What will people think of us in a hundred years’ time? Supposing they can still access the billions of gigabytes worth of pouting teenage selfies and cat videos, will they view our era favourably?
Look beyond the generation of posed photographs, enhanced with editing software and special effects, and see the news events across the world. School shootings, suicide bombers, terrorist attacks, and military coups, all recorded in High Definition for posterity. See the health statistics of each nation published in handy bar charts and percentages, reflecting our challenges with junk food diets and addiction. Watch the debates on environmental trends leading us ever closer to catastrophe. These are all propagated and controlled by human emotion; greed, spite, competition, glory, thirst for power, envy, to name but a few. These are the negative patterns we are reinforcing for the next generation to come.
Despite what the movies would have us believe, people rarely change. Take a group of friends, a family or a collection of workmates in any era, and you’ll find the same loves, laughs, and tragedies occurring throughout evolving situations. Our emotions are no less intense now than in the 1920s or the 1820s.
Technology comes and goes and we adapt to changing circumstances, but we remain true to ourselves. Those who were selfish and driven by greed as young adults never stop being so, even after a ‘road to Damascus’ moment. They may mellow for a while when times are good, but they will revert to type under similar harsh conditions. It’s human nature. Self-preservation will make us resort to whatever it takes to survive or protect our loved ones. Similarly, those who were soft-touches or sensitive as children go on being so, no matter what brash mask they present to others in order to cope with society.
Fictional tales like to show that everyone is capable of change. Take Dickens’ Scrooge, who when shown the error of his miserly ways, transforms from a curmudgeon into Mr Benevolence overnight. As heartwarming as these stories are, they seldom reflect reality. Even villains are given opportunities to reveal their charming and generous side, which assumes that those traits were present in the first place.
Certainly, human character and mood exist on a sliding scale; no one is truly bad just as no one can be wholly good. And therein lies the best kind of tales, those where the balance is tipped and betrayal comes as a shock to all, the hidden desires and motives breaking out unexpectedly.
We see this trope in fiction all the time, the mild-mannered worker who takes more than he can stand before snapping in a spectacular style. That is a reflection of modern times when enough citizens snap and form a revolution. Emotions get battered and raw and spill over into civil unrest. Those are the times in which we now live. Forget the fish-pout selfies and the how to chop a boiled egg videos, ours is a world on the brink, global dissatisfaction with our rulers and politicians, the calm before the storm.
Which one of us will go down in history as the bloodthirsty Madame Defarge, knitting her coded record of aristocratic heads sliced by the guillotine, or will it take the form of riots in yellow vests? Perhaps even civil war? This goes beyond religious crusades or simple terrorism. Humanity is in disarray and those who could guide entire nations into a period of calm are doing the exact opposite. Leaders of opposing countries are funding cyber terror on air traffic controls, banking institutions, corporate giants, national health systems and energy infrastructures, stoking chaos and fear until normal life grinds to a halt. Presidents and Prime Ministers wield ultimate power with the petulance of children, normalising adult tantrums across continents.
We are heading into a crisis, with no means to de-escalate the problems. Want to know how this all ends? Look to fiction. Our bookshelves are bowing under the weight of dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels, not to mention the television series. Spoiler alert: it never ends well.
Why are we all drawn to such harrowing stories, such as Margaret Attwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale? Because we can see that it is a near-future possibility. In a world where natural fertility and birth rates plummet, it is perfectly feasible that somewhere in the world, walls will go up trapping those inside and exposing them to inhumane and degrading practices to ensure survival. Humans can justify any atrocity under the right circumstances. Hitler did.
These bleak and compelling works of art are a stark warning to us all. This is not entertainment. This is a glimpse of our future.