science

The Future is Fine

galileo syndromeI reviewed a book last week, and when I was done, asked the author if I could get a guest post from him elaborating on some of the concepts in the book. There are times you get a tantalizing glimpse in a novel, but storytelling dictates not-an-infodump (wise choice, here!). However… in this case I was well-enough acquainted with the author to ask for the non-fiction version. 

Hi, my name is Stephen J. Simmons, and Cedar invited me in to chat about something near and dear to both of our hearts:

Progress.

I started reading, – and writing – science fiction because I firmly believe that the future will be a great place, and because I’m really looking forward to living there.  While I can appreciate a cautionary tale like George Orwell’s classic 1984, in general I have no use for the recent deluge of dystopian futures.  I believe that the world gets better and better with every generation, and that this will not only continue, it will accelerate.

And yet everywhere we look we are beset with people banging drums of disheartenment, moaning and wailing beating their breasts because we’re all doomed.  Whether it’s the looming disasters posed by Genetically Modified food (GMOs) (neatly debunked by, of all people NPR), or the dangers posed by the “Population Bomb“, or overfishing, or any of a dozen other problems, the people who spend their days claiming to know how we should live our lives have an endless array of reasons why we should all rush home and hide under the bed.

But the great-grand-daddy of them all is the evil wrought by the internal combustion engine.  To hear the former-VPs adherent tell the tale, this tool of the Devil (in Whom they don’t believe, except when it’s convenient) was unleashed on Earth for the sole purpose of destroying the environment, poisoning our children, and raising the planet’s temperature higher than that of Venus.

Except they always seem to leave out the fact that the introduction of the internal combustion engine actually SOLVED the most severe ecological problem facing civilization 120 years ago, the Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894.  Government committees and studies were impaneled to address this crisis, all to no avail.  The official position was that government must find a way to drive people out of the cities, else the streets of London and New York be buried under layers of manure several feet thick.  (I’m not making any of this up.)  That brilliant proposal came from the same people whose ideological offspring make up the current crop of Neo-Luddites, and their message of shunning progress hasn’t changed.

The problem wasn’t solved by giving things up.  The problem was solved by replacing horses with new technology.  New technology that eliminated the looming ecological disaster while making our lives better and promoting and increase in liberty and leisure.  That is what progress always does – it solves problems, and makes life better for everyone.  The overwhelming lesson of the history of technology is enshrined in Heinlein’s classic yarn of “The Man Who Was Too Lazy To Fail”.

The horse solved the problems we faced before we learned to domesticate it, and eventually caused new problems.  The automobile solved those new problems while also improving on how the horse had solved the previous ones.  Yes, the automobile also eventually gave us a new set of problems.  But the answer isn’t to preach a gloomy picture of sacrifice and privation.  The answer is to get out of the way and let this generation’s heirs to Daimler and Olds and Ford show us what they can do.  Whatever comes next will solve these problems, while continuing to improve on both the horse and the automobile.  And when it starts causing unforeseen problems, clever and creatively lazy men will solve those as well.

It will be exciting, and I for one can’t wait to see it.  Come on in, folks, the future is fine.

You can find Stephen’s debut novel, The Galileo Syndrome, at Amazon. You can find my review of it here. I highly recommend it, and look forward to more, as he assures me there is another half to the story he began with this book. 

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