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Our future—the future of humankind—will be decided by the outcome of today's macroshift. But what is a macroshift? If our future depends on its outcome, and especially if we can do something about influencing this outcome, understanding today's macroshift is important. Indeed, it is uniquely and decisively important.
Let us begin at the beginning. The most basic question we can ask about our future is whether we can know it. Very different answers can be given to this simple question. We may shrug and say, "I don't know and don't really care—I just take one thing at a time and the future will take care of itself." Or we may say that there are no answers to this question, or at least none that we could give with any measure of confidence. Prediction, after all, is a difficult business—especially, as the saying goes, when it is about the future. But we can also say that there are reasonable and credible ways to answer questions about our future by looking at the present. Just as the present has emerged out of the past, the future is likely to follow from conditions in the present. After all, where we are going has much to do with where we have been.
Indifference and skepticism are widespread attitudes, but they are not helpful when the world is changing before our eyes. If you choose to opt out of taking real responsibility for the consequences of your actions because such consequences are said to be unforeseeable and, in any case, are none of your business, you may as well quit reading now. But if you believe, or at least are open to the possibility, that we can say something meaningful about where we are going and, even more, that we may have a real role in deciding it, then read on.
What is it, then, that we can say with a measure of confidence about the shape of things to come? The simplest and most common answer is that the future will follow from the present and will not be radically different from it. As the French saying goes, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (the more things change, the more they are the same). After all, we are dealing with humans and human nature, and these will be pretty much the same tomorrow as they are today. A more sophisticated variant of this popular view adds that long-term ongoing processes of today will introduce some measure of change and make some difference tomorrow. These processes are typically viewed as "trends." Trends, whether local or global, micro or mega, introduce a measure of difference: as trends unfold, there are more of some things and less of others. The world is still the same, only some people are better off and others worse.
This is the view typically held by futurists, forecasters, and trend analysts in general. A good example of this is the much-publicized report of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue about the Future with Nongovernment Experts (Washington, DC 2000). The view of the world of 2015 that emerges in this nonclassified report is based on the unfolding of key trends, catalyzed by key drivers. The seven key trends and drivers are demographics, natural resources and environment, science and technology, the global economy and globalization, national and international governance, future conflict, and the role of the United States. The way these trends unfold under the impact of their drivers can produce four different futures: a future of inclusive globalization, another future of pernicious globalization, a future of regional competition, or a post-polar world. The main deciders are the effects of globalization—they can be positive or negative—and the level and management of the world's potential for interstate and interregional conflict.
When all these factors are taken into account, we get what the experts call "the optimistic scenario." In this perspective the world of 2015 is much like today's world except that some population segments (alas, a shrinking minority) are better off and other segments (a growing majority) are less well off. The global economy will continue to grow, although its path will be rocky and marked by sustained financial volatility and a widening economic divide.
Economic growth may be undone, however, by events such as a sustained financial crisis or a prolonged disruption of energy supplies. Other "discontinuities" may occur as well. Here is a short list of possible problems from the Global Trends 2015 report:
* violent political upheavals due to a serious deterioration of living standards in the Middle East;
* the formation of an international terrorist coalition with anti- Western aims and access to high-tech weaponry;
* a global epidemic on the scale of HIV/AIDS;
* rapidly changing weather-patterns that inflict grave damage on human health and on economies;
* the antiglobalization movement growing until it becomes a threat to Western governmental and corporate interests; the emergence of a geo-strategic alliance (possibly by Russia, China, and India) aimed at counterbalancing the United States and Western influence;
* collapse of the alliance between the United States and Europe; or
* creation of a counterforce organization that could undermine the power of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization and thus the ability of the United States to exercise global economic leadership.
With all these uncertainties and discontinuities we are far from justifying the assumption that the future will be much like the present. It is anybody's guess whether the world of 2015 will be the same kind of world as the world we live in today—or something quite different.
~Given the unsustainability of many trends and processes in today's world, the dynamic of development that will apply to our future is not the linear dynamic of classical extrapolation but the nonlinear chaos dynamic of complex-system evolution.~
This dilemma highlights the limits of trend-based forecasting. Trends unfold in time, but they can also break down and give rise to new trends and new processes. After all, no trend operates in an infinite environment; its unfolding has limits. These may be natural limits due to finite resources and supplies, or human and social limits due to changing structures, values, and expectations. When a major trend encounters such limits, the world has changed and a new dynamic enters into play. Extrapolating existing trends does not help us define this moment. We need to know what happens precisely when a trend breaks down. This calls for deeper insight. We must go beyond observing current trends and following their expected path. We must know something about the developmental dynamics of the system in which trends appear—and then disappear. Such knowledge is theoretical but it is cogent—and it is available. It comes from the theory of complex systems, popularly known as "chaos theory."
Given the unsustainability of many trends and processes in today's world, the dynamic of development that will apply to our future is not the linear dynamic of classical extrapolation but the nonlinear chaos dynamic of complex-system evolution. Few would deny that current trends are building toward some critical threshold—toward some of the famous (or infamous) "planetary limits" that in the 1970s and 1980s were said to be the limits to growth. Whether they are limits to growth altogether is questionable, but they are clearly limits to the kind of growth that is occurring today. As we move toward these limits, we are approaching a period of instability. It will mark the deflection or disappearance of some of the current trends and the appearance of others. This is not unusual: systems and chaos theory tell us that the evolution of complex systems always involves alternating periods of stability and instability, continuity and discontinuity, order and chaos. We are at the threshold of a period of instability today—a period of chaos.
Evolution through Macroshifts
~A macroshift is a bifurcation in the evolutionary dynamic of a society—in our interacting and interdependent world it is a bifurcation of human civilization in its quasi totality.~
Processes of rapid and fundamental change in complex systems are known as "bifurcations." The term, coming from the branch of physics known as nonequilibrium thermodynamics, has been popularized in chaos theory. It means that the hitherto continuous evolutionary path of a system forks off: thereafter the system evolves in a different way. Or it may not evolve at all: the system could also disappear, decomposing to its individually stable components. A macroshift is a bifurcation in the evolutionary dynamic of a society—in our interacting and interdependent world it is a bifurcation of human civilization in its quasi totality.
Of the variety of bifurcations known to systems and chaos theorists, the kind that interests us is the one called "catastrophic bifurcation." Here the system's relatively stable "point" and "periodic" attractors are joined by "chaotic" or "strange" attractors. These appear suddenly, as chaos theorists say, "out of the blue." They drive the system into a supersensitive state, the state of chaos. The chaotic state is not an unordered, random state but one where even immeasurably small fluctuations produce measurable, macroscopic effects. These are the legendary "butterfly effects." (The story goes that if a monarch butterfly flaps its wings in California it creates a tiny air fluctuation that amplifies and amplifies and ends by creating a storm over Mongolia.)
The discovery of the butterfly effect is linked with the art of weather forecasting, having its roots in the shape assumed by the first chaotic attractor when it was discovered by U.S. meteorologist Edward Lorenz in the 1960s. When Lorenz attempted to computer-model the supersensitive evolution of the world's weather, he found a strange evolutionary path, consisting of two different trajectories joined together similarly to the wings of a butterfly. The slightest disturbance would shift the evolutionary trajectory of the world's weather from one of the wings to the other. The weather, it appears, is a system in a permanently chaotic state—a system permanently governed by chaotic attractors.
Subsequently a considerable variety of chaotic attractors have been discovered. They are applicable in some measure to all complex systems, above all to living systems. Living systems maintain themselves in the physically improbable state far from thermal and chemical equilibrium. They are remarkable systems. Living systems do not move toward equilibrium, as classical physical systems do, but maintain themselves in their improbable state by constantly replenishing the energies and matter they consume with fresh energies and matter obtained from their environment. (Physicists would say that they balance the positive entropy they produce by importing negative entropy.) In doing so the more complex variety of systems makes use of an additional factor: information. The human brain and nervous system, for example, is a complex information-processing system adapted through the mechanisms of genetic mutation and natural selection to perceive and select suitable sources of energy and matter in the organism's milieu; to enable the organism to ingest and absorb these energies; and to use them to fuel the organism's own life processes. These processes go on as long as human beings live; it makes us into open "negentropic" systems that self-maintain and self-organize in our ecological and social environment.
Humans as individual organisms are not alone in being self-maintaining and organizing open systems. The groups and systems humans form are also systems of this kind. Individuals are born, grow to maturity, and die, but the societies they form and the ecologies in which they participate continue to exist. The dynamic of complex-systems evolution applies also to these larger entities.
Human societies are complex systems made up of the relations of individually conscious humans to each other and to their environment. The presence of human mind and consciousness complicate the evolutionary dynamic of these systems. The evolution of natural systems usually can be described with differential equations that map the behavior of the systems in reference to the principal system constraints. This is not the case when it comes to human societies. Here the consciousness of the society's members influences the system's behavior, affecting the evolution of the system in a variety of unforeseen ways.
~When a human society reaches the limits of its stability, it becomes supersensitive and is highly responsive to the smallest fluctuation. Then the system responds even to subtle changes in values, beliefs, worldviews, and aspirations.~
In periods of relative stability the consciousness of individuals does not play a decisive role in society's evolution, but in periods of chaos it does. When a human society reaches the limits of its stability, it becomes supersensitive and is highly responsive to the smallest fluctuation. Then the system responds even to subtle changes in values, beliefs, worldviews, and aspirations.
A macroshift is a process of societal evolution in which encounter with the system's limits of stability initiates a bifurcation: an era of transformation. This is an era of unprecedented freedom to decide the system's future. The outcome of the "chaos leap" of a bifurcation is initially undecided. Selection from among a range of possible alternatives is ultimately decided by the nature of the "fluctuations" that occur either within that system or in its surroundings. In human societies these fluctuations can be consciously governed. As consumers and clients, as taxpayers and voters, and as public opinion holders, we create the kinds of fluctuations that will decide the outcome of our society's macroshift. If we are aware of this power in our hands, and if we have the will and the wisdom to make use of it, we can become conscious agents of our society's bifurcation—that is, masters of our own destiny.
The four phases of a macroshift describe the dynamic of the evolutionary process in human societies. The first phase is the trigger phase. In this phase a set of technological innovations launches the macroshift (here "technology" is understood in the broadest sense, as any tool, technique, or means whereby humans interact with each other and with nature). Of the many technological innovations that surface in society, only the ones that help people do what they want to do with greater ease and less investment of time, energy, and money are implemented. These innovations amplify the power of muscles to move and transform matter, they extend the power of the eye to see and the ear to hear, and they enlarge the power of the brain to register and compute information. As a rule, these innovations are implemented without much regard for their consequences; the innovators think only of greater efficiency and effectiveness in carrying out the tasks and projects they want to see carried out.
In the second phase of a macroshift, the transformation phase, the proliferation of new technologies goes beyond the ability of the existing structures and institutions to manage and control. Those who own the new technologies work more effectively, but in doing so they create instability. More resources are produced, both by a more effective exploitation of the already exploited resources and by opening up new resources (for example, coal in addition to wood, then oil in addition to coal). The availability of a larger quantity and a wider variety of resources enables more people to produce and to consume. As a result, the population grows. But a larger population using more, and more kinds of, resources cannot make do with the kind of structures that served life based on simpler and more limited resources. There is a need for special skills and special purpose organizational structures. As these are developed, the complexity of society grows, together with its population and its resource base. In the absence of a suitable change in the dominant culture, social and political stability suffer.
Excerpted from MACROSHIFT by ERVIN LASZLO Copyright © 2001 by Ervin Laszlo. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|I||World in Macroshift||1|
|1||What Is a Macroshift?||5|
|2||Macroshifts Past and Present||16|
|3||Decisive Factors in Today's Macroshift||30|
|II||The New Imperatives||57|
|5||Forget Obsolete Beliefs||61|
|6||Learn to Live with Diversity||72|
|7||Embrace a Planetary Ethic||78|
|8||Meet Your Responsibilities||88|
|III||The Way Ahead||105|
|9||Evolution from Logos to Holos||109|
|10||The Quiet Dawn of Holos Consciousness||120|
|11||You Can Change the World||136|
|Twelve Comments by Members of the Club of Budapest: Peter Russell, Edgar Mitchell, Karan Singh, Thomas Berry, Robert Muller, Riane Eisler, Edgar Morin, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, Ignazio Masulli, Otto Herbert Hajek, Peter Roche, Gary Zukav||147|
|Postscript: The Holistic Paradigm in Science||173|
|References & Further Reading||195|
|About the Author||206|
|About the Club of Budapest||210|
|The Manifesto of Planetary Consciousness||211|