The Future(s) We Deserve Jody Ranck, DrPH

“…to help defend the right to a non-projected future as one of the truly inalienable rights of every person and nation; and to set the stage for conceptions of change to which the inventiveness of history and a “passion for the possible” are admitted as vital actors.” -Albert Hirschman (A Bias for Hope, 1971)

“I grieve that grief can teach me nothing, nor carry me one step into real nature…The only thing that grief has taught me is how shallow it is.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (Essays and Lectures)

Nearly a decade after the events of September 11, 2001 the form that the future assumes in the present remains tainted with the specter of unending “wars against terror”, populisms and nationalisms that carry with them the need to punish those viewed as responsible for the pain and grief caused by historical events of the past. The experience of evil and violence renders the world unfamiliar and strange at first, and all too often we retreat to the desire to punish, exact revenge and solidify identities formed from the collective experience of the wound. In order to transcend the wounds of traumas past we will need to think our way out of the Manichean world of good vs. bad, a way of thinking about identities that only reproduces the violent traumas of centuries considered past.

The global economy rests in tatters, unresponsive to the prescriptions and remedies that economists and planners have assumed would bring about a “recovery”. For many, the future appears in the present in the form of a loss, loss of opportunities, of ways of being, and perhaps more worrisome, the loss of a sense of meaning and desired futures. For the cultural critic Ziauddin Sardar, there is an epistemological violence wrought by experts in the West who have used “futures thinking” to further the cause of so-called “Western Worldviews” and positivist sciences such as economics that have contributed greatly to the production of global poverty in recent years. For many, the root causes of violence are derived from the imposition of specific forms of Western rationality that are linked to poverty and destruction of particular ways of life that fail to conform to neoliberal rationality. This predicament calls for a new way of thinking about alternative futures and identities if we are to transcend the violence of the past and present.

One might contribute to the efforts to mobilize alternative futures by reflecting on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s thinking on grief and “how to feel the loss of something in a world that is already lost to us (Dumm 2010:150).” For Emerson, grief, a response to loss and mourning, is useless in one sense, but productive in another. The encounter with nothingness can also foster the rupture that leads to thinking, a renewal, or less a focus on being and more toward clearing a space for becoming. Being is associated with primordial identities such as nationalisms and fundamentalist identities where the other is conceived as a threat to a foundationalist identity constructed in a matrix of good vs. evil. We need not think of the future one deserves as indebted to the primordial roots of identities that are implicated in the Auschwitz’s, Darfurs, Rwandas and Twin Towers of the past and seek to preserve the wreckage of history and cynical memories in the form of sacred histories of yesterday’s atrocities. Blocked grief, or the inability to mourn the enemy and create a space to become something other than what we are now, contaminates our politics and ethics in too many ways in the present. In the alternative futures we deserve we may be able to imagine forms of the future that enable or empower hopes informed by the memories of those lost but without being enslaved to the politics of ressentiment and the cynicism of contemporary politics that thrive in this climate of unresolved grief and mourning. Our imaginations can serve us well in becoming the future rather than being in the past towards more ethical forms of remembrance.

We might think about accepting the fact that we are all, in some sense, exiles and wounded souls, and recognize that in one another we can create the openness for becoming with one another and move beyond the eternal return of the same and the language of “getting over” the past. This demands a certain kind of maturity in thinking about identity, one that much of the US appears unwilling to embrace as the need to “be patriotic” as defined against Islam or the other viewed as responsible for the wound, closes off more life affirming and productive forms of becoming. The futures that professional futurists prognosticate have left the hard work of fostering new assemblages of identities, technologies, ethics and politics to others. Futurists typically paint a picture of either techno-utopian possibilities or dystopian or Malthusian futures. Little attention has been given to the whom “we” are in the present, how does this “we” come into being and what other forms of becoming “we” are available. Rethinking the possibilities in the present toward the future can assume and how we can radically rethink what the expression “the future we deserve” really means.

Dedicated to MLS

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