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The denial of limits and interior aspects of descent

Richard A. Slaughter (Foresight International, Brisbane, Australia)


ISSN: 1463-6689

Article publication date: 10 November 2014




The purposes of this paper are as follows. Part one examines the role of denialism in the context of proposals advanced through the much-abused Limits to Growth (LtG) project. Part two uses three sets of criteria (domains of reality, worldviews and values) to characterise some of the interior human and social aspects of the “denial machine.” It uses these criteria to address some vital, but currently under-appreciated “interior” aspects of descent. (N.B. A succinct “primer” or overview of the concept and underpinning rationale for notions of “descent pathways” is provided in the introduction to this special issue.)


The paper draws on a number of authoritative sources that track the dimensions of global change and, specifically, the ways that humanity is tracking towards Dystopian overshoot-and-collapse futures. The significance of the LtG project is assessed in this context. Part two employs the criteria noted above to identify and open out the centrality of the human and cultural interiors.


Responses to the LtG project are shown to have deprived humanity of the clarity and will to respond effectively to the emerging global emergency. The rise of climate change denialism has followed suit and made effective responses increasingly difficult. A new focus, however, on some of the dynamics of reality domains, worldviews and values, clarifies both the nature of the problem and prefigures a range of solutions, some of which are briefly outlined.

Research limitations/implications

This is primarily a conceptual paper that suggests a range of practical responses. For example, re-purposing parts of the current information technology (IT) infrastructure away from financial and economic indices to those tracking the health of the planet. Also translating the case put forward here for a new generation of Institutions of Foresight (IoFs) into real-world start-ups and examples. Further research is needed into the uses and limitations both of positive and negative views of futures. It is suggested that the latter have more value than is commonly realised.

Practical implications

In addition to those stated above, the practical implications include new uses for IT infrastructure based on worldcentric – rather than financial and economic worldviews; designing and implementing a new generation of IoFs; and finding new ways to inform the public of impending Dystopian outcomes without exacerbating avoidance and depression.

Social implications

The social implications are profound. Currently, humanity has allowed itself to “tune out” and ignore many of the well-founded “signals” (from the global system) and warnings (from those who have observed and tracked real-world changes). As a result, it has outgrown the capacity of the planet to support the current population, let alone the 10 billion currently projected by the United Nations (UN). Something must give. Applied foresight can provide essential lead time to act before human actions are overwhelmed by forces beyond its control.


The paper draws together material from hitherto disparate sources to assess the LtG project. It also deploys key concepts from an integral perspective that shed new light on human and cultural forces that determine how people respond to the prospect of Dystopian futures. In so doing, it provides insight into why we are where we are and also into some of the means by which humanity can respond. Specifically, it suggests a shift from collapse narratives to those of descent.



© Richard A. Slaughter

The author would like to acknowledge referee input and, especially, the rich productive dialogue with Josh Floyd that occurred during the writing of this paper and helped shape its final form.


Slaughter, R.A. (2014), "The denial of limits and interior aspects of descent", Foresight, Vol. 16 No. 6, pp. 527-549.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Authors

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