First, the harsh facts?—?our planet is now in overshoot-and-collapse; we have leaders who are delusional about the reality of our situation; the only solution given by our governments is “economic growth” without end; and extreme social inequality is crippling our ability to collaborate as we move ever faster toward planetary-scale collapse.
Now here’s the good news. We CAN navigate the turbulence of our times by recognizing that the real state of power is culture. What I mean by this is that it is cultural narratives that drive our behaviors. And it is cultural norms that “select” for pathological behaviors. So if we want to design our way through this maelstrom of crises we will have to become culture designers who learn how to guide and shape the evolution of entire societies.
Not a small task, so this may merely be a silver lining on a storm so big your head spins. But it does offer a sliver of hope. For we can ensure that we avoid the unacceptable outcome of total extinction for humanity only by fully understanding what makes us uniquely human.
We need to create a network of design schools for navigating the systemic collapse of our planet (as I’ve argued here). This means we need to learn the science of cultural evolution and see how it applies to the unprecedented global changes we are now living through. We may not be able to avoid collapse, but we can live through it and create a system for planetary thriving on the other side.
Here is the “design solution” for our times:
- Recognize that fundamentally ALL of our problems arise through pathologies of culture.
- Learn how to study and understand cultural change to see how the problems arose historically, have evolved to the present moment, and where they are likely to go in the future.
- Dive deep into the research literature on human nature to see that we are a profoundly social, moral, technological, and cultural species.
- Begin applying this body of knowledge as a design practice to increase cooperation, trust, generosity, and altruism (being “pro-social”) for groups of people seeking to achieve common goals.
- Build a network of communities that learn together as they discover cultural interventions that increase resilience for healthy individuals and entire communities.
- Do whatever is necessary to keep this network going as the Earth moves through tipping points, shocks, devastating crises, and harms that may at times be overwhelming.
- Think like a geologist and look at deep patterns in time—so that you can engage in design practices that last for more than one generation (even hundreds of years) beyond the present crisis-of-the-moment.
- Do this and you will learn how to be ecological (culture is always embedded in context); systemic (you will learn a lot about the science of complex systems along the way); improvisational (work with what is emerging and plan for contingencies); and cooperative (only those solutions that arise through participation will be viable for the long haul).
I have written many articles in the last year about culture design. Here are a few to help you get started on your path to implement this design solution.
Can We Design the Future We Want?
Tools for Culture Design
The Predicament of Knowledge: A Challenge for Culture Design
A Global Network of Culture Design Labs
Culture Design Labs—Evolving the Future
Toward A Science of Intentional Change
How It Feels to be A Culture Designer
Onward, fellow humans.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Brewer is a change strategist working on behalf of humanity, and also a complexity researcher, cognitive scientist, and evangelist for the field of culture design.