Usually I write my own posts and often link to an article for further reading. However since this article is in Dutch I took the liberty of translating it (with some minor adjustments to make it accessible to an international audience). I do need to emphasize I do currently not have any permission from the author to translate or publish it in this way. The original article is from Rutger Bregman at http://www.decorrespondent.nl and can be found at the bottom of this post.
There are ideas which seem utterly ridiculous when first proposed, yet a century later are considered a basic human right. Think of the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, employment of women and gay marriage. Each of these major achievements were initially labeled irresponsible, impossible and undesirable. Until they became one of the cornerstones of society.
Recently I came across this hilarious video from 1954, about the ‘kitchen of the future’.
You heard that right: “We won’t even be able to get her out of the kitchen” the voiceover mentions gloatingly. And “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
It is difficult not to laugh as reality proved different. The advent of the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner and the kitchen of the future paved the way for women to enter the labour market. Until 1956 married women in the Netherlands weren’t even allowed to sign an agreement on their own and marriage inadvertently meant resignation. Now in 2015 the Netherlands have one of the highest female employment rates worldwide.
But you while you still may be snickering over that old fashioned video there is also something strangely uncomfortable about it. Maybe people in 2075 will consider our view of the future equally sidesplitting. Just as in 1954 we expect much from technology, robotics and the iPhone 15, yet we think little about the moral and social revolutions that may lie ahead.
Naturally, this won’t happen overnight. Moral revolutions are always of a rather stealthy nature. And more importantly: it won’t happen on its own. The Flemish philosopher Phillipe van Parijs once said that people who change the world tend to be right, ‘too early on’.
If you follow the Dutch news about the liberals and socialists arguing over percentages instead of ideas, a coalition that considers itself to be in a ‘Christmas crisis’ because three senators for once did the job they are supposed to do (vetoing an undesirable legislative proposal), an opposition generally agreeing with the cabinet and on top of that all the media covering mainly the commotion and ‘excitement’ rather than the actual affairs, for whom an idea does not exist if the political polls don’t mention it, you may start to understand that there is not much innovation coming from The Hague (political capitol) or Hilversum (media ‘capitol’).
Note from the translator: although this last section pertains to the Dutch political landscape it is equally applicable to any other country, not in the least the U.S. just substitute Democrats, Republicans and Fox News and you’re there.
It is therefore paramount to remember that the media circus we call ‘politics’ is at the end of the chain. This kind of politics does not shape the zeitgeist, it merely follows it.
Politics with a capital P is nowadays the business of citizens, freethinkers and entrepreneurs that dare to challenge our old beliefs and ideas. This a much slower though way more influential process. There are now already many ideas that are not discussed by the cabinet nor at any talk show but which may be considered a fundamental human right in 2075. Even so there may be things we now consider normal that will be a capital sin in the future.
Just of the top of my head: maybe eating meat will be considered just as barbarian as cannibalism today. Maybe passports and borders will be seen as severe discrimination, the way we now look at slavery. Or that we will consider marriage, capitalism or our privacy barbarian relics like polygamy and feudalism now.
In the end nobody can predict what the future will hold. That future is not defined by robots, algorithms and the kitchens of the future, but by the people who ‘are right, too early on’. And will be proven right. In case you still think the ideas of some ‘nutcases’ are irresponsible, impossible and undesirable, have another look at the movie of the ‘kitchen of the future’ from 1954.