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It's coming to America – poem by Leonard Cohen

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
                              --Leonard Cohen With thanks to Frank Patrick's Focused Performance Blog

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The Six Mistakes of Man – Cicero

  • The delusion that personal gain is made by crushing others.
  • The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.
  • Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it.
  • Refusing to set aside trivial preferences.
  • Neglecting development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and studying.
  • Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do. I've been living outside of the United States for eight months now. The first 3.5 months were in Victoria, BC, Canada. The last 4.5 months have been in Chiang Mai, Thailand. As someone adapting to different cultures on a 24/7/365 basis, the 2nd, 4th, and 6th of Cicero's Mistakes of Man are particularly apt. Some farang who have lived in Thailand for 3 or 5 years still appear to make these mistakes with regard to the local culture. It's comedic. Buddha save me from this fate...
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Habitum Alteram Naturam – Part 3

Simplicity and Complexity

Habits are simple, nature complex. This formulation is meant to help understand how to talk about and act regarding the future. Change is necessary, and it is even possible. How do we conceive of this possibility? How do we talk about it? The real question regarding talk, is to what degree is talking needed for change, that is action which creates change. Perhaps not at all. In fact, stopping talking can be such a powerful catalyst for change that perhaps the proliferation of social media inhibits needed change in our world. Action is the mediator between language and reality, not language the mediator between action and reality.

Possibility and Predictability

David Ben-Gurion wrote that "all experts are experts on what has happened." As we again try and focus our minds on the future, on possibility, is it possible to be an expert of the future? Again, the question of futurology and futurologists present itself. In a November 4, 2008 article published in the Bangkok Post, Uri Avnery wrote:

In a world in which a person like Barack Hussein Obama can appear from nowhere and advance within a few years to the highest levels of world politics, nothing is predictable--and therefore everything is possible.

Here we have an insight that at first appears quite promising in terms of pregnant with possibility. But there is a fundamental error here. Predictability is about knowing. We precisely cannot say that "everything is possible", since we don't know that. All we get from this formulation is that we cannot predict, we cannot say what is possible. We most certainly, therefore, cannot say that everything is possible. Here there is a breakdown in what we can know, not a fundamental freeing of our mind from predictability. The problem is a mistake in thinking that an epistemological failure (inability to predict) has ontological weight (making everything possible). This, then, is the problem of talk of the future freed from predictability. That is futurology loses its status as science, and attempts to don the robes of a prophetic voice, becoming a teller of stories, of possibilities.

The Return to the Present

Meditations on the future are simply not fruitful, unmoored as the futurology has become from its presumed foundations. Instead it is precisely the present which deserves the attention and intentions. The complexity of possibility can be captured in the simplicity of the present moment. It is through the intensity of the present moment which change can take place. It is in the present moment that new habits are formed, and nature changed.

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Habitum Alteram Naturam – Part 2

Talkin' 'bout the future

Talking about the future has two senses, the first is along the lines of "just talk" as opposed to action. The second sense has talking as a part of bringing the future into being.

The best way to predict the future is to create it. --Peter Drucker

The Monk

There is a story somewhere which talks about a monk who was so devout and discerning that he only spoke the truth. He was never drawn into saying anything that wasn't true. He never speculated, dissembled, or told anything less than what was absolutely correct. Needless to say, he didn't have many opportunities for conversation; people are fond of their illusions. It came to pass that the relation between the speech of the monk and the truth of the world was powerfully entwined. When the monk would talk about the future it would become true.

The Futurologist

The futurologist is something of the opposite of the monk. Most futurologists use what is called scenario planning to try and understand the future. A scenario is a description of a "possible future", in the lexicon of futurology. Good scenarios are vivid and compelling, much like a good story. As the futurologists rely on the notion of possible worlds, it almost statistically impossible for a given scenario to actually come true. The futurologist necessarily lies. Of course the lie is meant to "tell the truth" of the future, much like the famous definition of painting.

The Possible

However, the future doesn't exist in our common sense meaning of the term. The truth that is being told is rather about the possible worlds notion of the future. In possible worlds, the future can be understood as various possibilities, not as an emergent actuality. Possible worlds do not have a clear relationship to an actual, emergent future. Of course there is likely a feedback mechanism between talking about the future (future possibilities) and which possibilities may become more likely through those conversations.

Perception of the Future

Scenario planning in organizations was pioneered in Shell Oil. They credit their planning of scenarios with sensitizing their management to what was happening during the oil embargo in the 1970s. The unrestricted access to oil fields by oil companies was unquestioned at the time. One scenario, though considered unlikely, was that there would be restricted access at less favorable terms by the sovereign nations who controlled the oil fields. Shell was able to adjust their organizatinal strategy (stop building tankers and refineries, switch resources to exploration activities). This approach makes scenario planning and perhaps other methods of futurology as adaptive responses to changing environments. So far so good. This approach understands the future as a changing environment that the organization must adapt to in order to survive and thrive. The world now knows, more clearly than ever before, that the possibilities of the future astound us, even when we know that to be the case. The day before the election, Uri Avnery wrote in the Bangkok Post:

In a world in which a person like Barack Hussein Obama can appear from nowhere and advance within a few years to the highest levels of world politics, nothing is predictable--and therefore everything is possible.

Talking helps Thinking

Talking about the future, in semi-structured approaches such as the futurologists scenarios, helps us think and understand future possible environments. These are fictions that train the mind, much like story problems in algebra class. But how do we take the next step from thinking to action? How can we engage with the real, felt future?

The goal is not to understand the world but to change it. --Karl Marx

End of part 2, part 3 to follow...

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Futurology and Development

Any future must and will actually come from places like Manila and Bangkok. At the very least it will find a home there. The present discourse around futurology is predominantly driven and reflected of the developed world. The future is a developed future along the trajectory of current developed nations. And thereby leaves the most dynamic, diverse, and different futures off of the table. A bit of reflection will reveal how much we know this to be a mistake. * The current future was created by developing countries. In other words, developed nations emerged through development. Development, however, is far from a specific trajectory. * The developed world is largely stagnating in terms of population and economic growth. Of the G7, countries are shrinking in population or encouraging massive migration from the developing world. China is entering this situation as well. The future will come from places such as Brazil, Vietnam, India, Thailand, South Africa, and Indonesia * Greater economic connections between countries is seen as the best way to stabilize and manage risks in the global economic environment. * The developing world resembles the developed world only insofar as it wants to, and only insofar as the viewpoint is from the perspective of the developed world. * Most importantly, looking to the future is about trying to understand change, what will be different. And what will be different, even in the most hegemonic approach, is how things will be different in the integration of developing markets and political systems. The developed countries are shrinking in relative population and power. Why would the future belong only to those aging countries or be made in their image?

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Habitum Alteram Naturam – Part 1

Habit changes nature

Habit and Nature

Some might suggest we are human doing, rather than human being. I believe it was Aristotle who suggested it is what we do that makes us what we are. There is no essential being underneath our actions, per se, but the actions and the beings are concomitant. If so, then what we do right now is of vital importance. Our habit, what we do regularly, is what we are.

Habit and the Future

In some strong sense the future is about change, otherwise it would be as Lao Tze would have it, that if people kept their customs and worshiped the ancestors, he could tell you what life would be like in 10 generations. The point is that people do not keep customs and worship the ancestors as was done in the past. Things change, and even people change. This means that habits can change.

De futuris contingentibus non est determinata veritas. --Aristotle

How Then, Change?

How, then do we change? And is the discourse of change, or of the future, a part of this change? Or can it be a false substitute for taking action? I know I have been as guilty as anyone in terms of talking about the future more than taking the necessary steps to bring it into being.

The Role of the Discourse of Change in Actual Change

Of course it is possible that talking about the future is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for it to come into being. Sort of how we need to talk about change, engender belief in change, before we can have a candidate for change, who then can be elected and actually create change (we hope). End of part 1...