Essay: THE FUTURISTS: Looking Toward A.D. 2000

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Social and political changes are far harder to forecast than technological ones. Futurists are earnestly considering all kinds of worries: the possible failure of underdeveloped countries to catch up with the dazzling future, the threat of war, the prospect of supergovernment. Today's "New Left" predicts the need for political movements to break up big organization. But the skeptics are plainly in the minority. Some futurists, like Buckminster Fuller, believe that amid general plenty, politics will simply fade away. Others predict that an increasingly homogenized world culture—it has been called "the culture bomb"—will increase international amity, although Rand's experts rate the probability of major war before the end of the century at 20% .

Certain prophets are in a positively millennial mood. Harvard's Emmanuel Mesthene, executive director of a ten-year, $5,000,000 program on Technology and Society commissioned by IBM, believes that for the first time since the golden age of Greece, Western man "has regained his nerve" and has come to believe, rightly, that he can accomplish anything. "My hunch," says Mesthene, "is that man may have finally expiated his original sin, and might now aspire to bliss."

This may be a rather naive form of hubris. But even the more cautious futurists are caught up in a renewed sense of human freedom. "The function of prediction," says Columbia's Daniel Bell, "is not, as often stated, to aid social control, but to widen the spheres of moral choice." And Bertrand de Jouvenel has suggested that various types of future should be portrayed on TV, allowing the public to vote in a referendum on "the future of your choice." The chief message of the futurists is that man is not trapped in an absurd fate but that he can and must choose his destiny—a technological reassertion of free will.

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