Shocking the Future

Sep 21, 2010 by

Down and down by the up and up

I’m getting tired of the sense of impending doom that has clouded my brain these past couple of weeks.

I was asked a number of probing questions recently concerning blogging and its role in media matters and civic participation and found that deep down, I really don’t think blogging all by its lonesome can change the world. It’s given me a voice, sure, and I’ve met a lot of great people who care about each other and about my city as a result, but aside from some examples I can count on the fingers of one hand, I haven’t seen this medium changing, say, the way things work in that monolith on Perdido Street, for example. In fact, reading blogs and writing posts has made me even more reluctant to get too deeply involved in what goes on in City Hall unless I absolutely have to, which is the attitude of darned near everyone I know. There is no more necessary evil in our local orbit than local government, and digging deeper into it is like finding that ultimately, like in a certain story by Ursula K. LeGuin, the happiness of most of us comes at the great suffering of an unlucky few. It’s something we all know, but we don’t want to fuss over the details.

The problem is, the numbers of the unlucky few are growing, and if the old adage of life imitating art far more than art imitating life is any indication, then the latest “future issue” of the Oxford American magazine is telling us that life in the South in 2050 is going to be one helluva place. The writing, good as nearly always, is quite heavily influenced by recent events in the Gulf, global warming, televangelism, politics, the Internet, killer apps, failing health, genetic engineering, our understandings of possible “end times”, our understanding of evolution, our uses of technology, our enamored and repellent relationships with our pasts and the past of the South as a whole, and, of course, explorations of what will be dehumanizing us or re-defining us as humans. It’s the kind of stuff that reminds me of the first-ever work of E.M. Forster’s I ever read, a piece called “The Machine Stops” that had me thinking for a time that Forster was a sci-fi writer….except now it’s Forster, Philip K. Dick, and elements of most environmental movements that have been tossed together in this habanero brain salad that appeared on my doorstep. I mean, things lately have been surreal enough for me as it is without my taking this issue in, too, but I’ve never been able to resist good stories.

If I were to make a 2050 prediction? Sure, we’ll still be stuck in an abusive relationship with those who handle the lifeblood that powers our society, be it with the oil companies or any other alternative energy oligarchy that solves our power problems in exchange for their authority. I’m starting to think that, in the South, though, problems will only be solved insofar as they relate to sports – specifically to football. It would be the kind of ingenuity that begat Gatorade, except it would be perhaps one coach, one trainer, one groundskeeper fed up with how them boys were dropping like flies in the increasingly unbearable heat that set upon preseason every year, and, with the economy falling deeper into the sewage pipes, something less costly than a roof over Death Valley (at this point, the nickname of LSU’s Tiger Stadium would be all too literal) would be surreptitiously created, tested, then unveiled at the Homecoming game in Baton Rouge, revealing to all why LSU had the most surviving players of any team in the SEC. From then on, room-temperature bubbles would be more popular and more necessary than Bucky Fuller’s geodesic domes ever were – but many battles would have to be won and lost before the technology could be made affordable to all. That’s the problem with our advances – they are, in the end, rooted to our basest selves, whether we like it or not. We can create the toys, but managing them is still too much of an exercise out of the cave-living days.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, for every schmuck who tells us “You can’t dig,” well, of course a number of us will continue to dig. We want to know. Part of how dialogues and actions begin is through knowledge. What we do with it, though, tends to be limited by the restrictions we put on ourselves, the ghosts we carry around, the hierarchies we still subscribe to. Learn voraciously, all, but carry a cattle prod of some sort. Even if, at long last, you will be the only one absorbing the jolt.


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