If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that the future hasn’t happened yet. How we will live a few decades from now is anything but clear, despite predictions from our wisest architects, planners, politicians, philosophers, futurists, and science fiction writers.
For anyone committed to creating a more sustainable and just culture, here’s a sobering exercise: Try looking into the past as a way of tracking society’s expectations for itself. Look back a few decades and see how yesterday’s visionaries predicted we’d be living now.
I must do this routinely in my work in setting standards and developing tools for change at the International Living Future Institute. So I can tell you a common thread weaves through most fictionalized, artistic, and scientific forecasts: that the ongoing march of technological progress will continue unabated, further mechanizing our experience as humans and separating us from nature until everything we need is provided by machines and computers whose intelligence surpasses that of their operators. A companion theme in futuristic prophecies is the subjugation and taming of nature or, in extreme cases, nature’s total elimination. In these depictions, there is little room for nonhuman life.
Think for a moment about the sheer bulk of stories you’ve read and movies you’ve seen, and how many of them warn of a bleak future for society—books such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and a catalog of dystopian cinema: Metropolis, Blade Runner, Road Warrior,Terminator, and WALL-E, just to begin the short list. The current epidemic of zombies chasing after us through our popular culture is, I think, nothing less than a psychological manifestation of our species’ sense of worthlessness. The undead trudge through our cities consuming us like a cancer. What better symbol of hopelessness and lack of self-worth could we possibly conjure up?