OK, well I have been thinking some more about our two alternative futures; the new age of technology and innovation vs. various apocalyptic scenarios. It seems to me that we are actually involved in racing against the apocalypse. We have become increasingly preoccupied with the end of the world. I went to Wikipedia to find the number of movies that have had apocalyptic themes and the progression was clear and stunning. Before 1950 only 4 movies appeared on our movie screens with “end of the world” scenarios. By 2000-2009 the number increased to 55. In only one decade did the number of movies that portrayed world destruction decrease (in 80-89 there were 30 such movies, and in 90-99 there was one less, or 29).
# of Apocalyptic Movies By Decade
(Information from Wikipedia)
Before 1950 4
Wikipedia also looks at all literature that depicts apocalyptic situations but that chart has too many entries and, because of the way it is organized, it is much more difficult to see trends. However there was another interesting chart which summarized the causes of apocalypse in fiction:
· Impact Event
· Future Collapse
· Human Decline
· Social collapse including economic and over population
More than any other data this seemingly trivial stuff may indicate that we are at a turning point, that the world as we know it will experience either a thumbs up or thumbs down outcome in the near future. We are racing the apocalypse, assuming it involves one of the catastrophic circumstances we can actually have some control over. We are still trying to prevent total global thermo-nuclear destruction (War Games). We are trying to understand the hostile forces arrayed against us in terms of “hater” nations or groups and to wend our way through a very tricky maze to an age of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. We are striving to end our dependence on fossil fuels so that we can avoid incinerating the earth and its inhabitants through global warming or drowning millions by melting the ice caps (or both). We hope our researchers are working everyday to wipe out disease and we are trying to take reasoned approaches to the exploding world population by saving species and working on a stable and safe food supply that will feed the 9 billion people who will populate the earth by 2050.
If we fail to innovate, if we fail at peace, if we fail to reverse the weather extremes that threaten our economies, our food supplies and our lives – if we fail in any of a scary number of ways – boom – apocalypse! No wonder we are so consumed with imagining all the ways we lose our way, the ways we lose a large percentage of the world population, and have to reboot the world with the survivors (and whatever they might randomly remember).
It all comes down to central heating for me. I love central heating (and cooling). These are inventions that make our lives comfortable enough so that we can sit at our computers and write, so we can read and think and create, so that our lives become more than just a day-to-day struggle. So I hope someone saves us from the apocalypse so I don’t have to live without my furnace or my solar panels. All right that’s not a completely serious statement. I don’t want to see the world go away or to see humans have to start over. I see human life as a continuum where we always improve upon the past and where we create solutions to any problems that arise and someday expand outward from the earth to the vast universe that surrounds us. I look forward to a new Age of Discovery. But I believe that right now we are racing the apocalypse.
Most books and movies that paint a picture of the future of mankind give us a dark, empty, scary post-apocalyptic world that posits an argument that we are so bad for our planet and for each other that our only hope is to wait for us to destroy our planet and most of the people on it and start over with almost nothing. I had this conversation with my sister when we were leaving the movies recently and I must give her credit for crystallizing my own observations of the rather gloomy outlook presented by recent fiction. People obviously feel that we are on a path that will inevitably destroy us, and wound our planet, although not necessarily fatally. These stories hold out more hope for the regeneration of nature than for the survival of humans.
We had the Road Warrior series of movies with gangs of people in rags and stylish accessories creating strongholds to hoard fossil fuels and sallying forth to attack each other with vehicles that may have inspired robot wars; lethal vehicles driven by equally lethal skinheads who kill with little or no provocation and with an obvious sense of glee. They have one opponent, Mad Max, who is a vengeful hero who alone exhibits a sanity that seems to have deserted the rest of the bare planet that serves as the backdrop for these future wars. Only the children who Mad Max reluctantly champions hold any hope for a future less savage than the past or the present.
Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road is perhaps the dreariest and emptiest of all the post-apocalyptic books. Is our planet killed by disease, war or pollution? We guess at but are not sure of which of the sins of man has produced this grim future in which a man, growing weaker and sicker, tries to escort his son to some unknown group of people who will offer him a chance to survive and start a new history for mankind. On the road they encounter small groups of survivors who will kill them if they can to help eke out a survival from the scant resources available. In spite of the inability to find any community of survivors who have retained any degree of compassion and unity these two trek on until they reach the Pacific Ocean and just as the father must leave his son, we get the tiniest hope that the human race and the man’s son will go on.
Waterworld is certainly not any world that tempts us to create a similar future and The Postman, although it does inspire with the heroic attempts that are made to preserve a small aspect of the law and order the US government represented, also first shows us a world that has gone terribly wrong, a world where a thug rules by fear and savagery through a gang that accepts despotism as strength (where have we seen this model of human government before – answer – everywhere).
Even Cloud Atlas, that crazy quilt time travelling history of mankind, shows us losing the world as we know it through greed, self-indulgence, laziness and ennui to the amoral application of bad science to fuel our comfort. Starting over, by consensus, in each of these stories seems the only hope for our earth and for mankind.
It is no wonder we long to travel into space. A future that gives us the ability to populate other planets and form an Empire that takes in the whole universe seems to be the only future that promises any positive outcome where humankind with all of our flaws gets to survive for centuries and centuries more. Of course fiction is by definition not true, and this is us, putting our fears on screen and on paper. Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy or just a warning to change our ways? Will we heed the warning? Is the conquest of space the answer, not to changing human nature, but the answer to longevity for mankind? Right now that doesn’t matter because we have not developed the ability to travel in space. What if we never do? What if this little planet is all we have? Can we avoid a future where we turn our dead into food (Soylent Green)? I assume we can, but will we? We have a lot of work to do to avoid the apocalypse and save our planet and ourselves. If we can’t agree on short term policies how can we hope to invent a long term survival?