In my talk ‘Global Weirding & Deep Adaptation‘ I played with the suggestion that there is a wider spectrum of adaptive options for envisioning the future than what can be gleaned from the two most popular clusters of tropes, which we can loosely label ‘techno-utopian’ and ‘neo-primitivist,’ respectively. Instead I argued for fleshing out deeper strains of pragmatism that might attempt to salvage from the past and present to construct context dependent, negotiated, hybrid futures.
In a blog post for The Learning Planet, Bridget McKenzie offers a parallel suggestion to would-be futurists via 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 this hits on a crucial insight : the benefits of cultivating the capacity to remain open and agile as a meta-adaptive strategy. A possitopian orientation is foundational those of us seeking to salvage the future because it helps us develop more flexible dispositions, toolkits, and imaginaries capable of refusing capture by any particular ideological or theological vision of what the future holds. As ecological and social systems continue to break down, unevenly distributed collapses will place extraordinary demands upon us may that may be surprising and of different intensities at different scales of impact. Adopting a possitopian attitude allows people to remain radically open to such surprises and more readily scan their immediate horizons for opportunities for significant interventions and rapid transitions. This kind of open anticipatory awareness can also prime people for ideas and strategies that might seem strange or inappropriate given our previous reinforced frames of reference and evaluation of how best to exist together, but may now be adaptive given current 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
And it is only in the collaborative weavings in place, and among our family, friends and neighbors that we are going to be able to weather the many storms and ultimately bring forth healthier alternatives.