What the future brings

Choices.
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Does anyone else share this feeling that humankind is closing in on a dramatic climax? On the one hand, the climate catastrophe, rising tensions between governments and within countries around the world and, of course Covid-19, seem to indicate a world that is stumbling closer to the abyss.

On the other hand, especially scientific advances are giving reasons for hope. From plastic-digesting bacteria, over advances in energy generation, food creation and genetic engineering to super intelligent AI, the list of things that promise a future that can facilitate a European Middle Class lifestyle for everyone while eliminating all of its negative externalities seems so close you can smell it.

Socially and, for lack of a better word, spiritually as well, things seem to be changing. For one, solidarity and active support for the recent protests in the United States has been overwhelming around the world. But I don’t know if it is because of my hippie ways of the past few years, but maybe there actually is a generation of people growing up who are sick of the bullshit of the past and ready to focus on the essential, rather than the boastful or egocentric.

In all, there are enough reasons to paint a perfectly hopeful, or perfectly dreadful picture of the future that awaits us. Personally, I keep getting this sense of a race between those futures, combined with a strong feeling that whichever one will make it will do so by an incredibly small margin.

And that is where that ‘sense’ ends. Rather anticlimactic really, but it just creates this underlying feeling of subtle anxiety that is neither here nor there when it comes to inspiring something actually useful. Well, except for the thought about power, that is.

Power in the sense that I personally feel rather disappointingly powerless to tip the scales towards an ending that everyone can cheer for with joy rather than terror. But also power in the sense that which future awaits will depend largely on whether or not we finally get our heads around that all-transcending problem of power itself.

Why are intergovernmental tensions, interior political conflicts, corporate greed, and many of these other problems such a challenge in the first place? Because if a country or political party does not opt for maximum influence and a corporation does not grind out maximum profits then they will just be swallowed up by a competitor.

Hence, it is extremely difficult to slow things down on the destructive side. It is that old prisoner’s dilemma problem of game theory, where the option that would promise the maximum net gain to all players if everyone cooperated, simultaneously harbors the greatest risks if another player decides not to cooperate, acts in self-interest and forces everyone else in a losing position. And nobody can guarantee that all players will be faithful cooperators in the game of power politics, especially considering the number of “strong-man” leaders the world is blessed with right now.

So, I guess hopes must rest on the constructive side winning the race. Hopes that scientific progress will make most conflicts for resources obsolete and that social progress will take care of racial, cultural, or other purely interpersonal conflicts. And make no mistake, I’m sure all of this can happen. Doesn’t do much for that sense of anxiety, though. In the end, it will depend on all of us individually.

13 thoughts on “What the future brings

  1. I keep having a private chuckle when I see Amazon’s commercial about going green (or whatever they say) by 2040 because unless there is immediate, abrupt, snd rapid worldwide change I don’t see our species making it past 2030.

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    1. Not making it with our heads held high at least. Hopefully the pandemic will be cause for some reconsideration. In Europe it seems to be happening on the surface level, but whether or not there will be substantial change will probably depend on how much the wider population wants it and is willing to demand it.

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      1. I was disappointed to see how rapidly the Black Lives Matter movement faded. Also that some local businesses still haven’t taken down their plywood after the riots. My area got hit pretty hard but most of the plywood was put up in prep for a 2bd night of riots that never happened.

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        1. Well, people are afraid. Afraid of the “mob”, the police, the pandemic… Not exactly a recipe for rational behaviour, whether the fear is justified or not. What will matter is new legislation, what it targets and how far it reaches.

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  2. I haven’t thought about the prisoner’s dilemma in a long time. Thank you for reminding me about game theory. Yes, it is interesting that the most beneficial way to live is if everyone cooperates, but the ONE person who cheats reaps huge benefits. I see (some) politicians, entrepreneurs, financiers, and executives taking advantage of the situation, especially the politician, entrepreneur, and executive who is the president of our country!
    I think hippies had the right idea – peace and love.

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  3. M&M,
    I’ve been thinking about your post and how to respond. The problem with humans is that we want to be able to control and the more we try and control, the less we’re able to. It becomes a vicious circle if we let it. We do live in anxiety-provoking times; and it does feel like the world has shifted, is still shifting, yet we have no clue what that’s going to mean once it’s settled down. So just for today, we live as if. We live as if we are the change we’d like to see in the world. We live as if things are going to work out for the best. We live as if what we do matters. We try and do the best we can with what we have. We focus on our courage to change our sphere with kindness and we trust and accept that which we cannot change, that it is not meant for us to change but for someone else or something else to do what we can’t. In other words, we try to embrace The Serenity Prayer. We live in the moment with gratitude for the past and a nod and a wink toward the future. And don’t forget to breathe.
    I love your honesty in what you write and your love for life! I’m looking forward to your next post! Mona

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  4. As a pessimist (realist) I see a ‘dreaded’ future. But in truth, what will probably happen is things will get better and worse throughout our lifespans. Some areas improving dramatically (medicine) and other areas degrading (environment). We’ll continue to lope along and the huge things (like the pandemic) will ultimately be taken in stride and we’ll adapt and get used to that new normal everyone keeps talking about.

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    1. Yes I agree, and hope you are right! Our track record certainly seems to suggest that what you say is true. What worries me is that our growing collective capacity for greatness goes both ways. We can do ever greater good, but also ever greater bad. As a result, we could eventually be our own “Great Filter” and harm ourselves beyond our ability to adapt.

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