The focal question of our futures research can be asked in several ways: “Does a deeply humane and sustainable future require a transformation in our Modern/Industrial civilization into a truly new form of civilizational?” “Is it still a safe bet for us to continue to aspire and commit to creating a future that is a better version of the world we already know?” “Must we really commit to co-creating a truly new future?”
We note that every society in the world routinely answers “no,” “yes” and “no” to these three questions. The official assumption is that we do not need to alter the trajectory of our present form of civilization; that our Modern/Industrial world can be made to be both humane and sustainable without the need for any fundamental transformation of its and our core character. Even the talk about climate change is almost wholly within this frame of reference. No major institution is even thinking seriously about, much less preparing for, a fundamental evolution of the form of our civilization. The above focal questions are simply not on the agenda of a significant institution, sector or society anywhere in the world. This is fine, provide that these standard responses are true. However, if there is any reasonable chance that sound answer to our focal questions are “yes,” “no” and “yes,” then as persons, societies and a species we are in way more trouble than we now know.
To be systemically blind to the biggest and most disruptive threat to our future is not a good position to be in. Yet, our research suggests that this is where we are. This view was expressed by Yehezkel Dror when he said in The Capacity to Govern – his Report to the Club of Rome:
The situation of humanity in the face of global transformations can be summarised in two sentences:
Societies are unprepared; Governance is unequipped…. In the main contemporary governance is obsolete and unable to deal fittingly with rapidly mutating problems and opportunities.
Therefore, Foresight Canada is committed to learning to notice, explore, map, understand and respond to both the need for and facts of a truly significant civilizational transformation. We are also committed to working with others to get this issue on the agendas of the major bodies world-wide. If you share this passion, please contact Ruben.
Today, we participate in and contribute to several global conversations about cultural paradigm change and civilizational transformation. We regularly present papers at international meetings with this focus. See here, here and here. Our reputation in this work is still growing. As you will see below, our capacity to undertake this work builds particularly on the decades of experience of Ruben Nelson, David Harries and several of our Fellows.
In order to determine the focal question for our research, we asked ourselves this question, “What is the most pressing strategic issue of our time that is not already securely on the world’s agenda?”
By ‘strategic’, we mean “trajectory altering.” Also note the qualification at the end of the above question. We wanted to focus on a truly strategic issue that as a civilization we are now missing. This orientation reflects the central insight of strategic foresight 2.0 – the truly disruptive, destructive and creative possibilities of history are the ones that blind-side us. They are the events, forces and futures we have not even seen, much less explored, thought through and prepared for. They are off our radar because it simply does not occur to us that such things could happen. As the 911 Commission noted, our deepest failure is fundamentally a failure of our imagination.
We believe the 9/11 attacks revealed four kinds of failures: in imagination, policy, capabilities, and management.
Imagination is not a gift usually associated with bureaucracies. It is therefore crucial to find a way of routinizing, even bureaucratising, the exercise of imagination.
Ways of doing business rooted in a different era are just not good enough. Americans should not settle for incremental, ad hoc adjustments to a system designed generations ago for a world that no longer exists.
Given this orientation, the major focus of our research is focussed on civilizational-scale changes and transformations – the few times in human history when a truly new form of civilization slowly and incoherently emerged from the ways of life that previously had been known. We explore and seek to understand the drivers, dynamics, depths and drift of the great transitions in the basic forms of human civilization. The reason we do so, of course, is to shed light on the focal question – is ours a time of profound civilizational change, evolution and transformation?
- The first great civilizational transition occurred long ago. We slowly moved from living in the small troops of our great ape ancestors to the much larger tribal groups in which our species lived for 200,000 years. This shift from roughly 15 to 150 as the normal group size allowed us to become homo sapiens – human beings. Today, a few of us (our species) still live within this form of civilization.
- The second great civilizational transition began to occur roughly 11,000 years ago. Then, some, but not all, of us moved from a nomadic tribal life to that of larger settled, agriculture-based communities. Today, many of us still live within this form of civilization.
- The third great civilizational transition began to occur roughly 6,000 years ago. Then, some, but not all, of us coalesced into regional empires. Today, many of us still live within this form of civilization.
- The fourth great civilizational transition has occurred over the last 1,000 years as some of us developed into our present Modern/Industrial form of civilization. Today, many of us still live within this form of civilization.
- Our research suggests that the early stage of the fifth great civilizational transition is already well underway. Again, a few of us are slowly and incoherently moving through a Post-Modern wilderness and learning, for the first time, to become meta-conscious and responsible co-creators of our lives, communities, societies and a whole new form of civilization. We characterize this new form of civilization as a Consciously Co-creative civilization.
We note two things.
First, it has not yet dawned on our official thought and opinion leaders that the deep work of our time is to learn to see, embrace and cooperate with the evolutions we are already in. Awakening to and undertaking this work is the key to our surviving and thriving as persons, groups and a species.
Second, the conditions we now face differ from those of every previous civilizational transition. Earlier civilizational-scale transitions were slow, local/regional, unconscious and optional. Today, the evidence mounts that our transition to a new form of civilization must be fast, scalable-to-global and conscious/meta-conscious. Further, our survival as a species now requires that we make this transition. Put simply, there is no long-term future in our current global project – making everyone into technologically-savvy, Modern/Industrial persons living in Modern/Industrial societies.
Remember that in strategic foresight context is king.
This means that every people, in every place and at any time in history must come to terms with the nature and dynamics of the broader historical and physical context within which they find themselves. The reason, of course, is that in the last analysis the context will carry on with our without us. This implies that if it is the case that ours is a rare hinge of history – one of the few times in which a new form of civilization is being born – then best we learn to see this civilizational transformation, face it, understand it, grow into it and cooperate with it. Any other response is contra indicated.