Wednesday, January 26, 2011
President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union speech will come to be known, if remembered at all, as the Winning the Future speech. Political pundits can swing back and forth at the thing for a full news cycle, like always, but this one calls out for new voices. As a science fiction writer, I’m honor bound to comment on the theme of the speech.
"The future is not a gift. It is an achievement," Robert Kennedy said. The President continues the thought, telling us the future is ours to win. He repeats the phrase, in varying forms, about 11 times in the SOTU hour. Of course, the problem is that ‘achievement’ and ‘winning’ have very little in common. I couldn’t win the Boston Marathon on a Harley V-Rod, but finishing? That would be an achievement. When it comes to the future, we need to be concerned about getting there, surviving, not dominating like the world is some kind of round-robin U.N. tournament. Games have rules and ends. The future has neither.
I think I speak for all science fiction writers when I say . . . that’s impossible. No one speaks for all science fiction writers. Everyone who peers ahead sees something different. Infinite paths converge and diverge from every moment. All we can really do the Speaker of the House, the label maker on the radio, the President of the United States, any of us¬—is prepare like Boy Scouts.
Obama’s future speech was actually pretty good on prep work. He didn’t sell it that way, because preparation is never all that salable. Nobody joins the football team to run through tires and lift weights. But the essence¬ education, business climate, building launch pads for the next big ideas all made sense.
I just wish it all could have been framed differently. When you look into the future, it’s easier to the see the fierce and scary than it is the bright and beautiful. There’s so much unknown. So much that can go wrong. And I’m not talking meteors, zombies, alien invasions and the flipping of the magnetic poles. Disease, war, famine, exhaustion of resources and climate change are not science fiction tropes. They’re too commonplace. Too real and in motion. Winning the future? Hell, we should all just want to be players.
Posted by Michael J. Martineck at 11:38 AM