“Instead of sacrificing the present for the sake of the future, Americans now sacrifice the future for the sake of the present.”
Ouch! I’m afraid columnist David Brooks of the New York Times is right in his recent “Carpe Diem Nation” piece. (BTW, thanks to colleague Margaret Tellegen for putting this in my mailbox – I do appreciate topic suggestions….from all!) Brooks dabbles in futures-oriented topics and brings a sense of humor to it that I appreciate. I really enjoyed his book “Bobos in Paradise,” which looks at how intellectual prowess, rather than wealth or material goods accumulation, is the new measuring stick of status.
In his column, Brooks notes how America was founded on a vision of creating a land of opportunity and a place where one could aspire to a better future. This required sacrifice in the present. I think it’s safe to say that sacrifice in the present is more tolerable when you are building toward a future vision. The classic work in the foresight field on the role of vision is Fred Polak’s “The Image of the Future.” This was the book that really turned me on to the future when I read it as an undergrad…so many years ago. Polak provided a historical analysis of how a guiding image of the future was vital to the success of societies. And he fretted that current society (roughly the 1970s) lacked a compelling image of the future. He took a global view (he is Dutch and his work was translated into English by Elise Boulding).
I think it’s fair to argue that we haven’t yet found that compelling image. And perhaps that is a key driver of the current willingness to “get what you can in the present, because who knows about the future (my words, not Brooks).”
It may be that futurists’ greatest contribution to the world could lie in helping to articulate and craft a compelling vision of the future. Andy Hines