August 16, 2015
Societal collapse makes for good storytelling.
A number of the best books that I've read this year feature collapse as the central narrative conceit. The books include, The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (which is amazing), The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, and California by Edan Lepucki.
I have Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel all teed up on my Kindle.
And who can forget Cormac McCarthy’s classic The Road?
What are your favorite collapse books?
What would the average college student make of their future after reading these books? They may be forgiven for believing that there is little point in worrying too much about planning for their future when:
A: Oil and/or clean water is bound to run out (sooner than later), and our consumption is destroying our environment.
B: Society is fragile.
C: Anarchy, or at least the dissolution of a recognizable social order, is our inevitable future.
Collapse books make for good fiction, but do they offer a reasonable (or even defensible) vision of our future?
Those of us who have made a life in higher education have, I think, something to say about resilience.
Many of us work at institutions that have been around for decades, if not centuries. We fully expect that our schools will evolve, adapt and thrive long into the future. We make our decisions about where to focus and what to invest in with an eye towards the long-term. Our time horizons are long, and our confidence in the future is great.
It is good fun to read societal collapse fiction, and I think that we should take many of the lessons about resource sustainability in these books to heart. If these books are read in our courses (are they?), then terrific learning opportunities will no doubt emerge.
To the extent that ideas develop and disseminate from our campuses, I hope that one of these ideas is that our long-term social and economic prospects are actually pretty good.
Rather than collapse, the future that our students will enjoy will actually be one of options and opportunities.
We should find a way to get across the idea that most societies, and in particular democratic societies, are actually quite resilient.
We should acknowledge the very real challenges around global climate change and economic inequality, but at the same time enumerate the incredibly positive economic, health, and social trends that best describe the path of the great majority of the world's population.
If you are worried about your kids or grandkids future, I highly recommend investing an hour watching Hans Rosling’s entertaining presentation Don’t Panic, reading Matt Ridley’s wonderful book The Rational Optimist, and spending time on the Our World In Data website.
Is it time for those of us in higher ed to offer an alternative vision to collapse?
What are some books that may offer a counterweight to the collapse fiction that we all love to read?
Are you as positive about our future as I am?
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