Too much science fiction creates only one set of social customs for "the future" -- it basically assumes that things change a bit from today until they have adapted to "future technology," and then remain frozen in that form from now until the heat-death of the Universe. Well, maybe not that long, but it sometimes seems that way.
In this article I'll show a simple way that this can be avoided in the construction of a future history, by charting in a very basic fashion the variations in sexual mores of an imagined future society, my "American Mandate."
The American Mandate
The "American Mandate" future history is based on Spenglerian and Toynbeeian cyclic history. It assumes that, over the 21st century, the present-day global order coalesces around the United States of America as the Universal State of the West. In the West's last great burst of creativity and expansion, other worlds of the Solar System are colonized, but then the West sinks into its cultural "winter." America, now a semi-fascist republic under "Chief Commanders," sometimes referred to as the "American Mandate," rules the Inner System; while new cultures, collectively called the "Outies," are born and grow great out beyond the Asteroid Belt. Eventually, America declines and is conquered by the more vital and energetic "Outie" civilizations.
The Sexual More Rating System
Since I'm being simple here, I will analyze the population in "generational" cohorts of 25 years (an oversimplification as real "generations" are more on the order of 20-22 years). This allows me four cohorts born per century, as follows "01-25," "26-50," "50-75" and "76-00." The precise length chosen for one's cohorts is arbitrary, though note that real human customs rarely change drastically over any period of time shorter than a decade, and when they do change that rapidly it is usually under some extreme stress such as a devastating plague, disastrous war or major philosophical upheaval.
Again keeping it basic, we will analyze sexual mores on a unidimensional "strictness of morality" (which is a major oversimplification) with five levels: from least to most strict we shall call them "Licentious," "Free," "Normal," "Restrained" and "Puritanical." We shall set "Normal" to be the equivalent of American morality in the mid-20th century, with "Free" being the equivalent of American morality today, "Licentious" the "free-love" subculture of c. 1965-75, "Restrained" being Edwardian middle-class and "Puritanical" Victorian middle-class values.
Here we go:
Period Level Comments
2001-2025: Free Present-day.
2026-2050: Normal Continuation of current conservative trend.
2051-2075: Free Period of foreign and civil wars: fall of the Republic.
2076-2100: Normal-Restrained Formation of American Mandate, new idealism.
2101-2125: Restrained Heavy propaganda preventing renewed sexual liberation.
2126-2150: Restrained-Normal Moral decline under the mad Commander, Lee III.
2151-2175: Normal-Free Continued moral decline under the two later Lees.
2176-2200: Free-Normal Lees fall, Mandate reformed, public morality recovering.
2201-2225: Normal Moral recovery, but not to restraint of earlier Mandate.
2226-2250: Restrained Despite First Solar War, the Inner System long stable.
2251-2275: Normal Social exuberance in first decades of Long Peace.
2276-2300: Free Society relaxes in the enjoyment of Long Peace.
2301-2325: Normal Moral reform under Murasaki the Great.
2326-2350: Restrained America at apogee: great morality and public pride.
2351-2375: Restrained-Free Near social collapse under the shock of the Metaplague.
2376-2400: Free-Normal The Mandate recovers from demographic devastation.
2401-2425: Normal-Licentious Second near collapse due to defeat in Second Solar War.
2426-2450: Licentious-Free The Mandate begins a partial recovery.
2451-2475: Free Society remains troubled: plots and finally a civil war.
2476-2500: Licentious The Time of Troubles: all values are adrift.
(Note: split-values means that the early part of that generation learns the first-named value set, while the later part of that generation learns the last-named value set. Change is usually only by one level per generation, but under exceptional circumstances can happen more rapidly).
There you have it: five hundred years of social history (in the single aspect of sexual morality) condensed into twenty lines -- very much oversimplified, but providing a quick way to imagine part of the background of any character from this universe -- and containing a hidden complexity.
The complexity lies in the fact that a person's basic values are formed in their first decades of life. A person born in, say, 2088 ("Restrained") will by age 60 in 2148 in a "Normal" era, but this does not mean that his own values will have changed as rapidly as those of the younger generation. He may well look at the immorality of the younger set with disapproval and disdain. Likewise, the person born in 2288, in the "Free" times following the conquest of the Jovian System, will at 60 in 2348 be living in the "Restrained" period of Murasaki the Great, and may find the younger folk to be boringly strait-laced by his standards.
What this does to science fiction is offer the prospect of social change: and not just the unidirectional social change of "In the Past we lived [like we do in 2011], but now we live [like the author's ideological hobbyhorse]. Real history doesn't work like this: customs change back and forth, often in a rather cyclic fashion. Technology enjoys a "ratchet effect," as I've described, but society does not: it drifts about under the influence of various forces. Even if it moves in one direction for a long time, eventually some new factor will push or pull it in another.
I demonstrated how to do this for sexual customs, but social change can be charted for any social factor. Liberty, economic growth, the popularity of novelty fake-noses-and-moustaches -- anything. This is a tool of considerable power and versatility, which can help a future history come alive, and I urge its more general use.