The Dangers of Dystopias

By: Leah Zaidi  

Science fiction is experiencing a renaissance as the rate of change and uncertainty about the future increases. Organizations, innovators, and changemakers alike are turning to the genre to navigate the future and design for the present, often unaware that generating and using images of the future for strategic purposes. This includes political applications such as activism and statecraft. In recent years, Russia has used science fiction as a political weapon of war. Vladislav Surkov — a “political technologist” and “Putin’s grey cardinal” — allegedly writes science fiction under the pseudonym Natan Dubovitsky (Pomerantsev, 2014). Commentators pore over his dystopian visions of a non-linear war in order to understand the Kremlin’s vision for Russia and the world (Komska, 2014). Surkov combined his background in public relations with his love of theatre and science fiction into a “strategy of power based on keeping any opposition ... constantly confused, a ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it's indefinable” (Pomerantsev, 2011). This study addresses the role science fiction plays in shaping democracy, the benefits and dangers of dystopias, and how we might use the process of creating stories about the future to design better real-world outcomes.

Science Fiction, Foresight, Design, Dystopias, Statecraft, Democracy, Activism
2020 Special Focus - Against the Grain: Arts and the Crisis of Democracy
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Leah Zaidi

Speculative Futures, Canada

I am an award-winning strategic foresight researcher and practitioner from Toronto. I apply design future-proof strategies and systems, apply storytelling techniques to generate novel insights, and help organizations manage complex change. I have recently collaborated with organizations such as OCAD University, TIFF, and UNESCO. In 2018, my research was awarded a 'Most Significant Futures Work' prize from the Association of Professional Futurists and in 2019 I received a Next Gen Special Award. Part of my practice includes creating experiential futures (situations and artefacts from the future) that help the public better understand complex emerging problems and catalyze change. I am the Founder of the Toronto Chapter of Speculative Futures.