Re-Imagining Society: Can We Move Beyond Purple Penguins And Price Tags?
Re-Imagining Society: The title rings with hubris. Who is to do this and why do we need to consider doing so? And who is this particular writer, Stuart Kauffman, so bold to write such a title?
I begin by saying I am not even confident of the questions I seek to pose, and almost totally in the dark about potential answers.
Perhaps it is overreaching, but I'll begin with the famous historian Arnold Toynbee, who wrote that civilizations are birthed, mature then senesce. Typically, Toynbee wrote, a spiritual renewal occurs during that senescence and lays an often unexpected foundation for a new civilization. Rome in its decline and the growth of Christianity is a case we all know.
Toynbee has been criticized for shoehorning too much history into this framework. More, it may be a grotesque overstatement to think our now post-industrial, post-post-modern, first-world civilization awaits decline and transformation to something new.
But perhaps it is not an overstatement and, perhaps, if we truly think together, something new, glimmering may emerge in the unfolding adjacent possible of history.
I have a hunch, somewhere deep in me, that we need a new way forward. We confront not only massive problems, but deeply missed opportunities which, I think, center on rethinking what a full human life is and what we may want of our first world, and an emerging global civilization.
The “adjacent possible” includes our new ideas of possibilities, which, bit by bit, like a taffy slowly unwinding and stretching indefinitely, unfold to "actuality," that sets the stage for the next possible openings in ways we typically cannot foretell.
Who foresaw Google when the computer was invented, or even when the web blossomed?
Let me begin with an otiose image of our first world civilization, much as I am its child with so many of us: We are spending our lives making, selling and buying purple plastic penguins for the poolside, while we live on a finite planet we despoil of water and clean air, making as many “bads” as “goods”.
Of course we also make shovels, food, shoelaces and perhaps 10 billion other things of fine use.
But does our first-world civilization, so bereft of spirituality that the Pope laments the decline of Christianity, actually fulfill our humanity?
To think even a moment on it is at least to question our assumed truth. We are, as the former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, reduced to price tags.
Why? How did we get here? Is this where we want to go? And if where we are is not where we want to be, what would it be to re-imagine society?
I do not know, but aim to explore, together with you.
Think: If we were living in the year 1100 A.D. in Europe, we would live a life of fealty to our lords and the Lord, knowing our right place in the world, knowing that "right thinking and acting" was to follow the Lord’s Laws. To such an age, ours would be a vast mystery.
Then, perhaps, a beginning in re-imagining society is to be found in our own past. From a memory of 1100 A.D., we can at least imagine that we can be in the world in more than one way.
So, I say, let us explore!