Things Are Not Getting Worse
I love sci-fi. There’s something about exploring a universe that is different and fantastical, but is also possible, that is so exciting. But recently I’ve been getting a bit sick of the “dystopian future” pastiche. Elysium, Total Recall, and The Hunger Games are some recent examples that expand on themes first explored by George Orwell. It seems like every sci-fi film made these days is set in a world where, despite there being flying cars and laser guns, there is enormous poverty, social inequality, political corruption, and all-round human suffering.
Wouldn’t it be great if they made a film about the future where everything was good. As populations became more empowered and better educated over the years, the Earth developed into a place where corruption was better exposed, criminals were better rehabilitated, healthy food was in greater supply, and human rights violations were virtually a thing of the past.
I suppose this would make a pretty boring film. There would seemingly be no motivation for the characters to fight, struggle, and overcome. But how about if the film’s characters are constantly upset about things that they perceive to be injustices. Insignificant, mild violations by today’s standards, but in their world are heinous crimes. Things like not washing up your mug and cutlery in the workplace kitchenette after lunch. Or cutting someone off in traffic. Perhaps the villain in the movie is one of the only people alive on the planet that still kills animals and eats their meat.
It sounds ridiculous, but the funny thing is it's probably the truth about our future.
Things seem to be getting worse all the time. Media reports of killings and sociopolitical injustices appear to be on the rise. We’re all aware that poverty is widespread, both in developing and developed countries. People are dying of preventable illnesses and we all seem rather complacent. It would be easy to be tricked into thinking that our future is doomed to be dystopian.
But things aren’t necessarily getting worse. It’s our standards that are getting better.
50 years ago people didn’t give a shit about how much damage cigarettes and tobacco companies were doing. 100 years ago people didn’t give a shit about how more than half the population of the Western world was treated like property. But in today’s world these are evils and injustices. Racists are the minority in the developed world, not the majority.
Steven Pinker points out in his book The Better Angels Of Our Nature that there has been a tremendous decrease in violence and injustice over the course of human history. It’s a brilliant, although lengthy, read for anyone who wants to feel a little bit of optimism about the future. Humans have been around for a long, long time, and for most of that time life was very similar to Game of Thrones. But through gradual improvement in government, commerce, literacy, mobility, health, rationality, and an increasing respect for women and other oppressed peoples, humans eventually got to where we are today. It’s a trend that started long ago and hasn’t stopped. It’s going to keep going into the future.
If you showed the red wedding episode of Game of Thrones to someone from the 17th century, they would probably think it was a boring soap opera. Maybe in 200 years time Home and Away will be just as gruesome and uncivilised as Game of Thrones seems to us today.
Of course there’s bad shit happening in the world. And we definitely should be constantly unsatisfied about the amount of suffering that the human race allows to happen. Social dissatisfaction drives social progress.
But how about we realise that any hopelessness stemming from our predictions of a dystopian future is misguided.
The world is getting better, and our standards are changing; for the better.