Monday, April 9, 2012

Future Shock and Blind Spots

So, I've been editing my novel Shattered Sky, as well as working (slowly) on my prequel short story...and while doing this, I started thinking about the future.

One of the big problems (and advantages) of writing science fiction is that one gets to look at the picture of today and extrapolate outwards. This lets you take modern culture and look at how it might mutate and change and evolve. This lets you do really interesting social commentary, allowing you to distort our own world to - paradoxically - see it all the clearer. This lets you look at the human condition.

And this lets you throw darts at the wall and see what might stick. Star Trek, for example, is quite proud of predicting the cellphone with their handheld communicators. No one seems to mention some predictions that seem quite silly these days, such as whales being stuck on the Enterprise D to aide in spatial navigation or other assorted bizarre and stupid things that Star Trek has posited about humanity's future in space.

I don't think I'm unique in being an author who has created a rather intricate timeline of the future. I also don't think I'm being an author who profoundly hopes he or she is dead wrong.

The Debris Dreams universe takes place in the year 2068, and as I've alluded to before, it's not exactly an easy or smooth road to get there, and the biggest pothole in said road is The Slump: A period between 2019 and 2029 (some argue 2039, just as even now, some people argue that the Great Depression didn't end till 1946)  where the world's economy collapsed, half a dozen wars between previously peaceful nations erupted, terrorism ran rampant and the internet was almost knocked out for good.

Nasty future shocks indeed.

But what caused it? And, more importantly, do I think it's particularly likely? Will we have to suffer through the horrors of a second American Civil War, ecological collapse and resulting devastation?


See, the Slump is predicated on a sudden and complete collapse of economic structures due to an unexpectedly sharp drop-off in oil quantities in the middle east. Rather than the "slow, bumpy plateau" predicted by most Peak Oilers (who I also don't think are right), the world of Debris Dreams was plunged into a sharp, fast downturn. Alternate forms of energy were too immature to save the world from the collapse, and the resulting system shocks just made everything worse.

I try to keep abreast of up and coming technologies, and everything I've seen points to solar, nuclear and genetically engineered biofuels (which are distinct and different from ethanol based biofuels) taking over for oil within the decade, and that oil reserves (while dwindling) will last us quite a bit longer...longer still if and when our cars get better gas mileage and are used more efficiently.

We don't need to worry about an energy based Slump.

What we do need to worry about is a cultural Slump, a political Slump. I personally hate the standard "oh woe is me, everyone is a stupid, vain, greedy jerk (except for myself, of course)" whining that I hear constantly at college. By and large, I think that most people are good. Most people are intelligent, as intelligent as you (yes you) or I. Most people want what is best for themselves, their families and so on.

The problem is that we sometimes let the worst of us dictate policy for the majority of us. These people - be they politicians, corporate CEOs, kings, queens, junta leaders or would be dictators - are usually harmless until they actually get power, which they normally get by preying on the worst of our thoughts and fears. It is easy to forget that you are not the only sane person in the world. It is easy to forget that every single person on the planet - all seven billion of them - are all as complex, multifaceted, deep and interesting as you are.

In that blind spot, the would be dictator whispers: "Let me protect you from the other."

In that blind spot, the politician whispers: "Let me make a law to keep the other from taking what you have."

In that blind spot, the warlord whispers: "Come, lets kill the other, because they are not human."

That blind spot will exist, whether or not we have solar powered flying cars or regress to the 12th century. So, the next time the world looks scary and confusing, and you just wish everyone would stop being so nuts, think...and remember the blind spot. 

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