Friday, December 02, 2005

38] Futuristics and Nation-building


We cannot humanize the future until we draw it into our consciousness and probe it with all the intelligence and imagination at our command. This is what we are now beginning to do. Alvin Toffler The Futurists We have shifted paradigms. No longer at a historical juncture nor standing at the banks watching the rapids of technological progress run its course, we have been systematically plunged into an epoch of changing times - for better or for worse.

The information Age-much heralded by those who hold on strong to faith in technological progress - is here. Prewarned of its advent by futurists such as Alvin Toffler, John Naisbitt, Arthur C. Clark, Herman Kahn and Peter Drucker, the age of “change, chaos and complexity”, of “future shock”, of “power shift”, of “managing in turbulent times” and of “becoming an electronically-wired society” signify the highest stage of post-industrial, post-capitalist and post modern society.

Malaysia moved gracefully into first into the industrial stage, then into the post industrial era and culminating into a new rhetoric of nation-building sloganized by the word “Vision 2020”. Across the board, the dimensions of change to be taken are systematically engineered by the political economic elites to steer the nation through the tides of turbulent times.

Radical changes are demanded. Education is to be democratized, intellectualism mobilized, infrastructure corporatized, politics electronically centralized-those nuances are laced with the strengthening of our country’s super structure : information technology. Another phase of Malaysia’s “creative synthesis” has begun. In the most advanced sector of society, Vision 2020 is already a reality.

Whilst, all those megatransformations are taking place in the periphery nation called Malaysia, in United States two important events campaigning for excellence in thinking were concluded, sometime in the middle of 1994.

One is an international conference on critical thinking in Sonoma, California, the other is a gathering of intellectual giants of the World Future Society in Washington D.C. Whilst the former calls upon Amreica to urgently cultivate the skills of thinking critically in order to survive in the sea of intellectual mediocrity, the later envisions a millennium of a positive and sustainable future.

And meanwhile, the Malaysia news media continue to monitor the turbulent changes in society, politics, education, economics, military, international relations and in virtually all aspects of the national questions in its effort to invent and reinvent reality which is sometimes difficult to grasp.

If there is a term to describe the development stated above, it is that of “change, complexity, competition, and chaos”: the 4C’s. Like the 4C’s of the framework for a story-crisis, conflict, climax and conclusion-they permeate the consciousness of the mind of the Malaysian.

At times, the promises of technological progress rings true and at times we are like spirits lost in the gamut of technological jargons and ideological confusion. At times we seem to understand what vision 2020 means but at times we seem to be like deranged minds bombared by unending Pepsi and Diet-Coke commercials.

How do we make sense of all these changes and consciously be part of the national agenda having moving gracefully towards a collective agreement of what Vision 2020 is? What brand of thinking should we adopt to be intellectually prepared against the constant bombardment of ideologies sacred and profance and ultimately to choose the ones closer to our heart’s desire? What dimension of thinking should we adopt in order to select amongst the many currently marketed? Which one would synchronize best with our desire to build a sustainable future? WORLD OF THINKING

Choices abound in the field of thinking. Our psyche is asked to perform the tedious process of selecting the range of diverse styles of thinking and to pay allegiance to an equally diverse range of thinkers. We are told of packaged thinking skills such as Edward de Bono’s “lateral thinking”, Tony Buzan’s “radiant thinking”, or those inspired by readings of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and other brands such as “synectics”, “divergent thinking”, “critical thinking”, and the list goes on and on.

Whilst those are the ones, which are of nature technologically transferred, there are those which, has been with us since the time we are taught the lessons on Universal truth, be it Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity or Islam.

Futurists take historical fact and scientific knowl edge and adds human values and imagination to create images of what may happen in the future .... it is science standing on tiptoes; it is history seeking to look forward instead of back. It is the blend of systematic and creative thinkin and human value which makes this new discipline of social analysis worthy of serious consideration.

The writings of futurist have, for the last few decades becomes valuable source for one to analyze the multitude of changes brought about by the Computer Revolution. Among those prominent one come names such as Alvin Toffler, John Naisbitt, Arthur C. Clark, Peter Drucker, Margaret Mead, Marshall McLuhan, Kenneth Boulding and Joel Arthur Barker. Futuristics consist of thinking and social analysis tools such as time-lines, scenario buildings, Delphi methods, cross impact matrices, tree diagrams and future problem solving skills which proposes to create alternative futures.

Futuristics-natured writings have been used by governments and corporations as sources of reference for high level decision makings. They analyze issue of change in a multi-disciplinary manner and proposes integrative channels of alternative solutions. Amongst the topics analyzed at a supersession of the World Future Society Conference include :

· Meeting Basic Human and Organizational Needs in the 21st Century. · Governance and Participation in the 21st Century. · Cultural and Spiritual Values in the 21st Century. · Health and Environment in the 21st Century. These topics are characteristic of the futurists’concern for the possible action to be taken to manage change in the 21st century. FUTURISTICS AND MALAYSIA CIRCA 2020

If there is a dimension of creative thinking that can be experimented with, consistent with our “Vision 2020” slogan, it is the dimension of futuristics.

If we are to create a citizenry equipped with critical and creative thinking skills and strengthened with a strong moral foundation and a concern for a peaceful and a sustainable future, we must introduce “the study of the future”.

An intelligent society is one which has the skills of anticipateing and designing the future, not one which is forever drowning in the sea of “false consciousness” and not one which is “one dimensional” in its thinking.

Can we create such a society which can visualize and strategicaly plan itself in areas such as personal visioning, education, politics, and social engineering?

How can we train the minds of today to build scenarios twenty-five, fifty, and one hundred years from now so that the “end in mind” can be visuallized and the necessary course of action to be taken will be clear, although countless problems may that cloud that vision?

In my two years of teaching an introductory course in thinking at the Universiti Utara Malaysia, I have experimented with some of the major components of the futuristics such as “scenario building”, “time-lines” and “Delphi methods” which I juxtaposed with techniques in teaching Creative, Critical Thinking and Philosphy.

One of the products of this experiment is the project called “Malaysia 31 August 2020 : A Scenario” in which students work in groups (think-tanks) and envision changes which has happened come 2020. Their writings are grounded in existing realities and the imaginative aspects of it comes in their description of a nation fully developed according to the guidelines sloganized in Vission 2020.


The art of visioning needs the proper tools and techniques for analyzing the future. It demands a dimension of creative thinking and an intellectual desire to be in the future full of with hope. The past, present and the future are a state of mind. It would ever seem fair to say that “there is no past, there is no future... all that exist is an ever changing present.”

Futuristics is a discipline which can become an attractive intellectual exercise in creativity. It is a dimension of creativity suitde for an edge of “change, complexity, and chaos.” Ultimately, we are reminded that “Man proposes, God disposes.” FIGURE 1 Key Evolutionary Markers Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4 hunter gathering groups 500,000 years speech wandering tribes magico-mythic paradigm survival technology subsistence normadic subsistence oldest member words agricultural societies 100,000 years writing communities city-states logico- philosophical paradigm fabricating technology barter cottage industry best farmer graphics industrial society 500 years print nation-states deterministic scientific paradigm machine technology money factory capitalist analogue post-industrial society 50 years cybernetic potential of a global society systemic change paradigm intellectual technology credit/debit electronic village information source digital data Adapted from Systems Design of Education : A Journey to Create the Future, Bela H. Benathy, 1991, Educational Technology Publications, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Used with permission of the publisher.

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AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of nine books on Malaysia and Global Affairs. He grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. Twitter @azlyrahman.