Possible Futures


The following texts are taken from Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2000), pages 237-240, with their kind permission. Ray and Anderson's writing is introduced here because they describe the larger framework for the work and positioning of HumanDHS.

Scenario 1: Falling Apart

This scenario emphasizes the fragility of the planet, the great power of the global financial markets, and the strength of the multinational corporations. It supposes that the convergence of the social movements and consciousness movements (which we discussed in Chapter Seven) doesn't have much of an impact, and that the Cultural Creatives do not become conscious of their potential as a subculture.
In this unlucky and misguided world, Modern institutions cling to the twentieth century. The huge majority of people around the planet are left out of economic benefits, and their sense of deprivation is heightened by Western television. They start wars and revolutions. Globalization barrels though everyone's lives with the momentum of a freight train. When it finally hits a tight curve, it veers off the track. Meanwhile the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological arms takes its toll. Ecological problems turn out to be every bit as bad as anticipated. Overpopulation results in huge die-offs from war and famine, and health crises from pollution and diseases. For a while, first world countries may stay on top because of their superior armaments, In the long run, things fall apart; democracy and human rights are early casualties, and the disintegration of civilization is the end result.

Scenario 2: The Highly Adaptive World

The second scenario supposes that the great current of change makes a difference, and that the Cultural Creatives become conscious of one another and effective in the world. It supposes that people work together to anticipate coming problems, develop ecological sustainability, and head off the kind of conflicts typical for the twentieth century. Some Moderns become Cultural Creatives, and others are willing to work with Cultural Creatives and Traditionals to find new solution. Traditionals work with Cultural Creatives in some collaborative projects, based on their shared moral values.
In this scenario, a movement toward greater efficiency in the use of technologies and business finds ways to change over to more sustainable production. The transition may be expensive, but is rather smooth. Just as Internet users ballooned from a tiny minority in 1995 to nearly a third of U.S. adults by 2000, business moves fast in this scenario, once it sees where the future lies. Human rights and social justice spread around the planet, aided by better communications. Planetary integration develops, at the same time that people are interested in individual and cultural uniqueness. As a result, traditional wisdom is highly valued, as are the contributions of musicians, dancers, and expressive artists around the world.
Not all parts of the world change at the same time. Conflict among social classes, ethnic groups, regions, and religions are still a big problem, but the spread of new values makes the conflicts more manageable. It's a world with hope for the future. In this lucky world, the worst ecological problems turn out to be manageable.
Both of the above scenarios are "surprise free" futures. They correspond, respectively, to the worst and the rosiest pictures put forward by commentators on our times. It's unlikely, however, that we'll be either as unlucky and foolish as the first scenario, or as lucky and wise as the second. Which brings us to the third scenario.

Scenario 3: Muddling Our Way to Transformation

Suppose that the Cultural Creatives do get their act together, and the great current of change puts a lot of pressure on society to move to a new way of life. But all over the developed world, the institutions of modern finance and megacorporations buy a lot of support form governments and decide to resist change for all they are worth. Traditionals as well use all their resources to resist an evermore-threatening set of cultural developments. It is a world of cultural conflict and uneven change.
In some sectors of society, Cultural Creatives are welcome and even lead the way to positive cultural changes. Some industries, especially those that see ecological sustainability and the information revolution as their greatest sources of profit, decide that the Cultural Creatives are their natural markets and become allied with them. And politicians come along who regard the Cultural Creatives as their natural constituency.
In these sectors, cultural and economic capability build, offering a lot of potential for the future. But these leading sectors don't necessarily win out. A number of other sectors of society are staunchly opposed to major cultural and political change: not only because of self-interest but because most people resist new paradigms and worldview, even if it is in their economic or political interest to do so. With all these oppositions, cultural conflicts worsen.
Meanwhile, ecological destruction continues, overpopulation takes its toll in many parts of the world, and military conflicts heat up between the haves and have-nots. The world is increasingly unstable, with a lot of opportunity for chaos. As a result, it may collectively "fall into a hole": another Great Depression or a partial ecological calamity that triggers famines and megadeaths in some parts of the world, or a debilitating series of wards triggered by great inequalities and ethnic conflicts. Destruction of rain forests and/or climate changes could trigger new plagues. Whatever form the hole takes, the suffering and deaths could be devastating.
What happens next may be the most surprising aspect of this scenario: historian Arnold Toynbee called it "challenge and response." When a society gets itself into trouble, a creative minority (the Cultural Creatives in this scenario) develops very different beliefs and ways of life. Having fallen into a hole, our resources and cultural resilience are great enough to let us bounce right back - or spring into a new place. The adaptive response might be worldwide, because global societies and the Cultural Creatives within them are already so closely linked through communications networks and through the NGOs.
In this scenario, the world draws upon a large population that knows how to reframe events and develop new cultural solutions. More people listen and take a chance on building a new future. At the same time, a number of old authorities are discredited, and some of the rich and powerful lose their status and power. In the process, we transform the structure of our societies. Cultures can be very innovative when they are up against the wall, especially if large seed population within is making creative changes. Many cultures around the planet might clamber their way out of a partial disaster and wake up to their potential. It would be social learning the hard way, but at least it would be learning.
Making a guess, this scenario probably has about a fifty-fifty chance, because it supposes that humans are neither lucky and wise, nor unlucky and stupid. It's a middling, muddling way through, in which many different combinations of pluses and minuses could lead to a similar result. It says we all fall down, but then we get back up again. It says we learn from the past, but not as quickly as we might wish. Most of all, it says that our creative minority is now large enough that we've got a chance to respond well to the challenges of our time - if, instead of stumbling about with business as usual, then blaming one another and/or denying the dangers, we can meet the future consciously.