“A date so far in the future that …”
And that is all I remember from a poem that I wrote in 1984. Except that it described the day I wrote it. All the ordinary things of life going on around me as usual. But the date itself seemed as surreal to me as a star date.
It’s now 2021, and it has been the future for almost as long as I can remember.
There are so many ways in which one can describe the recent attempt to overthrow the election of Joe Biden, the swarming of the halls of Congress, “Trumpism” itself as the Past waging a battle against the Future. I could claim that of course the Future always wins. Because being the Future it, of necessity, comes. Will we, nil we.
But truth of the matter is that even though the Past can never win, it can ensure that there will be no Future at all.
What I mean is this:
The Future needs comprehensive healthcare. The Past – at this point the Past of 50 or more years ago – had healthcare available that most people could find when they needed it. Except perhaps black people. Except perhaps rural or mountain people. The average middle American could count on finding a doctor or an emergency room at need. When I was a child our family doctor made housecalls. And we were, at the time, a part of the lower middle class.
The population has since grown by 150 million. Even more important, the system has radically changed. Healthcare is governed largely by HMO’s of various demonimations. As a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, I have access to the University of Wisconsin’s Healthcare System. The only insurance I have is Medicare. If you don’t have that kind of access or can’t afford health insurance, you’re thrown back on the ER or ignoring healthcare signals until you must go in.
That’s no way to run a country of 350 million and climbing, give or take a pandemic.
A nation that claims to lead the way into the Future cannot have a population suffering from epidemic opioid addiction, nearly epidemic diabetes, or widespread cancer and heart failure. They cannot have people too sick to work, or to pursue their ambitions. It cannot afford sick waiters and teachers and clerks who come into work because they can’t afford to stay home. A generally healthy population is not a cure-all, so to speak, but it is a pre-requisite for life in the Future. Which is now.
The Future requires all kinds of education. We are just now ending a year of nearly no education. So the Future has got some catching up to do. We will need preschool and in-person teaching, online courses and technical training, universities and colleges serving everyone, if not freely then affordably. Teaching, itself, has to be elevated and paid enough to attract people willing to dedicate themselves to the profession. Schools in all neighborhoods must be fully funded. The schools must be protected and cherished as places of safety and learning. And the community must be involved. Nothing less than an approach similar to that currently used to achieve universal healthcare is called for.
We have seen the products of an inadequately educated people in the killings that prompted the Black Lives Matter protests. We have certainly seen them swarming up the steps of the U.S. Capitol earlier this week. We cannot maintain our communities without reverence for, yes, all living souls, nor with uneducated people who fall prey to lies and conspiracy theories. How is it that so many ordinary people see education itself and educated people as some kind of elitist threat? How did their own educational systems fail them so miserably?
We need poetry and literature, science and art, music and theatre, history and civics. All must be available to the curious; all must be made a part of all student’s lives. And yes, sports as well. The school should be the heart of the community. It was once said that one could tell what was important to a culture by the size of its buildings. Long ago it was the height of the cathedrals. Not so long ago it was the height of its office buildings. I don’t mean to suggest that we build schools into basilicas or skyscrapers. I do mean that they should be more than bland boxes. They should be low to the ground, of a height with the houses. And they should be interesting somehow. Very functional, but interesting. They should stand out as the very heart of town.
An educated population is a pre-requisite for a healthy life in the Future. Which is now.
The Future needs comprehensive basic income. Too few of us are adequately educated for the jobs of the Future. Too many of us thought that kids could always work at the gas station or part-time at McDonald’s on their summer vacations. Too many of us thought the kids would be all right because somehow or other we were all right. Too many of us banked on the Past.
Nothing is like that anymore. And the kids know it. Even most adults know it. But somehow the adults who knew that Past are thinking that when we return to “normal,” we will also somehow return to those days. We won’t. New cars cannot be serviced by you in your own garage. Most office jobs could remain online, working from home, by computer-savvy folks. Men and women won’t be servicing blast furnaces in the steel industry either. Even if we renew manufacturing on a large scale, much of it will be done by A.I. Men and women will need to be trained to run and service these machines. Until other A.I.’s have been built to do those jobs as well.
So while we are catching up to our brave new world, which is upon us and has been since 1984 at the very least, our people need a basic income. Something to pay the rent and buy groceries. Something to make pursuing a life possible. Something in the place of selling singles on street corners. Making a living on the corners of big cities has been a way of keeping body and soul together for eons. It will probably never be solely a thing of the Past. But I don’t believe it can support us in the Future. Which is now.
So those are the three major things I think we need to be thinking about during the following four years. It is not only this pandemic for which we are unprepared. A world without the jobs of old? Perhaps without “jobs” at all? Another health crisis? Another bout of ignorance and bigotry? Or should I say a continuance? And we are not alone. The whole world is looking around and feeling the earth move under its feet.
We may have our infirmities, we may not know as much as we should, and we might have nor a mite to spare. Nevertheless, we must try. The Future depends on us. The Future is now.