Generational change

A number of events in recent months have caused me to indulge in a little more introspection about the future and the past than I am normally wont to. My life is rich and interesting enough that my consciousness is mostly rooted in the demands of the present, and reflecting on the past or dreaming of the future are extravagancies I don’t often engage in.

I think it all started when I turned seventy a couple of months ago. In itself, that milestone marking my seven decades of existence on this planet was not particularly meaningful, as I have never considered my age to be deterministic of to my psychological or emotional well-being. Nonetheless, it was a reminder that my own personal future was no longer unconstrained and unlimited but was converging unto a predictable an imminent conclusion. With a little luck, some proactive measures to buttress my health, and with God’s grace, I may be blessed with a couple of more decades, but the reality is that my life is now composed more of history than of present or future.

The other catalyst prompting my existential contemplation was learning that I am soon to be a grandfather again, with my eldest daughter expecting the birth of her first child next month. That prospect has prompted me to think a little more deeply about the kind of world this new human being will find, and what kind of life is in store for him.

That is no easy task. When I look at how the world has changed during my own lifetime, predicting the future that my grandchildren will face is likely a foolish and futile endeavour. The pace of change and the human capacity for innovation and invention is beyond this mere mortal’s ability to forecast. I am of that generation that grew up before computers and the internet. Television, cars, airplanes, and most of the ubiquitous electronic devices we are so used to, either didn’t yet exist or were novelties accessible to only a few. MacDonalds was a tobacco company, an apple was something you ate, weed was a lawn maintenance headache, and Amazon was just a large river in South America. The weather was predictable, gas was cheap, space travel only happened in science-fiction books and everyone went to church on Sunday.

The world that my soon-to-be grandson will experience when he reaches my age will no doubt be far different than what I am living through now. No doubt there will be technological and scientific breakthroughs that we cannot even begin to imagine. Exponential progress in the fields of genetics, biology and medicine will increase our lifespan, and eliminate many of the diseases and afflictions that currently plague us. The rapid, exponential increase in knowledge and understanding of how the universe functions will provide our descendants with tools and capabilities that are almost inconceivable today.
And yet, I cannot help but be concerned about the “what ifs” that threaten mankind’s potential. To reach that brighter future, we must first overcome some serious challenges that could easily derail the hopes and dreams we have for our children and grandchildren.
Foremost of these is the ominous spectre of destructive climate change. Our over-reliance and addiction to fossil fuels is seriously polluting our environment and unless we take significant and drastic steps in the coming decades, we will soon reach a point of no return that could spell catastrophe or even doom for future generations.

Secondly, we need to seriously re-engineer our socio-economic infrastructures to fix the increasing disparities between the rich and the poor, not only nationally but globally. We have enough wealth being created currently to ensure that all of the earth’s population is fed, housed, educated and has a decent quality of life, yet our economic systems are so distorted that a miniscule percentage of people that comprise the elite, control most of that wealth that is being created, causing vast consequential poverty, starvation and oppression for the rest.

History should have taught us that this kind of disparity ultimately leads to social unrest, societal breakdowns, revolutions, wars and misery. We know from past experience that previous attempts to remedy this with communism, fascism and various other “isms” have not worked, but that should not prevent us from analyzing and addressing the defects of our current hybrid democratic-capitalist system and figuring out how to make it more equitable and just.

I think we all instinctively know that what we have now in Canada, the U.S. or the rest of the free world is not working very well, yet we are curiously reluctant to make any changes of substance. We have yet to grasp the importance of Franklin Roosevelt’s famous dictum “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” We need to overcome our fear of change and to manage it to our benefit, else change will happen regardless, and it will manage us and our future, and not necessarily for our benefit.