You've felt it, too, haven't you? This isn't our real future. This isn't our America, our 21st Century. It's some other time, some other place, some dark alternate reality of wiretapping, stolen elections, and runaway greed. There's been a serious mistake, and only one man can save us now. Ray Bradbury, please help us get our future back.
It was a Ray Bradbury story, "A Sound of Thunder," that first told the world about "the butterfly effect." In the story, a time traveler goes to the distant past, where he's not supposed to touch anything, and makes one simple mistake. He steps on a butterfly. That sets off a chain of events that alter the future …
The protagonist returns to his own time, where a Presidential campaign is underway, and finds that the world has changed. He learns that an election considered a shoo-in for the good guy has instead been won by the "iron man" candidate, a dictator-in-the-making named Deutscher. Sound familiar? Later he learns that everything - even everyday language - is different and uglier. Paging Coulter and O'Reilly ...
When Bradbury wrote the story he was an outspoken political voice himself. As a young, hugely popular science-fiction writer in the 1950's (he appeared on Time Magazine's cover as "the Poet of the Pulps") he was the voice of that decade's faith in technology, growth, and positive change.
Bradbury took out a full-page ad in one of the Hollywood trade papers in 1952 attacking McCarthyism after Eisenhower defeated Stevenson. He declared himself a Democrat, defended the right of dissent, and said he would not hide his beliefs in the aftermath of the election - no matter now much Red-baiting he faced. Pretty brave of him, but we'd expect no less from the guy who wrote "Fahrenheit 451."
So when did that butterfly die? As in Bradbury's story, it happened at election time. That would be the year 2000, of course, at the dawn of the 21st Century. Sure, we'd been through McCarthy and Nixon, but America had never seen anything like this before. An electoral tie, with one state in the balance, winding up in the Supreme Court? And that Court, symbol of our impartial justice system, giving a corrupt and partisan decision? Welcome to your Alternate History.
Since then, the 21st Century has been straight out of a science-fiction movie. A once-independent media turned into a government-manipulated cartel. Lies transmitted at the speed of light over a variety of old and new technologies. The apocalyptic devastation of 9/11 in the heart of New York City. Elections stolen through computerized fraud. Runaway wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping. A world of doublespeak. "Mission Accomplished."
During last year's election I saw an "action figure" of George W. Bush for sale in a toy store, dressed in a flight suit just as he was on that aircraft carrier. Reality had become fully artificial. Even Bradbury has become friendly with the Republicans, posing for photos with Bush and saying he hasn't voted Democratic since Carter. Say it ain't so, Ray!
Haven't we been through enough? We've had five years in this alternate reality, and it's just not working out. Help us, Mr. Bradbury. Tell how to put things back the way they were. People are tired, and discouraged, and frightened. There's a New Year coming, and we want to live it in the country that was meant to be, not this dark and alien place.
It's the dawn of 2006. We need to save that butterfly ...
Last New Year's Eve I wrote about "distributed processing heroism." Happy New Year!