Something that I read weeks ago, maybe months ago, has stuck in my mind: that Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, believed that in the future, men wouldn’t have any hair on their chests, and demanded that Captain Kirk (William Shatner) shave his chest before playing any bare-chested scenes.
And maybe this prediction is coming true. There was never any smoking in Star Trek, and maybe that’s coming true as well. And the girls in Star Trek wore miniskirts, and girls still wear them now.
I was thinking this morning that, although I tend to load most of the blame for the War on Smoking on the zealots in Tobacco Control, it was ordinary MPs in parliament – Labour, Lib Dem, and Conservative – that voted through the UK’s draconian smoking ban. Assuming that not all those MPs were antismoking zealots, why did they do that?
And I suspect that the real reason was that, just like Gene Roddenberry believed the future would be chest hair-free, they believed the future was going to be smoke-free. And they were just voting for something that was going to inevitably happen anyway, and they shouldn’t place any obstacles in its way. To do that would be to try to stop the future from happening. Which couldn’t be done without causing some sort of awful pile-up.
I think a lot of modern politics works like this. We carry around an image of what the future is going to be like, and it serves as a sort of ideal or template or signpost. It gives us a way of measuring the present progress we’ve made in our passage from the past to the future.
I think that for many Europeans the EU “project” is a similar internalised ideal. It’s what many people see as the future, and towards which all progressives should strive. Anything else is unthinkable, and frightening. And can’t happen.
The Green movement has another vision of the future, which is of a humanity that has returned to a green Eden, from which all industry has been banished, and which is entirely powered by solar panels and windmills.
There are other powerful visions of the future. For example that the future will see the exploration of outer space, and the colonisation of Mars and a few other places. That it will be multi-cultural (another feature of Star Trek). That there’ll equality of the sexes, equality of everything.
All these various visions of the future have currently merged together into a single orthodox (or politically correct) vision of the future. And the job of the progressive politician is to vote in whatever way is necessary to enable the actualisation of the future, checking all the smoke-free, low-carbon, gender-neutral, Green, EU boxes as they are presented to him/her.
The box-checking entails no heart-searching. Any barbarity is permissible in furthering and actualising the future. It doesn’t matter if smokers are ejected from society, because smokers and smoking belong to the past. Neither does it matter if the windmills are eyesores that keep people awake and decimate bird life. Nor does it matter if the EU common currency is a restrictive straitjacket. These things are all the future, and everyone must get used to them. Because there’s no escape from the future.
All concerned march in step towards the future that they see before them, trampling over anything and anyone in their way.
They are spellbound, captives of a vision. And they will remain spellbound until, despite having religiously checked all the boxes, they find that the bright future they have pursued turns out to be a nightmare.
Or it may also be that the spell is broken when people act decisively to reject the future before they reach that pass.
And this is something that might well happen in the UK with the EU Referendum in June, when the British people may well choose to reject their future in the EU, and in doing so make a lot of other people realise that the EU may not be the future, and that other futures are possible – that rather than being closed, the future is wide open.
And maybe when one component vision of the future can be rejected, all the other futures can be rejected too. Maybe the future won’t be Green? Or low-carbon? Or multi-cultural? Or smoke-free? Or gender-neutral? Maybe humans will remain forever earthbound? Maybe an entire guiding vision of the future will dissolve and vanish, and we will have no idea what the future will bring.
And maybe men will still have hairy chests?