November 25, 2017: The Cult of Presentism
This week, I’ve been reflecting on another of the ironies of the current moment. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what the future could look like, if we organize now for other types of social life in the future: more feminist, equitable, decolonized futures. And at the same time, realizing that we live in a cult of presentism being instructed by one another, by the latest mental health gurus, by yoga-clothing branding and coffee shop slogans, live in the moment.
It is hard work imagining the full potential of positive feminist futures. It feels like I am stretching myself and my imaginations in ways that require practice: like learning to touch ones toes. Slowly working up from a state of stiff rigidity, bending many times, before easily planting one’s hand on the ground while keeping your legs straight. Imagining the future requires strong and flexible thinking, all at the same time.
And, as I do this futurecasting work, I wonder things like: How will energy transition demand changes to all facets of our social, cultural, economic, political lives? What will our governments look like after energy transition? What do we want it to look like? Will the shifts in politics needed to address a warming planet radically reorganize how we engage as citizens? Will we be citizens of the same nation states that exist now, or are they too inflexible to respond to climate change? Will other local and international governance structures emerge? What will our cities look like if we reorganize communities around living together, intergenerationally, instead of organizing our cities around cars and our ability to get from work to home? What will work look like in the future?
And as I think about the future, and realize how hard it is — like a weak muscle unable to bend to the demands I’m making on these early attempts — I think about how we live in a culture where thinking about the future is really not encouraged.
Why, I wonder, is there this obsession with the present, in North America — and I’m sure elsewhere in the world, as well. Where and what are we being discouraged away from when we are told to to ‘be the moment’? Is the suggestion that we are stuck in the past, when we are not in the present? Or, are we being discouraged from living in the future, not fully engaging with the present? The implication is that both of these are a useless waste of time. But isn’t this just what we should be doing? What we need to be doing? Thinking seriously about how we’ve arrived at this moment of crisis and imagining ways to unravel ourselves from our current entanglements with oil, fossil fuels, and the extreme capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy and inequity that it has fuelled?
Why are we, as a culture, obsessed with disciplining ourselves and one another to ‘live in the moment.’? I’d suggest we explore a bit this irony of the moment: that at this critical juncture in history when we’ve never more urgently needed to consider the path we are on and reorient ourselves, instead, we are being told to enjoy the view. To not be so frantic. Is this another denialism tactic? Surely, it is a rising response to our own anxieties around climate change and the increasing precarity — both caused by the exploitative world view that drives capitalism.
I am often given the impression that by thinking about the future, making plans, trying to address what is going on, one is a killjoys of a certain variety. But, as I continue to think more and more about the future, I hope others will join me. It seems a worthwhile place to spend some time ruminating everyday.
(Photo Credit: M.E. Luka (Refineries on Yellowhead Trail))