One thing that I see continually around me is people’s general lack of a positive vision for our future. We have a general lack of consensus around where we are going as a species, other than pictures of gloom related to any number of doomsday, grim terminal futures you see all around us. And the media certainly doesn’t have anything positive to say about us either.
Whether it be death by global warming, over population, the take-over of AI robot systems, a virus that will kill us all, a super volcano that will erupt, (religious) dooms day predictions or world war 3 nuclear visions… there is no end to our imagination working to help prevent us from total extinction, but no real cohesive vision for what humanity might look like in 100, 1,000 or even 10,000 years.
When I say “vision” I mean something positive that we co-develop, that forms the basis for a plan on where we are going, and what it is going to take to get there. Without a vision of where you are going, you just get circumstantial improvements based on a loose cohesion of individual improvements.
A vision to guide us
Without a vision of the future, progress will still happen, but it will be haphazard and random. With positive net progress happening, but with a lot of strife along the way, and potentially with extended periods of stagnation or even regression.
We will also be pulled sideways by people’s personal / institutional / government / corporate self-interests, rather than those of society. Yes, people act in protests and join social movements for change, and change does happen without a vision of the longterm-future, but I would argue that the progress we see is more driven by immediate issues that have bubbled up to the top rather than a guiding light we can use to see into the future.
We can make a much more concentrated and cohesive effort if we know where we are headed than just addressing the most pressing issues of today without tying them into a larger framework. If you try this in your business, you will never get out of dealing with firefighting emergencies and move ahead to actually growing the business. You start building a house without a plan.
Examples in society
While there are few models of humanities future that are truly inspirational, there are some.
Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek series was ground breaking in its vision of a positive future in human society where the full spectrum of the social condition was addressed. His vision was a utopian society with no need for money, where war and disease were distant memories. Some episodes went deeper into the concepts, like “The Neutral Zone” which explored the benefits of living in a post-monetary society, where abundance was secured for everyone.
There is also the Venus Project by Jacque Fresco with its focus on a resource based economy. Which promotes deriving a technological means within society that would create a high degree of abundance (through production, maintenance and library-like institutions) such that scarcity would be obsolete.
Or emergy accounting (with an M in energy) models that track the total energy of a system and utilize emdollars (em$) to present potential energy of a system rather than dollars, (our current monetary systems measures the scarcity of a product/service rather than the embodied energy/value of it). This concept is then cited by authors like David Holgrem in his book: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability as a means to move beyond a boom-bust economic cycle and into a future where humanity lives in dynamic equilibrium by valuing work equally and by directly measuring the sustainability of a system as its value (not its scarcity).
See also the late Buckminster Fuller. Who else do you know? Leave a comment!
How to get there
Having a vision of the future means developing a picture of where we are going and then working backwards to determine the steps we need to take to reach there. Knowing what steps need to be taken to reach our future goal is a very powerful thing, and helps realize potentially immediate and long lasting positive effects.
For example, let’s say that one of the visions we might develop for humanity is the reduction or elimination of work so that all people can lead a life of “self-actualization”. Work in the sense of the “work I need to do to meet my essential Safety and Physiological needs” as defined by Maslow’s pyramid:
If we wanted to provide these first two layers to everyone on earth, what would be the steps required to achieve this? One pathway might be to campaign for a reduction in the work week in exchange for maintaining the same wages. As we move from 5 days to 4 and then eventually to 3 and maybe even 2 or 1 day of work a week for the same living wage, our time would become freed up to pursue personal pursuits related to travel, education, volunteerism, research, art, mentoring and more.
Shift required-work to represent the amount of work I need to put in to satisfy my safety and physiological needs. Leaving the rest of my time for pursuits of love, belonging, esteem and self-actualization.
If this is our vision, work can be done today to actualize this right away. We can start companies that offer employees 36 or even 32 hours a week as their full-time employment norm, and we can fight as the employed to secure same pay for less work in the week. Gradually over time as we win additional days off we would/will as a society move towards our objective.
To give a second example, if we wanted to create more harmony on earth where people lived together without war, poverty and inequality – so that all people would be equal – we would begin to look more critically at the systems we have designed and how those might be changed to help create a more positive future.
Humanities vision board
If you read self help books, you will have undoubtedly read numerous times from numerous books how important it is to create a vision board and to visualize your future.
You have a vision of the life you want to live and the place you want to have and then you take the steps you need to make this happen in your life. We do this for our careers, we even do it for our relationships. Why would our society not do the same?
Once we have a vision of our future, and we work out the steps to achieve this vision, you have something then that is concrete that you can follow and enact. The steps will reveal themselves and progress is nearly inevitable, it comes together.
Effective societal change
Let’s take an example.
When people protest and demand change, you could separate these protests into two camps:
- Protests that have a clear goal
- Those that represent general or diverse discontent
You should be able to already see which of the two gets the job done. When people gather for general discontent, the demands & laments made of such a group are too diverse or generalized to be able to effect meaningful change. If a protest results in a revolution, and that revolution didn’t have a clear specific goal in place, it is very likely the new regime could even be a regression, rather than progression.
For example when the “occupy” movement pitched tents in Manhattan NY, the lists of issues they had were so diverse or generalized, no real direct meaningful policies were ever changed or came into effect. But when people march for a clear demand, for example: the right to vote, it becomes nearly unstoppable and inevitable that change happens towards the goals that people have.
This is true for any political party, movement, ideal or mission that one might have, it is how people work.
The methods of science applied to human concerns
While there can certainly be many pathways to reaching our longterm goals, the methods of science have a track record thus far of being a very powerful toolkit that can be directly applied towards the steps required to reach a desired outcome.
Through the application of testing, measuring and measurement of results we have the opportunity to not only make faster and better devices, but also to engineer a world where people are happy, more fulfilled and live more equally with greater overall opportunities for everyone. Meaning this is not about sharing what limited resources we have with others, depriving ourselves, it is about creating a world where there is more for everyone, while addressing key concerns about safety, crime, poverty, lack or opportunity, education and more.
So for example if we want to live in a society that has zero crime, getting there will most likely involve applying scientific methods. Do more police officers reduce crime? What effect does increasing police presence have on people’s well being? Does more rehabilitation help? Who are the people who end up in prison and what do they have in common with each other, are there patterns we can identify and resource at the source rather than dealing with the symptoms? Can we apply different policies in different but similar locations, and measure the impact different policies have in society?
As data is collected and various permutations are tested, our ability to reduce crime increases while people’s sense of well being and contentment also increases. Meaning if we are not only measuring the statistics of crime rates but also the sentiment of society as a result of policy changes, we can arrive at a future where all factors are being improved together instead of risking that one is improved while the other degrades.
At this point I would like to also ask the question why we elect politicians to enact policy when really it is the methods of science that should be driving policy? Democracy is a wonderful thing, and far better than we used to have, but should people who have no background in any sciences be the people in charge of making choices that affect our world? Why is it that a doctor needs to be qualified as a doctor but a politician, who has far more widespread impact on society as a whole and can kill or save millions, requires no specific education, training or practice to be placed in charge of us?
Hope from history
One common thread I hear a lot is that the current global situation is unique, and that we are doomed to destroy ourselves. The reality it though, we’ve been here before and our challenges are not only relatively basic, things a toddler needs to learn like: not taking care of our trash, not taking care of our pollution, learning how to share, but they are challenges life on earth has already been faced with and overcome.
It took single celled lifeforms 3.1 billion years to go from being largely single-minded cells that only thought of their personal benefit, to multicellular life 600 million years ago. Our bodies work in near-total cohesion as a single organism, and when a part of our body no longer listens to the collective instruction of our selves, we call that cancer.
Through biomimicry of what we observe in our inner worlds, we can achieve harmony in the outer-world. Time, the environment and our imagination are what drives us forward in the right direction.
We, meaning society, have more agency than the organisms that comprise us, we can move towards a more altruistic world, but first we have to realize that this is the future we would want to aspire to. We need to value and nurture our collective imagination.
What is your vision for the future of humanity?
I invite you to take a moment yourself now to jot down on paper what your vision of the future might be.
Who are we in 100 years, 1,000 years or in 10,000 years?
Be bold, be optimistic.
There is no point in painting a doomed future vision for us if you can’t see up towards the light.
We need a light to guide us.
What future will you imagine?