2001 An Earthly Lunacy
Dawn. The first rays of light reach through stark mountain peaks to strike a
harsh desert valley. Primitive beings are lurking in the rocks, surviving as
best they can. A small band of them comes to our attention. They are resting
together for protection; suddenly they perk up. They realize something has
entered their territory. Funny, it doesn't look like any of the animals they
usually see! They peer out quizzically, they slowly move closer to get a better
look. Fearful, they continue to carefully crawl toward it, fascinated by the
straight, smooth sides of the thing. Cue Also Sprach Zarathustra.
The primitive beings rear back in disgust. They cry out something
unintelligible, subtitles appear: "Western music, Allah forbids this!" They
retreat from the cold metal side of the Abrams tank they have been considering
surrendering to and run back to their caves, arms flailing wildly.
The above scene was brought to you by CCHEMT, the Committee to Correct
Historical Errors in the Movie 2001. Thank you for your attendance at this
We all loved the predictions of 2001 when it came out; too bad only a few of
them came true. Now that we're at the end of what should have been a really
amazing year, personally I'm upset. Sure we can crow over the Taliban's losing
Kowbell, sorry, Kabul, but I still can't get reservations for a PanAm flight to
the moonbase. Oops! Pan American is long in the airline graveyard and it looks
like there'd be a ten month terrorist screening to go through to board the
moonflight anyway. I hear they need to complete a few items on the moonbase too.
Oh well, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke at least got microwave ovens
correct in the movie. Remember the scene where they prepared their space-goo
dinners and pulled them out with an exaggerated hand motion to show they were
hot? Nobody knew what a microwave oven was when they shot that. Another thing
they got right was HAL 9000 talking, but we're still working on the part about
computers thinking for themselves, or going insane because of being ordered to
hide some secret information about the origin of mankind. And unlike Dave
Bowman, we all know the proper solution for computer glitches now. Three Hail
Gates and a re-boot! Certainly HAL would be more compact, not a behemoth with a
whole room full of crystal memory cards containing a single programming function
each. And if HAL really had artificial intelligence we all know he'd have a face
like Haley Joel Osment.
Anything else they got right? Well, the Cold War did end and the Russians are
our friends now. This week at least. But we still don't have anything like the
spaceship Discovery to visit Jupiter and the space station with all the stylish
curved floor lounges and the video telephones. Alas and no Utopia here on Earth,
either. Well, we can dream can't we?
There's an expectation in humans that somehow we can achieve a state of societal
bliss one day and then we'll live happily ever after. Call it the Kingdom of
God, Xanadu or Utopia, it's a nice thought. Bliss forever! No changes. Maybe
that's just a Western idea though. Taoist Chinese philosophy looks at a
situation like that and says things that are stiff and unchanging are dead. The
quality of a living thing is to be flexible and dynamic. Maybe the old Chinese
curse is actually "May you live in flexible and dynamic times," not
"interesting" ones. As Marshal McLuhan used to say, "It is the business of the
Future to be dangerous."
Before the new millennium started my son kept asking about the new marvels that
he expected, as if millions of video phones and computerized refrigerators were
all in a warehouse somewhere scheduled for delivery on January 2nd. Sorry, it
doesn't work like that, and yet things are getting better every day. We might
even achieve something like society-wide perfection for a few years, for a few
places on the planet. It's that "lasting forever" part I'm dubious about.
Back when the Black Death was ravaging Europe a few centuries ago, I'm sure they
would have thought a society with advanced medicines and two thirds of the
people not dying in childhood would be Utopia. Hell, they would've called
anywhere with three square meals a day Utopia. But now that we are meeting
those primary needs reliably, we keep upping the ante. We let our desires grow
wildly, wanting digital Internet on our cell phones along with freedom from
disease. And a house with a built-in home theater. And not only a house but a
vacation condo and a giant SUV capable of 150 miles an hour off road. Plus
snacks and cocktails on top of the three squares, thank you!
Is all our technology really making things better? Well, not always, and maybe
not in all ways. Things are all connected and delivering a luxury item here
requires some peon to mine and refine the stuff to make it over there. Another
peon has to put it together in a third place. And don't forget a fourth place to
store all the slag caused by the refining processes. Ho hum, there's always
these nagging delivery problems for Utopias. It seems Utopia is exactly the
right word -- it really means "nowhere."
What would a perfect society really be like? The pursuit of happiness as
conceived by our Founding Fathers involved becoming gentlemen, large landowners
with mansions. They could rule their little agrarian fiefdoms and indulge in
hobbies like flying kites for scientific discovery, dabbling in oils or becoming
men of letters, and of course gathering once in awhile to discuss politics and
vote. Women could sew, cook and have babies like they always had. Their dream
also required lots of slaves to work their land, of course. Nice place to be as
long as you were one of the genteel landowners. Their ideal lifestyle lives on
in the American Dream of riches and success, only the slaves have become house
servants from the Philippines. Well someone has to serve breakfast in bed!
Maybe the perfect society is something more like the world of Star Trek than
2001 - still heavy on technology but where everyone is equal and a paragon of
virtue. No doubt the entire crew always returned their library books on time,
and every one of them was comfortable staying the same rank for eight years or
more. What happened to ambition in their world? Or salary increases? Who pays
for the drinks in Ten Forward anyway? Everyone has a personal beaming station to
take them wherever they want and all the high tech toys they can imagine when
they get there. Moreover, everyone seems to lead the genteel life back on Earth
whenever they visit. There's no overcrowding, no ghettos. Does a burger flipper
rate the same mansion as a CEO when there's no money between equals? Do they
even have money in the 23rd century? Sounds like a great life, but you never see
who does all the upkeep on all that. Immigrants from C Quadrant? Let's hope it's
Even if we could solve the Utopian delivery problems, there's always maintenance
and upkeep. Perfection? We'll never get there. But it's perfectly appropriate to
aim for perfection. And speaking of aiming, does Utopia require a missile
Alas for the 2001 Utopia that might have been. The real 2001 has turned out to
be a circus of extremes -- a confusing muddle of knowledge and ignorance, of
mundane luxury and desperate poverty, of great humanity and base cruelty. Who
knew it would turn out like this? Let's hope the dreary world of 2019 depicted
in Blade Runner is way off the mark! An even worse fate awaits us Beyond
Thunderdome; let's try and avoid that one too.
Like McLuhan, Frank Zappa sure had it right when he said in The Blue Light, "The
Future is scary, yes it sure is!" At least we can be thankful The Taliban will
soon lose Kandybar, sorry, Kandahar, and a few more Afghan women will be taking
off those ridiculous burqas. Maybe the genteel leaders of the Northern Alliance
will even allow them to vote, and to play some music on radios and Walkmans, if
not home theaters.
Music, hmm. Maybe we don't need more bombs. All our armies have large marching
bands, and if they all played something decadent and Western like The Blue Danube
Waltz really loud together, maybe it would flush Osama out of his cave. Unlike
not-so-smart bombs, it won't kill more innocents. At least it won't hurt to try
and it might help sell other Afghans on the benefits of moving into the 21st
Century with the rest of us.
Sounds like a good time go back into the Closet to dig out my old copy of the
2001 soundtrack and listen to Lux Aeterna at high volume. Classical psychedelia
on pristine vinyl tonight! And right after that it's some George Harrison. A
shame he had to go, but maybe it is a kind of Utopia when the actual
performances of The Beatles and others are with us forever. I've got to go
anyway to get ready for the next meeting of the CCHEMT. It seems that people are
not sleeping in suspended animation tubes yet, though sometimes the Closet sure
feels that way. Thanks for reading and until next month the Closet is closed.
(C) 2001 - Rusty Pipes
Official Disclaimer: Hello? Can anybody hear me? This is the editor. Hel..hello?
I'm stuck on the secret moonbase. Nobody else is here. I need to know what Rusty's
column was about so I can give the monthly disclaimer. Can anyb... Hello? Hello?