Future Studies or Strategic Foresight is a professional field that studies, analyses and predicts the future, to enable and empower the recieving stakeholders of those predictions to better plan, strategise and prepare for the time ahead. This regardless as to whether those stakeholders are governments, political organisations, social movements, educators, business decision makers, military strategists, inventors, scientists or communities.
The Vulnerability to Cooptation
Being as complex a field as Future Studies is, it highly is vulnerable to cooptation for various purposes or vested interests, and not without substantial detrimental consequences.
The purposes or vested interests for which persons, parties, movements or organisations may wish to coopt the field or profession of Future Studies could vary vastly. Yet, it is apparently common knowledge, that as the field has to do with the future, the core reasons would be around aims and objectives of attempting to manipulate, bend, influence or coopt the future in the favour of or towards favourable outcomes for, the parties engaging in the cooptation.
To illustrate the common underlying motive for cooptating Future Studies, consider the metaphor that, the past holds the secrets, the present is transitional and the future holds promises. And it is for the perceived promises that the future holds, mankind has always attempted to alter the future; whether with positive intentions at times, or with negative at others.
The difficulty in protecting Future Studies from cooptation is its necessarily indispensible fluid parameters, definition, scope and dynamics. Without the fluidity, Future Studies cannot effectively be engaged in, and can serve no purpose. Unfortunately, that same fluidity is a bane.
The Meaning of Cooptation
Cooptation by origin is a political strategy, where one party neutralises or pre-empts an opposition, by assimilating or absorbing the members of the opposing party, into it’s own ranks.
Cooptation through history has been adopted widely outside or beyond the spheres of politics where it first emerged as a strategy, including by corporations, religious groups, societies, cults and other movements including trade or professional, to neutralise any opposition or threat to their positions, by assimilating or taking over the causes, stands, arguments or objectives of opposing forces or elements, as their own.
For example, a corporation engaging in environmentally destructive activity, coopts environmentalists’ opposition against it, by coopting their environmental concerns and executing a communications strategy positioning or branding itself as an organisation concerned with the state of the environment.
Cooptation for vested interests is nothing new. Historically, religious bodies or spiritual schools of thought or divinatory orders have been coopted by individuals or groups to gain and maintain power or control over others. Politics, political movements or political parties which origination the cooptation startegy have ironically been coopted for economic or capital gains of others. Law or judicial systems have been coopted to oppress and supress peoples or nations, particularly in the colonial eras. The media has long been coopted in modern times for both political or economic leveraging, and it is still being coopted today. Even history at various points has been coopted to hide various truths or to misguide the masses.
No subject matter or profession however, including legal or political or journalistic, has been as enticing, as a target for cooptation, as Future Studies, because all other fields coopted have been in relation to controlling either the past or the present. This whereas Future Studies, inspires aspirations to control the future, before it occurs, creating a perception of greater power & influence therefore.
The Various Parties Coopting Future Studies
Future Studies is being coopted by a wide variety of people or groups for an array of interests. This includes political organisations or movements in hope to manipulate minds of the populace in which they may position themselves as the ideal choice of suffrage, so as to attain power and maintain it. It also includes hate groups such as religious extremists, fascists or race supremacists who wish to coopt Future Studies to enable the entrenchment of ideals, sense or imagery or perceptions of superiority and to position themselves into dominance.
Others engaging in efforts to coopt Future Studies are cult groups that hope to mainstream their organisations, activities or operations, beliefs and themselves as religious groups or bodies. Amoralists or counter-culturalists who hope for mainstreaming from current fringe positions of their desired lifestyles or opinions are a formidable group attempting to alter or inverse the social definitions or standards of morality, tolerance and acceptance through the cooptation of Future Studies.
Then there are the business groups or factions that hope to deter change, preserve status quo, preserve their industries, trades, markets, products, businesses or positions and enlarge their market shares by coopting Future Studies to influence perceptions or ideas of the future in their favour or suited to their needs. This is a group that particularly tries very hard to deter, prevent or obstruct any change, innovation or movement in a direction which could disrupt their profits or ambitions.
These are just examples of people or groups attempting to or engaging in cooptation of the professional field. Basically, the array of coopting parties range very broadly.
The Various Means Employed for Cooptation of Future Studies
There are various methods and means of cooptation that are being employed. One is the creation or setting up, and then subsequent promotion of, front organisations such as companies, clubs, movements, societies and associations posing as bodies or groups engaging or dealing in Future Studies or Strategic Foresight, veiling the original or real agendas of the persons behind the organisations or persons who have hired or engaged the persons behind the organisations. These front organisations would include, but would not be limited to, social media groups, websites, miscellanous online portals, meetup groups, state registered bodies, fraternities and so on. The modus operandi is simple; to pass off agendas and activities of the coopting bodies as the supposed right, ideal or necessary ways or courses towards the future.
Another method of cooptation is the infiltration of existing professional bodies or organisations that genuinely engage in or deal with Future Studies or Strategic Foresight. Upon infiltration, the objectives, activities and operations of these bodies or organisations are gradually & systematically sabotaged, manipulated, hijacked, twisted and influenced to serve the intentions of the coopting parties.
The most powerful means of cooptation is through the use or abuse, whichever is more feasible or necessary, of power or influence that parties wanting to coopt Future Studies are in possession of, where favourable or manipulated or engineered or even fabricated foresight can be disseminated, endorsed or promoted, to serve a self-interest or hidden agenda. Regulations, rules or conditions can be created by individuals in positions of power or authority to control & manipulate output of Future Studies or Strategic Foresight to ensure it serves vested interests.
Another powerful means of cooptation is through supposed education or study of Future Studies, where companies or bodies or a group of people promote, organise and conduct courses or certification for Futurists or aspiring Futurists, which entail conformity or compliance to a methodology or a line of thought biased towards the interests of a coopting party, intended to help shape a future aspired to by that party. This is a subliminal control method, which Futurists or aspiring Futures themselves fail to identify when absorbed.
The Threat of Coopted Future Studies
Cooptation of Future Studies or Strategic foresight, as with the cooptation of religious bodies, law and political domains in the past, is not without repurcussions. If Future Studies is coopted, it is certainly with the intention influence what it produces; the vision of the future, likely scenarios in time to come and predictions. If these products of Future Studies or Foresight are coopted, because the profession or professionals behind them have been coopted and manipulated, they will not be accurate or genuine or entirely true. This possess a serious problem; misguided vision.
It was the misguided vision of the Third Reich, concocted by Hitler and the Nazis, that lead the German people to allow the fascists into power, which eventually lead to the bloodiest war in modern world history. It was a misguided vision of the financial or property future in one country, that lead to the sub-prime crisis, further leading to a global recessionary crisis in our recent history. These are just small examples.
Misguided vision is a very dangerous force that human society needs to be vigilant against, constantly. When the very source of long-term vision, the Futurist or Foresight profession, is coopted, hijacked and manipulated, one can imagine the consequences given the simple examples offered herein.
As damaging as misguided vision, is the distrust for vision, where human society distrusts or does not consider as reliable, the Future Studies profession, dismissing the genuine or accurate output of possibilities, scenarios and forecasts it is capable of offering, and therefore venturing into the future ill-prepared or missing massive opportunities along the way.
The threat is considerable and formidable. The threat is real, and one that genuine Futurists need, for purposes of ethics, social responsibility and professionalism, to be vigilant against.