JF Ptak Science Books Post 1312
Earlier in this blog, about two years ago, I wrote a piece on David Byrne's beautiful Knee Plays, which included a song "In the Future". The post was about Byrne's vision of the future which was bounced off the belly of "futurist" Herman Kahn, a man who was widely influential and whose thinking (I do believe) was widely incorrect. He was also a proponent of possible first-strike (that is, American-initiated) nuclear warfare, deeming the scenarios "winable"., a broad thinker on Thinking-the-Unthinkable, and coiner of the word "megadeath" when used in conjunction with his nuclear end-game games. A main component of the template for Dr. Strangelove in Kubrick's movie by that name, Kahn and the think tank he helped found (the Hudson Institute) had the ear of the Reagan administration, among others, and it shows.
Here's the revised post, expanded some.
David Byrne, former Talking Heads member, produced a series of twelve short pieces to be used in the Philip Glass (and Robert Wilson*) Opera CIVIL warS in 1985. (“Opera” may not be the right word for this piece, as I think it was one only in so far as the composition needed an opera house to be performed in.) The Byrne pieces, called ”Knee Plays”, were meant to fill in the spaces, the spaces in-between, place holders, between the sections of the day-long multimedia production.. Glass had used this idea of inter-pieces to the whole earlier in 1976 in his at-the-edge Einstein on the Beach, in which the connective elements were meant to not only join the pieces of the production together, but were also meant to stand alone, as a cohesive unit, if removed from the opera. (Glass said they were “short connecting pieces which appear throughout the work much as prelude, interludes and post-ludes. Taken together they form a play in themselves”)
One of the Knee Plays, “In the Future” (Knee Play Number 12) is a slippery, stacatto brass section accompanying Byrne’s 51 sophisms about life in the future. About thirty years earlier, “futurist” and think-tank-filler (or maybe it was “Think Tub”?) Herman Kahn (1922-1983), occupying a lot of space at the RAND and Hudson Institutes (he was also known in many circles as the “Fat Man”), diligently recorded his myopic views of the future. He is generally regarded as a systems theory and military strategy guy, and is most remembered for (as he claims, perhaps) introducing the term “Vietnamization” which described the ultra-failed de-escalation (?) process and withdrawal for the United States from Vietnam (attention Obama administration). Superluminarily speaking though his contribution to thought on constructing and implementing thought regarding nuclear weapons exchange (pointless to refer to this as “war”) in several books, including On Thermonuclear War (1960), Thinking About the Unthinkable (1962) and, On Escalation (1965), where he famously put The Bomb on the table of use possibilities. In addition to these books—which he is busily trying to forget out there in his afterlife, somewhere, maybe in a penitential place where you are forced to think endlessly about paths-to-bad-decisions) is that 1967 peek into the future, The Year 2000. Petroleum and oil are not issues. Computers are of minor societal importance. And then other things of no importance happen.
When you take Byrne's Knee Play 12 and place it next to Kahn and other mis-spent prognosticators, the musician looks positively brilliant. Some of the stuff has come to pass, some hasn't; some will, and some won't. Some are open to a little interpretation, and some, a lot. Overall, though, if you think through these little future bullets a little carefully, David Bryne looks very good. Byrne's lyrics/list is below.
Kahn's writing is necessarily less elegant than Byrne's, and probably less elegant than most other people in general including those who don't write, though it does lower itself to some height of governmental semi-speak. For example, from his July 1957 RAND paper "War Gaming" (available at our blog bookstore, HERE), we find this nugget:
I have no doubt that Kahn looks like a warrior to many people--he no doubt was something of one, so long as that warrior could wear a white button-down shirt and not get dirty. Simply because a person is thought of as a "warrior" doesn't make them a 'good" one, either, and I think that I would nominate Herman Kahn as an example of one: in my own approximation of Kahn-speak, he would "generate the apparent non-non appearance in definable though undefined parameters as a non-good non-warrior in circumstances that defined or not define him/them in this semi-stable manner".
I think it is important to look at documents like this--documents that helped establish military policy--to see how their authors were able to convince people in government that they could divide by zero.
*Robert Wilson is a phenomenal conceptualist and theatrical designer. On the liner notes to CIVIL warS is found the interesting note on Wilson and Byrne: "At first, Robert Wilson asked David to compose pieces for several sections of The CIVIL warS, but on account of David's limited time, he composed only The Knee Plays part. The CIVIL warS was supposed to be played in its complete form at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, but if one plays every part, it takes at least eight hours. There was also a financial problem for playing every part. So only some parts of it were staged there. David himself was very interested in composing for such a play and dance and this time again he enjoyed this work very much. Last time, for The Catherine Wheel, he used recorded tape, but this time he made musicians play on the stage."
(Featuring a prominent role for The Tuba)
IN THE FUTURE (KNEE PLAY 12)
In the future everyone will have the same haircut and the same clothes
In the future everyone will be very fat from the starchy diet
In the future everyone will be very thin from not having enough to eat
In the future it will be next to impossible to tell girls from boys, even in bed
In the future men will be 'super-masculine' and women will be 'ultra-feminine'
In the future atomic fusion will enable us to build a skyscraper with
the energy obtained from a grain of salt
In the future through genetic surgery there will be a race of menial
workers, studs, 'whores', TV personalities and politicians
In the future half of us will be 'mentally ill'
In the future there will be no religion or spiritualism of any sort
In the future the 'psychic arts' will be put to practical use
In the future we will not think that nature is beautiful
In the future the weather will always be the same (relative to the way it is now)
In the future no one will fight with anyone else because anyone can
be anything he or she want to be
In the future there will be an atomic war that will reduce the survivors to savages
In the future water will be expensive
In the future all material items will be free
In the future everyone's house will be like a little fortress
In the future everyone will think about love all the time
In the future TV will be so good that the printed word will function as an artform only
In the future people with boring jobs will take pills to relieve boredom
In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very happy
In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very filthy
In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very wealthy
In the future communication/distribution systems will be so good that no
one will live in cities
In the future farming will be managed through a nationwide computer hookup
In the future there will be mini-wars going on everywhere
In the future political and other decisions will be based completely on opinion polls
In the future only the very wealthy will be able to travel or move out their houses
In the future individuals with soldier inclinations will go out for 'killer' sports
In the future there will be machines which will produce a religious
experience in the user
In the future there will be a classless society, no one richer than anyone else
In the future people will constantly be having plastic surgery, altering
their features many times during a lifetime
In the future there will be many mass suicides
In the future there will be groups of wild people, living in the wilderness,
who will rob suburbanites
In the future there will be only paper money which will be personalized
In the future everyone will only get to go home once a year
In the future everyone will stay home all the time
In the future we will not have time for leisure activities
In the future we will only 'work' one day a week
In the future our bodies will be shriveled up but healthy and our brains will be bigger
In the future there will be starving people everywhere
In the future no one will be able to afford TV or newspapers, resulting in
no one knowing what's going on
In the future people will live in space
In the future only the very wealthy will have pets
In the future the poor will be regulated by the rich
In the future the crippled, retarded, and helpless will be killed
In the future everyone's house will be a total entertainment centre, with
video, pills, dancing, sex tools, holographic movies, and game machines
In the future everyone will have his or hers own individual style of very way-out clothes
In the future we will all eat our favorite foods, only they will all be synthetic
In the future we will fuck anything, anytime, anywhere
In the future there will be so much going on that no one will be able to keep track of it