Another problematic type is the Dystopian futurist, someone who is convinced the wheels are falling off society in basic ways, and who like all dogmatic futurists, would love to convince you of their way of seeing the world as well. Dystopianism is just as extreme and unsupportable as utopian thinking, but it gets a lot more airplay in our media-saturated, pessimistic culture. In Chapter 1 we discussed humanity’s evolutionary pessimism bias, our aging pessimism bias (due to our increasingly longer lives) and our cultural pessimism bias (the latter perhaps due to our increasingly pervasive media, and our increasing sensitivity to injustice and risk as a function of growing social wealth). It’s easy for this pessimism bias to tip any of us into dystopian thinking.
Just as utopian images can be constructive, as long as they aren’t our main way of thinking, dystopian images can be constructive as well. When they are offered as self-preventing prophecy, well-crafted scenarios of very undesirable futures that have some reasonable plausibility, can spur us out of complacency into making painful and long-needed changes. People often won’t change when they “see the light” (inspiration from positive visions) but only when they “feel the heat” (feel the fear of powerfully negative visions potentially coming true).
Dystopian images, judiciously used, can help us to feel that productive heat, and generate change. Recall Rachel Carson’s bestselling book Silent Spring (1962) as a classic example of such imagery. This book vividly painted a bleak and distressing image of a potential biological future with runaway negative effects from DDT. Her work galvanized US and global policies to curb DDTs use, and it was perhaps the most influential early book that helped start our modern environmental movement.
Yet along with judicious use of dystopian imagery, we can also find far too many examples of apocalyptic dystopianism, like Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1970), Meadows’ The Limits to Growth (1972), Kuntsler’s The Long Emergency (2006) and Ruppert’s Confronting Collapse (2009), to pick just four of a large number of extremely and unsupportably negative future visions currently in circulation. The first two of these have been discredited in many of their key timelines and predictions, the second two are presently remaining to be discredited by future events.
Such authors can gain lots of adherents for their ideas, as there are a lot of pessimists one can market to. They can also constantly find particular examples of individuals, organizations, and nations in temporary decline and collapse, to self-justify their extreme world view. But their general dystopias never emerge.
In the meantime, dystopian futurists keep a large number of mild pessimists permanently mired in a self-fulfilling prophecy of debilitating pessimism, when these individuals instead should be helped to overcome their biases and become part of the universe’s accelerating positive process instead. It’s easy to be a dystopian, but the universe, very fortunately, clearly appears to have other plans. We just need to wake up enough to see that fact, and use it to accelerate all the positive developments that are going to happen eventually anyway, whether we like it or not.