What everything isn’t

We know shit.

I mean, in respect to the Everything that surrounds us, and the culture in which we are pickled from start to finish, what we know rounds to nothing and is, with the provisional exception of the subjects and people we study and love, incomplete and therefore somewhere between questionable and wrong.

But we can’t operate in the present without some regard for the future, which brings me to a comparison of futurist related ideologies, from H+pedia, which was new to me when I saw this in a post to a list I’m on:


Here is my reply to the same list:

Must we all be “ists?”

I mean, is a historian a “pastist?”

I’m into making the future better than the present by understanding everything I can. Most of what I can understand is located in the past, but I’ve only lived through a few dozen years of that, and none of the future. So I tend to be focused on enlarging the little I know, with full awe and respect for what I don’t, and never will.

Hey, we all do our best.

A shrink I know says nearly everything mentally productive about us owes to OCD: obsessive compulsive disorder. Same goes for nearly all our problems. Name one of either, and there’s a good chance OCD is at work there.

Just passing that along. Not sure it’s a learning, but as provisional wisdom it doesn’t fully suck.

And maybe that’s the best we can do.

Whch is also, by the way, roughly what I got from The End of the Tour, which I watched on a friend’s home screen a couple nights ago. Here’s a good essay about it by Stephen Marche (@StephenMarche) in Esquire.


  1. Joseph Ratliff’s avatar

    But we sure do think highly of ourselves, don’t we Doc?

    I LOVED this part “Must we all be -ists?”

    We love to label everything, including groups of people, so we can put it all into a nice, little, simple box we call “life.”

    And that wouldn’t be so bad in and of itself, because we’re hardwired to do it. Heuristics and all that.

    But then, the rest of our “human nature” shines through…

    We want to be “first” … “best” … “recognized” … etc… and we want excess, when we find efficiency we use that efficiency up etc…

    All of that, at the expense of our lives.

    As Eric Hoffer put it (In Between the Devil and the Dragon) … the process of evolution left us incomplete, and spend the rest of our lives completing ourselves, sometimes at any cost.

  2. Josh Bernoff’s avatar

    I once had the misfortune to have to give a speech directly after a “futurist.” Said futurist had left everyone in the room a little dazed with all the futures he was spinning out. I was concerned about how I would follow that. So here is what I said:

    “It’s great to hear from a futurist. I’m a little different. I’m a presentist. I will tell you what’s happening now, what that will lead to in the near future, and what you should do about it.”

    The glazed looks disappeared and the notebooks came out.

    If I’m going to be an “ist” I’ll be in a category I make up, I guess.

  3. Jon Lebkowsky’s avatar

    Being a “futurist” or “futurologist” is an actual thing. Some people are trained and work hard within this discipline. I’ve worked with futurists before, and appreciate the discipline required and the years of hard work necessary to understand trending and relevance, to be able to make an assessment of practical futures and present options to clients, which often include large corporations. I frankly think it’s insulting to dismiss a profession that you’re unfamiliar with, just because you don’t quite get it. But part of the problem is that so many folks self-label as “futurist” without study and without learning or evolving a methodologist, i.e. they aren’t really professional futurists and can create confusion about the profession. I’ve been called a “futurist” from time to time, but I refute that title, because I haven’t done the hard work to get there – just because I think about the future and might have a vision for it doesn’t make me a professional futurist.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Apologies, Jon. I didn’t mean to be dismissive. In fact I’m quite fond of the futurists John & Doris Naisbitt, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Paul Saffo and others. In The Intention Economy I source Jon Naisbitt and Alvin Toffler, and point out how right, in retrospect, their predictions in the ’80s proved out. Like you, I have sometimes been called a futurist as well, and dismiss the claim in deference to those (such as the above) who put in the work and deliver the goods.

    Mostly I was poking fun with too straight a face at the graphic there, and bringing up reasons life gives all of us to be humble.

    Here’s the Wikipedia article on the subject.

  5. Jon Lebkowsky’s avatar

    Got it… I think that graphic does invite a poke; I have issues with it (e.g. “Health 2.0” is not really aligned with “life extension” or “futurism,” though some proponents might be future focused. And I think they’re using the wrong term, futurism, though I use it, too. Futurism was an aesthetic and cultural movement in Italy. Futurology is a better term for what they’re describing, but I suppose that word “futurism” rolls trippingly off the tongue… A semantic rabbit hole, I suppose.

  6. Bob Jacobson’s avatar

    I remember taking my field exam — the prelude to writing one’s thesis — at UCLA’s then No. 1 in the nation planning program, a part of the now-disbanded (too politically hot) Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning (GSAUP). It was my option rather than take the more standard exams. But what to write about, given infinite degrees of freedom?

    My Taoist (and for that matter, Jewish) forebears were wanderers, learning something of value here, then traveling and sharing it over there, repeating the process over and over again. I decided to depict in prose (regrettably lost to passing decades) the life of the typical future planner-sage, a mendicant rather than a professional rooted in an institution, a place, or pervasive conservatism. Such a life would be a risky business: you might not learn anything valuable; you might travel to the wrong destination (a resistant one), even though toting relevant lessons; other planner-sages may already occupy the region’s lesson-dispensing stalls; an orthodoxy chases you out of town; or worst of all, you might not be able to travel in the first place, given all the crises becoming imminent.

    Nevertheless, this is the life I have crafted — or rather, fallen into — over my lifetime. I respect the past, consider the future, act in the present. I travel a lot, not just for business but to actually relocate myself in different places and cultures. I’ve worked on public policy, technology, social innovation, regional innovation platforms, as a titled futurist (I agree with Josh, in practice, we’re all “presentists”), open planning, citizen media and engagement, even desert ecology (I’m now living in Tucson mostly, having reduced my commitments in the Nordic region). Today I’m writing up a Smart Citizens urban-resiliency prospectus, in order to begin raising funds for Smart Citizens Baja Arizona, a potential contributor to progressive Southern Arizona’s much-desired economic and cultural autonomy. Tomorrow I’ll continue with my book describing America’s 21st-Century devolution. And so on, always collecting, traveling, and dispensing.

    In return for rice. We planner-sages do it all for love … or to be honest, because we can’t be any other way.

    A great essay, Doc. Timely. Essential.

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Bob. Not sure the post was an essay, but I’ll take the compliment. 🙂

    Great work too, btw. Keep it up.

  8. Tubidy’s avatar

    your replay is good one and we all can not know about future we only know about past and i like this phrase: Most of what I can understand is located in the past, but I’ve only lived through a few dozen years of that

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