Vahid Motlagh

The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History

Suppose that you are watching a foreign language movie with subtitles in your mother tongue. You tend to trust the translator while making sense of the scenario. All of a sudden a professional independent interpreter comes and makes you aware that the series of pictures that are passing before your eyes actually tell a totally different story and the subtitles are indeed incorrect. And it seems that he is quite right when he presents his own account of the narrative. Slaughter has done the same in his new impressive work. He provides different subtitles and narrates a totally different story of our world while helping us make sense of its past, present, and future developments. As always, and of course as expected from him, he tends to censure ‘the modus operandi of industrialised cultures, the mad pursuit of endless material wealth, and the business-as-usual path.’ He warns us that the marketing geniuses and the dominant media are shepherding us toward a huge cliff. They try to convince us to worship the holy cow of growth and ‘hyper development,’ blindly following the ideals and life styles of the ultra rich, and pushing the limits of the bubble of human wants as far as they and we can. But the real price we will soon have to pay is our own existence on this planet to the extent that ‘if we remain unmoved we will indeed see the biggest civilisational crash ever experienced on this planet and the rapid onset of a dark age that could last for centuries—and perhaps forever.’

Inspired from the Integral Perspective, this superbly written, well-structured book that will enjoy a broad general readership follows a problem statement and problem solution line of argument. It sheds light on a number of crucial world-shaping processes and wicked issues such as climate change, global warming, the onset of peak oil, and in general sustainability. By using the metaphor of ‘wake up call’ the author attempts to ‘tone down language, apply understatement and generally try to present the evidence without causing undue alarm.’ Throughout the book he raises awareness about the futures and contributes to further learning by highlighting the point that the humans’ individual and social sphere of thought and experience is limitless, unbounded, untapped, and thus yet not released. The central theme of this post-conventional work in futures studies is that the human agency ought to be encouraged, informed, and motivated by alternative worldviews and it should ‘go beyond what is already known.’ Slaughter accompanies the reader in a journey of receiving new wisdom and insight through what is ‘constantly occurring between interior and exterior domains and between individual and collective ones.’ He believes that such a journey can and should lead us ‘into richer modes of being and a deeper engagement with reality.’ The fundamental solution to urgent global problems is, in his view, to combine ‘intelligence and appropriate values to prefigure a very different outlook and a transformed future world.’ In spite of the need for appropriate global leadership it is also noted that the potential contributions of the currently descending power, the US, and its rival ascending power, China, are both highly uncertain and doubtful.

Slaughter does not downplay or deny the ‘liberating nature of futures studies’ and in particular ‘its central keystone methodology of scenario building. Yet he emphasises that ‘scenarios are only as good as the thinking that goes into them.’ A strong and method-based argument is provided to highlight the crucial need for understanding and altering the ‘mindspace’ of both the scanners and scenario builders. He refrains from using the usual key word in the scenario planning and futures literature, ‘mental model,’ however, points out that ‘the software that operates within each person’ is the key which is almost always ignored, overlooked, or neglected. Like many other Integral specialists he supports the notion that only through the creative destruction of implicit mental models rather than of explicit infrastructures we can find ‘the levers of change’ and ‘negotiate to set and bring about social innovations.’ The bottom line of his brilliant, comprehensive, elaborate, and methodic work is that ‘the social and human interiors play a host of active roles in mediating responses’ to each and every one of ‘the most urgent items calling for our collective attention and response’ because ‘for individuals, there is no behavior without the interior motivation that drives it; for collectives, there is no system without the interior culture that supports it.’

Both for professional futurists and advanced learners of the field The Biggest Wake Up Call in History is a must read piece of work because the author eloquently introduces and effectively uses an ordered, systemic conceptual framework which is based on four dimensional perspectives on the world, four levels of complexity, and six value levels.

The underlying four dimensional window consists of Upper Left (UL)—the unique interior world of each individual; Upper Right (UR)—the exterior world of human action and behavior; Lower Left (LL)—the interior worlds of cultures, languages, institutions, and Lower Right (LR)—the familiar exterior physical world we inhabit. Four levels of complexity through which reality is perceived are preconventional, conventional, post-conventional, and integral. And the six sets of values are color coded as Red—egocentric and exploitative; Amber—absolutist and authoritarian; Orange—multiplistic and strategic; Green—relativistic and consensual; Teal—systemic and integral; Turquoise—holistic and ecological.

Slaughter, himself a leading and authoritative futurist, proposes that the above mentioned Integral method has completed a forty-year process of futures studies development and application and may help the new generation and wave of emerging scholars and practitioners of this field to embark on the next phase of futures studies or foresight work.

This framework along with a number of other relevant categories and levels helps us see not only the dark side of hyper growth which is polished and window dressed in some extreme cases like Las Vegas and Dubai but also provides an overview of a number of proposed transition strategies and pilot projects and initiatives which presumably pave the way for the realisation and spread of the opposite extreme memes in the future. Slaughter uses illuminating figures, one after another, to critically address and debunk the firm ground of the advocates of the status quo and in the meantime he brings ‘to our attention a constellation of paradigms, worldviews and values oriented toward sustainability.’

He also argues that high converging technologies and their promising spectacular innovations could be useful if and only if options for the fusion of them with ‘advanced values’ will be seriously explored. Otherwise, ‘embedded in conventional taken-for-granted worldviews with inadequate values’ they will be definitely misused, and thus aggravating the already aggravated situation. The author who is both hopeful and proud of the eye-opening potential of the Integral method is open to divergent thinking and radical new paradigms that may violate the oldest implicit assumptions in the current knowledge enterprise or as he puts it ‘the standard scientific worldview.’ He asks, for instance, what if the ‘assumptions of Vedic science that consciousness is universally primary and gives rise to matter’ turn out to be correct? While dealing with the global predicament, Slaughter draws our attention to the point that the non-material aspects, that is individual and collective interior ones, are usually poorly reflected in science. Thus the reader is shown that the emergence of new ideas, the expansion of horizons, and the creation of new possibilities hold out real hope for innovation and change. And the best hopes lies in the Upper Left (UL) quadrant where the ‘unique interior world of each individual’ is at work, where ‘accelerated psychic development’ can and should occur to build ‘the most constructive response to the global emergency.’ Accelerated psychic development is all about human developmental stages, of the development of higher order moral, cognitive and other capabilities without which ‘the development and successful application of foresight’ will be unreasonable, unattainable, and ultimately compromising.

The essential success factors of futurists, in this view, are whether they can design, structure, and finally communicate ‘a layered series of words and images’ to their audiences. Otherwise, the chances of their messages being heard and acted upon will dramatically decrease. And the most effective suggestion to overcome such a hurdle is to aim at the ‘unique inner world of individuals, the hidden landscape of human identity, purpose and motivation’ because ‘it is here that global issues are framed and understood.’

Frustrated by the undue focus of researchers and practitioners on the lower right and upper right quadrants – that is the exterior, tangible, and easily measurable – this book is also a call for an even-handed touch on each domain in pursuit of a broader and more systematic picture. Otherwise powerful new forces may be hidden and unnoticed in the upper left and lower left domains, the interior, intangible, and hard to measure by empirical science. The most intriguing question presented for the reader to ponder is what if these left domains—rather than economic and technical development—started to become the focus of attention? Such a question would make a lot more sense if we could read in a second edition of this book the autobiography of Slaughter himself in an appendix. Because the most important context for making sense of Slaughter’s maverick approach toward the civilisational challenges is the ups and downs of his personal life. The interior struggle of himself and his stages of development undoubtedly shaped the content of his book over the course of many years. Such an appendix would certainly help readers gain some insights and understanding into his untold interior story of life and ‘particular perceptual filters, habits and preferences for perceiving and understanding external reality.’