In college I had a professor who insisted that our writing “should never feel like a brain in a jar,” that when we wrote about our emotions or reactions, even in our own journals, we should make it clear what we were responding to. To that end, I started making notes in my journals like “To future biographers: the difference between mushrooms and LSD is…” or “Attention, archaeologists: let me tell you about Napster.” There’s a degree of delusion of grandeur there, but you never know, right? Shakespeare or Aristotle or the dude who wrote the Rosetta Stone may have hidden the good shit where we’ll never find it. Gotta work with what you have.
Anyway, right now I’m sitting in a murky puddle of angst. It’s part personal existential crisis (as usual) and part world-weariness of a sort. I’m confronted and confounded by the future on a couple of really disparate levels and am, for the moment, less than upbeat about it. I’m sure this maudlin funk will pass; it feels thin and gauzy, unlike its bigger, meaner sister The Black Wave. This week has been really hard.
First, Brock Turner got sent to baby bad guy summer camp instead of to prison for the rest of his life, just because his rich daddy and a clueless (or evil, he could very well be evil) judge took a “boys will be boys, what can you do?” approach to sentencing Turner for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. I take comfort in the fact that his name and face are so famous now, he’s going to get his ass kicked a few times when he gets out. Knowing that legitimately gives me a warm fuzzy in my tummy. That’s probably the wrong thing to feel, but it is what it is.
And then the Pulse shooting happened in Orlando. We did what we do – we cried for a while, we said some useless stuff about thoughts and prayers, and then we started fighting. Is it because he was a Muslim or because he was a homophobe? (It can be both.) Would this have happened if he hadn’t had a gun? (Probably, bombs are easy.) Would this have happened if he hadn’t had this particular gun? (Probably, most people are a better shot with a handgun anyway.) Do we need to fix our mental healthcare system? (Definitely, but I don’t think raging homophobia is covered by most kinds of insurance – thanks, Obama.) Do we need gun control? (What we need to do is stop using the term “gun control” because it gets the NRA’s dander all up and those people are too stubborn to even have a reasonable conversation.) Do we need to deport all the Muslims? (Fuck you, Donald Trump, get the fuck out of here.) Who should we be mad at this time?
This time. This time? God damn it.
Meanwhile, I read the new Chuck Klosterman book this week. But What If We’re Wrong? is a bit of a departure for him, he seems to be stretching his legs or aging into being a more philosophical thinker or something. Maybe it’s because he had a kid. Actually, that’s probably it. This new one is about the future and what we can’t assume or predict because we don’t know what things we accept as absolute truths will eventually prove to be wrong or different. It’s an interesting thought experiment, but given the events of this week, it’s got my head all twisted up.
In a hundred years, what will they think of us? In a thousand years? What will they point to as our biggest mistakes? Our most dangerous misconceptions? Our most cherished fallacies? If one were to dig up the ruins of our current society, I can’t even fathom the assumptions that could be made about us, based on what will be lost between now and then. For example, my cousin and I once had a conversation about Apple users being found in some future version of Pompeii and the historians and archaeologists who find them, having no knowledge of Steve Jobs but retaining a record of the story of the garden of Eden, coming to the conclusion that this group of people had been labeled as sinners by their community and had to wear a badge with the bitten apple on it to show their shame. Strange, which narratives withstand the rigors of time, how they evolve or don’t, how some are protected and others allowed (or forced) to fade.
That’s the tricky bit of this line of thinking, wrapping our minds not around our deaths or our cultural demise, but around one day being someone else’s history lesson. We look backwards at how barbaric and uncivilized our forebears could be – everyone from Mongol hordes to Catholic Inquisitors to slave-owning Constitutional framers to nuke-happy McCarthyists. But who will we end up being remembered as? The victors get to write the history books. And every villain thinks he’s the hero of the story. Will we, with all our flaws and prejudices and fuckups, come out as the black hats or the white hats? The truth is that all hats matter, but the truth is often lost in the historical shuffle.
There’s a book called Future Shock by Alvin Toffler in which he posits that the world is getting more violent and self-destructive because we can’t handle the rate at which we are advancing, and that it’s only going to get worse. He writes that technology and culture are outpacing our capacity for change and that our brains and our social structures simply can’t keep up. His outlook is pretty dismal, about everything from computers to race and gender relations to shifting “family values” (whatever that means). But Toffler wrote this book in 1970. Yeah. 1970. We had just gotten to the moon. We were deep in the shit in Vietnam, and in the thick of the Cold War. There was no internet or even an inkling of the internet, cell phones, GPS satellites. Hell, they didn’t even have answering machines. They barely had disco. Obviously we’ve survived and thrived better than he thought we would. But was he altogether wrong?
I don’t know.
It doesn’t feel like he was wrong, does it? I can’t say I blame anything in particular like Toffler does, but I definitely get the general sense that a lot of the screaming and yelling and hating and killing we do is out of desperation to maintain the status quo. Maybe we truly aren’t hardwired for change. Which makes sense, I suppose. Just a handful of millennia ago, change meant something new and exciting was coming to eat you or enslave you or both. On the one hand, that makes my wondering what to do with my little life seem somewhat petty. On the other hand, I’m angry – so angry – that we’ve come this far so quickly and done so many incredible, mind-blowing things, but simultaneously our innocent fellow countrymen lie dying in the streets almost on the daily because some of us can’t stomach us all not being exactly the same.
I guess I’m just feeling kind of pessimistic. It’ll pass. The difference between predictions for the future and hope for the future is the difference between Bladerunner and Star Trek, you know? They have much in common, but the latter will always be more idealistic. “Will” versus “should,” one could say. What should we be? What could we possibly be? Whatever it is, we’re already doing it.
Dear future historians: I had hope.