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The Turmoil of Future Existence

Charles R. Reid Author Interview

Charles R. Reid Author Interview

The Philosophical Future discusses the social and psychological challenges facing people in the 21st century. Why was this an important book for you to write?

Man is of course a creature of needs, which are easily misunderstood and in a confrontational world often taken by the individual as absolute imperatives. Violent actions and reactions, and more broadly aggressive behavior in general, tend to satisfy only, and too often, wrongly perceived needs of an instant. Long-term consequences are imprudently ignored. But it is too late as a rule to correct the mistake.

To avoid this familiar trap, nothing avails save the self-aware use of individual will — a learned capability — to survey each situation as it arises, and then rationally decide on and carry out a plan of action (including non-action) suitable to the circumstances. In an overly crowded world, and given today’s climate of festering person-to person and group-against group hostility, however, nothing appears to succeed other than violence or a threat of it. Whatever deprives the “other” of his ability to remain a self-respecting combatant can be employed. This wholly negative world view leads down an unsustainable road — in fact to social chaos.

Calls for meaningful change fall on mostly deaf ears. They do not convince. Nonetheless, the burden for positive change rests with individual minds. Such social unanimity as does occur is forced, and unless or until enough self-discipline takes hold in individual minds, and without coercion, this millennial consummation seems just as probable as another..

This book was written with such global issues in mind. Its significance lies in the message which it conveys to minds honestly aspiring to achieve a personal knowledge of what they may expect to encounter in the way of social, psychological, and moral trials in years to come.

You have an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin and an Ed.D. from the University of California, and you taught at many different schools. How has this experience helped you write this book?

Teachers, much akin to dispensers of religious doctrine, today more than ever share a burden of communicating to students more than mere facts or supposed facts originating with cultural authority. The effective teacher has also himself both learned and understood the “material” of his lessons. Even so, automatic transfer from one mind to another is a misconception. Not all learning experiences can be summed up in this formula. Even the substance of what there is to be learned erodes in this migration.

The basics of language and social skills can of course never be taken for granted. This includes all knowledge that can be reduced to a common parlance, including number, letter, names, places, dates, and even some rules of interpersonal behavior. The tyro can usually master this domain with aid from a teacher who himself studied and retained not only the rote aspect but some of the life-value of its content. Still, more than ever beyond this one needs certain more fundamental elements to make his way in life.

Most individuals, sadly enough, while they do achieve a grasp of these lesser aspects of behavioral competence, fail to move past them. Even many teachers may not learn to question themselves, to seek beyond their already memorized data base to explore the deeper significance of being human. For all further, higher knowledge, the kind needed to live with meaning, though built on a firm foundation of “the basics,” requires a yet greater step, and the true teacher recognizes this. All such higher knowledge demands a learner, as well as his teacher, who together strive for genuine understanding — so that each of them in the web of his own experience questions both himself as well as the “why” of things, basic and abstract alike.

I think this book does a fantastic job of delivering complex ideas in an understandable and meaningful way. What do you hope readers take away from your book?

To those whose developing interests include a genuine curiosity about conditions of life over the longer tomorrow, and assuming they are looking for an unvarnished view of today’s global scene, with some adumbration of what lies ahead, this book aims to provide some, but not all, and never absolute, answers. It is not indeed a prediction but an advisory. It deals only with the possible, in an age of few if any certainties.

Most young people, but also readers in general, tend to live on two levels of thought: On one hand they have a vision of society as some kind of mechanical entity; its fundamental workings go on at a comfortable distance; unless one becomes caught in their legal entanglements, they can be ignored. On the other hand, when society calls on them as individuals to participate actively in its formal activities (such as jury duty), thought and intelligence must be brought to bear; even so, the passive state of mind dominates. Typically (even in the jury room) one follows the herd.

For this typical reader this book then cannot help but sound a wake-up call. Neither mechanistic nor presumably-more active approaches to life in society in fact suffice. Knowledge of the whole and of its salient moving parts and of one’s own capabilities for adaptation to the turmoil of future existence — these will be key to genuine success in the art of living.

Where do you think society is headed and what can an individual do to ensure they are successful in that future?

The question of where society is headed and how it is likely to get there cannot be answered without giving thought to the individual’s plasticity of character and his motivations as a moral being. If individuals en masse pay no heed to what serves the common good, then the way forward becomes rife with predictable social decline. But this view overemphasizes the dark side. Neither man’s overall world outlook nor his web of relations in a complex environment ever reduce to a simple unidirectional pattern, at least in the short run.

History reveals one singular truth: In its gradual development, and often without conscious control, society “fixes” some problems, analyzes others without acting on them, and simply ignores those it cannot deal with. So we cannot rationally envision either a future utopia or dystopia. There is no end-point. The real wild card remains the “average” individual’s capacity for directing his powers either to improve the common good along with his own sense of social stability, or to give way to mental and moral negation, with destructive results in society.

Men are not prisoners of history, as is often claimed. But there is just so much any generation can do in a practical sense to unleash itself from on-the-ground conditions and the relatively passive state of mind it inherits. Revolutions come and go, yet underlying capabilities cling to their natural limits. The process is slow, unseen, and does not involve conscious volition other than to a limited degree. So the likeliest condition of society a century hence, barring an atomic or planetary disaster, will represent in essence only a repetition in substance (though not in detail) of what have been the commonplace evils of our time: over-population and consequent mass poverty; ever increasing global hysterias; police-state governments; continued lack of education and subsequent bewilderment over how to live a meaningful individual life in a complex and demanding environment. The true individual may disappear as this process works itself out. Yet fortunately, his eventual reappearance cannot entirely be ruled impossible either. And how this unresolved dichotomy is then resolved will make all the difference.

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This book surveys the breadth of mankind’s postmodern malaise, which is achieved through a discussion of the major challenges, social and psychological, which every individual faces in the effort to live fully in the twenty-first century. These challenges lay in broadly familiar domains: self- and group-consciousness; common man and his place in a future society in which mental activity dominates; work and leisure; knowledge and values accruing from it, both for self and others; possibilities in education; civilization, with its “Dark Age” phenomena and its dreams of progress; the role of the past in contemporary life; and power, both in society and within the sovereign individual who, though bound by physical and intellectual limits, functions as a seeker after the freedom and self-fulfillment which are so wholly integral to the human condition. And finally a serious question: What fate awaits the perpetual non-conformist, whose views, however unwelcome in his own time and in a contemporary environment, may in fact anticipate future living conditions?

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