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August 2010

Chapter 7: Artists Will Create the Future

Those that can not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it” This seemingly “conventional” wisdom seems like the right place to start an exploration of the future.  Here in the United States, we have lost our connection with the past.  Our actions today seemingly have no connection to past actions or future consequences.  We have become so detached from both our history and our future that we, make decisions in a vacuum without any consideration of those who have come before or those who will come after.   

It is ironic.  The United States of America, this country founded on the notion of freedom from religious persecution and the tenants that “All men are created equally” and are entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” should find itself embroiled in political debates and policies regarding how to enforce immigration laws or banning gay marriage that are so antithetical to these foundational beliefs.   

We know that our system of regulation is far better at protecting rights – such as free speech, right to assemble, right to a fair trial, and even the right to bear arms – and not as effective at restricting one’s rights (e.g. Jim Crow laws, Chinese Exclusion Act, Prohibition, etc.).  And yet, we continue to pass laws seeking to restrict an individual’s pursuit of happiness or equality.  Even worse, we make these actions based on the whim of the majority (or at least those with the loudest voices, the most resources and greatest access to power) rather than grounding our decisions in an understanding of the mistakes of the past and carefully evaluating how actions taken today will be judged by future generations.   

Change is the only thing we know for certain about the future – the world is constantly and will continue to change.  We must learn from our past to create a better future.  We have more pressing needs and issues.  

Perhaps no better example of this is the BP oil spill in the Gulf.  We have a problem.  We have a demand for energy that is not sustainable.  We are utilizing technology that is outpacing our ability to safely and responsibly use it.  This is not unlike ancient inhabitants of Easter Island stripping the land and dooming their future.  Are we, in the modern age doomed to go down that same path?  Is that what our future holds for us?   

Perhaps.  Yet we have free will and can determine our own future.  While failure to remember the past dooms us to repeating it, if we are able to remember and learn from the past we can most certainly create a better future.  Albert Einstein is credited with saying “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  We must change the way we have been acting, the choices we have been making, to create this new future.   

To paraphrase Thomas Edison, after he finally found a way to make the light bulb work after thousands of attempts, it is important for us to not think of our past mistakes not as failures but as opportunities to learn about what does not work.  We have lots of examples of what doesn’t work – demand for energy outpacing the supply, racist laws and unjust legislation.  We need to focus on doing things differently, better, and right.    

To do this we need artists – those who can see that which doesn’t not yet exist and specialize in the generative process of creation.  As Milenko so aptly stated in a previous post, “imagination is powerful” and if we can imagine it, we can realize it.   

So, when asked what I see in the future, I don’t know the specifics.  I don’t know if there will be flying cars or colonies on Mars, another ice age or melting of the polar ice caps.  I do envision, for the sake of the children, the grandchildren, their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren a future in which we value all people and their contributions; see a diversity of opinions as an asset, not something to be squelched; teach children critical thinking – not just rote memorization; “live within our means” in terms of resource consumption; realize we are part of a much broader natural system; and realize we have a responsibility and an obligation to be good stewards of the planet for future generations.   

I know that for as long humans exist, there will be art.  Art spans time.  A vase or basket, painting or scroll, music or song, dance or ritual that was beautiful, meaningful and important thousands of years ago still is so today.  I also know that it will be the artists – the keepers of these traditions, knowledge and ways of being – that can, must, and will create our future.