« Still Talking About the Future at the WELL | Main | Humanity Plus Talk, "Bad Futurism" »

Today on the WELL Discussion: Pandemics, War... and Hope

Jon Lebkowsky posted this:
We know what we should be doing, but we're derailed by external forces and our own internal drivers and addictions. For decades now I've heard smart people talk about compelling solutions, but there's no market for real salvation. Gravity defeats us.
And I replied:

And yet we persevere, we survive, and sometimes we even thrive.

A few years ago, for one of the Institute for the Future Ten-Year Forecast events, I presented (as a post-dinner talk) a set of three fifty-year forecasts. All were uncomfortable in their own ways -- one emphasized disruptive technologies, one bottom-up actors (both for good and not so much), one transnational large-scale action. The audience could pick any one of them as the "happy" story, any one of them as the "scary" story -- but each offered very serious challenges to the status quo.

I then said this:

There's one more scenario I want to talk about, another fifty-year scenario. It starts, of course, with a global economic downturn, one lasting much longer than anyone expects. We slowly come out of, and see an explosion of new technological development; but in concert with that, more instability. Regional conflicts and military strategies getting accustomed to new technologies lead into an almost accidental war, which escalates to the point of fighting all over the world. Chemical weapons get used. Just as the war ends, we see the rise of a global pandemic. The combination of conflict and disease leads to what some call a "lost generation," millions of people in their 20s and 30s dead.

We finally see an economic boom, though, and for parts of the world, this becomes a glorious time. It doesn't last, of course; an economic collapse even greater than the one a few decades earlier takes hold, driving hyperinflation in some countries, mass unemployment in others. Governments fall, and totalitarian regimes take over, some using ethnic cleansing as a rallying cry. This inevitably leads to another global conflict, even greater than the last, one which ends in a shocking nuclear attack.

I've just described 1895 to 1945.

This is why I am, ultimately, hopeful about our future. We have lived through terrible, almost unimaginably awful times. We have faced brutality from nature and from ourselves. And we always come back. We learn. We build. We live.

I love telling this story to a live audience, describing this scenario -- the shock of recognition is a delight to see.

Post a comment

All comments go through moderation, so if it doesn't show up immediately, I'm not available to click the "okiedoke" button. Comments telling me that global warming isn't real, that evolution isn't real, that I really need to follow [insert religion here], that the world is flat, or similar bits of inanity are more likely to be deleted than approved. Yes, it's unfair. Deal. It's my blog, I make the rules, and I really don't have time to hand-hold people unwilling to face reality.


Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered By MovableType 4.37