Globe photo created by rawpixel.com https://www.freepik.com/photos/globe

Comparing Approaches to Addressing the Meta-Crisis

In the last couple of years, there has been an acceleration of community development, mostly online but also in-person, among people who are seeking new ideas and new ways of thinking about the world and about where our global society is headed. Many people have seized the opportunity to share concerns about the degradation of the natural environment and about threats to life on Earth and about where humanity might be headed in the years to come. To describe this growing phenomenon, we have these similar and partially overlapping notions of the liminal web, the sensemaking web, and the emergentsia among others. When we compare these people and organizations and the ideas they put forth and the values that drive them, we can find a lot of agreement that the world as we know it is in trouble and that we need to take this quite seriously.

Within this space, intellectually diverse as it often is, there seems to be a lot of agreement that there are several interdependent and interrelated crises that we are facing simultaneously and that, collectively, they pose an existential threat to human civilization. This is often known as the meta-crisis and also sometimes as the poly-crisis. The central idea is that our biosphere is facing an ecological emergency and that we have serious failings in other areas of public life that are preventing us from adequately addressing this emergency. Most notably, our political, socio-cultural, economic, and educational systems are all showing very serious failures, and thus we can consider each of these to be a distinct crisis in its own right. These crises are exacerbated by a breakdown in public sensemaking and by distortions within the information ecology. At the core is the so-called meaning crisis, which leads many people to confusion and alienation and an inability to find sufficient intelligibility and purpose within their lives.

In his essay Tasting the Pickle: The Ten Flavors of the Meta-Crisis, Jonathan Rowson asks us to take in all of this and to stew in the uncertainty and to understand the deep binds and constraints that are surrounding us and that are preventing us from seeking easy solutions. As complex as these challenges certainly are, some visionaries have formulated plans of action that might possibly help us somehow avert catastrophe. Now that many different proposals have been put forth, we have the opportunity to compare and contrast them and to understand the similarities and differences.

The idea is that there is a lot of agreement within the various interrelated intellectual movements, organizations, and people that make up the liminal web, sensemaking web, and emergentsia that there is this meta-crisis, but there are differences of opinion about what we should do about it. In short, there is a lot of interest in big change and a lot of agreement that our existing institutions and the socio-cultural, political, and economic status quo is not viable in the long term. Those who would agree with this general sentiment would often have different reasons for why that would be the case, but they all generally agree that we need to transition to a new systems state. We see futurists, historians, philosophers, wisdom researchers, theists, mystics, charlatans, and cranks debate the benefits, problems, deficiencies, and values of the present state of the world. We also observe these diverse people and organizations work to envision various possibilities for our future world order and we see them developing action plans for somehow working to address this meta-crisis. Teleology is probably a foundational aspect of our conscious lives. We tend to consider ends and goals and overarching purposes in most of our activities, both as individuals and as groups. Naturally, the various organizations and movements in this space have some sort of teleology, some sort of vision for the future, and probably some outline of a plan to get there.

The table linked above lists various distinct approaches to addressing the meta-crisis. These are primarily categorized based on the thought perspective or value meme that would essentially be the center of gravity of whatever worldview upon which the given approach would be based. At least one approach is given for each vMeme. Several approaches have been identified that can be classified as Integrative / Metamodern, and this constitutes about two thirds of the entries. This is because the most active and notable people within this space have probably reached this overall stage of development and also because people at earlier stages are less likely to think about systematic threats to human civilization.[1]

Within the Integrative / Metamodern entries, I made a judgment call and decided to divide them into primary and secondary approaches. The primary approaches are slightly older, with some having been first articulated in some form decades ago. Notably, Enlightenment 2.0 had its genesis in the mid 20th Century, as some visionary thinkers were formulating ways of bringing together concepts from the Western Age of Enlightenment with ideas from the Eastern Enlightenment tradition while also recognizing the major gaps in scientific understanding and ambiguity in terminology. Several second generation Integrative / Metamodern approaches are partially derived from Enlightenment 2.0, but some take quite different approaches, such as the so-called Dark Renaissance and Nora Bateson’s Ecology of Mind / Warm Data approach. I wasn’t sure exactly how to classify each of these. There are some that I classified as first generation perhaps can be seen as deriving from at least one other Integrative / Metamodern approach, including Game B, Folk Bildung 3.0, and Meta-Sensemaking.

The inheritance diagram linked above shows how each of these approaches are related to each other. The implication is that any approach inherits everything that precedes it. This means that anything within Integrative / Metamodern transcends and include the core of the vMemes Indigenous, Modern, Postmodern, etc. When specific approaches are based on one of these vMemes, such as Holistic Back-to-Nature, the approaches downstream from Indigenous do not necessarily always derive from that specific approach. For this reason, I have drawn arrows from some of the first tier approaches to some of the second tier approaches. Perhaps some arrows are missing.

Note that you can pick and choose and mix and match from among these and create your own approach based on what you think will work. You can create ecologies of practice to implement approaches and work to address the meta-crisis or some major aspect of it. We have the ability to borrow from any of these and create our own approach, weighted more heavily to any of these as we wish.

This table and the accompanying inheritance diagram are intended to get us thinking about how our organizations and movements have aligned values and visions and how we can constructively cooperate and collaborate in our efforts to work toward emergent solutions. Through maps such as this, we can better recognize our shared visions and common values and we can develop deeper interconnection and integration among our various projects, and we can come together for a similar purpose. This can then provide the opportunity for co-authoring and co-creation of books, articles, blogs, videos, podcasts, educational courses, etc. I imagine there could be additional efforts coming off of this. Perhaps some people could take some aspects of this and create their own documents for their own purpose in the near future. I’m willing to give assistance as needed.

[1] The accompanying table includes descriptions that I wrote and several written by other people who collaborated on this effort, including Leland Beaumont, Lene Rachel Andersen, and Nick Jankel. I also copied content from the Game B wiki. Some of this content also came from an episodes of The Stoa featuring Jason Snyder and an episode of Parallax featuring Raven Connelly.

[2] Some of this content has also been published to Wikiversity: https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Level_5_Research_Center/Escaping_Discontent

I’m the founder of The Enlightened Worldview Project — EnlightenedWorldview.com