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In the frozen north there reside certain exotic Esquimeaux whose language, it is said, possesses 27 words for "snow" and yet not a single word for "future." Certain grammarians maintain, against the evidence of the senses and above the uproar of opposing grammarians and perhaps even Chomsky, Camille Paglia and the Pope herself, that the English language himself she have no future tense.
While these factoids may strike the casual reader as mere semantic quibbles, the unfortunate fact remains that in the 20th century the future is accelerating at an increasingly alarming rate. The atomic clock at the National Bureau of Weights and Measures is gaining time at a rate so intense that it is predicted by the year 2134 the future will overtake and perhaps even eclipse the present in absolute terms.
How close is the future? Science is uncertain. Take these examples. Be my guest.
Down through the ages wise persons have pondered the inexorability of the future and ways in which it might be prevented. Only rarely have they succeeded. Proponents and enthusiasts of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and scholars of the Hebrew scripture have long been cognizant of the fact that in the last half of the 13th century B.C. the sun stood still at Joshua's command for 24 hours, thus pushing back the future for "about a full day" and explaining the fact that Biblical literalists have traditionally been behind the times (Joshua 10: 12-14).
THE FUTURE—DOES IT EXIST? If so, who will control it? Time magazine associate editor Philip Elmer-DeWitt speaks of the "battle to control the future" now being waged by media giant Time Warner. In the May 23, 1994, issue of Time, Elmer-DeWitt tells it like it is:
"A few years ago, Department of Agriculture researchers tried to produce leaner pork by splicing a human gene into a pig embryo. What they got was a cross-eyed porker with crippling arthritis and a strangely wrinkled face."
Don't worry; the FDA says the genetically engineered "Flavr Savr" tomatoes are "safe" and the only opposition comes from those nattering nabobs of negativism, the sissy boys at the so-called "Pure Food Campaign" who call it "Frankentomato" and threaten a tomato-smashing boycott campaign.
Advances in genetic research and engineering rear the ugly heads of eugenics, selective tampering and genetic determinism. A surreptitious study of Mennonite twins in Holmes County, Ohio, from the late 1950s through the 1980s found that in 79% of all cases one twin grew up square and the other hip. Interestingly, the percentage of hipness in fraternal twins was 38%, whereas in identical twins it was only 18%. Obvious methodological questions raised by the study are 1) to what degree can hipness or squareness be quantitatively measured? 2) at what age can hipness/squareness be said to be definitively established? (This study used the Kaufmann-Driedger-Harder-Harder-Harder scale, administered to subjects at age 30.)
Ethical dilemmas abound. If hipness/squareness can be determined by amniocentesis, will the temptation be there for square parents to delete the hip fetus or vice versa? Even if current Mennonite parents are opposed to abortion, might there not be an indecipherable negative yearning on the part of the mom that might lead to a consciously unintentional but subconsciously highly intentional miscarriage, and as the future comes upon us and an abortion is so inconsequential that it can be accomplished with one tap of the delete key on the family home computer, can it even be labelled an ethical dilemma anymore?
Even now, in the Neanderthal present, as word diffuses among the simple Mennonite folk of Holmes County and beyond that a genetic test for hipness/squareness is available, what are the chances that square parents who desire square children or vice versa will, though not prone to go so far as an abortion, nevertheless subtly "weed the patch" and, on being apprised that a pregnancy features an unwanted hip fetus, go overboard and dress that child, when it is born, in a straitjacket of square living so outrageous and mind-bending that rather than run off to San Francisco to be a slacker the said child will, after years of Mennonite elementary school, Mennonite high school and Goshen College, indeed go to Mennonite seminary, then MCC, find a lovely Mennonite wife/husband and raise some good sound square Mennonite kids with Mennonite roots?
So don't worry; be happy. Technology is bringing us wonderful things even as we speak. The California designer underwear maker Joe Boxer now advertises "Contact us in underwear cyberspace: Internet firstname.lastname@example.org." Fear not—all your future intimate needs, emotional, physical, spiritual, hallucinatory and otherwise, are even now being satisfied, to your highly personalized specifications, in cyberspace, where your pulsating androgynous jelly of a brain sits enthroned in splendor amidst a fiber-optical web of dendrites, synapses twanging, bathed in reverberating iridescent mists of estrogen and testosterone, quivering silicone breast implants suffused with a rosy- hued pleasure, and oozing ithyphallic penile implants engorged to the max.
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