The Future Is Not What It Used to Be.
”No, you’re going to run completely barefoot. No rubber soles. Then it can be like this.” Followed by a gesture with his foot trying to illustrate how to spin around in a pair of five-toed socks with rubber soles. It could have been a passage taken from Born to Run: The Hunt for the Race’s Soul (2010) – Christopher McDougall’s bestseller about the joy of running that we have had since the dawn of time. But it was in fact a completely normal conversation with one of my neighbours, who was giving me tips from their own experiences of barefoot running. He has, like so many others, stuck to a more basic way of running. No protective shoes with pronation support, only the human foot’s marvellous mechanics – because that’s how we are made to run. And that we lived in a certain way, just before we became settled, is an argument that has a singular prominence these days. And we all now seem to be experts in selected parts of the caveman’s life. Had my neighbour and I known each other a bit better, he might have been able to tell me about how best to go to the toilet (squatting, for those of you who were wondering). There is a lot interest about what happened in the past. Food, for example. First, it was the LCHF (low carb, high fat) diet that was the most natural. Cave dwellers ate no chips, diet soda or pasta carbonara. However, they apparently liked entrecote with béarnaise sauce and a glass of red. Until someone found out that there were no refrigerators in those days. Duh! It was thus not possible to store the food and, on two of the week’s five days, they managed to just catch deer and dig up the roots corresponding to 500 calories. But it is, as said, selected parts of the caveman life. Where to get information on exactly what is permitted under the 5:2 diet? Hardly by smoke signals. But really, we are well made ??for sitting around a fire and telling stories to each other; all this artificial light, it surely cannot be good. Is our skin really meant to wear nylon stockings and woollen suits? And if cavemen had no Nikes, they certainly had no Dux beds either… One interesting thing about the passion for authenticity is that it is not just a green movement in general. No one seems to want to move out into the woods for real, or return to the life that Karl Oskar and Kristina were desperate to leave. It is perfectly possible to combine barefoot running with suits, smartphones and portfolios – maybe just not simultaneously. It is okay to cherry-pick. The neighbour who runs around barefoot is not necessarily the same neighbour who acquires a squat-toilet. For those who think that the Stone Age was too long ago, you can instead choose a closer time period – sometime just before the large-scale food industry came to be. Or ”The dream of the 1890s” as the incredibly accurate hipster series Portlandia baptised the trend, in a skit where people keep chickens, cut their own ice cubes and shave with a knife. ”As if the 2000s never happened.” You can make sausages, pickle cabbage, bake bread or brew your own mead. Without ‘e-numbers’ and ‘chemical-free’. Or you can indulge in wood; a friend says, only partly ironically, that he is an ‘urban woodsman’. It is they who have the lumberjack shirts and full beards, though they live closer to Stureplan than to any forest. A few years ago, there was a Norwegian bestselling book called Firewood. Everything About Cutting, Stacking and Drying – and the Soul of Wood Burning (2011) by Lars Mytting – a book that is about just that: how to burn wood. Norwegian TV channel, NRK, chose to follow up the book with a twelve-hour-long programme on wood burning. For those who have already read Firewood, comes the Swedish Fire With Wood – the complete guide to a perfect bonfire by Vincent Thurkettle. It is easy to interpret all of this as a critique of modern consumer society. But is it true? You certainly do not need shoes for barefoot running, but nothing seems to prevent the buying of pulse watches, hydration belts and compression tights. Perhaps it is rather a lack of vision for the future that makes us look back. All the time, there are fascinating technological innovations. We are learning how to make meat in labs. Robotic technology is advancing to the point that there are now shelves of books about whether there will be any work for us in the future, or whether the Luddites will ultimately be proved to be correct. Super-entrepreneurs dream of space travel and the transport of the future. But the handful of billionaires who are planning the next space leap seem to be quite alone in looking forward, at least in the Western world. Where did the grand visions of the future go? Who longs for flying cars, space colonies and world peace? The story has not ended, but we behave as if it had – how else to explain the lack of dreams of a different and better world? The precautionary principle has become the primary approach when a policy should be being developed on scientific matters. The widespread scepticism towards GM crops and shale gas is just one example – mainly in Europe, it should be added. Genetically modified crops, to take one example, are already grown on 13 percent of the world’s arable land, but in the Americas and in Asia. Here, it is instead the status quo that is the starting point. In the same vein, the idea that there is a point where more money does not make us happier, that fact that economic development is only positive to a certain limit. However, this seems not to be the case when global data are analysed, according to a study by researchers Stevenson and Wolfers of the University of Michigan, published in the spring. ”If there is such a limit, we have not reached that yet,” they concluded. And why should we have? Have we really exhausted the possibilities for the richer life that economic prosperity gives? For it is, of course, not only technological and economic progress to which we can look forward. How does a society look where the people have greater opportunities to realise their dreams? That which gives us the conditions – time and money – to make sour dough and bake a Swedish classic is prosperity. That we can devote ourselves to the seemingly simple and basic is built on the fact that we live in an advanced society where health care, transportation, food supply, and education are all things we can take for granted. Why would a further increase in wealth not lead to even greater opportunities for a meaningful existence? Then maybe our fascination with the body’s functions will be supplemented by something else entirely – greater opportunities to engage in music, art and science? If we do not dream about the future, all that remains is to look, or run, backwards.