Fiction and What Comes Next

I daydream quite a lot about pie-in-the-sky efforts, like a guaranteed universal minimum income and solar roads and post-scarcity social models.

As a result, I end up talking about them a whole lot and bringing up some of the more unlikely ones in my fictional work so that I can show how they might happen, what they might look like in practice, and what the repercussions might be.

One thing I love about fiction is that you can speculate, while nonfiction requires that everything be tethered to reality.

Of course, fiction is quite often realistic. When I say ‘reality’ in the above context, what I really mean is ‘reality that seems likely.’ And unfortunately, anything beyond the imaginable norms come across as incredibly unlikely. Silly, even.

Try and wrap your head around the social upheavals that would take place in a post-scarcity world, for instance. The concept is that everyone has everything they need to survive (food, shelter, and other necessities). Our entire societal structure and governmental system and economic theory is predicated on scarcity, and as such would no longer be relevant in the same way it is today. We’d need new philosophies and laws and social structures and approaches to research and development and even little things, like figuring out who maintains the roads (if anyone…robots? Who would build and maintain them? Reprogram them if they were hacked?).

The point is that it’s hard to imagine seismic shifts in how we operate, and that’s why some concepts, though they may solve many of the problems we cope with day-to-day, seem incredibly unlikely. They’re just too different, and require too many changes, and we seldom see shifts so dramatic in a single lifetime.

And that’s a fair argument, though I would make two counter-arguments.

1. Fiction is one way we prepare ourselves for such changes. Fiction allows us to imagine ‘what would happen if…’ before we pull the trigger, and allows us to refine our approaches based on possible outcomes (Asimov’s Laws of Robotics are a great example of this, as they seem so iron-clad, but he himself showed many possible ways around them in his writings).

2. I think we’re doing an overall great job iterating, truth be told. As humans. Collectively, looking at the big picture, and despite all the horrible stuff that’s occurred as a byproduct or direct result of our biological, technological, and social evolution, we’re moving forward. Learning from our mistakes. It may not seem like it sometimes (because it’s more profitable to sell panic than peace, and because the more we learn, the more details we see, and the more flaws we’re capable of seeing in our own development), but that’s how it looks from my standpoint. That said, I also think there’s little more terrifying than being stuck in an ever-present ‘now.’

That would mean never changing beyond what we’re able to imagine based on our day-to-day activities. New social structures could never emerge, because they don’t jive with what we can imagine based on our experiences at the office and politics as normal. We can’t develop and produce solar roads, because then we’d have to change the laws, the production equipment, potentially the cars themselves, the energy grid; too many changes. No way, no how.

I think, in many ways, any given ‘now’ is only as strong as its ability to help people see a potential ‘soon.’ And though not everything printed and sold or projected on a screen somewhere is gold, there are a whole lot of ideas out there, floating around. Books, movies, TV shows, online content, video games, graphic novels/comic books, board games: we’re awash with interesting fiction. And though the primary goal for many of the people involved with the creation of a piece of fiction may be entertainment and industry, the byproduct is that we’re all capable of imagining so much more than folks a generation or two before us.

We’re capable of stepping outside ourselves and wondering, what if? And though such thoughts are pie-in-the-sky, they’re also what enable us to take large steps, understanding ahead of time a little about what may await us on the other side.

A version of this post was originally published on Facebook.

Update: April 20, 2017

I was trying my hand at tackling current events issues on Facebook at this point in time, as I hadn’t yet converted Let’s Know Things into a news analysis-style podcast, and didn’t really have a use for Facebook beyond reposting what I share on Twitter.

It didn’t stick. I did a few of these, but Facebook, in my experience at least, just isn’t a great place for discussions. It’s become a low common-denominator for getting attention, but even that is less valuable, since they charge you to reach your own audience.