Three futures




It is deadly to write about the future.  It’s just so easy to be wrong about it.


Most of the Biblical “prophets” didn’t write about the future at all; they just commented on their own times, with lots of moralizing. When they did go out on a limb and talk about the future, they dressed it up with multiheaded monsters and glowing cities and horses’ bells with HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD on them. They threw in an occasional invasion or overthrow, but those are pretty safe; sooner or later, someone’s bound to invade and/overthrow someone else. Voila! Prediction fulfilled.


The best futurologist I know, Alexis de Tocqueville, didn’t set out write about the future; he looked at the present, unflinchingly, with great precision and insight, and wrote about it. Reading “Democracy in America,” written over 150 years ago, is like reading today’s newspaper.


I can think of three main ways in which the future can unfold:


The Happy Future. This is the idea that things will get better and better as time passes. People will get smarter, and also wiser. Bad things will happen less often.




  • The neverending road upward. Things just get better and better and better without end. Think of the end of the Narnia books. Also Teilhard de Chardin, though (speaking as a backslidden Catholic) I have a hard time with him.

  • The apocalyptic eucatastrophe. The ultimate happy ending, usually preceded by an Armageddon-type disaster. Also usually preceded and accompanied by lots of religious foofaraw. Usually also accompanied with the final destruction of your enemies and the salvation of your friends / co-religionists.

  • The mellow nirvana. Everything just sort of fades into a groovy fog. (I like this one myself.)


The Sad Future. Things get worse and worse. Stuff blows up. Stars go out. Things die.





The Steady State Future. Nothing really changes. There are ups and downs, but no real progress, either upward or downward. There’s no end. The universe just keeps going on and on and on.




  • The non-recurrent steady state. Best defined as “stuff happens.” A little of this, and a little of that, but none of it makes any real difference. Yawn.

  • The recurrent steady state. A sort of variation of the Steady State Future, except that everything just happens over and over again. Think “Groundhog Day.” This one seems okay, until you really think about it. Then it gets screamingly awful. You know how the Buddhists talk about getting off the Wheel of Life? This is what they’re talking about. You really don’t want to get caught in this future. It’s pretty dreadful.


I think I know which future I’d prefer.


But I’m just afraid that’s not how it works.





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