There are times that I lean back in my chair and think to myself, “Self. Maybe the left is right. (I really like that sentence for its internal absurdity). Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world and a fabulous life if we all could have whatever we wanted without having to work for it; if we could know in advance what the next wonderful thing in store for us was; if we had no anxiety, no worries, no care; if we didn’t have to be concerned about our future because it would be clear to us what that would be?”
What would be the practical effect of actually knowing the future – even an assured future where everyone’s material wants were met? I think the answer is – boredom – and the introduction of more anxiety.
Although it seems paradoxical as we all strive to eliminate uncertainty from our lives, it is uncertainty which makes life both interesting and challenging. If we truly knew the future there would be no reason to watch a sporting event – or for that matter play it. Imagine how inspired an infielder on the Yankees would feel if he knew that his team was going to lose to the White Sox that day by a score of 7 – 3.
The casinos would close their doors in short order. Since 22 was the next number to come up on the roulette wheel, that’s where all bets would be. And if we knew that a five was the next card that would be dealt, the astute blackjack player would take a hit on his 16, despite the fact that the dealer was showing a bust card. Horse races would be a thing of the past and we’d have to find a different way to spend our Saturday and Sunday afternoons as football would hold no appeal.
There would be no stock market and no market for stocks. Knowing the unfortunate end that it would meet, we would never have built the Challenger and we would have saved the lives of the seven astronauts who were on board. We would not have spent months of air time discussing the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 as, knowing its fate, the Malaysian government would not have allowed it to fly and no passenger would have boarded it.
In such a world of certainty there would be no room for a Shakespeare or an Ibsen or a Hitchcock. Drama and suspense can not exist unless there is the possibility of alternate endings. The comedy clubs would close because we would all know the punch line. In such a world would Michelangelo have begun the long process of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or Mozart composed his tremendous volume of work knowing that despite his genius he would never escape a state of perpetual poverty and be buried in a pauper’s grave?
Of course there is one other and perhaps the most frightening aspect of living in a world certain. Each of us would know the exact time and means by which death would show up at our doorstep and come for us. It would be as though we, like the “replicants” that were brought into being in “Blade Runner,” had an internal clock built into us by our maker, a clock that was sealed at the factory and which was constantly winding down, bringing us ever more closely to the moment we took our final breath.
What would people who lived in such an environment do with their time and their lives? I suspect that it would be very little. This would be a world in which ennui would have been raised to its ultimate expression. There would be little incentive to succeed and no repercussions for failure. This would be a world in which people saw little reason for hope and no reason for change. It would be a world in which we had given over our lives and activities to fate – and accepted that “what would be would be.”
And if one day, we learned that a massive meteor was headed directly toward us and would impact the Earth three years later, would we be able to marshal the fortitude to try to defend ourselves from this potentially life-destroying event? Or would we sit back and thank our lucky stars that finally something out of our control had come to put an end to our insufferable misery?