The luck­i­est gen­er­a­tion of all

DE­CENT OB­SES­SIONS

The Weekend Australian - Life - - PLUS THREE - BERNARD SALT

The great­est sin in 2999 might be the tak­ing of self­ies

HAVE you ever won­dered what life might be like at the end of the third mil­len­nium? In 1000 years? How will we work and how will so­ci­ety be or­gan­ised? What will we eat in the year 2999?

Go back 1000 years to the end of the first mil­len­nium. So­ci­ety was tribal or feu­dal. The Re­nais­sance and the Age of Rea­son had yet to pro­pel sci­ence and medicine to promi­nence. We hadn't yet fully ex­plored the planet, let alone un­der­stood our place within the broader cos­mol­ogy of the uni­verse. The frame­work for ex­is­tence was de­fined by tribal or­der im­posed by the church, by the monar­chy, by the dy­nasty, by some­one else. Food was es­sen­tially meat, dairy and grain. Al­co­hol ex­isted in many so­ci­eties but the ad­dic­tive qual­i­ties of nico­tine, co­caine and sugar were then ei­ther com­pletely un­known or were merely un­pop­u­lar.

Cloth­ing for most was at best sack­cloth or an­i­mal skin. A mil­len­nium ago, our An­glo her­itage was per­ilously po­si­tioned between Norse and Nor­man in­va­sion. Al­though per­haps that’s what gave English the plas­tic­ity it required to con­quer the earth over the fol­low­ing 1000 years. El­e­ments of to­day’s com­mon law were in situ at the end of the first mil­len­nium, as in­deed was mu­sic, art and ar­chi­tec­ture, which sur­vive to­day in ru­ins or as in­flu­ences on later more spec­tac­u­lar works.

For most, life ex­pectancy was short — per­haps 50 — and the tribal realm was ex­traor­di­nar­ily limited, per­haps a 20km ra­dius from where most were born. And yet I am sure that life for many on a day-to-day ba­sis was filled with the stuff of life that we well recog­nise: love and sex; com­mit­ment and mar­riage; dis­putes and squab­bles; chil­dren and dis­ci­pline; life and death; suc­cess and fail­ure; be­trayal and jeal­ousy; fear and courage.

And so if we could be mag­i­cally trans­ported for­ward 1000 years from to­day to the end of this mil­len­nium, what would we recog­nise? It is likely that we would be un­able to con­verse with those who in­habit the Aus­tralian con­ti­nent in 1000 years. They might not even recog­nise the term “Aus­tralia”. The po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and so­cial or­gan­i­sa­tion will have al­tered to re­flect the pre­vail­ing val­ues of the time. In our time and prob­a­bly since the re­nais­sance we have wit­nessed the progressive democrati­sa­tion of Western so­ci­ety.

Which is all well and good in a world where re­source lim­its keep ex­pand­ing into newly dis­cov­ered cor­ners of the globe. But over the next 1000 years, the way we think might be shaped by the gnaw­ing re­al­ity that our re­sources are limited. This might mean sur­vival re­quires the sub­ju­ga­tion of in­di­vid­u­al­ity and the cul­ti­va­tion of a so­ci­ety that se­cures the in­ter­ests of the tribe.

The great­est sin in 2999 might be some­thing along the lines of to­day’s tak­ing of self­ies, which place the in­di­vid­ual at the cen­tre of ac­tiv­ity. In the full­ness of time the idea that “it’s all about me” might be viewed as a quirky aber­ra­tion that formed dur­ing an era of un­re­strained growth and pros­per­ity. Such a world might sup­port re­stric­tive po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions like a church or some other the­is­tic be­lief sys­tem that preaches eter­nal damna­tion for non­com­pli­ance. Then again, I might be guilty of chau­vin­is­ti­cally view­ing both the past and the future as be­ing equally bleak. And in which case this would mean that we to­day are in fact the luck­i­est gen­er­a­tion in 2000 years. Bernard Salt is a Mel­bourne cor­po­rate ad­viser, key­note speaker and au­thor; saltb@theaus­tralian.com.au

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