Our Uncanny Future

Things are changing so quickly.

Ever since the first of the pandemic lockdowns, I’ve been experiencing this free-floating sense of unease that I can’t shake. Some moments are worse than others. Most of the time I’m completely functional. But there’s this underlying feeling of being totally creeped out that seems to have become part of my status quo.

I’m sure it has a lot to do with having to look at my fellow human beings as disease vectors. That’s a shift in reality that I hadn’t anticipated. And I don’t think that will ever go away completely, pandemic or no pandemic. I was so innocent, once.

But I’m really beginning to think it’s much more than that. Things are changing so quickly. It feels as though the future is barreling toward us at such an insane rate of speed that we can’t get a proper focus on it. For the first time in my life I can’t even speculate as to what life will be like even 15 years from now. Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it will be exceedingly strange.

I mean, self-driving cars? Who is responsible if an accident occurs? Can the cars prioritize risk based on passengers? If two driverless cars are speeding toward each other, and one contains a family with three small children and the other contains a 78 year old man, should the cars be able to decide which group gets to live? (Read more about this ethical dilemma here.)

And scientists have created bunnies that glow in black light. It doesn’t seem to harm them, and somehow this breakthrough is supposed to make it easier to create affordable medicines. But maybe me might want to consider not fiddling with the natural order of things too much, for fear of unintended consequences. (They created these bunnies by injecting jellyfish DNA into a rabbit embryo.)

Now it’s possible to create chicken meat in a lab, without chickens involved, except for the single cell. There’s something unsettling about that. It puts me in mind of a book by Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, in which she talks about a chicken-like thing that’s kind of a blob that grows spores with bulbous ends (that in retrospect look a lot like a coronavirus). These spores get chopped off and are chicken meat. They’re called ChickieNobs. Shudder.

And there are weird environmental things happening that no one can explain, such as starfish wasting disease, in which the starfish’s legs basically crawl away from their body, and then the central disk dissolves into this white, gelatinous muck. What a way to go.

Then there’s human behavior, which is becoming increasingly unexplainable. There are still people out there, wandering amongst us, who think the Capitol Building Insurrection was no big deal at all, and/or something to be proud of. There are people denying climate change, and others, heaven help us all, who think the Republicans have their best interests at heart. It boggles the mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe, strongly, that we need to make scientific advances. I also believe that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. But how far is too far, and how fast is too fast?

The fact is, we have no idea what the world will be like in even the very near future. Things are changing. It’s impossible to keep up. It’s utterly unpredictable. Even the positive improvements are hopeless to divine at this point.

And that gives me the creeps.

ChickieNobs

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Predictions

The day I wrote this, it was a sunny Saturday here in Seattle. It was probably one of the last ones we’ll have until May. And yet, all shift long I hadn’t had a single request to open my drawbridge. Not one sailboat. I could have phoned it in. If I had a boat and the day off, I’d have been out there! Where was everybody?

I’ve long since given up trying to predict how busy my work day will be. Sometimes it’s cold, rainy, and raw, and the sailboats are out in force, demanding bridge openings every 10 minutes. And that could be on a Wednesday. Go figure.

Anyone who followed the last presidential election can tell you what a monumental waste of time predictions can be. Polls? No one ever asks my opinion. And yet, we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to guess the future.

It’s only natural to want to know where you’re going to land when you jump into an abyss. Looking before you leap only makes sense. And if we were all forced to face up to the fact that, for the most part, we are fumbling in the dark, the world would be a scary place indeed. I totally get why people are comforted by the concept of a higher power.

But I often wonder how much time is wasted anticipating things that never come to pass. Worrying. Agonizing. Wondering. Altering one’s behavior based on… what, exactly?

Not that I’m different than anyone else in these situations. I’m not some enlightened being who lives in the now. I wish I were. The fact is, I grew up in such an unpredictable atmosphere that I learned to plan ahead to an almost obsessive degree just so I could survive.

I have no solutions. But I feel the need to point out that perhaps we are all so focused on what we see through our figurative binoculars that we are missing those wonderful people, places, and things that are right under our noses. Don’t forget to pause and look about you every now and then. Beauty is in the present tense.

binoculars

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Time Machines

I was sitting with a couple of friends the other day (waving at Caly and Mor) and we embarked on a flight of fancy, a sort of thought experiment about time machines. And now I can’t get it out of my head. I don’t know if this will reveal as much about the subject matter as it does about how my mind works and how I view society, but there you have it.

In most science fiction stories that I’ve read about time travel, the main concerns seem to be changing the future and/or running into yourself. I think there is a lot more to worry about than that. A whole lot more.

I sincerely believe that humanity’s main motivator is greed, so the first thing that people would do is try to figure out a way to make money from this invention. And at first it wouldn’t be very hard. Since today’s money would buy a lot more yesterday, you’d simply have to convert to the gold standard to avoid pesky questions like, “What’s a Euro?” from the people of the 1400’s, and then buy up everything in sight.

Of course, as all the gold flooded into the past, that would make the present time economy rather hard to navigate. So the next step would be making sure that you and yours were well positioned, and the best way to do that would be to give your ancestors an unfair advantage. Get them the gold, have them buy up the real estate, and when the gold runs out, then it’s time to give them modern day weapons. That would make for some scary times. If my AK47 encounters your bow and arrow, who do you think would win?

Another advantage would be in the form of increased health. If you could make sure your relatives thrive during the plague, wouldn’t you do it? And that would definitely put them in positions of power and influence.

And then, of course, there’s the ability to foretell the “future”. As in, you might not want to be in San Francisco on April 18, 1906, when the great earthquake is going to hit. But on the other hand, you could make a fortune selling tents, food and water in the aftermath.

But while predicting natural disasters would remain constant, what would change drastically is human events, as the future would be in a constant state of flux. For example, would World War II occur if a different group of people survived the black plague and produced an entirely different population?

I for one am glad that the laws of physics make it highly unlikely that we’ll overcome the concept of time, because we humans have a knack for mucking things up. I certainly wouldn’t want to be around to see the consequences.

time

[Image credit: silosnapa.com]

Doomsday Postponed: The Antidote for All This Holiday Cheer

Well we survived the Mayan Apocalypse. Whew! What a load off the shoulders of all those doomsday preppers out there. Or is it? I mean, once you get past the feeling of being a total fool, what do you do for fun?

Here’s the thing, people: the end of the world has apparently been coming for a long, long time. The first prediction I can find through my lazy Google search was for 634 BC. Apparently a lot of Romans thought that 12 eagles had revealed some mystical number that was supposed to represent the lifetime of Rome, and people arbitrarily decided that that each eagle represented 10 years, so Rome was supposed to be destroyed 120 years after its founding. I wonder how you prepare for the end of the world in an era when you don’t have canned goods?

There were many predictions that the world would end on December 31, 1999, but this kind of millennium prediction is, apparently, old hat, because the same thing happened 1000 years previously. Even the Pope at the time was in on that prediction, causing riots throughout Europe. Boy, I bet Pope Sylvester II felt awfully sheepish the next day. Doomsday predictions based on calendars that are made up, often quite arbitrarily, by humans make me laugh. (See more about that in my previous blog entry entitled “I’ve Got Your Number. Right here. https://theviewfromadrawbridge.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/ive-got-your-number-right-here/ )

Oh these pesky, impetuous popes! The ironically named Pope Innocent III predicted that the world would end 666 years after the beginning of Islam. So we should have been toast in the year 1284. Honestly? Is this responsible behavior for God’s Representative on Earth? I don’t think so!

But the funniest predictions, if you ask me, are from the people or groups whom I call “revisers”. These are people who have the audacity to push the date further out into the future when their previous predictions don’t come to pass. Case in point, the Bible Student Movement, the group responsible for originating those delightful Watch Tower tracts that get stuffed under your windshield wipers at strip malls to this day, has predicted that the world would end in 1874, and then (oops!) 1878, and then (our bad) 1881, and then (we mean it this time, really we do) 1908, and then (seriously) 1914, 1916, 1918, 1920, and 1925. For crying out loud, people! What’s it going to take for you to stop getting sucked in to this stuff?

The Jehovah’s Witnesses branched off from the Bible Student Movement, and jumped right on the doomsday bandwagon. They have predicted our ruin would occur in the years 1941, 1975, 1984, and then they wised up and got more vague and said it would all be over “sometime” before 2000. Well, so much for that. And yet I still get these people knocking on my door. When is THAT going to end? That’s what *I* want to know.

Another one I find amusing is Elizabeth Claire Prophet. She was the leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant. She became convinced that the Russians would start a nuclear attack and had her followers spend millions building an enormous fallout shelter. But we all know that construction projects are rarely, if ever, completed on time, so when the bunker wasn’t done by the predicted date of the nuclear attack, she simply revised the date. You’d think that would have been a bit of a red flag, but no. When the structure was finally completed, everyone took shelter and waited for the explosions, which, of course, never came. Not surprisingly, the movement lost a lot of followers after that, including her own son. Search her on youtube and you’ll see a lot of interesting footage of her in full military garb, or speaking in tongues. She came by her flair for languages honestly, though, as she claimed to have been previously incarnated as Nefertiti, Queen Guinevere of Camelot (apparently she was real after all), St. Theresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Sienna and Marie Antoinette. She died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, leaving behind a big ol’ honkin’ fallout shelter in Montana, in case you and a couple thousand of your friends should ever need one.

Okay, so I have been poking fun at all these doomsday chumps, but sadly, these predictions can have a very negative and sometimes tragic fallout, if you’ll excuse the pun. People often spend a great deal of time and money preparing for an end that never comes. They also warp their children into living a life of fear and anxiety and paranoia. And even worse are the predictions that lead to death. On March 26, 1997, Marshall Applewhite and 38 of his followers in the Heaven’s Gate Cult committed mass suicide so that they could be picked up by a space ship and live lives at “a level of existence above human”.

Of course, I have no answers for all of this, and I’m certainly not going to make any predictions. I just know that there are a lot of people with anxiety disorders in the world, and there are even more people who are so desperate for answers that they’re willing to follow those people. I prefer not knowing the date of my demise. If the bombs are going to fall, I’d rather have them drop right on my head while I’m living my life to the fullest.