Things to Come

A scene from the 1936 film by Alex Korda, “Things to Come”

What-Has-Been opposes Things-to-Come, while at the same time What-Has-Been creates Things-to-Come. Things-to-Come makes What-Has-Been obsolete, yet Things-to-Come mirrors What-Has-Been. The relationship between What-Has-Been and Things-to-Come is not paradoxical, rather interpenetrating. They are not separate, they are not the same; this is because neither What-Has-Been nor Things-to-Come are things, they are process.

There is tension in process, the tension of becoming. Like life–which to survive must feed on life–and death are interpenetrating and are not dual, so the process of becoming depends upon death: the death of ideas, conceptions, contraptions, systems, traditions, beliefs, and what often seems to be the death of truth itself. Truth, of course, is also part of the process of becoming. The truth once was: The World is Flat.

The tension of becoming can be delightful and painful, in fact, is always delightful and painful. Accepting Things-to-Come means letting go of What-Has-Been, which runs against our human inclination to grasp, and to grasp tightly. On an individual basis, such grasping produces strong emotions: fear, hatred, confusion, jealousy, greed and craving. Having grasped, letting go is emotional too: sorrow, grief, self-pity, depression, anxiety, compassion and love arise. It’s not easy being human.

Socially, the tension produces politics, the collective effort we make to systematically manage becoming. Thus we see political forces supporting What-Has-Been coming into conflict with forces supporting Things-to-Come. Emancipation of Things-to-Come requires imprisonment by What-Has-Been, and in this process, we witness ugliness and violence. The universe itself, in this sense, is ugly and violent; stars are born and die, galaxies collide, entropy (some say) will one day tear All and Everything asunder.

I’m reminded of Alexander Korda’s visionary 1936 film “Things to Come” (photo above), after the book by H.G. Wells. A vast war returns humanity to a Dark Age of anti-science ruled by petty tyrants and warlords, until one day a lone pilot representing “Wings Over the World”–the remaining civilization of scientists–lands and brings a message: “I am here to bring you back to the world of humanity and progress.” The war lord objects, of course, and jails the visitor, but before long more planes with pilots fly overhead, drop small bomblets of sleeping gas, and subsequently awaken everyone–except the war lord–who has died of shock.

The film moves progressively into the future, exploring the tension between What-Has-Been and Things-to-Come. The film’s definition of progress is tied to science, and descendants of the war lord resist letting go of What-Has-Been. In a populist uprising, mobs attack scientists and science itself in a vain attempt to prevent becoming.

And today, in 2017, the current Trump Administration suggested that researchers at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) not use seven words and phrases in their funding requests: “evidence-based, science-based, fetus, transgender, diversity, entitlement” and “vulnerable.” This is how the petty tyrants–desperate war lords–react to becoming, by attacking the words of science by imparting to them culturally-coded messages about the dangers of Things to Come.

Of course, this linguistic prison will simply stimulate the longing for emancipation. When it comes to What-Has-Been and Things-to-Come, thus it is.

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