Alternative networks, seedbeds of a new culture, have been growing in all industrial nations during the last few decades. Their members are not waiting for the big day of sudden change. They are starting here and...

Acceptance speech – Robert Jungk

In the talk, dear Jakob von Uexkull, which you gave during the 1984 ceremonies, you spoke of the longing for a very different future than the one we are now creating. It is precisely for such a different future that the previous recipients have been working. But who is “we”? Can we also be equated with the planners and builders of the technocracy? When I reflected I realized that this statement is unfortunately true: through our work, our tax money, our consumption we have-become captive supporters of the system, which pretends to create a wonderful future but in reality destroys all hope of one. We have become wheels in an all perverse machine of destruction, which works against us, our children and their children.

However there is a world wide movement of resistance, which tries to liberate us from this new tyranny. It is growing. Not fast enough, but at a steady pace. It is strong, but by no means strong enough. May be something is lacking. To say NO is essential, but not sufficient, because negation is always dependent on that, which it negates. A good doctor will not only fight a disease. He will try to stimulate the healing forces in the body.

Therefore, if the new movements for real change are going to succeed they will have to turn the “longing for a very different future” into a loud and powerful “YES”. We need radically new concepts, concrete examples of more human relationships between people and just as importantly between people and the earth. These glimpses of another “tomorrow” should be made visible even today.

On one of the walls in my workroom hangs a woodcut. It shows a half naked man, who tries to gather together the glowing debris of an exploded sun to form a new heavenly light. I feel very close to this figure. Because for years I have been collecting bits of bright news: information about hopeful beginnings, encouraging activities, reports about imaginative individuals and groups, who try out new ways and do not give up.

The public does not hear enough of these seeds of a more sensible and hopeful future. Maybe that has to do with the way that the media look at reality. For them “good news is no news”. Sensational events such as crises and catastrophes seem more interesting to them than the attempts to live more simply, to work more meaningfully, to help one another and to create  spiritual wealth rather than accumulating material goods.

Future Research – at least in its first phase – did not listen to these faint signals of a new “Zeitgeist”. What was heard was the voice of the technocrats: more, faster, stronger, higher, bigger. The roots of this violent futurism can be found in the “think tanks” of the American military and industrial establishments. Even before the Second World War ended the RAND Corporation was founded by the US Air force in order to study and prepare future armed conflicts. Shortly thereafter “Stanford Research Institute” came into being in the area known today as “Silicon Valley”. Here plans and products for control of the future world marketwere developed.

Only now do we begin to understand the importance of these first attempts to invent and manipulate the future rather than letting it happen. Continuing in the tradition of Los Alamos and other weapons laboratories they devised blueprints for complex and extremely powerful systems. These differed significantly from the earlier inventions of the industrial age: their impact must be measured in decades, centuries or even thousands of years. Even more horrifying is the fact that the damage they may cause can be irreversible.

So today we have to live with the possibility of a manmade apocalypse. The sudden and final end of our species – alas – has become a realistic vision. The senseless extinction of numerous plants and animals portends maybe our own fate. For short-term economic or political gains we risk damages, which may last a hundred times longer or perhaps forever.

In the late sixties a new kind of futurist emerged. Their guiding star was PEACE not war. They spoke of “old-fashioned” ideas such as human scale, humility, beauty and the inescapable fact, that man and woman belong to nature. It was no coincidence that it was the peace researcher Johan Galtung and the Quaker James Wellesley-Wesley, who organised the first world wide conference on future research in 1967. I am proud of the fact that I was able to work with them at the very beginnings of this new movement.

We wanted to overcome the deadly crisis of our civilization by developing strategies for survival. Not competition, but cooperation, not exploitation of people and nature, but the care and protection of the creation and its creatures was to be our way into the unknown world of tomorrow. Such a vision lacks the grandiose and macabre fascination of technocratic plans. They don’t have the sensational touch that gets the attention of the media and their consumers, who are out for thrills. And we should not underestimate the seductive power of that risky adventure. Despite all that the alternative culture with its attempts to create a pluralistic decentralized future by choosing a soft path instead of the aggressive technology highway gains momentum. Year by year the number of projects, whose participants think differently, work and live differently, increases. Only last week I attended a conference in Hamburg, where more than 2000 individuals from over 70 self-help organisations met in order to discuss their efforts towards a more livable future.

Among the activities they described were: efforts to regenerate urban slums, the revival of neighborhood democracy, new ways to heal industrial illnesses, the creation of meaningful and useful work, the development of alternative energy by citizen groups, the promotion of female culture, establishing spaces for children’s activities, inspiring cultural creation at all levels and many other positive endeavors.

Such alternative networks, seedbeds of a new culture, have been growing in all industrial nations during the last few decades. Their members are not waiting for the “big day” of sudden change. They are starting here and now to build convincing models of peaceful existence. The effects of their activities can be likened to acupuncture for the social body. Already now they are becoming a sort of antibodies within the afflicted system. If it were not for them paralysis would grip many people of good will, who are close to despair.

These self-help groups not only help themselves, but they give hope to many others. They do not give in to resignation, realising that this would open the road to the destroyers of mankind.

A doubt persists: are these pioneers of a more human and ecological future not too weak? Can they really overcome the enormous power of the entrenched establishment? I would contest that. In times of instability even small inputs of new quality can dramatically alter quantitative superiority. In an epoch of mounting crises people, who can offer possible solutions, have greatly increased chances of influencing the course of events.

Such problem solving takes place in the “future workshops” which have sprung in a number of countries, especially in Germany and Denmark. In these new grassroots groups concerned citizens get together in order to develop their own visions of the future. They want to enter the political process early enough in its initial stages while new ideas are being generated. This way they can become subjects rather than objects, planners rather than victims taking part in the shaping of their destiny.

The people in power are much weaker than they appear and the citizen movements much stronger than they themselves realize. As defenders of the unborn, as protectors of the earth, as pioneers of peaceful relationships they create new beginnings in the middle of the old. We should give them more than our sympathy. They urgently need our active and lasting support.The alternative future is already here. The prize of honour you have given me is an encouragement for us all, who know: OTHER WAYS ARE POSSIBLE. I thank you, we thank you with all our heart.

Robert-Jungk-Bibliothek für Zukunftsfragen (JBZ)
Strubergasse 18
A-5020 Salzburg