Don’t Fear the Future

Americans Must Learn Again to Make the Future, Not Fear It

Zachery Tyson Brown


For some, the future is terra incognita, foreign land that we cannot know until we arrive there — or rather, until it arrives here. But that’s not quite right, is it? Because while you can’t predict the future, you can catch glimpses of it right here in the present if you know where to look.

Optimists like to imagine a future in which today’s problems, difficult as they are, have been solved — and maybe we finally get our flying cars. Pessimists, on the other hand, maintain a darker view, one that’s extremes are replete with gray rhinos, black swans, and boiling frogs.

After a long, brutal year of endemic plague punctuated by widespread civil unrest, it’s easy for many Americans to understand and adopt the pessimist’s stance, that is, to see the future as threat. Glued to our devices, we have grown accustomed to daily reports of the world’s unraveling. The information superhighways that were supposed to lead us into a glowing age of prosperity appear instead to have left us at either dead-ends or worse — in smoking pileups. After perhaps the most contentious — and worse, incompetent — presidency in our history, the nation is as anxious, confused, and as dangerously divided as ever.

Many of us have, quite reasonably, lost faith in the things we might have once taken for granted — things like the ability to one day own a home for one example, or that American democracy is the model that the world should aspire to for another. Confidence in our public institutions — not to mention faith in our fellow citizens — remains historically low, a distrust driven by year after year after year of routine gridlock and Thelma and Louise-style crisis brinksmanship that has unfortunately had very real negative consequences for millions. Lately, it appears we’ve even started to lose faith in our military, which has, until recently, enjoyed practically unquestioned and widespread support across many segments of society.

But the travails of the past year were an outlier only in the scale of the damage inflicted, not in kind. Americans have for decades now endured a torrent of successive crises, each one a psychological blow that has sapped the nation’s collective will, not to mention its prestige. From…