Belmont Club

Rescuing the 21st Century

New Year’s Eve before January 1, 2000 was so long ago that it is hard to remember that it was the future. September 11 was nearly 2 years away. the crash of 2008 was yet unsuspected. America was a hyperpower so unassailable that some feared it would last forever.  But no one cared because it was a time without fear. We had a guarantee things would get ever better; the world had settled into the groove of progress. Liberal democracy had won the jousts of history.  Dark words like ‘drone’ and ‘NSA’ were as yet unknown. The biggest worry of that festive evening was whether the Y2K bug would kick in the next day.

Yet somewhere over the next decade a strange reversal took place. Everyone was astonished to learn the future was really the 8th century. In the major capitals of the West it became fashionable to don a keffiyeh,  burka or grow a beard.  British public figures started converting to Islam. But there was more. Set to challenge the 8th century for supremacy of the coming century was a resurgent 19th. Malthus, in the shape of Global Warming and Marx in the guise of political correctness and “positive rights” were back in intellectual vogue. Socialism, which had collapsed of its own weight in the late 20th century was again resurrected, for the nth time, as the Coming Thing.

But the new 19th century was novel in that unlike the old socialism which emphasized a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage,  the new worker’s paradise consisted of people cycling around on muddy paths fasting on arugula or reading by the dim light of a windmill-operated bulb or shame-facedly paying penalties for any unavoidable air travel. (“Climate criminal!”)

NASA, which had once landed on the moon in 1969, had been relegated to boosting the self-esteem of the Muslim world. But the biggest difference for people who lived in what used to be called the First World is that the future now meant desirable poverty. This feature is called sustainability. Horizons were now meant to shrink. The small gulp softdrink or the Michelle Obama school lunch were now signs of conspicuous nonconsumption. Gone were the days unlimited horizons when the word “49er”  meant vistas of riches and gold. In its place was a new term: the 29ers, people cowering under the 30 hour limit to escape the benefits of Obamacare.

A “29er” refers to someone working 29 hours per week, the maximum that an hourly employee can work and still be considered part time by the federal government, as defined under the Affordable Care Act.

Of course there were modern 49ers also no longer people lured by dreams but refugees from the spotlight of Obamacare,. “The 49er strategy, therefore, seeks to keep the business under 50 employees.  Obvious ways to do this would be to limit the company’s growth, mechanize rather than hire, outsource rather than hire, etc.  Cutting to part time, assuming the same number of hours, does not help the employer here because of the full time equivalent rule.”

Where did the future of 2000  go? Ironically it rumbled along unnoticed under the public narrative.  For in the years since 2000, revolutionary new medical treatments, practical robotics, new nuclear energy technology, life extension and host of advances have made the future we no longer wanted attainable again.  Quite without meaning to, North America became the energy capital of the world.  With an Ebola epidemic ravaging Africa, the brightest source of hope came from a biotech startup with a dozen employees operating out of a California strip mall.

One of the principal sources of modern political tension is that our actual potential has exceeded the Central Plan.  We are doing rather better than our leaders reckoned we should have. How dare we.

Perhaps the future vanished on that New Year’s Eve of 2000 because leaders wanted to control it. Scott Peck observed that elites are inherently afraid of possibility because it may reduce them to insignificance; because they are more “likely to suffer from a sense of meaninglessness and insignificance because he knows he’s but one human among five billion others”.

There is nothing more depressing for the Great than to realize that they’re “scratching out an existence on the surface of a medium-sized planet circling a small star among countless stars in a galaxy lost among countless galaxies.”  The only future such leaders are comfortable with lies in the past with everything under control.  It is to those who don’t know what is beyond the next hill — but want to find out — to whom the future is opened.

We were meant to be unquiet in order to have a future. Perhaps the only way to get the 21st century back  is to regain the possession of our individual aspirations.  The best way to kill a dream is to freeze it.


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