The Fortnightly Review’s 2016-2017 Serial.
Preface and Contents
With the serial publication schedule.
By ALAN MACFARLANE.
TARAS, THERE ARE MANY challenges for you as you grow up in today’s world. In this small book I have identified eight of these which seem particularly acute. In each essay I try to outline, usually through a preliminary historical overview, what I think the heart of the problem is. In other words, where we are now and what our choices are. I then make some suggestions of ways in which we may escape from any traps and tendencies.
The suggested solutions are often quite radical and may strike some as either impractical or bizarre, or both. Yet I believe, with Albert Einstein, that ‘Unless an idea starts off as absurd, there is no hope for it.’ If it is an obvious idea, others will have thought of it, and probably tried it, and we are still in our current mess. So we need ‘absurd’, unlikely, unexpected ideas which make a new strong suggestion. This is what is sometimes called ‘blue sky’ thinking.
The need for radical new initiatives also stems from realizing the truth of another of Einstein’s remarks, namely that ‘Problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.’ In other words, we need to rise up to another level of analysis if we are going to survive and thrive. It is no help to go on thinking within the current, sterile and often dangerous current paradigm. It is time for intuitive or imaginative leaps into a new future. Only if we really change direction as we contemplate a very different world ahead, will we avoid various disasters, or at least serious difficulties.
So the essays are to stimulate thought, perhaps cause disagreement and a need for modification. They are an attempt to lift myself, and I hope the reader, out of mental ruts.
The essays were written very quickly, partly inspired by a request to give two seminars for a joint meeting of the Resolution Foundation and the China Media Centre (University of Westminster) in London. Both these organisations are concerned with the intersection between academic ideas and practical problems. They asked me to think about the relations of the family and state, derived from my earlier work on The Origins of English Individualism (1978).
As I jotted down some possible ideas for those talks, I found myself expanding into new areas. So I decided to keep the spontaneity of these reflections, and to draw them together as another of my current series of short books, principally written as a series of ‘Master’s Letters to Young Chinese’, published in China.
The other books in this series are more academic, about theory and methods of discovery and creativity. This set aims to apply some of the theories to selected practical issues. If we are to survive, we must learn from our past, and from the huge variety of human experience across the world. Here are a few hints for a rushing, changing and dangerous and unprecedented world. As always, I welcome comments.
Ed. note: The serial will appear in chapter parts published on the 1st and 15th of each month. This list constitutes the table of contents for the series:
- Population and Resources [1 November 2016]
- Work and Machines [15 November 2016]
- Health and Longevity [1 December 2016]
- Democracy and Civil Society [15 December 2016]
- Computers and Communications [1 January 2017]
- Cultures and Multi-culturalism [15 January 2017]
- Education and Life [1 February 2017]
- War and Peace [15 February 2017]
Afterword [1 March 2017]
Prof Macfarlane is the author of more than twenty books and numerous articles covering English social history, demography in Nepal and the industrial history of England, China and Japan. His survey text, The Invention of the Modern World, is published by Odd Volumes for subscribers to the Fortnightly. He established the Cambridge Rivers Press in 2015 as a branch of the Vanishing Worlds Foundation, with an intent to use ‘new desktop publishing potentials and the Internet to make available books related to education, anthropology and in particular the links between China and the West.’