There is a growing awareness of the need for a systems shift in humanity’s relationship to the planet, and that our present global trajectory is unsustainable. Tony Hodgson offers an alternative analysis.
Despite growing concern over the impact of humanity on the systems of life, and despite accelerating knowledge of the predicament, we appear to remain confused about what it means to be all living together on a planet with finite boundaries. Those who believe in the dominant paradigm of economic growth without regard to what is contained within that economic view and what is excluded have been referred to as “the new flat earthers”.
Globalisation, often referred to as the Washington consensus, is embedded in that unsustainable paradigm. The challenge we face is one of transformation to a new paradigm which acknowledges in practice, not just in rhetoric, the nature of Earth as a spherical planetary habitat. The times when some human communities could sustain an isolated and self-sufficient existence are over. Everyone is an inhabitant of ‘space ship earth’. The trends of exploration, trade and conquest ensure an inescapable encounter of different cultures, customs and values. This has been going on for some time. For example, we can look back on, say, the Silk Road as a precursor of the Internet. More than silk was encountered and exchanged on that road from Europe to China. The current scope of this challenge is now that it is unavoidably global. But the ‘Global Village’ aspiration of the sixties eludes us. Brzezinski’s assessment in 1969 is closer to our experience of the last fifty years:
“A more appropriate analogy is that of a ‘global city’ – a nervous, agitated, tense, and fragmented web of interdependent relations. That interdependence, however, is better characterised by interaction than by intimacy. Instant communications are already creating something akin to a global nervous system. Occasional malfunctions of this nervous system – because of blackouts and breakdowns – will be all the more unsettling, precisely because the mutual confidence and reciprocally reinforcing stability that are characteristic of village intimacy will be absent from the process of that ‘nervous’ interaction.” (Brzezinski 1970 p.19)
We have not progressed too well in the matter of how to handle the differences and tensions in the context of the emergence of ‘the globe’. The switch from a mindset of globalisation to a mindset of globality has not yet taken place. Alvin Toffler has formulated the background to this as three waves of civilisation. The first wave was the agricultural revolution; the second wave was the industrial revolution and the third wave is the current information revolution. All three ‘civilisations’ are present together in both the so-called developed and the developing world. So not only are there clashes between tribes and cultures within any wave, there are clashes between the waves. Inhabitants of any wave appropriate each other’s instruments of propaganda and warfare. First wave tribes appropriate communications and weapons technology. Third wave tribes still cling to the use of second wave weapons of mass destruction and second wave functional hierarchies. Second wave societies still have first wave political systems.
The driver of these clashes is the need for domination. An emerging global human society is incoherent and unstable if it is driven by ‘our way is best for everyone.’ There appears to be only two ways of handling this. Tolerance of diversity is one way but it creates the difficulty of coping with uninvited invasive action that destroys the tolerant. Domination by the strongest coalition is another, but with the backlash of resistance as diversity is destroyed.
This points to the importance of the emergence of a fourth wave, that of globality, which displaces the dominant paradigm of modernity. Martin Albrow puts this well.
“For it is the way that globality enters into the frame of world society and state which displaces modernity as the dominant ordering principle of contemporary life. … the unification of the world, which happens as an outcome of the Modern Project, signals also the project’s termination. Moreover, the unification which has occurred is not as the project designed it, but arises as much from the limits of the world in which it was situated. The examination of these paradoxes is important to dispel illusions about what a new world order might mean.” (Albrow 1996)
Meanwhile, in the current climate of tension the issues of the emerging global era are simplified as the global-antiglobal polarity. Depending on one’s viewpoint, there are good people pursuing a global agenda and bad people protesting against them. Or there are bad people pursuing exploitative globalisation agendas heroically challenged by diverse good people who lack their antagonists’ power and resources. In this paper I aim to try and reframe the situation so that something more constructive than a bipolar tension can emerge and create new space for constructive and harmonious agendas.
The first step is to make a distinction between exploitative globalism and benign globalism. Equally a distinction must be made between aggressive anti-globalism and constructive anti-globalism. The implications of this distinction are set out in Table 1.
Table 1: The Four Fields of Interaction
|EXPLOITATIVE GLOBALISM||BENIGN GLOBALISM|
|AGGRESSIVE ANTI-GLOBALISM||Economic exploitation and exclusion confronted with hostile demonstration and rejection||Recognition that the human-biosphere system and consciousness expansion has a global destiny|
|CONSTRUCTIVE ANTIGLOBALISM||Constructive and courageous confrontation with the destructive aspects of the inevitability of some types of globalisation||An arena for new types of dialogue that has the potential to co-create a balanced global-local system|
The focus of this paper is on the fourth field of interaction where benign globalism is able to meet constructive anti-globalism and develop a collaborative stance to the resolution of what, in so many areas, turn out to be mutual problems that will only be solved by collaboration.
This reveals that, even as we accelerate into the Third Wave, a Fourth Wave is emerging based on new understandings of the impact of humankind upon the planet, now referred to as the Anthropocene Age. This means humans now have the capacity to alter the Earth System in ways that threaten the very processes and components, both biotic and abiotic, upon which humans depend. In this context there is also emerging new understanding of human evolutionary potential and new forms of organisation of planetary and local systems. Such a view cannot be value free. It embraces the global as a ‘no turning back,’ the alternative being indeed an apocalyptic fragmentation and destruction in both man and biosphere. Its direction aspires to an evolution that is determined by a complex of interrelating values which constitute a planetary integrity that is non-violent, respecting of positive diversity, supporting multiple pathways of personal and social enlightenment and wise in the ways of dealing with the massive destructive forces which are not going to go away at all easily.
So instead of polarising as globalism and anti-globalism, this way seeks to explore a frame of interconnectedness that acknowledges the positive ground of conflicting views and place them in a larger system where they retain their validity but only if adapted to play their role in the greater whole. This is a higher and more subtle integration than the old order.
The First Global Revolution
The unavoidable meaning of globalism is the inescapable fact that human kind has reached a level of both scale and scope of impact which is commensurate with the actual scale of the planet’s surface, its atmosphere and its biosphere. This is the first global revolution, well formulated by King and Schneider (1991). The human population now, as biological beings, impacts massively on the living surface (e.g. reduction of rain forests, impact of emissions on climate change). The economic activity of this population impacts on the surface systems (lithosphere, biosphere and atmosphere) at a level which affects the toxicity, the species balance and the stability of the climate. The socio-technical activity has put information, communication and military technology in the hands of communities whatever their value systems and whatever their wealth and mental health. The accelerating take over of the human mind (especially the young mind) by the technotronic revolution at a trivial level is constraining millions of people to be uneducated in the human quality.
This situation has been developing for several millennia with obvious acceleration and it could be argued that there is no especial qualitative difference other than perhaps speed and scale. However, the world system, like all systems, has properties which are non-linear and have tipping points or knife-edge criticalities. Rather as water may flow at a constant rate behind a dam and nothing changes for ages, at a critical moment the water reaches a level where it will flow over the slipway.
The main symptom of this unprecedented development is a set of imbalances. Man with the biosphere: man is overloading the biosphere and has too big an ecological footprint. Man with man: 1.5 billion with some degree of so called wealth and 3.5 billion in poor conditions with 1 billion of those seriously deprived. Isolated cultures and value systems are thrown together by travel and communications and de-stabilise traditional community integrity. The trend towards liberal values and the open society is undermined by those who exploit its freedoms for corrupt, criminal and destructive ends. These form the modern ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ where the apocalypse is the transition to the first global civilisation. They could be named, in a rather negative light, as:
The People Overload
The expansion of world population to, say, 10 billion implies a near doubling of infrastructure support and more than a doubling of biospheric impact.
The Greed Plague
More and more economic wealth is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and is transparent to a highly communicated world population.
The Belief Wars
Deeper than physical wars is the tension of belief wars (which trigger the physical) in which emotional attachment and inability to learn in the unknown lock communities in conflict.
The Sinister Exploitation
The motives of leaders and their factions are clearly not all benign but are self-serving and exploitative. Their possessive ground and expansive tendency is not easily to be curbed.
The global imbalance creates a set of dynamic vicious cycles of tension and escalating conflict. This is the negative side that points towards the apocalypse. However, there is also an evolutionary dynamic that creates a virtuous cycle in which the positive value of the global revolution leads to a more balanced, integrated and yet vividly diverse world where man and planet become treated and lives as one integrity. Human beings are beginning to stabilise the population and potentially may well be able to sustain over 9 billion people with a balanced footprint. The technologies are being developed that would enable economic activity on a global scale and never-the-less reduce the overall footprint of man. Out of the clash of values around the world a global culture is emerging, albeit peripheral, which acknowledges and tolerates, even integrates, the insights and energies of all major philosophies and religions. Just as aberrations like slavery and nuclear war have been averted there is a continuing movement to ‘clean up’ the foundations and frameworks for human affairs. This counter force is characterised by the Four Spirits of Integrity which emerge from the reframe to globality.
The Spirit of Stewardship
This is perhaps best illustrated in the notion of steward leadership in which the values and behaviors of leaders are responsible as well as authoritative.
The Spirit of Enterprise
This is inseparable from innovative learning as distinct from maintenance learning in that enterprise integrates creation, ethics and responsibility for dealing with human needs and problems.
The Spirit of Enlightenment
Expanding the bandwidth of consciousness in a world where overwhelming forces are diminishing it is perhaps the most critical factor.
The Spirit of Authenticity
Integrity is also linked with authenticity, right relationships and hence the ethics of interconnectedness.
Daniel Quinn (1991) has described a view of the ancient origins of the present predicament of humanity as the switch from a ‘leaver’ culture to a ‘taker’ culture. The latter is characterised by treating the planet and its resources as there for man’s benefit whether this is from the material economic standpoint or from a spiritual perspective. The Spirit of Stewardship is essentially a next step which does not have the ‘fruit and berries’ mode of life of the leaver culture but places the employment of technology, economics and life style a restorative culture of ‘living lightly on the planet’.
Most of the arguments on either side of the wealth divide between rich and poor put the emphasis on distribution. The Spirit of Enterprise moves us towards a society in which it is recognised that wealth, in all dimensions of value from economic to spiritual, is the fruit of being earned. It also seeks balance between these dimensions. Material wealth does not bring happiness and stewardship. Neither does impotent poverty.
The human mind, and especially human emotions, has difficulty in grasping the universality of values and the ability of the good to accommodate great diversity. Spiritual tolerance in the context of enduring fundamental values that recognise the interactive systemic nature of society is also an aspect of the Spirit of Enlightenment. The global situation redefines the common good on a global scale.
The Spirit of Authenticity moves us to recognise the corrosive or toxic nature of some forms of human behaviour when they are divorced from a deeper truth. The deep-seated tendencies that recur ‘unto the seventh generation’ imply there is no quick fix for human criminality and stupidity. But this spirit moves to go deeper and search for ways of growing the integrity of peoples everywhere without exception so that the foundations of society can support and be supported by conscious evolution.
You can read Part 2 here.
Albrow, Martin (1996) The Global Age Stanford University.
Brzezinski, Zbigniew (1970) Between Two Ages – America’s Role in the Technotronic Era, Viking Press.
Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio (2000) Empire Harvard University Press.
King, Alexander and Schneider, Bertrand (1991) The First Global Revolution Simon and Schuster.
Quinn, Daniel, (1992) Ishmael Bantam Turner Books.
Toffler, Alvin (1993) War and Anti-War: Making Sense of Today’s Global Chaos Warner Books.