January 6, 2017

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the future of our economy and the state of liberal arts education in this country. I’ve also been reading and thinking about reading itself, and doing some highly rewarding reading with my students. Here’s one idea that’s coalescing for me around these lines of inquiry.

The only job that will matter in the not-too-distant future is Visionary. Within fifty years, probably sooner, globalization and technological advancement will make today’s economic status quo obsolete. Because change is now exponential, whatever professions you think will be essential in 2067 will probably be irrelevant.

“Jobs” will fall into three categories. First, the job of the economic elites will be to maintain their status as elites. This is, for all practical purposes, their perspective now, and it will only become more extreme—and obvious to the rest of us—in the future. Second, a small subset of the least valued non-elites will be required to maintain the systems and institutions with which the elites surround themselves and maintain power.

The vast majority of people, then, will have no real job. The millions of jobs we have for decades associated with the middle and working classes will have continued their vanishing act. This huge swatch of purposeless humanity will either be left to duke it out in the ultimate Social Darwinian death pit or they will be grudgingly supported by the elites through some sort of guaranteed survival-sufficient income.

It is these hundreds of millions of humans who will have nothing to do but consume whatever version of virtual entertainment they’re being fed from whom the World-Changers will come. From this vast “middle” class will come the Visionaries who will upset the world order, de-throne the elites, return autonomy and purpose to their fellow citizens, and re-start the experiment in egalitarian, communalistic society. This is the job of visionaries: to remake the world better, and better for more people.

How exactly they will do this I have no idea. After all, they will be the visionaries. However, I have a pretty good idea what we need to do now to ensure that the future jobless masses are supplied with enough visionaries to wake up and change the world around them. Visionaries throughout history (and, I’m betting, in the future) share three essential traits:

  1. They have rich inner lives, usually nurtured by lifelong varied learning;
  2. They think big, even when acting small; and
  3. They base their priorities on hope, love, and courage, not fear, greed, and apathy.

My prescription, then, for assuring that the five-decades-hence world is not devoid of visionaries is to:

  1. Spread a love of liberal arts, anchored by deep, wide reading and the scientific method;
  2. Connect life’s big questions to the details of our everyday lives, and discuss these connections with anyone who will listen; and
  3. Fight the forces of fear, greed, and apathy through acts of hope, love, and courage.

If you are a teacher, a writer, a scientist, a care-giver, a person in any profession that values ideas, connections, nature, and truth, I hope you will do the same. Whatever happens in the next four or eight or twenty years, I suspect life fifty years from now will at least partially resemble the world I’ve described. Maybe—hopefully—not, but either way, we need to keep developing individual people, especially young people, who know themselves intimately and care about everyone else. No other type of person will be capable of making a better world as the trends of the last fifty years accelerate and spin off in extreme, and extremely disruptive, directions.

The only people who will matter are Visionaries, and it is our duty to seed the future with as many of them as possible. Read, wonder, think big, hope, love, and fight, and instill a drive to do all of these things in others. This is as much the recipe for progress now as it has ever been. Time to get cooking.