November 16, 2016
"We live in scary times." So say the media. The internet is awash with dark predictions. Demonstrations are erupting across the country. And we'll probably see a few new books shortly over the dangers that we all face. There's been an informal online survey in which viewers were asked what they thought the world would look like if they could time-travel a hundred years into the future. Almost every response reflected a view that could have emerged from Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, or H. G. Wells.
In fact, our natural inclination is to assume that the future consists of a gathering darkness. Bhartrihari, writing fifteen hundred years ago, commented: "All hail the power of time! The pleasures of the town, the glories of the king with his court of fawners, his ministers who stand respectfully before him, his women with faces as lovely as the shining moon, his crowds of haughty noblemen, his poets and writers—all go down the stream of time to nothingness."
Plato, who describes democracy as the worst form of government, doesn't have a high opinion of other forms either: "The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness….This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector….In the early days of his power, he is full of smiles, and he salutes everyone whom he meets."
Aristophanes, in The Clouds, contemplates the future and wonders "When shall I see those halcyon days?"
We cannot see over the horizon, and we are fully aware that tomorrow holds serious risks. So we are inclined to assume the worst. Maybe that's because there's too much science fiction in our lives. Narratives involving a happy, expanding civilization with lots of leisure time and minimum problems can make for boring reading. The reality is of course that we might encounter an economic collapse, or get caught up in another mideastern war. A new disease could break out. Meantime, the tides are rising. And I won't even mention a nuclear exchange.
But despite all that, it's a good idea to enjoy the present moment. Life is not perfect, but it's good. We've come a long way. Our homes have electricity. We can pretty much say and think what we like without having to worry about being jailed. Food is available at the local supermarket. Medicine works miracles. (If you're annoyed that they haven't come up with a cure for cancer yet, think about the kind of risks Aristotle lived with.) We have cars and highways. And, hopefully, we're surrounded by friends. Yes, things might go wrong. Maybe even seriously wrong. But for the moment, at least, we live in a good time. Enjoy it.
I hope I've got this right.