What’s the future about?

Friends ask me questions about the futures work, and this I think, will form the backbone of my responses:

The future is neither a complete mystery nor a pre-destined. The weather is one example of this. The physics of fluid mechanics is well known; we know very well the basic equations of how moving air and water behaves. Even in the supposedly deterministic, Newtonian-universe, there’s room for surprises. Slight variations in initial conditions can lead to divergent outcomes with time.

People have agency, although that agency is also constrained by time and circumstances. Karl Marx wrote, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” We live between constraints and freedom.

The story of life itself is another such example. Despite the abiotic conditions, life begets life. Whole ecologies are created. Despite the constraints of chemistry and physics, the wonders of life present a testament to the powers of creation and possibility. Despite the constraints around us, we still can create microcosms of opportunity. They are endless, and as far as we can tell, infinite.

Singapore is an example of constraint and freedom. We face fundamental constraints of a limited space. We also don’t have the privilege of a rich historical tradition. Yet, we have created for ourselves microcosms of opportunities in the world and for ourselves.

We are an audacious dream made real. What we’ve given to the world is an inspiration, for countries and their leaders to think about how to move their people from poverty to prosperity. The world learns with us how to deal with constraints and diversity and live abundantly in a world of multiple cultures, and act against radicalism.

We have to continue to dream audaciously, rooted in reality. A gaze only to the future is daydreaming and futile. Our rootedness will allow us to work towards those dreams.

Every now and then we ought to close our eyes and dream a little, and then to wake up and work towards them.


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