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Futurism

by on August 17, 2018

Futurism

by Marco M. Pardi

The future is like a corridor into which we can see only by the light coming from behind.” Edward Weyer, Jr. 1959

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Recently Kathy, one of our new readers, asked my impressions of a PEW projection of changing demographics. I should first make clear that in all my years as an Anthropologist I was always informed that Anthropologists are not Futurists; we do not formally speculate on the outcomes or further developments of that which we study. Of course, there are some who say Anthropologists are among the best qualified to project future trends, whether in human evolution, languages, or the myriad of social issues. We also have, and continue to play critical roles in the Intelligence Community. Although, here too the Anthropologist must limit himself to immediacies: Supply this warlord and x, y, and z are highly likely; destabilize that leader and an armed insurgency likely follows, supported by A, B. or C in descending order of probability. Target culture most likely will accept messages in XYZ form. And so on.

So, I respond to questions of futurism in a few fundamental ways: I am old enough to remember a long train of “informed” predictions, most of which did not come true; I read medical opinion (written before my time) that Man could not exceed 35 mph on a vehicle without his body flying apart. As a child in the early 1950’s I went to Dearborn Michigan and viewed the elaborate models of “Futurama”, depicting flying cars as common place by the 1980’s. The 1960’s, for much of which I was out of the country or otherwise occupied, brought some changes “no one saw coming”. But actually, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who lived through the ultra repressive Puritanism of the 1950’s could not see “The Sexual Revolution” coming. Or the Civil Rights upheaval. Or the civil disobedience of many Vietnam war protesters. Or the explosion of recreational drugs. And more. Of course, some of the futurist projections still being made in this era were ridiculous on their face – to anyone who understood physical evolution and the confounding effect of human culture. There is no evidence we are moving toward larger brains and smaller bodies; quite the opposite, if anything. And, physical evolution being measured in generations, we are unlikely to notice significant changes beyond minute incremental changes in the frequencies of certain conditions.

Yes, as the study Kathy referenced pointed out, demographics do change over time. But the methods of calculating demographics must be examined carefully; “appearances can be deceiving”. I remember in the early 1970’s claims that the (then called) Black population in the U.S. had only about 20% of its population which could claim “no White blood”. In this century easily obtainable genetic testing is surprising a number of Whites with previously unknown Black contributions to their genetic make-up. Yet, we do not seem to be moving toward a “light tan” population as predicted. The question arises: What makes a Black a Black, and a White a White? Or any other category, for that matter. Is it a percentage of one’s genes? A percentage of one’s experience, as in how and by whom one was raised? Where one has lived?

One of my temporary duties at a U.S. Government agency was serving on the Diversity committee. Along with counterparts from other agencies I met with the Secretary of Health & Human Services to identify and define these issues. I pointed out that I had lived approximately two years in Africa and asked, “Does that make me more African-American than a Black who was born in Detroit and never left town?” No one was able to answer that. I pointed out that, except for two British grandmothers my entire family is Italian and I was born in Rome. Yet, before people hear my name no one “marks” me for Italian. Is that because of my British genes, or because most Americans, not having been to Italy, have a very slanted idea of what “Italian” looks like? Or, could it be that, since Garibaldi unified Italy only in the 1850’s, the mix of various genetic contributions such as French, Spanish, German and Greek kind of muddied the water?

On one of my many visits to my home city an Italian man came up to me and, in English, volunteered to be my guide around the city. What am I? Who am I? And, why should I care?

I also pointed out in that Diversity meeting that, despite laws or regulations, people self-segregate. I saw that in the 1960’s military, in the 1970’s college cafeterias, and in the 1990’s government workplace social events. But on what basis does a person choose a group? Do they first look in the mirror? In one of my federal assignments I worked with a new woman who seemed “White”. Our team leader quietly informed me she was “Black”. My first thought was, Why do I need to know this? My second thought was, how did this woman come to this conclusion about herself? Of course, I met her in the office and had no knowledge of her history, family, or upbringing, much less her genes. To me, she was a human to work with; I expected her to do human things. The same team leader later told me that yet another new hire was lesbian. I refrained from a smart ass answer: I wasn’t planning on trying to have sex with her, so who the hell cares?

The mix of genetics and culture, somehow swept together under the term Ethnicity is a particularly kaleidoscopic one. The invocation of that term seems intended to cease further drilling. If so, this means any continued projections of future states or relative balances of ethnicity must be based on assumptions for which the baseline information has been artificially cut off. Mustn’t probe the wood pile too deeply. In the spirit of the opening quote, the light illuminating the way ahead can be allowed to come from only a certain approved distance. In fairness, though, the pathways from presumed origins can be re-traced just so far; one should not be required to identify family hand prints on a cave wall.

Larger social trends are often easier to project into the future. Although we have long heard the term “Culture War”, we do seem to be approaching it. (Okay, it’s really sub-culture vs. sub-culture but some people take umbrage at the term sub.) Regardless, the concern seems to be with the direction, speed, and degree of change. Basically, how and when will change affect my group’s status?

I’ve heard people express shock at what they perceive as the sudden appearance of ideas and actions, making it easy to pinpoint Trump as the origin and cause. But as early as the 1960’s I began to think the degree to which one is surprised by change is a measure of how one was not paying attention all along. Trump, albeit the rabble-rousing stooge eased into place by a Republican Party which “appeared” to lose Primary debates to him, is simply that: a front-man for power brokers who have been laying groundwork for decades.

I’m not talking about some Star Chamber cabal worthy of the Alex Jones Conspiracy Hour. I’m talking about the descendants of the Robber-Barons who fought the labor movement in the 1920’s, the “Godless communists” starting in the ’30’s, and the Liberals ever since. I’ve met several people who lived their lives furious at FDR for his New Deal, which they branded as Socialist Communism. These same people, and others of their type (I could identify only WASP – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant as “their type”) fought against Civil Rights; Immigration; a woman’s control over her reproductive functions; World peace – though most were never in any military; public education; public radio and television; “them damn environmentalists”; health and safety regulations; gay rights, and every other “Liberal, Commie, Pinko, Homo, Elitist, and Sinful Perversion”. These people are not distinguishable by any lack of indoor plumbing; some of them can even complete a sentence grammatically. No, these people are your next door neighbors, your co-workers, maybe even your physician.

Yet, no matter how clear the science on a number of environmental issues including climate change, how documented the history of Fascism, or how obvious the contradictions when they vote for an oligarchy which deeply harms them they vote into office one-issue demagogues while completely ignoring how the utter stupidity of their choice radiates out through the entire society. Thus, we got the Tea Party, the Freedom Caucus and the stupefied inertia which flowed from them. Yes, a large portion of the country became angry. But this portion was intellectually unable to understand, or morally unable to admit, they had brought Congressional inertia on themselves by handing government over to The Party of No. Solution? Enter the man who said, “Only I can fix it!”

I’m in the uncomfortable position of saying I was not entirely surprised at the 2016 election of a Fascist regime. Uncomfortable because I did not foresee the election of such an utterly incompetent Fascist regime. Both Mussolini and Hitler, compelling rabble-rousers, were ushered into power by entrenched figures who thought they could control them once in office. The same was likely true with Reagan, and now likely true with Trump. I expect that, as happened with an earlier figure in this Party, Trump will be brought down from within. Unfortunately, the orgy of environmental de-regulation and other catastrophic actions by Donald Little-Hands Trump will likely survive unnoticed in the collective relief at his removal.

That’s about as far into the future as I care to see. I’m busy working on the present.

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9 Comments
  1. There are so many observations which may be made through reading this article; it is certainly one which leads to thinking about past, present, and certainly future. Oddly, my first thought was to remember the book “Black Like Me”, written in 1961 by John Howard Griffin. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it as a look into the racial realities of its time. It is a non-fiction account of a man who “turned black” through chemicals and other exterior means, thus being able to live as a black man for a time. Perhaps his experience was a bit slanted by knowing that he would not always have to live this life, but it is a none the less fascinating look into the window of that time. Sadly, I can’t honestly say that times have changed much for minorities in this country. If anything, under the Trump regime, things have gotten worse.

    More later. Rose

  2. Thank you, Rose. Yes, that entire episode penned by Griffin was fascinating, compelling, and deeply saddening. As you know, he later died from complications from the means by which he changed his appearance to “Black”.

    There really is so much to say, and I hope you contribute more. I also hope I didn’t offend Kathy; I did not intend to imply she was off-base with her question – quite the opposite.

    Thanks again, and looking forward to your thoughts.

    • Kathy O. permalink

      You did not write a word that offended me. I was very interest in the historical perspective. And, you are the go-to for that info.

      Retired from NYTRENG when mainstream liberal media was at it’s best….not the kind of work thin-skinned, narrow-minded people excel in, unless they work in OP/ED. Ha.

      Your blog post answered my query perfectly. Thanks!

      • Thank you, Kathy. Your background and intellect bring immeasurable value to these discussions.

  3. My second thought stirred by this offering is about my high school history teacher (later a grassroots advisor to Sen. Lawton Chiles). He was married to a Panamanian woman who, being proud of her country and her heritage, chose to retain her Panamanian citizenship. Each year, she had to fill out a government form for resident aliens; her husband sponsored her green card. In the spot that indicated race, she always put “mestizo”; he put “human”.

    • As I’m certain you know, that’s quite a statement. “Mestizo” is “half and half” or “mixed” (Iberian Spanish and indigenous) and quickly became a nasty pejorative similar to the North American “half-breed”. So, that was an in-your-face expression of pride. Good for her.

  4. For as long as I have known you as an anthropologist (and an educator), I have known of your mystic interests and abilities; who better than you to predict the future? Of course, I speak only of possibilities, because even an “informed prediction” is only an educated guess. Until time travel becomes a reality, no one will able to, with any certainty, know what will happen in the future.

    I predict that we are in the midst of a cultural evolution unlike any we have known since the 1960s. We are moving backwards, at a rapidly accelerating velocity, and to a frightening degree. Two years ago, I might have made the same statement, but using words of polar opposite definition. It’s frightening and sad.

    I’m trying to find what words might define who I am now. Am I a liberal? I snowflake? I’m not sure what either of those are supposed to mean. Not more than a few days before reading this blog piece, I was labeled a WASP; gasp! I expressed my displeasure quickly and with a vehemence.

    • Thanks, Rose. I suppose I was somewhat prescient in some of my recent writings but I’ve been watching the growth of Fascism in this country for many years. Were I to attempt a “reading” of the future I, looking at these past 17 months or so, would say that given Trump’s pattern of distraction and deflection when new exposures occur he may well go for the ultimate distraction and initiate military action of some kind against North Korea. His reasoning, to himself, would be that we would not engage in any action against a war time president. Our best hope would be that sound minds in the military would refuse his orders, if they have not already done so.

      I quite agree on our cultural evolution. But I think the nastier elements have been there for a long time. I learned long ago that, if one can exercise enough patience, the enemy will show himself. Now, however, it seems the time for patience is over.

      Liberal? Snowflake? WASP? I, too, get presumptions lodged against me. But I know I am spirit, just as you are spirit. Our minds and our bodies are only instruments; time bound labels do not apply to who we really are.

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