The ringing in of the New Year brings speculation over what the future will bring, in both the year ahead and the longer term. For 2016 there are questions over oil prices (continuing down?), land prices (continuing up), domestic politics (increased posturing as we approach both local, then central government elections), international affairs (refugees, the Middle East crisis, super power contretemps) and more. Futuristic technology offers whizz-bang solutions for needs we didn’t know we had – driverless cars, voice activated everything, labour saving devices so we have more time to work to pay for it all.
But, as some pundits observe, the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. Smartphone technology and supporting telecommunications infrastructure has reached all corners of the globe, even where clean water and energy are inaccessible. Obesity threatens the daily health and long term prospects of a third of New Zealand’s population, while healthy staples are too expensive to buy. Technology creates a visage of improved standards of living while we work longer hours for relatively less money and material conditions for many, change little. Increased freedoms of expression through the internet are matched with increased state surveillance and less personal privacy. While the rich get richer across the globe, limited access to basic medicines and disease prevention in many parts of our country and the world, diminishes public health, compromises quality of life and shortens life spans. Happiness, especially in retirement, is something many can’t imagine.
If moral progress is measured by the position of the worst off, the golden future is bogged down by the past. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.
Society and individuals have only progressed so far as those who have progressed least. While children die from preventable diseases, live in poverty, are beaten to death by loved ones; when women (and men) can’t walk home safely; while personal debt continues to climb beyond a person’s lifetime ability to pay for it, the challenges of past, present and future, remain. We haven’t reached an ‘end of history’, and the promised bright future has left many behind.
While workers are exploited on our behalf, unjust wars are fought for our system, rainforests are destroyed for our food commodities, the preconditions for future moral and economic progress have not yet been met. While Fukushima and other nuclear power stations (such as Sellafield) continue to leak billions of litres of radioactive water into our ocean commons, the fundamental challenges facing life on Earth have not been addressed. While we enslave animals for ‘entertainment, in ‘factory farms’, and waste their lives as bycatch (set nets!), we inflict an indignity on all. We can only continue to hope for a more just, distribution of the future.