(The following is an excerpt from a longer work titled: My Diary of Lucid Dreams and Recollections.)
In 1965 I produced my best high school term paper on the emerging topic of population growth. And though I was reaching for greater independence, I found myself still relying on some help from both parents as I was expanding my research and writing techniques. I concluded with a dark and brooding Malthusian prediction about the future we now face.
My father provided copies of Scientific American journals on the topic of population growth. He taught me how to chart my population data points extending from a distant past and into the 1960s. And he showed me how to connect the various dots on my chart using a drafting tool known as a French Curve. Then, we extended the data line to the right for 50 years into the future—the one we live in today. My mother did an excellent job editing and polishing the paper.
The paper was written for my social studies teacher who openly promoted the neocon policies of Barry Goldwater. She and I wrangled in class just about every day. I think we both welcomed it as a break from the routine boredom that so often defines high school. She begrudgingly gave me a B+. But the grade mattered little to me because I was really writing it for myself. I know my parents would have graded it an A+ and that was all that mattered as we moved into the early progressive years of the LBJ presidency.
This paper reappeared recently in my early morning dreams. After slowly rousing from my slumber, I began a mental review of that paper while half asleep. I suppose this dream reflects the underlying gravity of our lives in the 2020s.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s various authors worried about our planet’s over-population leading to mass starvation in countries such as India. They also predicted the depletion of nonrenewable resources, increased poverty in low-income countries, and widespread famine leading to mass starvation.
Once fully awake, I found myself trying to recall specifically what I wrote in my paper. That set me off on a frantic search for the document amongst my old archives. Frustrated, I emptied out binders and boxes full of aged yellow papers, awards with curled edges, darkened photographs, typewriter crafted documents, burnished awards, and torn newspaper clippings. It turned out that my father and I saved everything, but that report. So I searched Google to find predictions in the 60s made about the 2020s.
My Internet search engine gathered prophecies by sci-fi writers like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke in the 60s. The latter predicted that by 2015 “We will be able to contact people instantly, wherever we may be…” Clarke went on to insist, “We may have brain surgeons in Edinburgh operating on patients in New Zealand.” Both of them successfully predicted our newly emerging field of remote robotic surgery.
Disney’s House of Tomorrow predicted a future built from Monsanto plastics. In what sounds like an advertisement, they boldly claimed, “In the future everything will be made of plastic… including your dishes, cups, countertops, walls, floors, ceiling, tabletops, shelves and cabinets.” I also recall a favorite movie The Graduate, wherein the future father-in law whispers his advice into the distracted ear of Dustin Hoffman’s character: “The future is plastics.” Today our oceans and landfills are choking on Monsanto’s cast offs.
Here then is my summary of what I found predicted in the 60s for our time today. Some are odd, others funny, and a few only slightly off.
- Live-in apes will clean our houses and take care of the gardening
- Roadways will be replaced with pneumatic tubes
- Books will be dead
- We will all own personal helicopters
- We will eat candy made of underwear
- China will be the world’s largest economy
- The American workweek will be 26 hours long
- No one will really have to work at all anyway
- We will all live to be at least 100 years old
- Houses will fly and be able to relocate themselves
- No one will want to drink coffee or tea anymore.
By the end of the 20th Century our actual experience has turned out to be a little less dark, though still quite foreboding. Global food production increased faster than world population for several decades after the 1960s. In addition, we’ve witnessed a general, if uneven, decline of poverty around the globe. Perhaps the most dramatic change today is the emergence of China’s mixed economy. A country previously plundered by European powers has ascended to world superpower status. Meanwhile the old capitalist empires increasingly resemble dinosaurs slowly mucking around in the oil-dependent tar pits they created.
How Is The 21st Century Looking?
No one—not Hollywood, not futurists and artists, not science fiction writers—predicted the nightmare that began to poke through around 2015. Today the word Pandemic more broadly invokes an updated Four Horsemen (of the Apocalypse). These dark figures plunge forward upon steeds of Disease, Riot, Economic Collapse, and Fascism. And certainly no one saw the Four Horsemen watering their horses in 2016 on the White House lawn of Trumpland, USA.
2020 does feel remarkably different, yet somehow hard to describe in a way we can all agree upon. For quite possibly the first time in modern history, we are witnessing the simultaneous echoes of long ago global catastrophes. In 2020 we teeter on the brink of a global economic collapse similar to the Great Depression. Racist murders in the United States spark a global protest echoing the 1960s civil rights movements. And, the worldwide pandemic in many ways mirrors the Great Influenza outbreak of 1918.
And each Friday, Greta Thunberg holds a sign urging the world to wake up and strike against the climate debacle. Starting alone in Sweden in 2018 at age 15, her effort caught fire and spread to 4500 locations in 150 countries, with an estimated 6 million people participating in 2019 her Skolestrej For Klimatet. Her School Strike for Climate earned two Nobel Prize nominations, as she fanned a withering flame of hope.
The Futurists in the 60s got it tragically (and comically) wrong when predicting: “By 2000 the machines will be producing so much that everyone in the US will, in effect, be independently wealthy.” In the 2020s we now embark on a massive correction or face extinction.
Returning To My Papery Dream
As I ponder and dream about the current state of affairs I see a great unraveling. A simultaneous pandemic, uprising, and economic collapse can draw us together, or shatter us into nuclear smithereens. We can only come together to survive this unraveling when we begin to agree on alternatives to the desperate inequality plaguing our world.
Today’s realists like Greta in Sweden and Michael Moore in the USA are talking about new survival values. It will mean re-learning the cooperative behaviors that helped our early and frail Hunting and Gathering ancestors succeed in their dangerous world. The Gretas and Michaels of the world passionately urge us to acknowledge our past mistakes in order to think and act differently going forward. Perhaps they were sent by the future to teach us how to weave the threads of humanity back into a coat of many colors. It is time to try a new styled coat patterned with more justice, and cloaked with a vision of sustainability and renewed hope for a brighter tomorrow.
By Martin Kimeldorf