It is not essentially human to be concerned with the future. The mental ability required to imagine what lies ahead is present in most animals, because they must calculate from experience what the consequences of their actions will be, stalking or attacking a prey, approaching a potential sexual mate, warning their young against danger, or burying eggs against predators.
Also in human practice, it is mostly the immediate future with which we are concerned. In this we do still resemble other animals. The basic activity of our natural life is survival, seeking sexual gratification, making money, getting the shopping in, keeping house, bringing up babies. Thus the oldest form of interest in the future is still the prediction of personal fortunes, especially with respect to love and money, and has found expression in the superstitious interpretation of the stars, lines in the hand palm, crystal balls, magic objects, cards etcetera.
Predicting the future: human evolution
In humans, the capacity for imagining the future has increased immensely and taken on cultural forms that are unknown to other animals. Compared with us, they live mainly in the present, just like our own very young children do.
In human evolution, the future became a self-evident part of life and culture. The regular return of the sun and moon and the seasons made them predictable, and annual festivities or sacrifices became foreseeable social events holding the tribe together. Planning ahead has become an indispensable part of our everyday life, at every level. Politically, too, planning is essential, looking ahead a requirement for good government.
Professional prediction of the future
Among Roman emperors and generals it was customary to have professional soothsayers in their employ, who would cast dice or animal bones or interpret dreams or unexpected events, so as to determine whether it would be wise to go on a campaign of war or take an important political decision. In our own time a similar function is fulfilled by government bureaus of statistics. These official institutions also engage in predicting the future, and profess to do so in as rational or scientific a manner as possible. They extrapolate from past and present trends in population changes, energy needs, capital development, demands on health care and education, environmental problems, etcetera, to advise the government, or stimulate general discussion, usually with a view to the near future. This ‘futurology’ is mostly concerned with a period of between ten and fifty years ahead.
Predicting the future: utopia and dystopia
Very characteristic of these scientific predictions and policy recommendations is that they assume life to continue in basically the same form as we know it. Especially the underlying sexual structure, i.e. the existence of two sexes and the sexual attraction between them, resulting in parenthood and family relations, is assumed to go on for ever.
This holds good for most science fiction writers and film makers as well. Some famous books about a possible future human world are The Republic by Plato and Utopia by Thomas More. Utopia (meaning ‘nowhere’) has become a household word for any blueprint or idealistic project for the arrangement of human society. The opposite idea, the future as a nightmare, the ‘dystopia’, is also very popular. The most famous examples are Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Nineteen eighty-four by George Orwell. These books are often confused, but are utterly differen. Such books and countless films on the same theme are social comments on the present state of human society, as wel as the expression of concern that certain trends will continue and grow stronger.
This may also be called the ‘journalistic’ approach to the future: everything is seen as ‘new(s)’ and so possibly as worrying, frightening, dehumanizing, disintegrating, or even monstrous. Especially changes in the sexual system (our ‘nature’) are surrounded by sensationalistic concern about where it all may lead. In fact this approach is a powerful social mechanism promoting discussion, but resisting drastic or radical change.
Predicting the future: doomsday preaching
The fial type of ‘prediction’ is that made by preachers and prophets. They are less engaged with prediction than with warning, although they hold out a promise as well. They invariably deplore the present state of the world, the war and destruction, ignorance and vanity of the human race. They offer an explanation and a solution, and may succeed in convincing many others that theirs is the way to a better world. And indeed, it must be said that they have helped the human species to make sense of the world and find a way to improve it. The greatest names of history are bound up with this kind of prediction. Some of the most hated as well. Typical of this kind of prediction is the ‘promise’, a vision of a more peaceful, just, free, happy world. This promise for all is usually accompanied by a warning or threat to those who do not accept the explanation and the solution.
Some of these predictions (which are really theories of cause and effect in human affairs) have been turned into doctrines of faith. All the dominant religious systems in the world are based on this idea of world improvement through obedience to certain rules. It is understandable that millions of people will embrace a faith, buy a product, join a campaign, if it promises them a better future for themselves and their children.
Predicting the future: sexual reform hold promise
From the point of view of the sexual reform movement, the essential shortcoming of all existing religions, persuasions, creeds, political doctrines, is that they are not sufficiently critical of the underlying sexual structure of human life and society. It is our task to draw attention to that and point out possibilities for change in the future. Thus we are neither prophets with dire warnings, nor utopians with complete blueprints, positive or negative. All we do is imagine a future evolution in which the sexual system itself is modified and ultimately done away with.