Wendell Berry quoted a “futurist” in one of his Unsettling of America essays. Apparently this individual was fairly well known in his time. Even changed his name to FM-2030. And no, it’s not a radio station, if the numbers went that high. First off, he believed he was going to live to be one hundred and he was born in 1930. Missed it by thirty one years when he died of cancer in 2000. Second, he believed that by 2030 we would be on threshold of either greatly enhanced life spans or actual immortality. Well, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen either.
Apparently he garnered quite a rep at the beginning by predicting teleshopping and telelearning. Well, geez, anyone familiar with the Monkey Ward catalog (extra points if you remember the name of the real store) or the one from Sears wouldn’t have make a big stretch to realize that using a computer would make it easier to shop. Or that a computer would make it easier to take what we used to call correspondence courses.
He was further off the mark on alternative energy sources. Solar is slowly catching on in this country, doing much better overseas. As nice as wind power sounds, it’s exactly that and still growing slowing. We don’t seem to be any closer to fusion power than we were a generation ago and conventional fission plants are declining, not growing. In part because we didn’t realize at the beginning what radiation does to building materials like metal. And then there was the miracle of cars powered by fuel cells. I don’t know where this guy went to school. The Wicki website was silent on that. Yo, to get hydrogen you need water and electricity. Water is in short supply already in many places. And using as much power to get your energy source as you’ll in fuel supply seems a bit, shall we say, shortsighted. And storing hydrogen is tricky, it tends to go BOOM when you least expect it.
But, what really caught Berry’s attention was the push to a fully mechanized, computer directed agriculture. ‘three or four technicians could feed million people” from an article entitled Homo sapiens the Manna Maker. And as usual the metaphor is totally misunderstood. (It's a PDF file on the net, just Google the article name)
In scripture manna is a symbol of abundance as a gift of God. But, an abundance within limits. The People were to gather enough for the day, that day. But, double the amount to have enough for the Sabbath. More than was needed for the day would spoil over night. In the Lord’s prayer we recite give us THIS day our daily bread. In at least one section of scripture we are advised to care for the evils or joys of this day. And worry about the future when it gets here. That could be seen as a recipe for fatalism, but I don’t believe it has to be that way.
But, when we spend too much time focusing on possible future problems we can lose sight of the problems of today. Take a look at the total mess our foreign policy over the last fifty years. How much cash, weapons and training did we shower on little countries in Central and South America. How many governments did we help overthrow in the name of preventing communist “subversion?” We’ve got semi scandals of the wazoo right now because too many of us are terrified of possible terrorist actions.
The other problem that bothers me when it comes to those who spend too much time focusing on the future at the expense at the present. Too many of them don’t seem to like human beings very much. Four computer techs can feed a million people. Presumably a similar small crew could run an automated factory producing almost any product. Sooooo, if the computers are growing the food and making the goods. Where are the nameless, ignored citizens supposed to use for money to buy the goods? Out of thin air?
I think I’ll stick with the present for now.
For anyone who is curious the FM-2030’s original name was F. M. Esfandiary.