Why People Joined
People seemed to have many different reasons for joining the Society. Some wanted to know about the future largely as a matter of personal curiosity. Others had a serious interest in learning what was expected in the future so they could be prepared for it. In short, they were not looking for entertainment so much as enlightenment. In fact, most of our early members believed that knowing more about the future might be of some practical importance in their professions and private affairs.
At least a few of the early members had personal experiences that turned them into futurists. For them, the future was part of a life mission.
Peter Zuckerman, the Society’s secretary-treasurer, was such a person. Born in Budapest and raised in poverty, Peter experienced extraordinary suffering as a teenager. In 1944, the German army occupied Hungary, rounded up the nation’s Jews, and shipped them to concentration camps. Peter was sent to Auschwitz at the age of 15, escaping the gas chambers only because he was deemed fit to work as a slave laborer for the Nazis. Fortunately, he was liberated by Allied troops in 1945 and eventually was able to emigrate to the United States.
Peter never forgot the horrors of his youth, and he has devoted his life to trying to prevent “the Holocausts of the future.” His participation in the founding of the World Future Society and his long service to the Society have been part of his personal mission.
Another survivor of the Holocaust who became a futurist was Robert Jungk, the German-born futurist who addressed the meeting at which the founding of the World Future Society was announced. In the early 1930s, Jungk vigorously protested the rise of the Nazis to power, but he eventually had to flee Germany.
After the war, Jungk campaigned vigorously against atomic bombs. On a trip to Hiroshima, he interviewed a man dying from radiation left by the first atomic bomb, but the man had scornful words for him: “Now you protest against the bomb, but it is too late. You always begin too late.”
At that moment, Jungk suddenly recognized that it was only too true. He had spent his life protesting things that had already happened, such as the rise of Nazism in Germany and the creation of atomic bombs. So Jungk developed “future workshops” to help people develop their thinking about the future so that horrors could be avoided and humanity could build a better future world. Jungk also became a regular participant in World Future Society meetings.
Key to the thinking of members like Zuckerman and Jungk is their perception that we can do nothing to alter past events — what’s done is done — but that we do have great power to shape the future. We can learn to avoid repeating past mistakes and we can collaborate globally to create a better future world.
And some futurists envisioned humans evolving into beings approaching the sublimity of the universe in the years ahead. This transcendent perspective was promoted by Barbara Marx Hubbard, another early Society member. Unlike Peter Zuckerman and Bob Jungk, Barbara was a child of privilege. She was the daughter of Louis Marx, America’s largest toy manufacturer. Every child in mid-twentieth-century America played with Marx toys, so Barbara grew up in a real-life toyland. But for Barbara it was not enough, so she began what she calls “an evolutionary journey” — a lifelong search for a positive future not just for herself but for all humankind. In Paris, she had met an American artist, Earl Hubbard, and together they developed visions of man’s vast future in the universe.
I found Barbara to be utterly dazzling: She was beautiful, brilliant, charming, and energetic. She also seemed to know everyone who had ever done anything interesting, from President Eisenhower to Jonas Salk, the discoverer of the polio vaccine.
When Barbara joined the Society, she also ordered a gift membership for Abraham Maslow, the psychologist who developed a theory of how human values evolve based on people’s psychological needs.
Barbara enthusiastically supported the Society and made two handsome donations. One of them was for general support and the other was to make the Society better known abroad. We did this largely by advertising the Society in scientific publications that had large readerships outside the United States, and this led to an immediate upsurge in our members abroad.
Financial support was critical for the Society, because relatively few of our members contributed anything beyond their membership dues, and we had no government or corporate support. Without Barbara’s help, the Society might never have survived its critical early years.