by Guy Walker
Like a resurrected god emerging from cobwebs and gold, the tottering heroisms that only existed as lore are then redressed in the milky fog, conspiring with pigs, their buckled snorts are now for everyone to sing like prophecy.
The future is a cruel vampish remark of ourselves, either too self-complimentary of our abilities, or too elaborate in its cynicism that it’s somehow made exciting. The real monomania of man is straddling time as it hurls towards some far more theatrical hellworld, like Major King Kong riding the bomb towards global annihilation in Dr. Strangelove. We devour any new hypothesis about what the future will look like. Most are grim: men cloaked in shredded ponchos sifting through the ashen garbage of a bomb-blasted city; an all-consuming eyeball watching its slave-citizens exert their last breaths in some menial chore, when they open the mail, how much sugar they spoon into their government-regulated coffee, rationing bathroom breaks into paranoid gasps under a permanent gray sky. It’s no longer called “going to the bathroom”; instead, it’s just squatting in the minefield, shitting poisoned gumdrops into gofer holes, ducking under the propellers of crowded drone highways. Or, we envisage paradise: glowing diodes scaled in pink flesh, the libidinal Turing test coaxing millions of penises upward like miniaturized dancing tube men you see outside gas stations. Our willingness to submit ourselves to the fantasy of being controlled by AI sex demons is enough to fund clinical research into the ubiquity of our madness, a race gorging itself on a five million gallon tub of popcorn, swimming in bubble baths of Diet Coke, the half-chewed corpse of our animal selves left to die in the expanding sun.
There’s never stories of a flourishing utopia where citizens enjoy fortunes of wine and gold-leafed genitals. It’s not because stories need conflict to be deserving of telling, but rather because we all know the future is already haunted by our collective stain. “Utopia,” of course, originally translates as “nowhere” or “no place” from the Greek and Latin. The term was coined by Thomas More for a book in 1516, about an imaginary island that could never realistically exist. Because humanity is a marching band of rabies and excrement, parading our predestined death drive for everything to touch.
The Earth isn’t enough for us. We were never really meant to stay here after all, we tell ourselves. We have to expand up and out into the cosmic arena, the future suddenly become the present.
Isaac Asimov penned a piece thirty-five years ago for The Star, predicting what the world would look like today in 2019, the same timeframe from when Orwell wrote 1984, in 1949. Another pointless stream of musings by a science fiction writer, perhaps, electing himself as another voice in the orgiastic industry of fortunetellers hunched over their gleaming orbuculums. His mangled and teased sideburns curling every which way, like human velcro strips, antennas that were meant to signal his way back to the alien ship he wanted so desperately to exist. You can almost picture him, not stroking his chin like true learned men do, but rubbing the furry islands on his cheeks, one set of pointed fingers in each nest, so as to think doubly hard.
The essay is short and yet somehow achieves a grander more bestial form of tedium. He makes brief nods that the burdens of overpopulation and pollution would be “strenuous,” and at worst, “painful” to overcome, but after what amounted to a woefully self-evident position that anyone who paid any attention to the course of current events could come up with, he roared on to what you’d expect only a sci-fi writer gorging on his most reasonable conceits would write. By 2019, he predicted, we’ll have vast space colonization efforts under way, expanding solar power stations on other planets and microwaving unlimited amounts of solar energy back to Earth. An “international force” will be mining the moon and taking it to “places in space” in order to manufacture the soil into the structures we’ll then send into orbit around the Earth.
The gloating vagueness of what new undetermined spacecraft will be manufactured from the ashen rubble on the moon only illustrates that people like Asimov never really had a plan to begin with. It’s just getting closer to resembling the Jetsons without thinking what it’s all for.
Computers will revolutionize the education system, he continued, and therefore, “Education will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.” His predictions were more optimistic than nearly anyone else who scribed their tellings, more than the self-assumptive powers of George Orwell who stated 1984 was a warning if we weren’t careful. More than Aldous Huxley who thought we’d degenerate because we enjoyed sex too much. Asimov wrote over 500 books, and around 90,000 letters, an expulsion of mostly awful fantasies exceeded only by the likes of L. Ron Hubbard. If you write that much, you are simply ravenous, your nostrils dilating like a bulls, your retinas clogged with surfaced arteries, beads of sweat squeezing through every pore. When hearing of Kerouac’s writing style, Truman Capote commented, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” But Asimov didn’t even type; he leaned over stacks of paper that were spread out randomly and stuck his fist down his throat, waterfalls of words spilling haphazardly onto the pages, books less sensical than Jack Torrance just repeating the same sentence over and over ten thousand times in The Shining.
There is something obviously maniacal and self-loathing in our proclivities for some undetermined future. And Asimov may be an easy example of the boyish fatuity to leave this plane of banality in exchange for something much more colorful and exciting, but Elon Musk wants the same thing—he just goes about it in more adept ways. Carl Sagan wanted the same. Stephen Hawking. All those who indulge in altered states of consciousness are doing the same thing. Consuming highly powerful psychedelics like DMT isn’t really about any spiritual endeavor; it’s about rocketing yourself to the ninth dimension in an instant just because you can, because eating ramen and driving to work and jerking off to the same dreary image of a bleached asshole, and everything else is the same fist-clenching tedium we’ve been forever trying to escape.
Our economy on Earth relies on people continuing to buy meaningless shit, selling advertisements on Youtube for underwater headphones, while you wait for a video to load of a raccoon playing with a Made-In-China plastic toy. It’s too crowded here, with the voluntary onslaught of linoleum and styrofoam and dog hotels and signs pointing every direction at once. Outer space is the frozen empty void, Arena Todestrieb where human-engineered ballast phalluses cartwheel for two hundred years, the whole crew cryogenically frozen, as the distant whirring and periodic beeps sink away into a deathless midnight; and they’re doing this simply because this is the new frontier.
We speak of frontier enthusiastically, in the way our dead incest-advocate great great grandparents spoke of Manifest Destiny, that it was justified and foreordained. Even the eminent sun-tendrilled poet Walt Whitman, who wrote at length of the indelible handsomeness of nature and her things, pardoned the chugging pogrom of the natural world in his Pioneers! O Pioneers!, one of the most celebrated iconic poems of the American West: We primeval forests felling, We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within, We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving, Pioneers! O pioneers! We can’t help but plunder the untouched edges of the world, until the American West is finally completed as it was always meant to be, into one gargantuan neon shopping mall, the florescent tube lights buzzing off the polished floors like marble, runny-nosed children stretching their fingers out for another ice cream, the whole mad slippery empire swallowing up the moon, and then Mars, and then forever beyond.
Mars One is a private Dutch company of four people, pledging to colonize Mars by the 2030’s, turning the whole red-stained circus into the ultimate reality show, literally. They’re planning to send regular folk up there, so they can shuffle around like penguins on the deserted planet, seeing how long they can survive before the lonely mania sets in, before they start ripping their spacesuits off and running into the frozen landscape, naked and free at last. It has been broadly criticized as a suicide mission by the aerospace industry; and yet still, the proposed mission recruited interest from more than 200,000 people, all knowing it’s self-described as a one-way trip, just so their Real World vacation can be filmed and beamed back to Earth for our viewing pleasure. It’s the ultimate death drive. Our collective vanity perspiring into a dribbling goo, so that we were on some television sets for a few hours.
Even though SpaceX rejected Mars One’s proposal to be a part of their mission, Elon Musk also wants to die on Mars. He’s certain this planet isn’t big enough for him. The dull terraqueous hubris of nature isn’t even enough to tickle the poets—the spindly greenery suitable only for animals and peasants who still succumb to their sublunary programming. When Musk first steps off the grated ramp, and sinks his feet into the bloodshot soil, he will laugh, having successfully left one dead planet for another. It doesn’t matter what happens next—how many steps he takes like a stumbling newborn, where and how he finally falls, hugging a rock, gasping his last breaths. The point is it’ll be a return to nothingness—the whole mission a huge success in returning the human species to the rest of the dumb impartial emptiness of the universe, to the infinity of nothingness, turning back the evolutionary clock on ourselves, until before we were apes, before the first fish and microbes, before the first squiggling turds of existence, until all that’s left of us is a fading stain across the glittering mosaic of the cosmos.
There is a very real possibility we are the most intelligent and technologically advanced beings in the universe. Even though 80-100% of stars are predicted to have planets orbiting them, and an approximate 20% of those planets are thought to be in the Goldilocks zone, where life is prone to take place, there is no built-in impassioned drive towards intelligent life. With the innumerable elemental factors in place, we don’t know the odds of life going from slime on the warming shores to space-whizzing humans, but that number could be so low that we’re the only ones for now. And yet we’ve persisted in replacing the death of God with the absolute conviction that aliens visit us on a regular basis. My otherwise intelligent colleague was just recently convinced aliens put us all here, and is controlling us by having us invent smartphones for our own distraction—not all that different a theory from the Scientologists. The so-called New Atheists—Dawkins, Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, et al.—miscalculated their burden to convince the masses to abandon their silly creeds. The challenge wasn’t that we wouldn’t know where to get our morals from, but that we would then select from the library of daydreams to replace them instead of fostering the sterility of empiricism. Even amongst a serious scientific community, programs like Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) are endearing iterations of our failure to be alone, our trembling fear of the dark.
But our collective fixation to leave this cannibalizing orgy and begin anew somewhere else was no worse depicted than in the 2014 epic Interstellar, a convulsive meltdown of narrative in which humanity must scramble to discover and colonize a new planet before being ravaged by an unexplained error in our crop yields. We are yanked from this planet with still many signs of life, the diversity of biomes great enough to guarantee nature’s resiliency, and travel through other dimensions, looking to settle on another dead ice rock. It doesn’t follow a sensical narrative because nearly the entire genre of futuristic sci-fi doesn’t follow standard cogency. And here we are, in real life, trying to mimic sci-fi’s worst aspects, pursuing technological feats “because we can,” because we’ve seen Kubrick’s flying bone turn into a space shuttle too many times, and we construct that as our toolmaking destiny, still masturbating our collective selves to the perceived nobility in JFK’s quip of going to the moon because “it is hard.”
In our temptation to draw out some picture of the future we either fear or hope for, we do best when at the very least we stay on this planet. The future is never epic when it is arrived upon; it’s the fantasy of it that entices us again and again to spend our time and money consuming it like a porno vision of tomorrow.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was directly inspired by 1984, even though Gilliam admitted he never read the book. The concept of dystopia is attractive enough; the details will fill themselves in after the fact. It’s tempting to compare the whole lot of futuristic books and films and the like, and idolize the most accurate and likely, the thought being with enough guesses eventually someone will get it right. And Brazil is probably the most rigorous and faultless in regard to its social aspects, at least for the time. It’s stylized humor is not actually humor and not actually stylized, but just a form of observant note taking; the most absurd accounts now looking more like accurate depictions of our present-day ennui. In Brazil, the rich stretch their faces tight with saran wrap and wear leopard-printed high-heels on their heads; we inject our asses with a toxic clotting fluid, and lay in tinfoil sleeping bags binge watching other sci-fi possibilities, imagining ourselves on another frozen rocky frontier, through another dimension, far more lonely than this one here.
We already lost the future. Now, all that’s left to fix is the present, or what we have left of it. Climate change, nuclear annihilation, never-before-seen inequality, more and more military-clad despots who sneer like baboons with opposing jeweled grills—these realities won’t go away with never-ending prophecies and productions. They won’t go away if we try to get away, to other deserts on other planets. The real life strata of decay will follow us like a shadow, until we fix it here amongst ourselves, on this lonely island bobbing in empty space.