THAT WE LIVE IN STRANGE TIME IS SOMETHING THAT NEVER SURPRISE ANYONE
What times in human history were “normal”?The present times, as children of their nearer past and above all – and this is something we tend to forget – of their more “distant” past – the twentieth century – may seem unsettling and capricious to us. If, by the simple and miraculous fact of living, you feel vertigo, stress or anxiety, I am not going to console you by discovering that the feeling is shared because you probably already know it, and that is precisely the problem.
While my generation – I was born in the Reagan-Thatcher era – grew up in the rents of a welfare society that nurtured the yearnings of a prosperity and growth that did not see its limits. Although this generation could already sense its cracks, those immediately after began to feel “failures in the Matrix”, being the victims of a planned system, with chronic, dizzying and demoralising socio-economic crises that have been linked from 2008 to the present. Pandemic apart. And by that I mean that we were already like this before the new virus appeared in our lives, we lived inserted and immersed in a socio-economic system that devours affections while precipitating effects such as depression, uncertainty, anomie and existential pain itself.
As the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman pointed out on the eve of the 21st century, after the decades of continuous and prosperous development that followed the Second World War, this same developmental inertia derived in scientific-technological faith and market opening and globalisation, failed.
Like the pleasant dream that turns into a nightmare in front of our eyes, this train began to derail but it continued to move forward, even faster if possible.
The ability to slow it down is non-existent, while many of the passengers remain unaware that it is no longer moving on the rails, believing they are enjoying the views offered by the windows.
All of this, together with many other factors, is leading human beings to separate themselves from what used to keep them together in society. He is therefore moving from moving in a solid society to trying to do so in a liquid, ductile, too slippery society, making the possibility of achieving a profitable and true modernity slip through our fingers like water through our fingers. All that is solid evaporates into thin air.
And so we come to the current point of disenchantment. If the sci-fi works of cyberpunk literature of the 1980s began to point out possible (distopic) routes that society would take, the shock of reality stuns us to reveal that we already live in this alternative future (present for us) and that, despite having normalised it, it is no less disturbing as soon as we reflect on it.
Those prospective novels theorised about an out-of-control technological stage, where its advances are as disturbing as they are invasive. A society in which traditional institutions no longer have the capacity to act for change and have ceded their power in favour of large corporations.
The cities are mousetraps where their inhabitants live poorly. In the midst of all this, a tainted alliance between the technological world and the world of organised dissidence is beginning to take shape. Cyberpunk no longer believes in the idea of progress or in the emancipatory capacities associated with technological development, nor do they believe that there is any escape or alternative. The slogan of these non-times is no future.
Nor can we separate this movement from its context, a world positioned around two opposing blocs with the capacity to destroy each other and, by extension, the entire planet. The Cold War installed a well-founded fear of a nuclear apocalypse. Pure and simple self-destruction called into question the very idea of human progress and its “raison d’être” in this world. In this environment, the only criteria that could prevail was one’s own, the capacity of a single individual to destroy everything had individualised us, when the only response that could be attempted could only be a collective one.
In the futurism of the past we were promised that flying cars would invade our streets, and yet we have to be satisfied with battery-powered scooters – which at least have coloured lights – that rely on the expertise of the people driving them to avoid an accident.
The revolution came with the internet and its incessant application in unsuspected (and often suspicious) areas. But curiously in these cyber-times we fall into longing for that future that never came, embracing the past: hence the trends of Stranger Things, vintage clothing or Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. Bauman nailed it when he talked about Retrotopia.
Today’s generation is invaded by this apparent nostalgia for the future, which is possibly nothing more than a sentimental feeling of a futuristic past that has not been lived. Of something that was believed to be the future and was nothing more than a scornful love letter to a society that had let it down. But let’s not fool ourselves, we can only draw lessons from the past (and it would be enough to do so) from the experiences lived and the future, which is yet to come, does not exist. Let’s qualify this, let’s say that it is half done, fairly outlined, but it is not written in the stars either… Let us say, however, that our future is on track, as a consequence of our past actions.
But I insist… there is hope. The game is not completely lost -it never is-, because human beings have come to this world to play, in this continuous and imperfect present that we have had to suffer and enjoy. With this inherited arrangement of pieces on the board, as well as many of the cards we hold in our hands, not everything has been settled. We can still do (all life is now), as individuals and societies with the capacity and naturalness to be cooperative, almost anything we set our minds to. That is our good fortune. And partly our curse.