No planning here; in fact I’ve been working on another essay altogether, and this one just struck me. (To be totally forthcoming, I am as I actually post this to the blog doing a quick read-over for editing, but not changing content itself.) It will likely ramble a bit as it is being born as I write it, and the birth process of an idea is as messy as the actual event upon which the allegory is based.
I am reading a rather fascinating essay in it’s own right. This author is a rather insightful 17-year-old film fan who spent two years writing a 130 page treatise on the cultural significance and deeper meaning of the seminal film Blade Runner. He loves the film as much—more—than I do, and though he could use a good professional editor (couldn’t we all?) he’s got some wonderful ideas about the various cuts, and the greater context of cinema in the year 1982, upon which he can look with a less biased eye as he didn’t yet exist to have experienced it first hand. I saw many of those movies in the theater, so of COURSE I think it’s the best year movies have ever had. The fact smart kids think so too is rather refreshing.
While discussing the type of future in which Blade Runner is set he quotes another simply wonderful film—albeit from a couple of years later—Back to the Future. We all remember that last scene: Doc Brown in with his now garbage/fusion fueled time machine comes to take Marty McFly into the magic world of 2015 (screw you, Mayans) where famously Brown notes, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
I’ve been watching that film repeatedly for NEARLY as long a time as Brown and the McFlys traveled into the future. Yet only now discussing potential futures does the profundity of that statement strike me. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Sure, Brown means it literally as evidenced by the flying Delorean, but think of the broader interpretation. We’re heading for the future, and the way things are now are not the way things will be forever. Right now we live in a nation webbed with asphalt connecting every single point with every single other point. We live in an automobile culture (I have written elsewhere about our adoration of our cars), but one day we will beyond that. Someday, we won’t need roads.
Let’s get beyond the auto/road idea though. The way in which we now live will not be the way our descendants will live. Hell, the way we are living now won’t be the way we live 30 years from now, any more than we are living the same way as 30 years ago. Sure, no moonbases or even widespread flying cars, but the amount of connectivity between people and information—even in the poorest of nations—changes the destiny of those nations (ask Egypt). The way we shop, the way we get places, the way we eat, the content of our music and fiction; given only 30 years, all these things will be lost… like tears in rain (couldn’t miss that one).
With change so inevitable, we have no choice but to change ourselves, and honestly the more we fight it, the worse it will be. Instead, we have an opportunity to shape that future. We can cling to the past, or we can change those things we should change. We don’t need roads; we don’t need to follow a path just because we always have. We can ask ourselves what new way we can create to ride those ways of change. As one of my favorite futurists, Warren Ellis, states in his remarkable work Transmetropolitan, "The future is an inherently good thing."
Let’s take one more look: “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Imagine a world where we make decisions not to follow those darker paths, not to oppress or attack, but to act with care for our fellow humans, and with the honest intent to improve the world around us. You feel over legislated? When we, as a species, stop causing trouble and start working together, we don’t need to be policed or governed, we can just live. A place where we don’t need roads. That sounds pretty cool.
So thanks Doc Brown for getting my attention. Reminding me the future can be bright if only we—all of us—want it to be. We can’t take this on singularly, we can’t just “take care of ourselves;” we have to be responsible for our fellow humans. Because as much as things change, it is always us in the middle of it, and in 10,000 years our nature hasn’t changed nearly as much as it should. You can’t separate yourself from the world, from the responsibilities we have as a species. Any of us are only as good—or as bad—as all of us. If you don’t think so, go back and read whichever book you think serves as instructions for life; not one of them I am aware of says you’re on your own. Not Darwin, not Jesus, not Buddha, not YHVH, they all tell us about an essential collectiveness to our species. Act on it…
…so we don’t need roads.