Mar 1, 2022

Terranascient Futures Studies & Foresight

Posted by in categories: education, futurism

The importance of learning, unlearning, and relearning the wisdom in foresight

By Alexandra Whittington and Teresa Inés Cruz

Futurist Alvin Toffler famously said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” It is time for the foresight community to take Toffler’s sage advice, starting with one basic assumption of the Western futurist perspective that dates back to the Victorians: progress.

The concepts of learning, unlearning, and relearning belong in every futurist’s repertoire in the sense that we need to learn our bias for progress, unlearn its primacy as a societal objective, and relearn that the human condition is best served by achieving homeostasis–steady equilibrium. Homeostasis can be relearned because it’s inherent to worldviews within many indigenous and ancient societies, including the Law of Origin, which instructs people that living in balance with nature must be the driving force behind our decisions.

For Indigenous peoples in the Andean-Amazonian region in South America, living according to the principles of “Buen Vivir” translated as “good living,” is a worldview and an ancestral foundation based on living in harmony. Similar to the concept of Ubuntu, “I am, because you are” from South Africa, Buen Vivir places critical importance on collective wellbeing and living in harmony with the wider community, Nature, non-humans, ancestors and cosmological networks.

According to Eduardo Gudynas, Uruguayan Director and Senior researcher at the Latin American Centre for Social Ecology (CLAES), “Buen Vivir is a new paradigm of social and ecological commons — one that is community-centric, ecologically balanced and culturally sensitive. It’s a vision and a platform for thinking and practicing alternative futures based on a “bio-civilization.”

“Terranascient” coined by Australian environmental philosopher Glenn A. Albrecht captures the essence of this new paradigm. Terranascient refers to the ‘life-affirming’ emotions that are inherent in being caretakers of the planet. Emotions including “an ethic of love, care and responsibility” as described by Albrecht. The philosophy of terranascient has inspired us to consider a new vision for the field of Futures Studies & Foresight.

Re-imagining Futures Studies & Foresight

Today on World Future Day, we propose a new approach to learning, unlearning, and relearning for practitioners of Futures Studies & Foresight. We could be called to integrate with what author Terry Patten calls “intimate” holistic activism, in our relationships and conversations.

As we move towards a precipice of life destroying planetary and human limitations, we are proposing a shift in our approach to creating future scenarios by transitioning from dominant colonized structures of process and output and turn towards an awakened sense where we imagine new possibilities for our future ancestors and engage in nature-based and Indigenous sensemaking.

Dr. Laura Harjo, Mvskoke scholar and author of Spiral to the Stars — Mvskoke Tools for Futurity, describes Indigenous futurity as a return to our true nature and “thinking forward of how to produce knowledge for future relatives.”

Our western ways of knowing focus on an us-versus-them approach that follows logical processes, frameworks, and methodologies with a linear outcome whereas Indigenous and ancestral cultures are non-linear, intuitive, sensorial, reciprocal and actively explore ‘unactivated possibilities’ for future ancestors. Developing new ways of knowing and being will require entering a new cycle of humanity where the most important challenges that lay before us are not just technical, socio-economic, environmental, and political, but human challenges that will inspire us to reframe a new human narrative.

There are three themes that stand out in terms of the need for a new perspective in futures studies and foresight that shift away from the dominant futuristic sci-fi scenarios with visions of colonizing Mars and moving towards co-generating ways to regenerate and revitalize our planet for our future ancestors.

Sustainability & Re-generativity

The first theme is sustainability and re-generativity. Having reached several thresholds for ecological stability, we are at a “do or die” juncture in terms of sustaining life on earth. This is a clear red flag that the dominant model of conducting foresight will not suffice in building new worlds that “embody deeper and more dynamic interactions, relationships, friendships, families, organizations, communities, alliances, and collectives of all kinds. Our species is learning new, important lessons about our responsibility to come together to care for our human future, even as evolution presents us with new survival challenges.” (Patten, Terry. A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries, Berkeley, North Atlantic Books.)

According to the United Nations Indigenous people make up less than 5% of the world’s population but protect 80% of global biodiversity. They are guardians and knowledge keepers and play a key role in safeguarding territories and showing us the importance of not being citizens but as caretakers of a social fabric, a type of “deep ancient coding that connects us to the past, to our ancestors, and to everything we share the planet with” as described by Robert Macfarlane, British writer and Fellow of Emmanuel College who is best known for his books on landscape, nature, place, people and language.

“Many people today lack an understanding of our reliance on Earth, its vast biodiversity and ingenious, brilliantly designed systems that have evolved over millions of years to support life. We have a lot to learn from those who do understand the symbiotic relationship between humans and the earth. We can’t protect the planet without the traditional knowledge and sustainable agriculture practices of Indigenous peoples living in these areas,” says Justin Winters, executive director of One Earth, a philanthropic climate change initiative.

Indigenous peoples encompass a respect and responsibility for the biological wholeness of the Earth and all its species. As beautifully stated in the book The Archipelago of Hope: Wisdom and Resilience from the Edge of Climate Change by Gleb Raygorodetsky, “Their worldviews, values, cultures, and cosmology are intricately linked with the ways they relate to the environment, and with their past, present, and future, the living and the nonliving, and the sight and unseen.”

Diversity and Inclusion

The second theme is diversity and inclusion. Futurism has promoted primarily white, male voices for nearly a century and has become a self-limiting element in the world of foresight that quashes competing visions that challenge the status quo. Diversity and Inclusion needs to incorporate not only different knowledge systems including Indigenous worldviews based on collective intelligence, but it also needs to integrate a new range of contributors of different geographies and ages.

In Indigenous cultures, everyone has a place in their community regardless of age and experience and they see themselves first as collective groups of kin, then as individuals. We live in a mostly fragmented society where the young are prized for their youth and more experienced members of the working force are abruptly pushed to the side once society deems that they have reached peak maturity.

In Bill Plotkin’s book Nature and the Human Soul, he describes “The way we find and then occupy our ultimate place is through an ongoing conversation with the world in which we grow gradually clearer about what that place is. One life you can call your own. A life in this sense is your way of being in the world — your place in the world. To be living that larger story is to be a particular character in a web of relationships and meaning, to have a particular place in the story we call the world.”

What if we were to view diversity and inclusion through the lens of human development through the lens of “abilities, knowledge and values” as described by author Bill Plotkin rather than on age, socio-economic status, geography or privilege so common in an egocentric, westernized world?

A Movement of Hope for the Future

The third theme concerns building a movement of hope for the future. The futurists of the world struggle to convey positive and optimistic scenarios that encourage humane action. Too much of the foresight profession is concerned with generating profits at the expense of worldwide mental and biological health. To move past the dark shadows of existential threats such as COVID-19, climate crises, and economic inequality, futurists must embrace an obligation to insist that things can get better.

Instead of living in fear and generating apocalyptic, dark futures can we begin to turn towards futures of living in beauty?

Of seeing the beauty in humanity, in possibilities of creating new ways of knowing and imagining new social, economic, cultural, and human systems.

In the book Active Hope, environmental activist, author, and scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology, Joanna Macy emphasizes that, “Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for. Active Hope is a practice. It points us toward a way of life that enriches rather than depletes our world.”

Where do we start, how can we start to shift our mindset, our worldviews?

Over the next few months, we will be diving deeper and building upon the three themes that we are proposing to our fellow Futures Studies & Foresight colleagues and global practitioners. It’s an act of activism, action, and a desire to start a new safe space and exchange dialogue where we can begin to expand our approaches to developing a new approach to Futures Studies & Foresight that is rooted in multiple ways of knowing.

During the next week, begin to ask yourself and consider the following:

  • What does it mean to be human? For some it may seem simplistic but at the heart of shifting our mindset we need to understand our individual and collective role in humanity.
  • How can you awaken your senses –in ways that diverge from your dominant ways of knowing, being, and seeing?

We leave you with a little nourishment for the mind and soul:

“When was the last time you heard the dawn chorus? I don’t mean when was the last time you happened to be awake after leaving a window open. I mean when was the last time you deliberately woke up before dawn sometimes between February and early June and went outside just before sunrise, simply to listen.”

From What is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want, Rob Hopkins

Connect with us next month as we dive deeper into Theme 1:

Sustainability & Re-generativity

Until next time, take care of one another.

About Us

Alexandra Whittington is an educator, writer, and researcher who has earned recognition as one of the world’s top women futurists (Forbes). She is a lecturer at the University of Houston, where her students describe her as “passionate” about the future. Her courses explore the impact of technology on society and the future of human ecosystems. She has published dozens of articles exploring diverse aspects of the future, often from a feminist perspective.

Teresa Inés Cruz is a Colombian American researcher, designer, futurist, and social entrepreneur who works at the intersection of Social Innovation, Indigenous Knowledge Systems (Andean-Amazonian), and Deep Ecology. She is the founder of Mama Pacha, a Latin American think tank based in Cartagena, Colombia with global reach. Through her work Teresa champions ecological and societal systemic change through the lens of collective/participatory futures thinking, ancestral belief systems and re-imagining our role with nature-based worldviews.

Design by Teresa Inés Cruz

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