Remember the Future ?

Written in response to a comment on a previous post.

As a kid in the 70′s and 80′s I was a huge science fiction fan – I still am.

If you’d asked me aged 10 what I wanted to do when I grew-up, I’d have said “go into space as an astronaut” !

Do you remember what the future was supposed to look like from the 1970′s ?

Tomorrow’s World and Star Trek promised us a utopian world filled with domestic robots doing our mundane chores, transport by jet-pack and hover car and perhaps the chance to explore the universe in sleek futuristic spacecraft.

But sometime during the 80′s the future began to look different – from Soylent GreenBlade Runner, and Robocop,  to the more recent Children of MenHalf-Life and The Road, popular visions of the future became far darker. Not that dystopias are anything new of course, but these pessimistic visions, loaded with societal breakdown and environmental degradation have now largely replaced any images of optimistic utopias in our popular cultural landscape.

Obviously much of this is just because imagined dystopian futures make for more exciting fiction, but I wonder to what extent it does reflect our deeper fears and anxieties about our future, facing possible economic collapse, social breakdown, pollution, peak oil-water-food, overpopulation and climate change ?

We seem to have no shortage of dire warnings and predictions of doom from many of the world’s scientists and commentators.

James Lovelock writes in his recent book The Revenge of Gaia, that the world’s climate tipping point may already have been reached, and he paints a possible apocalyptic future for coming generations.

Jared Diamond, in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, compares the current degradation of our civilization’s supporting ecologies with those of previous civilizations before their collapse.

Slavoj Zizek, one of the world’s most influential living philosophers, believes the film Children of Men contains many signals and portents for our future.

Michael Ruppert’s film Collapse predicts the impending collapse of post-oil, consumption-based global economics, with his Collapse Network website helpfully offering a chilling collapse preparation checklist !

What are we to make of these predictions of catastrophe and urgent warnings ?

How should we respond ?

Just like every other problem we face in life we have a choice: run and hide, surrender or fight.

Running away and hiding from problems rarely works, and certainly denying the reality of the current global threats won’t! The more serious the situation, the more important it is to quickly face-up to it, accept it and understand it correctly, in order to be able to apply the right remedy.

It’s undeniable the world does face a number of significant challenges, and simply burying our head in the sand will inevitably lead to disaster. Psychiatrists sometimes use the term ‘panglossian’ (from the character Dr Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide) to describe those who unreasonably and naively believe all is well in their life and the world, a form of extreme, almost pathological, optimism.

Similarly, giving-in and surrendering by asserting the hopelessness of the situation, and the pointlessness of even trying to remedy it, is just as ineffectual as denial. Defeatist ‘doomer’ pessimists don’t even get to enjoy the blissful ignorance of those in denial !

The result of groundless optimism or hopeless surrender is inevitably inaction, with the result that we continue on our present course, to its inexorable conclusion.

I believe that the only positive response is to choose to fight.

Fight in the sense of facing-up to the reality of the situation, and then doing everything we can to positively change our future, collectively and individually, and doing so with a sense of both urgency and hopeful optimism.

I think making changes in our lives to live more sustainably, be more compassionate and generous to others and, where possible, encourage others to do likewise, not only represents the greatest possibility of overcoming the various challenges the world faces, but is also likely to make our lives happier and more fulfilled, both as individuals and as communities.

I am generally a glass-half-full type of person, and am genuinely optimistic about the future. There are significant and urgent challenges ahead, but I’m confident we will, over time, succeed in building a better future for everyone on the planet. Of course there will be setbacks, perhaps some very significant ones, and things will never be perfect, but I like to think of myself as trying to be ‘part of the solution’, rather than the alternative . . .

I didn’t manage to become an astronaut, but I suppose I did get to travel through space . . . in the same sense that everyone living on the planet has :)   and in the words of Marshall McLuhan:

“There are no passengers on spaceship Earth, only crew”

Photo by NASA

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  1. Isabel – I was born in 1969, so I grew-up with an interesting mix of positive technological future visions, filled with computers, robots and spaceships, and 80s cold war visions of armageddon.

    I imagine these things shape us more than we realise – I’m certainly trying to instill realistic positive optimism into my kids . . . without it we’d probably all just sit around all day :)

  2. Very interesting idea Oli – not something I was aware of. The videos make lots of interesting points.

    I think it’s important to have attractive visions for the future, and this is something the green movement has struggled with in my opinion. It’s too easy to characterise green lifestyles as being about sorting and washing the recycling, composting toilet waste, growing potatoes and walking everywhere . . . clearly that isn’t going to appeal to a lot of people !

    I’ll do a bit more research and maybe write something in the future about post-scarcity

  3. Gareth Richards says:

    I remember Blakes 7 in which the future was a dystopia, the BBC response to Star trek.

    • I used to be a big Blakes 7 fan – any TV show that can run for two seasons without its main character, and then bring him back in the final episode only to kill him, deserves some respect :)

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