The Ethics of the Future


Who Are We to Say?

Michael Shaun Conaway
Publishing Editor
February 01, 2022

Really? Who are we to say what is right and wrong? Taking a broader approach at the question: Who gets to say what’s right or wrong? A past based answer would be our political, social or religious leaders. They’ve had the authority to make decisions for us and to give us guidelines on how to conduct our lives. Yet over the past decade we have had the covers pulled back to reveal that our leaders are either corrupt, a willing player in the current dysfunctional system, and/or incompetent. The corrupt ones, which may be the majority, manipulate us so that they can maintain their status and power.  They dictate what’s right and wrong to the people and then break any rule that doesn’t personally suit them. Worse yet is the day-to-day lying, gaslighting and psychological warfare that our leaders mistake for leadership.  

How about our business leaders? At one point I had great hope for the business elite to turn their wealth to the public good.  Many took the Giving Pledge to dedicate the majority of their wealth to charitable causes. Most set up foundations and do good projects. Then Covid hit and while the world crumbled the most wealthy doubled their wealth. World Bank figures show that 163 million people fell below the poverty line in the past two years while the richest ten men doubled their wealth to $1.5 trillion. Both Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos topped $200 billion of wealth generation. To date, neither one of these men or the other eight on the list have announced a global effort to aid in the climate crisis, the pandemic or the wealth inequality crisis.  

It’s clear that there is no clear moral authority to be found.  

So is morality dead?  Is ethics only something studied in the philosophy departments of the world’s universities? The answer is likely that ethics, like so many of our more noble human values, has been sacrificed to the twin gods of short-termism and unrestrained selfishness. “I want what I want and I want it now.” But that doesn’t mean that ethics is dead, rather it has been driven underground where those who consider the impact of our actions, personally and collectively, grapple to define a modern ethics. Given that so much of what we historically think about right and wrong stems from  the weaponization of ethics by colonialism, monoculturalism and power, it’s hard to declare an ethical framework that works for all – or even most.

In the past few years there has been a lot of conversation and thinking about good sensemaking leading to good choice making. NOW contributor Daniel Schmactenberger has launched a course on the topic with Rebel Wisdom, and a “good sense” publication, the Consilience Project. I highly recommend checking both of these out. His methodological approach to educating on good sense making, paired with the examples of making good sense, are a good place to start when thinking of ethics.  We need to make sense out of what is happening in the world. Then we can determine which things are definitively unethical, i.e. murder, clearcutting, extreme wealth and which things are ethical, i.e. giving/contribution, carbon reduction, tree planting.  From there, we can examine the things between the two extremes and create a framework for understanding.  

Back to the original question, who are we to say? The who right now is very important. It is not ethical for the dominant privileged few to determine the ethics of the many.  If we make space for the voices of diverse individuals, hear their stories and do the hard, thoughtful, long-term work of dismantling the moral dictates of the past, and considering what is good for all, we will make headway on building a new ethics.

Why is this important? To generate a world that works for all, we need new systems for economics, governance and new collective and individual rights and responsibilities. And the only way those systems stand a chance to work, to support thriving for all people, for all species and the entire ecosphere, is if we have an ethical framework that gives us a measure of understanding what works for all.  

Who gets to say? ALL LIFE. Full stop. 

If you are passionate about a thriving future, join us for this very important conversation.

P.S.  I would love you to follow our Podcast, subscribe to us on Youtube, sign up for the PROOF email and subscribe if you love reading PROOF

Letter From the Editors:

In this issue of PROOF we are looking at Right and Wrong from the lens of generative futurism.  We have a great podcast with Juan Enriquez on his book, Right/Wrong. In his book and our conversation he helps us to see the temporality of ethics and look forward to how our actions may be judged by future generations.  

The aim is to loosen the grasp of those who champion models of fixed ethics.

Fixed models are by nature reductionist, rendering them prone to getting it wrong against the backdrop of systemic complexity. Every choice we make to benefit or fix one problem impacts all of the other problems – sometimes catastrophically. Take the case of the cane toad in Australia. It was introduced to the continent in 1935 to help control beetle grubs that damaged sugar cane crops – good for sugar cane farmers, right? Unfortunately, in Australia, the cane toad has no natural predators or diseases that control their population. The toad dramatically disrupted the ecosystem and pushed out other native species. Australia is now in an ongoing battle to limit their damage to the ecosystem.

In order to deal with complexity we will need to evolve an ethics that considers impacts to all life. We have really tough questions to consider with such an ethics. One case that has gained a lot of attention is the case for stopping petroleum production, “leave it in the ground”. While this is a powerful rallying cry for those fighting climate change, the ethics of such a decision need to be examined. What harm would come from this action? It is clear that the developing economies of the world, who have little or no access to sustainable sources of energy would be the most impacted, with the standard of living returning to pre-industrial levels. The ethical question is how do we transition to sustainable energy globally as quickly as possible. The privileged countries would have to lead by investing 73 trillion dollars (Stanford University) over the next twenty years. The privileged citizens of these countries will have to sacrifice some of their excesses to make this transition.

It’s clear from this example that we must redesign our economic system as it is impossible to untangle the climate crisis form wealth inequality and social justice. It’s the ethical thing to do. The question is, are we as humanity ready to be ethical in this way?

Enjoy this issue as we look at this topic from the theoretical to examples of ethical actions and projects in the world.

Proof 37 – The Ethics of the Future

In the News:

Organizations Generating a Thriving Future: Afrotectopia

Afrotectopia is a social institution creating at the intersections of art, design, technology, Black culture, and activism. They cultivate spaces for Black radical imagination through annual festivals, think tanks, international fellowships, alternative schools, and more. Their work is rooted in collaborative research practices and outputs for Black agency and empowerment.

We are moved by the passion and purpose of Afrotectopia. Check them out at

What We’re Watching: Future Ethics with Cennydd Bowles

Technology was never neutral; its social, political, and moral impacts have become painfully clear. But the stakes will only get higher as connected cameras will watch over the city, algorithms oversee society’s most critical decisions, and transport, jobs, and even war will become automated. The tech industry hasn’t yet earned the trust that these technologies demand. Drawing on years of research for his new book “Future Ethics”, designer Cennydd Bowles will illuminate the moral challenges that lie ahead for technologists, and discuss how practitioners and companies can create more thoughtful, ethical products for future generations.

What We’re Reading: Right/Wrong

Most people have a strong sense of right and wrong, and they aren’t shy about expressing their opinions. But when we take a polarizing stand on something we regard as an eternal truth, we often forget that ethics evolve over time. Many shifts in the right versus wrong pendulum are driven by advances in technology. Our great-grandparents might be shocked by in vitro fertilization; our great-grandchildren might be shocked by the messiness of pregnancy, childbirth, and unedited genes. In Right/Wrong, Juan Enriquez reflects on what happens to our ethics as technology makes the once unimaginable a commonplace occurrence.

What We’re Listening to – The NOW Show with Bio-Futurist Juan Enriquez

Perhaps the biggest challenge looking forward to the future is to see our future selves. How will we change our biology & genetics? How will we make decisions about what we should alter? It’s important because technology constantly changes our perceptions of right and wrong. So, what are ethics in regards to human life? Why are making strong ethical and moral considerations bad? What are some of the important ethical fights today that will impact the quality of life of our future generations? And what are some of the things we should be doing today to avoid being judged harshly by our future generations? In this episode of the Boldly NOW Show, academic, author, and futurist Juan Enriquez answers all these questions. He gives us new viewpoints and tools to make choices more wisely in the face of the neo-biological revolution.  

PROOF in ACTION 37 – 10 Steps to Being Ethical

There is no civil society without a working set of ethics. Over the past 50 years since the Watergate scandal, we have experienced the decoherence of ethics. It’s not that we don’t personally have ethics, but rather ethics has become politicized and weaponized. Take the case of our former president Trump. He clearly takes unethical actions by almost all ethical standards, but his followers ascribe a higher order of ethics that somehow supersede his individual actions. With this level of decoherence we cannot collectively make good decisions for the future. Thus we must work back towards a coherent ethical framework.

Our challenge is to evolve this ethics of the future while living and acting ethically today. Here are some steps you can take personally to do so.

  • Start by listening to the voice in your head that speaks to you when you make decisions. Ethics is part of who we are even if sometimes we choose to ignore it.  While the voice may or may not be representative of a future ethics, we must retain the capacity to act ethically regardless of the framework.
  • We can be very clear on what is not ethical; killing, lying, stealing, etc. But we are not so good at identifying what an ethical action is; transparency, authenticity, omni consideration, win-win negotiation. Take some time to list the actions that you think are ethical. Strive to take these actions and align yourself with others who do the same.
  • Be explicit about your values. What is important to you leads you to what is ethical. Take some time to write your values down. Cast out any that you inherited from your family or society that does not serve you or the world. Share your values with others and ask them what their values are. Revise your values list often.
  • Make the ethical choice today, then seek to revise the ethics to consider a decision’s impact on a thriving future for humanity. Ask yourself how can I consider all life when I make a decision?
  • Join movements and organizations that are advocating for diversity. Make ethical decisions as a community. Do not allow the most privileged to decide for all.
  • Take small steps toward ethical decision making. If you want to be ethical about the climate crisis, but need a car to commute to work, reduce the miles you drive and seek out carpooling opportunities. Consider if you could move to a location that allows for walking, cycling and public transport options.

We can no longer depend on our governments or our leaders to dictate what is right and wrong. Here’s what we need to do instead:

  • Maintain civic distrust. Ask hard questions of our government and leaders and hold an expectation of ethical behavior.
  • Do your own thinking. When someone or some group gives you a talking point, ask yourself if their stance is ethical. Often groups use outrage as a mask for unethical behavior.
  • Vote for candidates with good ethical records and ethical standards. We need ethical leaders more than we need partisanship.
  • Distance yourself from groups that propagate outrage. Look for groups of ethically aligned people who are seeking a clear and desirable future.

The thriving future is going to be an ethical future. We will not have any kind of desirable future if we cannot collectively be ethical. We all have a role to play in evolving our ethics, in creating the ethics of the future.

May this information inspire you to generate a thriving future for humanity and a thriving life for yourself. For more resources please check out our Podcast and Youtube channel.

-The Now Team

BOLD.LY NOW is a movement of co-creative up-levelers who have a burning desire to step free of our collapsing world & take the most daring leap forward to a thriving world.

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PROOF is a digital magazine published by NOW and the Generative Futures Initiative.  The mission of the magazine is to shine a light on people, organisations and ideas that stand as Proof of a Thriving Future.