Vinay Gupta has begun a project, The Future We Deserve; a series of short essays coming together live on Appropedia.
The Future: Our “now” is continually replenished. We notice trends and run vectors to imagine “the future.” Modernism – long-scale, 15th Century to Present – fetishized the future, a dream-scape we inhabit vicariously. Other cultures did this with the past, or an after-life. Our tendency is to imagine Heaven or Hell, and foresee Utopia or Apocalypse.
We: Our reflex is to identify parochially or globally, “people just like me,” or we try to be all-inclusive. In either case we project a stereotype ahead in time.
Deserve: Cause and effect exists. We tend to conflate causality with expectations based on morality or fairness resulting in language like “deserving.” Depending on how we feel about our “we,” we deserve Heaven or Hell, and posit a Utopian or Apocalyptic “future.”
We can never break out of our subjectivity, but that doesn’t nullify the exercise. Realizing the impossibility of entering a realm in which our assumptions line up with reality is a first step towards changing how we interact with the world; leading to looking at the future in a fundamentally different way, stepping beyond our modernist habits. Instead of building fanciful scenarios upon wishful foundations, it requires us to be disciplined and humble. We can define elements that may impact our future, we can generate thought-experiments to gain experience beyond the actual, we can habituate ourselves to change; but we do so with a greater awareness of our limited abilities, not only to predict, but to drive change that does not simply make things worse.
We live in an emotional landscape defined by optimism, pessimism, willfulness and hope. These cardinal points mean more to us than any reality. We measure the world from our favorite quadrant. Unless we challenge this compass, we wander our landscape with no way to see beyond our desires. This is a fact we cannot ignore, but we can acclimate ourselves to subjectivity and improve our chances of finding an effective engagement.
If this project is to be useful, it needs to step beyond “What if?” where we take our wishes – optimistic or pessimistic – as starting points, and apply our brand of willfulness or hope as we imagine how they might play out. To fail in this way is to admit we are only hammers looking for nails and ensures we have little or no agency as we remain trapped within our illusions.
Here is where our future will play out. Can we maintain our desire for effective agency? Can we deal with intractable decline? Can we develop acceptance? Can we keep from spinning out imagined futures, either worldly or heavenly, and simply inhabit our present as each ‘now’ comes upon us?
You hit what you’re aiming at as all those skid-marks ending at solitary poles and trees testify. If we limit our aim to what we currently envision we are bound to run into whatever we fear lies behind it. The only way out of this trap is to remain present. This can potentially cycle us into realms beyond our current view. To accept this choice is to wager, pitting certain failure if we stay on our customary path, attempting to plan and control our reality, against the chance that we can broaden our range of possibility by letting go of the wheel.
We inhabit – or would, if we stopped looking past it – a wondrous unfolding present. We are, or can train ourselves to be, witnesses to that unfolding. The discipline and humility required to inhabit our present: to live within a gift, is in itself a corrective that might lead us to a future we cannot predict. If we fail to inhabit our present we lose the only thing we know we have. Unless we turn our meditation on the future into motivation to focus on our present, we give up a “sure-thing” to remain within a chimera, a fantasy of heaven or hell, imagined brightly or darkly, arrived at actively or passively; but assuredly no-where.
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