By Enrique Lescure
No human being has a complete oversight of what objective reality is, but instead understand the world from the collective input of information that all members of that human’s local community share amongst themselves, as well as from the output provided by society, and what organised society has deemed worth to put their focus on in their presentation of reality.
This presentation is most often formed in the context of a grand narrative, which most often is focusing on the preservation and continuation of the memetic transmissions that help to cement the cultural framework of the civilization and its values.
The issue is to identify the core of the current mainstream reality consensus in the Western Civilization, and to identify in which ways this reality consensus is helping to destroy the planet’s environment and ultimately it’s own civilisationary host as well.
After that, the issue is to discuss on what values and focus a new reality consensus should be formed.
The chatter in the tree
Campuses, cafés, kitchens and reddits are all filled with discord and irritation. The others do not simply understand. If everyone just could agree, we would solve all the world’s problems. Yet, all the others are holding incomprehensible beliefs based on baseless scare-mongering and weird ideals. Especially if they have studied strange courses at the University.
There are of course many humans who hold no strong opinions and who, for various reasons, decide they want to follow the majority or simply disentangle themselves from having to care about worldly matters. This author could not put any blame on them. It seems that in today’s world, people are often leaving debate rooms more puzzled than when they entered, and in a state of mellow confusion, and no issue is ever really resolved. Hardly surprising, a lot of people react by actively and aggressively trying to make the proponents of new ideas shut ut, just so they do not need to think over new ideas and concepts.
Why do people attain and embrace wildly divergent ideals and norms, which build the foundation which they then base their political and social values on? No one is really sure, and most likely it does have a variety of sources, socio-economic, cultural, experiences and even genes can play a part. Nevertheless, people often hold divergent beliefs about the world, and this stems in a way from the information that people receive. Since people most often hang out with peers in terms of gender, ethnic origin, academic level, profession or neighbourhood, they often experience similar things in their nearby environment, which influence their worldview.
Twenty or so years ago, most people were still taking in the information about their world from Television, which offered a few sources of valuable news which often shared very much the same consensus. Nowadays, people are increasingly moving towards other sources which are readily available on the Internet. This is mostly a profoundly positive development, since it allows for information that has been suppressed or which the elites do honestly not know much about to be shared. The downside of course is that the amount of disinformation has also increased during this process.
One national example is the infested debate on migration in Sweden, where one side claims that Sweden is taking in too many refugees and that it has adverse effects on housing, crime and ghettoisation. Some proponents of that side claim that many immigrants who belong to a certain world religion are more loyal to said world religion and are attempting to mold Sweden into a form more reminiscent of that religion. Many proponents of this worldview are also claiming that those who are pro-immigration are hating Swedish culture and attempt to destroy Sweden.
The other worldview is based around a narrative where immigration is benefitting Swedish society, which is an aging society, and that the labour market in the future would need a powerful injection of young people to function. Those who are claiming that there are too many immigrants are – according to this worldview – really trying to hide a xenophobic and even outright racist agenda, and are striving towards a society where people have different worth depending on their ethnic origin.
If we assume that both sides try to meet in a room with furniture, we can suspect that not much furniture would stand when they have finished their attempt to reach a consensus.
Yet, we can see that the differences of their opinions really are forming from two factors, namely their view on the state and capacity of the Swedish economy, and possibly their view on whether more people are a burden or an asset. From this follows these divergent views.
The same could be said of the so-called culture wars in the United States. Where one side sees the advance of the rights of women, LGBT people, ethnic minorities and other socially disadvantaged groups, the other is seeing an assault on traditional society and the destruction of the fabric of community. When the divergence grows to the degree that the proponents start to demonize one another and believe that those of a different opinion are really evil and aim to destroy everything they love and cherish, violence is not far away.
That is related to whether the mainstream consensus can hold or would break.
The Mainstream Consensus
The mainstream consensus is the reality within which society as a whole is pre-supposed to operate. It provides the world-view and the context for within what spectrum it is socially acceptable to form opinions around. Things outside of the existing narrative are at best accepted within insulated islands of like-minded, or isolated at the fringes of society. This consensus can be achieved though both repression, but also through culture, architecture, popular media, sermons and general etiquette.
Summarizing this, we can state that the mainstream consensus is informed by memes and behavioural patterns and expectations on the micro-level, by stable and predictable institutions at the middle level and by a common myth and a grand narrative embedding this myth on the grand level.
What is our current grand narrative in the Western Civilization, which – for better or worse – is the basis of the current global civilization? One obvious thing is that the Western Civilization is subdivided into partially different cultural spheres with different values and divergent family structures, economic values and values on individualism contra collectivism.
The centre of the Western Civilization does however lie in the Anglo-American sphere, and especially in the United States. While it could be said that France was the cultural centre of the Western world during the 17th and 18th centuries, the cultural stimulus of the West since the beginning of the 20th century has largely come from the US.
Through Television, music and cinema theatres, three to four generations of the western population have been exposed to the cultural impulses of Sit-coms, Hollywood films and Hit Music, and have attained a large part of the values and conventions expressed in these products.
In the more conventional sense, mass media, institutions of power and parts of academia have expressed a more formalized view on what the current zeitgeist of our age is and should be. This view is centred around two things, namely that the current system of Globalising Liberalism, with its attached values of economic growth, consumerism, multinational corporations and constitutional parliamentary democracies with (increasingly) limited power over economic policies is the ultimate form of civilization, and that all development from now on should focus on secure the Earth for this kind of system for the foreseeable future, and that our history is the history of the establishment, adversities and eventual triumph for this kind of system.
The elites within major think tanks, strategic analysis groups and clubs associated with this formula are building their normative approach on that the continuation and deepening of globalization should be the end goal of our society, through economic treatises and increased military and political coordination, possibly leading to the beginning of the formation of a global federal structure within 100 to 200 years, with the United States as its core model.
While there are groups with other agendas, most notably intellectuals associated with the BRICS (who strive for a multipolar world reminiscent of the world prior to 1914) or the Islamic political movements, it stands clear that the dominant force right now are holding their hopes around an agenda aiming for a globalized market economy dominated by harmonized financial and monetary institutions, where multi-national corporations can continue to unite the world, and bring larger and larger groups of people into prosperity, until everyone who are willing and able to work can be elevated to a global middle class of continuously rising income.
The only problem with this vision is that it is impossible to achieve within the constraints of nature, at least in the core form that the proponents are envisioning.
When reality fails to meet expectations
For myths and grand narratives to function, they need to correspond to at least parts of the values transmitted through earlier experiences, and to the reality that people can experience around themselves. When the myth tells people that everything is possible and that they can become the main character in the great narrative about their own life, and they cannot see any way to achieve that, as class mobility stagnates or collapses, they become demoralized and will gradually become increasingly alienated from their own grand narrative.
One example of a failed grand narrative that contributed to the collapse of a civilization was the narrative and myth of Soviet Socialism, which stressed that the population lived in a glorious socialist paradise, the most developed society the planet had seen. This was so obviously disconnected from reality that more than a majority of the population disregarded the propaganda machine, and subsequently the population was thoroughly demoralized and both unwilling and unable to defend what the elites tried to sell as the mainstream culture.
Ancient civilizations could endure deprivation and poverty quite well, because their promises and foundation was often ethereal, celestial and spiritual (“if you obey the norms and uphold the institutions that allow the landed elites to be in power, you will go to a happy place after you leave your mortal shackles”). Civilizations which build on the idea that people should have material gains must be able to create the foundations to provide this.
The motivations for people in the current “global civilization” to be abiding citizens and accept events even when
these events run counter to popular interests, is the expectation of future economic growth. If you believe that your situation will be better the next year, compared to this, you have an expectation invested in the system.
If this expectation is never provided for, the likelihood increases that investments are reduced and that people experience more and more privations, which can lead to riots and instability.
Due to the fact that economics is one of the few sciences which is based predominantly on expectations for the future, it is a concern for the well-being of the system that positive news (from a financial and growth perspective) are emphasised, for if there are too many negative expectations, they will be self-realised due to altered consumer patterns, creating increased volatility in the system.
There are two competing views of the situation of the world in the future, where the first (proposed by many economists, some technologists and a few intellectuals) state that economic growth necessarily will improve most indicators of well-being both in society and in the environment, and that we will live in a better, richer and more secure world by 2050.
Ecologists and environmentalists on the other hand, are seeing resource deprivation and the destruction of the environment as event chains that can possibly lead to the collapse of the current civilization.
The world can not both turn into Paradise and Hell, neither can probably the trajectory be placed on a linear spectrum between the vision espoused by economists and the one proposed by ecologists for future trends. Most likely, both sides are either partially wrong, or one side is entirely wrong.
Given that, the economist argument for future economic growth is a statistical one, namely that what has happened for the last decade will continue to happen for the next decade, with some alterations regarding demographics (how many new births, how many people will leave the labour force and retire). A prognosis like this below does not take into account the “externalities” or how the biosphere is a self-regulating system which can collapse (and have collapsed before).
Ecologists on the other hand may ignore the positive effects of new technologies brought into the economy, as well as some of the mitigating effects of the Coase theorem. Given that, if China should consume as much as we see above, China alone would need a few Earths for itself in order to sustain such wealth.
The interesting thing of course is that the Club of Rome does not represent a marginal environmental group, but rather a few of the world’s most influential people, who have cooperated extensively with ecologists and biologists regarding how resource usage will affect the world in the future.
It is scary how little communication there is between the groups of people who have made these diverging predictions of the future, and how different the grand narratives that they base their predictions on are. When researchers move inside such different realities, communication between them will definetly be suffering by the different expectations they hold for the future – a pub meeting would certainly be entertaining but it would be difficult to draw any conclusions for a layman spectator.
Summary and recommendations
If there is such a wide divergence in studies on future trends, it can only be because researchers focus primarily on the factors they are accustomed to. Scientists are like all other people, and are suffering from bias and information defiency. The Dunning-Kruger effect, that states that when people are ignorant in a field they tend to believe themselves better than average on said field, can apply to scientists as well – especially within the areas which the scientist in question, no matter if they are an ecologist or an economist, have not studied.
This increasing specialization and narrowing of the information focus may improve the technical qualities of scientists within narrow fields, but may handicap the scientist’s ability to process information adequately and result in too much reliance on limited data.
A necessary first step towards a consensus that can help us address the challenges of the 21st century would perhaps be if scientists from different fields who have produced such divergent prognoses of the future could meet and establish a consensus on what information to process and how data gathering on the future should be organised.
Only this could provide decision-makers and the public with the data base to make informed decisions on how we are collectively going to shape tomorrow.