New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted

Giving Back to the Future

November 22, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Culture, Ecology, Randall Amster

Making Peace with Generations Yet to Come

by Randall Amster

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night; he was alive as you and me — although that’s not saying much anymore. Maybe it’s a dose of 2012 cynicism creeping in, but it’s hard to shake the escalating feeling that we’re here merely on borrowed time. The strangest part of this sensation is that if one said it openly even just a few short years ago, it may have seemed irrational and alarmist; now, with empirical observations and the grim predictions of most credible scientists firmly in hand, it seems more irrational not to hold the view that the paradigm in which we’ve been living is rapidly approaching its prophesied closure point.

This does not, of course, relieve us of the obligation to get up every day and keep trying to promote the values of peace and justice in our lives, communities, bioregions, and the larger world. The apocalypse is perhaps the ultimate “off day,” but that doesn’t mean it’s also a day off. Whatever the ineluctable combination of fate and free will has in store for us mere mortals, it remains incumbent upon us to roll up our sleeves and work to avert the self-inflicted cataclysm we’ve been relentlessly courting. Or, at the least, we might strive to appreciate the blessings we’ve enjoyed and pass through the eye with love in our hearts and a song in our souls.

After all, why not? If we could do even that much, I surmise that the days ahead might not turn out so bad in the first place. Establishing a predominant ethos of “compassion and beauty” in our outlooks and livelihoods gets pretty close to the root of the matter and could be the ticket for righting the ship in the nick of time. The good news is that we already know how to do this, and once it takes hold it will likely “go viral” (to use the modern vernacular). Us hominids have lived in relative harmony with each other and the world around us for more of our time here than we’ve been egocentric, militaristic dominators. The post-industrial arc that is pushing to the limit the planet’s capacity to continue supporting us is but a mere blip in the cosmic spectrum of existence, even in the time span of our brief human experiment.

I don’t want to sugarcoat this by any means. Simply being kind and appreciating the wonder of it all won’t apply the brakes to our collective immolation overnight. We also need to immediately wean ourselves off the consumer addictions that have turned most of us into the agents of our own destruction, and we likewise need to promptly abandon both the hardware and software of devastation with which we’ve laced the culture. Dismantling the weapons of war and violence may be easier than abolishing hatred and aggression, but the two go hand-in-hand (much like capitalism and militarism), and have become mutually reinforcing over time. The act cultivates the attitude, and vice-versa.

Again, there’s good news to be found here as well. The very same processes that create positive feedback loops in our economic and political arrangements, and in our ideologies and actions, can also be made to yield mutually supporting “good” results as well. Greater appreciation for the environment lessens our rampant consumption, and transcending our imposed identities as consumers opens up the prospect of being co-creators instead. Being purveyors of peace creates fewer conflicts around us, and fewer “hotspots” in turn promotes greater feelings of peaceableness. Experiencing relationships based on trust and mutual aid cultivates instincts toward greater trustworthiness and adduces behavior motivated beyond the narrow confines of egocentrism and unbridled self-interest.

In this sense, a potential “self-fulfilling apocalypse” can just as likely become a self-fulfilling utopia. It won’t be easy, and it will require a reinvigorated spirit of sacrifice and collective responsibility; it will also demand of us an eternal vigilance in order to keep the positive feedback loop, well, “positive.” Whatever the challenges, they pale before the ones already beginning to manifest in our midst. In the end, we can either choose to alter course and turn crisis into opportunity, or have the same (for all intents and purposes) imposed upon us by the inescapable laws of nature. I for one prefer the former.

What will the future hold? On the occasional clear night, I can almost see it in my mind’s eye. People work for sustenance and pleasure; education and labor are intertwined lifelong pursuits; children are reared collaboratively and joyfully; wealth is measured in relationships and one’s willingness to share. The basics of food, water, and energy are firmly entrenched as the collective assets of humankind, and in even more enlightened terms are no longer seen as resources to be consumed but rather as blessings for which to be grateful. Tools replace technologies, actual people supplant abstract politics, conflicts are welcomed as “teachable moments,” and the virtues of meaning supersede the value of money. The planet’s inherent regenerative processes are celebrated as mechanistic thinking falls into disrepute. Humans willingly take their place among the vast web of life, not in relegation but in celebration. Violence in any manner is an extreme aberration, and is treated restoratively so as not to beget more.

We can get back to this future. We MUST get back to this future, for the sake of ourselves and our progeny. Perhaps, in the end, it’s simply a matter of making peace with the generations yet to come…

Randall Amster, J.D., Ph.D., is the Graduate Chair of Humanities at Prescott College. He serves as Executive Director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and is the publisher and editor of New Clear Vision. Among his recent books are Anarchism Today (Praeger, 2012) and Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness (LFB Scholarly, 2008).

{Pickups: Common Dreams, Truthout}

0 Comments to “Giving Back to the Future”

  1. It used to be fringe elements warning us that the sky is falling and the end is near. Now, it’s some of the most sober people in the world.

    “A race of scientifically advanced extra-terrestrials watching our solar system could confidently [have predicted] that Earth would face doom in another 6 billion years, when the sun in its death throes swells up into a ‘red giant’ and vaporizes everything remaining on our planet’s surface. But could they have predicted this unprecedented spasm [visible already] less than half way through Earth’s life – these million human-induced alterations occupying, overall, less than a millionth of our planet’s elapsed lifetime and seemingly occurring with runaway speed? ….

    It may not be absurd hyperbole – indeed, it may not be an overstatement – to assert that the most crucial location in space and time (apart from the big bang itself) could be here and now. I think that the odds are no better than 50-50 that our present civilization on Earth will survive to the end of the present century without a serious setback….

    Our choices and actions could ensure the perpetual future of life… or, in contrast, through malign intent or through misadventure, misdirected technology could jeopardize life’s potential, foreclosing its human and post-human future.”

    – Sir Martin Rees, Our Final Century (2003), pages 7-8, British cosmologist and astrophysicist, Astronomer Royal, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and past President of the Royal Society of London (the world’s oldest scientific association, founded in 1660)

  2. Thanks for these uplifting thoughts, Randall! I too feel such a pall hanging over us at this time, and it’s good to be nudged to realize that we need to focus on what we can do now, in the present, to create the future we want for ourselves and our descendants. Our greatest enemies at this time are cynicism and despair.

  3. Randall Amster says:

    Thanks for the kind remarks. The question seems to be less about whether a significant change is upon us than what it is we’re to do about it. There’s a lot of cynicism and despair, to be sure, and likewise a lot of apathy and hedonism as well. But, there’s also a lot of amazing innovation going on these days — people building the better future right now in the present. I find hope in such things even as I’m reminded of the “fierce urgency of now.”


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