Hot Topic: Futuring Amid Clear and Present Danger
Just as we were saying “good riddance” to 2020 and its many plagues, 2021 happened—specifically, the January 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to thwart the certification of Joe Biden as the 46th president.
The scenario of an authoritarian regime rising in the United States no doubt appears on many futurists’ lists of wild cards (low probability, high impact events), and the threat of domestic terrorism is a long-standing one. Futurists now are exploring the consequences of these events.
The Association of Professional Futurists will devote its next First Friday discussion, February 5, to “Assault on Democracy: Preventable Futures?” The 60-minute members-only webinar—pondering post-Trump scenarios of right-wing populism, white Christian nationalism, and domestic terrorism—will be led by Seattle-based futurist Sara Robinson.
Among the immediate impacts of the attack were notable (and debatable) actions by social-media networks to limit access to the technology platforms enabling the insurrectionists. Similarly, corporations began rethinking their support for candidates connected with such extremism.
“Twitter, Facebook and other companies enjoy few regulations in America (more in Europe) that have made them immensely powerful and profitable,” Michael Bugeja, distinguished professor of journalism at Iowa State University, told Times of Malta.
“Social media like to think of themselves as online telephone companies that cannot be held responsible for the conversation over their lines,” Bugeja explained, “but telephone companies must honour government regulations designed to protect consumers.” He adds that Twitter may one day face the same type of regulation that telephone companies do. Read “Trump’s social media ban came too late, local experts say” by Kristina Abela, Times of Malta (January 11, 2021).
“Big business struck a Faustian bargain with President Trump,” writes New York Times columnist David Gelles, noting that CEOs would distance themselves whenever Trump “flirted with authoritarianism,” but when he cut taxes, rolled back regulations, or used them as props for photo-ops, “they would applaud his leadership and grin for the cameras,” thus serving as his enablers. “After Wednesday’s [January 6] events on Capitol Hill, the true cost of that balancing act was plain to see, even through the tear gas wafting in the rotunda.”
Gelles quotes Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation and a board member at Square and Ralph Lauren: “This is what happens when we subordinate our moral principles for what we perceive to be business interests. It is ultimately bad for business and bad for society.… When people make political decisions for business reasons, it can have heinous social consequences.” Read “After Riot, Business Leaders Reckon With Their Support for Trump” by David Gelles, New York Times (January 7, 2021).
- Eric Garland, “Why Conventional Wisdom Is Dangerous and Crazy Scenarios Aren’t,” EricGarland.co, December 30, 2016.
- Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, Public Affairs, 2011.
Think Tanks Thinking about Security
“What happened in Washington Wednesday [January 6]—a mob assault on the Capitol while electoral votes were being officially accepted—was a predictable possibility,” says RAND Corporation senior advisor and counterterrorism specialist Brian Michael Jenkins. “Democracy held, but security failed, spectacularly.”
Jenkins warns that the threats will not have ended with President Biden’s inauguration, with the potential that the State of the Union address in February, for example, “could also entice extremists to take action when the nation is watching.” He further calls for a special investigation into the attack and into the “astonishing lack of security” to prevent it.
Amid the chaos of the 21st century, “non-traditional pressures such as food security, state stability, environmental degradation, infectious diseases, climate change, and non-state actors’ activities became long-standing issues in the last years.” S&S Guide writes. “Hence, international security has been an enduring concept observing first states’ actions and later by international organizations to guarantee mutual survival and safety.”
Using the 2019 Global Go-To Think Tank Index produced by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, the authors sieved through more than 8,000 institutions and identified 10 they deemed the “most significant security think tanks due to their research and policy work.” In alphabetical order, these are:
- Atlantic Council (Washington, D.C.).
- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, a program of the Harvard Kennedy School (Cambridge, Massachusetts).
- Brookings Institution (Washington, D.C.).
- Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Washington, D.C.).
- Center for a New American Security (Washington, D.C.).
- European Union Institute for Security Studies (Paris). Of interest: download EUISS’s 2021 calendar (PDF) of “What’s to come.”
- International Institute for Strategic Studies (Bahrain; London; Singapore; Washington, D.C.).
- National Institute for Defense Studies (Tokyo).
- Rand Corporation (Santa Monica, California).
- Royal United Services Institute (London).
The role of think tanks is to bridge the gap between analysis and action, between academia and policy makers, “through policy-oriented research, advocacy, and grassroots actions” by democratizing specialized knowledge, S&S Guide notes.
Read “Top 10 Security Think Tanks worldwide,” The Security & Sustainability Guide (January 16, 2021).
Resources: Becoming Digitally Savvy
- Digital Fact Checking: French press agency AFP (Agence France-Presse) offers a series of video tutorials on combating disinformation through fact checking and basic verification techniques. The tutorials teach observation skills, using mapping software to verify locations in digital images, understanding concepts for fact checking health claims, and more. [Learn more]
- Futures and Media Literacy: UNESCO’s Futures Literacy leader Riel Miller has made his chapter on “Futures Literacy, Media Literacy and the Capability Based Approach to Freedom” from the book Media Education as a Challenge (Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Warsaw, 2019) available on ResearchGate. In it, Miller “explores the relationship between Futures Literacy and Media Literacy on the basis of the anticipatory systems and processes framework outlined in Transforming the Future.” [Learn more]
Will Changing Demographics Change U.S. Values?
In his article for the Foresight Signals blog, Tellier Foundation CEO Bob Chernow notes that the rising generations of younger Americans not only are more ethnically and racially diverse, but they also differ in social values from previous generations. “White power” has emerged partly because of fear of these trends, but, he argues, “better race relations are coming.”
Chernow likens this outlook to the experience of being in an Army unit: “It is a simple truth that you cannot serve in the field and identify soldiers by their race, religion, or place of origin. You need to see them as individuals. You need to accept and respect people. Otherwise, they will not have your back in the field. Is this a good framework for the future? If not, it ought to be.”
Read “Race. Bigotry. Is this the right question to ask?” by Bob Chernow, Foresight Signals blog (January 7, 2021).
Mark Your Calendar: World Future Day
March 1: Futures organizations worldwide will once again unite (virtually) for World Future Day. “Each year, total strangers discuss ideas about possible worlds of tomorrow in a relaxed, open, no-agenda conversation,” says Jerome C. Glenn, CEO of The Millennium Project (TMP). Hour-long conversations start at noon in each participant’s time zone, beginning in New Zealand. The Zoom address will be available a day before the event here.
Collaborating with TMP is the Association of Professional Futurists for the “24-hour round-the-world conversation” about the future. APF members and friends can register for World Future Day here.
March 5: Futurists in Finland will mark Futures Day as “a nationwide theme day that brings the future to everyone here and now. The aim is to make the future visible, strengthen Finns' awareness of the future and believe in the future.” With the support of Teach the Future, the organizers are providing materials to facilitate discussions among community or work groups. “This year Futures Day focuses on power over the future and desired futures—Utopias.” [Learn more]
Mack Report: Review of A Transformation Journey
In his book A Transformation Journey to Creative and Alternative Planetary Futures, futurist Victor V. Motti describes how he “fell” into future studies from an initial intention to pursue a career in engineering. This is a fall that AAI Foresight managing principal Tim Mack can well relate to.
Motti’s transformation journey “is a compelling story, especially for someone like myself, who started out as an attorney and ended up president of the World Future Society,” Mack writes. “In my own mind, the transformative nature of foresight is almost irresistible, as the field appears to relate to almost every other area of study. Accordingly, this book’s expansive title accurately describes futures as an area of lifelong study.”
The book explores the concept of the future as experienced in non-English-speaking cultures, as well as issues like “how the cross-disciplinary nature of the future is actually playing out, such as in the converging technologies usually defined as nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognitive technology.”
Read “Book Review: Motti’s Transformational Journey into the Future” by Tim Mack, Foresight Signals blog (January 25, 2021).
“And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
… for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.”