Is It Now?

Docudharma is subtitled, “Blogging the Future”.  I’ve written before that, to me, that phrase means that this blog is dedicated to the construction or at least discovery of the Next Big Thing, the next world-view, the post-post modernism that will become the world we live in, the culture we inhabit, after the worn-out hand-me-down culture that we call “late twentieth century America” is finally tossed in the hamper.  Of course, Docudharma is not unique in this venture; much of the blogosphere is committed to it, if not so explicitly.

However, I want to suggest that we cannot blog the future until we understand the present, and I don’t think we understand the present yet.  I don’t think we know what the first decade of the twentieth-first century “meant” yet.  We know it was a disaster.  We know it was a cheat; a cheap trick.  We know that because of George Bush and 9/11, in that order, the decade that was supposed to bring us flying cars instead brought us faith-based everything.  We know that something went wrong.

But I don’t think the narrative that a country tells itself about where it is, is, yet.  We don’t have a story for when we are.

As evidence for this, I submit that it is easy to name the movies, the songs and the novels, that best summed-up the seventies, the eighties, and the nineties.  Shampoo was the seventies.  It was the Seventies.  Wall Street was the 80s (not least because it starred two of the worst famous actors in film history — both sons of actual actors).  And, although set in the seventies, Almost Famous, released in 2000, sums up the nineties.  You want to know what it was like to live in the United States of America in the 1990s, you watch Almost Famous.  Of course, there are other and maybe better answers. 

The point is that this exercise is easy.

But what movie captures the first decade of the twenty-first century?  I don’t think we know yet.  I don’t think we have a clue.  And this is not merely because we’re still in the midst of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Rather than suggest an answer, I will gesture to a reason for why we have no answer.

In the 2002 science fiction movie titled Minority Report, Samantha Morton plays Agatha, a young woman who has lived her life in a state of near-suspended animation.  A person with the ability to see the future, Agatha has been kept by the government in a sort of drug-induced hibernation.  She has been allowed to do nothing, 24/7/365, but see the future. 

One day, Agatha is freed by John Anderton, played by Tom Cruise.  Upon waking, she asks of him, in this otherwise forgettable movie, an unforgettable question.  “Is it now?”

That question, “Is it now?” in all its haunting enormity, is the question we don’t know how to answer.  The whirlwind of misplaced significances, idiotic proclamations, intentional misinterpretations, and cultural near-homelessness, or at least vagabondage, that has so far made up life in the new century, has not been sufficiently figured out and set down.  Until we do that — until we have a story to tell ourselves about what happened to everything in the first decade of the 21st century, we will not know how to get whereever it is we are supposed to go.

Before we blog the future, we must understand the recent past, in order to have a foothold on the present.  We have to be able to answer Agatha’s question to John?  To put it more precisely and more terribly, we have to know, “Is it now yet?”


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    • Robyn on October 29, 2007 at 1:31 am

    People keep trying to push it further away from me.

    I wish I knew why that was so.  I wish I knew why people feared the future so much.

    Cast yourself forward.  Look back at here from there.  If we live as if it were the future, then it is.

  1. that the movies you chose to summarize the last few decades actually summarize the world of middle and upper class white citizens of the US over those decades? What might have summarized the aids-ridden portions of Africa during the 90’s for example? And how would the people of Central America have summarized the 70’s and 80’s? Certainly as we look towards the future, some of the voices we might need to be listening to are those of the Chinese.

    I wonder if “now” might not be a time to break out of our shells and start listening to voices we haven’t usually taken the time to hear before. I have a hunch that they will be the voices of the future.

  2. 70s: The Dead ZoneSong of Solomon.

    80s: I’m gonna go with Bright Lights, Big City, Chuck.  Terrible, ghastly novel.

    90s: Fight ClubGeneration X, though written a little too early to count.

    • srkp23 on October 29, 2007 at 2:13 am

    We’re caught up in such a tangle of haunting histories–Vietnam, WW II, colonialism, the Cold War, slavery, Jim Crow–all rattling their chains, it’s hard to tell when and where we are.

    And BushCo’s stoking of the politics of fear, and the “post 9/11 world,” seems to suspend the possibility of a future altogether. What is the fear provoked by terrorism, if not the sense that there is no “after”?

    Who knows what now is?

    As for blogging the future … in this moment of my political rapid cycling, I can’t even see it at all, except as global catastrophe looming.

    🙂 she said with a smile.

  3. is what will propel us into making the decisions we need to make for the future.

    I would describe the now as our ‘time of choice.’

    We are presented with two distinct ways to live….violence destruction and competition vs peace crating a new world and cooperation.

    It is getting close to the last times we will have a clear choice….beyond mere survival.

    • xaxado on October 29, 2007 at 3:22 am

    Naomi Klein’s relentless scholarship begins to unmask at least some of the dark forces that seem to be joining in a prelude to a perfect storm.  Going forward from this point in time, I would rank it as the most essential reading.

    Other food for thought:

    We are proto slaves in a land being quickly reshaped for artificial persons.  Corporations are in every sense aliens, with interests antithetical to those of humans.  Thom Hartmann’s book “Unequal Protection” details what has gone wrong and gives at least some suggestions about turning history in a more humane direction.

    “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess” by Leonard Shlain documents, in a way that we all should understand, the unrelenting attack of civilization on women.  We should not look to any future without keeping in mind that such patterns must forever be left behind.

    “The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan grounds the understanding of climate change, and its effects on history, in the great thaw that followed the last ice age, just a fleeting moment in geological time.

    The next great idea will resolve issues of ownership and property in the context of shared environmental concerns and responsibility.  Increasingly, environmentalism will be equated with egalitarian economics and persecuted, brutally.

    I think the dark forces of selfishness will finally overreach by killing millions of us who want to save the planet.  Darkness will engulf.

  4. The Era of Post-Abundance.

    • jim p on October 29, 2007 at 4:24 am

    Right now, I think the netroots is just too self-absorbed and short-sighted. This notion that we are building something new, while it has some merits, is too un-integrated into our current full-spectrum reality.

    We don’t really need something new, so much as we need something that works for the commonweal. We extrapolate from a few limited victories using the internet into a “we’ll build an alternate media that will compete with the Elite Media (or Corporate Media, etc).” scenario that 1) we don’t have time for, and 2) isn’t the most lively use possible to us.

    I can understand the appeal of the romanticism of forming a new thing, that is going to beat the old bad thing, but then the object becomes not so much freeing America (as it were) but of building some future entity that will free America. I think we should be looking at where the knots are right now, and untying them, or just severing them. Not that we aren’t doing this in some ways, but actual relevance and effectiveness remains haphazard. F’instance DKos gives us a central register on specific races, so that’s relevant. Some sites get door-to-door people out. Some effectively unmask lies in the media, and facts versus claims of public figures. All of which is good and necessary, but is unlikely to change things at their root.

    As evidence: more people believe that Saddam was connected to 9/11, and that he had WMD today than 2 years ago. With the internet fully functioning.

    IMO, we should be much more focused on using this beachhead of Democracy in the current environment to reclaim the huge landmass of the mass-media for the public interest.

    We could be more imaginative. Why can’t we buy TV ads for the right websites, (here a made-up website)

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

    Flash that on the TV, get 100,000 people who wouldn’t normally know where to look, and I bet we’d see, pretty quickly, the Elite Media much less the steographers than they are now.

    We need to take what we have now, and use it directly on our situation a lot more than we do. A lot more.

  5. My emphasis has been a recent study of the denouement of European politics in the US… in particular some surprises about my personal family background.

    If anything erodes the national identity, it is superficial takes on who we are as a people and the “soundbyte” style of historical revision so common to MSM.  On what is wealth, what is race, and a lot of what really happened.  For example there are the doings of native people vs. the US gummnt so well chronicled by Winter Rabbit – but that is the beginning of a shudder of throwing off collective amnesia.

    People are ever demanding to know what happened to the Democratic party.  I have covered some of the back history to the election of an Irish Catholic president (my late Polish FIL told my husband in 1960 that “this isn’t good, they will kill him”).  Post political correctness, this event is somewhat taken for granted, but it was an anomaly for a Catholic to be elected – but especially an Irish one! – and can be read as reaction to a great struggle in Europe as the British slavers populated the colonies with displaced Irish.  The Irish know it well, tell the stories, but it is whitewashed over in US textbook history.  The borough politics of the Irish (recommend the Kennedys, an American Drama by Collier & Horowitz) which brought the family to power were animated by the centuries of memories of what happened to the indigenous Irish, but that 500 year long war has been described/absorbed by the US populace as some kind of religious misunderstanding – a vast lie:

    In the 12 year period during and following the Confederation revolt, from 1641 to 1652, over 550,000 Irish were killed by the English and 300,000 were sold as slaves, as the Irish population of Ireland fell from 1,466,000 to 616,000. Banished soldiers were not allowed to take their wives and children with them, and naturally, the same for those sold as slaves. The result was a growing population of homeless women and children, who being a public nuisance, were likewise rounded up and sold. But the worse was yet to come.

    In 1649, Cromwell landed in Ireland and attacked Drogheda, slaughtering some 30,000 Irish living in the city. Cromwell reported: “I do not think 30 of their whole number escaped with their lives. Those that did are in safe custody in the Barbados.” A few months later, in 1650, 25,000 Irish were sold to planters in St. Kitt. During the 1650s decade of Cromwell’s Reign of Terror, over 100,000 Irish children, generally from 10 to 14 years old, were taken from Catholic parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In fact, more Irish were sold as slaves to the American colonies and plantations from 1651 to 1660 than the total existing “free” population of the Americas!  source

    The harsh division of US politics into simple superficial polemics like black/white robs us of a collective heritage, for no one ever asks where the white came from in those vast numbers of African Americans who are of mixed ancestry:

    The planters (…) then began to breed Irish women with African men to produce more slaves who had lighter skin and brought a higher price. The practice became so widespread that in 1681, legislation was passed “forbidding the practice of mating Irish slave women to African slave men for the purpose of producing slaves for sale.” This legislation was not the result of any moral or racial consideration, but rather because the practice was interfering with the profits of the Royal African Company! source

    Diggs points out that “Planters sometimes married white women servants to Blacks in order to transform these servants and their children into slaves.” This was the case with “Irish Nell”, a servant woman brought to Maryland and sold to a planter when her former owner returned to England. Whether her children by a Black slave husband were to be slave or free, occupied the courts of Maryland for a number of years. Petition was finally granted, and the children freed.

    The “custom” of marrying white servants to Black slaves in order to produce slave offspring was legislated against in 1681. How many half Irish children became slaves through this custom? How many Black Americans have Irish ancestors because of it? If a servant is forced to mate with a slave in order to produce slave children for her slave master, is she not a slave?

    In 1698 British Parliament acted under pressure and allowed private English merchants to participate in the slave trade. The statute declared the slave trade “highly Beneficial and Advantageous to this Kingdom, and to the Plantations and Colonies thereunto belonging,” according to Du Bois.  source

    The Proclamation of 1625 ordered that Irish political prisoners be transported overseas and sold as laborers to English planters, who were settling the islands of the West Indies, officially establishing a policy that was to continue for two centuries. In 1629 a large group of Irish men and women were sent to Guiana, and by 1632, Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the West Indies. By 1637 a census showed that 69% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves, which records show was a cause of concern to the English planters. But there were not enough political prisoners to supply the demand, so every petty infraction carried a sentence of transporting, and slaver gangs combed the country sides to kidnap enough people to fill out their quotas.

    Although African Negroes were better suited to work in the semi-tropical climates of the Caribbean, they had to be purchased, while the Irish were free for the catching, so to speak. It is not surprising that Ireland became the biggest source of livestock for the English slave tradesource

    The collective memory of this had everything to do with the rise of power of the Kennedys – through which the history of the US almost became the reversal of a key sector of European politics.

    It turned out that this was key in my own ‘coffin boat’ family history, and my family’s involvement with Democratic politics some 40-50 years ago.  I have been writing about this, and our own mixed family heritage.

    Maybe demolishing rigid, simple-minded racial stereotypes would be a good place to start reframing our present national dialogue.  I have diaried about it here ( http://www.docudharm… ).  Perhaps the damage done is beyond remedy, but I believe still the truth always promotes peace once the shock of peeling away veneers of falsehood resides.  It seems the US people are on a discovery mission about who we are and what happened.  I’m with you… there is no going forward without an honest assessment of from whence we’ve come.

  6. Blogging the future. It’s ironic that as I sit here pondering it my bags are still unpacked from a visit to Italy I returned from nearly 3 weeks ago. I am still absorbing all the history I took in travelling through the Marche area. At one point, when all around me seemed to much to take in, I sat down just to take a few deep breathes. When I stood up I read a plaque that explained I had been sitting where Dante wrote The Inferno.

    The biggest impact this trip had on me was realizing how slowly history really does unfold and “our” fuuture and “the” future are two very different things. For example -here’s a brief history of the region I was in – and btw – its not that big and my husband and I managed to see a good half of what is described below:
    From Wikipedia
    The Marche were known in the ancient time as the Picenum territory. The coastal area was occupied by the Senones  a Gaul tribe. They were conquered by the Romans  in the Battle of Sentinum  in 295 BC. They founded numerous colonies in the areas, connecting them to Rome through the Via Flaminia  and the Via Salaria was a seat of the Italic resistance during the Social War (91-88 BC
    After the fall of the Western Roman Empire , the region was invaded by the Goths. After the Gothic War, it was part of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna  (Ancona , Fano , Pesaro, Rimini , and Senigallia formed the so-called Pentapolis ). After the fall of the Exarchate they were briefly a Lombard  possession, but was conquered by Charlemagne  in the late 8th century. In the 9th-11th centuries the marches of Camerino, Fermo  and Ancona were created, whence the modern name.

    The Marche were thenceforth nominally part of the Papal States , but most of the territory was under local lords, while the major cities ruled themselves as free communes. In the 12th century the commune of Ancona resisted both to the imperial authority of Frederick Barbarossa  and to those of the Republic of Venice , and was a maritime republic of its own. An effective attempt of restoring the Papal suzerainty by the legate Gil de Alborno in the 14th century, was not long-lived.

    During the Renaissance the region was mostly characterized by the struggle between rival aristocratic families, such as the houses of Malatesta of Rimini, Pesaro  and Fano , and that of the Montefeltro of Urbino. From the 16th century the Marche were again firmly part of the Papal States: the last independent entity, Duchy of Urbino was dissolved in 1631. In the Napoleonic period the short lived Republic of Ancona was created in 1797 , after which the region was merged with the Roman Republic  and the Kingdom of Italy  (1808-1813), to which followed a short occupation by Joachim Murat. Thenceforth the Marche remained under Papal rule until November 4 1860 when they were annexed to the unified Kingdom of Italy  by a plebiscite.

    For some pictures click this link: http://penelope.uchi

    (I purposely chose a guy who is trying to create a great site about the Marche region rather than an established tourist site)

    So back to your diary and its key theme – blogging the future. After the experience of the Marche I now break “the future” into several timeframes:
    Mine – 20-30 years (if I am lucky)
    The next 100 years (if the earth is lucky)
    The next 1000 years (well we have managed 3000 so far)
    I am going to stick to Mine – the next 20-30. Sad to say this but I’d rather be blogging the next 100. I have looked at the next 20-30 every way possible and I see a few things that are very positive for the world – all of them being scientific breakthroughs in health from curing disease, to new applications for prevention of certain birth defects and cancers.

    Hopefully (and I am) there will also be general acceptance of global warming (before all the polar bears cease to exist) and the next 20 years will contain ways to dramatically reduce green house gases and increase production of clean energy sources. In our immediate future I see very high gas prices combined with a mandated lowering of speed limits back to 45mph. To me the latter is a positive.

    Terrible to speak the negatives on a Monday morning. I see the next 20 years in America as probably  one of the worst periods in our history. There is no escaping the atrocities commited in our names by the criminals in (and also now out) of office. I think our use of state sponsored torture which will be Bush’s legacy will be paid for by the next 2-3 generations as it was in Germany. In fact I am currently researching how and when Germany came to grips with its past and the sooner we get started the better.

    • Slugbug on October 30, 2007 at 12:45 am

    & summarizes the late 60s/early 70s AND the present –

    just substitute Iran/Iraq/Afghanistan/Palestine for Vietnam

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