Vision, story, and the future

Last night I went to see some art, without knowing the topic in advance. And it was another theme. It was indeed frightening. (Fake smoke is amazingly moving –and versatile– with the right lighting and sound.)

It seems many artists have taken it upon themselves these days to frighten viewers into action on global warming. It’s good to see artists embracing activism, and it’s good that people are taking these issues seriously. I want to write a bit about what kinds of messages we should be generating.

A few observations

1. Hollywood has already outdone us all with visions of apocalypse, which we are accustomed to imbibing (and dismissing) as entertainment to no effect.

2. We have precious few visions of a sustainable post-fossil-fuels world.

3. People would love to take public transportation and ride bikes rather than sit in traffic if doing so was safe, convenient, dignified, flexible, affordable, and functioning at all hours. They would also love to work from home several days a week, so they could take breaks to spend quality time with their children, pets, kitchen, and vegetable gardens. They would love to not have to schlep bottled water around if they believed that tap water was safe.

4. Household recycling is wonderful, but most pollution and waste is caused by unchecked corporations. Perhaps we have misdirected our energy. The global consensus on global warming is already that we should change behavior. This is being opposed by global multinational corporations and the states which fear to piss them off. The question is not how individuals are to “take responsibility” for their (relatively trivial) contributions to global warming, but how we can exert power over the elites who are  resolutely pursuing an economic model that will destroy the biosphere, many species, etc. and deny the next generation its heritage of this beautiful and abundant planet.

5. People who would be happy to take action and make changes in their lives feel correctly that these acts are trivial relative to the failures of states and corporations to commit to changes in their much more impactful behaviors. Beating them up with fearful visions of the future is unkind.

I believe that artists and others seeking to generate powerful stories about the future need to focus their attention on two stories:

  • How we can control the behavior of multinational corporations in the interests of the majority of people on this planet.
  • Beautiful appealing visions of an ecological economy. What will it be like, what will be its routines and pleasures? The local food movement is already building a new world in the shell of the old. Artists can help to build such stories.

Also I just wonder, having read so many times that positive and negative thinking have powerful effects on individuals’ outcomes, that this must apply equally to societies as a whole. Should we go on an apocalypse-free diet?  And what about a campaign exhorting people to donate bedtime stories for children and adults from the sustainable future?