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by William H. Benson

June 4, 2015

     Fred and Wilma Flintstone lived in the past, George and Jane Jetson will live in the future, and Ralph and Alice Kramden live in the present. Although “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons” were animated, the three fictional sitcoms, including “The Honeymooners,” follow similar story lines.

     The husbands work at jobs: Fred on a rock pile, George at Spacely’s Space Rockets, and Ralph as a bus driver. Their wives—Wilma, Jane, and Alice—stay at home. The comedy occurred in the characters’ home, at their work, or with their neighbors. Barney Rubble was Ed Norton in cartoon form. The three sitcoms demonstrate how unchangeable human life is in the past, present, or future.

     Whereas a historian measures social and political change over time, his counterpart, the futurist, imagines change by gathering facts from the past and then extrapolates them into the future. 

     Einstein said, “The only reason for time is so that everything does not happen at once.”

     Mad Max: Fury Road is George Miller’s dystopian vision of a grim future. Everywhere the land is red, dry, sandy, or rocky. A handful of women flee from a terrible present in the hope that they will find a better future “in the green fields.” The ruler and his henchmen pursue the women with a fury.

     Fast-paced the movie is. Everybody is in motion, riding in gigantic machines with enormous wheels, traveling forward, or racing backwards, fleeing, being chased, or pursuing. It is a series of over-the-top stunt-man sequences, and each outdoes the previous. The movie contains far more action than plot.

     Futurology includes at least five layers. First, it includes the ancient Jewish and Christian prophecies that scholars incorporate into a theology called eschatology. Second, it involves the seventeenth-century idea of social progress. Third, it presents scientific studies of societies, such as economics and sociology. Fourth, it describes utopias, where societies are located on an island or in a remote mountain valley, where people live in peace. Fifth, it produces science fiction.

     One person who addressed all five layers was the British thinker and writer H. G. Wells. Considered the founder of futurology, Wells “wove the strands of earlier futurism into a single body of work, more than one hundred volumes in all, and published over a span of more than fifty years.” Known more for his science fiction novels, such as The Time Machine, and The War of the Worlds, he also wrote history in The Outline of History, and also biology in The Science of Life.

     In 1902, “the study of the future was born,” when H. G. Wells published his book Anticipations. In the first chapters he described a series of futuristic gadgets he imagined, but then he put those aside to predict the collapse of capitalism and nation states during years of unrelenting war, and the rise of “the technically competent, of the scientists and engineers, who would learn from their errors and build a world state of peace and plenty.” He wrote those words before either world war.

     In 1933, he wrote The Shape of Things to Come, a fictional history textbook that a historian named Dr. Philip Raven wrote in the year 2016. In it, Raven describes a world war that began in January 1940, when Germany invaded Poland. Because no single nation claimed an absolute victory, the war dragged on for ten years. Then, when all nations were exhausted and spent, a friendly dictatorship made a grasp for world control.

     So, Wells foresaw the approach of World War II, but he was wrong about the date. Nazi Germany did invade Poland, but on September 1, 1939, four months before the day Wells had predicted.

     In 1938, in his book World Brain, Wells described an international encyclopedia, “a sort of mental clearing house for the mind, a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified, and compared.” Of his world brain, Wells said, “This is no remote dream, no fantasy. It is a plain statement of a contemporary state of affairs.” Wells died in 1946, some forty or more years before the advent of the World Wide Web.

     Futurists today point to an expansion of globalization, calling it “the dominant theme of modern life.” One author wrote that in this new century, “the human race has created a framework of capitalism, technology, trade, mass communications, and individual rights.” If a nation rejects that framework, its leaders are made to feel isolated and its citizens impoverished. “The more overtly intolerant a society is, the poorer it will be. It is intolerance that causes poverty.”

     War and domination and conquest will interfere in men and women’s futures, but when peace breaks out, people will revert to the same actions that their ancestors have followed for generations. Husbands and wives will go to work to provide a life for themselves and their children. Just like Fred and Wilma Flintstone, George and Jane Jetson, and Ralph and Alice Kramden, people need a roof over their heads, food to eat, and clothing to wear. The wives will try to tame their husband’s cantankerous dispositions, and the husbands will try to ignore their wives’ comments. Those things will not change in the future.