Future Orientations? Stop Wanting *A* Future

The focus of the ecology of happiness is on active living, here and now. After all, it is only in the here and now that you know you are alive and of influence.

The longer-term view is very much in its background, though. After all, even just the sensible / thought-through consideration of happiness that aims not to get hung up on instant pleasure needs to be informed by an idea of the future, and the better lives that are also better for the world are also all about the future, of course.

“The Future,” though. What an idea.

It has been described as a modern obsession, and it has become a very confused one at that.

There is still an idea of progress, of the future better.
At the very least, technology is supposed to progress still further and faster, with computers still getting more powerful and cheaper. Health care and ways of life have been improving, all in all, as well. Many more such ideas and observations are still around, not least whenever it comes to (economic) growth, development, and ideas of the civilized character of one’s own culture/society versus others.

At the same time, there is a strong sense of a future problematic. Increasingly it can be found among economists just the same as among environmentalists.
Economic growth is running up against resource and other ecological limits. Not just some environmental freaks want to go back to the land, but hedge funds are buying forests, and managers buy farms. Seven billion people (and counting) make our one planet crowded, and having most of them look for a ‘Western’ way of life makes for not just a crowded, but an ultimately impossible world.

Before this setting, the future has taken a decidedly dark turn, with notions of collapse all around, even as some try to see – and work towards – the future we want.

Many a call for changing our ways of life – like the one behind the ecology of happiness – runs into the question of the future it wants.
After all, it also sounds as if the future could only be either here, or there. Save the pandas, lose the people. Save the people, lose the wilderness – and with the consumption, lose the world. So, tell us, which future do you want?

Stop wanting *a* future for the world.

For ourselves, we may want a certain future, try to live life in a certain way. And still, we have to avoid getting hung up on this idea of how we want things to play out, or disappointment is certain.

Similarly, what is needed for the world is not “the” future, but an expansion rather than contraction of possible futures.

What a future orientation needs to do is support this potential.
The foundations of survival – i.e., ecological functioning – are the first matter of concern for that; biological diversity, which would irretrievably be lost, but is necessary for survival as well as for opportunities, the second.
Knowledge, ‘culture’, and technology are just as necessary, of course. They must not, however, be totalitarian in their impact on other opportunities. Extreme specialization may be good for a species for a while, but it is ultimately rather likely to lead to its extinction – after all, conditions always change. The same problem applies to such matters as climate change and ideas of geo-engineering: if there is no alternative, if the whole world is impacted, it is probably a bad idea.

After all, no one knows what the next challenge for humanity will be – nor even how their farther-away neighbors (or for that matter, their own children) may want to live.

People are different, after all. We all probably want a happy life, certainly want to get by and experience some of those things that make happy – but it will also all play out in somewhat different ways.
Some want to colonize Mars, some dream of continuing on as posthuman entities, while others just want to go on cultivating the land their ancestors already lived on. Some look for enlightenment sitting in front of a wall, others run, still others party. Some do all of that; others, other things.

As frustrating as it can be (when others are “just so different,” let alone “wrong,” or when biodiversity shows itself in a swarm of gnats biting you), it is the diversity of this world, and the opportunities contained in it, that make this world of ours so fascinating.

Indeed, it is that very diversity that gives it – and us – futures.


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