The Foresight Principle – Cultural Recovery in the 21st Century
Thematic and conceptual summary by Jan Lee Martin (To open click here)
Author reflections on writing The Foresight Principle (To open click here)
The Foresight Principle: Cultural Recovery in the 21st Century. Richard A. Slaughter (Director, Futures Study Centre, Melbourne). Foreword by Hazel Henderson. Praeger Studies on the 21st Century. Westport CT: Praeger, June 1995. 232pp $62.95; $22.95pb.
Our habitual mode of perception (focusing on “me and my group,” here and now), more than any external threat, is driving our species to the edge. We require a different principle properly deployed at the social level: the foresight principle. Foresight is the act of looking forward and prudent action in reference to the future, constantly repeated in different contexts and in different ways. It is a deliberate process of expanding awareness and understanding through futures scanning and the clarification of emerging situations. It expands the boundaries of perception forward by assessing possible consequences of actions, anticipating problems before they occur, considering present implications of possible future events, and envisioning desired aspects of future societies.
Chapter topics: 1) looking back: origins of the Western industrial worldview, costs of industrial progress; 2) looking around: why our institutions are out of step with the times, defects of governance and economics, problems of commerce and the media; 3) looking forward: what we can know about the future, the interdisciplinary futures field, organisations and networks, methods and tools, social movements and innovations, the outlook for the next 20 years; 4) how foresight is now understood and used: fragmented foresight at the social level, barriers to wider use (future discounting, the empiricist fallacy, fear of foresight); 5) becoming more far-sighted: ideas in decline, resurgent ideas, promoting the economics of permanence, futures workshops.
6) Extending foresight through analysis, imagination, and social imaging: alternative social futures, the QUEST technique for assessing strategic options, dealing with fears; 7) institutions of foresight: profiles of seven institutions such as Australia’s Commission for the Future; 8) Creating Positive Views of Futures with Young People: six strategies to help the many young people for whom the future looks bleak (changing fears into motivations, exploring social innovations, designing your way out of the industrial era, etc); 9) cultural reconstruction in the postmodern world: – encouraging social learning, developing a global and systemic view, recovering a sense of the future; 10) Aspects of a Wise Culture: the transpersonal perspective, a broader map of knowledge, nurturing wisdom.
Concludes with a critically annotated bibliography of 200 items. Highly recommended authors include J.G. Ballard, Gregory Bateson, Thomas Berry, Lester Brown, Susan George, Steven Jay Gould, Willis Harman, Hazel Henderson, Aldous Huxley, Mary Kaldor, Joanna Macy, Jerry Mander, Eleonora Masini, Donella Meadows, Lester Milbrath, Lewis Mumford, Neil Postman, Theodore Roszak, and Ken Wilber.
(NOTE: Ambitious futurism with an attitude.)
From: Future Survey, Volume 17, Number 11, November 1995.
Cultural Recovery in the 21st Century – A Review of The Foresight Principle by Richard A. Slaughter, Adamantine Studies on the 21st Century, Adamantine Press Limited, 1995, 232 pages.
We live in a world where the immediate struggles of basic survival have been eliminated for many of the earth’s inhabitants. Millions of ordinary people now possess material wealth undreamed of by kings just a century earlier. Yet, we find that the fulfilment and over fulfillment of basic material needs is not enough to bring personal satisfaction. No matter how much we have, something always seems to be lacking. Our peace is temporary and fragile, tension and violence abounds. In such a state of paradox, could there be a more important task for society (and the individuals within it) than the search for a better, more meaningful future?
It’s strange then, that the search for possible, alternative futures is one of the most slighted in the modern world. Few universities have departments dedicated to exploring the potential of futures studies. Those brave souls who venture into the field are often viewed as ‘academically suspect’ by their peers – as being either soft in the head, heart, or both. Politicians speaking for the future fare no better. Interest groups want to see the results of political support NOW, and it seems against the politician’s immediate interest to think too far beyond the next election, or campaign fundraiser. Many corporate executives have even less vision – planning only to the next quarter’s profit statement. This is doubly dangerous when coupled with the currently accepted corporate lack of public responsibility and accountability.
With such a situation, it is indeed refreshing to find a hint of sanity and fresh air in the 21st Century Studies series by Adamantine Press. Adamantine Press has taken the lead in an all-too-neglected area of publishing by searching the world for top future-oriented thinkers, and presenting their thoughts and visions in a clear, concise and unusually fascinating manner. I know it is academically unfashionable to take value-loaded positions and make statements such as, ‘this is a series everyone should be familiar with.’ I know that in a world full of hyperbole, where everyone seems to be overselling something and people too often appear to be walking commercials of insincerity, that blurbs such as, ‘Slaughter’s The Foresight Principle is a book everyone should read’ sound more like advertising copy than reality. Yet, what else can I say? – I believe these things. I know it is not politically correct to say ‘everyone’ these days, or ‘should’ – and certainly never together in the same sentence. But what could be more important for an advancing civilisation than to be filled with creative and motivated citizens?
Citizens who dream of more positive futures for all and then attempt to make those possible futures into realities? Adamantine and Slaughter not only ask these kinds of questions, but they attempt to help us get from here to there as well. And they do a mighty fine job of it, deserving of support.
Slaughter’s The Foresight Principle is typical of the quality expected of this series. It is a wide-ranging text, covering subjects as diverse as megatrends, rationality, worldviews, fear, and wisdom all in an appropriately readable, yet scientific manner. I have studied many of the subjects Slaughter discusses and I find that he has done an excellent job of clarifying complicated subject matter (while retaining the important nuances) to the point where I would recommend his versions over some of the original theorists! His interpretation of instrumental rationality as the underlying cause of the modern problematique, for example, is short, concise, and right on target. One should not expect a one-sided diatribe against scientific, capitalist, industrialism, however, as Slaughter balances this critique with an appreciation for how useful instrumental rationality has been.
Slaughter is interested in changing worldviews. From our instrumental outlook to a wiser, more far sighted way of seeing reality. He argues that this is a natural perspective. We do it in constantly in everyday life. When we plan ahead for dinner, when we look before crossing a road. Why not make the same sort of plans and take similar precautions when looking ahead to our societal future? I guess you could call Slaughter’s book, a ‘how to’ book, in the best sense of the genre. Slaughter does not tell us how to empower ourselves, however, but rather suggests possible strategies of personal and societal empowerment. The most remarkable thing about Slaughter’s writing is that he cares. He is able to relate this attitude to the reader without sounding like a preacher on one hand or a doomsday prophet on the other. This is a rare ability.
Unfortunately, it is hard to convey the elegance and breadth of Slaughter’s writing in this review. It is an excellent book that not only policy makers and corporate leaders should read, but also teachers and students. It adequately surveys the field of futures studies while adding new insights and valuable personal advice. I find it always a pleasant surprise to pick up a book that delivers more than one expects. I expected a lot from Slaughter (as I do from other Adamantine Press books in this series) and was not disappointed.
For more information on Adamantine’s Studies on the 21st Century series or ordering information for Slaughter’s The Foresight Principle write to: Adamantine Press 3 Henrietta St Covent Garden London WC2E 8LU England
From: New Renaissance Vol 6 No 2, 1996.
The Foresight Principle: Cultural Recovery in the 21st Century. Richard A. Slaughter. London: Adamantine Press Limited, 1995
The meet has been a long one; the best swimmers were stacked forward; the score is tied; the last race is called; the Mullets have to score in order for our team to win. If the future were a swimming pool, I would choose as coach Richard A. Slaughter, based on his book, The Foresight Principle. Slaughter maintains that although the future cannot be known, we are not helpless in its creation. He disputes the notion that technology will solve our problems, decries empiricism that leads to reductionism and calls for cultural and ethical reconstruction. He assures us of our decision-making power but warns against procrastination.
Slaughter argues that information and its technologies will not solve human problems, as they do not equate with knowledge and wisdom. He calls for politics (short-term considerations) to become government (long-term benefits to society), for economics to be driven by values not markets, for schools to cease training students for factory-based societies, for people to think less about what they want and more about what they want to be (which is much more difficult), and for the media to communicate useful and positive information.
He also discusses the need for small, flexible institutes of futures studies to assist governments; for politicians to be replaced with leaders whose power is based on stewardship; for the environment to be valued intrinsically; for economics to be redefined in terms of culture; for education to empower students to participate in the future; for commerce to emphasise low impact, sustained yields and long-term use; for media to serve educational purposes. ‘Most matters of deeper human and cultural concern lie almost entirely beyond measurement and calculation’ (P.82); therefore, something else is needed: foresight.
Foresight can be used in analysis, imagination and imaging:
Imaginative explorations of the distant past, parallel worlds and alternative futures broaden our understanding of where we are from where we are, and where we may be going … The future, like the past, is part of the natural playground of the human mind and spirit. The prison of the minimal present was never convincing (p.85).
Once futures are imagined, they can be nurtured, and this can be done collectively.
Young people and cultural recovery in the 21st century
Having inherited industrialism’s problems, young people tend to be pessimistic about the future. Most educators do not practise futures studies; therefore, future leaders are not now learning the most helpful methods and techniques. What can young people learn with powerful technologies (themselves barriers to reality) but little spirituality and social conscience? Slaughter outlines six strategies:
Cultural reconstruction is needed to address systemic difficulties. Having rejected empiricism, the author also does not accept postmodernism: ‘It is an interpretive framework and, as such, has all the strengths and failings of its kind’ (P.134). He stresses that we cannot remove ourselves from culture and that there is no guidebook to reconstruct culture. Reconstruction will entail:
… a sense of temporal process embracing past, present and future; a more conscious and strategic use of time frames, matching them appropriately to different activities; a global and systemic view; recognition of the rights of future generations; a recovery of participating consciousness; and a commitment to higher-order human development (p.136).
Participation in creating futures promotes ethics and service, which aids the construction of a wise, intrinsically valued culture. Futures studies are not about solving problems the correct way; they are about participating in processes. Finally, ‘when a right relationship is re-established between people, culture and technology, a whole new world of options emerges. This is the key which unlocks the future, takes us beyond the collapse of industrialism …’ (p.173).
If the book can be said to have a fault, it is in Slaughter’s tendency to glorify ‘traditional’ cultures regarding the environment, the sacred and the future. For example, ‘it is useful to remember that earlier people, such as the American Indians built wisdom and foresight into their governance’ (p.64). But their ‘wisdom and foresight’ obviously were not strong enough to cope with increasing numbers of foreigners. Slaughter’s emphasis on the 20th Century as the nadir will be popular with those who think we are living in the worst of times. His participation, and thus proximity, to the 20th Century may, make it seem the worst. The majority of humans throughout history have wantonly destroyed their environment for short-term gain.
Generally, however, The Foresight Principle is an inspiring book. It is a quick read and a good synthesis of thought regarding industrialism and futures. It focuses to some extent on youth, but is applicable at all levels. Besides its positive outlook and empowering prose, the book has a very useful annotated bibliography covering economics, futures studies, global change, information and communication technologies, science fiction and social commentary.
At the time of writing Linda Crowl managed the publications program for the Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, Fiji.
Published in the WFSF Futures Bulletin December 1996, pp 15-16.
The Foresight Principle: Cultural Recovery in the 21st Century. Richard A. Slaughter, Westport, CT: Praeger and London: Adamantine Press Ltd., 1995
Introduction: The Future Is Not What It Used To Be
In the post-dotcom crash world, mentioning Futures Studies to an audience usually conjures up associative images of Futurehype: Alvin Toffler analysing the Persian Gulf War as a military-entertainment videogame, John Naisbitt hawking the latest Megatrends to psychographics-savvy corporations, or the micro-scandal of Wired Magazine’s past connections with the Global Business Network. Dotcom industry analysts are revising their scenarios accordingly. The Long Boom had a half-life of several years. The 500 Year Delta had a course-correction. Hans Moravec is still working in his conscious robots, Mark Pesce is devising new Virtual Reality applications, and the Living Universe Foundation is creating a mini-colony for its Aquarius stage. Biotechnology and nanotechnology are still emerging as 21st century revolutions.
These initiatives reflect a certain style of Futures Studies that emerged during the late 1960s: largely American and European-based, and placing faith in the predictive power of social planning and the Faustian promise of new technologies to regenerate cultural recovery. The telos of this style was the cosmopolitan-global business community and world federalism that was depicted in the space station sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The custodian of this style is the US-based World Future Society. Within years of gaining public prominence, this techno-centrist style of Futures Studies clashed with the new mindsets and realities that emerged during America’s tumultuous social upheavals. The failure of Robert McNamara’s policies during the Vietnam War highlighted some of the blind spots in scenarios planning. The utopian visions of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society failed to resolve economic inequities and social divides.
When the Club of Rome released its study Limits to Growth (1972), many futurists focused on its ‘overshoot and collapse’ scenario and the ‘global problematique’.  The ensuing controversy over computer models helped the counter-emergence of deep ecology and peace studies movements. The Club of Rome’s dystopian outlook also infiltrated popular culture through a film mini-cycle, refracting speculative future visions through current social anxieties. A Clockwork Orange (1971) examined how Behaviourism might integrate young criminals into society. Silent Running (1972) portrayed space-based forests as the final environmental preservation strategy to the ‘global problematique’. Soylent Green (1973) hinted at grim solutions to overpopulation and resource scarcity. Rollerball (1975) fetishised designer violence as a corporate form of social control. Logan’s Run (1976) depicted a group-oriented society whose foundation is a death ritual. This dystopian outlook reached its apocalyptic determinism with the films (1991) and 12 Monkeys (1996), where technological innovation dwarfed human agency and individual freedom. Dystopian logic also dominates Bill Joy’s essay “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us”, which provoked widespread debate about genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics.
Diversity and growth within Futures Studies has been overshadowed by dystopian fears, early controversies, and the uncritical acceptance/misapplication by companies of pop futurism and trends analyses. There are parallel histories of Futures Studies and multiple viewpoints about its aims. The World Future Society has matured into an institution with significant public outreach programs. The World Futures Studies Federation has emphasised multicultural perspectives and relativistic/knowledge-based thinking. Australian futurist Richard Slaughter has expanded the boundaries of Future Studies even further with his book The Foresight Principle.
Introducing The Foresight Principle
Richard Slaughter defines Foresight as the “deliberate process of expanding awareness and understanding through futures scanning and the clarification of emerging situations.”  This human process is an extension of innate brain-environment perceptions. Four key applications of Foresight are “assessing possible consequences of actions, decisions . . . anticipating problems before they occur . . . considering the present implications of possible future events . . . [and] envisioning desired aspects of future societies.”  Slaughter’s presentation of Foresight later evolved into Strategic Foresight (and, later still, into Social Foresight. – Ed.)
The first section of Slaughter’s book examines the evolution and costs of the Western industrial worldview, and explains why social innovation outpaces institutional gridlock. “The late 20th century infrastructure,” Slaughter contends, “is a scientific and engineering miracle.”  The dark side of this miracle has included the dominance of reductionist over systemic perspectives, exploitation of natural systems, the abuse of scientific and technological research for irrational ends that become self-perpetuating, and the dominance of ‘having’ (consumerist-material) over ‘being’ (humanistic-spiritual) modes of existence.  Slaughter then examines and critiques the limited thinking that dominates political governance and educational methods, and the false realities created by commerce and the media. Finally he profiles the major Futures Studies institutions, practitioners, and wider social movements. This includes a useful sub-section that gives an overview of Future Studies methods and techniques, ranging from environmental scanning and the Delphic survey method to global modelling and discourse analysis. 
From Megatrends to Ideas
Many corporations and people apply Foresight techniques, but usually on an ignorant or unconscious basis. The ‘overshoot and collapse’ controversy and the 26-year gap between the first scientific papers about the Greenhouse Effect (1974) and 92 countries signing the Montreal protocol (1990) reveals a fragmented social response to environmental crises and human existential problems.  The perceptual barriers that prevent more application of Foresight techniques include an over-emphasis on empiricist and fixed space-time thinking, personal disempowerment and fear, and disregarding Futures Studies as irrelevant or too costly. 
Social Imaging and the Cultural Memepool
One tactic of re-positioning Futures Studies has been to shift the focus from trends to ideas.  This shift re-frames Futures Studies from a predictive field to being about innovative problem-solving, the capacities and possibilities for change, the range of images within the cultural memepool, and how to create preferable futures for individuals, groups, and societies. Two examples of the shift from short-term micro to long-term macro thinking are Stewart Brand’s Long Now Foundation (creating a 10,000 year clock to expand humanity’s sense of time and responsibility) and cosmological Deep Time (the evolution of our universe from the Big Bang until the present and beyond).
Social imaging has often polarised into utopian and dystopian streams, from Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia (1516) to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Slaughter notes that because we are symbol-creating people who grow through cultural evolution and social meaning making, “change often hits us hardest at the symbolic level.” 
The misuse of social imaging techniques to data-mine the cultural memepool is one implication that Slaughter doesn’t explore enough in this section. The most disturbing example of this was Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (1924-26), which fused the Enlightenment Project’s “Will to Knowledge” with Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Will to Power”, transforming the realm of ideas into perverted action. Another misuse has been by dictators who destroy the feeling-sense of alternative options and futures by drawing on past history to legitimate their power-base and policies (such as Romania’s Nicolae Caeucescu assimilating the Transylvanian vampyre mythos and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invoking the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar). The past successes of ‘from-below’ political revolutions has been largely due to activists creating (and sustaining) a compelling alternative future to the political regime, then targeting its weak spots during critical moments. While governments have long recognised the power of Futures Studies, its methods and tools are still being disseminated in activist circles and social movements.
Science Fiction Literature Extends Foresight Capabilities
Foresight capabilities rely on the human capacity for manipulating abstract thinking and generating multiple scenarios. Science fiction literature can be a way to explore this, especially through alternative history.  The most evocative stories of this sub-genre reveal that the dynamics of history are not pre-ordained but influenced by chance and hazard.
While it’s common knowledge that many Golden Age science fiction writers were advocates, the fact that key stories were shaped by Futures Studies discourses is less appreciated. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy (1951-53) featured Hari Seldon’s psychohistory (a predictive tool of civilisational evolution, drawing on socio-economic baselines and mass group behaviour). Asimov’s vision was shaped by late 1940s operations research, cross-impact assessments, and statistical methods of time/series analysis and statistical regression. Novels by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle reflected the application of Futures Studies by planners for nuclear warfare scenarios and macro-economic/monetary policies. J.G. Ballard’s mythopoeic future was imprinted upon him by his Shanghai childhood and World War II internment by the Japanese, and also by the 1960s media and Apollo space program. Science fiction literature’s ability to re-shape Futures Studies became clear when William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) created a social space that accelerated the Internet’s emergence. Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937) influenced a generation of Futures Studies advocates, including Jack Sarfatti and Esalen’s Physics-Consciousness Research Group.
Speculative fiction hones our social imaging abilities and, provided that we read and actively reflect, can shift our perspective from the micro to macro-view. It provides a laboratory to re-examine the cultural evolution of the human species. As the Star Trek (Gene Roddenberry) and Star Wars (George Lucas) series have shown, speculative fiction can provide the artificial mythologies that transmit Futures Studies to a mass audience. Speculative fiction that taps Futures Studies research also deepens our collective cultural memepool.
The dystopian strain of science fiction reflects our civilisation’s critical path of macrohistory. The 19th century’s progressive industrialism gave way after World War I to the 20th century’s regression and insecurity. Slaughter envisages that the 21st century will be a catastrophe period, because unresolved systemic problems will create instabilities: “environmental and cultural systems could ‘flip’ quite suddenly from one state to another.” 
As a vanguard against this scenario eventuating, Slaughter has advocated the creation of Institutes of Foresight. He founded the Australian Foresight Institute at Swinburne University in 1999. He also profiles the major Foresight/Futures institutions, including the Congressional Clearing House on the Future (US), Eric Drexler’s Foresight Institute (US), the Council for Posterity (UK), and the International Futures Library (Austria). Each of these institutions has survived funding problems and governance/political upheavals, and unlike the Middle Ages model of universities, are implementing Foresight techniques. Their work ranges from highlighting dangers and publicizing the near future to helping organisations evolve appropriately and facilitating workshops for people to overcome fears and dystopian social conditioning. Slaughter also explores the QUEST technique,  which blends environmental scanning with strategic workshops.
Foresight and Education
Predictive types of Futures Studies have often failed to predict the long-term implications of decision-making and policies. The Strategic Defense Initiative (or SDI), for example, imprinted some Generation Xers with a fatalistic worldview, creating receptivity to Romantic-influenced Darkwave and Goth imagery. Slaughter’s extensive background in education brings a unique viewpoint to how Futures Studies can create positive realities for young people. While he raises concerns about violence and the power of images directed at the subconscious mind to mould behaviour,  Slaughter carefully avoids the shrill moralism that defined the Culture Wars of the early 1990s. Instead he contends that young people’s anxieties reflect the uncertain transition from industrial to post-industrial society. “Those trapped within the transition process,” he observes, “are often unable to grasp the new picture, only the old one is being lost.” 
The solutions that Slaughter outlines are designed to shift a person’s loci of control from being affected by external problems to the ability to cause positive change and re-connect with society. They range from metaprogram changes (changing fear into motivation) to new resources (Futures concepts and ideas) to timelining (the future is part of the present) to lifespan re-scripting (“design your way out of the industrial era”). 
Cultural Recovery and Regeneration Civilisations
The final chapter of Slaughter’s book gives a brief overview of transpersonal research as a method to regenerate civilisations. Ken Wilber’s comprehensive and integral map of knowledge offers futurists a broader lens to examine civilisation/culture cycles than pop futurism. Slaughter also cites Charles Laughlin and Sheila Richardson’s ‘Homo Gestalt’ (a person able to tap transcendent insights and new cognitive/perceptual processes to envision new realities) as a possibility for future human evolution. 
Slaughter’s final section is an annotated 200-book bibliography, featuring authors such as J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Ken Wilber, Riane Eisler, Jacques Vallee, Gregory Bateson, and Fritz Schumacher, amongst many others.
Clearly written with insight and passion, Richard Slaughter’s Foresight Principle enhances the Knowledge Base of Futures Studies. The principles and practical techniques that Slaughter outlines will help readers to transform a “world-sensing” technique that has been “an implicit unconscious process” into “an explicit conscious process” central to everyday life.
 Slaughter, R.A. The Foresight Principle: Cultural Recovery in the 21st Century. Westport, CT: Praeger Press and London: Adamantine Press Ltd., 1995. 52.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. xvii.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. xvii.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 11.
 Slaughter, R.A. 17-20.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 38-39.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 52.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 53-55.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 59-60.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 88.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 84-85.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 94.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 78-82.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 119-120.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 117.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 118-132.
 Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 156.
Alex Burns, Melbourne, October 22, 2001.