“We need a renaissance of wonder. We need to renew, in our hearts and in our souls, the deathless dream, the eternal poetry, the perennial sense that life is miracle and magic.”
~ E. Merrill Root (1895-1973)
This quote was recently posted to Facebook by futurist Alex Michael Bonnici, for other futurist fans (he called out a set of co-authors, who had used this quote in one of their books). When I read it, it gave me pause. But maybe not for the reason Alex intended.
For though it’s a nice statement, I’m not sure it’s the right approach for the future. In fact, the idea that “life is miracle and magic” may have backfired on modern civilization, which seems to be backing away from life, technology and the future because it no longer looks like miracle and magic to them.
The 20th century was full of amazing advances in technology, giving us electronics and global communications technology, new forms of games and entertainment, robotic factory workers, powering our homes with the atom and stepping on the Moon. For a time, it seemed there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish. Even the problems that followed those advances—pollution and the increasing damage to the environment—seemed only a nuisance that was easily fixed with a little effort.
Here in the 21st century, we are running headlong into incredible challenges, technological, social, financial and ecological. But the “little effort” needed to fix those things has been put off, or the responsibility shifted to others. The most common response to these challenges seems to be a denial that there are problems, followed by concerted efforts to turn back the clock to simpler times… innocent times… the times when everything felt like magic.
When we were kids.
As a result, we have allowed the continued ruination of our ecosystem in order to drive fast cars… we have resisted heightened security systems because it delays us in the cashier line… we argue gun laws because our right to shoot guns is cooler than your right to not get shot… we fight public surveillance systems because we are afraid to be caught doing things we’re not supposed to be doing, like skipping out of work to see the game or dallying with people we’re not married to. We are still living like children, and resisting anything that will force us to grow up… including doing the adult work needed to solve our problems.
Even our entertainment backs up our desperate grip on childhood, rehashing and remaking the simple stories of our youth, making live-action versions of fairy tales and showing us characters that never grew up, or who had to return to their childhood to be fulfilled… a world of childish monsters, superheroes and Peter Pans who refuse to leave Neverland.
But we simply can no longer afford to live like children, caring only for the cool stuff and ignoring the rest, as if some authority figure or “parent” will fix it for us. We are the parents. It’s our job to do the fixing.
So, with respect to Root (and Alex), I say:
We need a renaissance of responsibility. We need to put aside the dreams and poetry of our innocent and oblivious childhoods, understand that the problems of the world are not going to fix themselves, and accept our responsibility in getting the job done.
No, it’s not as much fun as partying in a Neverland existence. But when the rain comes, we’ll be glad we got serious for a time and fixed the roof.