Hot Topic: Brexit's Alarms
Britons’ stunning but ultimately unsurprising referendum to withdraw from the European Union gave all of us much to reflect on, both about what led to this “Brexit” and about what lies ahead.
Why “unsurprising”? Because futurists have been discussing the rise of globalism and its discontents for nearly two decades, as exemplified by diplomat and futures educator Joergen Oerstroem Moeller. In his March 1999 article for The Futurist, “The Growing Challenge to Internationalism,” he warned of the tensions between the “elite” who favored internationalism and the “ordinary people” who increasingly felt that internationalism “fails to provide an answer to the problems they face.”
Foresight Signals invited Moeller to summarize the signals presaging Brexit. He writes:
Britain never shared the visions of the original six EU-member states. They perceived EU as a political enterprise, while Britain’s perspective was a beefed up trade zone. At all big negotiations it applied the handbrake vis-a-vis French and German initiatives. In 1979 Mrs. Thatcher said, “I want my money back.” When the Treaty of European Union was agreed in 1992, Britain got exemptions from the social chapter and the single currency (the euro).
At the recent general election, almost half of conservative MPs proved to be EU-skeptics. Many of them advocated leaving EU, which they depicted, often in a boisterous way, as some kind of a monster holding Britain back, fueling resentment among the electorate.
Prime Minister Cameron was returned to power in 2015 with an absolute majority and was forced to make good on his earlier pledge to hold an in-or-out referendum.
This coincided with a strong influx of workers from countries in Central and Eastern Europe, plus more than a million refugees/migrants coming into EU from the Middle East. The public felt that EU stood in the way for limiting migration, opening the door for the slogan “take back control over our borders,” striking a chord with the voters.
Joergen Oerstroem Moeller is Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, and former State-Secretary (1989-1997), Royal Danish Foreign Ministry.
Views from the field. Here is a sample of other futurists' reflections in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote on June 23:
“Sad day for Britain as we choose isolation over connection, mono-culture over multicultural and stagnation over progress. I get that this was a vote to punish the establishment. Can't help feeling Britain will become a tax haven and the rich-poor divide will increase.” Rohit Talwar, London, via Facebook
“10 yrs ago I was asking Europeans: why does the EU express itself in petty bureaucratic rule-making that seems to directly undermine unity?” Josh Calder, via Twitter @Geofutures
“#brexit vs #bremain is really about culture vs. commerce. And we’ve got the same issues here in the U.S. #trump.” James H. Lee, via Twitter @jhlinde
“Expect lots more demographic age wars, especially as we live longer. Older generations won’t die off so fast = slow the pace of change.” heathervescent, via Twitter @heathervescent
“So many British friends with tech startups are now looking to move to Munich and Berlin from London. EU funding critical for them.” Sammy Payne, via Twitter @SighSam
“UK innovators: move to California! Our economy is only the 7th largest in the world but we love expats, and believe in global trade!” Paul Saffo, via Twitter @psaffo
Stepping forth to reassure the scientific community, Imperial College London, President Alice Gast and Provost James Stirling stated: “Imperial is, and will remain, a European university. ... We are very proud of the innovations, ideas and inspiration that come from the European members of Imperial’s global community. We are determined that political changes will not hold Imperial back from delivering excellence in research and education for the benefit of global society. We will vigorously defend our international values if they are threatened and will continue to think and act internationally.”
The Future Was Then: Alvin Toffler (1928-2016)
The only chance I had to speak with Alvin Toffler in person, the renowned author of Future Shock and The Third Wave (and arguably the most famous “futurist” alive) apologized to me.
I met him and his wife and collaborator, Heidi, at a conference on technology and the future in January 1995, in Washington, D.C., at which newly installed House Speaker Newt Gingrich also spoke (as did rising media star Arianna Huffington). With the national spotlight suddenly shining brightly on futurism, at least one news program interviewed Toffler but mistakenly identified him as representing the World Future Society.
While Toffler may have felt guilty borrowing the WFS mantle (he was a member of the Society, but not an officer or board member), the staff couldn't have been more delighted for the honor. That he is still recognized as one of the driving forces of the Society's founding in 1966 was made clear in current board chair Julie Friedman Steele's announcement to the membership of Toffler's death on June 27:
"The admiration for Mr. Toffler from the World Future Society is difficult to encapsulate,” she wrote. “From the earliest days when this organization began, he has been a friend and mentor. His insights about how society behaves when too much change happens too quickly helps to guide our new direction for The World Future Society."
Other tributes and recollections were shared across the foresight community. In sharing the news with the Millennium Project's network, CEO Jerome Glenn wrote, “Al was the best writer among us and clearly wrote the key book that alerted the world to continue change. Thank you Al for taking on the public mind of the world.”
As a journalist (and generalist) who only learned about futurism from working directly with writers, I feel the loss is not just of Alvin Toffler's vision, but of his voice and his ability to get others to listen, to think, and to understand. –CGW
Further reading: “Alvin Toffler, author of 'Future Shock’ Adviser to Leaders, Dies at 87” by David Henry, Bloomberg (June 29, 2016).
“Alvin Toffler, Legendary Author of Future Shock, Dies at 87” by Matt Novak, Paleofuture (June 29, 2016).
In Memoriam: Arthur M. Harkins, Educator
We were saddened to learn of the passing on May 17 of Arthur Harkins, a University of Minnesota sociologist dedicated to preparing his students for a world in rapid transition. He was 80.
“I have fond memories of working with Art Harkins in China at Anqing University, as part of the Leapfrog Initiatives at the University of Minnesota, that was designed to bring Chinese Education into the 21st century,” said AAI Foresight managing principal Timothy Mack. “We both spoke at a conference there, and it was clear that he was very well regarded by Chinese educators. As the Leapfrog director, he was also managing similar programs in Mexico, South America, and Pakistan and was both a visionary educator and a skilled diplomat when working with the Chinese government as they struggled with both global and domestic change.”
Prior to joining the University of Minnesota in 1968, Harkins was a lieutenant and pilot in the U.S. Air Force. In addition to his academic work, he was a consultant for such organizations as General Mills, American Express, 3M, Honeywell, and Minnesota Public Radio. He pioneered the development of “StoryTech,” which he described as a rehearsal process for defining and norming selected futures.
Further reading: “Popular professor, futurist Arthur Harkins pushed students to think ahead” by Shannon Prather, Star Tribune (May 28, 2016).
In the News: Jacque Fresco at 100
Fresco's work (with partner Roxanne Meadows) was frequently featured in The Futurist magazine, including the January-February 2002 cover story on his visionary sea cities designs. As technologies such as artificial intelligence progress, Fresco posits, humanity will have the resources it needs to analyze issues and generate ideal options for sharing earth's resources.
Reference: “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Lives in the Future - It's in the middle of nowhere in Florida” by Caroline Winter, Bloomberg Businessweek (June 10, 2016).
New Node: Sri Lanka
The Millennium Project has named Sri Lanka the 60th node in its global consortium of foresight experts. The node chair is Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, chairman and founder of Diri Saviya Foundation. Details: The Millennium Project.
Blog Report: Accelerating Futures
Science fact is rapidly surpassing the imaginings of science fiction, and it is this acceleration that could be doing us more harm than the technological developments themselves, warns NASA scientist Dennis M. Bushnell in the latest post for the Foresight Signals Blog.
“I have come to realize, perhaps belatedly, that technology applications are very near to being where we have thought they would go,” he writes. “The latency between conception and application is shrinking from a decade to only a few years or, in some cases, months.”
But because the human brain is evolutionarily developed to resist change, “the acceleration of technological change is causing growing rates of serious psychosomatic illnesses, including depression, which may manifest in increasingly terrifying ways,” Bushnell warns.
Read: “Accelerating Futures: Is the Future Really Now?” by Dennis M. Bushnell. Foresight Signals Blog (posted June 16, 2016).
Further reading: “Emerging Impacts of the IT Revolution upon Technology, Aerospace, and Society: Creating Problems and Enabling Solutions” by Dennis M. Bushnell (AAI Foresight, 2015) may be downloaded from AAI Foresight Reports.
Planning to attend the World Future Society's 2016 conference July 22-24 in Washington, D.C.? I'll be there as a member of the press, representing this newsletter for AAI Foresight. Contact me at CynthiaGWagner@gmail.com if you'd like to hang out!