Thursday, January 04, 2007

What are you optimistic about? Why?

Interesting question discussed by dozens of leading thinkers (mainly scientists) over at The Edge. Haven't read all of them; some of it is predictable rubbish; but it did prompt a little musing on what I am optimistic about - as I'm starting to think that those people who only know me via this blog will see me as essentially a pessimist, which I believe is an inaccurate representation (grin). So I thought I'd answer the Edge's question for myself.

I am optimistic about two things in the main, and I think they will fold together (indeed, that is really what my talks are about). I am optimistic about life after the great dislocation; and I am convinced that a revival of Christianity has already begun.

1. A High Quality future.
The long term impact of the decline and elimination of fossil-fuel energy sources will be a society which is forced to make do on a small fraction of the energy which present society consumes - my wild-assed-guess is between 20 and 25%. The transition will be frightening and greatly harmful - but I don't see any reason why human civilisation cannot continue beyond that time. Moreover, I think there will be many, many facets of life which will be greatly improved on this basis. In particular:
- I think the car will be eliminated as a majority mode of transportation. There will be new cars usable by the wealthy, but on the whole, transport will be public (buses/rail) or human-powered (bicycle and related vehicles; and walking). This will be an unalloyed joy for humanity.
- I think that vast amounts of the crap currently clogging up our homes and psyches will be eliminated - all the plastic rubbish that is churned out and discarded at a great rate (and tends to be on sale next to the counters in certain shops - just at the right height for children to be tempted). This will be a very good thing. On the other hand, there will be much greater scope for human craftsmanship to revive. Goods will be made to last, and also be made to be easily repairable. There will be lots of new trades to exploit these facts, and lots of industries which exploit the accumulated resource base of useless cars (eg platinum from catalytic convertors).
- entertainment will be much more social and unplugged; we will once more get to know our neighbours and realise what we have been missing; local colour will blossom.
- problems of pollution will radically lessen. The air will be clean and breathable; the illnesses of affluenza (asthma, obesity, ADHD etc) will vanish. People will be just as happy as they are today.
- People will take much greater pleasure in their food, and appreciate biological quality to a much greater extent than they do now. All food will be organic and pesticide free, people will be astonished at how we have put up with shovelling gruel into our bodies for so long.
- We will have shifted away from a growth-obsessed culture; sustainability will be widely recognised and accepted as the aim, and, largely, be achieved.
- The internet, and blogging, will have survived (not unscathed) but we will know ourselves much more intimately, as a single human species, than we do today.

2. A Christian revival
A large part of what will happen through the great dislocation is a rediscovery of the viability and essentiality of religious narrative as the primary structuring principle for human society. I am convinced that there will be a major spiritual revival; I am also convinced that Christianity offers the most fruitful soil for the spiritual revival to flourish within; thus, I am optimistic that over the next fifty years there will be a revival and renaissance within Western Christian life. I believe that a number of major intellectual cycles have come to an end over the last 100 years or so - and that we are about to enter into a time of rich human spiritual flourishing. Specifically:
- The idolatry of science is even now collapsing underneath the weight of its own contradictions. Understanding the causes of the disaster we are about to experience will show in stark relief the limitations of a scientistic approach to the world, and the necessity to ground science in a wider vision of the human good. Science will be seen for what it is: an outstandingly useful tool, but something incapable of giving human or humane guidance for the piloting of our civilisation.
- The Protestant Reformation is over, and will be seen to cease, de facto, if not de jure (the latter depends on the rate of change in the Vatican). As a result of the coming spectacular implosion of US fundamentalism, and a widespread rejection of its tenets, Protestant spirituality will accelerate even further along the road of reclaiming historical (ie catholic) Christian practices. This process has already begun in earnest, in the 'emergent' churches. In particular, the fetishisation of 'the text' will be seen as culturally conditioned, and a product of the widespread acceptance of a new form of technology. As the cultural acceptance of that technology changes and becomes more provisional, so too will the religious understanding of the technology. Once more the Word will be seen as the one made flesh. Of course, the Reformation will end principally because it has achieved its purpose.
- The medieval theological distortions which paved the way for science, schism and atheism (which are conceptually tightly intertwined) will be overcome, and, prompted by this recollection itself, Western Christianity will explode in a burst of exuberant creativity, marked by a reclamation of spiritual integrity and a unified vision of the world and the place of humanity within it. Theology will no longer be prostituted in the academy; the eucharistic community will once more be the centre of gravity for Christian understanding.
- At long last, the Greek inheritance will be sloughed off; Wittgenstein's insights (as well as others) will be culturally accepted; and we will focus our thoughts and energies on matters within this world, recognising and honouring the mystical for what it is, but not seeking to capture (ie restrict) what cannot be spoken in words.
- The secular legacy of Christianity (human rights above all) will be more widely accepted throughout the world as a common basis for human relations; our moral fibre will revive and improve. Human life will be seen as centre of human value: one fully human life will continue to teach us what it means to be human.


Needless to say, I could be completely wrong in all of the above. Yet these broad trends I see not only as possible but as probable, and as in large part the will of God for us. This is the vision of the future that motivates me and it is what I work towards.

UPDATE: see this as well.

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