View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Tuesday, October 14, 2003

The American Future

One of David Gelernter's main themes of 1939: The Lost World of the Fair is that the American religion died when its promises were fulfilled for the majority of the population. We arrived at utopia (a place where life is good for the vast majority of people, not perfect for everyone), and the future disappeared. No religion can survive this, and the disillusion and disorientation of the late 1960s until now have been the result. The Fair spoke to this belief, the people echoed back. Our confidence had been shaken by the Depression, but with living standards on the rise again, there was reason to hope.

Gelernter is equally sure that there will be a New American Future. There's an argument to be made that he's wrong. That the financial and economic security we have, the knowledge that if you invest your money over time, you can be well-off in your old age, can only be kept going by a people who are a little hungry. And that we're just not hungry anymore, we're too satisfied.

This is rather too horrible to contemplate. A society without belief in its future, without a future, really has no future. In a very real sense, the world needs us. Most of the world's people know this - we are still the only real hope for billions of people without futures of their own. Do they look to Europe or China or Saudi Arabia or Iran for real hope? No, they look to us.

So the question is: What Should Our Future Be? What really inspires us, speaks to our hopes, allays our fears, and, an a tangible, measurable way, would inspire us? When people go to sleep at night, worried about bills or the flu or the leaky gutter, what should they say to themselves about tomorrow? What should they dream on? In 1939, it was a car, a house in the suburbs, enough food for the week (really). We have these things now. What do we dream on now?

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