In the previous “metaphors” post, I submitted a variety of metaphors that have been used to describe American society; however, what I found most interesting about these metaphors was not so much about their validity in describing American society but that the “melting pot,” “salad bowl,” and “mosaic” metaphors seem to be reflections of modern, postmodern, and integral consciousness.
So, bearing that in mind, what is the best metaphor to describe integral futures? I believe that the “kaleidoscope” is the best metaphor for IF. The kaleidoscope is a toy through which one can look through to view beautiful, multicolored, shifting images and patterns. The “toy” employs the element of “play” or creativity that is important in FS. (That’s why Richard Slaughter inserted the element of “play” in the title of the report, State of Play in the Futures Field.”) Thus, unlike most specialized fields within academia, futures research should not just be a matter of dry, academic reports that utilize specialized language and jargon only for the “initiated,” having little relevance for broader audiences (the “uninitiated”). I witnessed this trend at the “Theory Building for Foresight and Futures Studies” conference in Istanbul. Many of the presentations were quite dry and repetitive. Most had very little to offer by way of “theory building,” but like most other fields of specialization within professional academia, focused more on methodology and proving how ”empirical” they are. I kept wondering “Where is the theory building?” and “What about the Big Picture?” After all, it was the interdisciplinary nature of FS and its attempt to address the Big Picture of global futures that attracted me most to the field back in the 80s.
So, to get back to the metaphor of the kaleidoscope as a child’s toy, I believe that FS, as an interdisciplinary field that prides itself on viewing the Big Picture, would do well to avoid the trap of overspecialization and the empiricist obsession that plagues much of the social sciences. I think the whole American utilitarian mindset (peculiar to American culture in general) has a lot to do with FS chasing other, more recognized disciplines, down the rabbit hole path of mediocrity in its attempt to gain more academic credibility. Instead, it should look to its playful origins, especially as a creative endeavor, like a child with a fascinating new toy, to view and better understand the future.
Furthermore, the kaleidoscope metaphor also has multicolored patterns of light and images that continually shift and yet magically fit together to tell a story. In the case of FS, multicolored patterns are the alternative futures scenarios; however, unlike the “salad bowl,” these pluralistic images are not random, jumbled, and incongruous, but at the same time fit together and make sense of the future. In fact, it is integral theory that helps to bring back the story of the one future, which had been altogether neglected and abandoned by postmodern futures. Instead, we discover that we can have both. We can have pluralism and yet at the same time recognize the one, common future of humankind through the integral futures kaleidoscope.