Dystopia now, what next?

What can we glimpse about the future from today’s popular culture?  Case in point: literary dystopias seem to be enjoying a generational renaissance.

We can easily understand current dystopia lit as exploring contemporary anxieties.  That Goodreads infographic (be sure to scroll down) makes that argument.

But what seeds of the future can we pick out of this dark present soil?  Should we identify, for instance, a rising public concern about resource repletion, or governmental authority?  Or should we note a fear of national decline, which opens a box of rather disturbing possibilities?

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The dissolution of the universities

Another futuring method involves reaching back in time, using historical examples as analogies for the present.

A visitation.

For example, Walter Russell Mead thinks of an early modern antecedent for state-university relations in a stressed economy:

Our universities today look a lot like the monasteries in the time of Henry VIII: vulnerable targets for a hungry state.

Nice sentence.  It would make a fine discussion prompt, all by itself.

Mead explains it thusly:

State legislators are going to be wrestling with questions like whether to cut the pensions of retired state workers, cut services for voters, or raise taxes.  In this atmosphere, the research university model (in the humanities and, economics and management accepted, the social sciences) may not long survive, at least in the public sector.  (Highly endowed private universities may keep the old model alive.)

Note how that discussion takes pains to unfold higher education in some diversity: private vs public institutions, humanities vs STEM.

Interestingly, Mead’s starting point is that Bauerline article we noted.

There are other historically-grounded futures practices, which we’ll get to. I’m starting to read a recent book on the subject, History and future : using historical thinking to imagine the future (David J. Staley, Lexington Books, 2007).

(image from Wikipedia)