I remember reading a YA novel (avant le nom), set in Bronze Age Crete. A sage has somehow managed to predict a catastrophic earthquake, and is granted an audience at the Royal court, bringing the protagonist with him. As he describes the coming catastrophe, the courtiers nod appreciatively at the performance. I can still remember the crucial dialogue almost verbatim, although nothing else about the book. After the sage stops speaking, it goes something like this

King: Unless?

Sage: I don't understand, your Majesty

King: Come, come, there is always an "unless" in these matters. Sacrifice to the gods, cross your palm with silver, that kind of thing. I'm always happy to pay

Sage: No your Majesty, your city and palace will be destroyed. Your only hope is to flee to higher ground

King: Guards! Take this lunatic and throw him in the dungeon.

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This post strikes me as particularly insightful. We need to see the elements/motivations that go into “futurism” to understand why we are even having these conversations.

And I am going to start going around saying “the future is a marketing tool.” I like that.

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Nicely done. You won't be surprised to hear I immediately equate "load-bearing futures" to William James's notion of the "cash value" of an idea. As you say, distinguishing between the warnings from Cassandras and Doomers boils down to carefully considering (by testing empirically over time) the consequences of their predictions. Technological pragmatism, indeed. This post also has me pulling Kenneth Burke off the shelf and thinking about your genres of futurism in relation to his idea of "frames of acceptance" outlined in Attitudes Toward History.

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Didn’t like Stross”s article and tbh it didn’t do him any favours. Written plenty in the last few weeks about the state of the profession.


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"But the particular flavor of futurism that was popularized and promoted in Silicon Valley circles ... has a deep cultural legacy dating back to the 60s Bay area counterculture": And even farther back to what I call Eisenhower/Kennedy-era American techno-optimism, of which some people were appropriately skeptical well before Wired and the 90s. For example, here's Donald Fagen in 1982:

A just machine to make big decisions

Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision

We'll be clean when their work is done

We'll be eternally free, yes, and eternally young

Oooo ...

As usual with Fagen, the song is suffused with sardonic humor. Its title is "IGY", which probably struck many people as cryptic, but I understood it immediately, because I'd written a school report about the International Geophysical Year. That happened before I was born, but I'm just old enough to remember the moon landings and the feeling that a big, beautiful, technological future awaited us. By the 80s, if not sooner, it was already evident that the future wouldn't be much like that. So the futurism of Wired and its ilk in the 90s was already something of an attempted resurrection, albeit less NASA and more Apple.

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Love this. Great David Brower quote, too!

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Excellent analysis. I think there's a strong case that, over the quite long term (say 200-300 years), the predictions of Cassandra's, Doomers, and Pragmatic Optimists converge-but at that time, people just shrug and get along with their lives. i.e. it's more likely than not than in 2300 world population will be much lower than at present, global warming will have stabilized, though at ~2.0 C. above pre-industrial temperature, and people will have settled in to living in the liveable parts of the world and not so much living in the less liveable parts. Also people will start having kids more regularly. The question(s) is how we get there.

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Hmm. Between the optimists and the pessimists, I guess I am missing the realists. There is something askew in a division where both utopians and dystopians are treated differently (you mark one as more 'pragmatic') when fundamentally, they do more or less the same (assumptions), just in a different direction.

Another useful division from my practice in the world of organisation strategy has been "forecasting" (where is this going), "backcasting (this is where we want to be, how do we get there?), and "scenario planning" (better called 'uncertainty planning': what uncertainties are there and how do these result in different outcome worlds?). Good strategy requires all three.

This is something I should think more about. Thank you.

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The saddest part of the Ray Bradbury interview, because it should have come true: “Somewhere in a third-grade class there is a 9-year-old who will be walking on Mars in 2020. How should we prepare that kid?”.

This is worth holding onto though: “What myths should we share?

Space travel is our final, greatest dream. If we can reach the nearest solar system, then we can live for an extra million years.”

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