(Im)possibilities for Sustainable Future(s)
By the end of the sentence, it’s no longer the same sentence that it was at the beginning. (Jacques Derrida)
Over the coming months I intend to explore the concepts that guide Ākāśa Innovation in our responses to the age of crises that we now face. It is time for us to imagine and write new stories together about our journey towards truly sustainable futures. But the truth is that we do not know the right path forward. The French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, considered the world to be much like a book without a single author and even our writing “does not know where it is going”. Any new narratives about our collective futures are an encounter with incalculable possibilities and we would do well to remember that they should not propose a fixed destination that we can be certain of. Our Ākāśa Elements offer only possible ways to see the world anew.
Ākāśa Innovation arrives into a field in which experts offer competing versions of, what one consultancy refers to as, “comprehensive sustainability solutions”. We certainly believe in the need to draw upon specialists for a better understanding of the world around us if we are to imagine and create sustainable futures, but Derrida teaches us that it is a mistake to think there is some piece of knowledge that reveals our way ahead. Not only are we uncertain about the right decision to take, but we also acknowledge that there is no decision that can make everything right and change the entire world for the better. The worst can still happen in spite of our best intentions and preparations. Derrida referred to these dilemmas as aporia – the decisions with no clear path ahead. The lack of absolute certainty means that we are involved in situations that we are not in control of. Decisions must be made nonetheless. To face aporia then requires a leap of faith and a commitment to act without guarantee.
As educators we are often asked to provide our students with more certain predictions about the future and the necessary solutions to the challenges that confront us. Although we should encourage the questions about why we should act and what is to be done, neither can be answered with any certainty. The future is simply unpredictable and any reaction to the age of crises that is fixed in convention or habit is a failure to respond to the constant changes and dynamic flows of life. Our focus must then be on how to act without absolute certainty. It is imperative that we learn to respond to the uniqueness of each new situation. This means that we keep ourselves open to surprise and unanticipated meanings to come – to expect the unexpected.
The future then is not one that is waiting for us on a receding horizon. Derrida warns that the future we look to and follow has already turned on us and we must respond to what might be possible. We are called to acknowledge our responsibilities for those whom we do not yet know and even those that might be unrecognisable to us at this point. We must heed the ethical call of future generations and affirm all life of the planet. Derrida insists that we must attempt the impossible. And yet this liberates us. We can continue to hope for a better future, rather than succumb to despair, if we aim for our ideals and maintain a constant worry and vigilance as to how we fall short of them.
Ākāśa Innovation works to open everyone to new possibilities with a call to constantly rethink and reimagine our relationships to people and planet. For us to respond to unknowable possibilities is to acknowledge that our future is at stake at this very moment of reading/writing. And it is in this context that we must remember that the radical transformations needed to create sustainable futures will lead us on a journey that will no longer be the same journey by the end than it was at the beginning.