Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Future Is Coming for You

 

It may be irrational to fret about the solemn frippery contained in a BBC editorial. Still, I can’t help but shiver in absolute terror when I read pieces like this. Roman Krznaric, the author, believes that our political order is fatally flawed. Why? I’ll let him explain:

The time has come to face an inconvenient reality: that modern democracy – especially in wealthy countries – has enabled us to colonise the future. We treat the future like a distant colonial outpost devoid of people, where we can freely dump ecological degradation, technological risk, nuclear waste and public debt, and that we feel at liberty to plunder as we please.

…The daunting challenge we face is to reinvent democracy itself to overcome its inherent short-termism and to address the intergenerational theft that underlies our colonial domination of the future. How to do so is, I believe, the most urgent political challenge of our times.

This is an argument I’m hearing more and more — and not merely from progressives. (Roger Scruton expresses similar concerns.) Of course, it’s not wrong to worry about the ills of short-term thinking. On the contrary. (Need I remind Ricochetti about unintended consequences?) But Krznaric moves well beyond caution and obvious problems like the debt crisis. He gives no hard-and-fast recommendations, but he does cite various ambitious schemes dreamed up by similarly anxious academics. For instance:

[C]ould an assembly of today’s citizens really be able to step into the shoes of future generations and effectively represent their interests? A new movement in Japan called Future Design is attempting to answer this very question. Led by economist Tatsuyoshi Saijo of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto, the movement has been conducting citizen assemblies in municipalities across the country. One group of participants takes the position of current residents, and the other group imagines themselves to be “future residents” from the year 2060, even wearing special ceremonial robes to aid their imaginative leap forward in time. Multiple studies have shown that the future residents devise far more radical and progressive city plans compared to current ones. Ultimately the movement aims to establish a Ministry of the Future as part of central government, and a Department of the Future within all local government authorities, which would use the future citizens’ assembly model for policy-making.

At no point in the piece does Krznaric grapple with the most obvious objection to such schemes: the fact that the future — unlike the past and present — is essentially unknowable. It’s difficult enough to make wise decisions with imperfect knowledge; it’s impossible to make wise decisions with no knowledge. When we make predictions about the future, we have no choice but to extrapolate, in a straight line, from the past and present — a technique which yields spotty results, at best (as anyone who visits EPCOT knows).

Paradoxically, this is precisely why the best solution to “short-termism” may lie in looking backward, not forward. Edmund Burke, hardly a futurist’s futurist, described society as “a partnership … between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Cultivating those institutions and modes of living which have proven to work seems, to me, a better way of cementing future success than any harebrained scheme involving politically sanctioned larping. Still, something tells me that Krznaric has little interest in Burkeanism. (Then again, if he has his way, we may all find ourselves in material circumstances quite familiar to Burke.)

Tradition may be the democracy of the dead. What exists now may be a democracy of the living. What Krznaric proposes is not “a movement for the rights and interests of future generations.” It’s not a democracy of the unborn. It’s a tyranny of the hypothetical — a tyranny of those who now, as always, claim to know best.

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVeyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Very interesting, BC, and smart. I’ve always been fascinated by what kinds of predictions tend to hold up. Like a statement attributed variously to Napoleon and to his enemies, “Plans are useless but planning is essential”. Usually, human behavior is a pretty safe bet as a constant; the kind of man who was an armored knight is now a fighter pilot. 1968 visions of the library of the future included video tape or discs; 1988 versions suggested you would look things up on the library’s computer terminal. These were true, but in retrospect they were easy, timid predictions of what was already in the works. A world where you didn’t have to go to the library was hazier. 

    • #1
    • March 22, 2019, at 6:28 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. Mark Camp Member

    I’m so much of like mind that Burke was the first person I thought of as I started reading this.

    I get more Burkean the older I get. It’s statistically correlated with increasing humility and decreasing claims to knowledge.

    The impudence of leftists looking up from their self-absorptions and suddenly thinking that they’ve invented Caring about the Future! But a liberal or a person of the right thinks about the future not as a science experiment for bright narcissistic social engineers; the future is his children and grandchildren and their generations, and those of his neighbors and his fellow humans in other places.

    • #2
    • March 22, 2019, at 6:53 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. RightAngles Member

    The trouble with this is similar to the trouble with their stupid climate change computer models. They can be made to say whatever these people want them to say, and who’s to contradict them? What a perfect way to hide their real agenda, which is socially engineering their way to power over us. One of the many reasons capitalism not only works but has lifted more people out of poverty than any other system in the history of the world is that everyone does better when people are left free to act in their own interests.

    But that doesn’t sound all heartwarming and touchy-feely on paper, does it.

    • #3
    • March 22, 2019, at 7:20 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  4. The Reticulator Member

    Burwick Chiffswiddle: Tradition may be the democracy of the dead. What exists now may be a democracy of the living. What Krznaric proposes is not a “a movement for the rights and interests of future generations.” It’s not a democracy of the unborn. It’s a tyranny of the hypothetical — a tyranny of those who now, as always, claim to know best.

    Back to the future. His futuristic ideas were tried in 1917.

    • #4
    • March 22, 2019, at 7:28 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  5. TBA Coolidge

    “One group of participants takes the position of current residents, and the other group imagines themselves to be “future residents” from the year 2060, even wearing special ceremonial robes to aid their imaginative leap forward in time.”

    It took some digging, but I found a photo of the robed “future residents”:

    • #5
    • March 22, 2019, at 10:39 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  6. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Did the “future residents” beg the current residents to have more babies so that they’ll actually, you know, exist? ‘Cause I think demographics is destiny in Japan.

    • #6
    • March 24, 2019, at 5:02 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Burwick Chiffswiddle: At no point in the piece does Krznaric grapple with the most obvious objection to such schemes: the fact that the future — unlike the past and present — is essentially unknowable. It’s difficult enough to make wise decisions with imperfect knowledge; it’s impossible to make wise decisions with no knowledge. When we make predictions about the future, we have no choice but to extrapolate, in a straight line, from the past and present — a technique which yields spotty results, at best (as anyone who visits EPCOT knows).

    Very well done, @burwickchiffswiddle! I especially liked the post I quoted here!

    • #7
    • March 25, 2019, at 7:06 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Full Size Tabby Member

    The Founders of the United States (I believe most prominently Benjamin Franklin of “a republic if you can keep it” fame) were quite aware of the inherent risks of people voting stuff for themselves at the expense of others. Hence some of the structural features of the US Constitution (some of which we collectively have chosen to ignore or override to our detriment). Such structural constraints are not perfect, so I assume the Founders hoped that a well educated electorate would remain aware of, and self-control for, the risks.

    Unfortunately, we have not maintained a well educated electorate. As you note, people keep thinking they can accurately predict the future and thereby control for future developments. A well educated person would look at history, see that efforts to do so have inevitably failed, and thereby maintain some humility about their own ability to see into the future. 

    • #8
    • March 25, 2019, at 7:07 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    The Founders of the United States (I believe most prominently Benjamin Franklin of “a republic if you can keep it” fame) were quite aware of the inherent risks of people voting stuff for themselves at the expense of others. Hence some of the structural features of the US Constitution (some of which we collectively have chosen to ignore or override to our detriment). Such structural constraints are not perfect, so I assume the Founders hoped that a well educated electorate would remain aware of, and self-control for, the risks.

    Unfortunately, we have not maintained a well educated electorate. As you note, people keep thinking they can accurately predict the future and thereby control for future developments. A well educated person would look at history, see that efforts to do so have inevitably failed, and thereby maintain some humility about their own ability to see into the future.

    Not just “not well-educated” — maleducated (we gave it over to government — what did we expect?) and no longer accountable to God. This will not end well.

    • #9
    • March 25, 2019, at 7:16 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy WeivodaJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’m not in the least worried about nuclear waste or the environment in general in the future. But we are strangling the future with our national debt. It is absolutely abominable what we and the previous generation have done and continue to do on this front.

    • #10
    • March 30, 2019, at 12:00 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. Mark Camp Member

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    But we are strangling the future with our national debt.

    By “future” do you mean “future consumption”?

    • #11
    • March 30, 2019, at 3:16 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy WeivodaJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    But we are strangling the future with our national debt.

    By “future” do you mean “future consumption”?

    Yes, and future opportunities.

    • #12
    • March 30, 2019, at 3:20 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. Mark Camp Member

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    But we are strangling the future with our national debt.

    By “future” do you mean “future consumption”?

    Yes, and future opportunities.

    How does the national debt strangle future consumption?

    • #13
    • March 30, 2019, at 4:35 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy WeivodaJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    But we are strangling the future with our national debt.

    By “future” do you mean “future consumption”?

    Yes, and future opportunities.

    How does the national debt strangle future consumption?

    When people are paying substantially higher taxes, they won’t have as much to spend on the things they want. Or maybe the government won’t raise taxes, they might just print more money destroying the value of the money people have saved for themselves. Mark, if you take out a loan to buy yourself a big house and your grandkids have to pay it off, they are going to be poorer for it.

    • #14
    • March 30, 2019, at 4:44 PM PDT
    • Like
  15. Mark Camp Member

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    When people are paying substantially higher taxes, they won’t have as much to spend on the things they want.

    True, but it wouldn’t cause taxes to be any lower if the national debt were not increased. The taxes to finance the government spending would just occur sooner rather than later.

    Also, as long as the government finances the principal and interest payments on the national debt with more debt, those debt service payments have no effect on the amount of money the public has.

    • #15
    • March 30, 2019, at 5:06 PM PDT
    • Like
  16. Mark Camp Member

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    Mark, if you take out a loan to buy yourself a big house and your grandkids have to pay it off, they are going to be poorer for it.

    True.

    If my next-door neighbor lent it to me, and his grandkids get to be paid off for it, they are going to be richer for it, by the same amount.

    As a group, the grandkids will be neither poorer nor richer.

    You are making the mistake of the finances of a nation with the finances of a single household.

     

    • #16
    • April 2, 2019, at 7:29 AM PDT
    • 1 like

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