What Came Next

Subject to change

Take a prediction about the future that we might all agree on: in two hundred years, our collective opinion about which 20th century pop musician is most overrated will be different than it is today.

Sure. Makes sense. Attitudes are always changing.

What if I told you it will be Michael Jackson?

Perhaps I should have started out with a trigger warning.

To drive someone crazy, be specific about the future.

Chuck Klosterman argues in But What If We’re Wrong? that a crucial bias in how we view the present day stems from our inability to imagine it as the distant past. We agree that we think about the world differently than people living a century ago, and we can also imagine that people a century from now will view the world quite differently than today.

Until we get specific. As Klosterman observes in his interview with Marc Maron:

“Everyone in the abstract sort of accepts this, but as soon as you start talking about specific ideas that we might be wrong about people are very uncomfortable. They need to feel a degree of certitude about specifics even if they can accept in a general sense that they might know nothing.”

We agree in the abstract. We disagree in the particular. The need for certitude casts a shadow over the sea of our beliefs:

Our moral and political opinions, the durability of our fondest memories, our affection for friends and family and total strangers, the virtue of technological progress, the safety of genome hacking, the stability of national borders, the superiority of science to mysticism, diversity to homogeny, The Beatles to The Monkees.

Yes, you say, I know these are all subject to change. Of course they are. Except, except, except.