Chuck Klosterman's new book is called But What If We're Wrong? Talking About the Present As If It Were the Past. It is rich and deeply informative and brilliantly entertaining. Mind blowing in a way. Similar in some ways to Malcolm Gladwell's books.
It's purportedly about what the people of the future - 2066, 2116, 3016 - will know about the late 20th and early 21st century. Another way to say this is that the book is filled with Klosterman's predictions about what will be remembered about the present in 50, 100, or 1000 years.
He starts by examining what we now know. Or think we know - he puts a lot of emphasis on how difficult it is to predict the future when we don't really know what's going on and has gone on in our own day. He spends a good deal of time talking about rock and roll, rock 'n roll, rock, and pop - four very different genres between which even now we are beginning to be foggy when it's time to name the "greats." Will Elvis represent the late 20th century in three hundred year or might it be Dylan? Is there a chance The Rolling Stones will be forgotten and The Monkees will be revered? Alas, all too good a chance.
To demonstrate rather effectively the problem we're facing he suggests a game. Ask someone to name quickly, off the top of their head, a well-known figure from various times in the present and the past.
21st, 20th, 19th, 18th centuries. 17th century - now the problems begin. Almost anyone who has been sentient for the last 20 years or so should be able to name a handful of people who were alive between 1600 and 1699. Pocahontas, Louis XIV, Christopher Wren, Milton, Handel, Rembrandt. But it's here that folks begin to have a problem picturing exactly when Newton was examining apples and Shah Jahan was building the Taj Mahal.
16th century - I did fine here: Martin Luther, Cortes, Michelangelo, Cervantes. 15th century - I came up with Gutenberg and Boccaccio. Except I've since looked it up and I was wrong about Boccaccio. 14th century - Dante and Chaucer. A ruler? Um, Richard III? 13th century - Bacon. And, . . . Thomas a Becket? Turns out I got that one wrong too.
When we reach the 12th century I can no longer go on. With all my education and reading I can't off the top of my head confidently name one figure who I'm certain lived in the 12th century. Most people don't get past Shakespeare. So how much of our age will be remembered in 200 or 300 years? And what of all the rich choices we have today will having staying power?
After making his point, Klosterman wanders through a great many topics, including science and especially sports. Malcolm Gladwell has predicted that professional football will be done in 25 years. And with the rest of his startling predictions the author is able to give some more or less convincing evidence.
It would be a totally different wold. But different worlds are created all the time and the wold we're currently building does not reasonably intersect with the darker realities of team sports. We want a pain-free world where everyone is the same, even if they are not. That can't happen if we're still keeping score.
The temptation here is to go and on because so much of what the author talks about is new. These ideas haven't been in the wind. We haven't faced many of the arguments he makes and examples he gives are, as I suggested, mind blowing.