Farewell Alternative Futures? (2020)
The notion of ‘alternative futures’ played a significant role in the early development of futures studies and applied foresight (FSAF) and remains in wide use, But the optimism it signified, the sense of unqualified agency, no longer rings true. The paper explores the grounds of this shift and considers some implications. It concentrates on four of many possible factors, each of which may help to account for this underlying shift.
- Global system change and the Anthropocene.
- Denialism and the unreality industry.
- The role of repressed aspects of history.
- Qualitative changes within futures studies and applied foresight (FSAF).
Two broad types of human and cultural response are evident. First, those that broadly accept the evidence and support constructive actions and second, those that seek to deny the evidence and inhibit or undermine such actions. By the early 2000s, however, futures workers had a clearer understanding of systems thinking, complexity and unpredictability. The paper ends on a note of qualified optimism. While alternative macro-futures at the global level may have lost credibility and salience, human agency has not been nullified since multiple alternatives clearly exist at nearly every other level. Continue reading…
Futures Studies as a Quest for Meaning (2019)
This paper reflects on four decades of activity in the futures arena. Overall, it tracks a process of deepening insight and growing appreciation for the richness and complexity of life in all its myriad forms. Coupled with this is what I have come to regard as our inescapable responsibility for being active in ways that protect and nurture our natural and cultural heritage, both of which are under sustained and ever deepening threat. To do so we need to recover a clear perception of how extreme and ‘abnormal’ our present situation vis-à-vis Planet Earth really is. This entails removing the veils from our eyes, setting aside convenient fictions and gaining the courage to face reality. This view can also be framed as ‘finding ways forward in impossible times.’ It is a kind of ‘sub-text’ for the kind of Futures Studies I have pursued. Part one provides an overview of early influences and experiences. Part two summarises some core learnings. Part three provides examples of the kinds of ‘depth appreciation’ that I believe prefigure long-term solutions to the global emergency. Read more…
Image: Peter Bruegel’s Netherlandish Proverbs, 1559. (Gemaldergalerie, Berlin)
The IT Revolution Reassessed Part One: Literature Review and Key issues (2018)
A growing number of reports in mainstream media clearly suggest that the IT revolution is bringing with it a series of challenges that societies are ill prepared to face. While surprisingly large numbers of people unthinkingly renounce such of their privacy as remains for trifles, the idealistic hopes of early pioneers and freedom-loving ‘netizens’ remain largely unfulfilled. Benign notions such as ‘cyber democracy’ and the ‘information superhighway’ have all but disappeared. In place of these optimistic hopes and projections there’s a growing sense of uncertainty, disillusion and, in some cases, fear. One reason is that for many the digital realm is an elusive and obscure ‘nowhere place’ whose shadowy operations lie beyond the boundaries of human perception. Another is that a few vast corporations, and those with privileged access to their services, appear to have almost unlimited influence both for good and for ill. What is striking, however, is that in order to capture attention and encourage wide immediate usage it’s the presumed utility of emerging technologies that’s highlighted rather than the radical ambiguity that attends their longer-term use. The implications of this gulf or fracture need to be more thoroughly understood if positive measures to reduce or eliminate them are to be undertaken. (Read more)
The IT revolution reassessed part two: Case studies and implications (2018)
The second paper suggests that the Internet falls far short what it was originally intended to be and, indeed, what it could yet become. It underperforms when assessed for fairness and egalitarian uses. It seriously over-reaches as a medium dedicated to selling and to extracting value from entire populations – usually without their knowledge or permission. But it can be redesigned and implemented differently. That is, according to positive values exercised in the public interest. The article considers two case studies – the Internet of Things (IoT) and the much-heralded rise of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs). The former is currently being portrayed as a logical and inevitable development, while the latter are intended to replace standard vehicles driven directly by humans on conventional roads. The article then lightly employs Integral categories to identify some interior characteristics (i.e., values and worldviews) of key figures associated with Internet giants. The overall goal is to identify ways of improving our understanding these interior human and cultural dimensions and to use the insights gained to explore what should be done next and by whom. These themes are addressed in the third and final paper in this series. (Read more)
The IT revolution reassessed part three: Framing solutions (2018)
The first section picks up the central theme of the series by focusing on ill-considered or compulsive innovation. It questions fatalistic attitudes and argues that, far from being inevitable, concerns such as artificial intelligence (AI) or Chinese surveillance practices need to be brought more fully into the open and subjected to more sustained critical enquiry. The rest of the paper takes up the theme of recovery and renewal. Some critical ‘blind spots’ are briefly outlined (a distinct lack of interest in global challenges; a pervasive tendency to under-value ‘the social’) and reframed in more positive terms. The notion of ‘constitutive human interests’ is raised. It’s here that the implications of the project become ever more obvious since many of the concerns raised can be viewed as positive opportunities for productive innovation and adaptive change. A variety of innovations for better managing IT-related innovations and re-purposing the Internet are subsequently discussed. The overall conclusions of the paper, and indeed, of the whole project, are framed by a growing imperative to ‘disrupt the disruptors’ by investing in socially democratic actions and processes across the board. Finally, a new look at values and moral development arguably has significant implications for the issues discussed throughout. (Read more)
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Harari, Harvil Secker, London, 2015, 428 pp.
When a new work of note is published early reviews appear in quality publications, followed by a longer ‘tail’ of reports elsewhere. Before long many such works fade into obscurity, becoming accessible mainly to students and scholars. In this case an early review favourably compared Homo Deus to the works of Lewis Mumford. Which caught my attention. Four-and-a-half decades ago as young teacher in Bermuda I was perplexed as to why this tiny sub-tropical paradise would allow itself to be transformed into a teeming, stressful mid-ocean metropolis. How could this be explained? Mumford’s panoramic view of human history, his grasp of how we became human in the first place and his rigorous dissection of oppressive power structures that he called ‘megamachines’ provided food for thought and a variety of starting points for enquiry (Mumford, 1971).
I wanted to find out for myself if the book lived up to this exacting comparison. So I read a review copy during an intense week before Christmas, leaving the following weeks to mull over implications. The more I worked my way into the text, the more concerned I became. If Harari’s thesis were to be taken seriously then the bulk of humanity was on the verge of becoming redundant. Moreover, an extreme high-tech Dystopia was only just around the corner. Read more…
How ‘Development’ Promotes Redundant Visions: The Case of the Queens Wharf Casino Project, Brisbane
‘Development’ is a term freighted with divergent meanings. To many it has positive connotations and is often linked with other contested terms such as ‘growth’ and ‘prosperity.’ But there is a dark side to development – at least as it is being practiced in and around Brisbane where it seems to denote ruthless ‘urban infill’ and the endless replication of poorly-conceived and badly constructed high rise buildings. Very, very few of these projects are being built with an eye to the future or the challenges and changes that it has in store. In other words much of what is currently called ‘development’ is based on redundant thinking, questionable values and what I argue in this paper are redundant visions. The Queen’s Wharf project now under way is perhaps one of the most perverse examples of this unfortunate trend. Whatever Brisbane ‘needs’ it is arguably NOT another casino placed in the heart of the government district and surrounded by one of the most tasteless and ill-conceived mega-developments ever undertaken. So in writing this article I tried to dig under the surface of the glossy advertising campaign to discover what was really going on.
Pathways toward ‘overshoot and collapse’ futures are not always or exclusively determined by international trends, national governments, wars and large-scale events. While these gain considerable attention their overall impact is arguably no greater than the constant ‘drip, drip, drip’ of conventional decision-making around more mundane activities that fall under familiar headings like ‘business strategy’, ‘economic growth’ and ‘development’. While cities have master plans and strategic goals most of them evolve within, and are expressed through, a continuous series of commercially inspired projects founded on narrow short-term economic assumptions. They emerge from a typically up-beat, entrepreneurial (profit-oriented) and finance-based worldview that is little short of delusional. As a result, many large-scale projects are poorly conceived and end up working against shared community interests. The central purpose of this paper is therefore to contribute toward a broad re-appraisal of such projects in the hope that future ‘developments’ can be turned toward more consciously proactive and socially responsible ends. (Journal of Futures Studies 21,1,2016 pp 77-84.) Read more…
Academic Publishing in Transition: the Case of Foresight
Jim Dator’s introduction to the new series of World Future Review under his editorship, he made it clear that the focus of the journal would now be ‘on futures studies itself as an academic discipline and as a practical, consulting activity’ (Dator, 2015). A concern for professional standards in futures studies and applied foresight is has been around for a while and arguably represents one of the main ways by which the profession can advance and prosper (Slaughter, 1999). The reverse is obviously also the case. Either way, journals play a major part in this process since they perform a number of critically vital roles that include: reviewing professional activities, reporting on new and significant work, assisting in the dissemination of ideas, providing a platform for individual opinions and so on. Yet remarkably little attention has been paid to the question of standards within the journals themselves. Meanwhile, academic publishing is passing through a profound upheaval due to the continuing fallout from the ‘digital revolution.’
The paper begins by considering the declared aims and objectives of Foresight. There follows an outline of the method used to carry out the content analysis over several volumes and relate this back to the original study. The rest of the paper reviews the content and themes that emerged through four categories: social interests, methods, focal domains and capacity building. Mention is also made of special issues and ‘outstanding works.’ Finally, suggestions are put forward for further consideration and action. Read more… (World Future Review, 2016, 8, 2, pp 63-74))
Beyond the Global Emergency: Integral Futures and the Search for Clarity Read more…
This paper argues that external, technology-led views of futures tend to be one-sided and overlook significant interior aspects of reality. Since everything is socially constructed it follows that no technology stands alone. They arise from social processes that are, in many cases, centuries old. Human beings also enact their own individual and shared interior worlds. An Integral perspective and the four-quadrant model gives equal attention to interior / exterior and individual / collective phenomena. It also helps us to embrace and respect the contributions of many different disciplines. Part one uses these distinctions to raise questions about the views of prominent Silicon Valley figures and their particular framing of the ‘Digital revolution’. Part two suggests how Integral methods help us to ‘see with fresh eyes’ and open up new and renewed strategies or ‘proto-solutions’ to pressing global issues. (World Future Review, 2015, 7, 2-3, pp 239-252.)
Getting to the Heart of Things Read more…
This paper reflects on four decades of activity in the futures arena. Overall, it tracks a process of deepening insight and growing appreciation for the richness and complexity of life in all its myriad forms. Coupled with this is what I have come to regard as our inescapable responsibility for being active in ways that protect and nurture our natural and cultural heritage, both of which are under sustained and ever deepening threat. To do so we need to recover a clear perception of how extreme and ‘abnormal’ our present situation vis-à-vis Planet Earth really is. This entails removing the veils from our eyes, setting aside convenient fictions and gaining the courage to face reality. This view can also be read as ‘finding ways forward in impossible times.’ Part one provides an overview of early influences and experiences. Part two summarises some core learnings. Part three provides examples of the kinds of ‘depth appreciation’ that I believe prefigure long-term solutions to the global emergency.
The Denial of Limits and Interior Aspects of Descent Read more…
The primary purposes of this paper are as follows. Part one seeks to re-examine the role of denialism in the context of proposals advanced through the much-abused Limits to Growth (LtG) project. The wide-ranging consequences look increasingly like a ‘global trap’ for which humanity is manifestly unprepared. The paper suggests, however, that that moving from ‘collapse’ narratives toward those focused on ‘descent’ opens out new conceptual and practical spaces. Part two uses three sets of criteria (domains of reality, worldviews and values) to characterise some of the interior human and social aspects of the ‘denial machine.’ It uses these criteria to address some vital, but currently under-appreciated ‘interior’ aspects of descent. Finally it considers examples of promising work and concludes by advancing suggestions about ways forward in the light of the ‘global emergency.’ (Foresight 16, 6, 2014, pp 527-549)
Defending the Future: Introductory Overview of a Special Issue of On the Horizon on Responses to The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History
A primary objective in writing The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History (BWCH) (Slaughter, 2010) was to bring as much clarity as possible to some of the complex, multi-layered and profoundly challenging issues that face our world today. A second objective was to establish if there were, in fact, viable ways forward beyond what I saw as an increasingly compromised present, pathways that lead towards more humanly compelling futures. These twin purposes largely dictated how the book was framed and how it evolved. Part one focused on the nature of ‘the problem.’ Part two considered a range of possible solutions, some of which were at the conceptual stage while others were already being trialled in one form or another. I wanted to leave the reader with a sense that, while the outlook might initially appear very bleak, there were real and substantive grounds for informed hope and effective action. (On the Horizon, 21,3 2013, pp 118-173.) (Read more)