Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Imagining the Future We Want

Chris Clarke of Creek Running North asked readers to describe what the world would look like "if our side won". We're not talking about getting out of Iraq or implementing Kyoto but about having a vision. What kind of world do we really want to live in?

Several years ago, I ran a few Future History Project workshops in which participants imagined the world they wanted to exist in a hundred years and then outlined its history. The article below describes one such experience. (WFA is the World Federalist Association, which has since transmogrified itself into the much less visionary Citizens for Global Solutions.)

Conversations for a Century
by Jane Shevtsov

What happens when we set aside the problems of the present and give ourselves permission to dream?

  "It is now the year 2102. What are your favorite things about the world right now?" I ask this question at the beginning of the Future History Project workshop Tad Daley and I are conducting at WFA's October 2002 assembly in Denver. The thirty or forty people attending spend the next five minutes writing about a time when the troubled years of the early 21st century are safely in the history books.
  Why are we indulging in these flights of fancy when there are so many pressing issues right here and now? When the president seems hell-bent on bombing an already suffering nation, when the global climate is changing unpredictably and the rate of extinction is higher than at any point in the past 65 million years, when tens of thousands of children die every day from fully preventable causes, what is the use of speculation about a better world a century hence?
  The very existence of these problems makes it important to dream of a world without them. Once we envision a world in which problems like these do not exist, we can see why they do not exist. And the Future History Project goes more deeply into this than most other visioning processes because Future History participants develop the history of that happy world of 2102. They draw a road map from here to utopia.

  Such grandiose plans can be difficult to get into. So right after brainstorming, I ask participants a simple question. I ask them what their community is like.
  My co-facilitator corrects me immediately. What do I mean by community?
  It is a good question, since even now, virtual communities are important and growing exponentially. So I define community as both physical neighborhood and any virtual communities to which you belong.
  After a few questions, the discussion takes on a life of its own. Occasionally Tad and I remind people of the ground rules -- if it's desirable and doesn't break the laws of physics, then it's possible; no miracles or aliens, "now" is 2102 -- but mostly we're just along for the ride, keeping order and taking notes but letting ideas flow.
  People speak of social contracts and sustainable architecture, of food and livelihood. This being WFA, government, particularly global government, gets much attention. (At a Future History Project, sometimes a person who has no idea world federalists even exist will be the first to bring up global government.) We discuss schools, families and values -- especially values. People seem eager to discuss a shift to more inclusive, communitarian values.

  After about 45 minutes, we shift gears. It is time for the hard part -- inventing the history of 2102. A timeline hangs on the wall and we try to fill it in, going backwards from 2102 to 2002. As co-facilitator, I try to get people to think in terms of logical steps -- A had to happen before B could occur -- but mostly people just want to fill in that blank sheet.
  And fill it in they do. We go to Mars in 2012. In 2032, a reformed UN General Assembly becomes a world government. By 2042, everyone uses renewable energy. And so on.

  It's over too soon. Ten minutes of written and shared reflection and we go our separate ways. But people leave inspired. Utopia is not impossible -- it's just very, very improbable. And the improbable happens.