Riding Shotgun: Between the Womb and the World

The world feels so old sometimes — but if you think about it, we’re just getting started.

Not too too long ago in this column, I wrote about the present and how it hasn’t quite lived up to the promise it had back in the days when it was the future. It was the usual expletive-laden diatribe you’d usually find in this column, sparked by discussions in Congress about using cloning technology to Xerox men and women willy-nilly and the evil it could bring about.

Well, our fine men and women on the Hill are stuck on the subject again. Just this month they might very well pass legislation to break down the Executive roadblock put in place four years ago with regards to stem cell research, setting us down that slippery slope that ends with baby Einsteins or baby Hitlers depending on who’s preaching.

Or they might not.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. It’s a new day for Crunchable, a new style, a new look, and I thought I’d start off the season on an optimistic note. I am, regardless of what you might have heard, a closet optimist. At least as far as the future of humanity is concerned. While I might believe that the gent on the corner with the twitchy eyebrow and the clenched fists is more likely to end up serving life for aggravated rape than sign his tax return over to the United Way, I still prefer to auger sunshine and rainbows rather than fire and brimstone for the species as a whole.

It’s a mindset that, I believe, can pretty evenly split the population of this country straight down the center. Some believe that mankind is capable of self-awareness and self-governance only to a certain point, whereat an innate fallibility takes hold and leaves us floundering, unable to progress any farther.

And just as many believe that mankind is capable of overcoming whatever societal, psychological or intellectual hurdles are placed before it given enough time — possibly on a geological scale — and effort.

I proudly announce my membership in the latter category. How will we ever get anywhere as a culture, a country, a species if we honestly believe that there’s only so far we can go? Who decides where that is? What’ll we do when we get there?

So, how to convince mankind of the viability of its own future? It wasn’t always so difficult. There was a time not too deep in the history books when the future’s possibilities seemed limitless. Soon meals would come in pill form, cars would fly, and man would walk distant worlds. Well, the family wagon still has its wheels firmly on the ground; we made it as far as the Moon and it seems an eternity before we’ll return; and if you’re having pills for lunch, chances are you need a 12-step program.

So, has the future betrayed us? We don’t have hover cars, but we have the World Wide Web. We don’t have jetpacks, but we’ve got a vaccine for polio. We still need to get our meals in hot dog form like the rest of the shmucks, but somewhere in Bethesda they’re using nanotechnology to find a cure for cancer.

Maybe it’s about time we again took a good look at what the future could hold. Did you know that in Seto, Japan, a World’s Fair is coming to a close — the Expo 2005 Aichi, the theme of which was “Beyond Development: Rediscovering Nature’s Wisdom.”

We haven’t hosted a World’s Fair in the U.S. since 1984. Most Americans don’t even know they’re still held. Isn’t it about time that the world’s self-professed “last remaining superpower” spent some time, money, and effort to play host to the world’s great scientists, inventors, and thinkers? Isn’t it about time we used our money and our clout to create a venue for visionaries who can see past Iraq and terrorism and 9/11, who can look beyond the violent little speed bumps in history and see the broad strokes of where mankind can go and what we can achieve?

Stick it right in the heartland, right where they’re arguing to put creationism intelligent design in the classrooms. Where they’re fighting against stem cell research. Put it right in the center of the country. I’ll go. So will others. You think the Olympics are a draw? I won’t drive 10 blocks to see a shotput, but I’ll go to Iowa to see a hover car, or a robot housekeeper, or to walk on a moonscape, or inside a capillary.

Get to it.

I think the greatest danger of believing that the human race is nearing its finish line is despair and hopelessness and, more than anything, complacency. Complacency in regards to the injustices and villainies that pepper our globe is the enemy we really need to keep an eye out for. Let’s be honest, many of those who believe in that brick wall that mankind will never hurdle, are the same that believe in an eventual end to all things, à la the Revelation. Why do you think evangelical Christianity is so popular? Who do you think buys those Left Behind books? How can you have the sort of stamina and dynamism needed to push humanity forward if you honestly believe that only a handful are worth saving and the rest are grist for an apocalypse?

This is what I rail against when I criticize that kind of religion. I could live with their bigotry, their intolerance, their blind adherence to dogma, doctrine or whatever’s preached to them from the pulpit, if they would only treat the human race as an ongoing project rather than one that’s about to be terminated. If they would only spare some of their faith in God for mankind.

Because humanity reigns the world, or at least we do until the dolphins speak up, we tend to think of ourselves as well on the road to wherever it is a species goes to after it crawls up from the primordial ooze, sprouts a few limbs and whips up a bonfire or three. Evolutionarily speaking, we’re still in the starting gate.

The dinosaurs had millions of years. We’ve only been bopping around for a few hundred thousand. And we think we’re hot shit.

As a species, we’re barely born. We’re still somewhere in the birth canal, struggling to breathe, struggling to make our way up and through and into the light and the air, struggling to live. Struggling to get to the point where we can finally look around with clear eyes and see the landscape and where we fit in it, instead of struggling against each other, tangled up in our own umbilical.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to get us there, but I know it requires a lot of energy and fortitude and the sort of dexterity of mind and spirit that hopelessness and complacency kills.

And maybe it will be Mars. Maybe it will be the final cure for cancer. Maybe it will be houses under the sea. But something is going to provide that firm slap that will set us squealing, wailing and breathing — in the light and in the air and gloriously alive.

Article © 2005 by Steve Spotswood