Our Great Transition — leading to a new Middle Ages or a New Renaissance?

May 2012

 This Month’s Topic:

That we are living through a time of major changes, a Great Transition, is undisputed.  Where are we heading to is the question.  To a new Middle-Ages or to a Renaissance?

 What’s your take?

Our Debaters:

FABIENNE GOUX BAUDIMENT is a futurist, founding head of the consulting firm proGective, associate professor of Foresight and coordinator of the International M.Sc. Foresight and Innovation at the University of Angers. She is the Past President of the World Future Studies Federation (WFSF) (2005-2009) and Vice-President of the Center for Transcultural Foresight, Inc., Washington DC, whose publication, FUTUREtakes, is an independent educational resource.

ALEXANDRE ROJEY is the coordinator of a think tank called IDées involved in futures studies and the former Director for sustainable development of IFP, an R&D organization. He is lecturing about « Worldview and shaping of the future » at the University of Angers M.Sc. ”Foresight and innovation.”

 TO A NEW MIDDLE AGES

Our civilization, and more specially the western civilization with the United-States at its center, has been often compared to the Roman Empire. Its power extends worldwide through the globalization process, supported by soft power as it is by an unprecedented military force. Still, it is threatened and challenged. The threats are diverse and serious: the economic crisis is one of them, but other dangers are even more challenging.

Global warming, pandemic risks, nuclear weapons, scarcity of resources represent threats for the Empire, but also for humanity as a whole. The optimism concerning human progress is now challenged. The  extermination of millions of human beings by totalitarian regimes have cast dark shadows over human nature and our potential future. The whole model which was initiated in Europe during the Renaissance period is now encountering its limits. These limits are those of the planet which becomes too small for supporting any more the impact of human activities and of the human brain, which encounters growing difficulties in mastering the complexity of the technological world around us. At the same time a loss of meaning and moral foundations makes difficult to think in a positive way about the future. Individualism and selfish interest predominate, leading to exclude an increasing number of people from any social protection.

Major economic or environmental disruptions would lead to very dangerous conflicting situations. Even if war does not extend world wide, an increasing number of conflicts and wars throughout the globe might open a “dark age”, during which complexity and knowledge would recede. Whole countries might leave the realm of normality and become controlled by terrorist or outlaw commanders. If the present situation becomes worse, a growing share of the world would become unsecure. The number of large shanty cities would grow. Health and education would decline creating a deadly cycle. New feudalities would emerge and create some restricted safe areas, surrounded by miserable and dangerous territories. Most wealthy citizens would remain inside gated cities protected by gunmen. Only a very limited number of scholars would survive inside such gated cities and would keep what would remain of the old science, as did monks during the Middle-ages.

Yet, during such dark ages, new vertical values might emerge, similar to those which had been introduced by Christianity during the Middle-ages, when money was despised and honor was the supreme value. If planet Earth is not destroyed meanwhile, these values might help to build a new promising era. Undergoing a new “dark age” might become the only way to restore vanishing values.

TO A RENAISSANCE

After the Second World War, many doomsayers (prophets of the end of the world) announced the arrival of the nuclear Apocalypse; in the aftermath of the oil crisis and the ensuing crisis (70s), the destruction of the planet and humanity by  natural resource depletion and widespread pollution was prophesied (cf. P.K. DICK and J. BRUNNER).

Today (2012) doomsayings multiply and generate different dystopias:

  • the advent of the Age of Machines, when artificial intelligence dear to Ray KURZWEIL take precedence over the biological intelligence;
  • the deterministic end of the world -as described by the so-called “Maya prediction” about 2012- without rational basis, as a general punishment of mankind for its immeasurable stupidity;
  • the extinction of humanity because of global warming and a planet become unsuitable for human life …

Together with this catastrophist thought, a new interest in the Middle Ages appeared (cf. popular writers such as K. FOLLETT, P. TREMAYNE or R. KHOURY), alongside the growing popularity of heroic fantasy among young Westerners. Should we see there a convergence leading to a “strategic moment” as foresight describe it?

Humanity is going through a period of major transition (Great Transition).This period was already anticipated in the first half of the twentieth century by Pitirim SOROKIN. More this perception extends to ordinary people and more become obvious the vision of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world which frightens our people, increases their pessimism and generates this doomsaying.

In search of bearings, one naturally tends to resort to analogies to try to understand (pattern recognition).The Middle Ages may appear as such a pattern, as a time of trouble and questioning between the Greco-Roman world and the European Renaissance; hence, maybe, this current appeal.

Within the reassurance that a superficial knowledge of the Middle Ages can bring, faith and order play a specific role. The faith in a Deus ex Machina which would substitute itself to our efforts to build a different future — more sustainable and happier — thereby delivering us from the dreaded responsibility for the future. The order that would regulate an economic universe — whose the dominant development model is now reaching its end — and would facilitate an existence within which everyone (and everything) would be in its right place.

The heroic fantasy-oriented video games often include these features: a hierarchical society where everyone has a specific role (wizard, hero), a recourse to the supernatural and mysticism, a Manichean worldview where good and evil compete while still remains a (paradoxical) illusion of free will.

However, there is more here. Like the Marvel Comics’, the Fantasy Hero can be anyone, from a pimply teenager to a wealthy heir. Harry Potter, Aragorn or Skywalker, he embodies the hope of a generation that economic crises, unemployment and catastrophism seem to condemn to ultra-pessimism.  Early projection of the Man of Tomorrow — transhuman , posthuman , or sustainable (wise) — he incarnates the implicit belief in a better world — antidote against the doomsaying ­— and the promise of the coming Renaissance.

Posted in PRO-CON debates | 1 Comment

Entrepreneurship Courses in OECD Country High Schools

January 2012

 This Month’s Topic:

Making Entrepreneurship Courses in OECD Country High Schools Mandatory

 What’s your take?

PRO

There is no doubt that entrepreneurship is needed for progressive economies. There is no one way to stimulate entrepreneurship so we must try on several fronts. Clearly education has a role. When secondary education is well-funded and employs skilled teachers it can be effective in exposing young minds to interests that they might not learn from the home—abilities in science, woodworking, painting, music, basketball etc. Unfortunately do to funding many of these programs have been eliminated or severely cut back.

It would be worthwhile to introduce teenagers to the glories and the realities of entrepreneurism. However this should not be done in the typical didactic mode. Instead, entrepreneurial role models from the community should come to the school to teach these classes. Also included on this entrepreneurial faculty should be accountants, lawyers and others who work with entrepreneurs. These should be people from the communities that the school serves so that those who wish to pursue entrepreneurial adventures can have access to these people outside of school. In theUSAwe have long had the Junior Achievement after-school clubs. The secondary schools can feed interesting students into the JA. Currently many secondary school students are not aware that JA exists in their communities.

Particularly important is an introduction to entrepreneurism for children of immigrant families. This group is ripe for entrepreneurism. Immigrants start businesses to serve their communities and, occasionally, these business expand in scope.

Of course this can only come about with secondary schools that do a good job in teaching all courses with adequate funding and a qualified and incentivized faculty. However close to the ideal secondary schools come entrepreneurism taught by community role models should be a requirement.

CON

There is no question but what modified welfare capitalist states like those in the OECD need more and better entrepreneurs all the time, and long into the indefinite future.

Likewise, such states need “smarter,” better monitored, and endlessly dynamic regulations of start-ups, along with the provision of adequate funding (public and private), honest promotional standards, fair patent protections, and the cheering of the mass media – all of these “wish list” future-shaping items in too short supply.

The question before is asks whether such states also need to require secondary school courses in Entrepreneurship – a radical change in the world of teenage education. Futurists weighing the desirability of this option must first decide their position regarding the requiring of ANY sort of courses for teenagers,

By the time young people are high schoolers they should be respected for their hard-earned ability to decide for themselves what to study or pass up. They are now too old, and hopefully too mature to be led by the hand (or ear) much as was true and appropriate in the first few years of schooling.

Instead teenagers could be shown a high-quality video made by proponents, and another of equal quality made by critics of this option – a course in entrepreneurship – and left to make up their own minds. In this way respect is shown for their ability to assume responsibility for making their future – a key aid to the formation of sturdy character and independence of thought.

If the promotional film does its job, a certain percent of youngsters to opt to take the elective course, and the OECD state will be well on its way to having the recruits needed to bolster the ranks of entrepreneurs. Better still, by virtue of their being volunteers they are likely to bring to the course the hopefulness, curiosity, and creativity needed to make a post-high school go of it.

Meanwhile those youngsters who have chosen to pass on this elective can be encouraged to review many other courses of comparable value to a country’s future – and do with the enthusiasm of peers headed toward proud lives as entrepreneurs.

Futurists should lean in favor of CHOICE in all such settings, and vote against mandatory this or that when ever possible.

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Trans-Cultural Impacts on the Future

Various regions and peoples of the world – e.g., Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and Native peoples – have evolved differing value systems and perspectives that influence nearly all aspects of everyday life. These aspects extend from work-leisure balance and leisure activities to the social contract, relationships with nature, the pace of life, sources of identity (individual or group), notions of prosperity, the ways in which leaders emerge – and yes, even planning horizons as well as perspectives on the “future” and approaches to meeting its challenges.

What’s different today is the growing pace and extent of cross-cultural action and its potential to “export” and “import” value systems and lifestyles, possibly at the expense of others.

1. As the world’s cultures interact, how might cultures influence work-leisure balances and otherwise influence how people live, work, think, identify, and relate within the next decade?

2. How might the cultures of the G-8 nations rapidly draw more effectively on the cultures of the least advanced countries – and vice versa – to best improve the future-focused reform efforts of all?

Posted in Cultural Impacts and Perspectives | 19 Comments

Hidden Assumptions — don’t let them trap you!

What hidden assumptions are government, business, and education leaders, foresight thinkers, planners, and consumers making?

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Weak signals — signs of “things to come”!

What weak signals can you identify, that government, business, and education leaders, and policy analysts, need to be considering?

Posted in Weak Signals Survey | 1 Comment

commuting to work — “traffic blues” or a rosy outlook?

  • In one of his articles, Inayatullah observes that citizens want fewer cars and more public transport. At the same time, the automobile is associated with freedom in various parts of the world, especially in the US – where it has given people the freedom to live in one place and work in another (and by some accounts has led to the decline of many “company towns”); however, by other accounts it has imposed a time-consuming commute slavery of its own.  At what point will “traffic blues” become an impetus for new living and working patterns and a better quality of life?  In addition to “traffic blues” – and perhaps rising fuel costs – what other “drivers” (pun intended) will lead to new living and working patterns?  In turn, what consequences will these new living and working patterns have?
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living here, working there — will it ever end?

  • What are long-term consequences of people not being able to live where they work – a problem experienced in the US by many policemen, firemen, teachers, and resort workers?  Are long commute times and distances the wave of the future, or are there weak signals of a countertrend?
Posted in Weak Signals | 1 Comment

Try being an urban transportation planner!

  • Try being an urban transportation planner.  You can do it!  Which tradeoffs would you make regarding the needs of new residents, existing residents, environmental impact, and the tax base?
    • New residents (brought in by job growth) need places to live, but this aggravates road congestion.
    • Existing residents and environmental groups resist new development, although as costs of county government increase, then taxes must increase or services must be cut back.
    • Local governments want to maximize the tax base – which is larger for a given area if it is occupied by business than by private homes. However, local governments sometimes offer tax incentives to attract business.

What hidden assumptions might make some or all of these tradeoffs unnecessary?

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Will your clothes have IP addresses?

  • How will various industries be impacted when everything (appliances, parts, even the clothes that you wear) has its own IP address – for example, banks, hospitals, and shipping companies?
Posted in Technologies and Technology Impacts | Leave a comment

judgment, intuition, data dependence, and decisionmaking!

  • Park’s article states that “Ubiquitous computing will increase the number of decisions per day, constantly changing schedules and priorities.” What are the implications to the workforce of tomorrow in your part of the world and elsewhere? Related question – will decision-making become too data dependent, with a corresponding decline in the role of intuition and judgment, as some have argued? Conversely, will computers take over many “left-brain” (deductive, analytical) functions, leading to a possible resurgence of a “right-brain” (intuitive, subjective) working culture, as others have suggested?  Why or why not?
Posted in Technologies and Technology Impacts | 1 Comment