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The following report represents a collection of forward ideas by some of the best thought leaders in the world.
Dennis Bushnell offers a provocative vision in which people become self-sustaining on a small plot of land while connected seamlessly to the entire world on tele-everything. Dennis concludes that all problems would disappear – “no pandemics, no energy crisis, no climate change, no financial mess, no job losses, etc.” But one must think big to see this solution.
Jim Dator is dismayed by attitudes favoring economic growth over cultural and ecological values and believes that they are unlikely to change. The only way forward is through the imminent self-destruction of dominant values, behavior and institutions, with “the hope that a million phoenixes arise from the ashes… countless tsunami that we must learn to surf with pleasure and pain.”
Amy Fletcher provides a timely analysis of the coronavirus pandemic and effects of the crisis, highlighting the failures that are prolonging the pain. She advises us to “listen to those voices who do not have a platform and speak truth to power.” The role of the futurist is to facilitate the efforts of those who lack power because the answers we need may lie with them.
Sohail Inayatullah digs beneath the layers of these continuing crises to probe the underlying causes. Sohail finds that we need a “Gaian re-balance by moving to a world with a quadruple bottom line: Prosperity, Purpose, People, and Planet.” A new Renaissance is needed – the transformation of self and society, home and plant.
Peter King urges us to follow the science and create a Nature-centric world. Guided by the natural wisdom of Earth’s ecosystems, we would find abundant energy, food, medicines, water, jobs, economic growth and a more satisfying lifestyle. To avoid dangerous tipping points, we must move forward into a “visceral and directly experienced relationship with Nature.”
Ruben Nelson focuses on the passing of today’s “modern techno-industrial” civilization, with no workable replacement for it in sight. While he is not hopeful about a solution, he does think what’s needed is a “wise, integral and meta-reflexive form of consciousness.” In other words, rather than thinking of economic growth, “The only way to grow, is UP.”
David Passig finds two phases that could unfold from the MegaCrisis. The first will disrupt the present idea behind globalization as mutual collaboration based on voluntarily respect and common interests. The second will establish the idea of ”entanglement” as symbiotic undetachable ties with enforced collaboration that respects mutual dependency on each other.
Foreword from Bill Halal:
Toward a Global Consciousness
The central theme running through the diverse statements from these thought leaders is that the governing ideas inherited from the industrial past are outdated, leading humanity toward disaster. It is a collapse of today’s reigning “materialist” ideology of Capitalism, economic growth, money, power, self-interest, rationality, knowledge, etc. Ruben Nelson, Jim Dator, and Sohail Inayatullah are especially clear on the passing of this dying system.
These values remain valid and useful, but they are now badly limited. Prevailing practices in the US, as the most prominent example, are failing to address the climate crisis, employee welfare, universal health care, women’s rights, political gridlock, infrastructure and other social needs that lie beyond simple economics.
This could become a “Collapse of Capitalism” roughly equivalent to the “Collapse of Communism” in the 1990s, and it stems from the same fatal flaw – refusal to adapt to a changing world. Communism could not meet the complex demands of the Information Revolution, and now Capitalism seems to be failing to adapt to a unified globe threatened by pandemics, climate change and the other threats making up the MegaCrisis. I think the US may be reaching that point of “imminent self-destruction” that Jim Dator thinks is needed to transform the system.
The coronavirus crisis brings these failings of the present American government, and most other nations, on vivid display now for all to see. Criticism can be found running through common exchanges on the web and other media. See Amy Fletcher’s comments for a powerful example. One of the benefits from a tragedy like this crisis may be a loss of faith in the status quo. We see it everywhere, and it’s a blessing in disguise emerging out of chaos.
The big question remaining is, “What should be the new vision, values, principles, and policies?” At the risk of appearing pedantic, we integrate what has been learned above and the forthcoming book, Beyond Knowledge, to outline a few principles of what we consider “global consciousness.”
1. Treat the planet and all life forms as sacred. The Fermi Paradox notes that no other civilizations have been detected after decades of SETI searching. This rarity of life reminds us what a miracle plant Earth really is, and that we are responsible for its well-being. The primary role of Nature is stressed in most of the above statements, particularly Peter King’s vision of life in a Nature-centric society and Sohail Inayatullah’s idea of rebalancing Gaia.
2. Govern the world as a unified whole. Nations remain the major players in this global order, but they should be lightly governed by some type of global institution like the UN and other international bodies. As David Passig notes, interdependence requires at least a minimal authority. Individuals should continue to be loyal to their nations and local institutions, but they should also accept their role as global citizens.
3. Manage markets to serve human needs and encourage cooperation. Free enterprise is the basis of society, and the good news is that business is on the verge of becoming cooperative. The Business Roundtable announcement that all stakeholders should be treated equally with investors seems an historic breakthrough. This move to a quasi-democratic form of enterprise could set a new standard for collaborative behavior and human values throughout modern societies. Amy Fletcher, for example, urges us to listen to those who have no public voice as they often have good answers.
4. Embrace diversity as an asset. Rather than becoming a uniform, pallid bureaucracy, a unified world should embrace the wondrous diversity of cultures and individuals. Working across such differences poses a challenge, naturally, but differences are also a source of new knowledge, talents and human energy. Dennis Bushnell’s “back-to-the-land” scenario, for instance, would encourage a far richer diversity.
5. Celebrate life. Any society needs frequent opportunities to gather together in good spirit, enjoy differences and commonalities, and to simply celebrate the glory of life. The World Olympics Games, for instance, are special because they provide a rare feeling of global community. We could witness a flowering of celebratory events over the coming years to nourish the global soul.
This is only one small sample of leader insights, of course, but we hope it provokes thinking toward a widely held vision for planet Earth at a time of crisis. An historic change in consciousness is hardly done overnight, and the obstacles posed by the status quo are formidable.
But the Information Revolution provides a powerful new method for shaping consciousness using the Internet and public media. Think of the explosion of ideas, hatred and forbidden desires released by billions of people blasting into loudspeakers like Facebook and Twitter. Anybody can use the media to shape public opinion instantly, for better or worse. We are awash with the wildly differing views of actors, TV stars, politicians, athletes, ordinary people with heart-breaking stories, cute kids doing smart things and influencers like Kim Kardashian.
The challenge is to shape a unified consciousness out of this morass of differences to solve the global crises that loom ahead. Today’s threat to reason is challenging us to counter these wrong-headed beliefs and to provide more attractive visions, like the principles for global consciousness outlined here. We suggest the place to begin is by discussing these ideas as widely as possible, and to shape public opinion roughly along these lines.
Chief Scientist, NASA, Langley
The prime source for my response is the short tome from Will and Ariel Durant “The 10 lessons of History” and personal observations over these last decades as we entered this “mega crisis.” This is now too long a list of near existential to existential societal issues, of which this current virus is FAR from the worst possibility. The overall concern is that they are mostly concomitant.
To resolve a crisis requires resources and power. These can, and have over history, come from either the existing established order or a revolution, in technology or society. We were getting close to resolving the climate/energy/ecosystem portion via technology that provided huge profits to those that solved it. So, in that case – brute economics. Most of the others can very amicably, affordably and actually fairly rapidly be addressed by a tech-enabled revolution in economics, a back to the future, where before the industrial revolution we were almost all farmers, few had jobs per se. With results of the extant technology revolutions, on a half-acre, we can grow food, produce energy via distributed generation, print what we want, do tele-ED and tele-MED, Tele-everything as we are now doing, become independent again, the income disparities go away, the pandemics go away, climate/ecosystems issues go away, financial meltdowns go away, and the job situation reverts to essentially the GIG economy, which is some 36% of the economy now. The mega issues not addressed include solar storms which, from studies with the current non distributed generation electric system causes a huge mortality in just a year, we are now that dependent on electricity. Does not solve asteroid impacts, super volcanoes [ e.g. Yellowstone] nor the machines becoming more intelligent than we are, but otherwise, a much more salubrious life than we appear to have now.
The key to solving big, hard problems is to rack up your assumptions and your knowledge as to what is changing and what is not, and what could change with evolving techs if we took the gloves off. Then OBVIATE THE ASSUMPTIONS, one by one, two by two, etc. until you arrive at a suite of solution spaces and then triage. Many try to solve things by evolutionary changes, actually changing little. For SERIOUS issues such as those in MEGA, many posited solution spaces are often not that effective. For big problems have to consider BIG CHANGES.
University of Hawaii
American history can be understood as a continual struggle between those in favor of endless economic growth, called “progress”, and those in favor of preserving and following certain other values—cultural, religious, ideological, or ecological: Federalists vs Anti-federalists; Cowboys vs Indians; Industrializing Capitalists vs. Agrarian slave holders; Economists vs. Environmentalists; Globalizers vs. Nationalists; and so on down to the present. But this is not just an American phenomenon. Similar conflicts appear almost everywhere in the world: Confucians vs Daoists in China (with versions in Korea and Japan); Hinduism vs. Jainism in India; Islam vs. Baháʼí; Protestant Work Ethic as a sign of Salvation vs. Catholic work as a penalty for sin (Genesis 3:17-19).
In every instance, those in favor of exploitation have been “victorious” over those who favored preservation, and thus are, each in their own way and time, responsible for what Halal and Marien call The Global MegaCrisis. Why should we assume that there will now be some “solution” to the MegaCrisis; some change in global consciousness and behavior? And if such a consciousness change were to occur, why should we believe it will be sustained into the futures?
I have spent my entire adult life doing my very best to prevent or reverse the trends and events that brought on the crisis. When I was young, in the 1950s and 60s, there was very good reason for me to feel that the arc of history was indeed bending towards justice, equity, balance, and peace. Sure, there were plenty of obstacles and setbacks, but there were also almost unbelievably positive social changes in the way many humans behaved toward one another, toward other inhabitants of the Earth, and toward the Earth itself.
Until 1980. The future for the first thirty years of my life looked incrementally but importantly better and better. But the forces of “single vision and Newton’s sleep” actively killed it. Since the time of Reagan, Thatcher, Nakasone, Roger Douglas and their ilk worldwide, the future has become increasingly nasty, brutish and short for a great many people. To be sure, during this time countless informed and responsible voices have warned about the consequences of focusing all aspects of personal and institutional life on only one thing—continued economic growth—but to no lasting avail, and so we are now experiencing the transformation of Earth from a wilderness, to a garden, to an iron lung called the Anthropocene Epoch.
What is the solution to all of these interrelated challenges before human and other life on Earth comes crashing to an end?
It is not going to come from me, or from any of us who are unable to think beyond the narrow unimaginative limits of our education, experience, and genes. Oh, I am sure many excellent ideas are being offered here, but how will these new ideas come to fruition now when they could not do so previously?
The only way I see they might is through the imminent self-destruction of all dominant values, behavior and institutions, with the hope that a million phoenixes will arise from the ashes. I can well imagine the collapse, but it is difficult for me to think that phoenixes will arise instead of the usual vultures. Is there no way, peacefully, purposely to achieve a better world for everyone?
Recently, Tony Judge—a person of boundless imagination and energy–reminded me that “Physicists proudly refer to the much-quoted statement by Niels Bohr in response to Wolfgang Pauli: We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough. To that Freeman Dyson added, “When a great innovation appears, it will almost certainly be in a muddled, incomplete and confusing form. To the discoverer, himself, it will be only half understood; to everyone else, it will be a mystery. For any speculation which does not at first glance look crazy, there is no hope!”
Tony suggests we need to look at the coronavirus as a friend, not an enemy. Embrace it, welcome it in, emulate its behavior. We should remember that once we did our best to purify our bodies of countless microbes until we discovered that our very life depends on countless numbers of as yet unknown microbes in our bodies, especially guts; that we are little more than hosts for their successful lives.
We are not facing a Global MegaCrisis that we must defeat. We are in the midst of countless tsunami that we must learn to surf with pleasure and pain.
Amy L. Fletcher, PhD
Associate Professor of Political Science
The University of Canterbury, Christchurch New Zealand
Professional Futurist (APF)
The Covid-19 crisis has put the world into a strange and unprecedented holding pattern. While critical health care must be the immediate priority for any government, the political and economic shocks that have begun to reverberate around the globe as a result of this crisis will be profound and long-lasting.
This pandemic, which would be frightening at any time, has spread in a moment already characterized by hyper-partisanship, distrust of experts, and rising populist anger. When we hear in the news of politicians who sat in confidential Covid-19 briefings and then presciently dumped stocks before the rest of America got the memo, when we see the near-constant hostility that characterizes the relationship between President Trump and much of the press, and when we witness people already so angered by limitations to their freedom of movement that they lash out at service workers, despair seems to be the only logical response to this moment.
Yet an astonishing resilience has also been on display through this crisis, as have remarkable moments of courage, charity, and grace. At my University, as in hundreds of others around the world, most staff switched almost overnight to thinking about how best to shift from face-to-face to online learning. Students have also demonstrated remarkable fortitude in confronting not just the immediate crisis but the inevitable long-term disruptions to their studies, dreams, and goals. From the person who leaves food on the doorstep for an elderly neighbor to those couples that you see walking outside with their children as if this were one big adventure to enjoy rather than fear, human beings are now on display in their best and worst lights.
The temptation right now is to do something, anything. Yet if futurists become one more set of experts using their moment in the spotlight to point fingers, assign blame, and exacerbate the fault lines between people, we will have failed. For many of us in the futures profession, the COVID-19 crisis embodies all sorts of warnings—about political mismanagement, about the environment, about the relentless pursuit of profit—that we have been making for years. Still, in this moment when it has become starkly obvious that the normal way of doing things has reached its limits—it will be important not to overplay our hand. Rather than immediately putting new grand visions into place, I believe that futurists need to go back to basics and start by listening to those whose voices thus far have not had a platform. A wise man once said that the role of the expert is to speak truth to power. In the COVID-19 era, a critical role for the futurist will be to facilitate those who have not had opportunities to be heard. The answers we desperately need now may lie with them.
UNESCO Chair in Futures Studies, USIM, Malaysia.
Professor, Tamkang University
Associate, Melbourne School.
During the global financial crisis over a decade ago, the Financial Times reported that at heart this was a narrative crisis. How you dealt with it depended on the story you used to explain it. Was it a mortgage crisis, a banking crisis, a geo-political crisis of the shift to the Pacific (higher savings rates), a financial crisis, or a crisis of capitalism? Ultimately, the deeper crisis was ignored, and Wall Street was saved at the expense of Main street. China intervened in the markets and all returned to normalcy. We did not change.
We are in a similar situation today.
Is this merely a disease crisis? If so, the solution is easy: find the cure and the vaccine. Ensure open science, free -flow information, and find the medical solutions. The main insight will be that global science working together can create the difference.
But what then when another similar zoonotic disease erupts? This then is more of a food consumption crisis. Required in this narrative is the banning of wet markets, of the eating of exotic animals. And ensure those trading in these lucrative areas find new work; otherwise, the trade will just move underground.
But perhaps this is more than just a zoonotic crisis? It is not just wildlife that is the problem, but our consumption patterns. We thus need to rethink our urbanization models. At the very least ensure that we do not encroach into wildlife areas. Ideally, we need to change our relationship with meat. As we enter a severe recession, possibly a global depression, or a seven-year malaise, then this becomes a deep economic crisis. Creating a world where “money keeps on rolling” and not getting stuck in the hands of a few becomes urgent and imperative. This is a world economic crisis and global solutions must enhance equity and prosperity. We challenge the world capitalist system with its mantra of “more, more, more.” Capitalism dies: we help it disappear.
This then is about a much deeper crisis. It is fixing the great imbalance. In our four spheres of life: economy, society, spirit, and nature, we have overly favored one at the expense of others. We need a great Gaian re-balance, moving to a world with a quadruple bottom line: Prosperity, Purpose, People, and Planet. COVID-19 can help us create a new Renaissance—a transformation of self and society, home and plant.
The Mega-crisis has one undeniable cause: we have tried to destroy our connection to Nature and now Nature is striking back. For every problem humans are facing, simply ask the question “what would Nature do?” After all, Nature has been around a lot longer than this upstart Homo sapiens species. Nature has been learning from trial and error for more than 3 billion years, while modern Homo sapiens has been engaged in the same process for less than 10,000 years.
Energy: We get more than enough energy from the sun every day, so there is no need to tap fossil fuels.
Medicines: Pharmacological compounds abound in Nature, but we don’t spend enough effort in looking for them. In fact, we don’t even know how many species we share the planet with.
Decarbonization: Photosynthesis takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and turns into things like food, timber and oxygen.
Water: There is enough freshwater on the planet for our needs and those of other species, but we are not scaling up solar desalination or fog capture, nor replenishing our groundwater.
Automation: Remove unsafe, numbing, meaningless, factory jobs and replace them with human-scale jobs that restore the damage that we have done to Nature. Jobs that provide organic food, foster creativity and the arts, expand research capabilities, and other “green” jobs. Adopt the concept of a living wage that should be the right of every adult who wants to work. Everyone should have an opportunity to participate in a healthy, environmentally-sound economy.
Debt: The greatest debt is to Nature, following centuries of damage. Financial debt should be addressed through fairer taxation systems—tax the “bads” in our society (polluters, criminals, price gougers, etc.) and not tax (or reduce the tax on) the “goods” in society (e.g. organic farmers, artists, writers, scientists etc.).
The main message is, don’t think about Going Back to Nature, rather Going Forward with Nature. We can’t simply return to the mystical, spiritual connection of our ancestors, but we should reinforce that invaluable connection with the modern tools that science provides.
Yes, these changes will be difficult to make, but if we don’t start now, then Nature will reach tipping points (some reached already?) beyond which recovery becomes impossible. To move in this direction, the reconnection with Nature needs to be visceral and directly experienced, especially for the 70 percent of humanity that will be living in cities. Get kids out in natural environments and introduce ecology into the school curriculum from Grade 1. Train thousands more ecologists, biologists, environmental scientists. Create vast armies of natural restoration teams from those who are unemployed or underemployed. Change business models to reward companies that find natural solutions to societal problems. Increase research on those natural solutions in our universities and labs. And change government planning systems so ecosystem services are fully valued by economists and decision makers. I know that is a lot of change, but it is doable.
Executive Director, Foresight Canada
I agree, ours is truly a rare time. The arc of history is taking a new trajectory.
Our modern faith system is failing and is failing us. The messes we are in are revealing that the fundamental way our Modern Techno-industrial (MTI) way of gripping and knowing reality is fatally flawed. Put simply, in the face of the reality of complex living personal and non-human systems, we are losing a 500-year-old 1st-Enlightenment bet: that mechanistic images, metaphors and logics could make reliable sense of everything that is of value. Well, they can’t.
I also agree, the only way forward is to grow up. A new and deeper personal, communal and cultural maturity is called for.
However, I see this to be a long shot.
The most obvious reason is that, today, while there is a hunger for something better, there is no market for a vision of the future that aspires to transcend our MTI way of knowing and being; a vision that calls us to nurture a truly new form of civilization into robust life. Such a project is literally unimaginable to most Moderns. We Moderns are not so much seduced by our creature comforts as we are deeply, even unconsciously, convinced that the modern game of making things better by finding and solving problems is endless. Consider the global multi-billion-dollar sustainability industry. Little of it has the power to reach “civilizational escape velocity”—the depth of insight required to escape the presuppositions of our MTI form of civilization. From the beginning, “sustainable development” has been a project to extend and improve Modernity, not transcend it.
I am not against making things better. However, I stand against the widespread MTI belief that if we all try really hard, then our efforts to “make things better” will be enough to cope with the complex living messes in which we now wallow. They will not. We who are Modern, by continuing to trust our MTI ways of knowing and being known, have fundamentally misdiagnosed the nature and depth of the trouble we are in. The result is Adelaide’s Lament: our “medicine never gets anywhere near where the trouble is.”
Over six decades of research and practice, I have come to the view that, as with Wittgenstein’s fly in the fly-bottle, we Moderns are trapped in a 1st Enlightenment apprehension of reality. Such a mechanistic worldview requires clear, critical, logical, analytical and empirical perceptions and thought. However, it does require the reflexive, let alone, meta-reflexive intuition, imagination and thought demanded in order to live successfully while enmeshed in living, complex, personal and organic systems. This omission has now become fatal.
In my view, the form of consciousness we need is type-opposite to our MTI form—a consciousness that is wise, integral and meta-reflexive. “Wise” means every relevant dimension has been included. “Integral” means all dimensions are held together as a coherent whole. “Meta-reflexive” means we are corporately self-critically reflexive even about the adequacy of our reflexivity. Such a consciousness gets it, not only that we are in deep trouble, but that the deepest source of our trouble, ironically, is the very thing we Moderns champion, celebrate and insist we live by—our 1st Enlightenment MTI grasp on and response to reality.
We Moderns don’t yet get it that if we are to have a future, it lies beyond our MTI cultures and form of civilization; that out-growing our modern sense of the world is the price we must pay if there is to be any hope of avoiding human extinction; that we face an existential, rather than merely an economic and ecological, undertaking—one that is personal, cultural and even civilizational in scope; and that we need to develop a new relationship with reality, the Earth, one another and even ourselves.
In this sense, “The only way to grow, is UP.”
David Passig, Futurist and Professor
Bar-Ilan University, Israel
I see two phases that could unfold from this MegaCrisis. The First Phase will disrupt the underlying idea behind “globalization” as mutual collaboration based on voluntarily respect and common interests. The Second Phase will establish the idea of “entanglement” as a symbiotic undetachable tie between entities across the globe with a responsibility to each other’s behavior. Thus, we could see enforced collaborative procedures that respect the nature of dependency on each other.
The First Phase will shake the global and liberal consciousness that has emerged after WWII. This phase might take a decade to exhaust itself and demonstrate its negative impact on democracies. During the first phase, the pandemic scare will change the way the people of the West see the world. The faith in democracy, liberalism, and institutionalism is likely going to decline in favor of a state-centric, and strongman infused system, just as was the case in the interwar era (1918–1939). With the United States receding from world affairs, Europe is turning to Russia and China for guidance, which will further help the erosion of the European values. This phase will turn to be catastrophic to democracies as well as to vulnerable and small nations that will raise the surge for a more global perspective of problem solving. This will drive the second phase.
The Second Phase that will unfold thereafter will bring a new global and grim consciousness that we are more entangled than we have imagined even before the pandemic. We might even call the paradigm of the second decade after this pandemic as the “entanglement era,” as opposed to the “globalization era” which we have experienced since WWII. This phase could shape the mind and hearts of the remaining generations of the 21st century that will engage at shaping a new world order with global institutes and services as well as a mechanism that will enforce the entangled driven policies and behavior.