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“Future Perfect” – Blueprints for the Good Life

Futurzwei-Logo; © FuturzweiFuturzwei-Logo; © Futurzwei

No question about it, the idea its charm: to collect stories that show how to do it. How to do it differently. This is exactly what the Future Perfect Foundation (Stiftung Futurzwei) does. Instead of lamenting over climate change, growth and consumer madness or arguing with an accusing finger, it wants to narrate now, today, the lived alternatives for tomorrow and so embolden people to make changes. Story-telling as eco-moral motivation training.

There is a problem about ecology and sustainability: everybody, including the politicians of course, is in favor of them, but nothing actually happens, at least not enough that things really take a turn for the better. Climate change continues, each year more resources are consumed than the last, more produced, more consumed and more thrown away. That this cannot turn out well in the long run is obvious.

But arguments alone will not halt our advance down the path of growth, much less reverse it. “We know enough”, says social psychologist and cultural researcher Harald Welzer in an interview that he gave the German World Service in February 2012. We know, above all, that we cannot continue as we have been. What then does it come down to? That we finally draw the consequences from our knowledge, turn theory into practice. Welzer has done something like that: he has broken with its own growth path dependence, taken a time-out from research and in 2011 founded, together with sociologist Dana Giesecke, Future Perfect. Foundation for Future Viability. The website of the nonprofit foundation has been up and running since February 1, 2012. Now anyone who likes can hear from others how to it can be done, how, in the existing circumstances, the future can be realized, how we can already live tomorrow today.

Futurzwei-Starbildschirm; © Futurzwei

Before entering the site you have to swear ...

“So let’s begin”

The rationale of such a project is not self-evident. The social philosopher Theodor W. Adorno famously said: “There is no right life in the wrong one”. And all anti-capitalists, who envision the advent of the good only after the revolution, would agree – they regard individual solutions such as the online platform presented by Future Perfect as mere cosmetic changes, which do not remove the fundamental contradiction between capital and labor but only veil it. Should we therefore give up on doing the right thing? Adorno certainly did not intend his famous dictum to mean we should sit back and do nothing. Even if the whole distorts the possibility of the right life, it is still far from a matter of indifference how we live our lives. And those who want to change the whole have to begin on the small scale – they must start somewhere.

The online project “Future Perfect” at any rate does not want to wait for the revolution – nor for politicians or the State that will somehow sort it out, nor for conferences and their resolutions; it wants to tell stories, stories counter to the existing reality, “stories of success” which make clear that it can also be done differently – ecologically, sustainably, better. Here and now. And it wants to embolden others, to set them alight: its wants to give examples to its readers, inspire them to try something themselves – and then to tell their own stories. Perhaps these stories will someday all link into one, someday in the distant future when man will look back on his actions and take stock of the consequences they will have had for life on earth – future perfect.

“Future Archive”: stories with a lot to offer

The stories have in fact a lot to offer: for example, that of Heini Staudinger, who produces shoes in the structurally weak Waldviertel of Lower Austria, has created more than 100 jobs, uses as far as possible only materials from the region and pays himself less than he does his employees. Or that of Lisa Prantner, whose Berlin tailor shop modifies old clothes and so saves them from the fate that befalls all products whose expiration date has passed in a throw-away society. Prantner now has two shops in the Mitte district of Berlin and has thus proven that a business can be economically successful even if it rejects the rampant growth and waste madness.

There are many stories such as these on the original online platform of Future Perfect. They are selected, researched and written by a professional editorial team, which includes, in addition to the two founders of the Foundation, the well known journalist Ute Scheub; then they are stored in the so-called “Future Archive”. The heroes and heroines of these stories are not of course only responsible-minded small business people. They also include city governments, school boards, citizen initiatives, student start-ups and a cooperatively organized Bochum financial services company that gives credit only to “sensible projects”, works with complete transparency and apparently did not lose a single cent in the financial crisis of 2008. Not to mention the numerous citizens without whose ideas and commitment the projects would never have been possible.

Futurzwei – auch die Navigation ist „anders“

Future Perfect – the navigation is different

Another world is possible

All the stories are unique, and yet they all proclaim in the end the same thing: a different life, a different, socially more equitable and ecologically more sustainable world is possible – if only we desire it and at last begin to build it. Future Perfect proves this: it is simply untrue that “one” can’t do anything. Certainly, the existing circumstances are not as they ought to be, but they offer a scope that should be made use of; this is sufficiently shown by the examples. For the social psychologist Harald Welzer it is clear, moreover, that a socially and ecologically creative practice which uses this scope positively changes, develops the personalities of the actors. Such changes are the stuff out of which the future is woven, or at least the stuff on which dreams of the future are made. It is perhaps the greatest merit of the new foundation that it has created a place for these dreams of another world. But – they are no dreams; they work.

Bermd Mayerhofer,
Dr. phil., teaches political theory and the history of ideas at the Munich School of Political Science.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
April 2012

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