By Glen Hiemstra | April 10th, 2011
Later this week, on April 15, 2011, I will be doing presentations to the World Foresight Forum event in The Hague, Netherlands. On that day I will be part of a panel entitled Roadmaps for a Shared Future, where we will discuss envisioning alternative futures in the context of the “Gross National Happiness Index” as proposed by French President Sarkozy. Thinking about alternative visions brought me back to this article that I wrote originally in early 2001. It can be found in our article archives, but is worth sharing here once again, I think. It was written prior to 9/11, by the way.
Any student of the rise and fall of cultures cannot fail to be impressed by the role played in this historical succession by the image of the future. The rise and fall of images precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as a society’s image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive. (The Image of the Future, Fred Polak, 1961)
I have been thinking about images of the future lately. I have noticed that when I complete one of my typically positive and optimistic presentations, a certain number of people will stand in line to comment. Some wish to say that they appreciate the hopeful view of the future, but a surprising number wish to say that I am wrong, that things are bad, worse than they have ever been, and getting even worse by the moment. We do not have long to last, they say.
It is not so much that I am surprised at this view, or even that within particular limited domains the view might have some validity. It is consistently surprising, rather, to notice how pleased many people are with their assessment of the future. A few are positively giddy that things are so bad.
Perhaps it is that certain types thrive on crisis. Perhaps a dour view of the general future allows the satisfaction of feeling lucky that your personal future does not look so bad. Surveys for years have demonstrated that people tend to be more optimistic about their own future than about the future in general.
What happens when a growing proportion of a society adopts a decaying view of the future? Which vision of the future is dominant in post-industrial world-around culture today?
Robert Heilbroner, in his 1995 book, Visions of the Future, outlines three historical visions of the future, which have existed successively in the Distant Past, Yesterday and Today.
By the “Distant Past” Heilbroner refers to all of human existence from the…read on.