Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Futurological Genres

Like all other real literature science fiction, when it manages really to be literature, is first of all a testament to and an intervention into the quandaries, contradictions, aspirations, and distress of the present.

The subject of such literature emphatically is not "the Future."

"The Future" is always only a denigration of the open futurity inhering in the present, inhering in the unpredictable plurality of acting meaning calculating thinking stakeholders collaborating and contesting the shared world, peer to peer.

In place of open futurity, "the Future" would substitute a brute elongation or amplification of the terms of some parochial vantage within the present, the voice of incumbency.

To speak of "the Future" is always to indulge in reaction, and all futurisms are finally retro-futurisms.

The genres of "the Future" are not so much literary, properly so-called, but promotional and self-promotional. They are patently propagandistic. They are suffused with the cadences and customs of the saleman's spiel, the con-artist's hype, the politician's war-dance, the preacher's hellfire and brimstone, the self-help guru's pep-talk, the boardroom's fraudulent pie-chart.

And nowhere is the future schlock more bizarre or more characteristic than in the pious breathless ecstasies of the "professional futurologists," from Toffler to Kurzweil, from Friedman to Reynolds, who offer up advertisements for pet terminologies rather than for actual products, who crave mass-mediated attention rather than critical deliberation, who provide us with something roughly like science fiction but bereft of actual plot, characterization, setting, drama, who mistake or propose this impoverished inept science fiction for science itself or for science policy, who dredge up thousands upon thousands of pages attesting endlessly to the hyperbolic fears and fantasies of the present moment, deranged into tidal waves of Frankenstein and Robot apocalypse or else into the triumphal amplification of all the terms and banal satisfactions of the status quo that most demand reassurance in the face of disruptive change.

These genres of "the Future" are quintessentially American, they found their consummation here, in much of the flat Hard SF prior to the New Wave, in much of the post-war advertising of corporate America, in the pronouncements of the think-tanks that cheerlead us into nuclear disaster, petro-chemical suburbia, military adventures from Vietnam to Iraq, and the "innovations" of endlessly leveraged debt for the profit of the few at the expense of the many.

America invented The Future, after all.

And it opts for "the Future" and for Future's Empire every time it fails to fulfill the promise of its Founding: of an embrace of open futurity, of a constitution of freedom, of equity in diversity, of consensual prosthetic/cultural self-determination, e pluribus unum, peer to peer.

1 comment:

jimf said...

> These genres of "the Future" are quintessentially American,
> they found their consummation here. . . in much of the post-war
> advertising of corporate America. . .

"I believe in lasers in the jungle, lasers in the
jungle somewhere. . ."

I **was** the little boy in the red sweater in this video
(Alexander Scourby narrates):

I only got to visit the '64-'65 New York World's Fair
for one day -- a chartered bus trip taken from Delaware
with my father on a Saturday in the summer of 1965.

I could have spent the whole day at GM's Futurama II, but
my dad wanted to see other things (especially Michelangelo's
Pieta, on loan from the Vatican). I got to take the GM ride
twice, though -- once when we got there, and once again before
we left.

"Now, technology has found a way to control the wild profusion
of this wonder-world. . ."