In ‘Global Weirding & Deep Adaptation‘ I played with the suggestion that there is a wider spectrum of options for envisioning the future than what can be gleaned from two of the most popular clusters of tropes, which I loosely labeled ‘techno-utopian’ and ‘neo-primitivist,’ respectively. With this, I argued for a fleshing out of different strains of pragmatism that might attempt to salvage from the past and present to construct novel, context dependent, and negotiated hybrid futures.
In a recent blog post for The Learning Planet, Bridget McKenzie offered a complementary narrative for would-be futurists via what she calls a “possitopian” approach that refuses to privilege either utopian or dystopian imaginaries. Instead, McKenzie urges, people need to remain open to the myriad of possibilities where both positive and negative outcomes and situations combine and co-exist to shape an unknown immediate future.
“Being Possitopian means both facing the worst and imagining the best, in ways that are both much more rational and critical, and much more creative and open-minded. And also, it means anticipating the future much more frequently, in many more situations and permutations, involving a greater diversity of people. Managing the risks of the planetary emergency is not about working out the best response to the most likely outcome, it is about determining the best response to the full distribution of possible outcomes.”— Bridget McKenzie
I think Bridget hits on a crucial insight: the benefits of cultivating the capacity to remain open and agile in both our thinking and attitudes as a meta-adaptive strategy. A possitopian orientations could be essential for those of us seeking to salvage the future because it helps develop more flexible dispositions, toolkits, and imaginaries capable of escaping capture by any particular ideological or theological vision of what the future holds.
To be sure, as ecological and social systems continue to break down, unevenly distributed collapses will place extraordinary demands upon people that will no doubt be surprising and of different intensities at multiple scales of impact. Adopting a possitopian attitude might allows people to remain sufficiently open to such surprises and thus more readily able to scan their immediate horizons for practical opportunities, important interventions and rapid transitions. This kind of open anticipatory awareness can also prime folks for ideas and strategies that might have seemed strange or inappropriate within previous reinforced frames of reference and evaluating, but may now be adaptive given changed circumstances.
More from the article:
“The Possitopian approach to future thinking expands the cone of the possible future, draws on geophysical realities and data, and also applies imagination to help you imagine future scenarios which are potentially worse or better than you might allow yourself to think.”
“Possitopian thinking maybe offers a field rather than a path. It helps you resist predefined or hackneyed visions. We already know images of dystopia and utopian from movies and advertising. There may well be utopian and dystopian patterns which form out of cultural tropes (e.g. tech will save us) and psychological states.”— Bridget McKenzie
“Possitopian approaches don’t try to create a third trope but to overcome fixed, limited and binary ways of thinking. Many people might flip from dystopian to utopian visions – drawing on what culture has offered them – depending on their feelings at any moment. Possitopian practice allows us to imagine new possibilities by talking and weaving together rather than flipping helplessly.”— Bridget McKenzie
I reckon that it is primarily through a genuine tarrying with the possible that flexible enough deliberation and collaborative can occur — in place and among our family, friends and neighbors — to be able to weather the many storms fast approaching from just over the horizon. It’s not “hope,” but courage in light of the possible that will ultimately allow people to work together and bring forth creative alternatives for the future.