In his recent book, Imaginary Futures, Richard Barbrook describes how “imaginary futures” were promoted by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War (1947-1991) to describe their vision for the future in attempts to gain influence and allies around the world. An “imaginary future” was (and still is) a description of how things “will be” under a given power’s social system. Barbrook documents this Cold War competition for the imaginary future. Reading his book left this reader asking, “What is the imaginary future of the United States of today?”
Barbrook cites a number of documents and books that describe how, during the Cold War, the U.S. perfected and promoted its imaginary future in contrast to — while borrowing heavily from — the ideologies and strategies of its well-defined Communist enemy, the U.S.S.R. A number of groups, individuals and programs were bankrolled and/or started by the U.S. government (with names like the Bell Commission and Congress for Cultural Freedom) to perfect and propagate its imaginary future. The space race of the late 1950s and ’60s is a good example of how the competition worked — the U.S.S.R. launched sputnik and designed it so U.S. ham radio operators could hear it; the U.S. sent the first man to the moon and sent a TV camera along to beam the image back to terrestrial networks. Through the creation and promotion of its own imaginary future, the United States won admiration from many around the world, and locked in the allegiance of its citizens.
Today, it appears the U.S. — either unintentionally or by design — has revised its imaginary future one more time, again in contrast to an “enemy.” The role the U.S.S.R. used to fill is now filled by less-defined players like the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other religious extremist groups. If it exists, this new imaginary future appears to be contrasting and borrowing heavily from the theocratic doctrines of a lose-knit network of enemies. Evidence of this new iteration may be found in the rise of theocratic rhetoric being used by the Bush Administration, elected officials and U.S. citizens — all who evoke the “Word of God” to justify their ideas. Boiled down, these U.S. voices say to the extremists, “We know and obey God better than you know and obey God.”
The danger with building our imaginary future in contrast to, while borrowing heavily from, our enemies is that doing so causes us to mimic traits of that enemy. In today’s United States, the perceived enemies want theocratic totalitarianism. Who, in their right minds, wants “better” theocratic totalitarianism?
Perhaps it’s time for us to define our nation’s aspirations, values and ideals independent from those of our perceived and real enemies. So ask yourself this, “What do you want the future of the United States to be?” Your comments are welcome.