Friday, April 08, 2005

Dystopia

John Derbyshire is predicting that Brave New World is our future:
So far as it makes any sense to predict the future, it seems to me highly probable that the world of 50 or 100 years from now will bear a close resemblance to Huxley’s dystopia — a world without pain, grief, sickness or war, but also without family, religion, sacrifice, or nobility of spirit. It’s not what I want, personally, and it’s not what Huxley wanted either (he was a religious man, though of a singular type). It’s what most people want, though; so if this darn democracy stuff keeps spreading, it’s what we shall get, for sure. If we don’t bring it upon ourselves, we shall import it from less ethically fastidious nations.
I think Derbyshire is being both too optimistic and too pessimistic. While I definitely see a trend towards democratic peace throughout the world, I think that the threat of civil wars and long-held grudges between some countries will be mitigated but not eliminated. (Also, democracies are not immune to coups.) Moreover, in Brave New World, minimal human suffering was accompanied by minimal human striving: science had ceased. Thus, while a Brave New World could be quite stable, a single Brave New country would be left behind economically, implying a desire for security might keep some countries from ever allowing themselves to reach the stop-worrying-and-love-soma stage.

Even if Derbyshire is right about the 21st century, what if space colonization becomes possible by the 22nd century? The possibility of a future version of the Pilgrims founding a new extraterrestial civilization can't be ruled out; remember that even Brave New World had an island of exiled discontents. Extraterrestial human life could be much more Hobbesian (think life on the frontier), negating the trend of increasing material comfort that Derbyshire is fretting about. Looking much further into the future, extraterrestial human civilizations could eventually dwarf Earth economically, making Earth ripe for conquest. In short, human history is not nearing its end. God willing, it's just getting started.

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