit? And what is my role in this world, this Future? I’ll greatly enjoy figuring that out.