13 July 2012

Gut feeling -- the look of the future

The future will not be homogenous.  To people who recoil from pluralism, people who want everything to be the same as themselves and the same as it always was, the future just viscerally looks wrong, and deep down the future is what they're struggling to prevent.

Reading conservative websites as much as I do, it's impossible to avoid noticing a pervasive resistance to change and difference.  Conservatism is saturated with anxiety about the growing acceptance and visibility of gays, about the declining dominance of religion (by which they mean Christianity), about the millions who find that marriage and reproduction do not suit them, about the growing numbers and confidence of non-white and racially-mixed people, about technology that makes information and communication too hard to control, about the prospect of socialist (I use the honest word) reforms that will liberate the poor from the raw struggle for survival and ultimately undermine the dominance of wealth.

It's not exactly fear of the different, it's more an endless stream of half-stated objections and pearl-clutching disapproval, and it isn't the wave of the future.  Race-consciousness and religious fervor and befuddled anxiety about gay marriage just don't go with the world of the internet and nanotechnology and stem cells; they belong to the world of outhouses and megachurches and unbathed hillbillies swigging corn mash out of jugs with XXX on them. There are reasons why places like this are built in New York and Massachusetts and California rather than in states that keep trying to put creationism in the schools; on a broader scale, there are reasons why they're built in the US and Europe and Japan rather than in Pakistan or North Korea or Saudi Arabia.

Airplanes are hijacked by those who fear pluralism, but designed and manufactured by those who embrace it.

Take the most insular and conservative major culture in the world today -- Islam.  Wherever hard-line Islam has triumphed, it has driven away (or scared into silence) non-Muslim minorities, struggled against non-Muslim influences from the outside or from the past, and enforced conformity of behavior and expression.  Even where Islam has taken root in new soil, as in Europe, it seeks to isolate its carriers from the ideas and ways of the higher secular pluralistic civilization around it, for those ideas and ways will seduce them away from it.  And Islam will clearly have no role in shaping the future, unless it turns out that there is no real future and the world sinks back into the Dark Ages.  Islam can only "stand athwart history, yelling Stop" -- in vain -- as more and more of the millions in whose brains it is rooted slowly begin to cast it off.

This, too, is why I can't see China dominating the future, not unless it gets rid of both its current form of government and its current attitude toward the outside world.  A regime obsessed with controlling flows of information, and a "redneck" (in American terms) prickliness toward foreign influences, are crippling handicaps in today's world.  There are good reasons why Japan, with its long history of receptivity to outside ideas, was the first non-Western country to modernize and remains the most advanced.  The insularity of the samurai era was the exception that proves the rule -- if Japan had stayed like that, rejecting the Meiji transformation, it would be a Third World country today.

The future won't be a retreat into the small and slow and traditional.  It won't be about limits and lowered expectations.  It will be bigger and faster and smarter, and more and more and more.

The future does not belong to people who feel viscerally uncomfortable when they see a different skin color or a sign in an unfamiliar alphabet or two men holding hands or a new breakthrough in artificial intelligence.  I'm sorry, it just doesn't.  If we want the United States to lead, we need to make sure that those people aren't the ones setting the pace.


Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Great post, Infidel. You must be reading the same right-wing blogs that I am!

Many of those blogs grudgingly post about gay rights and the inevitability of accepting marriage for ALL consenting adult couples, but the comments always include whining about teh gays being "out there" with their sexuality, as though heteros, holding hands or kissing in public aren't as well. The wingers just don't get it, and never will because they continue to use their religion to marginalize Americans they don't like.

13 July, 2012 06:20  
Blogger Ahab said...

Another excellent post. You hit the nail on the head by observing that the far right is profoundly uncomfortable with modernity -- and the pluralism that comes with it. The post is a message of hope to those of us who chafe at right-wing intolerance.

13 July, 2012 07:11  
Blogger Tommykey said...

This sort of dovetails with my most recent post, in which I write about Taiwan and the prospect of its independence.

The Chinese mainland is trapped in the ideas of the past, and with regard to Taiwan, it must be reunited with the mainland because it was part of China during the Qing Dynasty.

By virtue of being a multi party democracy, Taiwan has shown that a Chinese state can become democratic and pluralist.

13 July, 2012 09:32  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

SK: Thanks. I don't know if you read these guys, but the same kind of thing crops up on all of them if you read long enough, I think.

Claiming religion as a basis for morality boils down to saying "you can't do that because my imaginary friend doesn't like it." I don't see why that's even worthy of discussion.

Ahab: Thanks. It's not only the far right, unfortunately. There are even pockets of anti-modern and anti-diversity thinking on the left, though nothing like as much of it.

TK: Mainland China (now more fascist than communist) is a weird relic of the truculent, territorial-expansionist nationalism that mostly went out of fashion after 1945. And yes, I'm sure the regime is very unhappy with the example of democracy and pluralism which Taiwan offers to Chinese on the mainland.

13 July, 2012 17:19  
Blogger B.R. said...

It's weird, because over the last couple months, I've been thinking a lot about what the future will look like; the technology, the culture, the attitude towards life, the exploration of space, etc. And the funny thing is, just by looking at conservative views and comparing them with history, it's obvious that the narrow-minded bigots and idiots stuck in the past are going to go extinct. Slavery didn't last; Jim Crow didn't last; theocracy didn't last; the Third Reich didn't last; nothing they do lasts for more than a couple centuries, max.

13 July, 2012 17:29  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Slavery didn't last; Jim Crow didn't last; theocracy didn't last; the Third Reich didn't last

In the long run, no, but eradicating each of the things you list took a long and hard struggle, and we today are engaged in another such struggle right now.

Even if the reactionaries win out in the United States, it won't change the ultimate outcome, because other countries will keep advancing, and insular, stagnant societies eventually relegate themselves to irrelevance. I don't want to see that happen to my own country, however.

13 July, 2012 17:36  
Anonymous Bacopa said...

Very badass post. It seems fruitless to fight the future, but its opponents seem to have made some headway. Good point about China. I think that nation is ripe for revolution or stagnation.

And how about that video? Corny, cheesy, but who knew mainstream country would get it so right?

13 July, 2012 19:04  
Blogger uzza said...

Damn, that post was good!

13 July, 2012 20:28  
Blogger Philo Vaihinger said...

Not that it's going to matter in our lifetimes or in the foreseeable future, but what happens when so many people don't want to reproduce - well, don't want to raise kids, anyway - that we humans aren't even replacing ourselves?

So far, governments seem to have decided the way to face shrinking native populations in the modern West is to import people in large numbers from places with ever expanding population surpluses.

But that will have to stop when no place has such a surplus.

And then humans will need to collectively decide on whether they need to adopt policies specifically aimed at ensuring there will continue to be humans, in future.

By the time that day comes, I wonder how people will feel about that.

14 July, 2012 10:43  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Bacopa / Uzza: Thanks. I actually really like that video -- don't see anything corny about it (certainly by country-music standards).

PV: Birth rates are already below replacement level pretty much everywhere except Subsaharan Africa (which will go the same way eventually as it develops economically). But don't worry, we're well on the way to dealing with that problem -- it's one of my favorite blogging topics, in fact.

14 July, 2012 11:18  
Anonymous Shared Humanity said...

One problem with this....certainly technology is what defines us but it is only one form of human progress. It is equally important that we evolve spiritually... whatever that means to the individual.

The crises that humanity faces are not technological and it could be argued that the endless pursuit of technology and growth could very well destroy us.

Capitalism is a system dependent on unending growth and a growth system, constrained by a finite resource (earth) will crash.

16 July, 2012 06:12  
Blogger Jack said...

Great post. One small nitpick however. Homogenous should be homogeneous.

16 July, 2012 10:10  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

SH: The term "spiritual" is so nebulous and means so many things to different people that it's essentially meaningless. I certainly don't consider the "spiritual" (in most senses) to be of any value or even to refer to anything real.

It's true that technology is not the only measure of progress. There's also moral progress, and there too, things are clearly moving in the right direction -- we've made great strides against racism, anti-gay bigotry, and religion, even though we haven't completely overcome any of those things yet.

The biggest crises facing humanity as a whole are poverty and (in some areas) environmental degradation. These problems are not technological in origin, but technology is vital to solving them. Only the most rapid possible technological progress will give us any hope of supporting seven billion people at a decent standard of living without exacerbating problems like global warming as the Third World catches up. This would be true regardless of what economic system prevailed. Capitalism as such has very little to do with it.

Jack: Both spellings are correct. In fact, the dictionary beside my computer desk lists only "homogenous".

16 July, 2012 19:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Resistance to change is why they are called Conservative. Conservationism is an honorable political position. Reactionary Luddites are another kettle of fish.

17 July, 2012 12:23  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

JH: And I think it's pretty obvious that we're largely dealing with reactionary luddites here -- whether there are many, or even any, honorable conservatives left these days is an issue for another post.

17 July, 2012 23:51  

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