Reflections on the Future: When the Future Turns Dystopian

by | Apr 28, 2022 |

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A sure way to realize that we have arrived at middle age is the realization that we have accumulated a lived history. For baby boomers, it is hard to believe that we are living in 2022. This is equivalent to saying that we cannot believe we have reached our respective current age.

In 1972 my father and I were walking by a store in the neighborhood where we lived and saw a telephone inside a Lincoln Continental. I had never seen such a thing. I remember there was a long antenna at the back of that beautiful black automobile. The large, boxy telephone sat on the floor in front of the bench seat. It read “Motorola.” I asked my father what the object was. He answered that it was a telephone.

“Like the one we have at home?” I asked him. 

“Yes, I’ve read that in the future everyone will walk around with portable telephones.” My father enjoyed reading Popular Mechanics and Popular Science.

About a year later, my imagination was dazzled when a friend of my parents who worked for Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph company told us that soon telephones would have lights that would make it convenient to dial in the dark. 

My parents often told my sisters and I how excited they were as children to hear stories of man one day landing on the moon. 

When my parents were small children in the 1930s and early ’40s, radio was their predominant form of entertainment. Father recalls how amused he was when other boys told him that one day, they would be able to “see people talking on the radio.”

According to my father, he and the other neighborhood boys spent considerable time trying to figure out how such a thing was even possible.

I remember reading how automobiles would be less angular, more rounded, and aerodynamic. This prediction came to fruition with the 1986 Ford Taurus. This design is what antique and classic automobile collectors call the “melted soap,” others, the “flying potato” look that defines automobiles today.

When I was a child, I was mesmerized by imagining how the world would be in the future. I imagined the future to exist as a projection of the present, that is, as an already existing time. When we are children, we tend to view the future as a time to come that we will somehow move right into.

As a teenager, I was a regular reader of the now-defunct Omni magazine. Omni was published from 1978 to 1995. It featured articles about space travel, new technology, and tantalizing writing about aliens and intelligent life in outer space. 

The future beckoned.

I read Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and The Third Wave with a profound zest for knowledge. 

The exaltation that the future conveys, especially to a young person, serves a healthy and life-affirming purpose that helps to keep us attuned to our surroundings.

When the Promise of the Future Turns Dystopian

In many respects, living in 2022 is tantamount to living in the confines of a science-fiction novel. The future (that we are currently living) has proven to be detrimental to man’s moral/spiritual maturity.

Lamentably, while many people only concentrate on technological advancements, we can write a barrage of articles about some of the devastating effects that technology has had on man’s moral/spiritual development. A close look at the advancements that have materialized in the last forty years alone bear this out. Who would have thought that the future would take man hostage? 2022 is truly a brave new world of moral/spiritual dysfunctionality and aberrations.

Ironically, the brave new world of 2022 can only be understood and appropriated by people who know the past. This is the case because the future never breaks with the past entirely. In many instances, the future is merely a perversion of the past through the annihilation of the values and mores that enable awe and wonder in the first place. 

It is fair to say that the future genuinely exists for people who respect history – tradition. For others, the future only exists as a bloated present. People who exploit the future for the gadgets it will provide them, view the future solely as an extension of the present. This is the “what have you done for me” mentality, a form of materialistic prostitution. For such people, the future is just about newer and more enticing gadgets. 

The future only conveys or lacks meaning through our understanding of the past. It is perverse to lose our awe and wonder by becoming overly practical adults. The future has this effect on us. Awe and wonder are often traded in for the glare of the next utilitarian gadget. Paradoxically, the latter signals the death of science as science, and the creation of scientism, which is currently undermining man’s quality of life, and poisoning the human psyche.

The American Space Program

The American space program is a fine example of anticipating the future through appreciation of the past. 

The final Apollo missions to the moon were no longer broadcast on live television. Familiarity often does breed contempt. It is because of this lazy familiarity that the United States space program is not further developed today than imaginative and thoughtful people once hoped for. 

I recall reading James Michener’s 1982 novel Space and being fascinated by the likes of Wernher von Braun, the promise of the Gemini and Apollo manned missions, the Viking Mars probes, the stunning pictures sent back from Jupiter and Saturn by Voyagers 1 and 2. I could not get enough of Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos.

People who understand the past know that the future can often turn out ominous and sinister.

Some of the most engaging novels of the twentieth century are dystopias that examine aspects of the future that have gone terribly wrong. Among these we can cite: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, Witkiewicz’s Insatiability, Orwell’s 1984, and Huxley’s Brave New World.

My most endearing ideas about the future have come about through my understanding and respect for history, for history grounds the human person in reality. 

The enthusiasm I felt as a young boy for aviation history, flying, space exploration, and astronomy came about through my discovery of early aviators: the Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtis, Wiley Post, and Charles Lindbergh. 

The practice of a little imagination and the life-long exercise of awe and wonder always make for an interesting life – the kind that looks at the future with the same degree of respect that visionary people deserve.

Dr. Pedro Blas González

Pedro Blas González is Professor of Philosophy at Barry University, Miami Shores, Florida. 

He earned his doctoral degree in Philosophy at DePaul University in 1995. Dr. González has published extensively on leading Spanish philosophers, such as Ortega y Gasset and Unamuno. His books include Human Existence as Radical Reality: Ortega’s Philosophy of SubjectivityUnamuno: A Lyrical Essay; Ortega’s ‘Revolt of the Masses’ and the Triumph of the New Man; Fragments: Essays in Subjectivity, Individuality and Autonomy;Dreaming in the Cathedral and Fantasia: A Novel.

He published a translation and introduction of José Ortega y Gasset’s last work to appear in English, “Medio siglo de Filosofia” (1951) in Philosophy Today Vol. 42 Issue 2 (Summer 1998). 

His book Philosophical Perspective on Cinema will be published by Lexington Books in May 2022.

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