Observations: Gazing into the abyss

Published on: December 31, 2013

A family poses by Mile 0 in Key West; depending on your perspective it is the end of the road or the beginning. Photo Mitch Traphagen

A family poses by Mile 0 in Key West; depending on your perspective it is the end of the road or the beginning. Photo Mitch Traphagen


When it comes right down to it, life is a funny phenomenon. It is now officially 2014 and we still don’t have flying cars. Seriously now, assuming you were alive in 1976 as I was (a teenager), think back and consider: if someone in 1976 had told you that there would not be flying cars in 2014 (2014!) would you have believed them? I would not have.

Despite that, I think we are lucky to be here right now. This is where the funny part of life comes in: is it just a mere luck of the draw that we weren’t born during the Dark Ages? Surely they could not even imagine a future 800 or more years hence, they couldn’t think about flying cars. They couldn’t even know what a car was — they were too busy simply trying to survive and tomorrow was a big enough challenge, let alone 2014.

They had none of the comfort that we now take for granted. In comparison to us, they had nothing at all — well, except for rampant invasions, the collapse of urbanization society, almost certain death at a relatively young age, and having to contend with the occasional barbarian horde.

So what will 800 years from now be like? Will people look back at us as being in some dark age and feel sorry for us, and be glad that they weren’t born during such an uncivilized, violent and ignorant time? Or will it be a hellish nightmare consisting of resource shortages and interstellar warfare?

I prefer to think optimistically about the future, and with good reason. Thus far in world history, every single time humans have faced a seemingly insurmountable barrier we’ve not only overcome, we’ve emerged just a little bit better than we were before. I have full confidence that will continue for centuries to come. And I don’t begrudge my descendants for the cool stuff they’ll get to have that we haven’t even imagined yet. I sure hope they have flying cars, though. Or better yet, transporter beams.

We have so many challenges ahead of us. People should not be starving to death in 2014. Wars should be increasingly uncommon as we learn new ways to connect, communicate and care for each other. No one should lose their home and life savings because of an illness. No one willing and able to work should be forced to do without life’s basic necessities (food, shelter, clothing, education, medical care, etc.). By now, after so many centuries of coming up with new and ever more lethal ways of killing each other, I would have expected that to have stopped by now. We are better than that. I know we are. Some people just seem to have trouble keeping up.

I freely admit that I am a capitalist pig but I also am acutely aware that in order to survive, capitalism needs to find its heart. And soon.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said that if you gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss would gaze back into you.

The future is an abyss. I’m not sure what the future would think gazing into me, perhaps seeing me as an ignorant microscopic step up from a barbarian or an amoeba. Perhaps, but hopefully not, seeing me as the last of a breed dying from self-inflicted wounds.

I distinctly remember sitting in a junior high science class and the teacher telling us that we were lucky to be so young because we would certainly be alive to see a space station in operation. I also remember one smart-aleck kid respond with, “Nah, you probably have a few good years left!” I don’t know if that teacher lived to see the International Space Station, but I hope so.

The truth be told, we do have a lot of cool stuff, our lives are relatively easy and the future, despite all of our challenges, does look bright. We will overcome and emerge better time and again. Of that I have no doubt.

But life is funny. How is it that I am here in 2014 typing this into a wireless computer connected to a global network rather than having been born a serf 800 years ago? Can it really be luck of the draw? I don’t know but I’ll take it as a blessing. Life is good. Yes, it can be better but it is only us that can make it better. 

I’m not so naive that I think 2014 won’t contain ugliness and painful challenges. But I do believe that we will emerge from the year just a little bit better than we did in 2013. We will move forward, second by second, minute by minute, day by day. We will continue our long human legacy of overcoming all odds against us. Of that, I have no doubt.

Here’s to a better 2014 for all of us.  I’m really glad to be here with you. Happy New Year.

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