- DEAN ROHRER / The
reason man did not conquer space is because it's too boring.
- So here it is, folks. I am writing these historic words
within hours of the new millennium, or at least of Y2K, and I have to tell
you it is not what we were led to expect. For starters, what happened to
interplanetary travel? When we were kids, there was a TV program in Britain
called UFO. The introductory sequence showed gull-winged cars and a man
striding down a long, white corridor wearing a set expression and a kind
of rollneck pair of pyjamas.
- Then they flashed up the date of the scene: 1980! There
may well be people reading this article who weren't even born in 1980;
and all we have on the moon are a few flags and a couple of clapped-out
moon buggies. What happened to the future? That's what I want to know.
It's only one year until 2001, and there's no sign of any of us being invited
on an Arthur C. Clarke-style Space Odyssey, complete with super-depressed
- In the future, we were told, people wouldn't bother with
mastication. There would be little nutrition pills. Cars would be shaped
like Smarties and everybody would wear one-piece orange jumpsuits. Sexual
gratification, you will remember from Woody Allen's Sleeper, was to be
provided by a machine called the orgasmatron. Well, here we are, launching
ourselves into this abyss whose very digits once fired our childhood imaginations,
the magic three zeroes that meant space travel and gorgeous women in swimsuits
with laser guns. But what do we find, now that we 're here?
- Still eat dead animals
- We still eat, in colossal quantities, the heated-up remains
of dead animals. Our cars are not nuclear-powered Easter eggs. In fact,
they are in all essential respects unchanged from cars at the beginning
of the century. They have four wheels.
- They have an internal-combustion engine. They do not
have gull wings, mainly because it is much easier to get out by opening
the door sideways. They do not travel at more than 200 mph, because we'd
crash them. We don't wear one-piece orange jumpsuits to work because you
can't beat a pair of zip-fly trousers if you have to get them on and off
- The future has turned out to be a lot less futuristic
than we once imagined. What the futurologists always leave out is human
nature. What we forgot, back in the 1970s when we fantasized about the
year 2000, is that it would still be shaped by the eternal needs of the
- Look at a fork. We've had a whole century of technological
advance, and a fork still consists of four tines on the end of a metal
pronger, with a bit of a scoop thing if you want to shovel your peas. Why?
Because a fork fits the human hand and mouth, and suits the human makeup,
unlike one-piece pyjama suits or gull-wing cars.
- Again, you are holding in your hand a piece of technology
that is basically unchanged since the 16th century. Every week we read
articles saying newspapers are about to be replaced by the Internet; and
it seems amazing, in a way, that Britain's biggest-selling quality paper
should be named after the telegraph, a piece of defunct signaling apparatus.
But what they always forget, the dolts who prophesy the end of newspapers,
is that you cannot beat them if you want to read on the train or the bus.
By the way, I'll tell you why man has not conquered space. It's because
we've been up there and we have discovered that there is not much going
on. That is why it's called space.
- And now, as we look ahead to the next 1,000 years, we
find that people are still making the same elementary blunder. Instead
of remembering that man is the measure of all things, and that human nature
is pretty much unchanging, they make hysterical prophesies about the effects
of global capitalism and technology. According to these gloomadon-poppers,
various human institutions will not survive long into the millennium. The
family will be finally blown up by the forces of choice and sexual liberation.
The nation state will be left hollowed out and impotent by multinational
business. According to a magnificently frenzied piece by Germaine Greer
in the London Daily Telegraph this week: "We will make love to machines,
force machines to make love to us. É People will soon be plugging
terminals into their nostrils, their genitals and their rectums."
- Prefer old-fashioned sex
- Really, Germaine? Or is it conceivable that people will
stick to the old ways and that your vision will remain as ludicrous as
Woody Allen's orgasmatron? As for the trope that "old institutions"
- family, community, nation - cannot survive market forces, the reverse
is true. Look at the family (man, woman, children). Consider its success
as a formula, a product. It's an all-time brand leader and market champion,
and always will be. Perhaps there may be some people who prefer Germaine
Greer-style relations with gizmos; perhaps Holland will eventually legalize
gay marriage between three men and a dog (I do, I do, I do, woof). But
the conventional family strikes me as the one to back for the next 1,000
years, and the Greer/gay/dog option will be reserved for a tiny minority.
- The same goes for the nation state, since people will
always want to be governed by folks who speak their language and who broadly
share their set of allegiances. As for the alleged destruction of community
by the heedless tides of global capital, all the evidence seems to be that
people make more of an effort to cultivate local particularity when they
can go anywhere and buy anything.
- The reason these institutions are traditional, and the
reason they will survive into the year 3000, is that they are market leaders.
The facts of life are conservative, and that is why, as I look into my
mystic window pane, I reckon we will still then be eating meat, wearing
pants and having conventional sexual relations.
- And with that thought I wish the faithful few who have
reached this paragraph a very Happy New Year.
- From Brasscheck <email@example.com 1-6-2000
- This guy was making a lot of sense until he slipped this
- "The same goes for the nation state, since people
will always want to be governed by folks who speak their language and who
broadly share their set of allegiances. As for the alleged destruction
of community by the heedless tides of global capital, all the evidence
seems to be that people make more of an effort to cultivate local particularity
when they can go anywhere and buy anything."
- Well Boris, in case you didn't notice, there are already
a lot of people governed by folks who don't "speak their language
and broadly share their set of allegiances." As if governance ever
had much to do with the desires of the governed. Ever heard of the Roman
Empire? Do you think the Tibetans cheered the takeover of their country
by the Chinese or the Estonians, Lithuianians and Latvians welcomed the
Russians with open arms? How about the Guatemalans? Do you think they enjoy
being a colony of United Fruit and its descendants?
- Why would someone who otherwise demonstrates such sharp
wit and perceptiveness make such a patently false and ridiculous assertion?
- As for global corporations not destroying the integrity
of communities, but rather stimulating the cultivation of "local particularity"
(whatever that is) according to "all the evidence" says Boris,
the man is again dissembling and must think his readers are fools. McDonalds
has improved the French diet? Export plantations owned by multinationals
have not destroyed indigenous agriculture and turned well fed, independent
subsistence farmers into malnourished, wage slaves all over the world?
- I'd sure like to know who Boris Johnson is. He's a slightly
better than average propagandist.