Futures Studies as a Quest for Meaning by Richard A. Slaughter

Here is a great, thoughtful article by Richard Slaughter! It’s a little long but well worth the read! Enjoy!

Also, I would like to plug my new YouTube channel Integral Futures by Terry Collins. I’ve got an “Intro” and “History” with both being under 5 minutes for all those with short attention spans such as myself! Ha Ha Ha! Terry

Futures Studies as a Quest for Meaning by Richard A. Slaughter


This article 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 1 provides an overview of early influences and experiences. Part 2 summarizes some core learnings. Part 3 provides examples of the kinds of “depth appreciation” that I believe prefigure long-term solutions to the global emergency.


For some years a narrative has emerged concerning the post-war baby boom generation. In Australia at least it identifies a sense of relative disadvantage being experienced by later generations in that their life chances appear significantly reduced. This is a question of social justice that deserves to be widely explored and discussed. At the same time, however, a far larger – and perhaps even more significant – issue is that what was earlier thought to be the unstoppable arrow of human progress itself began to falter in the late 1960s and 70s. Two of many possible indicators of this shift are the treatment handed out to Rachel Carson after the publication of Silent Spring (Carson 1962) and the emphatic rejection of the first Limits to Growth report (Meadows 1972). These, and similar works represented timely warnings that the human species needed to wake up to the global consequences of its own success. But business-as-usual prevailed, and still does. As with many others, my career as a Futurist/ Foresight Practitioner has occurred as the dimensions of what has become a global emergency slowly began to impose non-negotiable costs upon human societies everywhere. It has been difficult to stay positive, to always be searching for solutions, ways forward. But this is what anyone involved in futures work of any kind must now confront. Hence the search for meaning outlined here cannot possibly be a singular one. It’s an unavoidably collective challenge facing all who care about the world and are determined to resist its steady descent into chaos.
Part 1: Overview View from “Year Zero”

I was born late in 1945, or “year zero” of an era now often referred to as the “Anthropocene” (human era). World population was a little over 2 billion—which is less a third of the present 7 billion. It was the end of World War II and the first nuclear bombs had fallen upon Japan. Cars were uncommon in the terraced streets where I grew up. Television was nonexistent, and telephones were heavy Bakelite blocks with circular dials and long twisted cords attaching the handset to the base. My grandmother’s tiny house was lit by gas. My father walked to work and my mother cycled everywhere. Although Portsmouth was pockmarked with bombsites and damaged buildings, I was spared the rigors of postwar reconstruction. I was simply too young to understand. During the 1950s and 1960s, however, annual GDP (gross domestic product) grew by 4 to 6 percent. Global industrial production tripled in the twenty years from 1950 to 1970.1 Although it was far from obvious in postwar Britain, humanity was poised at the start of a historically unprecedented period of growth and development. Like many others I have benefited from that process, but the overall costs have now exceeded what anyone could have possibly imagined.2 While most governments, organizations, and individuals seem to take such vast shifts and changes in their stride, a clear-eyed look at the process suggests that they have bequeathed us a truly abnormal and unsustainable world. Yet nothing of this dire future could be detected in postwar working-class Britain. Perhaps in response to the grayness of the later 1940s and early 1950s, my parents did all they could to expose me to a range of experiences. They also taught me to read at an early age. It was not long before I became immersed in young peoples’ literature—both fiction and non-fiction. Then, as a teenager with a voracious appetite for reading and experience something started to shift. I began wondering why “the future” appeared to bear increasingly negative connotations. Much later on I encountered the view that the future might be seen as “a disaster that had already happened.”3 Leading British science fiction (SF) author Brian Aldiss provided another clue during a 1980s SF convention in Brighton when he described the main ethos of the genre in just four words—“hubris clobbered by nemesis.” I felt that to be a very astute and pointed summation. If, however, you read enough Dystopias— and I was reading many at that time—then at some point your enthusiasm for their warnings and disasters can wane. Something was missing or in some way out of balance. So, unconsciously at first, I began to seek out and explore different options. Eventually I realized that I was being drawn into a different engagement with the present. The drivers of Dystopia were not hidden. They were out there in the world for all to see. What might this mean? I found myself at the beginning of a long period of learning about the world and why it appeared to be under such pervasive—but ill defined—threat. Coming to that view in the 1960s meant that there were few reliable sources and even fewer ready-made guidelines. Without appropriate maps, you basically stumble across helpful material and, from time to time, meet inspiring people. Which is what happened. To put it as briefly as possible, if the Dystopias were an irritant or starting point then Leach’s 1967 Reith Lectures A Runaway World? (Leach 1968) provided me with the first real evidence of what was happening.4 Remarkably, I still have the book. (Leach, 1968)
Bermuda to Lancaster Not long afterward I found myself living and working in Bermuda as a young teacher. The six years I spent there provided a further awakening and radicalizing experience that sent me back to study and then into futures. I became friendly with David Wingate, the local government conservation officer. He opened up the natural world to me in ways that had previously been out of reach. Through him I also discovered the work of the early American conservationists—people such as J. J. Audubon, Henry Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and John Muir.

From people such as these I discovered expressions like “In wilderness is the preservation of the world” and the stewardship ethic they embodied. They provided a vital perspective and backdrop to more contemporary material. I was fortunate to discover Lewis Mumford at this point. His well-grounded and historically informed critique in The Pentagon of Power (Mumford 1971) became a foundation from which much of my early thinking and exploration would proceed. I still believe that a section of one chapter on “the removal of limits” should be required reading for virtually everyone.5 It addresses some implications for humanity around the fundamental dilemma of growth and, in so doing, brings much that is contested in our contemporary world into sharper focus. Bermuda demonstrated in very real and concrete ways what happens when human beings lose sight of natural process and what is now called “the big picture” in pursuit of short-term anthropocentric—that is, economic—ends. Primeval Bermuda had been obliterated under a relentless tide of twentieth century development. I began to see it as a microcosm of a global process. The cycles, characteristics, and limits that apply in nature were and are being progressively marginalized and diminished under the pressure and the weight of implacably growing human demands. Understanding this mismatch between human perception and environmental reality became one of the enduring themes of my life and work. The publication of the first Limits to Growth (LtG) study in 1972 brought all this together (Meadows et al. 1972). At last I was ready to get serious about returning to university. At Lancaster I was fortunate to find a program in the School of Independent Studies that allowed people like myself to help design a large part of their degree program. Mine had the rather grandiose title of Science, Technology and the Human Future.6 That’s when I discovered a group of people, and even a few organizations, that focused on alternative futures. I felt I had finally found a home of sorts. Wider acceptance and career “success,” however, would be a harder road and would take many more years to accomplish.
Australia In the meantime my wife and I had two sons— a fact for which I am eternally grateful. It is impossible to overstate how important they were and are in the overall pattern of my life. Sadly, however, having completed a PhD on Futures in Education I found that there was no work anywhere in the United Kingdom for a freshly minted Futurist. So it was with a very heavy heart that, after several years of uncertainty and struggle, I found myself living and working in far away Australia. Things here were also tough at first but when I landed a job at Melbourne University I had my first real opportunity to grow and contribute. The five years from 1989 to 1994 that I spent there were among the most productive of my life. I was able to design and teach course units on Futures in Education, develop greater skill at public speaking, and start to publish in professional journals and through mainstream publishers. As things turned out, I was both fortunate and unfortunate at the same time. On the positive side was Professor Hedley Beare who gave me his unlimited support and with whom I collaborated to write Education for the Twenty-First Century (Beare and Slaughter 1993). The book was widely read, and its basic message received strong support from the profession. Unfortunately, however, I was also stuck with a head of department (HOD) who actually wrote in a formal assessment that my area, that is, Futures Studies, had only “a tenuous connection with education.” It was not the first clash of paradigms and personalities that I would experience but it was the beginning of the end for that phase. After five short years, I was out of a job and struggling again. At the time it felt like a disaster. But then, as I found my feet, as it were, I experienced a welcome shift of perspective. A period of intensive in-depth personal work with what might best be described as a “humanistic psychology group” known as All One Voice proved life changing. Much to my relief I found out that I could, indeed, thrive working independently and soon built up an active network of colleagues, contacts, and organizational affiliations. I ran research projects, edited a professional newsletter, promoted and ran workshops, and dipped my toe into small scale publishing. During this time I also wrote and edited several well-received books. Perhaps the greatest success was a multi-volume project called the Knowledge Base of Futures Studies (KBFS) (Slaughter 1996, 2005). This went through several editions and was rendered into CD-ROM and USB formats that are still used in universities around the world.7 Throughout this whole time, I returned to the United Kingdom frequently and my sons visited me in Melbourne. We bridged the huge geographical distance by staying in touch as often as possible. In fact we probably ended up having more “quality time” together than some who live in close proximity. The period of living and working independently lasted for several years. Then in 1998, having just moved to Brisbane, I received a call from my close friend, Adolph Hanich, who had been working at Swinburne University. To cut a long story short, he and I collaborated on a proposal for a new entity there and I was later invited to set up the Australian Foresight Institute (AFI). So in mid-1999 I turned around, went back to Melbourne, and got to work. Around this time I took on the Presidency of the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF). This undoubtedly added to the “profile” I was able to bring to the new position. After a year working on course development and accreditation, the first graduate students enrolled in 2000. The local and international feedback was highly encouraging. All up I spent five very active and productive years at Swinburne. At one point—while I was writing Futures Beyond Dystopia (Slaughter 2004)—I remember wondering how long I could go on working 6½ days a week! I also left it in the good, strong hands of Peter Hayward when, in 2004, I decided to leave. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to work in an underappreciated domain of enquiry and action that never, at any time, promised or delivered a conventional career. Yet it has provided me with an uncommon level of satisfaction and overall success. The key thing, however, is not so much what it means
personally but, rather, what it may suggest collectively. For what was achieved during the early years at the AFI was what entrepreneurs call “proof of concept.” That is, we demonstrated conclusively that the domain of Futures Studies and Applied Foresight had multiple uses and applications. Our suggestion that “foresight refreshes strategy” was never contradicted by anyone at all. There is a simple reason for this: it made—and makes—a great deal of human, cultural, and organizational sense. I will now summarize some of the core learnings that have emerged from my immersion in the Futures arena and, as will become clear, many other fields as well. They are not arranged in any particular order. It should also be borne in mind that what follows is a summary. Interested readers are encouraged to consult some of the sources (many of which are on line) cited below.
Part 2:

What I Have Learned Foundations In postmodern conditions some highly influential arguments have been advanced for viewing the world as being in a constant state of flux and social relationships as being fluid and changeable. There is some truth in this. At the same time, however, it is vital to have some reliable points of reference among all the flux and upheaval around us. The world is certainly not static, and probably never was. But we need some things that we can rely on over the long haul. Appreciation for beauty might be one and the love for one’s family another. Within the domain of framing ideas and beliefs, it is both possible and desirable to have something similar to hold onto. Moreover, Wilber’s four quadrants provide one relatively simple strategy for achieving this. It is based on taking up the notion that the world can be viewed through four “windows” or frames of reference. These are as follows: the individual interior world known only to ourselves; the collective or shared interior world of culture, society, language, and so on; the exterior individual world of measureable behavior and competence; and finally, the exterior collective world of physical evolution, ecologies, cities, and so on.8 I should add here that there are very many sources and resources available to provide us with key understandings in each of the above. For illustrative purposes only I will name four—one in each area—that I have found useful. On the individual interior domain I found Wilber’s (2000) work on Integral Psychology very valuable. It brings together a great deal of research and practical know-how about developmental states and stages that all human beings pass through and experience.9 As such it provides a map of the human interiors that helps us to understand different dimensions of the self. This, in fact, is the domain that’s almost universally overlooked by futurists as by many others. Then, in the collective interior domain, there is a source that has remained current and helpful over half a century—the Social Construction of Reality (Berger and Luckmann 1966). The book reveals a lot about how societies operate and how they deal with the central issue of legitimation. For me this is central to understanding why societies operate as they do. Obviously there’s far, far more to say about this subject. But the book nails some central realities that have often helped me to understand aspects of current events. One of them is an idea attributed to Marx, namely that we are indeed the “authors” of our societies but tend to forget our authorship. It is more difficult to identify a single source to illuminate the domain of the exterior individual. But my choice goes to Joanna Macy (1983) for her book Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, as this shows how it is possible to move from despair toward empowered action in virtually any situation.10 As such it supports a vital and often overlooked capability during increasingly challenging times. It means that the onset of Dystopia is not necessarily a legitimate cause for depression and despair. Finally, within the domain of the shared exterior world there is, indeed, a single text that, for me at least, outlines a reliable framework that situates human life nested as it truly is within a dynamic global context. It is called Global Change and the Earth System
(Steffen et al. 2004) but a subtitle that I have often used is “the story that connects.”11 I have often referred to it when confronted with the complexities, confusions, and denials that are constantly highlighted in the media. These examples are indeed just that, and I am fully aware that no two people would choose the same sources. Yet a conscious search for their equivalents does, I suggest, provide valuable insight and support for anyone seeking clarity about the world and their place within it.
Self-Knowledge During a trip to Delphi, Greece, I saw two ancient inscriptions in the Temple of Apollo. One said “know thyself” and the other “everything in moderation.” To which the modern wit may add “including moderation!” Of the two I think the first is most vital because without self-knowledge we inevitably flounder and simply cannot function properly. These days the injunction can perhaps be translated into something like “carrying out personal work” as often as required. Having the right mentors is also helpful here as they not only help resource us for life tasks but also give us that rarest of gifts—honest feedback. Learning to hear and accept that is one of the most vital skills. As we go through the process of discovering, accepting, and integrating the many layers of the self, so we open to our own partiality, our games, our appetites, and weaknesses. We also become aware of our projections and learn how to take them back. At some point we stop being the center of the universe and realize that we are all merely threads in a vast and ancient tapestry, the boundaries of which lie forever beyond us. From such insights comes capability and modesty. In a futures context this means that we are open to others. We can hear and know them because we have sufficiently stilled the cacophony of ego. The part about modesty is important too. I have long believed that in a field such as Futures Studies and Applied Foresight that deals with such huge, world spanning issues, it is vital to express ourselves in ways that are clear yet also under-stated.

Disappointments and Failures To be a Futurist is clearly not an easy choice, especially if one elects, as I have, to quite deliberately not work for the already rich and powerful. Herb Kemph’s (2008) book How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth and Kerryn Higgs’ (2014) superb Collision Course have confirmed this decision beyond any possible doubt.12 This means that one may well choose to forego significant opportunities at, at times, to “hoe a lonely furrow.” So it is vital in this context to stay connected to those people and sources of energy and insight that can provide support when it is needed. I do not believe in the “lone Futurist” any more than I do in the “lone genius.” We are all and always part of a collective, whether we acknowledge this or not. None of us is self-sufficient. When a crisis comes or we run out of personal resources, we need to know who or what to turn to and how to recover. This is very personal and very specific from one individual to another. But it also has a strong bearing on how we can not only view but also positively utilize Dystopias and negative depictions of futures. The upshot is that while a conventional view tends to avoid both, I regard them as powerful drivers of human motivation and purpose (Slaughter 2012). In my own case I have turned to family, friends, mentors, organizations and, occasionally, to the wisdom traditions themselves. Just to take the latter, during my fruitless and frustrating search for work following my PhD I remember being greatly inspired by Huxley’s (1946) The Perennial Philosophy and E. F. Schumacher’s (1977) book A Guide for the Perplexed. It’s in the latter that I found the proposition that “at the human level there is no upper limit.” That is truly inspiring if you are in the mood to accept it. Another example would be when I came across Wilber’s (1995) Sex, Ecology, Spirituality during one of the more difficult periods of my life. The only way I felt I could describe how I felt at the time was to say that I had somehow gained the energy equivalent to a “whole Middle-East oil field.” This is an odd metaphor perhaps, but one that conveys something about how I experienced the power and reach of the Integral perspective.
Then there are the words of Seneca that convey an almost timeless wisdom that reaches across the centuries (Seneca, 62–65 AD, trans. 1997). Of the many hands-on workshops I have attended two stand out. One was called Imagining a World Without Weapons. It was based on the work of Elise Boulding and Warren Zeiglar, two giants of the field. They designed a group process that allowed participants to inhabit and “make real” a desired future world. The next step was to return to the present and identify the “seeds” of that world in the here-and-now. This identifies core work that can then be undertaken. The other was held at Manjushri Institute on the southern edge of Cumbria, UK. It was organized and run by Joanna Macy whose work Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age I mentioned above. I shall never forget the Council of All Beings that I took part in during that week. It was a transformative moment. There were many ups and downs but I am certain that the twenty or so people who took part all had life-changing experiences of one sort or another. In my own case, I found new sources of insight and strength that have remained with me ever since.
Managing Success It is just as necessary to know how to deal with success as it is with the challenges of getting there. Being successful does not actually make one more important or less likely to make mistakes. In fact success can feed the ego in ways that are counterproductive. It has sometimes been noted that the higher you rise in any organization the less feedback you are likely to receive. Here’s where you find “ivory tower” academics, “know all” executives and bosses, and those individuals who are beyond caring about “ordinary” people. Part of the selfknowledge required, therefore, is to stay open, to be alert to the traps of ego and take active steps to compensate for the loss of informal feedback. One way to do this is to ensure that there are plenty of opportunities for informal interactions. Another is to be a good listener and to demonstrate a true interest in other people and what they may have to say. In my own
experience such people have sometimes been surprisingly rare. Hedley Beare became a mentor and model for me in part because he always remained modest, he sought to resolve conflicts honestly, and he never stinted at promoting and supporting his colleagues regardless of their level in the organization. The success of our book Education for the Twenty-First Century (Beare and Slaughter 1993) was due, in no small part, to his standing in the profession, the respect in which he was held by everyone. It was also due to the way we collaborated. For example, we each drafted successive chapters. We then passed each chapter to the other person with a completely free hand to add to, subtract, or rewrite it as required. This led me to suggest in later years that, especially when it comes to writing and editing, there should be no ego involved at all. To be successful also involves becoming well known. Other professionals, from the media, for example, will turn up more often to ask for your help or your views. You are likely to be invited to take part in radio and TV programs. So, it is worth working on developing some of the necessary skills. One of these is preparation, preparation, and preparation. I’ve never skimped on this because when getting ready for one occasion you are also doing the same for others yet to come. Having prepared well it is easier to relax when you are in the spotlight knowing that you know what you need to know for that occasion. My best model here is Wendell Bell whom I am proud to know as a colleague and friend. Like Hedley, he has always been generously supportive and encouraging. When we have had the occasional difference of view that has simply been accepted. There has never been any conflict. Sadly I cannot say that for all my acquaintances and fellow workers. Occasionally someone who should know better takes offense at something you may have said or written and, for a while, there is an eruption of quite futile aggression and conflict that is way out of proportion to the issues involved. You just have to get through these periods as best you can, recognizing that they are probably inevitable. But, again, having a sense of reality, getting out of ego, and learning to recognize “whose back the monkey really is on” can help a great deal (Slaughter 2011a). At the end of the day no one can avoid the “great law of Karma” or simply the view that “what goes around comes around.” Finally I would suggest that the “bottom line” for making the best of whatever success comes one’s way is to embody the spirit of generosity. Or, to put it differently, the best way to enjoy the gifts of a bountiful universe is to respect other people and pass them on.
Being Productive What this means, of course, depends on what it means to any particular person in a specific context. A former colleague once referred to our field as “an eternal spring of inspiration.” That may be an idiosyncratic view, but it is one that still resonates with me. Part of the reason is that by 1975, the year I left Bermuda, I had started to develop what I can only call an “inner sense” or “compass.” As long as I paid due attention, this became an increasingly reliable guide. I am not suggesting it was infallible, detailed, or provided explicit directives. It was more embedded and intuitive than that. But I have never doubted my life’s direction, and I have never had to search for topics to study, explore, or write about. Over time they just seemed to emerge naturally from the process of living, reflecting, interacting with others, and being aware. My PhD was an exception. It took a year to plan and another three years full time to write. But it taught me a lot about how to think and write about complex issues. I would be less than honest if I said that I had not enjoyed the occasional comments I have received about being productive. It is always good to be recognized. Yet, at the same time, there are few things that return greater satisfaction than being able to externalize, and find language and action for, the impulses and insights that seem to emerge from within. My goal has always been to try to write/speak/ teach about difficult or complex topics in as straightforward and comprehensible manner as possible. Sometimes I have succeeded, others not.
The process of coming to write The Foresight Principle: Cultural Recovery in the 21st Century is a case in point (Slaughter 1995). It is hard to describe, but I remember emerging from my collaboration with Hedley Beare feeling that some themes of that book deserved further elaboration. The notions of “foresight” and of “wisdom” seemed to grow and develop over the next year or two and, in a profound sense, to “spark” off of each other. The energy from that process is what enabled me to sit down and write first draft of the book in only a few weeks. Writing The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History began rather differently but over time ended up feeling inspirational. Initially, the impulse and drive to begin was very definite and strong but unfocused. Then as I gave more time and thought to the material my way forward became clearer. I had a false start that I became unhappy with and abandoned. Following that the structure of what became Part 1 became clearer. I wrote that over about another year and sent out the draft manuscript to some dozen or so colleagues and friends. The feedback I received was invaluable as I was then able to correct mistakes, re-shape some sections, and add new material. With this completed I found Part 2 much easier to write. It seemed to flow into a logical and achievable structure. Two brief points are relevant here. First, the process of intuitive inner awareness and guidance was central. Second, the eventual work was significantly improved and shaped by subjecting it to external review and evaluation. The most productive outcome of my career followed from the invitation I received in 1999 to set up the AFI at Swinburne University in Melbourne. The story of how it happened has been told elsewhere (Slaughter 2011b). What I will say here is that the chance to create this organization and then to see it succeed more than made up for the challenging times that I and my family had experienced earlier on as well as the various disappointments that I experienced through what has been a highly “discontinuous” and uneven career. But it was only after I left fulltime formal employment that the last part of the puzzle fell into place.
Part 3:

Getting to the Heart of Things As the first draft of this article was being written, the world was in uproar due to the resurgence of radical Islamism in the Middle East and the emergence of the first large-scale Ebola pandemic. Both singly and together they were seen as threats to the current world order. Yet even then that very “order” was scarcely informed at all by the kind of high-quality foresight capability that I have spent my professional life working on. It is vital, however, to keep on pushing the boundaries and to produce new and original work. Around that time I was working with a talented younger colleague on a special issue of Foresight. The topic was that of “Descent Pathways” (Floyd and Slaughter 2014). It addressed the fundamental dilemma that mainstream society and its major institutions have consistently failed to address over the last forty or fifty years (even though they have had many opportunities to do so). That is, the imminent collapse of a global system based on fallacies and contradictions that were becoming unavoidable. As the early Dystopias made clear, the continuation of heavy trends in the wider world leads to ecocide, a population crash of vast proportions and the disintegration of our world spanning civilization. Technology, so often cast by Futurists in the role of savior, is only marginally helpful in this context. For example, there is strong evidence that the much-heralded digital revolution has been drastically over-sold and cannot deliver the spotless high-tech future that was promised only a few years ago. While it has led to some useful innovations, its overall costs and very real penalties are far, far higher than its advocates will admit (Morozov 2013; Slaughter 2018; Zuboff 2019). The real issues at stake in the early twenty-first century are, however, not technical in nature. They are really about who we are, how we see the world and each other and how our needs are expressed and fulfilled. Central too are the kinds of worldviews and values that drive us, and also how we respond to a world slipping ever more deeply into systemic crisis and dysfunction. While many people are focused on the external aspects of this process, the internal and intangible Slaughter 9 dimensions I mentioned above are at least as significant. That’s why so much of my work over recent years attempts to deal with them (Slaughter 2012). So far as I am aware I coined the phrase “the dialectic of foresight and experience” some years ago without really intending to. It simply emerged during the process of teaching, thinking, and writing. I and many others have suggested that the human capacity to think ahead, plan, evaluate, and act in future-conscious ways is a gift of inestimable value that can, in turn, be built up into a widespread set of social capabilities. At present, however, it is clear that the “experience” part of this formulation is well ahead. It is far more influential than foresight per se. This means that currently we only respond to danger when it is bearing down upon us and few alternatives remain. That this is not a new problem, but rather a deeply embedded and long-standing aspect of human nature, is evidenced by the fact that, for example, Machiavelli discussed it four centuries ago!13 I have written extensively about the dangerous prominence of two near universal practices that stand in our way: chronic human denial and future discounting. Yet at the same time I have become aware of a rather different way of approaching—and perhaps changing the nature of—a dynamic that puts our collective futures at ever greater risk. It has to do with removing the habitual filters or blinders that metaphorically cover our eyes, and learning to see more deeply and, I would argue, more productively into the world around us. The suggestion here is that by actively pursuing this path, qualitatively different readings of the world can be achieved that support more productive, engaged, and life affirming outlooks. This is the “last piece of the puzzle” that I mentioned earlier. It can best be made clearer by reference to some brief examples drawn from different areas: music, art, and aspects of the natural world.

Chopin, Jazz Not long ago I accompanied some friends to a documentary feature on Chopin. I was not sure quite what to expect but was not disappointed. Inevitably, there were aspects of a biopic outlining the composer’s life path. But by far the more interesting sections occurred when several pianists who knew his work well and had played much of it many times over spoke about the music. For most people perhaps, myself included, listening to music is something you might do for relaxation or enjoyment without ever attempting to reflect deeply upon it or render the experience into words. But listening to several people who had immersed themselves in Chopin over a period of years made it clear that there was a deeper dimension that could be known and experienced only if one were willing to put in the time and effort to do so. One might even say that there are multiple dimensions to such music that can be accessed by those attuned to what it is conveying. This brought to mind Schumacher’s point about what he called “adequateo” which, simply put, means that there has to be something in the “receiver” that is adequate to that which is to be known. This appears to be a universal principle. Then, in a completely different context, my wife and I elected to re-play a DVD series on the origins of jazz. We had bought the set some years ago and not watched it recently. This time I found myself becoming more aware of the ways that those commenting on the rise of this type of music were able to understand in some depth what was going on in many of those early performances. Not only that but also how it related to the social conditions of the time. It was not simply a question of creating and identifying new riffs and techniques. The music clearly opened widows to the heart and soul of musicians. Once again, people who had either heard the music live or had immersed themselves in it over time through recordings were able to access deeper layers of meaning and significance than any number of casual exposures would permit. It becomes obvious that music is not something that merely exists “out there” in the form of a series of sound waves and vibrations. It is created from deep within the social and human interiors and is, in a very real sense, “co-constructed” by those listening. If the listening is casual the experience will be superficial. If it is more sustained and engaging, then the experience can be transformed accordingly.

Bruegel the Elder’s Netherlandish Proverbs In Berlin’s Gemaldegalerie, there hangs a work by Jan Bruegel the elder that makes very little sense at first sight. On the left is a rather odd looking cottage with an inverted globe suspended high up on a wall. Behind it there is a field and a small tower next to a river flowing into a distant sea. On the right hand side are smaller and less durable structures. The entire scene is populated by scores of people, most of whom appearing to be carrying on without any reference to those around them. It is also packed with incidents too numerous to describe. There is no clear narrative, so what is going on? The painting is dated 1569 and nowadays goes by the title of the Netherlandish Proverbs. There is good evidence that Bruegel’s intention here was to illustrate what he called “the world’s follies”—and there are over one hundred of them on show. There is a man carrying light out into the sun (a futile waste of time), another confessing to the devil (giving secrets to an enemy), and still another casting roses (pearls) before a pig (wasted effort). The entire tableau is nothing less than a catalog of human folly as viewed from Northern Europe during the sixteenth century. Indeed, although the figures are painted with Bruegel’s usual attention to detail, they are not individuals as such but, rather, symbolic entities that, like puppets, carry meanings beyond their appearance. This could all be rather dire, except that the artists’ dry wit also pervades this display of oddity and perversity. It is the very same humor that led him to paint another scene of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun and fell into the sea. A plowing scene dominates the picture and the eye is drawn to a ship out at sea. Only by close attention can you find a pair of tiny legs visible in the mid distance just as the boy disappears. The world barely notices his sacrifice. The point here is that read literally such paintings make little or no immediate sense. The Proverbs appear to be a jumble of figures distributed across an unreal, slightly nightmarish landscape. But probe a little deeper and whole worlds of symbolic meaning begin to emerge. Most of the proverbs illustrated here remain comprehensible four and a half centuries later. They also provide a view into the inner worlds of people and Netherlands culture at that time. To put it briefly, an artifact such as this is a kind of symbolic palimpsest. One can metaphorically “dive into” it and extract as much meaning as one has time and patience for. Much the same can be said for the entire world of art. The pigment on the surface of a canvas is the least part of what a picture can mean.
Aspects of the Natural World One of the things that kept me sane while living for six years within Bermuda’s remote and restricted twenty square mile area was a growing sense of the boundlessness and complexity of nature at different scales. To shift from seeing the islands merely as a convenient “platform” for the usual human activities to seeing it as a node in a vast global system that possessed different characteristics and meanings for different species brought whole new worlds into view. This was particularly true during the yearly bird migrations when uncommon species used the islands for rest and recuperation. By the same token I also realized that, at that time, I had little or no understanding of what occurred each day in a single leaf. Human beings operate in the vast and complex arena between the macro and the micro worlds but tend to become aware of them only when something piques their interest for a time or, more likely, goes wrong. Then, for a brief moment, some little-regarded organism or shift of naturally occurring background forces swims into view for as long as it takes for the crisis to pass. Then it is back to the everyday myopia of business-as-usual. I cannot but see this widely ingrained habit as other than a systemic defect of human perception. As the years have passed and my vision, my sense of the world, has grown a little clearer, I have come to see “business as usual” as a convenient but highly dangerous illusion. In comparison with all previous times and eras of human history we have to accept, I think, that the primary fact of our own time is that it is highly abnormal, systemically unstable, and hence utterly unsustainable. It follows that cultural and human habits that may once have been considered “normal” need to be set aside. We can no longer think of ourselves in isolation. We have grown too powerfully dominant for that. Nor can we afford our habitual unreflective recourse to short-term thinking and simple denial. What we can do, however, is to deepen our sense of the natural world and natural process. The point is not to worship or idealize them but to reinvigorate ourselves, to refresh our vision of connectedness, of what the world is and what is possible within it. A couple of examples will hopefully make this clearer. For some years now I have been reading a number of annual “best essays” books. Those from the United States, for example, have helped to sustain within me a sense of what is nourishing and beneficial within that otherwise unstable and contested environment. So it was that I came across an essay by Rick Bass (2013) simply called “The Larch.” I suppose it must be in the region of three- to four-thousand words long. In that short space, however, the author manages to convey a strong sense of what might be called the “true nature” of that species. Furthermore, he also evokes quite powerfully the origins of his own sense of understanding and wonder at this form of life—its role in the landscape, how it grows, how and why it stands tall, how it responds to wind and fire, and how even in its decay it hosts myriad life forms. This is very long way indeed from “tree hugger” romanticism. Rather, it conveys the essence of lived reality, lived experience. Having read this account you could not help but see a stand of larches very differently. Much the same can be said of Richard Powers’ more recent novel, The Overstory, that takes a magisterial view of trees and forests in the context of deep time (Powers 2019). For a second example I turn to a paper presented by James Butler during a Brisbane ornithology conference that I attended in early 2014 (Butler and Muirhead 2014). The paper dealt with the songs of several species of
Maluridae, or Fairy Wrens. These diminutive and brightly colored birds are relatively common along the Eastern coastal areas of Australia and therefore are superficially familiar to many people, myself included. I must confess that, although I have heard it many times, I had never given much thought to the songs of the Superb Blue Wren. A popular field guide describes them as a “vigorous trill, beginning squeakily, but quickly strengthening into a strong downward cascade of louder, less sharp, musical notes.” I had no idea that these songs had been recorded and analyzed. I also had no idea about their complexity, their functions, and the very specific biological apparatus that makes them possible in the first place. Finally, I did not appreciate that the species had been around for at least a million years (Low 2014). In other words, my mind was opened to a whole realm of reality that I had previously grasped only superficially and, in all honesty, not really understood at all.

The Purpose of Futures Work To summarize, in this quest for meaning I have learned several things. First, our views of reality, on the whole, are too simple, superficial and self-focused. They have allowed humanity to slip into a costly and disturbing trap from which there is no simple or ready escape. This means that within any credible forward view there are very tough times indeed ahead. Over the last few hundred years, Western Civilization has been characterized by a near-exclusive focus on instrumental power and a doggedly utilitarian approach to the natural world. These tendencies have allowed us to misconstrue our place in that world and to overlook the realities and processes that make our lives possible (Slaughter 2010). While economists, corporate executives, and right-wing commentators everywhere like to discourse endlessly about what they call “prosperity,” the truth that they have repressed or avoided is that the global system, or earth economy, is primary. It always has been and always will be. The human uses of that world throughout history are secondary and derivative. As such they are indeed subject to conditions and limits. Ignoring these is simply an exercise in delusion and self-deception (Floyd and Slaughter 2014). During the twentieth century, the deliberate and systematic creation of what we now call “progress” looked compelling to many for a while, and particularly during postwar reconstruction. I know this viscerally because, although I was only six years old, I absorbed some aspects of that vision of a better future back in 1951 at the Festival of Britain in London.14 Yet over my lifetime, “progress” carved out a particularly vicious and destructive pathway. It morphed into an all-out assault on natural systems for short-term gain. Today it operates through a blind and insidious marketled ideology. This, in turn, propagates a form of consumerism that works against humankind’s best interests by liquidating the planet’s precious cargo of flora and fauna in order to sustain itself. Corporate interests in the United States and then around the world successfully embedded ways of thinking and operating that brought vast wealth to some and temporarily higher living standards for others. The world’s poor, of course, remained poor. With calculated deliberation, those same interests undermined and destroyed countless initiatives that sought less damaging pathways into the future. The well researched and, as it happened, remarkably accurate concerns articulated over four decades by the Limits to Growth team were pilloried and marginalized. Humanity (or at least some of the most powerful members of it) did not want to know about the long-term implications of exponential growth. So the process of “wild globalisation” continued on its reckless collision course with the planet (Beck 2000; Higgs 2014). Currently, what Zuboff has called “surveillance capitalism,” along with the tertiary economy of financial speculation and manipulation of abstract value, contributes further dimensions of uncertainty and risk. However, what I have discovered during this quest for meaning is a richer view in which human perceptions are deepened and extended such that they begin to see and appreciate what lies beneath the surface. Music, art, and the natural world are but three dimensions of this deeper reality. There are obviously many more. Each is effectively infinite and as such have unlimited riches to bestow upon us if only we are willing to slow down and regard them with humility and care. I take the view that looking upon the world with fresh eyes does, in fact, open up new options, refresh and renew our vision, and illuminate pathways beyond Dystopia. Properly understood and widely enacted, such well grounded visions nourished by depth perception and renewed sources of motivation can move us beyond the present impasse to new worlds of meaning and purpose (Mendonca 2017). One of the most striking and coherent expressions of this view appears in Herman Hess’s (1951) book Siddhartha where he wrote that “meaning and reality are not hidden somewhere behind things, they are in them, in all of them” (p. 15).15 It follows that the purpose of futures work cannot be to further assist the economic growth machine on its rush to oblivion. Futures work needs to go beyond the humdrum, the conventional, and the search for strategic advantage in the here-and-now. It needs a planetary, civilizationally coherent vision. It needs to be transformational in spirit and in deed. We might say that its core purpose is to help us all to live within a deeper, richer, and unbounded present. Within that greatly expanded arena vital projects can emerge, be socially sanctioned and resourced, and take their rightful place. That is to say, for example, that cultural healing, energy transition, and large-scale ecological restoration can finally move from the contested margins. They are all part of a multihued and mainstream project to take back ownership of the world for future generations.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
ORCID iD Richard A. Slaughter https://orcid.org/0000-0001- 6979-0774

1. See Higgs (2014, 111).

2. For example, half of the world’s wild animals have been lost since 1970 (Carrington 2014).

3. See Stableford (1981).

4. The cover of this book carries the following words: “Men have become like gods. Isn’t it about time that we understood our divinity? Science offers us total mastery over our environment and over our destiny, yet instead of rejoicing we feel deeply afraid. Why should this be? How might those fears be resolved?”

5. See Mumford (1971, 172–5).

6. See Slaughter (1978).

7. See Slaughter (1995, 2005). While revising this essay in 2019, an update of the Knowledge Base of Futures Studies (KBFS) supported by the Association of Professional Futurists (APF) and co-edited by my colleague Andy Hines, is finally under way.

8. See Wilber (2001).

9. See Wilber (2000).

10. See Macy (1983).

11. See Steffen et al. (2004).

12. Kemph (2008) exposes the regressive influence of the very rich on less well-off social strata. Higgs details the way that over several decades corporate interests have, in pursuit of their own limited interests, effectively derailed many of humanity’s attempts to come to grips with what is now an inescapably dire situation.

13. See his comments about foresight and experience in classical times and in the Middle Ages (Machiavelli [1516] 2003, p. 12).

14. The Festival of Britain “was a national exhibition held throughout the United Kingdom in the summer of 1951. It was organised by the government to give the British a feeling of recovery in the aftermath of war and to promote the British contribution to science, technology, industrial design, architecture and the arts” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festival_ of Britain). The main location of the exhibition, however, was on a prominent site by the Thames in London.

15. See Hesse, Siddhartha (1951).

Bass, R. 2013. “The Larch.” In Best American Science Essays, edited by S. Mukherjee, 87–96. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Beare, H., and R. Slaughter. 1993. Education for the Twenty-First Century. London: Routledge.

Beck, U. 2000. What Is Globalisation? London: Polity Press. Berger, P. J., and T. Luckmann. 1966. The Social Construction of Reality. London: Penguin Books.

Butler, J., and I. Muirehead. 2014. Comparing the Acoustic Structure of the Songs of the Three Brisbane Fairy-Wrens. Birds Southern Queensland Conference, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. Carrington, D. 2014. “Half of World’s Wild Animals Lost Since 1970.” The Guardian, September 30.

Carson, R. 1962. Silent Spring. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Floyd, J., and R. Slaughter, eds. 2014. “Descent Pathways.” [Guest Editorial]. Foresight (Special Issue) 16 (6). http://richardslaughter.com.au/wpcontent/uploads/2014/11/Floyd__Slaughter_ Descent_Pathways_editorial_Final.pdf. Hesse, H. 1951. Siddhartha. New York: New Directions.

Higgs, K. 2014. Collision Course. London: MIT Press. Huxley, A. 1946. The Perennial Philosophy. London: Chatto & Windus.

Kemph, H. 2008. How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth. Sydney: Finch. Leach, E. 1968. A Runaway World? London: BBC.

Low, T. 2014. Where Song Began. Melbourne: Penguin Australia. Machiavelli, N. (1516) 2003. The Prince. Translated by G. Bull. London: Penguin Books. Macy, J. 1983. Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: New Society.

Meadows, D., D. Meadows, J. Randers, and W. W. Behrens III. 1972. The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books.

Mendonca, S. 2017. “On the Discontinuity of the Future by Other Means: Reviewing the Foresight World of Richard Slaughter.” Futures 86:84–91.

Morozov, Y. 2013. To Save Everything Click Here. London: Penguin.

Mumford, L. 1971. The Pentagon of Power. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Powers, R. 2019. The Overstory. London: Vintage.

Schumacher, E. F. 1977. A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Cape. Seneca. 1997. Dialogues and Letters. Translated by C. Costa. London: Penguin Books.

Slaughter, R. 1978. “Science, Technology and the Human Future.” BA (Hons.), University of Lancaster, UK.

Slaughter, R. 2004. Futures beyond Dystopia— Creating Social Foresight. London: Routledge. http://richardslaughter.com.au/wp-content/ uploads/2014/11/FBD_General_Intro.pdf.

Slaughter, R. 2010. The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History. Brisbane: Foresight International. http://richardslaughter.com.au/?page_id=232.

Slaughter, R. 2011a. “The Integral Futures Controversy: An Introduction.” Journal of Integral Theory and Practice 6 (2): 105–11.

Slaughter, R. 2011b. “The Australian Foresight Institute and I.” Unpublished paper. http://richard slaughter.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/ The_AFI_and_I.pdf.

Slaughter, R. 2012. To See with Fresh Eyes: Integral Futures and the Global Emergency. Brisbane: Foresight International. https://foresightinter national.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/ TSWFE_Intro_FI.pdf.

Slaughter, R. 2014. “The Denial of Limits and Interior Aspects of Descent.” Foresight (Special Issue) 16 (6): 527–49.

Slaughter, R. 2018. “Re-Assessing the IT Revolution Part 3: Framing solutions.” Futures 100:1–19.

Slaughter, R., ed. 1996. Knowledge Base of Futures Studies. (3 vol hard copy edition), Brisbane: Foresight International. http://richardslaughter. com.au/?page_id=1103.

Slaughter, R. 1995. The Foresight Principle: Cultural Recovery in the 21st Century. London: Adamantine Press.
Slaughter, R., ed. 2005. Knowledge Base of Futures Studies: professional edition. (5 vols) CD-ROM and USB. Brisbane: Foresight International. http://richardslaughter.com.au/?page_id=1103.

Stableford, B. 1981. “Man-Made Catastrophes in SF.” Foundation 22:56–85.

Steffen, W., R. A. Sanderson, P. D. Tyson, J. Jäger, P. A. Matson, B. Moore III, and F. Oldfield, et al. 2004. Global Change and the Earth System: A Planet under Pressure. Berlin: Springer.

Wilber, K. 1995. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. 2000. Integral Psychology. Boston: Shambhala. Wilber, K. 2001. A Theory of Everything. Dublin: Shambhala. Zuboff, S. 2019. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. London: Profile Books.
Author Biography

Richard A. Slaughter is a writer, practitioner and innovator in futures studies and applied foresight dedicated to building the futures field and facilitating the emergence of social foresight. He author or editor of some 20 books and many papers on a variety of futures topics. During 2001-2005 he was President of the World Futures Studies Federation; during 19992004 he was Foundation Professor of Foresight at the Australian Foresight Institute, Melbourne. With Andy Hines he is currently editing an up-date of the Knowledge Base of Futures Studies: KBFS 2020.




Tim Morgan on Values-Forms Part 1

Tim Morgan continues to explore Values with a Form that reinforces Spiral Dynamics. Enjoy!

Values-Forms Pt 1: David Ronfeldt’s TIMN & Spiral Dynamics

One of the things that weakens confidence in Spiral Dynamics as a psychological emergence theory is the dearth of published scientific studies backing it up. That lack of evidentiary rigor along with the absence of Claire W. Grave’s original research data makes some question its scientific validity.
This is not an overwhelming objection, however. Spiral Dynamics practitioners have been using it in the field successfully for decades. Another confidence builder is when other researchers come up with similar theories and frameworks. The most valuable of these are the ones which take a different approach or perspective but arrive at similar results. David Ronfeldt’s TIMN Framework is one superb example.
Ronfeldt spent over 30 years as a political scientist in the International Studies Group at RAND. He is retired now, but his work ranged from predicting the rise of networked forms of terrorism, to the applications of the concepts of the Noosphere and Noospolitics to international relations. One of Ronfeldt’s accomplishments was the development of his TIMN Social Evolution framework. Most of his work on TIMN can be found on his blog, which he still updates. Ronfeldt arrived at TIMN via observation and analysis. His original paper on TIMN is available online, as well as his video description of TIMN basics.
Briefly, Ronfeldt observed that all social organizing forms appear to be emergent from prior forms, and that those earlier social forms act as a foundation for later social organizing forms (See Figure 1). The progression he observed was:
Tribes: T
Institutions: I→T+I
Markets: M→T+I+M
Networks: N→T+I+M+N

The + notation he uses indicates that there is always an active mix of all the forms in any functioning social system. A +M market never stands alone. It always has T (tribal) and +I (institutional) components required for the +M component to function properly.

figure 1
Figure 1 – Ronfeldt’s TIMN Emergent Social Forms Framework

This evolution of social forms looks eerily like the vMeme emergence progression of Spiral Dynamics. Figure 2 shows TIMN form attributes that map closely to specific Spiral vMemes (sets of values).
Some other similarities between Spiral Dynamics & TIMN:
• Both list a base emergence state: Beige Survival-Sense values (Spiral) and the Tribal form (TIMN)
• Both claim that their labels are attractor-like nodes on an emergent continuum, and that intermediate hybrids exist between nodes
• Both insist that you never evolve away from needing prior forms
• Both claim that their emergence pattern is driven by circumstances: Life-conditions for Spiral and Information technologies for TIMN
• Both state that there is no upper limit to what might emerge as conditions change, and speculate that later levels are possible
• Both state that each can function positively or negatively: Healthy/Unhealthy (Spiral) and Light/Dark (TIMN).
• Both try to create a self-reinforcing environments for themselves. Example: Institutional forms reinforce Institutional values (TIMN), and BLUE Authoritarian values reinforce BLUE Authoritarian social structures (Spiral Dynamics)
• Both follow similar patterns of emergence

figure 2
Figure 2 – TIMN Attributes

The last bullet above is revealing. We can see a clear mapping of each TIMN form with a matching Spiral vMeme: Tribes & kinship-based solidarity (Purple Clannish), Institutions & hierarchical order (Blue Authoritarian), Markets & individual freedom (Orange Achievist), Networks & social equity (Green Communitarian). See Figure 3.

figure 3
Figure 3 – TIMN forms mapped to Spiral Dynamics values

Each TIMN form clearly matches a Spiral vMeme. The TIMN forms match the most influential Spiral vMemes in terms of social organization: Purple (Tribes or Extended Families), Blue (Institutions), Orange (Markets), and most recently Green (Networks). TIMN implicitly points out which of the 8 emergent Spiral worldviews can support long-term stable social orders. Beige cannot create a stable social form since those values are focused individual survival. Red can and does form Chiefdoms or Dominions. Those personality driven intermediate forms usually fall apart when the leader is dies or loses power. Yellow and Turquoise lack the prevalence in society to determine yet if they will create stable social forms from their values. Figure-4 maps each emergence pattern to a preferred worldview (sets of values).

figure 4

Figure 4 – TIMN emergence pattern & preferred worldview for each stable social form.
Note: The Figure 4 Worldview labels are derived from Andy Hine’s book, CONSUMER SHIFT. A Tribal/Mystical worldview is added to match a likely Tribal worldview matching the Spiral Dynamics Purple vMeme, not discussed in his book.

It feels natural to combine the two frameworks into a unified combination. This quadriform of values-forms could then be used to tag and assess the dominant forms interacting in a social order, and simultaneously give a synopsis of the values interplay.
An example: What is the impact on the local values and institutions of small to mid-sized rural towns (dominant T+I values) when their local TV stations (dominant +I form) are purchased by an interstate corporations (dominant +M form), which de-emphasize local news (T+I values) in favor of national news and editorial content (dominant +M values)?
One likely result is that local social cohesiveness will drop because of loss of T+I values reporting. Another is that the towns will likely start to lose their unique T+I identity in favor of national T+I+M identity matching that of the media conglomerate.
Practitioners of Strategic Foresight & Futures Research along with anyone else interested in the interplay of social forms and worldviews should look closely at Ronfeldt’s TIMN. It comes with a convenient tagging system (T, +I, +M, +N), is simple to understand, and maps very well to Spiral Dynamics and conventional worldview descriptions (Mystical, Traditional, Modern, Postmodern). One side benefit is to use it as an introduction to some of the core concepts of Spiral Dynamics in a more simplified form.
Some open questions remain about combining TIMN and Spiral Dynamics. The one which jumps out is that Orange Achievist is the only self-focused vMeme to create stable social forms (+M Markets). The other three are socially-focused and lend themselves to creating a defined social order. This break in the pattern is counter-intuitive. Why would a self-focused vMeme promote a stable social form? That nagging question will be addressed in the next article, Values-Forms Pt 2.
TIMN alone is an enormously useful tool for understanding social organization and change. Combining it with Spiral Dynamics is a natural extension, creating a powerful new composite tool for exploring the interaction of systems of values and social forms.

The Future of Awareness

If you are a fan of Integral Adult Development, resilience, and meditation then I have a suggestion for you! Daniel J. Siegel, MD has written a book that promotes the development of capacity for ever-increasing perspectives and meta awareness. Siegel has written a book called “Aware” with a website that includes a meditation to practice this skill. https://www.drdansiegel.com/resources/wheel_of_awareness/


In the meditation it asks us to become aware of both our interiors and exteriors which promotes us to be Integral and by facilitating us to be meta aware, it promotes our adult psychological development in the subtle realms. Why is that important for Futurists? We are less likely to be blinded by our assumptions and biases with this practice because it asks us to go beyond our own perspective and it actively encourages feedback from our senses which can contain wisdom. Also, because the futures exist more in the subtle realms than in the concrete this practice actively prompts us to go in that meta aware subtle direction! After all, the futures do not exist yet so anything that guides us from the concrete to the subtle is a plus! For more on this  associating concrete vs subtle and adult development check out https://www.stagesinternational.com/the-evolution-of-the-human-soul-2/

Siegel is a Psychiatrist, Professor (UCLA School of Medicine) and Researcher (UCLA  Mindful Awareness Research Center) who  explores neuroscience and the nature of consciousness. What his research concludes is that “Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connections grow” He says his research reveals that “the more we develop our practice, the more healthy and nimble our brains become in navigating the challenges that life brings our way.”

In our chaotic world of today this is a valuable skill in its self. However, as a Futurist, we all need skills that free up our neural energy for as much creativity as we can muster. If this practice helps to keep us calm, then more of our prefrontal cortex will be available to explore the unknowns of reality such as the futures we all want to be able to imagine!

The Future of Associations

Recently, I attended the Association of Professional Futurists (APF) in Pittsburgh for the “The Resurgent City and the Future of Urban Environments.” It was a great conference! It has been on my radar, and I have been told by the media, that the Millennials and Generation Z have not been attending and joining Professional Associations like the generations before them. It got me to think why that might be.

ground group growth hands
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the reasons is probably cost. They simply do not have the financial opportunities that have been afforded us older folks. With the “gig” economy and such, it’s harder to make those big bucks that Corporate America use to pay to the older generations.

Another reason may be it is much easier today to connect via social media and all thing’s Internet so that you don’t have to pay anymore to have access to others in your field. One does not need an organization to help you network as it is much easier to find your tribe!

At the most recent World Future Society (WFS) in Chicago the format not only suited the lower numbers in the association but I think it also suited the younger generations as well. The presenters were all younger than boomer age except one. They all told stories  to engage and it was much more interactive. Many of the boomers that attended were not happy with these changes, but my opinion is they were dissatisfied because it was just different from their preferred style of presentations.

accomplishment achievement adult african
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Perhaps it is time to let the bigger demographic in the workplace  take leadership in the evolution of Associations and the rest of us need to get ready to adapt. We the older generation, need to change our attitude about how these types of gatherings look, along with our behavior. We need to explore their culture around this, and access the systems that encourage them in this endeavor. We need to get on board with championing them in the evolution for transforming this terrain.

Agree or disagree? I would love to hear your perspective as long as it is constructive and not rude. Thanks!


Future of Food – Stephen Layman

There has been a recent upturn in the interest of the future of food. Of course, we are all invested as daily consumers, but with the emergence of new technology and the issues with current animal treatment conditions, there is a renewed surge among us to discover what our food will become. It is an issue of public health and safety that we find safe alternatives to the current state of our food industry. The important changes include:

  1. Personal nutrient trackers
    1. Customized food
  2. Man-made artificial meat alternatives
    1. Veggie burger – but not
  3. Service industry jobs being phased out
    1. Personal touch/connection


Firstly, let us look at the evolution of food, as society has evolved by applying an integral approach through spiral dynamics:

Levels Ideals Coping Methods Related Level of Food Evolution
Beige /

Purple /



Pre-Cognitive Animal World


Jungle/The strong survive



Family First

Strong Allies

Hunting & Gathering
Blue / Orange Chaos – No order/Consistency

Opportunity flourishes/Creativity Rewarded



Introduction to Agriculture/Farming
Green /


Materialism =/= Satisfaction = Humanity

No Guarantees – Man-made not working

Egalitarian, Serve fellow man

Respect all resources to survive

Restaurants / Public Dining

Utilizing all parts of animals.

Local sourcing.

Turquoise Problems are too great for individuals.

Order amongst chaos.

Searching for solutions to population connectivity/disconnect Current state.

Mass Consumption.

Mass Animal Manipulation.

Unknown food origins/additives.

Coral Solutions fail to meet needs of individual. Strong Self-Expression Individual nutrient mapping/genetically enhanced food sources.

Artificial Meat.


*The Coral level is a future projection based on current headings and emerging technologies.


  1. Personal Nutrient Tracking

While this technology is not ready to hit the stores, the patents are being issued. With the spread of personal health monitors, such as FitBit, Garmin, Withings, Kito+, and others flooding the market, we can expect a diet and nutrient tracker to be released in the near future. With the desire for personalized food options comes the need for personal food manufacturers. These personal-manufacturers would artificially create the nutrient rich foods that each person requires to remain in peak physical and healthy condition.


  1. Man-Made Artificial Meat Alternatives

This technology is already emerging and is said to be 15 years out before it is available to the public. I know that the idea of manufactured meats does not initially sound appealing, but it does open up a lot of possibilities for personalized diets and nutrient enhanced meals. It is not far-fetched when we consider the current manufactured foods, such as veggie patties. These new meats will be recreations of natural meats, but with the ability to eliminate the need for additives at the molecular level. Of course, for the humanitarian, this also eliminates the need for animal slaughter in order to obtain meats.


  1. Service industry Jobs – phasing out

This is a topic that has been of much debate as technology looks to alter the state of current industries – including the food & beverage industry. A reduction of jobs has already begun as servers are being replaced with tabletop tablet ordering capabilities. Of course, with change comes the introduction of new jobs to facilitate the technology, etc. There is a learning curve for the industry, and for the adoption by the public. Many restaurants will hold tight to their current state as we grasp for nostalgic processes and the human-factor. With the adoption of personalized food and manufactured meats the landscape of the restaurant could be altered drastically, or restaurants could evolve to function in the future.




Beck, Don. Spiral Dynamics Integral. WordPress. 2018. http://www.spiraldynamics.net/about-spiral-dynamics-integral.html

Bever, James, Burdon, Jeremy, Thrall, Peter. Evolutionary change in agriculture: the past, present and future. Evol Appl. 3(5-6): 405 – 408. September, 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3352499/

Stephen Layman


Futurists in the Media by Stephen Layman

I love promoting the future! The University of Houston Foresight Program https://tinyurl.com/guzsb2q has been generous enough to let me shepherd an intern, Stephen Layman. Here is a passion of his in Foresight!

Futurists in the Media

Stephen Layman

The Facts:

Foresight discussion in the media is lacking. We are expanding public knowledge on foresight, while sharing a successful approach to planning for the future, but continue to be overlooked. The communication of what foresight is, and what futurists are doing is still minimal. I will be collecting all of the articles flagged by Google Alerts under foresight and futurists over the next few months (January – May 2018). So far, the results are promising, but the traffic is not enough. We average two article a day that discuss foresight. The most articles I’ve collected over a single day is four.


The articles range from the introduction of new methods of foresight, to keynote announcements for speaking engagements where futurists are featured. Topics being discussed are energy, technology, the environment, government, etc. It really goes to show how inclusive foresight as a field has become. Everyone plans for the future – and foresight has the tools to guide us to the most preferable.

The Positives:

Most of the articles that were tagged have either been written by futurists, are promoting a single futurist, or describe the newest influences on the foresight community. Futurists are becoming professionals at promotion. Half of the articles received are linked back to a foresight website, a foresight association, or the most recent completion of collective foresight works. The remaining articles are of a new frontier in foresight, where the applications are being applied in fields of all types, an integral approach. The spread of corporate foresight, and the growing need to retain a futurist on staff, is leading to future-thinking in medicine, farming, housing, and shipping, to name a few.

There are new research articles being released that promote foresight as a tangible improvement to the previous method of thinking on the future. The impact of having a futurist on staff is being measured, and the applications of foresight are proving impressive. Previously, articles have been informative, but the focus was simply to discuss what the studies are aiming to accomplish, not how impactful the actual work is or how the long term effects of future forward thinking have changed business outlooks for the better.

The Points:

  • Having been a tech-oriented and focused industry, as foresight has had to be, we are well adjusted to the task of self-promotion. It’s no wonder that the most widespread articles are a result of those labors. Continued self-promotion will result in more exposure for the field as a whole. The need is for continued successful research that properly explores the field and positively reflects the outcome.
  • The expansion of foresight into new markets, and new regions for increased exposure.

Focus: Latin America

The tools of foresight are diverse, like integral foresight, which can be helpful across all cultures and demographics.

  • Government promotion, the inclusion of foresight, and the backing of futurists work will instill confidence in private sector involvement. Not only will this lend to overall exposure, but also enhance the publicity of results. As the methods become more understood the credit for decisions about the future will reflect the work of foresight.

The Breakdown:

Shared research among colleagues with differing viewpoints, as well as the welcoming of inventive ideas, from those being introduced to foresight with new perspectives, will allow for the work to prosper and for the field to become even more inclusive. The previous issue was self-promotion vs. the betterment of the field. Keeping cutting-edge trends and the newest ideas a secret is limiting the exposure of our work – as are the privatized efforts by foresight firms. The culture of independent consultants and analysts needs to be broken down. Allowing the practiced tools to become public, through promotion, will add to the enhancement of foresight in its entirety and result in a better outlook for all futurists. Also, remaining receptive to incoming ideas, perspectives, and applications: like the integral approach, will push each nook of foresight further.

Lingering Questions:

Is there enough research being conducted on the expansion of foresight as a field?

Too much privatized work vs. public exposure?

Lacking in a clear path to publication for solid works?

Is there anything that foresight cannot be applied to?

How can integral applications be used to enhance futurists in the media?

Building Foresight Capacity Is a Long Game by Andy Hines

Andy Hines, of the University of Houston Foresight Program, posted this on LinkedIn LinkedIn article  In it, he has a visual linking Integral, Scenarios, challenging assumptions and Critical Futures Studies. Enjoy!

Building Foresight Capacity Is a Long Game

January 31, 2018 by

Each spring in Proseminar class we explore the past, present, and future of the foresight field. It provides an opportunity for us to reflect, take stock, and think ahead about the work we are doing. My experience with this module over the years is that the students find the field’s evolution to be disappointing if not somewhat depressing. In a nutshell, the frustration can be summed up as “what’s taking so long?”

In short, we’re playing a “long game” in building foresight capacity. Even futurists can be impatient. We sometimes expect change to happen much faster than our own knowledge and experience tells us is the case. I suspect that same impatience we often experience with clients is even more magnified when we look at our ability as a field to change and grow.

Perhaps we don’t want to admit that we’re in a long game? Surely, if we got better at mobilizing we could speed up the use of foresight. One of the mantras in teaching foresight is “know your audience.” What is the climate for change in organization or industry or client group? And we adjust our approach and tools to be the best fit for that climate or prevailing conditions. We have learned that when we try to go too fast, or push too hard, we often lose them.

https://i1.wp.com/www.andyhinesight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/integrating-foresight-into-organizations.pngThe figure is a simple typical pathway for how an organization can introduce a foresight capability. The basic concept is start slow, raise awareness and build literacy, and move on to increasingly more sophisticated foresight work. My advice to an organization seeking to set up a new foresight capability is to think in terms of a five-year plan.

Much as we must be patient in our work with individual clients, I think we need to be patient with ourselves as we develop as a field. As I get close to my third decade of professional futurist work, and have gotten to know countless audience and the overall climate for foresight, I have come to accept the concept of being in a long game. It may not be the most sexy message – in contrast to the Ted talks of almost magical transformations – but we are making a difference, slowly and steadily. Could we go faster? Absolutely. We need to monitor and sense the emerging future – it may tell us at some point that the conditions are right for a foresight blitzkrieg. In the meantime, while we continue to push and advocate, I hope we can also be patient and realize that we are in a long game. And as futurists, shouldn’t we be pretty good at that? – Andy Hines

A great article by Tanja Schindler on Integral Futures

I always love to promote others who write about Integral Futures and this work is definitely worth promoting here! I had some difficulties posting one of the graphics so at that point in the article, I provide a link to the whole post on LinkedIn. Enjoy!

STEP3: How to Unlock your Futures Mindset?! by Tanja Schindler

Published on November 27, 2017 at LinkedIn

It’s been a while since my last article, but some of you may have noticed that we ran The Futures School Europe in Berlin – a 3day workshop program introducing methods and tools of futures thinking and Strategic Foresight. It has been a great success, especially, due to our fantastic crowd of participants and we are excited to do more workshops in 2018.

The workshop also strengthened my view on promoting a holistic approach to Foresight, especially in Europe, a very technology driven area. If you remember, in my last article I’ve already talked about how our worldviews and underlying metaphors shape our futures thinking. To expand this thinking to an unknown area, we need to analyze those worldviews and replace them at least partial to be open for something new.

Last time, I’ve also introduced CLA, the Foresight method by Sohail Inayatullah to analyze those worldviews. Today, we will focus on another framework that supports diverse thinking and steps aside from the general Foresight approach to discover our environment in a new way by using Foresight also to discover ourselves.

A New Framework of Environmental Scanning

The Integral Futures concept describes an approach where we not only uncover the system = external world we live and its social, technological, environmental, and political drivers of change but we also analyze our behavior and underlying mental models.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

Once we are too confident about what we think or how the future will develop we start to see only those signals that support our own beliefs while neglecting information that would prove us wrong. Therefore, foresight and especially the approach of Integral Futures enables organizations and individuals to understand our interior, exterior, individual and collective world preparing us for the uncertainty of the future. Richard Slaughter published an article about Integral Futures as a ‘New Approach for Environmental Scanning’ already in 1999 if you want to dive deeper into the topic.

For the rest of Tanja’s article and more of her work go to LinkedIn

Integral Futures and Strategy by Maree Conway

I have been trying to post this most excellent article since it appeared in the APF Compass and it also appeared on Maree’s blog.

I bet you will love it as much as I do! Enjoy!

Surfacing the intangible: Using integral futures in strategy

by Maree Conway

There are many forms of integral thinking and at their deepest level, these cognitive frames allow us to explore the development of human consciousness. I was introduced to Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory when I was studying strategic foresight, and its use has changed how I approach my work and how I think. Like any framework or model, it won’t suit everyone (they usually call it flawed) and it’s only useful if it’s useful in the context in which it’s applied.


Until now, I have used integral mostly in stealth mode in my work. Honestly, a lot of people aren’t ready for integral. They want the single right answer and they want it now so they can solve the problem and get on with their work. Conventional strategic planning gives us this process where we focus on the plan rather than how we think about the future the plan is intended to move us towards. The glossy plan becomes the holy grail, and our thinking is trapped in today. If you are reading this post then I am hoping you agree that this sort of approach to problem solving and preparing for the future is both ineffective and waste of our collective energy and resources.

A Gap Between Doing And Thinking Strategy

Wanting the right answer immediately is all about the doing of strategy – ticking a box, following a process, getting an outcome that can be measured, moving on to dealing with the next problem, living in the short term. These sorts of responses to change generate thinking about the future as a project. We observe the future as disconnected from today, we package it up by following the strategic planning process, writing words that sound like change is happening (usually in the form of a restructure), then measure it to see if the strategy has been executed effectively. Or the executive group comes up with a strategy and presents it to the organisation and says go forth and implement my plan.

This is what I increasingly call strategy in a box, contained, seemingly controlled, with seemingly measurable outcomes that are supposed to inform everyone’s work. This is about doing strategy. It’s about doing something, using a process that keeps our thinking trapped in today.


Doing strategy ignores the human factor in strategy. It ignores the reality that unless each person understands the rationale for change from their perspective and wants to be involved in the thinking around how to respond to change shaping their organisation’s future, to co-create our future, it matters very little how perfect your strategic planning process is or how good your strategy looks on paper.

Jeanne Leidtka (Strategy as Experienced, Rotman Magazine, Winter 2011, pages 29-38) talks about this as both knowing and feeling strategy, to experience strategy both cognitively and emotionally.

Putting the human back into strategy development is strategy that has closed the gap, escaped the box, that has people and collaborative processes at its core. This is about thinking strategy, moving beyond the conventional. It is this thinking about strategy that strengthens decision making and problem solving because it starts from the future not only the past and the present.

Using Integral To Connect Doing And Thinking Strategy

An integral mindset connects the doing and thinking in strategy development. Integral Theory is complex, multi­faceted, well researched and contentious. Like any model or framework, it’s use is context bound and helpful if it helps to understand something better. A primary organising concept in Integral Theory is the four quadrant framework with which to view human consciousness and action. These four quadrants each represent a particular dimension of reality and a particular perspective on the world that are structured around interior/exterior and individual/collective domains.

This graphic shows my interpretation of the Wilber’s integral four quadrants to highlight what we need to pay attention to when we are crafting strategy.

4 quad

The right hand exterior quadrants are where we do strategy, where we identify change that matters, where we create change management and strategic planning processes, write strategic plans, where we have annual workshops, produce KPI reports and create new goods and services. We need this work but doing strategy in this space alone will not result in the changes organisations are seeking to help them respond proactively to change. In Leidtka’s terms, we know strategy here in the rational, cognitive sense here.

The left hand quadrants are the realm of human consciousness and organisational culture. Intangible, non-empirical and tacit in nature, this is where we think strategy. We feel it, understand it emotionally. This language alone is enough to send strategic planning aficionados running in the opposite direction. You can’t develop a KPI for someone’s ideas about or images of the future.

The left hand quadrants are where we hold beliefs and images of the future of our organisations, and where our responses to change when we are asked to do new things are generated. It’s where we as individuals either accept or resist change or buy into a strategy put in front of us. These decisions are usually informed by our unquestioned assumptions and cognitive biases. Here we also draw on our understandings of our organisation’s culture and the unwritten rules about ‘how we do things around here’. The impact of our thinking in this space is generally sub-conscious. In Leidtka’s terms here, we feel strategy, we have an emotional reaction to it.

“It’s not hard to see why conventional strategic planning approaches are contained in the strategy box in the right hand quadrants. The left hand quadrants are messy, can’t be measured, developing KPIs is hard, and they tap into feelings not data.”

This left hand quadrant space requires that we have processes to engage people in authentic ways, to involve them from the beginning to the end of the strategy development process. To make the decision to engage with people and culture in the strategy process is of course akin to opening Pandora’s box — it will bring all the elephants into the room. If we are to be futures ready however, we must re-connect people and process.

Integral In My Work

I have kept integral on the back burner in my work since I learned about it in 2002-2003. I occasionally used it with audiences that I knew were open enough and ready enough to understand and not dismiss the framework. People who understood that dealing with complex change, wicked problems, a VUCA world – whatever we call the environment we operate in today – required more than a good change management process to ensure strategy is implemented in meaningful ways. They understood the value of thinking about what goes on in our minds and the influence of culture on the actions we take every day. They understood that their people underpinned and would shape the success of their organisation’s future.

As a result, I focused my business mainly in the right hand quadrants on the doing of strategy, on helping people scan and identify change that mattered for their organisations. Using scenario thinking helped me inject the future into the strategy process to help them shift their thinking and to identify future facing options. We worked together to write strategy documents that avoided the formulaic approach of conventional planning approaches.

In this work, I often felt and listened to their exhaustion and frustration at dealing with the conventional planning approach that they just couldn’t accept in their hearts and minds. I was grateful when they said scanning and scenario thinking had opened their minds to the future. I was working in this conventional strategy box while trying to push its boundaries as far as I could.

It is, however, now time to get strategy out of the box to move my work from, as Richard Slaughter says, the pragmatic to the progressive futures space. To make visible in my work how I re-frame strategy development using the integral four quadrants. To challenge the formulaic strategic planning approach we now might tweak and change, but still use. To value people and culture as much as process. To surface diversity of views about the future to create possible futures and value what’s possible as much as we value data and forecasts to create the one certain future.

To integrate thinking and doing strategy to perhaps create a space first where we gather to think strategy, to feel it, to acknowledge our emotional responses to what our bosses what us to do, to work collectively them what needs to happen next. Where our thinking is expansive and divergent.

The outcomes of that thinking need to be written down as strategy and that does need a box of sorts. We need convergent thinking in this box to focus on doing, to getting things done, to enacting the strategy. This is a new strategy box however, because it’s not the fixed box of conventional strategic planning; instead its sides are permeable, letting new thinking in as it emerges, adjusting processes as needed, focusing as much on KPIs as on making sure the strategic questions are right — rather aiming for the right answer.

“The integral frame scaffolds the thinking activity in the left hand quadrants and the doing box in the right hand quadrants, integrating people and process in strategy development.”

This integrated space connecting thinking and doing is where I need to position my work in an overt way from now on, doing away with integral in stealth mode. That might mean less conventional jobs like one day introductory workshops on foresight that others can do better than I can anyway. I hope it means working with people on projects, establishing a relationship, working out how to bring my now isolated clients into a new collaborative space where we can have a continuing collaborative conversation about using foresight in practice.


Is Warfare Endemic to the Human Condition?-by Craig Perry

As a military veteran with over two decades of experience in the Intelligence Community, the single question that most concerns me about the future is whether warfare is endemic to the human condition. Throughout my course of study in the UH Foresight program, I’ve often wondered how we will fight future wars, or what might precipitate such conflicts – but I never for a moment doubted that states would continue to utilize the military instrument of their national power for the foreseeable future. Warfare has been a recurring theme of human interaction since the dawn of history, and it has only grown more violent and destructive in the modern era. The persistence of armed conflict is consistent with the “realist” theory of international relations, which holds that states will maximize power in an anarchic international system without regard to their domestic political or social dynamics.

Yet when we were asked to conduct a “mental time travel” visualization exercise a few weeks ago, I found myself imagining a distant future without warfare, where “international” disputes are routinely handled without resort to violence. At the time, I struggled to explain how such a future could come about absent some global cataclysm or extraterrestrial threat, but I didn’t have to wait long. In A Theory of Everything, Ken Wilber presents an integral vision of existence, applying an “all-quadrant, all-level” approach to individuals and collectives in both their internal and external dimensions. Building upon the Spiral Dynamics model of social change, Wilber has created a highly complex and comprehensive theory that he uses to describe and understand virtually anything, including the behavior of nation-states. As I read his book, I began to realize this might be the explanation I was looking for.

According to Wilber, each individual passes through discrete developmental stages, from egocentric to ethnocentric to “worldcentric” and potentially beyond, as he or she matures. These same stages or levels – identified by color-coded “memes” – can be extrapolated to the collective to explain how societies operate, and they presumably describe human development anywhere in the world at any point in history. Each society manifests its own particular distribution of developmental levels – its “memetic mix” – among its population, and whenever enough people begin to exhibit an emerging level of consciousness, society’s developmental “center of gravity” moves further up the spiral. For example, during the Enlightenment, leading-edge philosophers embraced the “orange” meme, which over time spawned scientific breakthroughs, capitalism, the Industrial Revolution, and various political revolutions, producing a gradual shift in the collective memetic center of gravity from traditional “blue” to more modern “orange.” Something similar happened after World War II, as much of the “boomer” generation adopted the more egalitarian “green” meme, according to Wilber.

As a society’s center of gravity drifts, its members begin to see the world in different ways, and its leaders are more likely to pursue policies consistent with the predominant meme. This would presumably apply to international relations as well: states where the ethnocentric “blue” meme prevails are likely to view others as threats, while “orange” states may treat them as competitors. In the “World 1” societies of Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific region, where the “green” meme is becoming more pronounced, liberal democracies often take less confrontational approaches to international relations. For example, members of the European Union have abolished borders, adopted a common currency, and surrendered other aspects of their sovereignty to supranational institutions, while committing themselves to collective security – an outcome realist theory simply can’t adequately explain. Clearly, power is not the only consideration motivating these states.

If states at a particular level of development tend to behave similarly, and those at different levels behave differently, then this would suggest that the behavior of a state can change over time as its developmental center of gravity moves up or down the spiral. This does not necessarily imply an end to warfare anytime soon, however. So long as revisionist powers like Russia and China remain at the “blue” or “orange” levels of development, threatening their neighbors and flouting international norms, the United States and its allies will have no choice but to remain ready to defend themselves and their interests, with military force if necessary. Over time, perhaps, Russian and Chinese societies may develop further, prompting these great-power rivals to change their ways – but other “blue” regional powers and “red” rogue states will likely continue to seek influence through force. Therefore, while the likelihood and severity of conflict may gradually decline in the future, warfare will not soon vanish from the international scene.

Moreover, continued development further up the spiral is not a sure thing. First of all, while more people appear to be operating nowadays at the “green” level of consciousness or higher than ever before, approximately 70 percent of the population in America and Europe remains at the “blue” level or below. This suggests that, as the leading edge of society embraces ever-higher levels, the rest of the population largely lags behind, becoming increasingly heterogeneous and complex. Second, while leaders are more likely to operate at a higher level of consciousness than the rest of society, they cannot generally implement their visions without the buy-in of those they lead – meaning they will have to package their proposals in terms the population understands, and perhaps forego some of their more visionary ideas. Third, as such leading-edge perspectives become mainstream, then pass into the realm of tradition over time, people operating at lower levels of consciousness may begin to defend past progress against future innovation, making further development even more difficult.

Such social development is also not irreversible. On the contrary, now that modernity and postmodern egalitarianism have opened up a “Pandora’s box” of global interdependence and transnational threats, some societies seem to be regressing to previous levels of development, devolving into nationalism and protectionism and rejecting values once embraced as universal. Such lower-level memes appear to be reemerging in the US, Europe, and elsewhere, as the “establishment” – social elites, government institutions, mainstream news outlets, even civil norms of behavior – comes increasingly under attack. Such seemingly disparate phenomena as President Donald Trump, the British vote to leave the EU, even the success of Islamist political movements in the wake of the Arab Spring, all display signs of unhealthy spiral development “holons,” where the various levels remain unreconciled to each other or the world around them.

Applying Wilber’s integral vision to international relations doesn’t mean that we’re concerned only with politics, however. On the contrary, the “all-quadrant, all-level” model suggests that we should examine individual beliefs and behavior, as well as cultural and systemic phenomena. Such an approach reveals complex interactions within societies, where changes in each quadrant can influence the development of the others. For example, technological innovations such as social media have obvious implications for our culture, behavior, even the way we think about ourselves. Similarly, “progressive” political ideals, such as those enshrined in the US Constitution or the EU’s “ever closer union,” may encourage citizens to embrace the better angels of our nature, driving societies to ever-higher levels of consciousness. Conversely, countervailing influences, such as the legacy of American slavery or Russian malign influence in its “near abroad,” may retard social development.

I believe Wilber’s integral model can offer fresh insights to the field of international relations, and my preliminary analysis suggests that humanity may one day “grow out” of its tendency towards violent international conflict. If I am to more fully develop an integral theory of international relations, however, there are several questions I need to tackle:

  • Is Spiral Dynamics a universal mechanism of social change, or did other (World 2/3) societies develop differently? Have societies always developed this way?
  • What factors contribute to the movement of a society’s center of gravity up or down the development spiral? What can cause this movement to accelerate or reverse?
  • How are emerging memes propagated through society? What role do leaders play?
  • How would a second-tier (“yellow” or higher) development level manifest itself in international relations? What distinguishes this level from the “green” meme at the societal level?

If you would like to contribute to this site please contact integralfutures@aol.com