Finally, something to shake up the recent political chatter–more political chatter. About the same chatter. Still, I won’t say that I wasn’t impressed by some of the speech. Obama was nicer than I like, but then, I’m a mean person, packed to the top of my overheated head with vengeance and dead kittens.
Something else occurred to me, though it wasn’t explicit in the speech: the future (enter theremin). The concept that these proposals and programs exist not for their own sake but as a necessary foundation for real societal change. It’s kind of like a national Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Our society needs to be healthy and fed and employed* before we can get going on the next level.
without the work of a couple of generations. And while we might talk sometimes about the technological possibilities of the future, I don’t hear an awful lot of talk about the societal possibilities, in this context: What does a society that produces a space city look like? Is it a capitalist society, or something completely different? Do they have a large military, or practically none at all? And on and on.
Building a space city would consume an incredible amount of resources, both in raw materials and in human knowledge and labor. A society on the edge of ruin doesn’t produce space cities–it hasn’t got the extra resources to spare. While America isn’t exactly “on the edge,” compared to other countries, it’s pretty obvious that we have neither the resources nor the social cohesion necessary to build anything more than a Popsicle-stick model of our space city–two expensive wars, shifty bankers, and ever widening class divisions will do that to you.
Work through this thought experiment for a while and it might become obvious that while a city in space would be cool, it’s really a red herring. The point isn’t the Great Pie in the Sky, but rather, what we need to do to get it, and who we need to be. The concept becomes almost a reverse of that oft-paraphrased First People yarn about judging our actions by their effects seven generations from now. In other words, what kind of gift could we begin working on now, that would come to fruition seven generations from now? That far away generation may instead prefer to eschew the space city for a couple hundred years off of work (an idea I kind of like, the advanced civilization that chooses against space cities because it can), but the point is that they are actually able to do space cities if they want to. Nice.
Is it possible to call this a “radicalization of the solution,” where we mean “radicalization” in the literal sense: getting to the root of the solution? I might also make the case that our politics right now are the opposite–we radicalize the problems (in the political sense), taking up sides but only in response to the schism of the day, rather than taking up the challenge of deconstructing the future.
Anyway, it sort of occurred to me that I wish “our leaders” talked about their policies more in terms of way-off projects like this, instead of all the grab ‘n go politics that we have now. It seemed that at times, maybe Obama was hinting towards this sort of inter-generational sensibility, and in the context of the SOTU agenda, it is interesting to think of the further possibilities that could arise if most of it passed. Health care would be great, but what about Mars?
*I’m not sure how I like that word anymore. It reeks of “used”–obviously–but there’s got to be a better word for what we mean when we talk about our work, or trade, or job as a thing that we do in service of the destiny of our species. That’d be a good word.
–Sorry for the sci-fi…here are some links:
It’s Thursday: the Friday of the unemployed. This will get you started.
If anyone wants to learn Esperanto with me, just let me know. It is the language of all reputable space citizens.
Here’s some more future-talk for you.
And a really great piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates responding to Chris Matthews awkward response to the SOTU.
The “I forgot Obama was black” sentiment allows the speaker the comfort of accepting, even lauding, a black person without interrogating their invented truth. It allows the speaker a luxurious ignorance–you get to name people (this is what black is) even when you don’t know people. In fact, Chris Matthews didn’t forget Barack Obama was black. Chris Matthews forgot that Chris Matthews was white.
I’m put back in the mind of the The Wire, when Slim Charles tells Avon that it really doesn’t matter that our wars are based on a lie. Once we’re fighting, we fight on that lie until the end. I would submit that a significant number of white people in this country, can not stop fighting on the lie. They can’t cop to the fact that they really have no standing to speak on Obama’s relationship to blackness, because they know so little about black people. It’s always hard to say, “I don’t know.” But no one else can say it for you.
But you really should read the whole thing.