The alien program and alien presence continues into this century. Here, at the twilight of my career, I think about what kind of future might be left.
In 1901 at the beginning of the twentieth century, the great African-American political theoretician and activist W.E.B. Du Bois said in his The Souls of Black Folk,
that the problem of the twentieth century will be the problem of the "color line." By that he meant that the problems that had yet to be worked out will be related to the historical and sociological effects of racism in the United States. Indeed, he was in large part right. The history of America in the 20th and 21st centuries has indeed been the continuous struggle for civil rights and equality. The great struggles that encompassed America after the Depression were once believed to be its confrontation with Fascism abroad and racism at home. Today those two evils have seemingly multiplied on U.S. soil.
We are now two decades into the new millennium and yet our speculative powers seem to have only diminished in the face of unprecedented social, environmental, and political turbulence. Like Du Bois, many commentators have speculated about what the future will bring. Most who prognosticate on the future tend to concentrate on the coming wonders (or salvation) of technology.
They have discussed the new and wonderful breakthroughs that await us in the biological and medical sciences - the coming cure for cancer, heart disease, and other physiological problems. They have talked about the new genetics in which gene editing technologies like CRSPR will make humankind perfect by eliminating faulty genes and improving upon others. Scholars now wonder whether our average lifespans can be extended to 150 years while others muse about the far-off possibilities of immortality. Astronomers have discovered potentially Earth-like planets orbiting far star systems, and physicists have provided proof for the existence of subatomic particles as they work towards a completely new model of the universe. Advances in quantum mechanics have opened avenues towards multiverses, dimensional travel, teleportation, and other advances once thought only the realm of science fiction. Computers have already fundamentally altered society, but artificial intelligence technologies, built around sophisticated machine learning algorithms may upend our world the way that the internet has done over the last twenty years.All these speculations have an optimistic aura about them.
Indeed, the 20th and 21st century have statistically been the greatest centuries for human life ever. More people are living better and longer than ever before. There are now more democratic nations than ever before. There is less hunger than ever. But darkness clings to the door lintels. Millions of people still live in grinding poverty. Famines and starvation are not uncommon.
Fascist and white supremacist movements, clothed in misinformation, have brainwashed millions into believing despicable lies. U.S. politics have been so deformed as to become fractured. In Europe, these same political tactics are threatening to shred the continent apart. On top of all of this, it has been evident for decades that human activity has been damaging every habitat on Earth, decimating the world's biodiversity at a record pace, and directly contributing to the rise greenhouse gas emissions that are producing the most dramatic environmental change this planet has seen in 10,000 years. Today a global environmental catastrophe seems all but assured.
These are all our problems to solve. But positive change will be extremely difficult. This, of course, says nothing about the human propensity for war and killing that has been a fundamental aspect of human society since its beginning. After all, we are only 70 years away from the bloodiest war in human history. Like petulant teenagers, we now possess the power to totally and completely affect every atom on Earth, without yet the maturity to wisely use it.