My Predictions for the Human Future

My daughters are four and six, and barring a severe catastrophe (personal or civilizational), my guess is that they’ll have lifespans that might double that of the average person living today. By the time they hit about the age of 50 (around 2055) my bet is that medical technology will stand a good chance of keeping them alive at least another 50 years or so. And by the time they hit 100, they might well find that still further advances in medical technology will help them live yet another 50 years after that.

I’m also betting that, on average, Americans in 2055 will be about twice as wealthy as Americans are today. And technology and energy innovation are likely to do a great deal to bring up the living standards, not just of Americans, but of the entire globe (and with this increase in prosperity, we stand to all be nicer to one another).

The joker in the deck, of course, is nuclear or biological terrorism, which, if it managed to stall global economic progress for a century or more, could end up ruining the human future. If global prosperity stalls, humans are likely to be unhappy, reverting to the crassest tribalisms, and progressively poisoning the planet. But I’m betting on rational human advance over the next century. And once we have flying altitude, it will be difficult for the human species to revert back to the old fanaticisms and nationalisms. People will just be too comfy. And we’ll live in a global, ecologically stable, and mostly peaceful world.

Of course, as I write this we may be within, say, 3000 days of a nuclear 9-11, and we’ll all think of the early part of the 21st century as an Age of Innocence (like the 1990s were prior to September 11, 2001). I suppose that the next decade is likely to be extremely dicey. But at some point over the next three decades, the tide is going to turn in a largely irreversible way toward a world of greater reason and peace.

That’s my bet.

What’s yours?

———-

UPDATE: Science writer Matt Ridley’s new book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves  (Harper 2010), makes a strong case that humanity may be heading for a longterm era of human global solidarity, rationality, peace, and prosperity. One needn’t only hope for these things. One can find sound reasons and good pieces of evidence for believing that they may, indeed, be on the human horizon (as Ridley’s book documents). In fact, I would combine Ridley’s book with Robert Wright’s extraordinary book, The Evolution of God  (Little, Brown 2009), as two good reasons for thinking that the human future will be better—indeed, much better—than our past.

Below is a short presentation of one of the theses that drives Matt Ridley’s case for rational optimism:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to My Predictions for the Human Future

  1. kvgb says:

    I think your predictions on medical technology are very interesting. But, playing devil’s advocate, today’s generations are much more tempted by social “norms”, or what they think are norms. I did a study about high schoolers and I overheard people talking in a sexual context that were in about 6th grade. When I was in 6th grade I knew nothing of the sort. I think generations today are becoming to socially accepting of drugs and alcohol too. We as a population are also addicted to overworking which causes for a stressful environment, but it’s in our own self-interest that we dont cut back. If we can help our future generations, I think you’re predictions are undeniably true.

  2. santitafarella says:

    kvqb:

    Low-grade sensuality is a product of our digital culture. Short of having no television in the house, it’s hard to know what to do about it, exactly. My daughters are 4 and 6, but I find it difficult to say “no” to them about watching (for example) iCarly. The show is on Nick and has a lot of emphasis on stylish clothes. Life comes easy for the kids and no adults are around. And the tweens in the show exchange some innuendo about kissing and dating, but the show is also extremely sophisticated and well written, and so I think that there is a trade-off in terms of exposing them to such a program. I think, at one level, it makes them smarter.

    And they like it.

    But then they want to buy the iCarly crap at Walmart. I don’t see all this as necessarily bad. My wife and I took the kids to an outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale” last night (at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks, Ca.). They liked that, too. But they might not have enjoyed it if they hadn’t already learned to follow the storytelling style in a show like iCarly.

    In the Shakespeare play, my 4 year old especially liked the bear that ate one of the servants of the jealous king.

    —Santi

  3. teo says:

    I hope that your predictions will turn out to be truthful, but I see only one problem that will stand in the way of a world of greater reason and peace – overpopulation.

    Everything is getting better and better these days, but not for all people and nature. The population is growing fast, exactly because of e.g. good medicine.

    I’m afraid that people with power will use biological weapons against already suffering nations, because they’ll think that the growth of the poverty nations will ruin our “development” and “wealth”.

    The way of presenting overpopulation in the media will be crucial in my opinion, it may lead to panic or to world of greater reason, peace and passion about helping others.

    • santitafarella says:

      Teo:

      The Rational Optimism book has a good deal about population issues. You might want to check it out. I’m not trying to be glib about it, but I think that population is almost certainly not a problem. For the next thousand years, every new infant born onto this planet will share it with a population of, on average, about 10 billion other people already on it. This is a fact of demography (barring a plague or comet). And those 10 billion will live far better than us and manage the planet’s resources far better than us. I believe that, if we could return to the planet a century from now, we wouldn’t find Madmax. We’d find something beautiful and inspiring.

      The key is that we stay out of the way of the progress of science and technology, and try to practice a sane and rational politics (that is, a politics that resists the temptations to beat the drums of war, religious fundamentalism, hypernationalism, and hysteria). I think we’ll be fine if we just do these few things.

      —Santi

      • teo says:

        Dear Santi,

        I admire your attitude 🙂 I hope that we will practice rational politics – if we do so, I have no doubts that overpopulation can be managed. I’m just afraid of the other possibility.

        I saw the video and it seemed to be a lot more optimistic than realistic, but I’ll check it out, if you say that the question of overpopulation is being discussed.

        Let’s say that we’ll do the right thing and we’ll be ok, in an (realistic) optimistic way 🙂

        teo

  4. kvgb says:

    Teo, I think you’re right too. Especially with our disinterested/undereducated youth today. And I use that as a broad generalization (especially because I’m considered in that spectrum). I fear that not enough people are paying attention to our governement and our governement isnt paying enough attention to our own people, like the ones that are living in poverty in our own Country. I’m afraid as technology advances, so does the “need” and “greed” for bigger and better (excuse the cliche) things. I’m scared to see where the need for wealth will take us someday.

    santitafarella: To the above. I’m in agreeance with you that it is hard to tell children no on shows like icarly (which i’ve seen, and it isnt bad and it is much better then shows that some parents do not sensor). But without parents like you our youth is becoming disinterested in tradition (i.e. Shakespeare) and becoming focused on things that will not encourage a quality of life but hinder it. Youth (18-27) are too focused on Societal norms that are making us rather unfocused on a greater good. If that makes sense.

    • santitafarella says:

      kvqb:

      As someone who teaches college students for a living, you certainly won’t get disagreement from me that most Americans have a very, very low level of Western cultural literacy. But I’m just not sure that it was all that different for the masses of individuals in the past.

      And really, the main way to acquire cultural literacy is not via teachers (who are typically not really big readers themselves), but by having the time and desire to read the Western literary canon yourself, and to haunt libraries and museums (or go to graduate school). My guess is that people with such time and inclinations have always been a small percentage of the total population.

      I think of my own proclivities. When I was a teenager, I subscribed to the New Republic and found myself devouring all eleven volumes of Will Durant’s “The Story of Civilization.” Nobody told me to do such things. It was just me following my obsessions. I had a nerdy friend who also read Durant’s histories with me. But we were strange. We self-taught ourselves the canon, and history. These weren’t things that a sixteen week college course can do for a person. The questions that Aristotle and Plato and Francis Bacon and Thoreau and George Eliot asked of the world have to be your questions as well, or you won’t care what they had to say.

      In short, you have to give a shit.

      Of course, most people do not. I assign really good books in my college courses (for example), and if I don’t quiz them on the readings, guess what? They won’t read them. And even if I do a song and dance, telling them how wonderful and relevant the books are, they still might just skim them, not really making the full effort to engage with the texts. So I’m stuck. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

      I think that there are people who do live as if the Western cultural tradition is vital, however. I get students every semester who do. They’re the ones who come to my office and ask for more books, more reading lists, more leads. But, again, they are always going to be a small portion of any population.

      And as for my kids, they have already spent far more time in museums and art books, and gone to more plays, than their peers perhaps will in their whole lives. But maybe it won’t take. Maybe, when they grow up, they’ll hate books and museums and Shakespeare plays. Maybe they’ll think of that stuff as mom and dad’s thing. I don’t know. They just, by the luck of draw, got parents who will expose them to things. Maybe it will make a difference, maybe not.

      Ultimately, it has to come from the inside.

      —Santi

  5. You know, I differ from you in a number of material ways. I’m a little bit right, and your left. Your a non-believer, and I’m a believer. I’m older than you (I’m 54 and I think your in your mid 30’s)

    But that said, I’m optimistic about the future. I think things will generally get better over time. I think they, most of us have more freedom now, the “Tea party”‘s opinions not withstanding.

    However, don’t expect that everthing that you hope will happen actually will. I’m still looking for the flying car and robots I thought I’d have by now.

    More at:

    http://brucetheeconomist.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/where-is-the-future-arnold-kling-econlog-library-of-economics-and-liberty/

    • santitafarella says:

      Bruce:

      Your comment about robots recalls for me a joke that Gore Vidal used to tell. It goes like this:

      Two Roman Catholic priests are discussing the future.

      One says to the other, “Do you imagine that we’ll see the ordination of women in our lifetime?”

      The other replies, “No. Not in our lifetime. Perhaps in that of our children.”

      —Santi : )

  6. rationaloptimist says:

    Ridley’s key theme is the salience of trade — commerce — exchange — in propelling progress. The great point (which too many fail to grasp) is that trade makes both sides better off. (Even, as Ridley notes, if the trade is “unfair”; though a coin trade with an older boy 50+ years ago still rankles.) Ridley draws an analogy to the biological exchange of information, i.e., sex, which propels evolution. Trade, he writes, is akin to ideas having sex with each other.

    Ridley’s book and mine both celebrate the human achievement. To lament modernity, to deny that we’ve progressed, even to condemn what we’ve done, while romanticizing a supposedly halcyon past, is pitiably foolish. Ridley does a great job showing just what progress has achieved in quality of life for the average human. He and I share a profound reverence for the titanic human exertions standing behind this. Reading his book on an airplane — a half-day transcontinental trip that for our forebears was arduous, miserable, dangerous, and took months — made me marvel anew at the vast web of contributions by untold thousands of people across the globe and across centuries that made this possible. The same is true of even our simplest modern conveniences, to which most of us give scarcely a thought. Not me; I see them as virtual miracles.

    I have been following the reviews and blog commentaries on Ridley’s book. Most have been quite positive. The nastiest was by George Monbiot in Britain’s left-wing Guardian newspaper. One can of course quibble with details of Ridley’s analysis. But to dismiss his basic story, to actually condemn it as villainy, takes a really diseased cynicism, and blinding oneself to what is, well, blindingly obvious. Yet Monbiot and a few like-minded commenters accomplish this. It’s painful to observe. And it’s harmful. Their willful refusal to understand the sources and nature of progress, leading them to actively oppose it, stands in the way of a better world (especially for the downtrodden, about whose plight such pundits constantly whine).

    Monbiot et al are intolerant guardians of a narrow orthodoxy. They portray Ridley’s book as fanatically pro-capitalist and anti-government. It is not, and only a fanatic would see it so. Their critiques reveal more about the critics than about the book.

    Bravo to Ridley for his breath of fresh air and clear thinking. That his message is widely labeled “radical” is ironic — the reaction really should be, “Duh! Tell us something we don’t know.” Yet Ridley is indeed telling us something that, sadly, most people don’t know.

    My own book, The Case for Rational Optimism (Transaction, Rutgers University, 2009), does make many points and arguments similar to Ridley’s, but is far broader in scope, covering not only such topics as the economy, war and peace, technology, democracy, etc., but also the evolutionary background and the philosophical and psychological issues involved with optimism versus pessimism. I think it’s pretty good too. See http://www.fsrcoin.com/k.htm

    • santitafarella says:

      Frank,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and where to find your book.

      I’m curious to see George Manbiot’s review. I like to hear the other side as well.

      —Santi

  7. I’ve almost finished the Ridley book.

  8. Pingback: Atheism’s Real Problem Going Forward: Universal Humanism vs. Johann Gottfried Herder, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Friedrich Nietzsche | Prometheus Unbound

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s