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The soothsayer is the one who seeks to predict the future in order to control it. His task is to peer into the entrails of a social system to decipher the omens which will assure its rulers that the system will endure. * These days, he is generally an economist or business executive. The prophet, by contrast, has no interest in foretelling the future, other than to warn that unless we change our ways we are unlikely to have a future--or, at least, likely to have one that is deeply unpleasant. His concern is to rebuke the injustice of the present, not dream of some future perfection, but since you cannot identify injustice without some notion of justice, a kind of future is already implicit in the denunciation. Just as the present is made up largely of what failed to happen in the past, so an image of the future can be glimpsed, negatively, obliquely, in what is lacking in the present. The best image of the future is the failure of the present. Or rather, it is in the contradictions of the present, in the places where it fails to be quite identical with itself, in that which is utterly integral to it yet which it discards as so much waste and surplus, that the glimmerings of a future can be discerned, like a light glimmering through the rips in a fabric. A future which was not somehow in line with the present would be unintelligible, just as one which was only in line with it would be undesirable. A desirable future must be a feasible one, otherwise we shall come to desire uselessly and so, like Freud's neurotic, fall ill of longing. On the other hand, if we simply read off the future from the present, we cancel the futurity of the future, rather as the new historicism tends to erase the pastness of the past. The seriously bizarre utopian, the one with his head buried most obdurately in the sands, is the hard-nosed pragmatist who imagines that the future will be pretty much like the present only more so. As someone recently described the postmodern future: the present plus more options. The pure fantasy of this street-wise pragmatist delusion, that the IMF and Temple Bar, Brad Pitt and chocolate chip cookies will still all be up and running in the year 5000, makes the hairy, wild-eyed apocalypticists look like spineless moderates. Whatever Francis Fukuyama may think, the problem is not that we are likely to have too little future, but too much. Our children, worse luck, are likely to live in interesting times.

Religion & Spirituality
January 1
Arena Printing and Publications Pty. Ltd.

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