Who can see the future? Gypsy fortunetellers? Gamblers? Pundits? CIA analysts?
Based on some futurology theoretical work by Dutch scholar Fred Polack, Dartmouth sociologist Elise Boulding created a process she called Imaging a World Without Weapons. Elise was a Norwegian Quaker who married a British peace economist, Kenneth Boulding, and devoted her life to reframing scholarship toward positive peace, that is, peace and justice by peaceable means.
women's history and a serious study of the power of civil society and community. She was a leader nationally and internationally of many peace groups and peace academic organizations, including the one I've been involved with for some years, the International Peace Research Association. She and Kenneth started a scholarship fund with the IPRA Foundation to help bring peace intellectuals from the global south to our conferences.
In short, her life was amazing, and just one smallish piece of it, the imaging workshops, is quite intriguing and quite underutilized. I had an opportunity some 28 years ago to attend a week-long version conducted by her protege, Warren Zeigler, at the Fellowship of Reconciliation Stonybrook Retreat Center outside Nyack, New York. I've conducted some of Boulding's-style workshops over the years.
The essence of the workshop is to put yourself into a mental place of creating images of a future that you desire. Pick a year, say, 2033 (20 years out), and image yourself in a world without weapons, a world which has given up the idea that it's permissible to use violence. My friend, the late Jeanne Larson, who was also in our 1985 workshop, created some great imagery of her sitting at her desk, and the lamp that she was using was made from metal from recycled weapons. The bulb was so efficient it used little electricity to produce good light, and all the electricity came from solar and wind generators. These are the sorts of sharp details that give life to a nascent vision.
Organizationally, it's best to synthesize all the individual visions and agree that the complex compound vision is desirable.
The next step is to create a future's history. If our world exists in 2033--let's say the vision includes the fact that it's been three years since the last reported incidence of actual war--then what conditions would have needed to exist in 2030? And if those conditions existed in 2030, what would need to be in existence by 2025? Describing the stages working backwards and coming up with a future's history that is logical is to transform a fantasy into a vision, giving a line of sight to a future where you and your peace and justice people have created a beachhead in the future. And, if you have done a good job in synthesizing and consensing upon your future's history, you have the scaffolding of a strategic plan.
Warmakers and robber barons, dictators and war profiteers already have their nightmarish visions and their strategic plans, and even inked contracts to reify them. If we want another world, we will create an alternative vision of the future and start making it happen.