Assuming we’re still here
Laura Ingalls Wilder was born on February 7, 1867 and died on February 10, 1957. Rereading her books as an adult, some of them are implicitly darker than I remembered.
In Little House in the Big Woods, during a particularly rough winter, Charles and Caroline (the parents) have an ominous conversation that hints it might be more merciful to kill their kids than to let them starve to death.
Charles Ingalls had a single shot rifle, and he needed it to survive. He made his own bullets and was constantly wary of what they referred to as “panthers,” which we now more commonly call cougars or mountain lions. Apparently, they were everywhere.
There were negative feelings toward Native Americans, which at the time is understandable, but Charles tells his kids — perhaps not in the most politically correct terms today — that people of other races were basically the same as them, and just trying to make decent lives for themselves.
At the end of Little House in the Big Woods, Charles laments letting a deer live. He apologizes to his family, but tells them it looked too beautiful to kill on the snowy path in the moonlight, and they forgive him.
A lot of strange shit happens, or at least strange to me. Charles comes home one day with an enormous dead bear. They keep its frozen carcass hanging in the barn so he can hack off a few chunks for them to eat each day with his ax.
While their way of life was lonely and grueling, for the most part, it’s still relatable. Maybe I didn’t understand everything, and some of their views about religion, animals, and life in general seemed brutal and backwards, but they typically agreed about helping out their friends and families.
Of course these books were largely written through rose-colored glasses, and I’d wager that there were just as many ignorant bigots — if not more — wandering around then as there are now.
Regardless, I can at least understand the perspectives of most of the characters, including the negative attitudes toward Native Americans. Most pioneers were living out in the middle of nowhere, and assumed they were just minding their own business and trying to get by.
Meanwhile, they were being attacked by Native Americans, for reasons largely beyond their comprehension. They didn’t have Google back then to tell them what was going on between Native Americans and the federal government.
I used to think the most unrealistic part of Superman was that the vast majority of an advanced civilization completely ignored all of its best scientists. They had a scientific consensus that their planet was going to explode, and they all just kind of shrugged their shoulders and told the scientists to piss off.
And of course, Krypton did explode, because detecting these kinds of threats is what these scientists were supposed to be doing.
Your best experts agree that disaster is imminent, you have the technology to prevent it or flee or at least do something, and you just decide to screw it, because what do those eggheads know anyway? It’s always something with them — the ozone, polluted rivers, blah blah blah. And we’re all fine.
It’s the logic of a town that fires its police department because crime isn’t a problem anymore.
Life in 70 years
Our descendants, assuming we have any, are going to be a lot less forgiving than we are to the Ingalls family, and they are going to be completely baffled.
So you knew about anthropogenic climate change, and that you were running out of fossil fuel anyway. You had all of the technology and resources you needed to resolve the problem, and you just collectively decided not to bother?
Nuclear power could have given everyone access to light and electricity and made desalinating water and scrubbing the atmosphere feasible, but you were too irrationally afraid of imaginary problems to deal with the real ones?
What’s going to really piss them off is finding out how long we knew about all of this. We’ve suspected anthropogenic climate change since the early 19th century, and over the years, we’ve literally seen its effects with our own eyes, and still, we did nothing? What the hell is wrong with us?
Perhaps most enraging of all, a few of these survivors will still have access to Little House in the Big Woods and Superman.
As they’re churning butter and hacking bears to pieces, they’ll be thinking about us — of how we escaped all of this. It took the best and the brightest and an enormous effort, but we did it. But we were just too damn lazy to keep it up.
Then they’ll see Superman and their anger will be palpable. They’ll wonder if it’s a cautionary tale, or an instruction manual. If you want to destroy your planet, ignore all of your scientists and do nothing.
I see backbreaking labor making a huge comeback in the future, as well as wars over fresh water and other resources, and our progeny are not going to appreciate it.
So what will future generations think of us? At this rate, they’ll probably want to murder us, and I can’t blame them.