Chapter 12. Visions and Challenges – Priorities for Professionals

Dogmatic Futurist

Another problematic member of our community is the Dogmatic futurist. As with the Scriptural futurist, the Dogmatist believes they have found a set of invariable truths. Unlike the Prosperity futurist, who discovered this truth via simple belief, or the Scriptural futurist, who discovered it by belief in scripture, the Dogmatist found their truth their intellect, via some combination of intuition, belief, reason, argument, and evidence.

We are all guilty of a little dogmatism on occasion, and having a healthy ego and belief in oneself, or in anything is helpful in approaching the future. But dogmatic thinkers also don’t tend to do well in business world, as their insistence on being right, and lack of willingness to consider alternative perspectives tends to drive others away. Unfortunately religious dogmatism is still tolerated in some cultures, but even that is steadily disappearing as our connectedness and access to education grows.

Dogmatics also rarely get the valuable feedback they would need to see and fix their dogmatism. Most reasonable people rightly predict that such rigid thinkers wouldn’t value the feedback anyway, so they withhold it, perpetuating the futurist’s ignorance and dogma, in a vicious cycle. If you notice yourself being dogmatic in your words and thoughts, do your best to use qualifiers in your language and claims, and to acknowledge uncertainties wherever they exist.

We foresight professionals need to help our clients cultivate a deeply rational and scientific view of the world. Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World (1997), Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things (2002) are two insightful texts on the importance of balancing rationality with well-placed belief. We don’t need to neglect our spiritual search. Instead, we need to pare our beliefs to the most adaptive set possible, consonant with our growing evidence and science. Counterintuitively, such careful gardening of our beliefs can make those that remain standing even more deeply meaningful and motivating, as complexity scholar Stuart Kauffman reminds us in his inspiring ode to the reconvergence of science and spirituality, Reinventing the Sacred (2010).

Another tool we can use to help our clients find better beliefs is creative visualization, a set of mental practices that challenge us to imagine well-chosen futures that may be challenging yet are truly reachable from where we are today. Many good sports practitioners use visualization techniques. The key to visualization’s effectiveness is foreseeing achievable outcomes, and tying visualizations to the work the athlete has done to get in range of desirable outcomes. As you hit your visualization targets you revise them upward, continually challenging yourself to reach new, still achievable goals. In this process, evidence-based and critically-evaluated goal selection, thinking, strategy, plans, and actions are as important as belief. So also is humility, a desire to help others, and continual honest self-assessment. See The Champion’s Mind, Afremow (2014) for more.

In sum, we need to be belief- and evidence-balanced, not belief-centric, or we can quickly get into trouble. When our citizens are dogmatic believers, easily swayed and polarized by populist media, our democracy stays weak and underdeveloped. Many of the one percenters in our societies don’t mind that outcome, as it keeps their relative power stronger for longer.

Fortunately, some industrialized societies are much farther along toward evidence-based thinking and self-empowerment than others. In the long run, it seems inevitable that our education systems will be deeply aided by emerging web intelligence, which may have nobler motivations than our plutocratic leaders. Whether we put our children on a more rational footing before our accelerating machine intelligences do it for us, to protect us from ourselves, may be our major ethical choice in the remaining generations of human-dominated politics, however few those may be.