NOTE: Retyping this thirteen years later, I find that the gender references are all masculine. "Him, his, man, and men" were intended to refer to both men and women. Having learned to write before the gender biases of the English language were univer sally recognized, I find that the article contains such errors for which I must apologize. I did feel it proper to include it here exactly as it first appeared.
When a person contemplates a vision of the future, the myths
and values by which he lives in the present profoundly affect the result.
These myths and values establish fundamental assumptions about the "nature
of man" and the nature of causal relationships in social events. The
clarification of such assumptions is essential.
My basic assumptions are the following:
1. Man is capable of good and evil in like measure. The choices he makes are a result of the context in which he learned to choose.
2. The serendipitous character of human events results in, among other things, exceptional complexity and an apparent incapacity of people to deal with more than a small number of the variables affecting human affairs. It is probably the application of human intellect which makes the odds that a given event will occur in the direction intended slightly more than even, at best.
3. The future is unknowable; therefore, the kinds of choices to be made are equally unknowable, and the talents required to make the best choices must also be unknowable.
Accepting these premises leads to the view that the context in which children learn to choose must be so arranged as to encourage beneficent rather than malign choices. Conditions of human trust and love appear to be most conducive to the establi shment of such circumstances.
Children learn to trust and respect others and themselves by being trusted and respected. Such an early perception of the value of self and of others can establish the foundation of a sense of responsibility for avoiding choices that bring harm t o others.
The educational process must be designed to enable people to acquire "the art of utilizing knowledge" constructively. There is no way to keep a live organism from learning. Every experience is, therefore, by definition a learning one, though the substantive content may vary.
People who find that the symbols of learning achievement seem to be more highly valued than the knowledge gained soon learn to choose those options which tend to result in the valued symbols without regard to the means by which they are obtained. If unsuccessful in pursuing the symbols, they soon refuse to engage in knowledge-seeking in that area and turn to other avenues.
People who are supported and encouraged in the exploration and examination of their surroundings and who can continue to believe in this exploration as legitimate activity in its own right, can learn to evaluate information in relation to the purposes for which it is sought. If the application of intellect changes rogue events in favorable human directions, then intelligence must be the ability to apply knowledge to make the difference.
Given the vast range of existing human potential, the fundamental democratic notion of the value of each human being becomes an imperative that cannot be ignored. We must enhance the polycentric distribution of all human talent, since we cannot know when we will need some kind of human capability not now being developed or encouraged simply because we now see little practical purpose in its application.
Our minds make sense of the "blooming, buzzing confusion" of the world by imposing order on it. We do this through the use of inculcated constructs which may or may not be appropriate to particular circumstances. There is no specific logic universally applicable to all events. Western man is becoming aware of the vastly different reality perceived by the American Indian in his observation of his environment and of the far different result this may have in terms of the long term survival of the species. There are many ways to order things, and no one of them is simply right or wrong; all are more or less useful in a given circumstance. Since we don't know what we will need , we had best be prepared to provide whatever may be the most useful in the "terra incognita" of the future.
All of these premises argue for a future in which people care about the way the young develop is a future in which the human tendency toward hubris is avoided by our knowledge of the limitations of human capacity to effect change and, yet a future in which we truly assume responsibility for our attempts to turn the random nature of human events in humane directions.
In such a future, our perception of the human worth of every person could be enhanced by an awareness that each person has a potential ability to contribute a unique talent required to affect the quality of life chosen. When skills are valued for their potential, self-actualization can become a legitimate goal for all. Active participation in politics, education, the arts, and other life activities would be encouraged as a way of bringing together the unique combinations of aptitudes essential for facing each different point of human development. In such a future, man can face his fellows with love and respect for their potential contributions to his own and other's welfare. He can face decisions with humility and responsibility. That kind of future will contain no more guarantees of prosperity or survival than the present, but it will be ours, with all the possibilities of success and failure. We can live and die with the knowledge that each human being has made his choices freely and that they have counted.
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