Sunday, 30 August 2009

A Brief History of the Future

Editing work piling up again so I can only be brief today. If you haven't already, I recommend picking up a copy of Jacques Attali's A Brief History of the Future. A useful way of critically contextualising the genre of such futurist writing in general is to revisit Andrew Ross's essay in his Strange Weather. More specifically on Attali's book though, I got the impression that he pretty much ignored the cultural significance of the biological sciences, choosing instead to talk about wars over resources. And how about at least mentioning the future of space exploration and its possible benefits for our collective humanity? Check out the essays in this issue of Futures and you can catch a tantalising glimpse of what Attali ignored.

Notwithstanding these shortcomings, I think his book is worthwhile because it offers a progressive vision of the future. To be sure, homo sap is portrayed as going through some truly hellish times over the course of the next 50 years before what Attali describes as "hyperdemocracy" emerges triumphant. In this respect he breaks with the comparatively unambitious and pessimistic outlook that tries to always warn us in advance that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" (I suspect this is the motto of those conservative futurists known as "risk managers" the world over, who are most eager to ensure their own viability). I regard Attali as closer then to Steve Fuller's maxim, "the present is the site in which the future is constructed...we get the future that matches our current judgements by carefully selecting the chain of historical precedents that lay the foundation for them".

So the next half century may well be the "age of stupid", meaning we have to survive that before we have any chance of arriving at anything like a sparkling Syd Mead type world organised along hyperdemocratic principles. I've included a clip from The Cove (exposing a killing frenzy by fishermen against dolphins in Japan) as further evidence of the ongoing battles over resources we can expect in the "age of stupid".

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