What Future?

The other day, I was walking home from the gym when I saw the words “doomed future” spray painted on the ground. At first, it didn’t occur to me to look up what it might mean or reference. (It’s a clothing and artwork brand.) Instead, I thought “how fitting.”

I have found it challenging to think about the future lately. This summer has been one reminder after another about the arrival of climate change, with massive floods and killer heatwaves, record ice melts, snow where it shouldn’t be, fires where they shouldn’t be. Mass shootings, political chaos, ominous economic signals, hatred and bigotry around seemingly every corner—the future feels overdetermined and resistance often feels futile.

It’s easy to feel like the future is malleable when the founding premise is hope. It’s much harder to feel that way when staring into an expectation of despair. But thinking about the idea of “doomed future” gives me a couple of ideas regarding how futurism can better grapple with calamity.

Any time we predict the future, we do so in order to change it. A forecast of rain encourages us to carry an umbrella. A prediction that AI will automate certain jobs is also a mandate for that to be so, an attempt to persuade skeptics and prepare the affected. We should think about doomsday predictions the same way. They are attempts to prepare us for the realities ahead, but also arguments for intervening where possible.

For example, I watched some of this interview from the group Extinction Rebellion, an environmental group. In it, Roger Hallam discusses how the planet faces the possibility of facing mass human causalities, on the order of six billion people within 70 years. The group is calling for drastic and immediate action, not just to raise awareness but also to potentially change the course of human history. Human life cannot continue on its current course, and either we need bold change or we will endure that change happening to us.

I’m not trying to paint catastrophe as a positive thing—not trying to say that beneath all hopelessness lies a kernel of hope. Rather, I want to point out simply that threats can be motivating. They rarely require staying in one place.

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