The Ultimate Question About The Future

Published in Online Spin, August 3rd, 2018

First one person, then another. Then another. “Have you read it? Shocking, right?”

They’re talking about Douglas Rushkoff’s vomit-in-your-mouth report about how the super-rich are planning to avoid being executed when the global order comes crashing down.

Here’s a sample: “The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down… They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? …The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival.”

These desperate-sounding plans for maintaining a lifestyle of abundance despite the collapse of the social order generate an achingly obvious question: Why?

Why lock yourself in? Sure, maybe your shock collars will keep control of your guards for a bit, and I’m imagining you already have food salted away. But you’ll basically be a prisoner of your own making. Is this really what you want? To live like Brendan Fraser in "Blast from the Past”?

If everything has collapsed, why focus on ownership and isolation? We’re a highly social species -- don't you think connecting with others and building tribes would be a more effective strategy for survival?

Why are you obsessed with holding on to everything you have when you genuinely believe everything you have is going to be worthless?

Beyond “why,” though, lies an even deeper question: Is this the future you want?

This is where we always get to with these conversations. I can give a presentation to a roomful of corporate executives, talking about automation and the impact on their products -- but once the Q&As start we very quickly arrive at profound philosophical questions: Who are we building these products for? Why? What is the purpose of the corporation? What is the purpose of education? Is this the best way to structure society? How should we define success? What kind of future are we creating? What kind of future do we want?

Rushkoff says his billionaires have given up. “For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future. They are simply accepting the darkest of all scenarios and then bringing whatever money and technology they can employ to insulate themselves.”

But this perspective represents a profound mischaracterization of the future. The future is not out there, static, waiting to happen to us -- to be fought off and defended against. The future is created by us, by the collection of millions of choices we make, every day.

Rushkoff has some blindingly simple thoughts on how the billionaires could build a better future: “When the hedge funders asked me the best way to maintain authority over their security forces after ‘the event,’ I suggested that their best bet would be to treat those people really well, right now. They should be engaging with their security staffs as if they were members of their own family. And the more they can expand this ethos of inclusivity to the rest of their business practices, supply chain management, sustainability efforts, and wealth distribution, the less chance there will be of an ‘event’ in the first place.”

Apparently, they weren’t interested. But we don’t have to wait for billionaires to define our future. We can do it ourselves.

I want a future that is inclusive, fair, compassionate, and connected. I want a future where we judge our success on our collective well-being, on our ability to love, on our willingness to cultivate wisdom.

What kind of future do you want?

Kaila Colbin