…but give them a propadeutic scenario….
Bird’s guts, crystal balls, the stars in the heavens, tea leaves- individuals have resorted to all of these and more in an effort to foretel the future. Today, the seer’s tools are charts, statistics, scenarios, projections, and extrapolations. The aim is objective knowledge, and the claim is that this knowledge is more or less scientific. They call it futurology.
So this new field proliferates, and crystal balls have been wont to inflate to think-tank size. But before we accept futurology’s claim to be scientific- how else can you secure funds from government or corporations- we should, more importantly look at the psychological aspect. We all remember Snow White’s evil stepmother intoning, “Mirror, mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all?” The mirror, as we know, dutifully tells the queen what she wishes to hear, at least up to a certain point. It it quite plausible, that the scenarios of futurologists, like the queen’s mirror, merely reflect their own faces.
Today’s experts on the future, of course, had predecessors- Condorcet and Malthus, for example, both late-eighteenth-century projectionists who offered competing versions of the future. Condorcet, the philosopher, looked forward to increased equality among individuals and nations and the “perfectibility of society.” Malthus, a parson, envisioned a dismal scene where population perpetually outran food supply and starvation corrected any misguided efforts to achieve a more equitable and prosperous social system.
Futurology is no longer left to the occasional philosopher or parson. Our prophets announce the shape of the future from their desks at organizations such as Hudson, Fraser, and a whole array formed by consortiums of the largest corporations. Futurology is an industry. And a commodity. In spite of train wrecks like Herman Kahn and Peter Drucker predicting Japan would have unabated growth rates that would challenge America; Little piss-potters like Nouriel Roubini pitch and hawk the future as well a paid clairvoyant with the assorted come-ons, and subscription services.
Karl Marx of course, was a prominent futurologist, having predicted “scientifically, the decline of capitalism and the emergence of Communism. Typically, today’s prophets call for an predict an “end of ideology” a kind of John Lennon world of Imagine, where we are to approach the future on little cat feet, not assault it from behind the barricades.
Most patriotically, the future is often discerned to be America which will be the first society to surmount the challenge of the post-industrial era. Futures of the Chinese or the Third World are rarely seen as being different from our own, or independent, but rather passive adopters who will attempt to build better mousetraps. Usually, its a standoff in American contextual narrative between a sort of socializing mode that reflects humanistic values, baby boomer post-yuppies against the efficiency and production typesf to counterculture echoes. But what meaning can this have for China or Egypt or Brazil?
Inevitably, the study of the future brings us back to the present, sometimes to the past, and always to ourselves! If futurology tells us something about our dreams and nightmares, about our racial attitudes, our ecological orientation, our national parochialisms; if it makes us think about what developments we wish to halt, as well as foster,it will be of service. Ultimately, we are back, back to “Mirror, mirror on the wall…”
Antonin Artaud:The race of prophets is extinct. Europe is becoming set in its ways, slowly embalming itself beneath the wrappings of its borders, its factories, its law-courts and its universities. The frozen Mind cracks between the mineral staves which close upon it. The fault lies with your moldy systems, your logic of 2 + 2 = 4. The fault lies with you, Chancellors, caught in the net of syllogisms. You manufacture engineers, magistrates, doctors, who know nothing of the true mysteries of the body or the cosmic laws of existence. False scholars blind outside this world, philosophers who pretend to reconstruct the mind. The least act of spontaneous creation is a more complex and revealing world than any metaphysics.