Food, Cosmology and Futures Studies

Pinakbet Futures

“Eat what your genes like” The Economist

It was wonderful and magnificent attending the Asia Pacific Conference 2012. This year the foresighteers summit was held in Perth, Australia. I was invited to speak at the conference and was glad to present two diverse papers on foresight.

This blog discusses briefly the paper that I wrote on food, cosmology and futures studies. Entitled There is hope in pinakbet: exploring Ilocano alternative futures, the article was my first attempt to explore and make sense of  food as a context/setting in the exploration of alternative futures.

Inspired by Johann Galtung’s article on the cosmology of civilization, it argued that food as a manifestation of life is a symbolic and material code of a civilization. Galtung writes “food is a carrier of cosmology (macro-culture).”

The paper employed Sohail Inayatullah’s Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) to unpack Ilocano alternative futures. Pinakbet was used as a conceptual framework to deconstruct the Ilocanoes personal, community and global futures. Pinakbet is a unique and authentic vegetable stew invented by Ilocanos, the third largest ethnolinguistic group in the Philippines. I interviewed 50 respondents in five separate CLA focus group discussion workshops to explore their perspectives on Ilocano futures.

Pinakbet as a worldview and myth for present and future generations

It was apparent that Pinakbet was used by participants as a worldview and metaphor for hope, their struggles, their openness and belief in diversity and sustainable futures. Participants opined that Pinakbet symbolizes the Ilocanoes true nature.Their natural inclination to blend and evolve and their capacity to learn and relearn (life) when faced with harsh situations was similar to the vegetables shriveling when boiled. Like Pinakbet, Ilocanoes are, the participants noted, soft but flavorful.

The mixed vegetables represents the Ilocanoes willingness to embrace the world and they were, in fact, the first generation of migrant workers in the Philippines. Pinakbet represents a people that knows no boundaries. As a worldview and myth, the food serves to inspire and it could create a new community-indigenous story. The participants felt that it could, the Pinakbet, in many ways, help in re-perceiving the present and that it was more “relatable” hence was a practical narrative to inspire people to create positive futures.

We are what we eat: Beyond Gastronomy and Pinakbet as a carrier of cosmology

Also, the popular saying “we are what we eat” and “the food shall be your remedy and your remedy shall be your food” was socially relevant. That it could engage people to act to create the new story. They said that Pinakbet as a story was a story that local community’s and Ilocanoes could relate and reflect to. That Pinakbet, in its multidimensional context, was ennobling (the dignifying effect of the food on persons and communities) and it was personal and transformational.

The food is our remedy, Pinakbet in the context of the social and the economic

Decoding Pinakbet from the perspective of the Ilocano revealed new ways of perceiving the real (food as a manifestation of the real). A number of discourses emerged when CLA was applied. One is the “vegetable discourse”. With Pinakbet in mind, the social and economic life must reflect his/her values, culture and local context. Wealth is re-perceived in the context of food sufficiency and sustainability. In a climate change future where food and water become elusive, the “Pinakbet village or village vegetable” is a source of refuge and renewal. Other narratives uncovered were “Pinakbet (food) as the new cultural”, “Pinakbet (food) revitalizes tourism industry” and “Pinakbet farmers emerges as the new CEOs.”

Hyun Rul Park (South Korea), Dennis Morgan (United States), Neema Veneema (Australia), and Shermon Cruz (Philippines)
Hyun Rul Park (South Korea), Dennis Morgan (United States), Neema Veneema (Australia), and Shermon Cruz (Philippines)

Food is enlightenment!

This experience with food research and developing it as a futures context, I assume, can enrich our ways of knowing the real. As a method, it could help us unpack new ways of shaping and designing alternative futures.

What I learned in this process was that what we actually eat can influence, drive the way we perceive family, work, leisure, tourism, politics, economics, past and future futures. Food, I argue, is a driver and/or influencer of possible futures.

I was happy to share this and was glad that my food-futures concept expanded when I attended Prof. Hyun Rul Park (South Korea) and Prof. Dennis Morgan (United States) presentation on Heal Tech and Heal Being Culture. The food discussion deepened during lunch with Matti Heinonen (Finland), Marcus Barber (Australia) and Gareth Priday (Australia) and noted their brilliant positive comments.

I was glad to hear Emma Veenema’s (Australia) feedback and said she would love to integrate the concept in her “West Australia Food Fest” project.

The Asia Pacific Foresight Conference was amazing! It was e to borrow Marcus Barber’s words – satisfying and, yes, neurologically rich!

Reinventing democracy: any alternative?

(This is an excerpt of the paper that I presented at the 50th Philippine Political Science International Congress Xavier University-Ateneo De Cagayan last April 12-14, 2012).

Observers from the 1970s noted a bleak future for democracy and democratic governments. The pessimism about the future of democracy in those years were strong and the governability of democracy was questioned. The vulnerability of democratic government according to Samuel Huntington comes not primarily from external threats but rather from the internal dynamics of democracy in highly educated, mobilized and participant society. One consequence of a highly democratized and pluralized society according to Huntington was “democratic distemper” or the flooding of opportunities for special interests to bend government authority for special purposes. Huntington argued that democratic distemper or the lessening of governmental authority creates problems of financial solvency and affects the ability of government to deal effectively with these problems. He concluded that democracy is more of a threat to itself in the United States than it is in Europe or Japan where there still existence of traditional and aristocratic values. Huntington writes “democracy is only one way of constituting authority and it is not necessarily universally applicable. In many situations, the claims of expertise, seniority, experience and special talents may override the claims of democracy as a way of constituting authority.” John Adams perhaps had this in mind when he argued that “democracy never last long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Today, democracy and the governability of democratic systems confront an unparalleled diversity of challenges in the 21st century. The Economist and Freedomhouse Democracy Index reported that 2011 was an exceptionally turbulent year for democracy. Political pundits confirmed this when they say that democracy is breaking down and may, perhaps, if not nurtured and protected expire in the next 100 years. The two reports concluded that there has been a continuing global backsliding in democracy and that the corrosion was toughened by the 2008 global financial crisis. The democratic recession to borrow the words of Larry Diamond implies a discontinuity in the decade-long global trend in democratization. Now, do these trends imply the death of traditional and conventional concepts democracy and democratic institutions? Or will these trends ignite its re-invention or transformation such that democracy is re-interpreted, become a culture-bound system with a lot of versions, multiplied and diversified. My guess is the death or corrosion of conventional democracy paradigms will lead to its re-invention or transformation. Of course, beyond democracy or after democracy scenarios are also possible. Jim Dator writes “everything that exists now at one time did not exist. Everything that exists now will not exist forever.” Hence, democracy was at one time did not exist and may or perhaps will not exist forever.

Using emerging issues analysis as a method, I was able to explore some alternative discourses that may disrupt the official future and the official definition of democracy. These ideas are largely ignored until they become mainstream and challenge current models of thinking. These weak signals and off the radar views are ridiculous, stupid, obscene and are statistically insignificant. Emerging issues are those with a low probability of occurring, but which, if they emerge will have a dramatic impact on society according to Jim Dator. The Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring are examples of an emerging issue undetected until it becomes problematic.

An emerging issue is the concept of compartmentalized democracy that suggests the creation of a fourth and even a fifth branch of government – the audit or the public exchequer department and the civil service department. Proponents argue that the three branches of government that was devised in the age of the enlightenment is now obsolete, outdated given its failure or inability to address bribery, corruption and nepotism in the three branches of government. A lot of researches found a direct link between high level corruption, democracy and democratic institutions especially in Third world countries like ours (the Philippines). The Economist Democracy Index Report of 2011 categorized Philippine democracy as a flawed type of democracy and was ranked at number 75 (comparable to South African countries). Corruption they argue threatens the stability and governability of democracy institutions and the conventional three branches of government is literally weak against the threats of corruption, bribery, etc. Uninhibited visionaries and social movements (like the PROUT movement) suggest the institution of a fourth branch and/or fifth branch of government. Taiwan has five branches of government with the Civil Service and Audit Department as the fourth and fifth branch of government co-equal and separate with the three branches of governments.

Another emerging idea is the concept of democratic minorities. The minorities of the tribe – a version, an idea pushed by the more advanced and wired emerging democratic countries like Finland, Denmark, Norway and other emergent systems, open system government advocates. Alternative versions of the democracy of the minorities are those proposed by ultra-progressives like Greens, the PROUT movement. The integration of processes and transformations like the minority via the majority test, the emergence of the qualified electorate, party-less democracy, selecto-electo democracy concepts may create abnormal changes to the official definition and democratic processes like majoritarianism, one-person one vote concept, political parties and elections. The concept of majoritiarianism they argue is an old, obsolete, a relic of the industrial era, of eighteenth century ways of decision-making, organizing and socialization. Majoritarianism, in a nutshell, a social invention of the past is no longer a useful design in the twenty first century they argued. It’s homogenizing effect and impact that tramples social and political diversity in the age of knowledge or information society is contested.

As far is Joichie Ito is concerned traditional forms of representative democracy cannot keep up with the scale, complexity and speed of issues today. The PROUT movement thinks that as long as the 51% are wallowing in destitution and poverty and them kept through intimidation, patronage and manipulated by self-serving dacoits, democracy is nothing but a system of demonocracy or foolocracy – a government of the fools, by the fools and for the fools. The emergence of a qualified electorate was seen as an alternative to address the flaws and contradictions of age as a basis of electoral franchise. Voting is not a natural right but a privilege right accorded by a constitution they argue. The ultra-progressives (neither left nor right but on the move and always moving forward) thinks that an economic democracy that guarantees basic necessities (food, clothing, shelter, education, medicine) of the fifty-one percent is essential to the success of democracies and democratic governments. Lee Kuan Yew, (Singapore is known today as a hybrid type of democracy and ranks lower than the Philippines in the Economist democracy index) thinks that “collective democracy” or non-representational democracy is more appropriate for developing nations. China is also aware of this and aspires for a soft landing to democracy as they move towards democratization. Today, Chinese scholars are experimenting with a concept they called the Chinese socialist minzhuahua or “socialist democracy with a Chinese characteristics.” Moreover, these views also critiqued, exposed the weaknesses of political parties and political party systems. The PROUT movement advocates like the President Manuel L. Quezon for party-less democracies and selecto-electional systems.

The concept of public representation is also challenged by worldviews promoting the values of the information society (not the industrial society). Emerging concepts include emergent democracies (cyberspace, pixels, digital, IT) and environmental democracies. It appears that these views challenged traditional notions of power and representations and aspired for smaller, more sustainable, less-corrupt, non-institutional and non-representational types of democracy. The web blog will be equivalent to a vote or representation and thus would not need interventions and election of representations by publics. These discourses or concepts may find its expression in the more advanced democracies like Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia.

There are more emerging issue out there like Islamic democracy alternative in the pluralist-parliamentary democracies and the Indian democracy alternative that aspires for a more diversified and intensified, localized, culture-bound democracy and governmental systems.

The Philippines must aspire for a democracy (beyond the political and formal governments) that promotes collectivism and community values and one that advances economic democracy for long-term gains. Without a doubt, democracy as we know it now – one that put premium to individualism, majoritarianism and conventional institutionalisms are challenged at the local, global and cyber levels. The official or default meaning and expressions of democracy may have to leave and give way to newer forms and more appropriate types of democracies.

The Cultural Infrastructure Epidemic


“Video games are one step before a whole other virtual universe.” Vin Diesel, actor

“Welcome to the future era” is the future era-entering quote of Civilization V, a popular turn-based 4X computer strategy and simulation game developed by Firaxis and Sid Meier, its creator.

The latest game in a wide selection of Civilization series, culture was highlighted as the primary game engine to achieve upgrade and victory conditions in research, economic development, government, technology, expansion and diplomacy.

The game situates culture as foundational to social progress. It is culture, the game suggest, that make social policies work (whatever that is – authoritarianism, democracy, socialism, commercialism, tradition, patronage, etc.).

Cultures and its diverse expressions like arts, food, music, theatre, language and writing systems, mathematics and mythology, etc. could, in multicultural ways, transform a country’s governance and economic agenda.

Culture as the Next Wave of the Future

Today, culture is an emerging ethic and approach to governance and economic growth. It is, to paraphrase Jim Dator and Yongseok So, the next wave of the future. Incidentally, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Malaysia and of course South Korea are leading Asia, if not the world, in the culture-governance-infrastructure category.

At the systems and worldview levels, we have seen how Singaporeans transformed systems thinking and democracy outlook by introducing governance concepts embedded with Confucian and Malay ways of knowing. Singapore is a good model to the system that I call “hybrid (high tech and global) and high breed (culture-local-values oriented) socio-political and economic systems.”

Taiwan, with its transmodern-transcultural approach to development, also devised a five branch co-equal government structure to counter the exigencies of a society founded on family driven values. It established the audit and civil service departments as separate and co-equal branches of government to counter the culture of nepotism, gift giving and other traditions and practices ingrained in Chinese cultural societies.

In addition to the classical three branches of government developed by Montesquieu, Sun Yat Sen, the brains behind the Taiwanese version of Republican democracy , would add two more and envisioned the emergence of an eastern version of republican democracy in Asia. Sun Yat Sen and its successors were able to develop a democracy system based on Chinese culture to address the flaws of Western democracy when applied in an Asian setting. He was quoted by a political scientist saying “democracy may find its full evolution (blossoming) in the East.”

And of course, China with Mao Tse Tung and Deng Xiaoping at the helm reinterpreted communism and capitalism in the 21st century. They would change the context and values of these ideologies (from individualism to collectivism) to create a system they called “socialism” or perhaps “capitalism” with Chinese characteristics.

The system of governance they built with cultural narratives in mind have evolved and so far (culture) remains integral to these countries socio, political and economic narrative.

The emerging thread of cultural governance was evident in PR Sarkar’s concept of culture when it said that culture is the backbone of any society. The renowned Indian scholar argued that culture is imperative to long-term social, political and economic progress.


Cultural Infrastructure and the K-Pop Experience

But let me feature one of the latest miracle strokes that are happening in Asia recently.

The growing reliance of Asian countries notably South Korea, China and India (or if you combine the power of the three emerging global super-cultural economies Ko-Chi-ndia) on cultural infrastructure to create wealth to sustain their booming economies must be one on the radar. This article, however, would like to explore the connection of culture, good governance and economic growth in South Korea.

According to Jim Dator, the reliance of cultural images and the power of cultural aesthetics are changing the context of global governance and economic growth. Recently, there are number of reports and literature especially in Asia, (the literature, the narrative is slowly populating the web), indicating how culture and economic growth strongly interact. South Korea has been expanding faster economically when they begun investing more on cultural infrastructure.

Just this month, the South Korean government reported that the economy is set to rebound in the last quarter of the year. The positive projection was attributed to the government and business sectors cultural infrastructure investments. The government noted a significant link between the construction industry market and cultural infrastructure investment. The government remains optimistic that cultural infrastructure will spur growth in the commercial infrastructure market. Their cultural infrastructure investments has also been spurring growths in information technology, food, robotics, entertainment, and other export-oriented industries.

World Awash with K-Pop

The world is awash with K-pop culture. Yes. The Gangnam style dance craze that gained 1 billion Youtube views and more than a billion hits on Google is just the tip of the iceberg. At the myth level, the K pop epidemic is transforming Korea as the twenty first century epicenter of global pop culture.

This successes, however, were gains when in 2004 then South Korean President Roh urged the Federation of Korean Industries and Commerce to engage more in culture-related enterprises.They forecasted in that year the of information technology industry and the emergence of cultural infrastructure as a factor to revitalize the industry. The forecast was right and President Roh and his administration would drive Korea as the world’s economically strong nation powered (or empowered) by culture. Roh’s administration saw the enormous future potential of cultural infrastructure to social progress and economic growth in 2004, yes 2004.

At present, Korea continues to invest more to ensure the much-needed cultural infrastructure to sustain South Korea’s continued economic and hyper creativity growth. The Korean Ministry of Tourism and Culture plans to put up more Korean Cultural Centers and King Sejong Institutes around the world. China is also heavily investing to promote the Mandarin language and Chinese culture. It established more than 300 Confucius Institutes in over 90 locations worldwide.

In 1947 a great Korean leader named Baekbeom Kim Gu dreamed of a strong Korea empowered by culture. He wished, in his book “My Desire”, for culture and cultural narratives to become drivers of future economies and societies. He writes “I do not wish my country to be a military or a political power, but rather wish it were a cultural power … I wish our country not to be one that imitates others, but rather the source, goal and model of new and advanced culture” Today, the wish of Beakbeom Kim Gu has been fulfilled by a generation empowered and transformed by culture.

Going back to the the latest game expansion pack Civ 5, the game had me wanting to study the future more. It expanded my knowledge base and made me appreciate the complexity, the dynamics, the application and impact of culture on governance, creativity, alternative futures.


Jim Dator and Yongseok So (2004). Korea as the Wave of the Future. The Emerging Dream Society of Icons and Aesthetic Experience. Journal of Futures Studies. August 2004, 9 (1): 31 – 44

Sohail Inayatullah (1988). The Futures of Culture: Present Images, Past Vision and Future Hopes. Presented at the World Futures Studies Federation Conference, Beijing, China. September.

Government Investment in Cultural Infrastructure expected to spur growth in the South Korean Commercial Construction Market. Retrieved October 31, 2012 at

Riding the Korean Wave. Retrieved October 31, 2012 at

Civilization 5 simulation game retrieved October 31 from www.