John L Petersen: Looking Out To The Horizon

, Washington DC

Today I had one of those conversations that reminded me what I do this job. I have had a number of conversations with John L Petersen, Founder of the Arlington Institute, and today was certainly not a disappointment. I highly recommend you watch the whole thing but if not I  have summarised our chat – we touched on the role of futurists, American politics, the media, aliens, psychics in the military, how to deal with change and the coming Mini Ice Age!

First we discussed the role of futurists. John said that if there wasn’t much profound change you wouldn’t need futurists. What is unique about this period of time is that it is perhaps the most profound change in humanity’s history, at least recorded history. There is exponential change in so many areas. The world will be dramatically different than in the past: structurally different but we will be also different human beings. With so much change, it begs for people who might be able to methodically anticipate what that future might look like.  And then John said something which I have been saying since I started calling myself a futurist, ‘there has never been a better time for people to anticipate future scenarios.”

Increasingly we are figuring out ways to understand whats going on and doing this by grasping it in systems terms.  Everything is  connected and the system moving ahead in profound ways. To do this well as a futurist,  and most futurists are not dong this as they might interested in the future of economics, politics  or technology – you  need to see it in broad terms. Of course some understanding of tech and science is extraordinarily valuable.  John has a background in engineering and I recently got a Masters degree in holistic science, covering complexity and dynamic ways of seeing the world.

As you might know, making some sense about this world requires unconventional perspective. If change wasn’t great you could do trend analysis and extrapolation you might have some success. However, when you have large scale break throughs piled upon breakthroughs upon breakthroughs, everything you bring in to the room with you – the luggage – tells you nothing about what might happen. It doesn’t necessarily help with the interconnections downstream. Also conventional approaches don’t work very well when you have strong belief systems.

Some time ago John wrote a book called Out of the blue  and we identified  ‘wild cards’ which could rapidly drive the world in a new direction. He found 85 things which could catalyse change. [Previously John told me that the emergence of a ‘strongman’ President in the US was one of them].  All of this doesn’t lend itself to linear projections, structurally we are in non-linear territory. To make some sense of this you have to consider what other sources might be out there that could give a different perspective on suggesting where this might all go. You cannot be dominated by the past. Of course you have to understand conventional things like economics, politics, agriculture and a number of other things, if you are gong to make sense of this world. But you might need input from higher outside perspective what might come come downstream. He stumbled into this when he was working in the higher levels of the US government. There was a highly classified program called Stargate used psychics to spy on the Chinese and Russians nuclear programs. It was very controversial. He happened to know the people that formed the program and some of the operatives.  And it was highly successful. They routinised a process where a person would sit in suburban DC go across the world get inside a Chinese nuclear weapon and see the inside of it. Then he would draw a picture of the arming system literally go down to the parts and show the sketch to scientists. The particular person got given the highest level of medal that one does in that part of government.  That was a paradigm shift for John who came from an engineering and more linear background; it really blew his mind.  Then he looked in to it more, multiple sources like psychics, and intuitive channellers, can get incredible pictures about the large sweep of what might happen. It kind of like trying to look into a dark room thats locked from the inside. Perhaps a psychic might look inside. Its a whole lot better than not being able to see at all. The methodological approach is that you look at conventional trends and whats happening and the breakthroughs. and then look at unconventional approaches and get a sense of the new world thats emerging.

I spoke about my personal experiences with these phenomena. I don’t often write about it. Ordinarily I get an intuitive feeling about something and then only write about it if I find empirical evidence that backs it up. But back in 2008, early in Obama’s term, I had a dream that there would be a constitutional crisis at the end of his presidency. I started to take this dream a lot more seriously when some of the data was telling how the wealth and income disparities were in the US as well as the polarisation of opinion.

John said that we need set up scenarios and alternatives. If you have no scenarios framework, then the stuff that happens on a day to day basis doesn’t make any sense. It is important whichever way you approach. look at the possibilities. And look at a more manageable number of possibilities.

Events of 2016

I said that many people regarded 2016 as the worst year of their lives with Brexit and Trump. Or was it perhaps a catalyst for bigger change? I asked John what he thought.

John said he was surrounded by a lot of folks who are in the field of self-change or self-identify as liberal  and who all profess to want change . All the problems that we see are derivatives of the system. You have to change system, you cannot work around the edges, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. Your approach, by definition, is influenced by the paradigms you have and everyone is trying to fix the existing system. However, it is structurally flawed and not fixable. The structures are increasingly failing and not sustainable. The alternative  is to jump start in to a new world and extract from the old world. He has proposed for 15 years as he runs around the world giving talks, the old world would come apart enough for a vacuum to emerge.This will allow the emergence of a new world. if you look at historical paradigm shifts this is how it works. You cannot get change without change!  And dramatic input that moves system in to new operating state is needed. Currently lots of people with huge resources are trying to prevent this.  I always thought that there would be an exogenous catalytic event. I think Donald trump is the beginning of that.

I don’t think we live in a world that doesn’t have direction, nor do I think that we are the only beings that have existed, nor have gone through this process. There are larger forces, intelligence, that are giving us the ability to make decisions towards new world or away from it. Donald trump is beginning of that process. He’s obviously breaking a lot of china and banging around the white house, and it will be interesting how that will work out. Whats encouraging, no matter what he does, he is playing this role of catalyst and fragmenting. John said he is surrounded by a bunch of friends who want change but not this kind of change! John has met trump and said that he didn’t necessarily think he wanted to be friends. But don’t look at him in terms of who he is and his personality.

You don’t even know what what might happen in April as the hysteria builds and the stand off with the mainstream media intensifies. But if clinton had been elected, would this  kind of disruption wouldn’t have happened. [She might, however, have started conflict with Russia as John and I have previously discussed.]

I suggested that maybe the US electorate was not so dumb. They recognised Trump’s narcism but intuitively know something had to change. Brexit and Trump was a primal scream. They wanted a bull in a china shop.

John agreed. The working class people haven’t participated in the expansion of the economy. He is now staying in West Virginia,  one of the poorest areas of the us. This man directly appealed to the folks here. In fact, the back story is that Trump hired a data firm Cambridge Analytics. They analysed data from FB and elsewhere and knew exactly who people are. The granularity was very detailed and put into 16 categories. They can tell you with high fidelity what Trump needed to say to you to in order for it to resonate with you.

So the mainstream press were often critical of some of Trump’s talks which appeared to be a little incoherent and all over the place. But this was because he was talking to all the different categories. It was rather masterful in one sense but makes it also makes you think whats next.

At the time I said that the media was hyperventilating over all of this but the point was he wasn’t talking to them!

I said that I didn’t want to put Trump on a pedestal but I found something interesting in a book that 2 Washington Post journalists wrote called ‘Trump Revealed’ in which they went through many of Trumps scandals etc. However, in the book [I think it was this book] there as a moment where Trump says that he realised he had to be dumb to be smart. Many people in the media think he is stupid because he isn’t an intellectual, but this is perhaps his strength;  he increasingly started to use his gut feeling when he made decisions.

John said that he thought he understood what I was getting at. The more you think you know about how this world works, the less you actually know. This is what Trump is saying. We really don’t know what’s happening here. You can make this statement about a number of sectors. John worked at the White House in National Security. What you read about is never literally what happened. First there is all the infighting, intrigue and deals etc. Then [after a decision is made] everyone with a dog in the fight is out spin the story. Then it gets to the journalists and the biases of the media which are getting stronger. They weren’t there and they didn’t have security clearance. So overall what you are trying to observe is about 5 levels or more deeper than what you can see by just reading the mainstream media. You really need to enter this space permeable and open minded. If you decide how you see the world based on media I can guarantee you are wrong. And this exacerbates as we go into this exponential space with all these biological, and even consciousness break throughs. Hubris doesn’t work in this space. we are scrambling around in the dark here, walking in the dark over rocks in a rushing stream.

The new world is fundamentally indescribable. Our world is defined by the paradigm. If you look 20 or 30 years ahead perhaps there is mini ice age, a major consciousness shift, governments have failed and you don’t need money in the way you did. If the internet has advanced on its current trajectory, then by then it will be like a global brain or nervous system. Humanity’s metabolism will be faster. We might find in the next 20 years significant life outside Earth [Something with which I feel is likely].

Wow. You might have to rebuild things in a different way. We cannot do it if you are in the old paradigm. We need to surf into that space with a flexible mind.

I totally concur that this psychological approach is paramount. Pragmatically speaking what can we do I asked?

John’s view is that we need resilience; physical and spiritual.

First, food, water  and electricity ; our supply systems are based on just in time. If things don’t work there will be a cascade effect. In the case of food or electricity this might be exacerbated by likelihood of a mini ice age. It is getting far colder now and there is more snow than in the last 150 years. More scientists will probably come out of the Trump admin – scientists that were suppressed in the past. And with a contextual change – changes views about energy, agriculture and productivity.

Then there is psychological and social resilience. If you are not in a certain mindset, it will be difficult to cope.  You cannot get locked up in your past political or religious views, otherwise you will be shaken. Social and local cohesion are also important to help make it through the enormous changes.  We live in this little town here in West Virginia, and together we have a community thats endeavouring figure out food and alternative energy. And what it provides is a lot of alternative ideas and also social support as you go through this change.  And what is in important as anything is you have got to have some idea where this might be going. An image. If you don’t – you’ll lose hope.  Things will be breaking up and things will not be working the way they used to.

So what we need to do – people like you and I as futurists – is to come up with a new vision for a new world, a coherent image that might be on the horizon that large numbers of people can look at and say ‘yes I can contribute to that’. We need to do it in positive terms. Otherwise you’ll do it in dystopian terms.  Some people will go off and get there guns etc and will do it their way. But lets quit worrying about the old world, it will come apart it, its inevitable.

We need to think about the principles and values of a new world and incorporate all of these breakthroughs.

I said that the human capacity to go through suffering and massive change is immense. But as long as there is hope. It is very easy to get caught it the zigs and zags. When I look at Facebook or social media nowadays it feels physically unpleasant with all the discord and bickering. I like to go trekking in the mountains each day to help find [or maintain] that inner peace.  I think you are right John that we need to point to the horizon. The boat might go bobbing up and down across this vast ocean. But we need to point to an optimistic horizon.

John said that there is the issue of consciousness, which is what I was alluding to. In fact at this time there is emergence of a new human being. They are even finding young people with 3 or 4 strands of DNA compared to the normal 2. Maybe they will ave different capabilities to deal with the increasingly complex world

If you read the newspapers and watch TV, it runs your energy down. And in some ways it becomes self fulfilling. That energetic level, that mindset, frankly produces a world concurrent with that feeling and what your emotions are. One of the extraordinarily important things  to do now is to get into a happy mindset. This is going to work and we are going to get there regardless of what happens. Then we can focus on solutions and possibilities.

I couldn’t have agreed more. I spent last 10 years doing a zen practice to keep my mind clear. It also draws energy down into the abdomen or ‘dantien’ as the Chinese say. This is the body’s energy centre. When the energy goes up in to mybhead, and I am drinking too much caffeine for example, I end up thinking too much. Many Eastern practices, like the martial arts, cultivate bringing energy to centre. It really enhances wellbeing and also effective decision making. I am doubling down on those practices at this time.

I also suggested that the timing of all this facing these criss are rather interesting. Many scientists and visionaries are warning about the criticality of this time. Stephen Hawkings put out a warning again at the end of last year. They are saying that everything is coming to a head. At the same time our understanding of the mind and consciousness  – and science more generally – is rising. Its almost like the earth is alive – a la Gaia theory – and this is planned Just in time, the right tools have arrived to deal with the crisis. [Remember Einstein’s famous quote that the same level of consciousness that caused the problems cannot solve them].

John was very much in agreement. Although a scientist by training he pointed to the vedic traditions where one time span is the yuga of 2600 years. We are in a period where  all this energy and innovation starts to happen. And supposedly we on our way to 5000 years of peace. Its really quite interesting. From a  futures perspective. If you are relatively established on that trajectory in 30 years time lets say, between here and now you can imagine really profound disruption. The sun is the  weakest for 150 years. [Even some in mainstream media now talking about this : ].

I thought that it was interesting that John was bringing this all up. There were a number scientists who contributed to the UN’s IPCC on climate change who disagreed with the reports and pulled out but their names were left on the reports.  A number of them complained and one -I believe – sued to have his name removed. It was also interesting to see one of Obama’s environmental people at a Congressional hearing. His answer to all of the – many sensible questions – was  “the science is settled” I keep encountering scientists who tell me they are more concerned about a mini ice age than global warming.

John said that NASA has now indicated its going to get cold. For a while the White House sent out an edict to NOA and NASA saying you cannot talk about any solar influence on climate. Now thats going to change.

Perhaps that why wealthier friends of mine are moving to hotter climates like Singapore.

You can follow some of John’s work at the Arlington Institute at and of course we will keep inviting him back to the Emerging Future Institute.

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