Mankind has always tried to figure out what was going to happen next. We have an abundance of folk tales that talk about the success or failure of individuals making the claim they could accurately predict the future. We also have the non folk tales concerning this; Nostradamus, and a whole variety of channelers and those with some variation of the crystal ball. We have the very modern technological future prediction people also, in the form of statistical analysis and data collection like the time monks. My observations are that while some of the predictions appear to be true, most are not, and a very high percentage of the ones that turn out accurate are put into terminology that could fit a lot of events. Then we have the very few predictions that are specific and become a reality. There is always the question in my mind whether these predictions are the result of lucky guesses, or, from some form of knowledge most of us don’t seem to have, or, maybe they are just a whole lot smarter than the average bear, connecting the dots and coming to a conclusion that has only one outcome.
I have often commented that mankind throughout history has a very poor record of predicting the future; we seem to be thwarted in this endeavor by the caprice of the universe. There are far more surprises in store than accurately predicted outcomes.
John Michael Greer recently made an interesting comment on his site that has bearing on this. “Planning for the future becomes risky when, rather than starting from present realities and trying to figure out what can be done, it starts from a vision of a desirable future and tries to figure out how to get there”. Neither of these approaches has much to do with the actual predicting of a future event and then planning a response to it. However, upon examination of much of the written work around the future, I think that his statement has a lot of bearing on how we conduct ourselves in the present. Most of the doom and gloom stuff available to scare the pants off of us is an attempt to peer into the future. I talk to very few people that are enthusiastic about the current events shaping up around us, and view the future with some trepidation. Greer’s statement has more application than just attempting to side step the appearance of future events that are considered to be highly negative in nature.
My observations concerning most human activities seem to want to “start from a vision –and then figure out how to get there”. I think that all business models are of this kind. The problem with this model is unforeseen consequences. Despite all the planning and anticipation of variations of consequences of actions, there are always surprises. Then you are reduced to fighting fires of an immediate nature and are unable to proceed to the planned future goal. This I see is what has happened in our present situation, from the auto industries to the financial woes consuming the world. I suspect this is the result of not peering far enough into the future, but rather a very short sighted viewing, focused on the quarterly report rather than years into the future.
If we attempt to plan for the future by “starting from present realities and –figuring out what can be done”, we run into the problem of perceptions of just what the present realities really are. If your perceptions are not an accurate reflection of reality, you are going to make bad decision of what can be done. And boy, do the perceptions of the current ‘realities’ vary all over the place. The problem here is that only in hindsight can we with any reasonable accuracy say that we had the dots connected. An example is the resource depletion, particularly oil. If your perception is that we have another 100 yrs of plentiful oil, you are not likely to support any austerity and life style changes in its use advocated by those that perceive that we have reached Hubbert’s peak. Even those that advocate Hubbert’s peak admit that we can only see it in hind site because we do not have truly accurate information about the subject, that is, there is great question concerning the accuracy of the data on reserves and quantities of the stuff in the ground, and we also have the Russians declaring that there is a never ending supply because oil is not dependent on geological time.
I am currently going through Greer’s book, “The Long Descent” in which he has a substantial section he calls, ”The Stories We Tell Ourselves”. While the main thrust of this section is concerning modern civilizations penchant for looking at growth as good, it has much broader implications. We are constantly telling ourselves stories about who we are which of course influences what we decide to do. When we start examining these stories, we find that there is a large variance between different group’s stories. The stories about who we are from the Christian fundamentalists differs from the humanists stories, which differ from the scientific communities which differ from the political stories, right down to the individual perceptions and the stories that come out of that. If we ever had consensus about the stories, we sure seem to not have a consensus anymore, except perhaps on a very broad and generalized perception. As a culture, we simply cannot agree on a story. It then appears to me that we are not going to be able to agree on what to do as a culture. Thus we are experiencing a wide variety of solutions to problems and disagreeing on those solutions, often violently. We can’t even agree or obtain a consensus on the nature or significance of the problems. We do seem to have a fairly high amount of the population that agrees that we have an economic problem, but, we disagree on the nature of the problem, what caused it, and the solutions. Thus, “starting from present realities and trying to figure out what can be done” is nearly impossible.
No matter how honest, benign and dedicated to dealing with “the present realities” the political leadership is committed to, can a consensus ever be formed on the plan of action? Is there any action that does not contain the elements of oppression of dissent? What would it take to have a unanimous decision for action or even a 90% or even a 70% agreement? This is why fear is such a useful tool for politicians. Enough fear and you can get a super majority to go along with whatever you want. Will this new administration find it necessary to do what Bush and crew have done; use fear to get a direction for an agenda? Will the new administration have anywhere near an accurate appraisal of “the present realities” on which to base proposals for actions? And, if they have an accurate appraisal of present realities, will they be able to convince a vast majority of its accuracy and the subsequent action? No matter what is decided, someone is going to get hurt by it, and if enough get hurt, there will be violent opposition. I suspect it is an impossible situation with no real and satisfactory solution.
As a personal experiment, sit down and catalogue the stories you are exposed to and the ones you hold dear and believe in. Then do a critique of them, a devils advocate sort of thing. Anything change? Have a few doubts about those you hold close? How do the stories you don’t believe contradict the ones you believe in? What holds a grain of truth as you see it and what appears as total fabrication? Are your perceptions skewed by the stories? I find most people latch onto a story and defend it come hell or high water, regardless of the other stories circulating in their heads. I think it is a good idea to periodically sit down and examine our most cherished beliefs and try to objectively examine if they appear to be consistent with reality. Changing a stance on anything is not a sin. What is questionable is a lack of integrity, honesty and a good hard reality check.
How many people have you come across that will voluntarily give up much of what they have to better the situation of a larger group? On a population level, it is a very small minority, very idealistic and committed. I do see this happening in very small groups, like religious orders, but the general attitude of the general population have harsh restrictions on what they are willing to give up for the perceived common good. I have yet to hear about a billionaire impoverishing themselves for the general good. Even in the upper middle class, charitable donations have fallen off drastically in order to preserve a life style. And this is done at the recognition that the
I think that the problems that we are experiencing presently have no viable solutions. We have allowed the present situation to develop over a long period of time and it sure appears to me that a whole different way of organizing how groups of people are going to live together has to be changed, that is, the crash of western civilization. But, then again, that is my perception of “the present realities”. I often agonize over whether my perceptions are of reality or just another story I am operating under.
I do think it is important for individuals to be aware of the stories they are buying into and realize that they may have absolutely no bearing or relationship to reality. This is a real problem for people living in complex societies. We simply cannot in a lifetime absorb and integrate all or even enough information to accurately assess reality. We may very well understand small pieces, but the big picture is always going to be cloudy. I think it is helpful and instructive to listen to those that claim an understanding of some piece, but still realizing it is a story that may or may not be true. I rather suspect that the future of the human race may very well rest on how well we determine the relationship of the stories to reality.