Marion Robb

Birds in Bermuda – A Beautiful Book on Birds

Richard Slaughter’s beautiful book on Birds in Bermuda is a landmark – or if you like, a high water mark – in the catalogue of published lore about our waters, woods and wildlife. It is a book to read through in an hour, to leaf through frequently for its remarkably intimate colour photographs, and to ponder over a lifetime for its thought-provoking message. In a nutshell this is that Bermuda’s very survival, both as a unique tourist resort, and as a pleasant place to live in, is linked with that of the flying creatures and the imperilled enviroment that supports them.

During six years of teaching in Bermuda, Mr. Slaughter learned both to love the beauty of this avian heritage and to fear for its future against the relentless pressures of population and building needs. Perhaps only a so-called expatriate could have felt such a fresh reaction and developed such an objective view.

It is true that the author was tutored by Bermudian David Wingate, to whom the book is dedicated, and who calls it in a preface ‘the story of one man’s gradual awakening to a full appreciation of the wonders and beauty of the natural environment.’ Further, he writes, ‘It is a story told in the tragic context of an oceanic island whose primeval character has been transformed through humann colonisation from a virgin wilderness teeming in seabirds, into a noisy, congested midocean metropolis in which the survival of the original bird life is now at stake.’

The book is titled Birds in Bermuda, rather than Birds of Bermuda, because so many of the island’s frequenters are migrants, skimming over thousands of ocean miles to winter in a warmer clime. Mr. Slaughter notes that ‘Today a few scattered patches of woodland and marsh, all that remains of the primeval forest, support many of these birds. Tomorrow these may give way to urbanisation. I believe that such an environment would soon become as unfit for human life as for other creatures.’

Life in Bermuda led him to this conclusion, just as life at Walden led Thoreau to write, as quoted in the introduction: ‘We need the tonic of wildness … We can never have enough of nature.’ There is nothing sentimental about Mr. Slaughter’s text, which is grounded in research and careful observation. The vivid colour pictures stem from days and nights of patient watching by an artist’s eye. His camera has caught revealing glimpses of a saw-whet owl peering from a tree, a ground dove and chicks in their haphazard nest, a Chick of the Village (Bermuda’s only endemic land bird) about to drop a worm into one of four gaping beaks, tern and longtail on the wing against blue skies, longtail chicks in a cliff hole and a cahow chick in its low-ceilinged burrow.

By contrast, the black-and-white photographs of nature reserves and settled areas look pale and grey. The most encouraging of these is one of Scouts clearing litter at the Gilbert Reserve. Aware that conservation cannot succeed without involving the young, Mr. Slaughter asks ‘What better place to start than in school?’ The book’s three sections deal with The Migratory Birds, The Impact of Man on Primeval Bermuda and Conservation Measures. Under this last head, the pregnant question is ‘Turning the Tide?’ On the plus side, the author traces the first steps toward a conservation movement in the 1960’s, the Plant a Tree campaign in 1974, as well as decisions to make Nonsuch Island a living museum of original flora and fauna. Upsetting the balance along the way have been such imported ‘pest birds’ as sparrow and starling, crow and kiskadee, and lately exotic caged birds that escape into the wild.

Mr. Slaughter has a good word for golf courses, which preserve green space and attract migratory birds to their ponds. And he appeals to householders to leave corners of their gardens in a natural state for the benefit of birds, who can hardly raise flocks on smooth lawns. A useful appendix summarises the nesting habits and survival status of birds breeding in Bermuda, with estimates of the present population of some species. May their numbers ever grow less, a reader feels on putting down the book.

Sharing credit with the author for the handsome paper-bound publication are the Bermuda Book Stores Ltd. as publisher and The Bermuda Press Ltd. as printers.

Published in The Royal Gazette, Hamilton, Bermuda, September 18th 1975.

 

Hicks, D. & Holden, C. Visions of the Future: Why We Need to Teach for Tomorrow

Visions of the Future: Why We Need to Teach for Tomorrow Trentham Books, London, 1995

Visions of the Future is one of the most useful additions to the futures education literature in recent years, put out by Trentham in an effective and attractive package. The first couple of chapters outline a rationale for thinking ahead and also introduce some of the elements of futures studies, including images of the future. A review of adults’ and young people’s views suggest that ‘images of the future in the western world often hinge narrowly around scientific and technological developments, sometimes seen as beneficial, but more often as dystopian’. They add, ‘it is as if science and technology have a life of their own which the ordinary citizen feels she can neither understand nor control’ (p 51).

The next three chapters outline the results of a survey of some 400 British students aged from 7 to 18. Gender appears as a major factor in determining attitudes to, and images of, the future. Boys appeared more accepting of a technological future than girls. The latter tend to stress personal relationships much more strongly. However, ‘boys seem to be struggling more than girls to maintain a sense of purpose in the face of massive change’ (p 107). Under ‘implications for schools’ the authors comment that ‘whilst pupils’ specific hopes and fears vary according to their age, what is consistent is their concern about the future and their wish to consider this more seriously in school’ (p 107). This is a key insight because it supports the view that young people respond positively to the option of embracing futures studies within their education. In summary, it appears that ‘whatever future pupils hope for … they do not generally expect it to come about. They fear that the world will be essentially the same or worse than today’. Such a result accurately reflects the prevailing cultural pessimism of the time.

However, Visions of the Future does not end on a pessimistic note. In one of the two final chapters the authors discuss two innovations in futures education taking place in the UK and Australia. The former is a pilot project called Choices for Britain; the other is a new, four semester Board subject in Queensland, called Futures. The final chapter outlines a basis for envisioning the future, drawing on such sources as the utopian tradition, new social movements and futures workshops. Overall these final chapters counteract the pessimism of the survey by showing that there are indeed a range of methods and resources for negotiating difficult times. In short, this is a timely and useful book which can be heartily recommended to all those interested in envisaging viable futures and then working toward them.

The ABN Report, 1994.

John Bugg

Education for the 21st Century

Hedley Beare and Richard Slaughter. London: Routledge, 1993. 180 pages. Index. $39.95 (hardback).

Professor Hedley Beare and Dr Richard Slaughter are members of the Department of Policy, Context and Evaluation Studies in the University of Melbourne’s Institute of Education. There is a realisation at the end of the second Christian millennium that individuals can no longer live and act in isolation or without regard for the world community. Marshall McLuhan’s global village is rapidly becoming a reality. News Corporation’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, in an interview recently in the Australian indicated clearly that his company saw immense changes in the communication facilities of the global community in the next few years.

It is good, therefore, that Beare and Slaughter have taken up these matters and given them an educational perspective. The consequence is a very stimulating and challenging book that should be read by all school administrators. The writers suggest that we need to consider school organisation and curriculum development in the light of the changes now taking place in our global community. No longer can we consider ourselves in an isolated part of the world, taking for granted an almost unlimited supply of resources and believing that some social or economic event in some far off place in the world will not affect us.

Furthermore, to “educate young people as though the present patterns of thinking and living, or the past ones for that matter, provide a sound basis for confronting the future is quite plainly dangerous”. The suggestion is that schools have retained in an administrative model that retains pre-industrial elements onto which has been grafted some notions of the factory model. Schools are like monasteries with all the order and control of small isolated groups. The school is often run as if it is a religious order, devoted to teaching and learning, to personal growth and to preparing the individual for service to and in the world. Such an administrative pattern fails to take account of the real world where telecommunications are by satellite and it does not take three years to circumnavigate the globe.

The issue for schools to address is that things around us have changed and we must accommodate that or, like other organisations, become irrelevant. Educators need to provide a “credible vision of a future that works and that reconnects each individual with a wider world. They need a sustainable human vision which embodies a set of, viable purposes and meanings”. A futures curriculum needs to be established that is centrally concerned with negotiating and exploring new and renewed understandings … it has a role to play in defining a more just, peaceful and sustainable world”.

The book concludes with a range of skills that children will need to cope with this new paradigm, along with guidelines for teachers, and strategies that may be used to move the schools in a new direction. Beare and Slaughter have written a fine book. It is a pleasure to read about matters of a higher order than national curriculum and competencies. That we, as administrators and teachers, should consider the notion of myth and legend, the seeking of ideas beyond our immediate needs, and caring for one another and the world as a whole, is refreshing and overdue. How we deal with the economic rationalists, and the materialism of the twentieth century is clearly a challenge.

Education for the Twenty-First Century will be seen as a milestone in the continuing education debate in this country, and that honour will be well deserved.

At the time of writing John Bugg was a senior member of the staff of Geelong Grammar School, Corio, Victoria, Australia.

This article was published in the PR Guide, Melbourne, 1994.

Robert Owen

Education for the 21st Century

Hedley Beare and Richard Slaughter

This is a ‘benchmark’ book for the future of education in Australia. The authors are already well regarded in the field of education and this book will stand beside Sleepers Wake by Barry Jones and Hugh Mackay’s Reinventing Australia, as a rare example of futures thinking in Australia. The authors have distilled so much wisdom and practical suggestions into 170 pages, a real delight for busy people. It also demonstrates that good thinking can be simple. This book is the required text for the UNE Post Graduate Unit in Accelerated Learning detailed elsewhere.

Education for the Twenty First Century commences with a detailed description of the global forces that are driving the changes that impact on education at all levels across the world. It details how the shift into the information age affects the process of our industrial age models of learning that have served us well. In the final 100 pages the authors set out very clear and pertinent choices for Australian schools and teachers to consider if their skills are to remain relevant to the future of education in our information society. Turning to specific issues that will offer you stimulation and be of great application for Accelerated Learning practitioners, there are the insights to Values, Chaos Theory and Optimism. Several examples are as follows.

Values

“The central importance of change in values, in ways of knowing, in assumptions about meaning – in short, implications of the paradigm shift has too often been overlooked in the educational discourse (page 5).

“To put it briefly the Western industrial world view based on certainty, predictability, control and instrumental rationality (ie. reason applied to unquestioned practical ends) has become fractured and incoherent. Many core values and beliefs which once sustained the social fabric have decayed and are perceived as empty, threatening and problematic” (page 13).

“Equally, however, the scientific approach tends to be sceptical about core values and beliefs, about magic and enchantment, about mythology and religious experience. Yet these domains have their own intrinsic qualities, not the least of which is integration, the knitting together of diffuse pieces of knowledge into a wider and more coherent picture” (page 43).

Chaos Theory

One of the basic principles of chaos theory is the Principle of Positive Uncertainty. The authors quote from Beyond the Stable State by Donald Schon which I reviewed with readers in 1973 to indicate the value of understanding chaos theory. The authors conclude their commentary on the demise of the industrial era and its central process of reductionism. This then leads us into a very exciting section that gives credence to “global consciousness” being a pathway to seeing order in chaos (page 38).

Optimism and Pessimism

The authors demonstrate the importance of what Martin Seligman in his book Learned Optimism terms “our internal explanatory styles” (page 139). Educators who have attended our Advanced Teacher Level or the Post Graduate Unit and worked that text will be delighted to read confirmation of those same principles. Their view is refined in a more simplistic matrix to appreciate how people will explain negative and positive images from their ‘internal explanatory style’ (page 140). From this you will see the connection between the Chaos principle “positive uncertainty” and one’s “internal explanatory style”.

Good Schools

The authors present a fine definition of a good school which coincides with the same point of view presented by Alistair Mant in his book Leaders we Deserve on page 100, reviewed in the last Connections (page 73). Try this as a suggestion from the last chapter ” rates of change in these decades are such that people… are continually being taken by surprise, by developments that should not have surprised them if they had a longer time perspective … I propose as an answer … training in thinking in a time-span which I call the ‘two hundred year present”.

Wow, can you cope with that? Some can, because that point of view has been underpining the core of Connections over the last 20 years. However the brilliance of the authors is that they advance their concepts to a very practical level for you and me. That is an achievement, for which I am grateful as I advance the design of aspects of the UNE Post Graduate Unit.

In the last chapter “What can I do? Some bridging strategies” there are ten very fine and practical suggestions for parents and educators and are headed:

1. Watch your images. 2. Teach for wholeness & balance. 3. Teach identification. 4. Teach children not to accept blindly the value sets of others. 5. Teach about visualisation. 6. Give particular attention to visions of the future. 7. Distinguish between faith and hope. 8. Tell stories, apocryphal stories. 9. Teach and learn to celebrate. 10. Carefully select from and use the available tools.

The authors describe tools as enabling devices and Accelerated Learning is an enabling device, the best we know that works.

Published in Connections for Superlearning, No 31, Nov. 1993.

 

Laele Pepper

Education for the 21st century

Headley Beare and Richard Slaughter, Routledge, UK, 1993.

 

Educators who are in touch with students must be disturbed frequently by the fears, gloom and pessimism expressed by many young people about the future. They must ask themselves what can be done through schools and the curriculum to reconstruct these views into more positive attitudes and to rekindle the enthusiasm of young people for living. In Education for the Twenty-First Century by Hedley Beare and Richard Slaughter, the authors offer a theoretical and practical guide for educators who wish to tackle these concerns as they prepare young people for life in the 21st century.

These writers do not subscribe to a quick fix, technologically driven solution to the malaise of the present generation. Indeed, computers and nanotechnology are mentioned only in passing, as tools of the future, not fundamental elements in the changes needed. Rather, Beare and Slaughter concern themselves with a more profound mind shift. Their key argument is that schools must stop looking backwards and grounding their practices and rationales in outmoded ways of thinking and doing, and start to look forward, using a futures perspective to inform everything that takes place in schools.

They offer an outline of a number of well tried futures tools and concepts to assist educators in the task of shifting the focus of curriculum and teaching to the future. A busy teacher who did not wish to follow the detailed discussion of how and why the need for a profound mindshift has arisen in the late twentieth century could turn to chapters 7 and 8 and find a number of clearly explained strategies to use in their classes the very next day. But the book is not merely a technical handbook. The authors deal in their early chapters with three major shifts in which Western societies are currently immersed. While not oversimplifying the complexity of these developments, they expound them with admirable lucidity, placing them in a context of philosophical and theoretical writings.

The first of these is the decline of industrialism as a basis for employment, and the beginning of the shift towards a knowledge-based economy where the manipulation of information will be the principal way that people earn their living. The second major shift relates to global consciousness, the one world view. The view that humans inhabit a small, fragile planet dominated by natural systems of climate, geography and vegetation stems from the earth photos taken by the lunar missions of the mid-1960s. This view has come into sharp focus as we have begun to understand the strains being imposed upon the earth by unrestrained, and often unethical human activity.

Beare and Slaughter point out that the problem is not attributable only to greed or exploitation, but reflects an incomplete understanding of the complex interconnection of all of earlier systems. This situation has come about as a result of 300 years of reductionist thinking, which has encouraged specialisation and focus upon narrow fields of research but, in general, has not supported attempts to synthesise an overview of knowledge.

Therefore the third shift is the well-documented change in understanding about modern science and what constitutes knowledge. The fragmentation of knowledge into guarded fields of specialisation is being challenged by those who see the inconsistencies and inequities this generates. At the level of scientific theorising, new attempts are being made to integrate previously disparate fields of study. Within schools this change will affect the way specialisations are taught, and some educators are reworking the concept of integrated studies.

The most important and urgent task for educators to take on is to make a conscious shift from a past orientation to a futures orientation in every aspect of their work. There is a sense of urgency, which arises from the breakdown of old meanings and values, social dislocation and the destruction of past securities. This is compounded by the realisation that humans may have passed a point of no return in the way they have treated the planet.

Regretful reflection upon past experiences can be tempered by the powerful understanding that people can affect the future by the choices they make. The past is not a closed book – all change must proceed from what has gone before; but neither is the future predetermined by the forward projection of past errors and practices. The future is open very wide; a huge range of possible, probable and preferable futures can be brought into being by the choices made now. Responsible decisions can be made after people become informed, using techniques such as futures scanning and critical foresight, then choose to act in certain ways.

If a rationale for futures studies is sought, almost all human action is predicated upon the existence of the future. The future drives our present plans, purposes, goals, intentions and meanings … and curricula. Further, since humans have the unique capacity to range in imagination through past, present and multiple futures, there is no need for humans to experience catastrophe before taking steps to counteract it. These are the fundamental realisations that educators urgently need to bring to young people.

Beare and Slaughter, respected educators and futurists, have written this book from the perspective of Western worldviews and education systems, and it is immediately applicable in the Australian context. However, it is a book deserving wider circulation, as its message has relevance in a global context. Its argument is disturbing to the complacent; its challenge is profound to those uneasy with the present; and its proffered solutions are helpful, relevant and empowering.

At the time of writing Laele Pepper was Curriculum Coordinator of St. Pauls Grammar School, Warragul, Victoria, Australia.

Published in the WFSF Futures Bulletin June/July 1994, p 13.

 

 

 

 

Michael Marien

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.

Ken Kassman

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Alex Burns

 

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’. [1] 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.” [2] 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.” [3] 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.” [4] 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. [5] 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. [6]

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. [7] 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. [8]

Social Imaging and the Cultural Memepool

One tactic of re-positioning Futures Studies has been to shift the focus from trends to ideas. [9] 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.” [10]

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. [11] 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.

Institutionalising Foresight

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.” [12]

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, [13] 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, [14] 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.” [15]

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”). [16]

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. [17]

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.

Endnotes

[1] Slaughter, R.A. The Foresight Principle: Cultural Recovery in the 21st Century. Westport, CT: Praeger Press and London: Adamantine Press Ltd., 1995. 52.

[2] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. xvii.

[3] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. xvii.

[4] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 11.

[5] Slaughter, R.A. 17-20.

[6] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 38-39.

[7] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 52.

[8] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 53-55.

[9] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 59-60.

[10] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 88.

[11] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 84-85.

[12] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 94.

[13] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 78-82.

[14] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 119-120.

[15] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 117.

[16] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 118-132.

[17] Slaughter, R.A. Ibid. 156.

Alex Burns, Melbourne, October 22, 2001.