Social transformation requires elucidating what is going on and imagination. In these lines a look at the meaning and role that these two critical elements play and at some circumstances that condition “understanding the reality” and “imagining the desired future.”
Social transformation (economic, political, environmental, cultural and all other involved dimensions within this concept) is a longstanding march that, except for natural or induced cataclysms, is permanent in nature. Certainly, this does not imply linearity. Huge number of cases of advances, setbacks, unexpected metamorphosis, marks out the history of humanity. The fact is that social transformations are motorized by human beings in their circumstances, as diverse and singular as they are, with much unequal decision-making power and different interests to defend.
Anticipating how social transformation paths follow is a very much uncertain predictive task. So many variables are at stake, so diverse human relations, such changing circumstances and inequalities, generate unexpected facts, tendencies thought to be eternal that are broken, constant rearranging, freedom and impositions, fundamentalisms that antagonize, brave and not so courageous reactions, astonished looks and anticipatory thoughts. It is not simple but rather a complex and always imperfect task to anticipate and shape new paths. In any case, whether we seek them or not, pathways are constantly opening and closing. Of course everyone (each as a miniscule part of the whole) would want to be able to predict and, if possible, guide the evolution of social transformations.
What basis do we have to accomplish that? We count on the available knowledge (incomplete, a collective construction) and how we use it to understand, on ideological preferences and our stubbornness to sustain them, on all kinds of organizations or groups in which we participate and, less frequently, on the capacity to integrate other opinions, interpretations, and interests of varied legitimacy into our own perspective.
Within a wider set, we can distinguish a couple of elements that are essential in trying to consciously and deliberately influence the process of building the future: first, understanding as best as we can the social, present dynamic (once again, economic, political, environmental, cultural and so forth); second, imagining the desired type of society for which we are willing to invest a good part of our energies.
The first dimension, “Elucidating what is going on” implies getting to know the genesis and present development of the social dynamic (roots, explanations, and mechanisms), having information, undergoing a never-ending process of personal and collective enlightening to interpret and evaluate conducts, facts, and processes.
The other essential dimension in the process of building the future, “imagining the desired one,” leads us to outline a referential utopia. Utopia in the sense of a place that does not yet exist but that we wish it exists, and referential in terms of acting as our “North” (or “South”) to guide us towards a certain course.
Constraints to “Understanding”
The task of understanding processes that involve multiple variables and a huge number of relations among social actors  demands choosing relevant variables, selecting certain types of aggregate conducts (as if they were representative averages of what happens in reality), figuring out mechanisms of social functioning (open and undercover ones) and appreciating their consequences, effects, and results. All this implies an effort in data gathering and analysis of what happens; why facts happen the way they do and what is produced by them. Therefore, when simplifier hucksters of politics and socioeconomic reality appear ignoring complexities and arguing simplistic and most rigged truths presented as undisputed (serving interests that cannot be sustained in open field), there are no few craving followers of certainties they manage to attract. Impotency, frustration, and concealments confuse us and open spaces for some impostors to play as if they were Alexander the Great who in 333 B.C. facing a complexity whose resolution was unknown to him, cut with his sword the Gordian knot to take over the prediction of an ancient legend (being able to conquer Asia).
But not only all this conditions the understanding. Every effort of comprehension requires having information available and, even though a lot of information travels around the globe, there are those who detent the power of selecting and ranking that part of the information universe that is akin to their interests legitimizing it as the most relevant to take note of; the rest of the information may keep circulating but making sure it does not influence great population masses. The purpose is not to inform what has happened but to trim the reality as it better serves them. Large segments of the media misinform, disorient, and manipulate public opinion, something that should not surprise given the known relationship among economic power and hegemonic media.
Nor would it be honest to ignore the ideological burden that each of us brings along compromising our objectivity. Those who are aware of this trait, inherent to human nature, seek as much as they can to rise over the subjective biases that affect comprehension; others, in turn, accept without questioning the interpretations put forward by power groups to favor their own interests. Even though working for the general wellbeing and not for the privileges ones with their abuses is commendable, it does not help doing so by resorting to misrepresentations that may take us to commit huge strategic mistakes.
Constraints for “imagining what is desirable”
A scene of an imagined desired life, possible but undoubtedly uncertain, becomes part of the present and as such not only the past but the future as well influences how we face and decide to act; there is where a good part of the significance of the referential utopia stands. The word utopia does not evoke something unreachable as it is commonly believed, but a transcendental transformation worth fighting for; the word referential makes explicit that it serves as a guide and orientation for strategic and everyday decisions.
As the referential utopia is built with the benefit of what is desired, the inconsistencies, uncertainties, and contradictions of the present can be addressed from another perspective allowing bringing up new solutions. That construction is a work done by many people even though it could be verbalized or presented by just a few.
When trying to conceive a referential utopia we move among two dangerous extremes: on one side, voluntarism whose sin is ingenuity and lack of acknowledgement of the specific gravity of the constraints that exist in every reality and, on the other extreme, a fatalism that sterilizes creativity and determination compromising the social and individual freewill. Nevertheless, it is possible to follow a creative path without falling into fatalisms or voluntarism, a free even though conditioned will. That is, we have freedom to choose a desired future but that freedom, as others, is not absolute for the existence of constraints that would be dangerous and ineffective to ignore.
This way, we highlight the importance and complementation that exist among understanding what is happening, identifying restrictions and possibilities, making explicit what we desire and where we want to go, designing policies and measures that orient socioeconomic actions, providing us with instruments to intervene, working to template our determination while acting, and along the way confirming the values that, conscious or unconsciously, come with us everywhere we go.
 8 billion people cohabit in this planet and lower numbers in terms of countries but, even so, of scales impossible to manipulate if we would want to wholly consider them all.