Chapter 4: Futurism: Projecting and Planning
THE ENORMITY AND RAPIDITY OF CHANGE DEMAND OUR BEST EFFORTS TO ANTICIPATE ALTERNATIVE POSSIBILITIES AND TO PLAN FOR A DESIRABLE FUTURE AS WE APPROACH THE YEAR 2000, A VENTURE THAT CAN BE AIDED BY A COALITION OF A THEOLOGY OF HOPE WITH EMERGING FORMS OF FUTURISTIC INQUIRY.
A committee appointed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain gave the following reasons in 1490 for believing that a voyage such as the one proposed by Columbus would be an error: (1) A voyage to Asia would require three years. (2) The Western Ocean is infinite and perhaps unnavigable. (3) If he reached the Antipodes, he could not get back. (4) There are no Antipodes because the greater part of the globe is covered with water and because St. Augustine says so. (5) Of the five zones only three are habitable. (6) So many centuries after the Creation it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value.
The famed surgeon Alfred Velpeau wrote in 1839: “The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it today.”
Harper’s Weekly commented in 1902: “The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not for the near future, in spite of many rumors to that effect.”
One week before the successful flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, N.C., the New York Times had this to say about a rival plane builder: “We hope that Professor Langley will not put his substantial greatness as a scientist in further peril by continuing to waste his time, and the money involved, in further airship experiments. Life is short, and he is capable of services to humanity incomparably greater than can be expected to result from trying to fly.”
Vannevar Bush commented in 1945 to President Truman as follows regarding the atomic bomb: “The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.” (These articles are taken from The Futurist [December, 1968], p. 121.)
These examples from the past remind us that attempts to predict the future are hazardous. This very fact, given the circumstances of the present, make it all the more important for us to learn better, if we can, how to anticipate future probabilities. There are compelling reasons for contending that interest in the future is, in our day, a matter of peculiar urgency. The fundamental defense of the study of the future can be stated rather briefly. For millions of years the evolution of life on this planet was largely a matter of “natural selection.” But with the explosive increase of knowledge and power now going on, the future of life — for people and animals — will be increasingly a function of “human selection.” At an incredibly rapid pace, men are developing the capacity to shape the destiny of all living beings on earth. We humans will have the kind of future we decide for by our present actions, whether such choice is deliberate or inadvertent. The capability of man will doubtless come to include, in a relatively short time, the possibility of his sell-conscious participation in the direction of the evolutionary process itself.
If the claims made so far sound a bit grandiose, let us put it more cautiously. The growing consequences of human actions and the startling rapidity with which our knowledge and power grows combine to raise the stakes considerably. What we do sets in motion forces so powerful that they enter into the determination of the future in such a way as to limit the possibility of later actions negating or even modifying them. The most spectacular example, of course, can be provided from the technology of weapons. Herman Kahn has spoken of the plausible invention in the near future of a “doomsday machine,” i.e., a device that could literally wipe out every human being on the planet. (On Thermonuclear War [Princeton University Press, 1961]) The use of this final unthinkably horrible product of modern ingenuity would obviously cut off any possible future development of history. Despite the number of blunders we have made in the past, at least it was possible to recover from them and keep mankind going. Not so with the “doomsday machine.”
Less spectacular instances are nevertheless important. There are limits beyond which our water and air can be “safely” polluted by the poisons we put into them. It is very important to know what these limits are and to do something about the problem in time. Again, the widespread use of DDT and other insecticides affects the “balance of nature” in ways that make it necessary for us to be aware in advance of the consequences of their use. Once more, the use of powerful drugs to cure disease may, while serving this wanted end, also have deleterious genetic effects. This may happen, both by virtue of damage done to the chromosomal structure and as a result of keeping alive the offspring of human specimens with poor genetic endowment who otherwise would have, by natural selection, died before reaching childbearing age. To take one more of many possible examples, the possibilities for supporting life on the earth are limited, and our successes in reducing death rates are contributing to the specter raised by what is generally called the “population explosion.” Hence, in these and other ways “progress,” instead of simply solving our problems, only complicates the situation by creating difficulties that are even more difficult to overcome. But the main point is that we have achieved such powerful ways of affecting human life and its environment that it is more and more necessary to anticipate the consequences of what we do in order to avoid disaster.
This point can be reinforced by looking at the engineering possibilities arising out of physiology and genetics, on the one side, and cybernetic computer science, on the other side. The research of scientists like José Delgado into the ways in which mental and emotional processes can be produced, controlled, or modified by electrical and chemical means raises profound practical questions about the possible use and misuse of such powers.(The Physical Control of the Mind (New York: Harper & Row, 1969). Delgado himself speaks of the emergence of a “psycho-civilization” in which the watchword is not “know thyself” but “construct thyself.” The implication is that we should use these newly developing powers to create the kind of personalities we want.
A related area of problems arises in connection with the probable increase of organ transplants, the use of artificial bodily parts, and the probability of growing human embryos in the laboratory. Gordon Rattray Taylor has envisioned that someday we may hear an introduction being made that goes like this: “I want you to meet my uncle and niece. They were in a car smash, but fortunately the surgeon was able to get one complete body out of the undamaged bits.(The Biological Time-Bomb [Signet Books; New York: New American Library, 1968])
Again, a plausible scenario of the future might well include a picture of a husband and wife shopping at the local “sperm and egg bank” for the desired characteristics of sex, IQ, temperament, and eye and hair color for the new baby they want. After they have made their selection from the frozen genetic materials, the embryo will be developed under glass in the laboratory to be picked up when the baby is ready to be taken home. One jokester has imagined an ad in the newspaper in the future announcing that their genes could be treated to enable them to have babies of any color. “Many parents have already selected shades such as chartreuse and mauve. As styles are beginning to crystallize, a new professional organization of ‘Posterity Decorators’ has sprung into being to offer guaranteed color-scheme coordination service.”(The Futurist [February, 1967], p. 7)
Again, consider the implications of cryonics. R. W. Ettinger has proposed that it is technically feasible right now to freeze human bodies at the time of death at extremely low temperatures (near absolute zero) and preserve them until science can discover the cause of whatever such persons died of.(The Prospect of Immortality [New York: Bantam Books, 1964]) At that time, they can be restored to life for an indefinite period of “immortality.” If this seems incredible, ponder for a moment what our ancestors would have thought about landing a man on the moon or transplanting a human heart from one person to another. Mr. Ettinger simply asks why such a possibility cannot be considered as an extension of all previous efforts to save and extend life when threatened by disease. Is death curable? No one really knows for sure at the moment.
If this were not enough, we must speak of the developing technologies associated with cloning (the creation of identical genetic copies of a given person) and the cyborg (man-machines combining both organic and mechanical and/or electro-chemical elements). Some visionaries foresee a laboratory in which disembodied human brains sit in glass-covered saucers connected by electronic gadgetry with a series of computers to produce a super cyborg brain with godlike intelligence. There is indeed a “biological time-bomb” whose fuse has already been lit.(See The Biological Time-Bomb.)
But the future holds in store not only possibilities for manipulating the stuff of life which the evolutionary process has produced. There are also technologies even now at work with some success in creating forms of artificial intelligence. Sober men now talk about the emergence of existential computers that think, feel, and will. Those who remember HAL, the “human” or “superhuman” computer of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, will have an appreciation for what this may involve. I am not here taking a position as to whether a machine can be built that has subjectivity, that is, has capacities of consciousness, of thought, of emotion, and of choice. Probably no one knows for sure at the moment. It would be, in passing, an interesting question to ponder just how one would know whether the robot is having inner experience in some manner akin to the way humans do. How could one ever be certain whether or not the computer felt joy or just said “he” did because he was programmed that way? Is behaviorism a sufficient psychology to deal with “artificial intelligence,” even though it might not be in dealing with the full range of human consciousness? One can only speculate at the moment, while leaving the future open. However, one as knowledgeable as Marvin Minsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has recently said,
In from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being. I mean a machine that will be able to read Shakespeare, grease a car, play office politics, tell a joke, have a fight. At that point the machine will begin to educate itself with fantastic speed. In a few months it will be at genius level and a few months after that its powers will be incalculable.(Life [November 20, 1970] p. 58d.)
Other experts confronted with Dr. Minsky’s statement felt that maybe his timetable was too short but did not attempt to refute the prediction itself. A. C. Clark goes so far as to suggest that man’s greatest accomplishment may be to bring into existence machines far superior to himself in intelligence, creativity, sensitivity, and potential for experiencing.(Profiles of the Future [New York: Bantam Books, 1964])
Sooner or later society will have to face the question as to what points such technologies are to be encouraged, controlled, or prohibited. By what processes of decision-making will such choices be exercised? In whose hands will such awesome powers reside? What checks and balances can be devised to prevent abuses and protect the wider interests of humanity against the premature, unwise, or diabolical acts of those in charge? With what philosophical, ethical, and theological insight will we come to such decisions? What can or should we do in manipulating or redesigning the body, or in creating mechanical “selves” equal or superior to us? Are we prepared to deal with psychic life that is associated with metal and wires instead of meat and bones? A host of such issues are swarming to the surface and we have scarcely begun to come to terms with them.
This listing of future prospects and probabilities could go on indefinitely. I have here tried deliberately to give a few examples of widely varying significance merely to illustrate the basic thesis that whatever the future may turn out to be, it will be radically different from the past and the present. This can be shown convincingly at least in one area, namely that of the future of technology. Irving Kaplan, a psychologist studying the implications of computer technology, has suggested three possibilities for the future insofar as technological advance is concerned: (1) the rate of progress will continue to accelerate, reaching soon a point beyond our present ability to comprehend, (2) technological progress will de-accelerate, due either to a change of values or to the exhaustion of necessary materials, or (3) some catastrophic event such as disease, war, or cosmic disaster might destroy our technological capacities. Any of those alternatives (and is there a fourth?) will produce a world vastly different from the one we are now familiar with.(Quoted by Robert Theobald, “Incredible Man and His Incredible Future,” Yale Divinity School Reflections [November, 1967], p. 8.)
All of this is to say that the rapidity and enormity of changes humanly caused make it imperative for us to give close attention to the question of “alternative futures” in order that we may have the best possible prospects of moving toward a tomorrow in which human beings can at least survive, and, hopefully, live in a peaceful, prosperous, joyful world.
Growing out of this concern for a desirable human future as well as out of the more immediate practical concerns of corporations and government agencies, the last decade has witnessed a spectacular burst of interest in futurology. Institutions have sprung up; committees have been formed; conferences have been held; huge foundation and governmental funds have been expended, and a vast literature has developed. This is not the place to attempt even a cursory survey of these activities. Suffice it to say that futurism takes an enormous variety of forms. At one extreme are the practically oriented, massive research projects conducted by think-tanks such as the Hudson Institute, the Institute for the Future, and the RAND Corporation. Representing the other end of the spectrum are the individualistic speculations of a highly informed science-fiction writer regarding the furthermost limits of human ingenuity, inquiry, and technological capability.(AC. Clarke, Profiles of the Future.)
Now, of course, it is no new thing for men to try to discern what tomorrow will bring. History is filled with prophecies, predictions, speculations, and sheer guesswork about what lies ahead. But there is something different about the futurists of today. Olaf Helmer, a leading developer of futuristic studies, provides a helpful introduction to these new attitudes and approaches. He believes that “The future is no longer viewed as unique, unforeseeable, and inevitable; there are instead a multitude of possible futures, with associated probabilities that can be estimated and, to some extent, manipulated.” (The Futurist [February, 1967], p. 8.)
Philosophically, the future has ceased to be regarded in fatalistic or fortune-telling terms. Pragmatically, says Helmer, both government and industry have recognized that the rapid rate of change makes long-range anticipation a matter of practical necessity. Methodologically, he continues, there are developments in the social sciences which make it possible now to gather and correlate great masses of data in such a way to provide relevant knowledge of the consequences of various courses of possible action. Concern with finding reliable methods of discerning the shape of possible futures is a major hallmark of the whole movement today.
Daniel Bell’s estimate of the significance of futuristic studies is similar. He writes, “What makes the present studies, therefore, so completely different from those of the past is that they are oriented to specific policy purposes; and along with this new dimension, they are fashioned self-consciously, by a new methodology that gives the promise of providing a more reliable foundation for realistic alternatives and choices, if not for exact prediction.” ( Introduction, The Year 2000, by Herman Kahn and Anthony J. Wiener [New York: Macmillan, 1967], p. xxv.) A further point made by Bell is significant in estimating the importance of studying the future. I refer to his assertion that we are moving into a post-industrial society. Such a society is “one in which the organization of theoretical knowledge becomes paramount for innovation in society, and in which intellectual institutions become central in the social structure.” (Ibid., p. xxvii.) Institutions, principally governments, determined to achieve certain social goals require knowledge, both of the factors which are most likely to shape the future and of the mechanisms which will be required to direct these interacting forces into desirable patterns toward chosen ends. Since it takes considerable spans of time to achieve large-scale changes in the social order, long-range projections and plans are essential. Futuristic studies are intended to help people choose their futures. The attempt is not to predict the future — as if this could really be done anyway. Rather the aim is to sketch “alternative futures,” that is, the consequences of various choices so that policies can be shaped rationally and realistically in the light of the probable outcomes that flow from available options.
Bell, along with other futurists, stresses the importance of new methodologies. It is now possible to put together statistical time-series to chart trends and to discern probable developments. These time-series, plus the construction of models of likely combinations of trends, assist in uncovering the causal relationships obtained among the variables which are shaping outcomes. The Delphi method, which checks the estimates of experts against one another in cybernetic feedback fashion, adds further methodological resources. Ward Madden writes that the most distinctive feature of the new futurism is the power and the novelty of the new tools of research that are available.
Systems analysis, elaborate simulation techniques, automated access to central data banks, information theory, game Theory, and the use of socio-economic models, often mathematically stated, all aided and abetted by the computer, make possible a massive application of data not hitherto possible.(Foreword, The unprepared Society by Donald Michael (New York: Harper Colophon Book, 1968), p. xii.
Victor Ferkiss reminds us that much of the impetus and many of the skills of current futures study came from the necessities of defense planning.(Technological Man [New York: Braziller, 1969], p.12.) Air Force planners had to design planes that would fly and fight ten years later. Thus, they needed to know what materials would be available, what defenses the enemy would then have, and what kind of warfare would be possible. The necessity to learn how to relate all of these variables in all of their complex interactions gave rise, so Ferkiss argues, to both systems analysis and futuristic studies. Both issued from the womb of the RAND Corporation, forerunner of the “think-tank” industry.
The institutional “think-tank” approach to the future is well illustrated in the recent book produced by Herman Kahn and Anthony J. Wiener titled The Year 2000. Described as “a framework for speculation on the next thirty-three years,” this work is a good example of what Helmer and Bell have described as the new look in futurology. The fundamental method employed is to identify the primary long-range tendencies which seem mostly likely to continue. At this macro-scale thirteen such items are compiled constituting what they call “the basic, long-term, multifold trend.”
There Is a Basic, Long-Term Multifold Trend Toward:
1. Increasingly Sensate (empirical, this — worldly, secular, humanistic, pragmatic, utilitarian, contractual, epicurean or hedonistic, and the like) cultures
2. Bourgeois, bureaucratic, “meritocratic,” democratic (and nationalistic?) elites
3. Accumulation of scientific and technological knowledge
4. Institutionalization of change, especially research, development, innovation, and diffusion
5. Worldwide industrialization and modernization
6. Increasing affluence and (recently) leisure
7. Population growth
8. Urbanization and (soon) the growth of megalopolises
9. Decreasing importance of primary and (recently) secondary occupations
10. Literacy and education
11. Increasing capability for mass destruction
12. Increasing tempo of change
13. Increasing universality of the multifold trend
Within this context certain baselines are established, using quantifiable, statistical data where possible, with respect to population, military power, economic growth, energy sources, etc. Extrapolations are then made with regard to future possibilities, using all available information to make judgments about how all relevant factors will interact to produce outcomes. “Surprise-free” projections are made incorporating those trends which are most probable. This description of “a standard world” is accompanied by several “canonical variations,” alternative futures which are also quite possible given certain other combinations of circumstances. “Scenarios” are then sketched which seek to show precisely by what steps some hypothetical sequence might come about and to indicate what alternatives for choice exist for each actor at each crucial point for redirecting the process.
Final Third of the Twentieth Century
(Relatively Apolitical and Surprise — Free Projection)
1. Continuation of basic, long-term “multifold trend”
2. Emergence of “postindustrial” culture
3. Worldwide capability for modern technology
4. Very small world: increasing need for regional or worldwide “zoning ordinances” for control of arms, technology, pollution, trade transportation, population, resource utilization, and the like
5. High (1 to 10 per cent) growth rates in GNP per capita
6. Increasing emphasis on “meaning and purpose”
7. Much turmoil in “new” and possibly in the industrializing nations
8. Some possibility for sustained “nativist,” messianic, or other mass movements
9. Second rise of Japan (to being potentially, nominally, or perhaps actually, the third largest power)
10. Some further rise of Europe and China
11. Emergence of new intermediate powers, such as Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Indonesia, East Germany, and Egypt
12. Some decline (relative) of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
13. A possible absence of stark “life and death” political and economic issues in the old nations
Some Possible Causes of “Surprising” Changes
in the Old Nations
1. Invasion and war
2. Civil strife and revolution
5. Despotism (persecution)
6. Natural disaster
7. Depression or economic stagnation
8. Development of “inexpensive” doomsday or near-dooms day machines
9. Development of nuclear “six-gun” weapons technology
10. Resurgence of Communism, or revival of Fascism
11. A racial, North-South, rich-poor, East-West, or other disruptive polarization
12. Economically dynamic China (~ 10 per cent per year growth)
13. Politically dynamic U.S., U.S.S.R., Japan, West Germany, Brazil, and other powers
14. New religious philosophies and/or other mass movements
15. Development of UN. or other worldwide organizations
16. Possible regional or other multinational organizations
17. Psychologically upsetting impact of new techniques, ideas, philosophies, and the like
The Postindustrid (or Post-Mass Consumption) Society
1. Per capita income about fifty times the preindustrial
2. Most “economic” activities are tertiary and quaternary (service-oriented), rather than primary or secondary (production-oriented)
3. Business firms no longer the major source of innovation
4. There may be more “consentives” (vs. “marketives”)
5. Effective floor on income and welfare
6. Efficiency no longer primary
7. Market plays diminished role compared to public sector and “social accounts”
8. Widespread “cybernation”
9. “Small world”
10. Typical “doubling time” between three and thirty years
11. Learning society
12. Rapid improvement in educational institutions and techniques
13. Erosion (in middle class) of work-oriented, achievement-oriented, advancement-oriented values
14. Erosion of “national interest” values
15. Sensate, secular, humanist, perhaps self-indulgent criteria become central
A Relatively “Surprise-Free” Early Twenty — First Century
1. We expect the rise of new great powers — perhaps Japan, China, a European complex, Brazil, Mexico, or India.
2. There will be new political, perhaps even “philosophical,” Issues.
3. There will be a leveling off or diminishing of some aspects of the basic, long-term multifold trend, such as urbanization.
4. The postindustrial and industrial worlds will have been largely realized.
5. Some success seems likely with population control, arms control, and some kind of moderately stable international security arrangements, though probably not a “world government.”
6. In the industrializing world, disorder, ideology, and irrational movements will probably continue to play disruptive though geographically confined roles.
7. In the U.S. and Western Europe, there will presumably be either a return to certain Hellenic or older European concepts of the good life, or an intensified alienation and search made necessary and facilitated by the unprecedented affluence and permissiveness of the postindustrial economy.
The concept of “alternative futures” is fundamental to this approach. The idea is, that if the systematic context within which developments take place can be illuminated, it is possible to gain understandings which lead to relevant policy choices that facilitate desirable goals and avoid undesirable ones. There is no notion that futures can be predicted. The purpose of such studies is heuristic, an aid to learning, understanding, and choice. The most surprising thing would be that the “surprise free” projection actually came to pass. Even though the “standard world” may be the most likely outcome, it is still highly improbable in absolute terms. Modesty about any future projections is generated by the recognition that “almost any day has some chance of bringing up some new crisis or unexpected event that becomes a historical turning point, diverting current tendencies so that expectations for the distant future must shift.” (Kahn and Wiener, The Year 2000, p. 60.) Futures study can produce only a framework for speculation, not a schedule of events to come. Such study, however, does attempt to be objective by sticking close to empirical data, to its critical analysis, and to projections based on it. It is value-free in intention in that it illuminates alternatives dispassionately with no expressed preference for one outcome over another. The authors recognize, however, that their biases with respect to what is determinative cannot be avoided.
In contrast, John McHale stresses the importance of value choices in thinking about the future. McHale is concerned not merely to make dispassionate projections of what is likely to occur, but is motivated by the fact that the future poses a crisis for mankind with which we are ill-prepared to cope. Survival depends on our abandoning obsolete ideas and ideals and inventing creative new ways to deal with the novel situations which the future is rapidly thrusting upon us. McHale is impressed with the role of human choice as determinative of the future. We can have, he urges, just the kind of future we determine it to be by our decisions and deeds. “From this point on, there is a growing realization that man’s future may be literally what he chooses to make it, and that the range of choice and the degree of conscious control which he may exercise in determining his future are unprecedented.” (The Future of the Future, p.6.) Hence, we need to decide what we want most in order that we may invent the future that we have chosen.
Futures research has so far been overbalanced in the technological, economic, and politico-military spheres. Moreover, much of it is tied too closely to traditional premises and priorities that are nationalistically and provincially oriented. McHale urges a radically innovative and adventurous approach to thought about the future, which will chart new directions and open up new possibilities for dealing with our problems. The priorities now lie not with technological development but with social invention — the creation of new mechanisms of problem solving, novel forms of social organization, innovative life-styles, and so on. Further, the parameters within which we think of the future need to be expanded. “Aspects of this change in conceptuality extend inwardly, from unraveling of the micro-life code at the molecular level, to the maintenance of men beyond the earth’s atmosphere and under its oceans, to the outward monitoring of other worlds and galaxies.” (Ibid., p. 12.) In particular, the basic ecological realities of today and tomorrow require us to think in terms of a “world-man image” in the context of a planetary society. The problems of sustaining the world community must take precedence over local and nationalistic interests if we are to survive at all. The sharp inequities between the rich nations and the poor, the population explosion, the pressures on food, land, and natural resources, the misery and disorganization generated by our local wars, and the global rise in human expectations of a decent life all combine to make futuristic planning essential.
Taking a similar value approach to the study of the future is Hans Ozbekhan.( “Technology and Man’s Future” [System Development Corporation, SP2494, 1966]). His starting point is analysis of the present directions of what Jacques Ellul has called “the technological society.” The central mark of this order, according to Ellul, is technique, “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of human development) in every field of human activity.” (The technological Society [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964] p xxv.) Technique is all-embracing in tendency. It threatens in its logical outcome to move toward completeness, both in terms of the areas of life embraced by it and in terms of its global outreach. The result is that life is reduced to a collection of means which increasingly are directed to the ends required by the necessities that emerge within the technique-dominated systems themselves as measured by the criterion of efficiency. What can be done must be done. Thus, technique becomes an autonomous, self-directing, all-encompassing force which increasingly subjects human life, feelings, and desires to the requirements of the encroaching systems themselves.
Allowing for the exaggeration, the pessimism, the distortion, and factual errors of Ellul’s account, Obzekhan nevertheless thinks that there is enough truth here to warrant making this the starting point of thought about the future. Obzekhan argues that a “normative” approach is required in which the human imagination is set free to create images of a desirable human future that can be invented. Such a future would be redirected away from the dehumanizing, dead end toward which technological society is moving us. The technological perspective leads us to limit our conceptions of reality and of the future by seeing everything too narrowly. It assumes present rules and norms and projects futures in the light of them. We need to overcome this notion of a “logical future,” which arises from the projection of current trends in line with what is feasible, by the notion of a “willed future,” which projects images based on what is humanly desirable. Obzekhan believes that modern information gathering, data analysis, and computer techniques make it possible to build simulated models of alternative states of social systems that facilitate normative thinking about the future on realistic, empirical lines. This new technology provides a “technology” that will enable us to move beyond the age of technology.
Asserting that in our time the whole planetary system must be taken into account in planning for a humanly desirable future, he argues that the prime end must be to redirect the use of human and technological resources to overcoming the gap between the affluent nations and that much larger portion of mankind which still exists in hunger, poverty, disease, and misery. Both self-interest and morality require the development of such a world purpose. We need an image of a future in which our technologies and energies are directed toward the achievement of human ends, rather than allowing the present imperatives of technique to carry us by its own weight toward a joyless robotism and finally to self-destruction.
A no less spirited but much more cautious, even pessimistic, outlook on the importance of anticipating and planning for future developments is provided by Donald Michael.(The Unprepared Society.) Asserting that we do not yet have either the facts or the methods to make forecasting a precise art, Michael argues that there are three basic reasons for continuing to make or act upon them: (1) some forecasts are likely to be close to the mark, (2) poor forecasts provide a better basis for planning than no prediction at all, and (3) well-done forecasts help to illuminate the many factors that interact to produce the future. The years ahead will bring increasing complexity in terms of more people and more problems. Moreover, we will have turmoil in society as a result of this complexity. Also, we will experience a scarcity of time and human resources to deal with the resulting disorder. In particular, the pre-potent technologies of cybernation and social, and biological engineering make a rapid shift toward long-range planning imperative.
Yet because of the irrationalities, complexities, inertia, and resistance to and fear of change, we are not able at the present to predict accurately enough, plan wisely enough, or make effective changes rapidly enough to avoid troubles ahead. But this realism makes it all the more necessary to try harder to anticipate future developments and devise effective strategies for directing social processes toward desirable ends. Finally, Michael urges the importance of developing educational procedures to train a special cadre of persons with the intellectual and emotional skills necessary to assist in the process of applying what we know to the task of planning and achieving humanly fulfilling futures.
This sketchy survey of approaches to futuristic studies provides only the barest of hints of the variety of such endeavors now burgeoning among us. But even this cursory glance reveals disagreement as to how prepared we are both to forecast and to achieve a world shaped more closely to the heart’s desire. Olaf Helmer is unreservedly optimistic. He is confident that the approach that is now possible, given new methods of anticipating probable futures and of planning, gives man a possibility of control that makes human prospects brighter than ever. This confidence is matched by other spokesmen of man’s new knowledge and power who easily shift from their enthusiasm about advances in the scientific-technological realm to an optimism about what can be done using these powers to direct the social order toward solutions of threatening problems. Emmanuel Mesthene, director of the Harvard Program in Technology and Science, says:
We have now, or know how to acquire, the technical capability to do nearly anything we want. Can we transplant human hearts, control personality, order the weather that suits us, travel to Mars or Venus? Of course we can, if not now or in five or ten years, then certainly in 25 or 50 or 100.(Quoted in Ferkiss, Technological Man, p. 20.)
In like manner, Glenn Seaborg, a distinguished atomic scientist, makes more ambitious claims. A New York Times report of a 1963 speech runs as follows: Dr. Seaborg
. . . expressed faith that man could, if he tried, solve all of today’s agonizing problems — war, hunger, the population explosion, water shortages, pollution. “Man may well have reached that point in history, that stage of his development . . . where he has not only been made master of his fate, but where his technology and his morality have come face to face.” Science has given mankind an opportunity “to control and direct our future, our creative evolution. . . . I believe we can be masters of our fate.”(Quoted in Langdon Gilkey, Religion and the Scientific Future [New York: Harper & Row, 1970], pp. 79-80.)
Other futurists take a more cautious view of man’s ability to control the future. Herman Kahn and Anthony Wiener construct a number of alternative scenarios of the future, some of which envision a world of unprecedented wealth, leisure, opportunity for new experiences, and so on. But they conclude their recent work with a hint that future man may indeed end up like Faust. His desire to exploit the world and realize all its pleasures through science and technology may finally lead to ultimate catastrophe and the loss of his soul. There is no guarantee, they conclude, that we can ever master the art of controlling human destiny and molding the world to fit our fondest desires. In short, the pictures of possible futures being offered us by the forecasting experts are by no means universally utopian or unreservedly optimistic. They are sometimes quite depressing. Some futurists envision among alternative prospects a world devastated by thermo-nuclear war, a vastly overcrowded, hungry population existing in misery, and a human race scratching in the earth with crude instruments because the raw materials necessary for an industrial technology have been exhausted beyond replacement.
My own predilections lead me to side with the more cautious among the futurists with respect to the success man can have in controlling his destiny and remaking the world according to some chosen end. Donald Michael states my own convictions when he argues that
on the one hand, we face enormously complex issues, problems, and opportunities, and we will have to use unprecedentedly powerful means for responding to them, especially an improving capacity to do long-range planning. On the other hand,… our ability to plan and to implement those plans will continue to be seriously limited by methodological, institutional, and human weaknesses. Consequently, we will live in a period of tremendous turmoil. This circumstance in turn will require still greater efforts at long-range planning and institutional change.(The Unprepared Society, p. 106.)
It is important, I believe, to adopt neither an extreme pessimism nor an extreme optimism about the future of mankind. What is crucial is that both the promises and the perils are increasing. This fact makes it necessary to use the full range of human powers to cope with these dangers and the opportunities. Mankind does have limited range of freedom to choose among alternative courses and to act upon his insights regarding the probable outcome of various alternatives. But at the same time man is motivated by his anxieties, insecurities, and his egotism.
Moreover, he must live with the continuing impact of his past upon the present. There is a massiveness about the flow of history that cannot be easily redirected. We cannot, for example, overcome in a moment the long-standing cold war between ourselves and Russia. There are great hatreds arising in the poor and the oppressed around the world. The affluent will not in great numbers gladly give up their privileges in order that the deprived may share in prosperity. Nationalism and racism and ideological fanaticism hold men in their powerful grip. All of these forces have a dynamism of their own and will continue to shape the future.
The point is that we cannot, by taking thought, simply redesign ourselves and our world in accordance with some projected ideal. Those who speak so optimistically in most cases seem to make too easy a transfer from technological progress to human progress. It does not follow that, because we can go to the moon because we set our minds to it, we can accomplish some human social end in the same manner. Things and people are not equivalents. The ability to manipulate the former toward chosen ends does not mean that the same thing can be done in the human and social sphere. Dennis Gabor remarks that his studies of futurist writers show that generally the optimists are those who take man into account only as a producer of goods.(Inventing the Future, p. 17.) The pessimists are those who look at man as a whole. Yet the future is open. It can be, to some extent, in Gabor’s word, “invented.”
Hence, I believe that we need to cultivate futurism both in the secular world and in the church. In this connection it is fascinating to notice that, parallel to the rise of the interest in futuristic studies in society, the religious community has witnessed the emergence of various “theologies of hope.” Jürgen Moltmann, J. B. Metz, Harvey Cox, Carl Braaten, Robert Jenson, Gabriel Fackre, and many others have recently written in this vein.(Moltmann, Theology of Hope (New York, Harper & Row, 1967). Metz, Theology of the World (New York: Herder & Herder, 1969). Cox. On Not Leaving It to the Snake (New York: Macmillan Paperbacks ed., 1967). The Futurist Option (Paramus, N. J.: Paulist/Newman Press, 1970), by both Jenson and Braaten. Fackre. The Rainbow Sign (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmann’s, 1969). The earlier work of Teilhard de Chardin also belongs in its own way to the genre. The future, then, has become a central category for contemporary theology. In characteristic Germanic overstatement, Moltmann, whose Theology of Hope is a basic work in this movement, has written, “There is, therefore, only one real problem in Christian theology… the problem of the future.” (P. 16) Theological futurists stress the note of an anticipated fulfillment yet to come which pervades the biblical message. Set within a time-dominated framework running from creation to consummation, the Bible witnesses to the purpose of God to call into being a special people loyal to him and through them to open up for all men the prospect of a glorious fulfillment in a Kingdom of peace, harmony, and joy. Human hope rests upon the promise of God to consummate the past in a future in which the potentialities of life are fully realized. Living hope for the future leads to militant action in the present to establish justice, to feed the hungry, to free the oppressed, and in every way to heal the hurts of men in anticipation of a complete victory over evil that defines the horizon of possibility.
It was, as a matter of fact, the impact of the Judaeo-Christian tradition on Western civilization that is chiefly responsible for the awareness so prevalent among us today that history presses forward toward novel achievements, that the future is open and full of promise, that man is a free creature whose own decisions and deeds enter into the shaping of tomorrow’s world. The future-consciousness which today pervades Jew, Christian, and secularist alike is the cultural gift to us of the faith of Israel and of the church. Moreover, science and technology, which together constitute a major force shaping the future, are indebted in fundamental ways to modes of thought and styles of life that have their ultimate source in the religious experiences of Hebrew prophets and Christian apostles. Hence, contemporary secular futurology and contemporary eschatology grow from common ancient roots.
I count myself among the theological futurists. I believe that among the important tasks of contemporary theology is forging an alliance between secular futurology and a theology of hope. In particular, I believe that secular studies can benefit from the framework of values and the wisdom about man’s ultimate commitments generated over the centuries in the experiences of prophets and saints and articulated in fresh, contemporary language by critical theological inquiry. On the other hand, theological concern with the future needs to be correlated with the specific, detailed empirical data provided by futuristic studies in universities and think-tanks. Theology needs to make use of newly developed methods of studying the future and the projections that follow from them. Moreover, theologians need to subject to critical evaluation the presuppositions about man, history, and values that underlie the forecasts and findings of secular thinkers, as well as the strategies they propose to lead men toward desirable alternatives.
Turning specifically to recent theologies of hope, I would make two specific criticisms of most. First, they tend to develop their categories too exclusively in terms of biblical and theological categories without correlating them sufficiently with the processes that are occurring in the real world. Moltmann’s Theology of Hope is a good example of this. Terms like hope and promise come most alive when they are related concretely to the experiences of men. God’s promised future needs to be discussed in relationship to some projection of man’s actual historical future that I attempted in the first three chapters of this book.
Secondly, most futurist theology, and recent theology generally, has seen man’s life too exclusively in the context of society and history and has neglected the natural and cosmic setting of the human enterprise. In the following chapter I attempt to outline an approach to the future using an ecological model in which life becomes the central category. Human life with its quest for enjoyment is then viewed in relationship to the natural, social, and technological environments which shape man’s existence. I call this perspective Christian biopolitics. I believe that this framework can provide a bridge between secular and theological futurism, between the futuristic studies of the think-tanks and a theology of hope. It also points the way toward discerning in part the contribution the church may make in our time to the achievement of a humanly desirable future in this period of world transition. It is to these tasks that the remainder of the book will be devoted.