Print

by Richard A. Slaughter

Prospect Media, Sydney,  1999

reviewed by Marcus Bussey

Richard A. Slaughter’s new book, Futures for the Third Millennium: Enabling the Forward View, is a summing up of the current state of the broad field of futures studies and a sign post of greater possibilities in this young field.

  The book has a presence about it. A sense of pregnancy. Reading it, I felt Slaughter’s sense for the historical forces at work upon Futures Studies. It’s not a chronicler’s dusty work, but a book by one who has trod the path for over a quarter-century and dealt with many of its contradictions.

This book sums up Slaughter’s own work; it has a greater sense of synthesis and vision than his earlier works, but also conveys a feel for the fin de siecle. He steps back from the western preoccupation with our own time line and the imminent new millennium; as the title itself proclaims, it is a work that promises action, that enables the forward view.

Slaughter embraces both the theoretical and practical. He views futures studies as a process of active interaction with, and participation within, our environment. It is essentially a transformative process motivated by foresight, and energised by a forward view that encourages participation in creating enriched futures.

 

Futures for the Third Millennium looks back and offers an excellent summation of what has been achieved in futures studies this past century. It reflects upon, describes and analyzes the major schools and methods within the field; it offers a comprehensive examination of Institutions of Foresight, which Slaughter sees as major agents of change and renewal. It then looks at the dissenting futures that make this field so interesting.

Slaughter also steps beyond his previous thinking by introducing an expanded vision which he dubs ‘transformative’ futures. This method is largely based upon the vision of Ken Wilber. It moves away from the wisdom culture Slaughter describes in The Foresight Principle, and embraces what he calls foresight cultures that offer ‘humanly-compelling futures’.

Such futures embrace our need for human-scale progress, not the ‘mega’ that threatens to sweep all that is recognisable away. Ultimately Slaughter’s interest is in "futures in which scientific and technical developments achieve a positive dialectic with human and cultural developments to produce societies and civilisations that are, in a profound sense, ‘in balance’."

This book argues for a formula to move beyond the crisis that threatens to engulf us. "I do not think it possible to resolve the ‘global problematique’ in a direct or simple way. My approach to this meta- or mega-problem is demonstrated throughout the book. First, we need to deal with world-view defects such as short-term thinking. Second, we need to create social contexts... where the forward view can be created, nurtured and implemented continuously... And third, we can marshal all our capabilities to design and sculpt the kind of suggestive mindspaces that I believe are the precursors of social action."

The book lives up to this aim. Yet near the end as he began to expand on his personal vision for the future and Futures Studies, I found myself wishing that somehow he could bridge his self-imposed dichotomy between mindscape and social action. Of course this mindscape develops through all three steps of his formula. Engaging in any step is itself social action, but the depth to which he seeks to take Futures Studies still seems remote. I think this is due to the simple oversight that comes from accepting that the transformative is something other than life as we live it.

This is a common oversight for those describing human action in meta terms. The individual is somehow lost in the grand sweep of things. I am reminded here of Buddhist writer and activist Joanna Macy’s observation that "action on behalf of life transforms". So I would add to this excellent work, that fundamentally, thought and action are the same.

In this somewhat paradoxical assertion lies the energy that if released could really move us towards those actively transformative futures that Slaughter’s book heralds.