By Elizabeth Anne Hull
Billionaire Bill Gates‘ recent prediction that by 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world caught my eye. I can’t help wondering how much attention Mr. Gates has paid to theshrinking middle class in the United States, let alone how much understanding he has about what it’s like to be a member of a family with greatly diminished expectations, or that’s slid into poverty within the last five years.
Mr. Gates has every right to be an optimist. He’s taken great risks and, against the odds, come out a winner, at least financially. Throughout my lifetime I believed that most Americans were optimists, having faith in a better future. I’m not so sure a majority still feels that way, considering the state of the economy, our political paralysis, the proliferation of weapons in private hands in the U.S., shootings, and violence at home and abroad. For a number of reasons, we do not seem to be growing safer or more secure.
I once made a similar assumption for a story, “Standard Deviation” (originally titled “The Midler,” and dramatized for radio in Germany but never published in the U.S.). It was based on a December 1978 Analog science-fact article by John Gribbin, “Science Fiction is Too Gloomy,” which asserted that in 200 years we’d no longer have any of the problems we worried about at the time. Gribbin qualified his claim by assuring us that we’d have problems galore in 2178, they just wouldn’t be the same ones we fretted about then. All those problems would have come to a crisis and been solved, assuming the human race had survived at all.
So, for the purposes of my story, I waved the writer’s magic wand and assumed that major issues like global warming, pollution, overpopulation, food shortages and distribution, nutrition, access to education and technology, diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer, all had been solved. What remained as a major problem in the story was the need all human beings seem to have to feel “special.” I might take a different tack if I were doing the story today, Although I’m still into food issues, these days I’m far more interested in feminism, human cultures, economics, politics, etc.
Pessimists worry that we won’t solve our problems and it will be the end of us, at least as we know human civilization and culture. Kurt Vonnegut wrote a comic novel, Galapagos, about human survival in a physically devolved state, wherein we had lost our big brains that had given us so many problems, and our progeny were now happily frolicking like porpoises in the water. It’s every bit as funny as Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse-Five. We have to laugh so we don’t cry.