Tuesday, March 21, 2006

2020 and Beyond?

One of the most interesting and thought-provoking aspects of V for Vendetta was the picture painted of the near future. If I'm not mistaken, the film takes place sometime between 2020 and 2040. Unlike most other futuristic "dystopias" (which is apparently the opposite of a "utopia"), V takes place in a future that is by no means far away and removed. Watching other the-future-has-gone-to-shit movies like The Matrix and Equilibrium have a comfortable "distance" to their created worlds: things are so far into the future that we cannot really connect the dots from here to there. Instead, the future worlds they create are just cool to think about on a thematic or philosophical level.

V for Vendetta was quite different and very refreshing in this regard. Whether it was 2020 or 2040 -- the point I'm making is that it was right around the corner. Its already 2006... we're closer to 2010 than we are to 2000. Things are happening faster and faster. Technology accelerates at an exponential rate. Human population is doing the same. If my memory serves me correctly, the units of fossil fuel we've consumed has increased exponentially, as have the number of species driven to recent extinction. For better or for worse (and it seems for worse), "its all happening" at a quicker and quicker and quicker rate.

Where are things going? That is up in the air, of course. Back in 2001 me and my roommates took a most excellent class in college -- a class we simply referred to as scarcity. It might have been called "Sociology of Scarcity" or "Scarcity in Modernity" or "The Impending Global Age of Scarcity" -- I cannot recall and it doesn't really matter. But it was awesome. Essentially, the entire class revolved around reading the ideas and theories of many social scientists (and others) whose findings and research suggested some rough times were in store, mainly on account of resource depletion (in its many guises).

At the end of the semester we were required to compose a term paper on how we thought scarcity might go down (whether or not we believed it would). This was quite an awesome assignment. It is one thing to sit around and talk about how bad things are going and how screwed we all are... but it is quite a different thing to describe exactly how the shit might hit the fan. Of course there is a chance that we'll have a smooth and painless transition into the future... but in the light of this assignment, this possibility wasn't important. We had to imagine a total collapse and describe what lead up to it and what happened as a result.

And so here we are 5 years later. We're still around, and I'm sure many would argue that things are quite worse than ever in a global sense. Are they really? Who knows. The one thing I think we can all agree on, though, is the immense amount of possibility and potential that stands before us. While things could go on more or less quietly, there are also 20 different ways everything could get horribly out of control and disasterous.

Today while reading over the blog Taognostic, I was delivered to the essay "Fall Down Six Times" by RanPrieur. In it, he describes six different outcomes for the coming future. These vary from different types of ecoptopias to sci-fi utopias with no shortage of crashes and civilizational breakdowns in each. In a sense, each of these predictions could be described as "totally unrealistic." But when you say that enough, you start to realize you cannot possibly know shit about what you're talking about. Anything could happen, and it could happen in countless different ways. As bad (or good) as things are now, they could definately get a whole lot worse (or better!).

Back to V for Vendetta for a second. For those of you who didn't see it, the movie takes place in London some 20-40 years after the year 2000. On one hand things seem totally the same they are now. On the other hand, we see elements of the nightmare world of 1984 having crept into our lives. And importantly (in regard to the urgency with which I post this), America is described on a news report as totally fallen, weak, and ravaged in a civil war. "This is a country that had everything," a fascist news reporter says early in the film, "and look at them now." Could things end up like this? We'd be foolish to dismiss the possibility.

So I encourage you to check out this essay. Takes about 5-10 minutes to read and is good for quite a few laughs. Each of the six scenarios starts right now in Spring 2006 (the essay was written March 15 of this year). Here is a brief run-down of the version of the futures described:

1. Worst Case Scenario -- imagines the Iran situation boiling to the brim and overflowing in the worst possible way. Everything falls down from there. Hopefully this one doesn't happen, as its probably the worst imaginable situation (hence its title).

2. Ridiculous Best Case Scenario -- the total opposite of the first one. Man, this one would be awesome. Ecotopia. The promise and potential for meaningful lives for all. This would be nice.

3. Naive Sci-Fi Utopia -- for those who put their total faith in the salvation of technology, this is that one played out. Seems terrifically unlikely (and undesirable, in my opinion). However, who is to say it is any more or less possible than either of the first two?

4. My Sci-Fi Utopia -- ("My" = the author) -- This one is sort of a mix between the ecotopia and the naive sci-fi utopia. It is also insanely ridiculous... but in a rather "that probably means it could happen" way (in regard to the role of technology). The mixing-pot style of this one suggests to me that it is probably going to be quite close in comparison to how things turn out (if nothing else, for its wild fantasy and imagination).

5. Playing the Odds -- The title of this section might refer to the strategy of each and every individaul in society striving to stay alive. Things get increasingly worse little by little, and everyone reacts in small ways to up the chance for their survival. The title could also be interpreted as the "most likely" scenario for the future if, say, you were a betting man. As a result, this scenario is quite boring and very undesirable. Humanity seems described as lacking no proaction at all (for better or for worse), being instead ruled by the whims of their surroundings. Boooo...

6. You -- this final one is quite like "Playing the Odds" in that it avoids any ridiculous predictions (of the first 4 scenarios) and keeps things quite reasonable (in as far as we're able to imagine). The difference between this and #5, however, is the role played by each member of humanity (i.e., you). Instead of being reactive to all situations, the opposite is the case. Things may be changing fast and getting worse, but initiative is taken. Not the idealistic "change the world"/"revolutionary" initiative, but the more realistic making-a-difference-in-your-own-way sort of thing. Quite the proper scenario to end with.

So check these out! They are quite worth reading, as I said earlier. Here is the link again. And that is about it.

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