In Christopher Nolan's mind-bending time travel movie "Tenet," the future battles with the past, literally — here in the present. The film's baffled heroes uncovered “detritus from a coming war”: alterations in our timeline caused by the progressive encroachment of characters from the future, each of whom has ideological or personal reasons why we humans, or the people in charge of events, have to be stopped.
But today truth is stranger than fiction. Does anyone know who's really in charge these days? It's clear who wants to be, but our would-be overlords are decidedly bearish about the future they keep trying to sell us. The same guys who want to take away our control of our own technology are struggling to rein in the revolutionaries in their own industries.
Think of the latest Apple event — light on the technological innovation and heavy on the ideological cringe. In an instantly notorious skit, the Applers appease an intimidating, anthropomorphized Mother Earth by invoking their various commitments to the contemporary cues of enlightened environmental consciousness.
Such corporate climate-change catechesis is, one might say, just the tip of the iceberg. The backlash against woke culture may be growing across the country, but in America’s bureaucratic and commercial complex, woke culture is growing ever more brazen. That’s because many woke believers understand that our breakneck technological progress gives them a chance to rule — not just the world, but the inner worlds inside us all, in our hearts or souls. So long as they’re in charge, most are more than ready to technologize away the boundaries between our given humanity and their wildest fantasies.
True, there’s a strident minority report coming from otherwise progressive “doomers” — those who think tech is in danger of slipping everyone’s control and wiping out life on Earth. Better to nuke the AIs and servers, they say, than risk the real technological apocalypse. Regardless, whether the woke control or kill our most powerful technologies, they’re not about to give up on mastering our most powerful institutions across tech, business, and government.
The resulting quagmire has disorienting consequences. Those fighting to carve our future in stone have only succeeded in setting it in sand — a barren landscape of silicon dunes that erodes the richness of human life here in the present.
Just look at the Gulf states. There, the future is taking shape as literal shapes, alien hulks looming out of an otherworldly desert landscape. The Saudi kingdom is placing bets that reality will be a depreciating asset with major projects like the Line, a 110-mile-long vivarium longer than Israel is wide, and the Numeraba, a 1,300-foot square cube full of shopping, entertainment, and immersive holograms.
That feeling of living inside a gigantic Apple product is geared to replace millennia of sacred religious tradition, too. Abu Dhabi now boasts a working prototype from the new world future called the Abrahamic Family House — an interfaith compound only an artist's rendering could love — where three cubes, a clone-like mosque, synagogue, and Catholic church, dot a secular visitor pavilion. It’s the kind of place you go for reassurance that whatever your religion, something bigger, blander, and more domineering overarches us all.
When has a future so threatening ever been so lame? Something about the idea of reducing reality to a blank screen for the projection of infinite fantasies strikes at the human soul, not just freaking us out, but stunning us into a kind of immobility. From the swamp of Washington to the Great Plains of the American steppe, who can wipe the digital sand from our eyes and stir the human spirit once again?
However much some hope the answer involves a new lease on political power, the truth is clear from one hard look at the spiritual transformation being foisted on us through technology: any leaders inclined to reclaim our destiny must build on solid foundations poured first in the heart.