The purpose of this series is to frame the shifts culture, business, and the world move through now. We present a story about how we arrived here, what breakthroughs we notice, and how this creates the greater possibility of a thrivable world at this time. We invite your feedback, because, as we will explain later, feedback enables generativity.
We are working under the assumption: We humans are driven (by our nature) to increase choice and evolve our complexity through creativity and innovation. This requires balancing creativity, collaboration, and self-regulation. (Nods to social philosophy of the Ostroms.)
What you won’t get here: dire predictions. Yes, there is a gritty reality to face. And foundationally we believe you (and us together) will be creative and resourceful beyond measure. We enter an age of transformation, of intentional evolution. Welcome. Play in possibility. Manifest your utmost potential.
Modernism: Order, Structure, and Form
Western culture opened the 20th century with modernism: a belief that we could reduce the world to its parts and create formal taxonomies. Truth was knowable. It was a self-conscious era. Recognizing the world as complex, many attempted to make sense of it through reducing the complexity to its component parts. While it brought us major advances in culture and science, it also had limits.
Post-Modernism: Inside-Out Structure, the Formless, and Chaos
Post-modernism laughed with a hearty right-brained playfulness (and in some cases deep cynicism) at this attempt to create order, fought the concept of a single global narrative and objective truth, and turned structure inside-out. While Post-modernism has run its course of criticism, a coherent -ism about (at least Western culture) current and future precepts has not been named and generally adopted. We may have troubled the assumptions of Modernism, but we still haven’t formulated a broad pattern of what replaces it. Is there a global narrative? Or have we fractured through identity politics into a plethora of narratives, tribes, and truths? Post-Human criticism posits:
“The posthuman is a being that relies on context rather than relativity, on situated objectivity rather than universal objectivity, and on the creation of meaning through ‘play’ between constructions of informational pattern and reductions to the randomness of on-off switches, which are the foundation of digital binary systems.”
To answer questions about our global narrative(s) and intersubjectivity, let’s review emerging ways of perceiving ourselves and the world (which influences what we notice and take action upon).
First, a simple demonstration of how reductionism fails and Complexity Science begins to explain.
Toasters, Cats and Snowflakes While we can take a toaster apart and put it back together – thereby understanding it, we can not do so with cats. The modernist/reductionist approach to understanding ever more granular parts fails in organisms and systems that are greater than the sum of their parts. Parts do not produce aliveness.
Systems with a lot of interaction between interdependent nodes are called complex because the non-linear variations go beyond the scope of our mathematical tools: the sheer size of their potential behaviour defies brute force computational attacks to get a glimpse of the possibilities. They show emergent behavior (not possible to predict its behaviour by studying its components ) and surprisingly adaptive behavior when circumstances change. Markets, genetics, social interactions, maybe even life itself may be a result of complexity.
Human interactions are more complex than we had imagined in the 20th Century. Fanatical about science as a route to objective truth, metaphors from science permeated modernist culture. A vital part of the cultural narrative was constructed around Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest. And while few read his writing, many touted competition and predatory activity as nature’s great process! All the while, culture urbanized, shifting from rural farm communities to more competitive environments of the city and the marketplace. While capitalism freed man from his “destined at birth” status, the meritocratic approach encouraged individualism and zero-sum games. Where there is conflict over resources, one of us had to win and the other had to lose, like a game of tug of war.
There are games that don’t generate zero sum outcomes. Or more directly, there are games in which we win and lose together. Non-zero sum games seem, at first, nearly invisible in capitalistic systems. Issue like Climate Change, at their highest order, become non-zero-sum. Collectively, we will address climate change and everyone wins, or we won’t and we all lose. Collectively we take care of our common pools of resources like water or air quality, or we all lose access to healthy water and air. Over and over again, at the upper level of a system, we win together or lose together.
The world seems riddled with catastrophe thinking. We have focused on what is going wrong (and thus been drawn into it). We have measured what is wrong (and noticed then the rise in that). We face catastrophic failures in our systems with convergent crisis environmentally, financially, and culturally. Disaster planning, risk management, and even sustainability planning focus on increasing our resilience as the world we once knew falls apart. Some of our greatest breakthroughs in these times contribute to the breakdowns we face. For example, John Perry Barlow (co-founder of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation) spoke at the Personal Democracy Forum in June of 2010 about how the internet and social media which helped Obama get in office – these very models are what flood the tiny District of Columbia, adding to the US government being overwhelmed and breaking down.
Like a boat without a rudder, the last 40 years of post-modernism have focused on moving away from what doesn’t work without providing a vision to work toward. We paddle frantically to get away from the rocks of crisis, while having no consensus or vision of where to direct this spaceship earth to.
As we move toward a more thrivable world, what does that mean? Can we see the breakthroughs helping us move even as we feel the breakdown of our past financial, cultural, and environmental systems? There are breakthroughs on the individual level, the collective social level, and the system level. These are uplifted and expanded by breakthroughs in our ability to reflect on ourselves using metrics and feedback as well as breakthroughs in our process of innovation, increased understanding and capability in creativity, and greater rates of generativity (compounded by breakthroughs at all three levels). The next sections explore each of these five points and the relevant breakthroughs, we believe, to the emergence of a thrivable world at this critical time.