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Space exploration, technology, and the possible futures of humanity: Part Five

By Mark Wegierski
web posted February 2, 2009
           
The central question concerning modern technology may be whether a given society's enthusiastic embrace of technology is not ultimately corrosive of its culture, politics, religious traditions, art, architecture, and mores. Every society must eventually face the issue of to what extent it can integrate technology within its pre-existent national and cultural traditions. Certainly, some of the attempted pseudo-"syntheses" – for example, Nazi Germany, or Stalin's Soviet Union, have been absolutely horrific.  Today's America, however, is seen by some critics as close enough, in a considerable number of ways, to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World – especially in regard to its ever more outre outlooks on sexuality and its forms of entertainment.  It must be said that Japan, China, and India, have all retained a greater measure of socially traditional outlooks, while – without question – becoming extremely proficient in modern technology. A possible issue that arises is if social and cultural decline can ever lead to technological decadence – a decline in technological advance. So far, America seems to have avoided the latter outcome.

Nevertheless, some have argued that the current financial and economic crisis in America is largely the outcome of an over-fixation on consumerist satisfactions rather than hard work, savings, and thrift. One can perceive a deeply ingrained culture of entitlement stretching from the highest levels of Wall Street and the boudoirs of Hollywood, to the apathetic recipients of welfare, and those (albeit abetted by government and the financial industry) acquiring "McMansions" far beyond their real means.

By contrast, China – which has developed huge industrial production -- is in a position today to dictate terms to America. The vast Chinese reserves of American dollars are likely to be the main source of the money that the American government now needs to borrow (now estimated at two trillion U.S. dollars). It's almost frightening to contemplate the contrast, as far as economic sovereignty and self-sufficiency are concerned, between America in the 1950s -- when virtually everything was "made in America" – and today, when most commercial products available in the U.S., are made overseas – and America has become a "debtor nation." Some have said that the economic or pseudo-economic theories that resulted in such an outcome are not being subject to enough sharp criticism today.

Barack Obama's Inaugural Address indeed drew vital attention to the importance of production, hard work, and responsibility for a successful society, but it may be a little too late for such invocations.

For example, it's possible that many of the younger people in America have become so enamoured of various forms of entertainment and easy living, that many of them will simply be unwilling to put in the very long hours needed for attaining real scientific and technical expertise – even in those cases where they have manifested significant intelligence and an aptitude towards science and engineering.

In his address, President Obama obviously embraced what is called the creedal definition of American identity, i.e., as a political creed.  While the idea sounds very noble and idealistic, it is difficult to imagine that any society that has ever existed could continue without being built around some kind of ethnic, or in some cases, religious, core. Such rhetorical celebrations as by the former President Clinton, of the impending day when whites become a minority in America, tend to gloss over the matter that such an American society would likely find it ever more difficult to function as a "United States of America." While Obama did not strongly embrace Christianity as a possible basis for American unity, he did appear to outline a rather robust and well-thought-out vision of the American founding documents and republican institutions as a basis for America's future.

But it could be argued that the very positive image of America put forward on Obama's Inauguration Day occurs only in the foreground of a backdrop of a very deep-seated climate of social and cultural decline, and of a regime that may indeed be, in a considerable number of ways, near the end of its tether. The social textures of lives for many people today approach the surreal. Many are absorbed by the plethora of often very vulgar entertainments and amusements. The intellectuals who should be doing some serious thinking are often captured by ideas that are probably leading to even worse outcomes for society as a whole. And it could be argued that the so-called "conservative" administration of George W. Bush has squandered the nation's resources in the futile Iraq War and through the so-called "financialization" of the economy  – while manifestly failing to confront multifarious social and cultural crises at home.

It would be reassuring to believe that the various nations one specifically cares about and identifies with, would be able to carry on with a more-or-less similar ethnic and cultural composition almost literally ad infinitum – eventually settling some of their population on remote outposts of the Solar System or the habitable planets of distant stars. However, this appears to be becoming less and less likely for many of the Western and European nations.

The scenario painted in David Wingrove's monumental, eight-volume science fiction series, Chung-kuo – which portrayed a worldwide, highly technologically-advanced Oriental empire (albeit with some European presence)  – may indeed not be the worst of the outcomes facing humanity today (although the author himself clearly intended it as a dystopia). Scholars such as Samuel P. Huntington have speculated that another possible "culture sphere" is a (sub-Saharan) Christian Africa. Indeed, the conflict between Christianity and Islam in Africa may become one of the most important in human history.

In a world of massive technological flux, those nations and peoples that retain a tough and unshakeable sense of their own ethnic and cultural identity, combined with a sense of critical intelligence about the world, the natural environment, human social relations, and the cultural preconditions for economic success -- as well as a highly necessary degree of generosity and tactical flexibility in regard to others -- are likely to dominate "the deep future." Neither self-hatred nor hatred of others is the path forward for a real future. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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