Some are published (check out “Chatauqua” in the BVC anthology Nevertheless, She Persisted or “Or We Will All Hang Separately” in my collection Walking Contradiction and Other Futures); others are in progress. None are dystopias from my point of view, because while they all assume things are going to get bad, they also assume that humans will muddle along and maybe even build a better future out of all this.
But I don’t think I’ve ever been able to write any near future stuff that doesn’t assume a crash. Even my story “Borders,” which was written in 1997, assumed that (it’s also in Walking Contradiction and Other Futures).
The other morning at 4 a.m. I woke with a sense of dread, something that’s been happening to me a lot. The current corona virus crisis is making me nervous, mostly because I’ve got travel plans. (And yeah, I know the regular flu is far more dangerous for most people, but I’ve had a flu shot.)
Before that, the fires in Australia were freaking me out, partly because I’ve got friends there and partly because my travel plans are to Australia. And while the fires seem to be under control now, it is very clear that they’re just a foretaste of how bad the climate crisis is going to get.
I live in California and I’m from Texas and have lived on the East Coast. I know about fires. And hurricanes. And tornadoes. And blizzards. And heat waves. And droughts. And how making each of those common things just a little bit worse is going to be devastating for millions, probably billions, of humans, not to mention our natural environment and all the other creatures on this Earth.
And that doesn’t even begin to count the ways the political crisis in the U.S. is leaving me in a constant state of dread.
One of the memes going around my part of social media is the “anybody but the criminal in the White House” one. And, of course, that’s not wrong. That man has broken so many laws and also refused to follow the norms we’ve always counted on to keep our country balanced.
But, and this is a big but: No matter how many good people we elect in 2020, there is no going back to the way things were before. This “presidency” has exposed all the flaws in our system.
“Any functioning human” will give us a president who can repair our standing in the rest of the world, but I don’t think they’ll be able to solve our fundamental problems or keep us from falling into an ever deeper authoritarian hole down the road unless they are also willing to make big changes. And I’m not at all sure even the best of the possible people out there will be able to pull off the changes we need no matter how hard they try.
There are two reasons these things keep waking me up at 4 a.m. One, things are even worse than I thought they were and I’ve been paying attention. (The interview with Dahlia Lithwick on the On the Media podcast points out some of the same things I’ve been realizing lately about just how broken our system is.)
And two, up to now I thought there was a good chance that things wouldn’t get too bad in my lifetime. Which was, of course, selfish of me. It also turns out to have been overly optimistic.
My response is the same as my response has always been: focus on the local actions that can help us build a real future. I’m supporting clean energy programs and ways to fix housing inequality here in the Bay Area as well as in teaching empowerment self defense and writing both fiction and nonfiction that gets at the changes we’d like to see.
I don’t know that I’m doing enough. Probably not. But I am trying to do something more than just vote, because that’s a bare minimum and also because I don’t think we’re going to be able to just vote our way out of this mess.
BTW, don’t use the comment section to talk about your preferred presidential candidates. I have my own, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m saying is that we can’t just sit back and wait for savior politicians. Even if we elect all the best possible candidates (fill in your candidate here in your own mind and I don’t mean the one you think is most electable, but rather the one you think will do the best job of fixing our society, who might not be mine), they can’t do anything unless we’re all out there doing something effective, whether it’s running for office, building something new, or demonstrating in the streets.
I keep hoping that we find an even keel so that I can quit waking up with a sense of dread, but while I’m an optimist by nature, I’m not very optimistic about that.