Thinking About the Future Without Making Resolutions

by James Wallace Harris, Thursday, January 2, 2020

This year I didn’t even try to make New Year resolutions. I can’t make myself do things just because I think I should do them. I can’t lose weight. I can’t stop wasting time. I can’t be more productive. I can’t want to go to the gym. I can’t make myself write that science fiction novel. I can’t make myself be a better person.

I’m reading a depressing book for a book club, The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. Even though Wallace-Wells claims to be optimistic we’ll deal with climate change his litany of statistics and predictions are soul-crushing. The world has clogged arteries, COPD, an A1C of 9.3, and is grossly overweight, but like me, it can’t stick to any New Year’s resolutions either. There’s no chance humanity will give up excessive eating, drinking, smoking, and start exercising.

Even though we’re on the Titanic and see the iceberg we can’t alter our course. Does that mean the future is set in stone? Is it hubris to think we can pilot our personal and collective destinies?

I spent a good bit of time last year trying to understand Republicans. We can’t make any decisions about the future if we’re polarized by two views of reality. I’ve concluded there is a total failure of communication between liberals and conservatives, and like New Year’s resolutions, I should give up trying.

Now, this might all sound like I’m depressed, but I’m not. Even though I’m an atheist, I’ve always loved the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

The trouble is I keep thinking I can change more than I can. I guess that’s why they say wisdom comes with old age because I’m starting to realize the difference.

What I love doing is reading. I love figuring out how things function. I will continue to do that. I can easily study how things work while giving up trying to make them work differently. I need to swim with the current rather than against it.

I can change little things in my own life, but I think I’ve finally found the wisdom to know I can’t understand, communicate, or influence Republicans, which means we can’t do anything about climate change. I give up. Climate change is theirs, they own it.

For the rest of my life, I’m going to feel like those strange visitors from the future in “Vintage Season” by C. L. Moore who came to watch a terrifying event in our present. Readers always wonder why those visitors from the future don’t alter our fate, but if you reread the story enough…


9 thoughts on “Thinking About the Future Without Making Resolutions”

  1. Hey, James…
    First? Happy New Year.
    Second. “Happy” New Year?
    That really is too funny, you know. 364 days out of the year (+1 for leap years), people do what? They complain about just how much life, well, sucks. And then that “new year” rolls around and they “party,” get drunk and shoot off fireworks to welcome it with open arms. Why? Well, “they” would have me believe it is because they are “hopeful” for a “better” future. No, they are not the least bit “hopeful” about making life better. Instead, it is a convenient excuse to…get drunk and shoot off fireworks.
    But that’s not why I’m here.
    You referenced that Serenity Prayer. Following is what I wrote about the same topic, as dated and, because I wasn’t having a good go of things at the time, I will delete the “bad” word:

    Still Thursday, July 07, 2011, 2109
    All work scheduled. Supper over. Last mention of work and jobs. Talked to a young chap, 28, named Francisco. I told him we’re now “bff’s” since he admitted having a problem with authority figures. One thing to another and yes, he’s me at that age. And so we talked. Both control freaks. Both have tried to simplify our lives by starting with the “big picture” and working backwards to see all the details, all the possible consequences. And as such, we’ve learned—him much better than me, both at that age and the present—that there really is precious little in life over which we have any control whatsoever and that real wisdom is to be found in doing what you can and letting the rest just play out.
    I loathe the familiar “Serenity Prayer,” I really do. It’s the tacit admission of everything I just wrote, that life sucks and it always has and it always will and there’s nothing we can do about it but if we—people, humans, individuals, the collective—don’t do something to change, fix, alter, make it better, then how dare we complain that the way it is is the way it has to be and there’s nothing to be done about it?
    So, as I’ve written and ranted and railed so often, the only real “choice” we have in life is to “change our expectations,” to accept that it all sucks, and then, for the sake of our personal, i.e., selfish, reasons, motivations, satisfaction, sanity, and emotional well-being, resign ourselves to the inevitability of it all and go placidly into that good night? Jesus, what a f****** joke.

    So James, with that perfect balance of “in spite of” and “because of” the stuff of daily life, I do wish you nothing but the best for the future. Then again, that wisdom you mentioned is why we heard the tales of “Trust in the Lord but keep your powder dry.”
    Stay safe and be well.

    1. In the past, I would have agreed with you about the Serenity Prayer. We shouldn’t accept everything that sucks in the world. But to fix things requires cooperation. I used to believe that was possib.e. I don’t anymore. But Randy, keep fighting.

      1. “Cooperation”. That’s the exact word, James.
        Rodney King asked it this way back in ’92: “Can’t we all just get along?”
        As a younger man–born in ’52 and alluding to all those “socio-political changes” that have taken place since, for better or worse–I used to think that “Yes, we can.” Ironically, however, it was just then, the mid-90’s, I began to give up all hope. And now? Hell, even “Hope” has fled Pandora’s Box….

  2. Me again.
    And you referenced “Vintage Season”. I’ve never heard of the title but it is now on my Amazon list of “must read” books.
    Thanks for the reference.

    1. Randy, I provided a link to the story in the essay. You can read it for free online. If you want to buy it, the cheapest format right now is the Kindle edition of The Best of C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, which is $2.99. For some reason, it combines two $7.99 books. If you want a print copy I recommend The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume Two A. It’s also included in these anthologies:

      1. Thanks very much. I’ll go with the printed copy, “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame….”
        Truth? My eyes are aging much more quickly than the rest of me and reading anything…books, online, anything…is about to become part of past. But that includes a tirade about optometrists and that rabbit hole has not only a sign that reads “Keep Out” (yes, printed in BIG letters for old men like me) but also an armed bunny rabbit, the modern version of the Angel guarding and preventing a return to Eden….

  3. Hi James,…your quote of the serenity prayer is very appropriate. I’ve always perceived it’s ‘meaning’ as follows:

    …The first phrase acknowledges the deterministic universe in which we exist,…some give this existence a creator.

    …The second phrase recognizes the notion of free will,…granted by the creator to offer a choice between good and evil.

    …The third phrase is the will of God to reward those who choose the path of righteousness (Wisdom) without knowledge (guarantee) of the outcomes

    The prayer goes on to say that we should find peace (resignation) in the knowledge that God is looking after us, and as such we should find comfort in the acceptance of our fate in this world and the next

    I prefer the straightforward approach,…that is; we live in a deterministic universe which does not necessitate an Alpha and a Omega. We only search for same because we are self aware. Nothing more nothing less

    The notion of free will is an illusion manufactured by our self awareness. The future is also an illusion as it is only a projection of our experience. As for the present,…I’m afraid that is an illusion as well. Simply a projection of the brain’s perception of the physical world based on experience.

    God’s will is simply stating the first that he/she/it is all that there is including the universe in which we exist (Pre-Determined)

    In my view the only thing that drives us forward is survival and reproduction, or in our imagination we give our brain’s determination a label…hope

    In many ways those who believe in God are the same as determinists. The only difference is that some brains require a higher degree of certainty (the personification of existence) while others feel just as safe otherwise (I trend to this version).

    In short our brain continues to pursue the only actions and behaviours it is capable of. This is our ‘purpose’ otherwise we wouldn’t be here to have this discussion.

    Soren Kierkegaard started the thinking around existentialism, and the suggested limitations on the perceived influence we have on day to day events and all possible futures. In the end the ultimate truth is not within our grasp and only the admission of this limitation will set us free. Now he was a theologian so the offer he makes is predictable in the end. (Kierkegaard is a tough read,…I recommend “Introduction to Kierkegaard…The existential problem” and the subsequent short clips to follow, as a primer)

    I would posit that his offer and the resignation of a deterministic universe (Kierkegaard labels as God) are one in the same. The only difference for each of us is the belief system we have fashioned for ourselves to accommodate our individual version of existence ((absolute certainty (God) or less so (determinism)… without the robes:)

    I apologize if this was too heady an introduction to the New Year. Maybe we just raise a glass and hope for the best to one and all!

  4. What intrigues me about 2020 is that it is upon us: and yet I have distinct memories, as a kid in the early 1970s, of watching a Hannah-Barbera cartoon ‘Sealab 2020’. Because the millennium loomed as a hard-stop defining ‘the future’, 2020 seemed more like ‘the future of the future’. And the reality is, of course, utterly different from anything envisaged 50 years ago. Who’d have foreseen the break-down of the western social consensus to what amounts to tribalism, fostered by social media; the transfer of wealth from the poor to a very few ultra-rich – with resulting economic issues today – and so on? Of course the 1960s and 1970s had their own problems, not least a looming nuclear armageddon from the Cold War. But there remained a sense of hope in the way we saw the future which seems missing now. And understandably so.

    It’s unlikely 2020 will be a crunch year of itself, but unless something is done to halt the current trajectory it won’t be long before western civilisation (aka ‘world civilisation’, these days) drops to its knees. I suspect the decisive factor will be the ideological issues currently tearing more than one of the major nations apart, rather than the fact that we continue to pollute and consume as if there is no tomorrow. Definitely not the 2020 I envisaged as a kid!

    1. I saw something today on Facebook that intrigued my imagination. The distance from 2020 to 1990 is the same as from 2020 to 2050.

      I remember back in the 1960s there was a TV show called The Twentieth Century. It ran for many years, and then in the last few years, it changed its name to The Twenty-First Century. I thought the year 2000 was so damn far away. Now we’re 1/5th through the 21st-century.

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