Archive for June 23rd, 2014

23
Jun
14

end of the world

That's All Folks

The year is 2014 and, by Hollywood’s account, we should all be riding hoverboards and having robots tend to our every whim. Hell, we should have even destroyed ourselves by now. Such was the nature of the  futures, many of them dystopian, we’ve been sold over the past decades in the movies.

According to writer-director George Miller’s 1979 film Mad Max, there should have been a huge fuel shortage in Australia “a few years from now” (’82 or ’83?), with leather-clad bikers roaming the countryside with the police incapable of stopping them.

Yet another movie that claims to be set in the “near future,” the 1987 film RoboCop by Paul Verhoeven predicts that Detroit is in shambles, overtaken by crime and an evil corporation with plans to demolish the decrepit city center. Here fallen police heroes can be reconstructed into state-of-the-art, cybernetic crime stoppers that can store the entire police database in a chip in their brains. RoboCop‘s bold claims for the future will likely come to fruition, if ever, years after the time frame predicted.

According to George Orwell’s 1984, since made into a film by British director Michael Bradford, we should have entered an era of constant surveillance by Big Brother more than thirty years ago. Today’s NSA revelations seem long overdue.

According to the Terminator series’ timeline, Skynet was to have launched the ultimate war between man and machine in 1997, with the nuclear holocaust predicted in Terminator 3 happening in 2004.

Director Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi flick 2001 predicted colonization of the moon and travel to Jupiter long before now. And out-of-control robots! While 2001 didn’t feature a nefarious group of androids enslaving all mankind, it did show one super-computer Hal 9000 killing four astronauts.

Back to the Future Part II takes place in the very near 2015. Director Robert Zemeckis has set up a pretty accurate timeline of events (like wireless video gaming, tablet computers, etc.) leading up to that year. That said, hoverboards, instant pizza, and flying cars don’t look like they’ll be hitting the market anytime in the next six months.

Dystopia reigns in 2017-19. Adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road (2009) was the bleakest of bleak films. An unnamed Man and Boy roam a post-apocalyptic earth (cause of the devastation unknown), avoiding the last remnants of humanity who are scavenging for any remaining sustenance, including human flesh.

In Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel, pollution and overpopulation have transformed cities such as Los Angeles into depressing megacities by 2019. Replicants–androids with superhuman strength yet visually indistinguishable from humans–are pursued by bounty hunters known as blade runners. Off-world colonies advertise a greater life via flying billboards. Animals are scarce and must be genetically engineered. And we have flying cars. Clearly, this vision of the future isn’t going to come true within five years.

The fact that so many catastrophes have been predicted before now, and their dates have come and gone, reminds me that the economy has been judged unsustainable by so many people (including my son). He and others are waiting for the “other shoe to drop” after the financial crisis which precipitated the recent Great Recession.

But will that shoe ever drop, or will the powers-that-be simply define away the massive, unrepayable debt that so many naysayers say dooms our future?

We humans have an apparently insatiable appetite for predictions about the future, but the experts to whom we turn for predictions (including Hollywood scriptwriters) often do an exceedingly poor job of forecasting. Psychologist Philip Tetlock’s 20-year study of expert predictions has suggested that experts are about as accurate in predicting the future as dart-throwing monkeys.

Wanting definite, unqualified answers about the future, we encourage scriptwriters and prognosticators to make bold, unconditional predictions that often turn out to be wrong; but we are quick to forgive and forget. We use predictions about the future for our entertainment.

There will always be Bible-thumpers who will use some obscure Bible passage to predict a possible future. Most Biblical prophesy seems to be based on passages in Luke, which predict a proliferation of war and strife (Luke 21:10) and all manner of natural disasters (Luke 21:11) as signs of the end times. The only problem is that such passages are an apt description of the period from 70-80 AD  in which this gospel was written (Roman civil wars and fighting against the Jewish uprising, Roman invasion of Scotland; eruption of Vesuvius and tsunamis in Italy; droughts in Germany and Italy; famine in Ireland and Italy; floods in England).

More specific proclamations of the beginning of the end times supposedly based on the Bible include William Miller’s prediction of the second coming of Christ and the end of the world by fire between between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844 (and subsequently, October 22nd of 1844 when the first predictions didn’t pan out). More recently, Harold Camping predicted the end of the world sometime between September 15-27th, 1994 (based on a reference in John 21:1-14) and then May 21, 2011. There have been any number of additional specific end-of-the-world predictions based on interpretations of the Bible, some by cultists, others from major religions-–and yet we’re still here.

Other schools of thought ascribe the end of the world to some sort of cosmic event, either a collision with the supposedly mysterious rogue planet Nibiru, a killer solar flare (or coronal mass ejection), or a disastrous celestial alignment. Most are familiar with historical occasions of Halley’s Comet being hailed as a harbinger of doom, starting at least as early as 989 AD and most recently in 1910, but there have been other predictions of the end of the world from celestial objects such as Comet Hyakutake (1996), Comet Hale-Bopp (1997), and Comet SOHO (1998), with only those members of the Heaven’s Gate cult having their world come to an end…of their own volition.

Finally, there are the end-of-the-world predictions tied to some specific date on a calendar, without necessarily taking into account that any calendar is a human invention. Whether driven by the end of one of the periods in the Mayan Long Count Calendar, the end of the millennium according to the Gregorian Calendar, or Y2K, any excuse will suffice. Yet we’re still here.

The only predictions that can be made with confidence is that the sun will rise tomorrow, the days will get shorter until the Winter Solstice (when they will get progressively longer), and that the Earth will experience seasons in an immutable sequence in which summer will follow spring and winter will follow autumn.

Everything else, all detail, is unknowable and unpredictable.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to the Reverend Edward Clayborn performing “This Time Another Year You May Be Gone”