Scanning Retrospective, No. 21

Foresight Snippets – No. 21

[Originally published] February 2002

  • The History of Utopian Thought
  • The Image of the Future
  • The Principality of New Utopia
  • This is probably the final email issue of the Foresight Snippets

The History of Utopian Thought

Recent issues of the Snippets have been somewhat serious and a bit gloomy; it is difficult to be optimistic about our world given the events of the recent past. The dissatisfaction which human beings have always felt concerning the human condition has led people throughout history to imagine “perfect” societies where there is no disease, disorder, crime, poverty, hatred or injustice — in short, a “utopia” (which literally means “no place”), named after the imaginary perfect island in Thomas More’s book of the same name. Of course, the problem is that one person’s Utopia may be another person’s Dystopia (“bad place”) — Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four are classic dystopias. There is a long history of utopian thought, extending back at least to Plato and The Republic. The links below provide a starting point to explore the utopian literature.

Further Reading: Brooks Spencer essay at Oregon State University
Utopia web links at Yahoo!

The Image of the Future

There is a whole sub-culture of utopian thinking in human society. Futurists sometimes make use of this in the course of their work. People who are concerned with what could happen (“possible” futures) are often visionary in their outlook. Many of these people are also concerned with what should happen (“preferable” futures) and have tried to imagine and even design such perfect societies. There is great value in examining ideas about utopias (and dystopias) to help open out our own thinking about the future — both about desirable futures we want to bring about, and about undesirable futures we want to avoid. Images of the future are very powerful in shaping the way societies create their social order. As Fred Polak wrote in his book The Image of the Future:

Any student of the rise and fall of cultures cannot fail to be impressed by the role played in this historical succession by the image of the future. The rise and fall of images precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as a society’s image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive.

Consider this observation in the light of the dystopian images in recent big-budget films. Thus, it behooves us to try to create positive images of the future; our very future may depend on it.

Source: Polak, Frederick L. (1961), The Image of the Future, trans. Elise Boulding, 2 vols (Leyden/New York: Oceana).

The Principality of New Utopia

Utopias are not necessarily only found in literature, either. The Principality of New Utopia is a proposed new nation planned to be constructed on raised foundations atop a sub-oceanic mountain just beneath the surface of the Caribbean Sea. The basic principles of New Utopia are those of completely laissez faire capitalism, and it is obviously destined to be a tax haven; the only form of tax will be a flat-rate import excise. As such, it is clearly modelled on such tax havens as Monaco and Bermuda. The political structure will be a constitutional monarchy (like Australia is currently) under the reign of a monarch, Prince Lazarus (I’m not making this up); however, in New Utopia, there will be no politicians, only a board of governors with an almost completely hands-off approach. One of the main priorities for New Utopia is a cutting-edge medical facility with a specialist Anti-Aging clinic. There is even a Consulate for Australia and the Pacific. So, is this another Internet scam? I’m not sure. But it is surely a grand old bit of loopiness, whether it is true or not! 🙂 I’m looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.

Sources: The New Utopia web site
Australian and Pacific Consulate for The Principality of New Utopia

This is probably the final email issue of the Foresight Snippets

After 21 issues of the Foresight Snippets sent out via email, the Snippets have “come of age”. And the time has also come to move with the times. As we are fond of saying here in the Foresight and Planning Unit (FPU): “things change.” As many of you would be aware, one of the changes in the air is that the FPU is being merged with the Information and Statistics Office and the Office for Quality Education, to create a new corporate services department of Foresight, Planning & Review (FPR). One likely outcome of this re-organisation is that the Snippets will no longer be sent out over Official email — the new department will probably consolidate its delivery of foresight-related information to the broader Swinburne community into a single source, namely, the Foresight Bulletin, prospect. prospect is also likely to undergo changes in content and timing, the details of which are unclear at this stage, but it will continue to be available as a PDF file downloadable from the department web site (with new issues announced by Official mail, as before). Stay tuned for more details.

Cheers, thanks for your support and interest, and I hope to see you in prospect.
Dr Joseph Voros, February 2002.

Foresight Snippets are interesting, intriguing or weird things we find during our strategic scanning which may or may not have direct obvious relevance to Swinburne, but which do provide signals about what the future might be like. Brought to you by the Foresight & Planning Unit.

An archive of the Foresight Snippets and a list of Frequently Asked Questions are available at [deleted].

Copyright © 2002 FPU and Swinburne University of Technology.
Feedback is welcome. Send feedback to [deleted].

NOTE: In all the posts in this series, the original source URLs are left exactly as they were when published 20-odd years ago. This means they will almost certainly be dead links (or good ol’ 404 errors). I do not have the patience or inclination to follow-up or find any archived or re-located versions of those web pages (because, well, life is too short). But, if it really bugs you, I invite you to see if you can find archived or relocated versions of those dead-link pages. And if you do, let me know, and I’ll update these posts with due credit to your detective work.

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