As we close in on the election — an election liable to be the defining moment for this nation for, oh, the next 100 years or so — I thought it might be instructive to get a perspective on where we might be headed.
About a year and a half ago, I interviewed a few science fiction writers to get their take on what I perceived as a rightward drift in the genre. The responses were interesting and instructive. It seemed to me then that if we’re trying to determine where the country is liable to be in 20 years, perhaps we should consult with people who are generally thinking about the future.
I conversed with four: Retired Army Lt. Col. Tom Kratman, who is a best-selling author of near-future military thrillers and a military SF series which is, by his own admission, a thinly disguised near-future thriller; Sarah A. Hoyt, respected author in more genres than I’m able to accurately count and winner of the prestigious Prometheus Award for Best Libertarian Fiction for her space opera Darkship Thieves (the sequel Darkship Renegades is due out Dec. 4); Larry “The Combat Accountant” Correia, the multiple New York Times bestselling author of the Monster Hunter International series and The Grimnoir Chronicles; and Kate Paulk, whose debut novel Impaler was well-received and whose urban fantasy ConVerse books (ConVent and ConSensual) are some of the genuinely geekiest — and funniest — books I’ve ever read.
I asked the panel one simple question: given conditions as they exist today, where do you think we are headed in 20 years, and what will the world look like? (Ok — two questions.) Kratman was less than optimistic:
I anticipate the European Monetary Union will break up. The German-controlled euro may become the new deutsche mark, or Germany may go back to the mark. The name really won’t matter. The European Union won’t go away — Europe is littered with transnational organizations that don’t ever go away — but will be irrelevant. Most countries will go back to their traditional monetary unit: franc, lire, drachma, punt, etc. A fair number will stick with the new mark so long as Germany remains in charge of it. I expect resurgent fascism in Italy, Spain, and France at a minimum, as socialism does what it does best — fail disastrously.
Paulk likewise sees trouble:
The U.S. is still the world leader, but what it leads is much reduced from even 20 years before. The implosion of the Chinese economy took a great deal of pressure off the U.S. economy, but the massive entitlements of the boomer generation leave almost nothing for anything else. The form of the U.S. government remains unchanged, but the real leaders are a handful of bureaucrats who administer a soft fascist regime. Those who espouse the correct opinions can still do well, but accidents and odd coincidences befall those who dare to express the wrong view. Since the wrong view can change overnight, studying political correctness is essential.
Hoyt sees things as bleak, but she is hopeful:
I think the next twenty years are an inflection point for human civilization.
By the history of our race, we should be heading into a time of more and more limited liberties, a time that looks like a cross between 1984 and Brave New World. Then that civilization would fall, and slowly the light of liberty would appear again. And there would be the bloody mess to reconstruct.
But I think technology changes things. The movement towards mass everything and the belittling of the individual moved fast in the 20th century because it was what the century’s technology encouraged. For the last 100 years we’ve been on this path where the schools create serfs and the state extends to points unheard of, and … well, it’s the whole miserable history of the 21st century.
So, are we still on that course?
Well, it’s still the safe way to bet, but I don’t think so.
Correia sees it both ways:
Where are we headed in twenty years? I see two distinct possibilities. If we continue down our current path of ever-growing government, increasing dependency, bloated bureaucracy, and never-ending spending, then within twenty years we will see an economic collapse like the world has never known. My background is as a finance guy, and I can’t even wrap my brain around what we’re doing right now. Our current policies are simply incoherent. There simply aren’t enough producers to pay for that many consumers’ good time, yet both parties (however, one far more than the other) keep on proposing new methods to set money on fire.
Neither side wants to cut their pet projects, but we are simply broke. Every time anyone talks about cutting anything, there is an institutional freak-out because that particular program is so vital and important and regardless of what it is, cutting it will be the end of the world. So nobody ever cuts anything. They are called budget cuts, not budget pillows or budget cuddles. Cuts are supposed to hurt.
The other possibility is that enough of the American people say to hell with this, and put their foot down. The Tea Party movement gives me hope in that respect. If enough of America’s producers stand up against the bloat, then we are overdue for an economic boom. Companies are sitting on their hands right now because they are scared of the future. Remove that fear, let them know that their government isn’t going to screw them for a while, and we are overdue for an economic boom.
For Hoyt, it’s the economic and freeing possibilities of new technology which she believes will bring us out of the current malaise:
There are breaches in the wall. We’re not there yet, but we’re starting to see an age where information is power and information is cheap, a time when individuals can live anywhere and work anywhere, which means territorial governments better play nice or else, a time when skilled labor is everything and education is at everyone’s fingertips, if they want it.
It’s a stance with which Kratman disagrees. He sees civilization dissolving and a new dark age on the way:
A new civil war (will break out) in China with a probable break-up of the PRC into perhaps five groupings. Australia will continue its progress in enviro-fascistic seppuku. For a while. Then all the lampposts in Sidney, Perth, Canberra, Melbourne, etc. will acquire new decorations. As will those in Sacramento, L.A., San Francisco, D.C., Boston, New York, Chicago, Atlanta.…
I don’t know if the United States will finally break up. I do expect us to descend into a civil war in the manner of Beirut in the 1980s — on steroids. I further expect a nasty war with racial overtones in Cali … excuse me, Mexifornia and the southwest, as we have to fight to retain our righteously stolen gains of 1846 to 1848.
Latin America? Hopeless.
In short, it’s all going to crap and there’s little or nothing we can do about it to stop it.
Correia thinks it’s fixable:
In twenty years, either we are living in a nation slowly going broke and dwindling in importance on its road to decline, or we are living in the America that we want to live in.
I suppose there could be a middle path, where we keep on doing what we’re doing and things somehow stay about the same for our society, but I doubt it. It is make-or-break time.
I grew up on a dairy farm. Every now and then you would have a cow become terminally bloated. It is actually a medical condition in a ruminant animal where gas has built up in its stomach and has become trapped. This can be, and often is, extremely fatal. When you have a cow that is terminally bloated, and you haven’t been able to release the gas through other less invasive means (like a hose jammed down its throat), you’ve either got to stab the cow in the stomach (with a device called a bloat knife) to let out all the pent up gas, or you let it die. Stabbing the cow is always dangerous, always painful, and sometimes still deadly anyway. America is our cow, and it is about to pop, yet many of our politicians want to stick that cow to an air compressor and try to blow her up like a balloon. It is time to cut or die.
So that’s the take from the SF futurists: without a major change of course, America as we know it is doomed.