Chronicle of the Future The Ends of the Earth
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Charles Handy

Efficiency is an end in itself and not as a means to other ends

Both the sign and the book cover said the same thing: the point of life is to move forward into the future. We are on a one-way street. The future is better. It will have better airports and better software. Things improve. What is wrong now will be right in the future. Not to want to be on this road is, therefore, insane. Why should you want to hang around in this place when you could be in that much better place? You must be sick or stupid. And incidentally, in the future we shall have pills that will cure both those conditions.

So obvious is this idea to the contemporary mind that we seldom, if ever, notice how odd it is. It embodies the strange notion that the sole legitimate use of the present is the construction of the future. Yet, when that future comes, it will simply be another present to be spent in building yet another future. You never arrive in a real city, you are always in an airport. In transit.

Who, then, are you? You are the traveller into the future, but, obviously, you can never arrive because travelling is all you do. The journey is more real than you are, for it was there before you were born and it will be there after you die. You are like a motorway service station passed at night - a flash of brightness and activity and then you are gone.

Perhaps you can console yourself that, in travelling, you did your duty. But duty to what? Even if the future is better, it will only be better relative to you. Future travellers will feel that their present is as inconclusive, as unsatisfactory as yours. No matter how much better their technology, they will be just as discontentedly dreaming of a better future that will never arrive. This journey into the future offers no meaning, no purpose, no peace, only movement.

This is the dilemma in which, at the end of the second millennium of the Christian era, we find ourselves. We must go on but we don't know why. The only meaning is continuance in the hope of material improvement. What of spiritual improvement now? That, after all, is the one thing that might conceivably make us happy. But what is spiritual - it is certainly not a zone at the Dome - and what would improvement be? If we knew the answer to either, we could get off this interminable desert road to the future.

The problem is that, in every aspect of our lives, we have allowed means to become ends.

"It is easy," writes Charles Handy, one of the few sane thinkers on the subject of management, "to lose ourselves in efficiency, to treat that efficiency as an end in itself and not as a means to other ends."

Productivity, economic growth, earnings per share, the improved management of resources, all seem so important that we have forgotten what they are for. The idea of the economy seems to have cut loose from the human realm. We work for it; it no longer works for us. The means has become an end, but it is still only a means. A better economy may be necessary, but necessary for what? "A requirement," says Handy, "is not a purpose." Exactly.

But today's requirements are so demanding that there seems little room or time left for purpose. Unless we compete full-time for control of the future - in information technology, in genetics, in car-making, in food production - then it will be seized by somebody else. Unless we fight to get on the next flight, we shall be left in the departure lounge. There we might be afflicted by any number of horrors - poverty, disease, starvation. And so the more successful we are in the realm of means, the more fearful we are of failure. Yet again we confront the irony of our contemporary condition: wealth makes us no happier.

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