January 25, 2011
Grounded in a wealth of solid research, this optimistic outlook on human destiny offers a realistic hope that we human beings are fully capable of solving even our most challenging problems.
It’s trendy to be pessimistic about the future. We hear daily about the looming threats from global warming, terrorist plots, nuclear proliferation, overpopulation, and other frightening possibilities. It’s also easy to point to the unprecedented toll of destruction during the two world wars of the twentieth century and conclude that the prospects for global civilization rest on pretty shaky grounds.
While not discounting the calamities of the past with the troubling realities on the horizon, social psychologist Ronald G. Havelock looks at the same facts and sees a different, much more optimistic trend. He calls it the forward function, a cluster of six forces that has driven human progress from the Stone Age the present.
In this positive yet realistic appraisal of the human condition, Havelock examines in detail the six forces. He explains that the key to humanity’s past and future success is our ability to pass on what is been learned from one generation to the next, resulting in an ever larger and more widely shared knowledge platform. This is been especially evident in the last two hundred years, when the scientific revolution has produced an explosive growth of knowledge building and the application of that knowledge to human needs.
Today, the most exciting and hopeful development is that the transfer of knowledge is increasingly not just from generation to generation but within generations and across cultures. And it extends from the rich to the middle-class and even to the poor. The primary consequence of knowledge expansion is thus the empowerment of those who can understand and use it, and a better life for more and more people.
Havelock argues that, despite periodic setbacks, progress is actually accelerating on many dimensions of human existence. In his view, fears for the human future are widely exaggerated and overlook both the knowledge resources at hand to solve problems and the ingenuity of succeeding generations in using those resources for both individual and planetary well-being.
Ronald G. Havelock, PhD (Shady Side, MD), is the director of the Knowledge Transfer Institute, a consulting practice formerly associated with the American University of Washington, DC. He is the author of five books, including The Change Agent’s Guide to Innovation (with S. Zolotolow).