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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Visions of Tomorrow

Where there is no vision, people perish. So it says in the Bible, and there is much truth to the statement. As individuals, as societies, as nations and as a collective species we all require visions of the future. For it is our visions which draw us forward.

The kinds of visions that we are exposed to come from three common sources. These are the visions found in education, those delivered by governments and those found in the popular culture and media.

Visions in education and those of governments tend to be similar. They are usually focused upon building a sense of national unity, via developing a sense of shared history. There is typically a national mythology involved. These mythologies, although based in the past, tend to direct the way policy-makers construct visions in the present. If the vision is too disconnected from the past, the people won’t buy it. In the USA, the idea of freedom and individualism is central to the national psyche, so even a slight turn towards collectivism or socialism can cause significant levels of rejection from many people – a Obama has discovered.

In Australia, the national anthem drums into us Aussies: “Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.” No such sentiments of freedom in the Chinese national anthem, which implores the Chinese people to create a great wall against the enemy. There’s quite a different sense of destiny contained in those stories.

There is a danger when visions fail to materialise. Obama asked the American people to believe in the audacity of hope (dare to dream). In China, President Hiu Jintau put forward the idea of the Harmonious Society. This macropolicy tells the story of Chinese people living together in trust and harmony, and in unity with nature. It even exhorts the value of democracy, believe it or not. Needless to say, the term “harmonious society” has been the object of great derision in China, because the reality and the dream are so vastly different. Whenever someone steps out of line (i.e. challenges the local, provincial or national leaders) the joke goes that they will soon be “harmonised”. Many westerners may not realise that although there is implicit support for the Communist Party amongst most Chinese (if for no other reason than there is no viable alternative), there is also a great cynicism and even distrust of it.

Visions can unite people, but they can also lead to negative consequences, or even disaster. 

The White Australia Policy in my home country caused suffering for foreigners of non-Caucasian origin. In more severe terms, think of Hitler’s lebensraum (WW2), Mao Ze Dong’s Great Leap Forward (some 30 million dead), or the implicit hegemonies contained in the macropolicies of the Bush Administration (foundering wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).

In many ways the idea of visions is correlated with the idea of faith in religious and spiritual lore. The vision exists in an intangible state in a distant future. The people have to believe in the vision, or it is powerless to create effective change.

In my own futures work, I have developed the ideas of Deep Futures, and the Integrated Society.

You might recall from previous blog posts that Deep Futures contain these elements:

·                     They inspire. They instill us with passion, and ignite something deep within us.
·                     They are the big picture. They encourage us to see things in broader perspective, including the cultural, national, civilisational, the Gaian, and the spiritual.
·                     They honour both the head and the heart. They permit rational and intuitive ways of knowing and living to co-exist.
·                     They permit expression of multiple cultures and worldviews, not just dominant ones
·                     They are deeply meaningful, not merely interesting, amusing, or engaging
·                     They permit deep connection with each other, with nature, and with inner and spiritual worlds
·                     They honour universal human values: peace, beauty, freedom, justice, and love (including freedom of thought and information, and financial freedom).People and Gaia lie at the heart of the future, not merely money and machines.

The Idea of the Integrated Society follows on from the idea of Deep Futures, but is more specific. It is a society whose core consciousness is embedded with Integrated Intelligence. Another way of putting this is that it is a society which values and nurtures spiritual introspection, and permits the expression of intuitive knowledge. In such a society, both leaders and the general population consult the wisdom of their inner spiritual world as they make decisions, big and small, even as they go about creating the future. Implicit in this model of a future society is the idea of alignment with spiritual guidance. It is founded upon the presupposition that there is a greater spiritual intelligence which underpins consciousness and the evolution of the human species; and even more importantly, that we have the capacity to tap into that intelligence.

But just how useful are these visions that I outline? The question that we are really asking here is, what makes for an effective and powerful vision of the future?

In his excellent book Questioning the Future, futurist Sohail Inayatullah ( has identified seven criteria for effective social visions. How well does my Integrated Society fare according to Inayatullah's criteria? Let’s check out each of the criteria.

1) It requires legitimacy amongst its interpretive community.
In my academic work I have employed critical and postcritical futures theory in developing my vision. However it has to be acknowledged that these are not well known in mainstream academic circles. Legitimacy of the Integrated Society may therefore be an issue. Mainstream power structures in Western culture (and most cultures) generally reject ideas related to mysticism and psychic and psi phenomena. It may not be such a big issue in Eastern culture, but it has to be acknowledged that many developed Eastern cultures have now also left mystical spirituality behind. Indeed I have argued elsewhere that many East Asian cultures are far more materialistic than their Western counterparts, inverting the traditional idea of the rational/materialistic West versus intuitive/spiritual East

2) It must touch upon the physical layer of reality (the material world of goods and services).
The Integrated Society as I envision it does not reject capitalism or the more mundane pursuits of life. It simply adds the vertical dimension of Spirit, and shifts values towards greater depth of meaning and greater emphasis upon spirituality. My idea of “living your Bliss” (as outlined in Sage of Synchronicity is based upon the idea of an individual working with his/her particular gifts and living a an ideal life (and possibly vocation).

3) It must have some bearing on conventional views of rationality, even as it challenges them.
The concept of Integrated Intelligence incorporates the rational (and does not reject it). It does, however, state that there are post-rational ways of knowing which transcend reason. In short, reason and intuition both have their legitimate uses in the Integrated Society, but the Integrated Society expresses its rationality through the medium of Spirit. To put it somewhat simplistically, the big picture is seen via the spiritual realms, and reason is used to deal with the details.

4) It must ennoble people.
The end states of Integrated Intelligence (as outlined in the theory) are inherently ennobling. These end states are the development of wisdom, and the transformation of the individual and human society.

5) It must be neither too far into the future (and this appear utopian, unreachable) nor too near term (and thus be fright with emotional ego-politics, with cynicism towards transformative change).
The short-term applications of Integrated Intelligence can help bridge the present and the long-term futures of the Integrated Society.

The major issue of course, is that the Integrated Society is predicated upon a mystical way of knowing that is alien to many people in modern society, and especially to many of the leaders of these societies. That is no small obstacle. Given this, we have to concede that the Integrated Society is more likely a distant vision, rather than a near one.

A significant problem in the short term will be getting corporations and institutions to shift their worldview and acknowledge mystical and spiritual conceptions. However, even if an institution/corporation that any given individual is engaged with does not permit open use of Integrated Intelligence, there is nothing preventing that individual from using spiritual intuition to guide his/her own experience and decision making in work, education and life.

6) It must redefine the role of leadership, the vanguard.
Integrated Intelligence potentially grounds the leader of tomorrow in a deeper social and cosmological field of being and knowing. It has to be conceded, however, that any given leader, East or West, will not be able to openly acknowledge using Integrated Intelligence, at least not in the foreseeable future. The secularism of modern society is just one obstacle. Opposition from religious groups and those with atheistic worldviews is also inevitable.

7) It must be mythical.
The Integrated Society resonates with a deeper mythology found throughout spiritual and mystical traditions worldwide – the synthesis of knower and known, individual and cosmos, mankind and God. As I have touched upon, the idea of “living your Bliss” is deeply spiritual. The most famous modern mythologist of all, Joseph Campbell, brought the very phrase into popular usage.

Therefore the idea of the Integrated Society is somewhat utopian. Yet as another futurist, Ivava Milojevic has noted, even Utopian visions can serve a useful purpose if they draw us closer to an ideal. The danger is when these visions become hegemonic, and power and control are used to force people to comply with them. Then the utopian quickly turn to the dystopian. A gentle approach is the best way forward. This is why I use the ideas contained within the idea of Deep Futures. This concept contains general principles to guide us, not strict rules to be forced upon people.


  1. Very good benchmarks for the future. I think we are starting to see some cracks in the old with glimmers of the new. It's going to be slow, but I think something is going to happen to catapult is into a new world paradigm, whether we like it or not.

  2. Let's hope so, Nancy. The US and Britain, the two superpowers of the last two centuries, are having real problems, and that means real opportunities too. The fragmentation of the US population in terms of thinking is a concern, though.