In 1985, the movie Back to the Future created a stir with its ingenious plot about time travel and how we could alter the future by altering the past. For many, it hit more than a passing interest, as America looked at the transition from 1955 to 1985 and wondered, “What the heck happened?”
Now thirty years later, we in Western Civilization are doubly wondering what happened, both to 1955 America and 1985 America. The same is true in Europe. During this sixty-year period, our fortunes have unraveled and we cannot imagine the positive, technology-oriented view of the future that thrilled audiences back in 1985.
Instead, we see a dystopian Brazil-meets-Blade-Runner future in which we — the descendants of the founders of this civilization and those who uphold its values, philosophy and culture — are marginalized victims. Which is correct, the happy 1985 view or the neo-apocalyptic decay view? And is there anything we can do to influence the outcome?
To understand this question, we must first separate technology from history. Technology is icing on the cupcake. The cake beneath is social order, or how the civilization is structured to motivate people toward maintaining it. In the 1950s, we had a radically different social order than that of the present, based on commonality of culture, values and heritage. 1950s society with futuristic technology would look much the same as it did then.
We also must understand the different types of social order. In the 1950s, we had a ruling elite of Western Europeans with traditional values. They were replaced in the 1960s by “cosmopolitan elites,” or those who gained that position through prominence in commerce, media and government. That group does not necessarily share values, so they default to the lowest common denominator of whatever is popular — and earns money — is best. This form of “socialized utilitarianism” rules our society to this day and took over in the 1960s, twenty years before the 1980s slightly reversed that tendency.
This takes us back to the present tense. We could reverse our tendency toward socialized utilitarianism, and instead head toward the 1950s idea of shared purpose, or we can continue down the path that has steered us wrong so far. The choice is ours; the future awaits.