Will The Future Be Better Than The Present?

Occasionally, it seems like progress is presented as inevitable. The present is better than the past, and the future will be better still. But is that actually true? Will our future be better than today?

There is no doubt that we face many problems in the present day that threaten our future. From climate change, to pollution, to overpopulation, to species extinction, and on and on.

And yet, there is still hope that, even if we can’t definitively solve these problems, at least we’ll make a start. Extrapolating the advances in science and technology over the last hundred to two hundred years provides some hope.

Carbon capture may reduce the level of greenhouse gases. At the same time, cold fusion could solve the problem of plenty of cheap, clean energy being generated, enough for the world’s population.

It goes beyond science and technology. Over the last hundred years, there have been few investments more reliable than the stock market. Yes, there have been notable crashes, but the overall trend line is up. Similarly, real estate prices have been good investments historically (at least since real estate has become a thing). Why wouldn’t these areas continue going up in the days ahead?

We are also making consistent progress in other areas. Slavery was legal throughout the world just two hundred years ago. Global poverty is declining (or at least it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic). Why shouldn’t we see a future with fewer human rights violations, and more protection for minorities and those at risk?

But we have seen stretches in history where progress has stagnated or even reversed. Is a future where that comes to pass just as likely?

What do you think? Will our lives continue to improve in the future, or is society about to crash? Or somewhere in between?

Related questions: Is life today better than in the past? What do we owe the future? How do you plan for the future? Past, present, or future? What is the greatest problem facing humanity?


2 thoughts on “Will The Future Be Better Than The Present?”

  1. Will the future be better than today? In my thinking, it depends on what time horizon we look at and what assumptions we make.

    In the short term, my answer is no. COVID-19 cases and deaths will continue to increase because families and friends will regrettably decide to gather for the holidays. Also, until Biden gets seated as president, Trump is going to take actions that run roughshod with respect to faith in our democratic institutions and through administrative measures he can take that will erode environmental protections. And those are just two areas he can degrade.

    In the intermediate-term, I’d say things could be more hopeful. First, COVID vaccines could bring the number of cases and deaths down. But that’s reliant on enough people deciding to trust science. Second, consistent presidential leadership may reduce the amount of chaos felt in the federal government. But that’s reliant on the Senate either going Democratic or Mitch McConnell deciding there are some things the Republicans need to do to help people struggling economically. However, there’s also the wild card of what Trump will do when he’s out of office. Will he still rally crowds (and large enough ones) to keep the Republican Party within his grip? Third, I hope that peaceful protest and presidential leadership force America to address racial disparities and other injustices. However again, progress, I feel, is somewhat dependent on what Trump’s actions while out of office are as well as other cultural and political problems not overshadowing the racial reckoning America needs to face.

    In the long term, I think things look terrible. Climate change is my main concern. Scientists have told us that we cannot reverse the trend, but we could slow or possibly stop its progress while mitigating its impacts through immediate action. Unfortunately, I don’t see enough people caring enough to force cultural and political change. What could or will change this? Unfortunately, I think we need to face even greater calamities: more hurricanes, more forest fires, more droughts, higher temperatures, etc. But can these things happen while not bringing us to the point of no return? I hope so.

    No matter the direction things go on, whatever time horizon, I commit to working for change for the better. It is only through enough people believing and acting on the hope that things can get better that they actually will.

  2. This week’s question is obviously related to last week’s: ‘Is life today better than in the past?’ And like last week’s question, it all depends on how you define the word “better”.

    In particular, better for who? And in what way? And in what time frame?

    If you take a long enough time frame, the answer is absolutely not. Several billion years in the future, for example, our sun will exhaust it’s current fuel stores of hydrogen, and go through verious death throws which will leave Earth uninhabitable. That’s decidedly not better.

    Of course by then, assuming humanity survives, we may have slipped the bonds of our planet, and indeed outr solar system. There are billions of other star systmes in our galaxy other than our sun. And billions of other galaxies beyond that, if we can figure out how to get there.

    But at some point in the far, far future, the law of entropy insists that at some point all available enrgy in the universe will be used up. Life as we know it will not be possible at that point. So that’s certainly not better.

    So in the (ultra) long term, no, life will not be better.

    In the short term? It can be better, but nothing is guaranteed. We have to want it to be better, and be willing to work to make it so.

    It seems to me that people have a pretty good handle on how to make their own life better, but haven’t yet mastered why to act to improve life in general, for humans or for other species.

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