Tag Archives: Future

Two Years and Counting….

Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

As I watched national news during the past week since Senator John McCain’s passing, my thoughts returned time and again to my original work in building the world of 2048-2052 for the Perceval series, how I imagined America becoming an oppressive autocracy. During the summer of 2016, I wrote about my concerns with the upcoming election, and especially how America had developed since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. During the past week, I went back to that summer also, remembering my hope that America would not walk down the path I had seen before it while working on Perceval’s Secret. I don’t pretend to be able to predict the future, but the signs were there for anyone to see.

In “The Drift Toward Autocracy Continues,” the August 20, 2018 post at The Weekly Sift, Doug Muder lays out how America continues to move toward an autocratic, not a democratic, federal government, bringing America closer to the America in Perceval’s Secret. What really stood out for me was the following:

“Here’s a norm that is key to separating a republic from an autocracy: In a republic, executive powers are tied to executive responsibilities. In an autocracy, executive powers are personal prerogatives, subject to the whim of whomever the Executive happens to be.”

The current American president insists on personal loyalty from his staff, not loyalty to the country and Constitution. The current American president is embroiled in the appearance of, if not yet proved to be involved in, corruption, collusion with a foreign power, and violating the Emoluments clause in the Constitution. The current American president this week was annoyed with the media’s coverage of John McCain’s life and death — a man who served his country as a Navy pilot during war, and as an elected representative of the people of Arizona, revealing this president’s fragile ego.  Senator McCain knew and modeled public service to country and community. The current American president pays off women with whom he cheated on his wife so they wouldn’t talk about the affairs. The current American president revokes the security clearance of a highly respected intelligence official to punish him, not because he was a national security threat but because he’d spoken truth to power, using the president’s power to grant or revoke security clearances without following standard protocol and procedure. The current American president would like very much for the Justice Department to do his bidding, no questions asked, to eliminate his enemies and rivals which would be a gross abuse of power. The current American president has no respect for Freedom of the Press as he attacks the media and calls it “fake news.” The Republican Party does nothing. The Republican Party wants to maintain their majority in Congress, and as Karl Rove put it, to have “a permanent majority” which would be another step toward autocracy.

I’ve listened to those who support the current American president. They think he’s doing an excellent job and taking the country in the right direction. But when it comes to specifics, I have not heard anyone actually go into specifics. What I find especially interesting about the current American president’s supporters is that they are usually not wealthy, they are racist against African-Americans and immigrants, especially Hispanics from the south, they want America to bully the rest of the world to get what they want which I haven’t a clue what that is, and they want the federal government to shrink along with the taxes they pay. They feel threatened by anyone who is not white, Christian, male. They do not comprehend, apparently, the irony that they elected a wealthy white man who’s not particularly religious, and who really doesn’t care about them to get them what they want. Sadly, all this president cares about is what he wants and that is power — feeling powerful, wielding power over other people, and enjoying being treated like a powerful person.

None of what I’m writing here is a secret. Any intelligent person who makes an effort to stay informed about current events and our federal government can see it all for herself. Anyone who observes the current American president and how he speaks can come to the same conclusions. The American people and their government do not have a leader in the Oval Office right now who is a public servant and who knows how to govern in a democratic republic. They have a guy who wants to be president and be like a Mafia don. He wants to make money off the American people who elected him as well as the political party that continues to turn a blind eye, and help the wealthy multiply their wealth. He doesn’t know how to work with Congress and doesn’t want to learn. He doesn’t know how to work with our Allies and doesn’t want to learn. He’d much rather tweet insults and brag about his “accomplishments” — a large word that he could not even begin to fill with what he’s done in his life.

After the election two years ago, I’d hoped that Congress would be a strong check on him. It turned out that only the Judicial branch fulfilled their role as a check on Executive power.  The Republicans seem happy with the current American president — after all, if he takes over, they won’t have to deal with governing anymore. The Congressional Republicans, for the most part, have not proven themselves to be democratic leaders who govern well. Senator John McCain was an exception. I wonder if the Congressional Republicans are really paying attention to their constituents; after all, the current president lost the popular vote by a rather large margin.

Recently, a couple readers of Perceval’s Secret approached me separately and commented with a certain amount of fear on the future that I depict in that novel. They wanted to know how I knew that the 2016 election would be the beginning of a wealthy elite take-over of the country, turning American society upside down. It’s been in the works for years. All I did was pay attention. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

Made America Great Again

banner-make-america-great-againTy squatted to paw through the wastebasket’s contents before emptying it into his giant gray thick plastic barrel on wheels. Rich people threw everything away. He’d found treasures in their wastebaskets sometimes. One night, he found a brand new children’s book that he took home for his daughter’s birthday. Another night, he found a perfectly good tie, a beautiful tie of dark green with subtle thin black diagonal stripes. He wore it to Mass on Sundays. Now he hoped to find something for his patient, hard-working wife.

She had warned him not to trust a liar and cheat. That man would not keep his promises. Why should he? He was rich. He didn’t need to work to put food on the table, pay for expensive medicine for his wife, pay health insurance premiums, and the rent. All that man cared about was getting more money for himself and his friends, no matter how he did it. Ty hadn’t believed her. That man had said everything Ty’d been thinking, and promising to make America great again. But nothing had changed.

Ty spotted a spiral notebook toward the bottom of the wastebasket. He pulled it out, opened it. Writing in ink filled only two pages. The rest of the notebook’s pages were clean. His daughter could use this in school. He dropped it into the cloth bag he wore around his waist. Ty had been cleaning rich men’s and women’s offices at night for the last two years. During the day, he taught third grade at an elementary school two blocks from their apartment. He could walk to that job, but he had to drive to the night shift job. Buses stopped running after about 12:30 a.m. His wife drove the car to her day shift in “catering” at one of the big hospitals in the city. Gas was expensive.

That man had turned back the clock really. No, not turned it back. Ty had studied history in college and knew that in America democracy had prevailed for 240 years. Then that man took over. A celebrity businessman used to getting his own way by any means possible. And his family, giving his kids big jobs in the government like dictators usually did. He hadn’t a clue about who really did the work in America. And he didn’t want to know. Yeah, the first thing he did was to stop the flow of information as he banned one media organization after another from covering his activities. He used the courts to keep them so tied up they didn’t have time to do their jobs. He signed off on “reform” that ended Social Security so that “people will have more money in their paychecks now and save more for the future.” But wages hadn’t increased. How was he supposed to save when he could barely make enough to support his family?

That celebrity businessman wanted to show the top 1% that he was truly one of them and not some wannabe. So he made certain that business got what it wanted, and unions didn’t. He made certain that the tax breaks benefited the wealthy so they could keep all their profits. He made certain that he got the money from Congress to do what he wanted even if it meant gutting all spending even for the military. But he still ran up the national debt as if he could just declare bankruptcy again, no problem.

Ty regretted supporting that man. But what could be done now? He and his party were in power and changing the government to suit themselves. They called it “a permanent majority.” He didn’t like that at all. They weren’t helping him or anyone like him and his wife. Ty emptied the rich CEO’s wastebasket into his barrel and moved on. They were all bullies really. Now they were in power, they bullied all they wanted — even other countries. That celebrity businessman decided that America got nothing from being in NATO, from being allies with other countries, from free trade. He made America isolationist again. And his young daughter endured all sorts of bullying in school.  It wasn’t safe for anyone who didn’t look like that celebrity businessman, that ugly celebrity businessman.

His back ached. His wife thought it was because of the lifting he had to do, but Ty knew it was because of his shoes. But he couldn’t afford new shoes that would give his feet the support they needed. So, his back ached. He massaged his lower back as he pushed the giant plastic barrel out of the CEO’s office and down the hall to the next office.

CEO's Office?

CEO’s Office?

Writing the Future: the Mars Trilogy

KSR Mars TrilogyThis past week, I finished reading the final novel in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. Besides bringing our beautiful planet earth’s physical attributes into focus for me to the point of overwhelming gratitude, this trilogy also provoked thoughts of just how difficult it is to write the future.

But how hard could it be to write the future? I mean, all a writer has to do is make things up, right?

Wrong.

For Perceval’s Secret and the rest of the Perceval series, I spent months creating the world of 2048-2050, thinking about all aspects of human life, plus environmental, political, geological, and technology concerns. I read books about futurism, which I hadn’t really known existed before. I read futurists’ predictions about the mid-21st century, fascinated by what they emphasized and what they didn’t. Then I had to put myself into the future I’d created in order to look for major holes in logic or in setting, and to write about it with confidence. It was hard.

I can only imagine the amount of research Robinson must have done for his trilogy.  He focuses a lot of his attention on the science of Mars, the science of human survival on Mars, and surprisingly, the geology of Mars because of one character, Ann Clayborne. Robinson put me there on Mars with his characters, especially for the first two books. I found it totally plausible what the characters experienced in terms of the Martian environment as well as in social and political terms. He didn’t spend a lot of energy, however, on technology which surprised me. He covered as much as he needed and no more. And I was quite satisfied with his future for the first two books.

Mars Bonneville Crater (Photo: NASA.gov)

Mars Bonneville Crater (Photo: NASA.gov)

But not for the third book, Blue Mars. The first two books remained true to their setting, i.e. Mars with all the challenges it presented. In the third book, Robinson takes us elsewhere in the solar system because humans have settled other places and Mars politically wants to have influence over them. While this was plausible from a social political point of view, I missed the survival experiences of humans on Mars. I missed how the personalities and desires of the core ensemble of characters intertwined and propelled the story in interesting and surprising ways. And it wasn’t because I didn’t like the younger generation of Martians. I found it fascinating how, in the third book, Robinson focused so much on the social aspects of living on Mars.

It took me several days after I finished the third book to figure out why I felt so dissatisfied with that last book. I realized that Robinson had abandoned the explorer and survival aspects that had begun the trilogy and shifted to a medical aspect. In fact, I realized that the gerontological treatment he introduced in the first book had struck me as a mildly interesting literary device to extend the lives of the original settlers through the trilogy. But it didn’t bother me at all in the first and second books. It bothered me in the third book which became a meditation on memory. So, the trilogy ends not on new ideas about space exploration in our solar system and beyond, but on a small group of people who are trying to remember their pasts. While interesting at times, I thought it belonged in a different book entirely, one about the medical and physical aspects of living off earth.  A book about the future trying to recapture the past or the old chestnut of humans seeking immortality.

Mars (Photo: NASA.gov)

Mars (Photo: NASA.gov)

Had Robinson run out of ideas about Mars settlements in the future? Had he lost interest in the science? Or had he written all he wanted to write about them? I don’t know, although it felt that way while I was reading the third book. Robinson showed that humans would do everything possible to recreate earth and life on earth in his trilogy, and I wondered how humans would evolve to adapt to the Martian environment. I continued to read despite my growing dissatisfaction and impatience with the third book because I really enjoyed Robinson’s prose, and I loved the way he threaded two elements through all three books: the Red vs. Green struggle, and John Boone and his death.

Finally, Robinson demonstrated just how difficult it is to write the future. I was very impressed, however, with just how far he went.

President Obama Agrees With Me

Atlantic cover april2016In the April 2016 issue of The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg writes about the interviews and conversations he’s had over the last ten years with President Obama, and his reportage on Obama, in his article, “The Obama Doctrine.”  Goldberg provides glimpses into Obama’s thinking, his reasons for the decisions he’s made in the past seven years and how he views America’s role in the world.  He also writes about Obama’s beliefs about the future of America.  I wasn’t surprised to read how thoughtful and pragmatic Obama is in his approach to his job, and that he’s a realist about some of the world’s hottest spots.  This article really shows just how much Obama has accomplished during his presidency, in spite of dealing with a Congress that would rather say no than take responsibility for anything, including positive change.

Despite terrorism and the issues in the Middle East that threaten to dominate America’s future, Obama believes that the Pacific will play a larger role, including China.  It really thrilled me to read that.  We agree that China will be an important player in the geopolitical situation in the future, which anyone who’s read Perceval’s Secret already would know.  China continues to play an important role in the subsequent novels in Evan’s story.

What is the future?  Where does it come from?  Most writers of the future rely heavily on technology to show the progress of humanity.  But what about the social aspects?  The psychology of humanity?  What is their future?  I’m more interested in the sociological and psychological progress of humanity in the future and what that looks like.  It was a surprise that Obama is interested in those aspects, too.  I agree with him that human behavior, thoughts, and beliefs have a far greater influence on geopolitics and humanity’s progress than technology.

63-Free-Retro-Clipart-Illustration-Of-Man-Carrying-Big-Bag-Of-Money-With-Dollar-SignAmericans’ relationship with money — what they think about it, their emotional attachment to it, and their beliefs that surround it — is right now shaping human behavior in this country.  But America is not the only country in this world that has a relationship with money.  Just take a look at each country that makes up the Middle East, for example.  Or look at China’s economic revolution since the death of Mao.  Money drives a lot of human behavior.  All people want a good life and money can give it to them.  Humans all over the world believe money confers power on those who hold the most.  Those who have the least amount of money have issues with the wealthy.  One of the most interesting sections of Goldberg’s article concerns Obama’s recent trip to the Pacific and people that he met there, contrasted with how people in the Middle East respond to the circumstances of their lives.  In the Pacific, people want to learn, they want to improve their lives, and they work to find ways to do that.  They’re not attacking their neighbors or America.  In contrast, the Middle East has given us terrorism born of deep resentments that certain Middle Eastern countries are trying to export to Asia and the Pacific.

How I see the future in Perceval’s Secret was extrapolated from what I saw happening in the world several years ago.  I did a great deal of research into futurism and futurist thought, and what trends in human behavior form the basis for the future.  The human relationship with money is one trend that I chose to use.  China has invested deeply in American business and government (through Treasury bonds).  What if China decided to cash in all its investments at the same time?  During my research I found only one mention of such a scenario, and the conclusion was economic collapse and disaster for America.  So, I concluded, the American government at the time would do whatever was necessary to preserve the economy and its power.  Very little of this scenario rests on technology.  It’s all about human thought, belief and behavior.  Humans will create their own future reality through what they think and believe.

As I read Goldberg’s article, I found myself thinking about the current election campaign and the candidates vying for Obama’s job.  I wondered how many of the candidates would read Goldberg’s article, understand the vocabulary and its intelligent prose, and comprehend the true dimensions of the job and just how well Obama has done with it.  It scares me to think that years ago I imagined the rise of a candidate much like Donald Trump who wins the election and proceeds to turn America into a dictatorship with the complicity of Congress, closes America’s borders, oppresses the working population and protects the top 2% of the wealthiest Americans.  Sound familiar?

“Darkness at Noon” by Arthur Koestler

N. S. Rubashov and his pince nez first entered my life when I was in high school.  At the time, I had no idea what a powerful influence his story would have on my life, my thoughts, and my writing.  What is so powerful about this novel?

book cover Darkness at Noon

It’s not in the prose style.  Koestler’s prose tends towards dense thickets of words in parched soil.  Thick and dry.  There is a formality to the tone that makes the novel like an official document.  When Koestler describes prisoners tapping on pipes or walls to communicate with each other, it’s the official story.  Yes, this really happened.  In fact, Koestler based Rubashov on his own experiences and on a combination of people in his life, friends, who had been arrested in the USSR and put through what Rubashov experiences with one important difference.  Koestler’s friends lived to tell him what happened to them.

My recent reading of this book was done in spurts, but that didn’t detract from the flow of the story for me.  Not much happens, really.  The story opens with Rubashov having just arrived in his prison cell.  Koestler takes the reader into his mind to process with Rubashov his surroundings and what he thinks about them and how he landed in prison.  The reader stays in Rubashov’s mind, with only two or three breaks, for the duration of the novel.

Koestler’s achievement is in peeling away the layers of Rubashov’s thought processes as he examines his belief system.  It is his belief in the Revolution, i.e. the Revolution as it was originally conceived not the present version led by No. 1, that has landed him in that prison cell.  Koestler reveals the fragility of the human perception of truth and reality through Rubashov and his confrontations with Ivanov and Gletkin.  How they manipulate his thinking is a masterful example of thought control like George Orwell wrote of in 1984. Koestler’s concerns are political.  But this thought control can also apply in social situations, and even within a family.  So we have domestic abuse and cults.

And it’s possible for an Adolf Hitler to gain power in Germany with a message of Aryan power.  It was possible for Lenin to gain power through revolution in Russia with a message of the power of the proletariat.  In either case, the leader says one thing while in effect doing the opposite.  Did the proletariat ever really have any power in the USSR?  No.  The power was in the Communist Party, in the leaders.  But the leaders are careful to “educate” the people about the goals of the Party as they relate to them, the proletariat, to create the illusion that the people have more power than they do.

Arthur Koestler

Arthur Koestler

Toward the end of Rubashov’s story, Koestler describes his thoughts, his reaction to his own behavior and words at his show trial, concluding:

It was a mistake in the system; perhaps it lay in the precept which until now he had held to be uncontestable, in whose name he had sacrificed others and was himself being sacrificed: in the precept that the end justifies the means.

“The end justifies the means.”  This is the core belief of communism, and of any dictatorship worth its salt, whether that dictatorship is within a family or a country.  It is the core of Rubashov’s story as he remembers, throughout the book, situations and people from his past.  In each memory, he acts in accordance with this core belief.  So how can he fault the current regime for being true to its core belief?

For me, the power of this novel comes from the horror in the realization that thoughts can be manipulated, experience controlled, reality created to suit whoever is in power; and in the seductiveness of the core belief that the end justifies the means.  We are as vulnerable now as during the 1930’s when Koestler set his novel….