Linda Crowl

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.

Value-driven economics

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:

  1. Young people’s media, now violent, diversionary, confusing and product-related, must change;
  2. Young people must be empowered, invited to participate in creating their future;
  3. Young people must explore social innovations to learn about the barriers to change, power, authority and how to think clearly, communicate and negotiate;
  4. They must learn that time relates backwards and forward;
  5. They must learn of, participate in and change, the discourses of their interests, including futures; and
  6. Designing themselves out of the industrial era can include language, space, government, time, ethics and environment.

Reconstructing culture

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.