Visions and Challenges for the 21st Century - Wim Smit

In memoriam Wim Smit

Many governments and think tanks are at the moment busy with making scenarios for the present century. These scenarios range from a very positive to a very negative outlook for the coming days as e.g. can be seen in many artistic products, books, and movies etc., which vary from a paradise on this planet to an apocalypse in which the majority of the earth is destroyed.

Even in science this ambiguity can be seen, though science could know by historical evidence that breakthroughs in the society are hardly to predict.

In a recent study of Prof. Philip Tetlock (2005) it was concluded that well-known experts were unable to predict the future in an adequate way, and often do not come further than to see the future as an extrapolation of the past. Also in the historical disciplines slowly the awareness arises that we even cannot describe historical events in a good way. Always the thoughts and views tell more on the historian than what actually happened in the past days, as Prof. Frank Ankersmit (2012) recently demonstrated.

Most religions also are interested in the future and follow and co-shape basically the general ideas which circulate under mankind. Internal oriented religions try to strengthen the internal man so that he can cope with all the things and events he might encounter, while external oriented religions try to develop a system of regulations and commandments for the well-being of mankind. The rise of many charismatic religious flows in the world seems to indicate that mankind favours in our days more the internal oriented approach.

In our world we can notice the contradictions in almost all human activities, and maybe the Japanese philosopher Prof. Nishida Kitaro (1947) was right in his statement that the basic ground for every human being is his existence in contradictions, and his thinking is a good example of combining Western and Eastern ways of thinking. Traditionally philosophy felt always responsible to think and reflect on the good life.

In this paper attention is paid to some possible futures for mankind and some results will be discussed from the studies prepared by various institutes and scholars in the last decade from which a number of ideas are given. This century will produce unexpected challenges which are primarily global based, because the interconnection power between the world citizens is so increased that more things than ever became interdependent. Finally, some attention will be given to the findings and opinions of scholars on a number of critical issues.

This paper was written by Wim Smit at the request of Prof. George Lasker for the IIAS Marienbad meeting in August 2013.