First the good. In the next hundred years man will learn nearly everything there is to know about living things including himself. The unknowns will become known, the diseases conquered, most of today's unrepairable injuries made repairable. Super sub-miniaturization now called "nanoscience" will allow us nearly unlimited abilities.
Already well under development, nanoscience means machines the size of a molecule. Through nature's artfulness, living plants and animals already run on such "machines," and in the 1970s we developed the knowledge and tools to create them. It is estimated that nanoscience will be a trillion dollar industry as early as 2015. Nearly all of that will represent things we cannot do today.
Related but unrelated, we will also be capable of genetically engineering the weaknesses out of our future progeny and the progeny of animals and plants. We will be capable of creating new species to-order including combinations of species, and they will be trained machines.
Already today we have a sufficient DNA database that people can learn if they are descended from an ancient fossil. It's only a matter of time before this exercise leaves the laboratory and enters the mainstream. The state of Virginia, a leader in the DNA database field, could provide this service now if it wanted to.
We will realize that life on other planets does not have to mean surface life, and our expectations will change. Just as Earth has unseen life under the surface of the sea and under the surface of the land, so might other planets that look uninhabited today.
Earth has millions of life forms living in the sea and under the soil. The number seen from the air is zero. Venus, Mars, Neptune can't have sub-surface civilizations?
Assuming the pursuit of science lasts long enough, we could master how to place attachments to light, or to use gravity as fuel, or distribute power wirelessly. There are no limits to conquering unknowns.
Our future will not be limited by unknowns. It will be limited by two things we know very well.
First, it will be limited by the profit motive. If something cannot be patented, no one will spend a fortune developing it. On the other hand if it can earn fortunes, we will have it, even if it upsets the balance of nature.
Second and more devastating, it will be limited by a past we are unable to outgrow. Billions of people have a need for superstition. Religions that sprang up during the ages of ignorance still blow icy winds everywhere. Hope surviving in the face of experience is the power which moves us forward. Belief surviving in the face of experience is the flaw which holds us back.
History offers little hope that more than a small percentage of mankind wants to overcome this, and fewer can.
It's important to understand what the future does not hold.
It does not hold individual freedom. Freedom is measured by what you can do without having to ask. We are long past the day of free range humans.
Freedom is way down from its peak before we needed a license to fish; before we required registration, inspection, and life jackets to go boating; before seat belts and cycle helmets were law; before those carrying a photo-ID had privileges denied those without.
Before you could be handcuffed and hauled to jail merely for eating, drinking, or chewing gum in a subway station, as happened to EPA scientist Stephanie Willett and scores of others in Washington in 2004.
Back before children had to fill out income tax forms to report summer jobs. Before babies were required to have social security numbers.
Build a cabin, start a business, deliver newspapers, replace your hot water heater, bridge a creek, own a car, no matter how small the endeavor, government at one, two, or more levels is now and forevermore in charge.
Freedom from government control is behind us, back in time where we can never go again. We are the focus of laws and regulations from pre-conception to after death, and more controls are passed every year.
Long ago we snuffed out Huckleberry Finn. For decades now Huck would have been declared a ward of the court, and put behind razor wire as incorrigible. The Tom Sawyers are now required to take Ritalin for their "attention deficit." Children who play cops and robbers during recess are suspended from school as suspected sociopaths.
With the best intentions, liberals far out-do conservatives finding new avenues for government control. Law books, rule books, handbooks bulge with good intentions that destroyed freedom.
Neither does the future hold individual privacy. That, too, is already gone. Government, the medical community, the insurance community, the banks, the credit card companies know more about us than we ourselves do. Between pooling, sharing, and selling, most everything important about us is available to anyone paying $39.95 to see it, and flows like a river into institutions who don't give a damn.
Once upon a time personal information the government required for its own needs was for their eyes only. Now K-Mart requires your social security number to pay by check. Private schools, colleges, and mortgage lenders require copies of your tax returns to extend credit or aid, as do community safety nets for those who can't afford local taxes.
No one forced that on us. Losing privacy wasn't inevitable. There are other means of identification, other ways to establish credit and eligibility for aid. Americans chose to have it this way at the ballot box by re-electing politicians willing to do it this way.
As for anything the press seeks to know and sometimes things they don't, someone in government who wants it leaked will leak it, illegally, without fear of retribution. If elected representatives don't hold privacy dear, their appointees certainly won't.
Regional diversity will not be part of tomorrow. It's already disappearing. We've ground geographic diversity into common McChicken feed.
Back before we all watched the same TV shows and ordered the same pizza, each state had a unique personality. Today that personality is well down the road to shedding all signs of uniqueness. We largely mirror one national character in regional accents.
What remains of regional diversity is entertainment stereotypes of taciturn New Englanders, southern crackers, midwestern Scandinavians, and western cowboys. Europe is fast going down the same road.
And we have to look back, not ahead, to find the golden age of creative originality.
There were centuries when music and art, prose, poetry, and theatre were advancing to new ground every generation, higher ground in terms of requisite skills and mastery of form.
That's over. We've moved in other directions. "Originality" now means re-doing the old in new media using new techniques. And of course a boundary-less definition of art. "The world is the perfect poet. A fireplug is purely, irrevocably a fireplug." (Ron Lewisohn in the 1960s.)
We will need all the escapism we can get. Crushed between reliance on the planet's limited resources and our instinctive procreation, the comfortable man will see his quality of life collapse.
It took more than 5 million years for world population to reach 3 billion. It took less than 100 years to double to 6 billion on October 12, 1999.
The US grows like wild fire. Have you ever seen a WW II movie, a film made in the early 40s? The US population was 130 million during WW II. It will hit 294 million this month, July 2004. You can check the population clock at http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html
The Census Bureau says our net gain in the US from births, deaths, immigration and emigration is now one new person every 11 seconds. That's 2.8 million more people each year to fill the highways and need schools and teachers and health care and Wal-Marts and jobs. The only one making any attempt to keep up with the need is Wal-Mart. Each year the others fall further behind.
The world population had been accepted as doubling every 40 years. Projections were that our 6 billion will be:
That has changed. The United Nations looked at a current dip in the growth rate and now forecasts only a 50% increase in population, after which a magic birth-death balance will follow. Actual U.N. projections for 2050 range from a low of 7.7 billion to a high of 11.2 billion.
The lower projection is based on a bubble in the stream of history. Other bubbles in the stream called baby booms will push the numbers back up.
Add to this that the UN didn't factor in the coming medicines, genetic disease control, and globalization that can extend average lifetimes and reduce infant mortality. UN optimism, while fulfilling its political agenda, should be shelved for a decade and then re-tested.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates we will run low on (they say out of) natural resources by 2050. The exact year isn't important. The inevitability within the next few generations is what matters. Unless the population is unexpectedly reduced by epidemic, war, or cataclysm, it is absolutely certain man will not be supported much longer in anything like the manner we are accustomed.
At one time we told each other "if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." At one time it was true, but it doesn't scale. Six billion people can't eat fish very long before the seas, rivers, lakes, fish farms, and freezers are empty.
Our choice. We left it to greed and politics rather than discipline ourselves with planet management. We rejected the responsibility to control procreation. The most irresponsible breeders shall inherit the earth, and they appear to be counting on it.
Interplanetary rescue is out of the question. Should we find a habitable planet or ten of them to colonize, we could never send off more than the tiniest fraction of Earth's people even if space ships were the size of a soccer stadium.
Because man is compelled by egoist religious superstition to believe himself divinely chosen, the highest life form on Earth is now committed to paying a dreadful price for trusting its future to its gods.
Do you know who's going to inherit the planet after us? I don't know who will dominate on land, but I do know who it appears will inherit the seas, because that's already begun. If you don't know, I won't ruin the surprise.
Introduction - How these myths began
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