An address by futurist author Robert Theobald before a conference on rural America, held in Crookston, Minnesota. The speech is titled "The Role of Rural America in the Year 2000."
Theobald is an expert in rural planning, and consults for the Northwest Regional Commission in Spokane, Washington.
Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.
As I looked at the last speech what I heard. Was a representative of what I call the positive extrapolates. Extrapolate some people who say that things will go on to go on into the future in essentially unchanged ways. That was a continuing theme right through the speech. This is what has happened for the last 40 60 80 100 years. And therefore we can expect those things to continue to happen. It is one predominant type of thinking about the future. It is also argue. that this is by this group of people that what it has happened and will happen is in general good desirable satisfactory and Hope now the question is not you see whether that future is possible because I suspect that we could for X number of years into the future continue to push for greater wealth. for a less dignified distribution of income 4 Less people working and the system would survive at least for a Time. One of the latest books to come out as from a gentleman called him and cam who is the head of the positive extrapolates? If you can if you can think of a head for movement in which he has resuscitated the trickle-down? It says it's alright to be rich both as people and those Nations because that's the way the poor eventually get rich. And I see us as being terribly willing at the moment to re-buy that theory. It's a lovely fairy. It's a particularly lovely Siri for Minnesota because you're going to do very nicely out of this new world. Let's development cuz the previous speaker is in the agriculture is one of the Pas structures of our society is what a lot of the wealth is going to come from and if you can kid yourselves into saying okay, we're entitled to everything we can grab off it. And if the United States can cut itself into saying that we are entitled to Blackmail other countries with our food. We're not far from them. Then we can have a very good life. The weather we can survive over the long hole is another question. That is the thing that is necessary to make this Theory work is something that I cannot believe. that is at the pool countries are simply going to wait around being hungry and hungry and starving and I We have a neat new Siri, which is cool. Sometimes triage from the battlefield theory that you look after the least wounded first. And you say that the most wounded you don't worry about sometimes called Lifeboat ethics, which is another theory would says there isn't enough room in the Lifeboat. So we'll have to throw some people out. Interesting Lee. It's never us it's them. Now the question is why they should let us do it to them. If you think that the United States is in vulnerable to terrorist attack your crazy. If you think that terrorists will not will allow us to live well. For even a limited. Into the future. I think you are wrong. I'm not sure but I think you are. I think I only hope. is to learn how to share Now by that I do not mean foreign aid The people who argue against foreign aid or right we've done at least as much harm as we have good with Fahrenheit. Charity has always being a neat way for the giver to feel good about giving things away to the person who receives at least nearly always that very few of us who know how to give money without making people feel bad and the mean by getting that's how we view is Fahrenheit. But the other end of the scale cannot be right either the statement that we are entitled to have large numbers of people starving in the rest of the world. How do we do it? So that's one vision of the future I caught but What was the second vision of the future and they also Erick strapless but it's very interesting. They take the same world and instead of saying things are getting better. They say things are getting worse. And when you get a positive and a negative make strapless together in the same room which happened to the recent conference in Houston, and they tried to sit down and explain how they take the same world and make totally different realities out of it is a fascinating experience doesn't explain anything regrettably. Because they can't do it because the way they see the world is nothing to do with each other and I'll come back to that at the end because in the sense of smoke critical pipe that I can write. The negative extrapolate have been a group called The Club of Rome. They have become I think the people who would stop nuclear construction. We're concentrating a great deal of negative extrapolates thinking around we cannot afford nuclear pop. We done something very neat, which is to say nuclear power is more dangerous than anything else that we have around. If you look for example, if the number of chemical compounds we have around and the potential danger they pose it is probably far higher. Suddenly if you look at the danger of my Supply genetic engineering. Which we are not far enough away from to be comfortable with. the dangers of March Hai I think we have to look at the total range of what is happening to us because of science. And to recognize and I'll come back to this theme that we cannot run this world any longer without some old values. the values of honesty responsibility humility and love and the respect for mystery those values which we have tended to sort of say well that groovy things to talk about on Sunday so we can go out for the rest of the week and do the things we want to do. It isn't enough. It is not enough to go to church in order to feel good about being in Morrow gouging and the number of other sites. And yet all too often the church has become the support system for the person to be able to say what I'd really like to be a nice person. But it isn't possible in today's world. So yes, I will pay my dues for an hour on Sunday. I may even give us some money. She money is in the sense the easiest thing in the world today both to make and to give away. Let's play true. If you want to make a million and you don't it proves you're incompetent. It's all it proves. Mercy lyrics making money is not difficult if you are willing to pay the cost for making money. I happen to think that it's too destructive. But that's part of my value sat and I'll come to that in a minute. 07 vision is what I call the Romantic fish. It's a vision that is more powerful than we think it is. It's a vision that if we all became nice people tomorrow morning, the world would be a great place to live it. And that that is a feasible way of thinking. If we all became nice people tomorrow morning, it's probably true. That the world would be a nice place on the problem is we haven't done it yet. And while I think we over play The Lion of original sin. My statement to clergy who sort of over push that is always I wish they'd worry about that all no not push it on to other people. Is that a social system that does not admit the possibility of sin error and failure isn't going to work terribly well. Medicos is what the founding fathers were about in 1776 and it tells us a lot about what sort of social design might work in 1976. If we haven't all got into a mood apollyon or optimism in conjunction with both the election in the bicentennial in which we apparently have decided that everything is going to work out. I mean if anybody can give me any evidence for that statement, I'd be delighted. But to argue that a culture which has failed to make decisions on energy ecology and economic growth for the past four years or where it has made them has made them in totally contradictory ways so that you were both when you were meant to buy a car to get a kendama crows you will not to run it because that uses gasoline, but if you should run it you must have a catalytic converter. And when you realize that that is not only true of cuz but it's true of industry and Agriculture and everything else. If we have failed for the past four years to make good decisions little difficult to me to see why suddenly we're going to become good decision-makers. Those of you who be near Congress realize that even if you are a good and caring congressperson. That system is so set up so that good decision-making is inconceivable. Fact honest Congress people will now tell you that the best I hope for is to avoid falling over that feet either physically or mentally during the course of the day. By the way, the other thing that would happen if we became nice people tomorrow morning as we would have the whisper session that has ever happened. And one of the questions that I keep on asking myself is the degree to which the last recession happen because we changed our life steps. Valdosta group of people United Methodist in Wisconsin how many people had begun to change their lifestyle and I was startled to see it was well over half there was a poll out that says the 51% of the American people feel that they have begun to change the lifestyle. I think it is much more dramatic and much further along than we realize. Brittany conomic growth system that depends on. Forced consumption Cannot work if people decide that they don't need. Everything but the system is capable of turning up. So my belief is that we are in a different fundamentally different position. To the one out of which we think and analyze. Fight for those of you who know a little bit about religious history. I'd like to suggest to you that what we have done is simply Ryan raise the old religious Harris's until the point of social fallacies the predestination the idea that God decided whether or not you went to heaven. Is it only the personal level of social extrapolation which says it doesn't matter what you do? It's going to happen anyway. That's true. What on Earth are we doing wasting a beautiful day out there? if it doesn't matter what we do or think or say wasting our time I find it very difficult to understand the justification for that. Meanest things are going to get better. Why not? Let him get better if things are going to get worse. Why don't we enjoy it until the Holocaust comes out of the window when we go over the cliff and say I tried really The other end it says Lopez really no difficulty in bringing about social change. It was the free-will model now raised to the social level. All I have to do is to change my way of living in the society's got to work and that's what we got to do. I've never found a social or a personal or institutional Innovation that hasn't taken more work got Safford leadership than I like to think about. You know, I've never seen a good idea just come short of walkthrough nogin ization. Somehow good ideas always seem bad when they were originally introduced. So I come to what I call a Leadership Model. Or a management model if you don't mind that would management cuz it's a good wood to me. Not a bad one. And I start from the assumption that we are stuck with the problem of managing the Earth. There are very many moments when I wish we hadn't got there. Because it was so much nicer when most of the decisions were made by and people use different words God nature. And whatever you like, but it wasn't. We didn't have anything to do with it. Until you could say or what I do know how to plow the field. It won't make any difference when you plow one field. It doesn't When you plow all of the fields wrong in Colorado in the 1930s and you get the wrong path in the rainfall, it makes all the difference in the world. To come to one of the major issues. It's affecting this state. Is there a new climate Patton development? Some very competent competent climatologists who argue that we have moved into a different climate safe. Do we have had 30 years of incredibly good climates and that we not must not expect things to get steadily worse. No, depending on whether they're right or not. You have a totally different management problem for Minnesota. The United States in the world and one case the food problem is a manageable problem. The other case the food problem is an acute problem which unless handled well. will swampus in the immediate future How do you answer that? So the question we don't even begin to know the tools. To know whether or not a climate shift is taking place take a different language all of your head about what about this aerosol issue? The aerosol statement which says we shouldn't use ourselves because it will cause a distraction a part of the atmosphere which will increase skin cancer. What you see as somebody once said everything is a carcinogen. Otherwise everything causes cancer that may not quite be true, but it's very close to true. And yet we have a law which says that if you can prove that drinking anything to any level would leave you to have cancer it must be back. You look for example at some of the self drink additives that have been bad. It's been calculated that you need to drink about 40 bottles a day for 30 years. In order to get cancer from it. Well, I think it's some problem. My guess is that more dangerous things. You can do with an drink 40 bottles of pop for 30 days a year. It's that sort of problem that we are now in the Dilemma of dealing with and which Washington. and indeed government in general is probably not capable of dealing with at all. But the assumption that a group of people can make laws and regulations and apply them. And take away from us as individuals as localities and as States the rights to make her own decision is not a viable way of thinking of him. You know, we say that all the time we say that's going to be a decentralization of power. Are we say that we're going to have more local decision-making and nobody ever says well, how on Earth do you sort out the consequent mess? Have any of you thought about the process of the legal of flying the regular at Rising the United States. I'm saying yes, it is. Alright for Crookston to make decisions about its own future. Remembering that the reason we got into this whole Direction was the feeling that we would not gutsy enough Tough Enough responsible enough to look after the people that went in the majority. Why did we get into bus? Why did we get into all sorts of social Innovation? Because we felt that the local community was so selfish. so irresponsible But if it were left to itself it would never do anything. But look out for its own Central call majority in the minority could go to hell. So you see I come back to that Central thesis of mine that the human race. Either grows up. Either begins to Cairo Festival each individual about themselves. And then about the people they relate to all we don't make it. Let's I think a very different rhetoric to the one with which we are trying to solve our problems are a couple of things that I want to put in front of you. First of all, let's look at some policy issues. Let's look festival at full employment. Senator Humphrey has been trying to push a thing called the humphrey-hawkins bill. Humphrey-hawkins bill in its Drive is a statement that everybody should have a job. And that in order to make that happen that must be government planning. If any of you care at all about freedom and free enterprise the humphrey-hawkins bill is the most disastrous idea that has yet been promulgated in terms of destroying the freedom of this culture and people in it to make their own decisions. The only alternative that I see if one is to be real at all is to say that we must come up with new options for providing people with incomes, which means the thing which is a Massimo to many people in this state. I guaranteed them. An option which allows the individual to operate as an institution to be free enough on this an old Jeffersonian ID said nobody could be free without land. We give everybody land anymore the equivalent income of some sort. In the area of Health. We are all head up about a national health insurance. I think that is as dangerous as the humphrey-hawkins bill. Because it will freeze us into a sickness sister. Don't have you ever wondered why when you go to hospital, you should not know what your temperature is. Why if you sort of cruel down to the end of the bed and try and pick your child up in the nurse sees you at it she sort of Screams I head up. Cuz you are incompetent. Because you are not entitled to take care of yourself because we run a sickness system in this culture. And until we learn to run a health system in this couch. Until we learn to say that the primary job is to keep people well so that they don't go to hospital. And don't go to doctors. we will continue to have this problem a national health insurance key will lock us into a system which says the people are incompetent to look after themselves. Until that changes, we're not going to do anything about the health system, which leads is to a very messy untidy and ugly quest which is the one that lies beyond the right-to-life. It's the right to death. When can people die when should people die the argument that you wait for God's will is of course not a reasonable argument because the problem is the technology has already taken away from God's will in the way that that was meant. I know it's a lot of old people, you know the argument I get when I talk about this is people say to me. Oh, but Bob, you won't feel this way. When you get older you get the most surprising thing to me now is the number of all the people to say that the right we need most urgently as a right to death. The came out in the meeting in Spokane. We had a group of older people together. The first thing they said was look we must have a right to die. How do you manage it? And in this book? I did Kobe on this bad. The one change I made after I finished it was because of the Quinlan case. Cuz quite clear we can't wait any longer for that, right? Yeah. We're not adults mouth to do it because they're awful lot of kids. Who would Harry that grandparents on with the line dear. Don't you think you really have lived long enough? in any of you who've been around wheels at all know just how ugly that whole scene can get I have to I'm sorry for those I'm going to tread on toes now. I have to talk about the right to life. I think abortion to disasters. But I think that anybody who says that and does not go on to say that that means they need and the availability of birth control. For everybody effectively. It's not being reasonable. And I think that unless we become less emotional and less ugly about this issue. Just one of the issues that can tear apart our capacity to talk to and through the set of issues. It is not realistic to argue. The people are going to abstain from sex unless they going to have kids. What we do at the moment as we look off to the middle class, why are there less pregnancy is about among the middle class and among the poor mouth because the middle class engage last and sex outside marriage. I hope I'm not breaking any tremendous mythology around here. I suspect you know that this but if we don't want abortions then we better make sure that people don't have unwanted pregnancy as we better stop burying I had some this at Justice we don't have a justice system. We have two Justice systems. We have one for the underprivileged and one for the privileged. Modeling for the privilege we say that they have suffered enough Arete rake what you may remember to end up with Watergate rather frequently. And there was one person who I thought did particularly. Well, he came to the judge and he said my daughter or my wife need me. The judge said please go home and look off to the I did want somebody from a ghetto to turn up the next day to the same drugs and say my wife and my children need me and I have a horrible feeling. He wouldn't have got the same ions. The rich and the powerful we believe in Redemption. Are the Paul we believe in punishment? And we are now saying let's get everybody into jail is only one problem is a very interesting problem and I was a sort of unconsciously funny Washington state report. We said we'd love to put more people into jail put their arms in it. So unless you're willing to pay for the mother we got to do. And nobody saw that it really that I mean it really is quite I mean is very black humor. But it suddenly human. Alabama is on the court order to clean up its Federal persons, and there's no way it can do it. Because they're overcrowded. Justice it seems to me requires primarily that we keep our kids out of the criminal couch. Cuz once they get in the criminal system will create criminals with an 80% success rate. And we won't pay the cost of keeping our kids out. And we won't look at how difficult it is for kids to grow up without coming in contact with Lourdes less of a problem in the rural area. As more and more of a problem in the city of the things I was able to do when I was growing up. And what kids can do now? I'm much less. How do kids test them self. this much space left in on coach if they touch themselves on the wrong way, they suddenly find themselves in jail. education education we have got ourselves well. A moment when I think that education is an example of a drive for more we started off and said everybody should be able to read write and figure in that would take a couple of years. Then we said if 2 years of education a good then fall must be better. And then somebody said what a four years of education a good than 8 years must be better and somebody said if 8 years a good than 16 years must be better than somebody was about to say if 16 years a good then thirty-two years must be better and somebody said what luck they'll hold it. I looked this little problem with that. Schools are reality poor. The classic mcluhan story the kids walking down the street identifying the planes as they fly overhead makes they come to the school room door one says to the other now, let's go in and string those Dawn beads. Education is primarily stringing Dawn beads. How many of your kids are challenged? I just realized just how serious this is because your kid comes home in the evening and he or she says Mom Dad school was terrible today. You've had a hard day at the office or at the store knew Saadia. Don't bother me. Now when you grow up you will understand. No, that doesn't sound too bad Until you realize what you've actually done. What you actually done is to say to that child. You are not even competent to evaluate that one experience you have which is your school. But they can't even evaluate that what's left but to go out and drink and take drugs and to engage in sex to have a good time because you obviously can't even make sense if you're around the world. No more surprised. It's not very reason. So in my opinion we have to change for fundamental operating principles of the United States. Number one we have to give up on the idea that more is always better than last and will make us happy. The hell of a lot of evidence that people don't get happier with more. Yeah, I know that suffering on a sod farm in Oklahoma isn't any good. But suffering in a split-level isn't much better. And to say that people don't suffer in a split-level is to deny the possibility of frustration of the rich and the middle class and it is a peculiar arrogant and ugly form of cultural deception. Money does not make for happiness. And to argue that you can be happy with monies and without it. I mean your last I'm happy is to me and inadequate argument. We are going to have to learn to live with the idea of enough. Please note that there is something wonderful about the idea of enough because I cannot set it for you and you cannot set it for me. I cannot say to you you and your woman you have X and Y if you're not husband three kids a cat and a dog and that's all you're entitled to 12.9 energy units. Because nobody knows enough about other people's needs. All we can do is set up our own needs. But we can say we don't need more than we need not everybody needs a snowmobile. Might even share so terribly non-american idea. Number to we must get away of from the idea that people can be equal. If you think about equality you will eventually and inevitably end up in the orwellian. Hold of some people are more equal than others. No Way Out We must believe in diversity which is a different statement. Each of us are a value. But we are of value for our uniqueness. I'm not because I am equal to you. I'm the job is to find a place where each person out of that uniqueness and concern can do a good can do good work develop themselves fully. That's a much tougher on much more difficult job than equal opportunity. It's my opinion that equal opportunity is serving as a technique by which we hire. male women old young people and white plaques what we are doing is reducing the reality of diversity and systems because we say oh look, there are 12 women in this office. Now if anybody says but they behave exactly the same as white males people say that is enough a comment. What we're trying to do if I'm right at all is to change the whole way that we organize our coach number 3 we must get away from the idea of control. The classic one is the cat that always closed the curtains. The man was terribly house-proud and therefore he didn't like that. So every time the curtains got close. He threw the cat out. The cat rapidly learned that the way to get out was to close the curtains. How many of our control systems have been distorted in that way? The two colleges in Oklahoma City one of which is a totally closed and efficient Library. The other one is a totally open library and it is very strange that they open Library loses less books on the close Library. Cheating the system is a challenge that people cannot resist. on the other hand if there isn't a system to cheat there was much fun and cheating it is that the force requirement is the one I alluded to that we cannot survive without the reintroduction of the religious values. Honesty responsibility humility love and respect for my screen. No. The problem is terribly symbol. There are at least four different ways that you can look at your future. You can say. Yes, we can go on we can get bigger Farms. We can expect more wealth everything can continue and things can get better. In that case you do one set of things with your life because your self-interests is in a particular direction. You can believe that things will get inevitably and rapidly was in which case you will do another thing with your life. You can believe that it is adequate to be groovy people with each other and which case she will do yet. They said sing with your life. Or you can believe as I do that we have to learn to manage the Earth. Deciding on those option. Is an incredibly is the task we have to do. And all of us are essentially booby-trapped by our past the thing I have done most of for the past 10 years is to try to change the criteria of success by which I live. Make it very specific. I have learned that being well-known in the sense of being known by the media is in itself destructive of your capacity to communicate. Other words if you knew who I was before I came here. You wouldn't have listened. If it had been Ralph Nader to all can you know what he is going to say so you come to either get high on mod really hate his guts. But you don't come to listen. That to me is what this is all about because we can either think of each other. In terms of you and I disagree and I'm going to fight you or we can think of each other in terms of you and I have different opinions and can learn from each other teaches us that if you would I disagree one of us is wrong. So we got into a fast and wrap it argument which we are very good at disagreeing cuz we let all the skills of how to disagree and sooner or later we get into a total deadlock, but that's fine. We moved to City Hall in order to make sure that we get it passed by City Hall. We wait until our opponents are out of town and we get the measure through. That's one vision of the world the people who disagree with you are to be bullied coerced manipulated to do what you know is right. That is at best what I call a win-lose universe and all too easily to send the Great's into a lose-lose universe. It comes out of our way of thinking about the world which believes that there is one objective truth. And if somebody doesn't agree with you, they one of us has to be wrong. If that isn't the way the universe works. Then we better go in a New Direction. That is no objective truth. I'm sorry friends. Social Science is based on a totally obsolete method of sync. What we learn in sociology political science economics, most of them trapology statistics and I can go on is based on Newtonian physical science, which some of you may remember was proved to be a special case rather early in the 20th century. Are you going to allow yourself? To get caught up. In the hatred and the tensions of the big cities. Which exists particularly on the east coast and I've had just had a meeting while we've had that where there's no trust left where you cannot talk. Why you going to take that remaining trust you have and begin to develop institutional structures which are based on your capacity for trust. CR institutional structures at the present time are based on the Assumption. We can trust each other that we must have checks and balances. No love that Jets. We need us some institutional structures would say that the checks and balances which we do need come from our own personal leadership discussion disagreement agreement, Hamlin. I'd like to argue and I bug you this again in the game the Minnesota that you liked the Upper Midwest states should get into what I call Value decision-making. And should begin to develop some institutional basis for learning how you make non-coercive decisions. I'm going to go to be down somewhere and it certainly isn't going to be done on the East Coast. But it if it doesn't done anywhere at all, we are going to watch ourselves full end to 1984 Brave New World or whatever your dystopia that you most dislike it. She is either believe that we will move to Baltimore Human Society in the immediate future or a much less Human Society. And it's people like us to a gun to determine which it is meetings like this. I'm not groovy exercises for me there opportunities for us to decide whether or not we want to be change agents of change agents don't have to be hated by the way. They tend to be disruptive but being hated is not terribly is. How are you a change agent in a way that allows people to learn with you rather than against you is one of the questions.