The Playground During Free Time

I read, or heard, or watched somewhere this past week someone complaining that the problem with the United States now is that we need a vision, a direction, something we can all focus on as a possible goal…that this (forging a new nation, destroying fascism, putting a man on the moon) is what the United States is best at and if it could only find a cause, we’d work our way out of all of this divisive crap we’re dealing with.

I’ve long held similar views.  That is, the generalized belief that this nation is better off when it is working towards a common goal.  But I have to tell ya, I have serious doubts about it ever happening again.

I’ve got a pet concept, a knock-em down one by one kind of approach (certainly not unique to me) that I think would suit the country,  Basically, it involves a commitment to identify a core problem, focus our energies on that one single issue until it is solved and then move on to the next one.  It’s essentially a giant public works project (which everyone agrees would stimulate the economy).  We list all of the major problems with the world today and then do a Manhattan Style binge on solving it.  Cancer, renewable energy, immigration, other health issues, poverty, getting food from where it is grown to where it is needed, the nuclear arms race, etc., etc.  Make the United States the world’s center of global problem-solving.

But it will never happen because right now, the United States resembles nothing so much as an elementary school playground during “free time”.

Take a look.  Some kids have formed a kickball game – and have excluded others.  Some kids are on the swings, and some are waiting impatiently to never get to use them.  Some kids are in the sandbox, and at least one of them is dumping cat turd laden sand onto other kids’ heads.  Some kids are off in a corner secretly playing with matches.  Others are running around taunting and bullying and way over there, where you hopefully won’t notice them, there’s a handful of outcasts who can’t wait to get back to the safety of their desks.

In that chaotic scene, all it takes is ONE teacher to say “everyone gather in a circle, we’re going to…”.

You know there’ll be grumbling, slow walking over to the circle, less than enthusiastic participation, but – there won’t be bullying, or sand dumping, or game exclusion, or someone’s turn taking too long.

Science Fiction has long operated on the belief that scientific research, technology and engineering will see us through whatever awaits us in the future and, in large measure, I still believe that to be true.  Unfortunately, other than a handful of stories (think the OL episode The Architects of Fear, or Allen Steele’s more recent Arkwright), the genre hasn’t addressed how we go about motivating people, motivating a society, to use that science and technology as a force for good.  I think it telling that the Outer Limits episode uses fear as a motivator, while Arkwright suggests that such a thing can only work when a small handful of motivated individuals put their heads together (and even then they’re fighting for their ability to do so).

I used to look at the future as a place of wonders, a place I couldn’t wait to get to.  Now?  Now I can wait.

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