Why the future needs danger

Illustration for article titled Why the future needs danger

In a tremendously interesting essay, futurist Jamais Cascio argues that fear of the future is crucial to predicting what will come next. In fact, we can't think meaningfully about tomorrow without acknowledging that it might spell our doom.


Cascio writes:

In religious study, an explanation of how an all-powerful deity that claims to love us can allow evil is known as a "theodicy." The term was coined in 1710 by Gottfried Liebniz - a German natural philosopher who, among his many inventions and ideas, came up with calculus (independently of Newton, who is usually credited) and the binary number system. A theodicy is not merely a "mysterious ways" or "free will" defense, it's an attempt to craft a consistent plausible justification for evil in a universe created by an intrinsically good deity. Theodicies are inherently controversial; some philosophers claim that without full knowledge of good, no theodicy can be sufficient. Nonetheless, theodicies have allowed believers to think through and discuss in relatively sophisticated ways the existence of evil.

The practice of foresight needs within its philosophical underpinnings a similar discourse that treats the fear of dangerous outcomes as a real and meaningful concern, one that can neither be waved away as pessimism nor treated as the sole truth - a "neodicy," if you will. Neodicies would grapple with the very real question of how we can justifiably believe in better futures while still acknowledging the risks that will inevitably arise as our futures unfold. Such a discourse may even allow the rehabilitation of the concept of progress, the idea that as a civilization we do learn from our mistakes, and have the capacity to make our futures better than our past.

For those outside the practice of futurism, neodicies could be sources of comfort, allowing a measure of grace and calm within a dynamic and turbulent environment; neodicies give future dangers meaningful context. For futurists, the construction of neodicies would demand that we base our forecasts in more than just passing trends and a desire to catch the Next Big Thing; neodicies require complexity. For all of us, neodicies would force an abandonment of both optimism- and (more often) pessimism-dominated filters. Neodicies would reveal the risks inherent to a Panglossian future, and the beauty and hope contained within an apocaphile's lament.


Read the whole essay over at Warren Ellis' blog.

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What a fascinating essay. For me, it boils down to recognizing and respecting complexity. It may be comfortable to try to organize thought about the future into a simple, easy-to-understand sort of way, but refusing to acknowledge reality because it interferes with perception is exactly how humanity always fails. It is never simple!