Michael Marien

Futures Beyond Dystopia: Creating Social Foresight. Richard A. Slaughter (Director, Australian Foresight Institute, Swinburne U of Technology, Melbourne). Foreword by Ken Wilber. London & NY: RoutledgeFalmer, Jan 2004/306p/$24.99pb.

Michael Marien, Future Survey, 2004

Recently published essays by the President of the World Futures Studies Federation, who views the affluent world we are living in as founded on illusions, and “entranced by its wealth, its success, and its ever more compelling technological prowess.” It is also “a world that is stripped, mined out, polluted, denuded of non-human life and compromised beyond all hope of repair…the most likely of futures before us are irredeemably dystopian in nature,” as powerfully depicted by the movie, The Matrix (“a compelling metaphor for the condition of humanity in the early 21st century”). There can never be a blueprint that leads to viable human futures, but there are “a series of institutional arrangements, practices, and processes that can support moves in that direction.”

Seventeen chapters are in six groups: 1) Aspects of Futures Enquiry: a 21st century agenda (many ways in which humans can act to develop foresight and steer toward more consciously chosen futures, away from the Western “culture of false solutions”), bringing futures beyond dystopia within reach (a critique of sci-fi and futures methods for failing to address underlying assumptions and being “too one-sidedly rationalistic”), professionalism and quality in futures work (why a coherent set of standards is needed); 2) The Case Against US Hegemony: critique of three “pop futurist texts” (Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and the two Megatrends books by John Naisbitt), the perils of breadth American style (passive acceptance of the status quo and acquiescence in maintenance of US hegemony), the Millennium Project State of the Future Report as “naïve” futures (“it stands firmly and unashamedly within the dominant American empiricist tradition…a US-centered view of the world…remarkably little original thinking”), The Long Boom by Peter Schwartz et al. (free-market ideology and selective multiculturalism), The Future Survey Super Seventy: Best Books 1996-2000 (“what can happen when definitional power is sequestered in one individual over an extended period of time…the interests of a young discipline were overlooked and even abused…in the light of omissions we can see more clearly just how conservative and limited the Future Survey view has become over the years…a sterile exercise that in effect extinguishes the future”), Jay Ogilvy’s Creating Better Futures (“incapable of ever approaching its declared goal because the subject throughout is the USA”), the Encyclopedia of the Future (“American thinking is projected out upon the world”).

3) Expanding and Deepening a Futures Frame: methods that go beyond the limits of dominant American models, problems of the pop futures world (it tends to be a-cultural and ahistorical), problem-oriented futures work (the central arena of mainstream futures activity), critical and epistemological futures work (utilizing the tools of post-modern analysis to peel away the layers of received opinion), changing methods and approaches in futures studies (emergence of critical futures studies and layered futures work); 4) Futures Studies and the Integral Agenda: transcending flatland (as seen by Ken Wilber), Wilber’s meta-map for a renewed worldview, reframing the central project of futures studies (in a larger, re-enchanted universe that embraces purpose, meaning, and spirit: “the most interesting futures are those in which human and social evolution matches that of scientific and technological development“), a new framework for environmental scanning, the integral approach in futures work (to honor all truths and acknowledge the value of many different ways of knowing); 5) Social Learning through Applied Foresight: how futures studies can be transformed into a widespread operational capability, emergence of futures into the educational mainstream, creating and sustaining second-generation institutions of foresight, why organizational views of the future tend to be wrong (short-term thinking, bounded rationality, unexamined presuppositions and paradigms, mainstream economics), barriers to wider use of foresight (future discounting, the empiricist fallacy, a sense of disempowerment, fear, cost); 6) Strategies and Outlooks: four-quadrant analysis of the great transition thesis of the Global Scenario Group, futures studies as a civilizational catalyst.

[NOTE: A righteous, free-swinging critique from the ivory tower Down Under, driven by high-minded utopianism. Too bad that everyone, especially in the US, cannot be as bright and critical, with a superior toolbox of methods. Until then, the future will be shaped by clashing views of what is probable, possible and preferable, many of them narrow and ill informed.] (critique of US futures studies)