Society 4.0
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Society 4.0

RESPONDING TO A WORLD IN TRANSITION

Part 1: The Changing World Order

The Repeating Cycle of Human Civilizations

Image courtesy British Army

This 3-part video series is an attempt to provide organizing principles for understanding the human and planetary condition. You can find an overview of the series, with links to Parts 2 and 3 here.

In Part 1 we explore the roughly 275-year cycle all civilizations progress through as they rise to greatness and then their inevitable collapse. We make some guesstimates as to where we are in the cycle and we conclude with what we can expect next.

Video Timestamps

00:00 — Introduction
02:21 — Thought Experiment
03:46 — Why This Discussion?
05:55 — The 275 Year Cycle
09:07 — Where Are We Today?
10:47 — What to Expect
14:05 — Why Does This Happen?
15:40 — Recommended Resources

Video Presentation

(Scroll down for transcript.)

Supporting Links

All bit.ly links below open direct links to a Roam Research database. These links do not work well if you’re on a mobile device, unless you have their app installed. They are best viewed on a desktop browser.

Resources

Video Transcript

This video is an attempt to provide organizing principles for understanding the human and planetary condition. It may be meaningful to you if you’re experiencing some form of angst or trauma about climate change, war, a virus, energy stability or the economy. It will definitely be meaningful to you if you could never have imagined living in the world we’re now living in.

We’re going to attempt to provide a single, simple answer to the question of WHY any particular world event is happening.

This work is based on my best current understanding. I’ve put a huge amount of work into this, but I may still have something wrong.

Let me know in the comments or via email if you have something to add or if I need to correct my thinking.

This is a 3-part video series.

In this part 1 we’ll look at the patterns which have appeared over the past 8,000 years. It’s not particularly good news.

In the next video we’ll explore what we can expect and it’s decidedly better news than what we’ll cover in this video.

And in the final video we’ll attempt to answer the question of What should we do given the situation we face?

There’s a huge amount to unpack in this series and we’ll cover a lot of ground. It might appear overwhelming, but it’s necessary. What we’ve noticed is that too many people dive straight into problem solving without understanding the problem space. That’s why it’s been said:

If I had only one hour to solve a problem, I would spend up to two-thirds of that hour in attempting to define what the problem is.” — often incorrectly attributed to Einstein

This video series attempts to navigate the nexus of energy, food, water, war, disease, climate and human progress. We believe that it is this nexus that should be more deeply explored by analysts, systems thinkers, podcasters and independent journalists. This video series is simply an attempt to start the conversation.

Please pause the video if you need to. Links to the extensive supporting material can be found in the video description.

A Thought Experiment

Before we get started, a thought experiment…

You will know that when you peel a pineapple, you’re left with those little black dots. They’re called eyes.

Imagine that each eye on the pineapple represents just one of the many challenges our civilization faces. The list below is certainly not comprehensive , but you get the idea.

The question we’re exploring is whether there might be a pattern that connects all the dots.

That’s because we believe that identifying and addressing PATTERNS could be more effective than addressing individual symptoms.

The brief video below shows how pineapples are peeled in Asia (skip to 01:03 if you’re in a hurry to see the pattern experiment).

You will notice how they see the pattern connecting all the eyes. Once they see the pattern they can more efficiently achieve their objective, which is a totally clean pineapple.

That’s what we’re going to do in this video: look for patterns so we can more efficiently achieve our objective, which is a world that works for everyone.

Why look for patterns?

  • Patterns provide clarity when navigating a complex world
  • Once seen, patterns can’t be unseen
  • In other words, we want our default thinking to be a search for patterns.

But why do we need to even have this discussion?
Surely our future is green?
Surely there are many people working on technological solutions to our planet’s challenges, so we don’t need to concern ourselves. We have:

  • Wind farms
  • Solar farms
  • Electric vehicles
  • Carbon Capture & Storage…

We believe that there is seriously flawed thinking around climate change, renewable energy, sustainability and Net Zero. And we know that there is a growing number of people who feel the same.

We believe that:

“In order to truly understand our predicament and not make things worse, we need a clear-headed ecological interpretation of history.” - William R. Catton, Jr.

Up until now those of us who know something is wrong have been afraid to criticize the perceived wisdom of the masses. We’ve been too scared to point out that the wisdom of the masses is, just like the emperor, stark naked.

If we get this right, by the end of this video series we’ll have the right information so that we can confidently shout that the emperor has no clothes when the situation calls for it.

And we’re going to do this without quoting endless “facts”. We know that “statistics” can be used to prove almost anything these days. Instead, we’re going to tell a story. A story of human progress.

Let’s dive in.

The three key themes we’ll explore in Part 1, The Changing World Order are:

  • Humanity’s ~275 Year Cycle
  • Where Are We in the Cycle?
  • What Can We Expect?

But first a quote:

“Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades, society ─ its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structures, its key institutions ─ rearranges itself. Fifty years later, there is a new world, and people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived. We are currently living through such a time.” — Peter Drucker

Humanity’s ~275 Year Cycle

Over the past 8,000 years, we’ve seen a cycle repeat, which lasts anywhere between 225 & 325 years. The cycle is only valid for Class-Based societies; not Values-Based societies. We will discuss the difference between class-based and values based later. For now, this cycle is highly applicable to the world we have become accustomed to. There are 7 distinct phases in each cycle. Let’s dive into each phase to see what takes place in each.

Click to enlarge & download. The Cycle of Civilizations © 2022 by Michael Haupt is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0. (Feel free to share and use as long as you give credit with a link back to this page).

Stage 1

The cycle kicks off with a highly functioning society, where there is very high social cohesion and all of the citizens are in touch with nature. Everything is pretty stable and there’s a huge amount of productive work going on. There is low debt and very few inequalities, with very little private property. It’s an egalitarian society, which means it’s very balanced and equal.

Stage 2

And then at some point a desire for growth pops up and so credit is introduced to fund that growth. Credit is borrowing from the future, and it allows enterprises to flourish. As a result of that growth, governance and resource allocation systems are built (governments and economies)

Stage 3

And then you have a long period of growth, peace and prosperity

Stage 4

But that growth ultimately leads to over consumption (stealing resources from the future) and this is where debt and socio-economic inequalities increase.

Stage 5

That eventually leads to the fifth stage where you have the rise of the one percent in a class-based society. Taxes on the rich reduce, while taxes on the rest of the citizenry rockets. That’s when productivity plunges and you start seeing laziness and arrogance appear in society. It’s at that point that real signs of weakness start appearing in the economy. Up until then the economy has gone up and down, but now you see systemic issues in the economy.

Stage 6

As the weaknesses in the economy start raising their head there’s appropriation of the last remaining resources by the rich and powerful. There’s a huge suppression of information, with censorship occurring regularly and it’s at this stage that the one percent attempt to control the population by applying all kinds of ridiculous rules and restrictions. These restrictions always lead to protests and Civil War and ultimately revolution. Now from history we’ve seen that these efforts at suppression ultimately always backfire. You might have to go through a fairly unpleasant period initially, but ultimately all of those efforts backfire.

Stage 7

That then leads to the emergence of the next order, which is usually driven by grassroots movements. The same people that felt oppressed as increasing restrictions were imposed are the ones who rise up.

It’s important to remember that this pattern has repeated over and over again, with stark similarities. What this means is we can learn from this pattern. Here’s just a brief list of some of the empires that very closely followed this cycle:

  • Roman: 950s to 1800s
  • Mali: 1200s to 1600s
  • Ottoman: 1300s to 1900s
  • Spanish: 1450s to 1950s
  • Dutch: 1550s to 1950s
  • British: 1600s to 1950s
  • USA: 1800s to 2030s

Where Are We in the Cycle in 2022?

We use 1776 as a marker for the start of the West’s cycle. That’s because throughout the year there were a number of protests and revolutions occurring all across America. That was the American Revolution and it was during this time that Thomas Paine said:

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” — Thomas Paine, 1776

I’m pretty sure you’d agree that over the past two or three years there have been times that have tried humanity’s soul. So, we in a very similar kind of situation. The year 1776 concluded with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, where the U.S achieved their independence from Great Britain.

At the same time — in London — Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations and it’s widely accepted that that’s one of the core foundational textbooks of capitalism as we know it today.

Now interestingly after the September 11th disaster, when One World Trade Center was rebuilt, they built it to be exactly 1776 feet high, in commemoration of birth of the American Empire.

So, we are 246 years into this cycle and we’ve exceeded the shortest length of the cycle by 21 years and we have 29 years to go before we reach the average cycle length. We have 79 years to go before we exceed the longest length of the cycle.

Now that’s just to give an indication that we are very much in the last phase of this cycle. There’s no way we can make accurate predictions about when exactly the final collapse happens — and the collapse usually happens over a decade or more — but it helps give an indication that we are near the end of this cycle.

Features of Stage 6

  • The currency is hugely devalued, and what that translates into is skyrocketing prices and you’ve seen that when you go to the grocery store.
  • Increasing attempts to control citizens. That results in protests and we’ve seen many protests happening around the world as a result of that increase of control.
  • There’s a decrease in truth honesty and transparency, so much so that the phrase “post-truth” was chosen as the Oxford dictionary word of the year in 2016. So, we’re living in a post-truth era now and it’s at that point that…
  • Values and morals of the society society collapse and that erodes the integrity of the common good: where we had faith in the system before, we now no longer have that same level of faith and this is where…
  • The grab of last resources by the rich and powerful results in overshoot.

The worst thing about this stage six is this post-truth phase, because there can no longer be intelligent debate. When the emperor’s clothes are mentioned one is invariably called a conspiracy theorist, or a climate denier or any of a range of other labels. So dissent is shut down immediately and one can’t have intelligent debate. This lack of debate leads to groupthink, or as Mattias Desmet calls it, Mass Formation Psychosis.

Features of Overshoot

  • Aquifer Depletion: We haven’t quite reached that point with water wars yet but that’s not far away. It comes about as a result of bottling companies siphoning out the water instead of leaving it in the ground.
  • Deforestation is usually caused by beef production, palm oil, wooden furniture and coffee. There are obviously many other commodities that cause deforestation, but those are the primary ones.
  • Soil Degradation occurs as a result of any form of industrial agriculture.
  • Overfishing has occurred in all of our oceans.
  • Enforced Pandemic Responses, which is what we’ve seen over the past two years.
  • Extreme Extraction: In the past we had mining and oil. That was normal extraction. Now we’re into extreme extraction, which means fracking and Enhanced Oil Recovery as well as Carbon Capture and Storage. We will discuss this more in video three when we talk about energy
  • War: We know that war is a grab of last resources, not only of the nation that’s being invaded. If we look at the Ukraine war, currently prices of fuel have rocketed, but so have the profits of energy companies and usually that’s as a result of speculation by traders. At the moment there is a Don’t Pay campaign that has started in the UK. They’re looking for one million people to boycott their energy companies by the 1st of October. This is an example of the citizenry rising up in protest because they’re unhappy with what’s going on and we’ll see more and more of that happen.

It’s important to note that none of these activities that we’ve listed here — the features of overshoot — they have nothing to do with the activities of the citizens themselves. As part of the post-truth era we’re in, you’ll notice that responsibility is often attempted to be placed on the citizenry, but all of these activities are funded by the powerful.

Now the question in the face of behavior like this that results in overshoot is, why? Why do we inflict such obvious ecological destruction and why does that behavior continue even in the face of evidence of overshoot? A similar question is often posed as:

“What goes through the mind of the person who cuts down the last remaining tree?”

Think of the person on Easter Island that cut the last remaining tree. Was he (it for sure wasn’t a woman as she would have had more foresight) concerned that there were no trees remaining after he had chopped it down?

The sad reality is that there is no logical answer that explains this behaviour.

Similarly, what goes through the minds of those who preach at us from the World Economic Forum platform?

I came across this quote some time ago, which I think sums it up nicely:

“People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage.” — Kenneth Galbraith, 1977, The Age of Uncertainty

So, it seems that a form of insanity sets in once you’ve climbed the ladder right to the top of a class-based society. The phrase for this trait is called hubris and we’ll come across this term again shortly.

The biggest takeaway for us is that we must expect the kind of behavior we see from certain world leaders. The same has happened many times before. Think of Emperor Nero and Rome; Anthony and Cleopatra; Hitler and Russia; Catherine the Great and her horse. More recently, John Meriwether of LTCM and Kenneth Lay of Enron, if you can remember the collapse of those companies.

So it seems that the course of world events is determined less by conspiracy than it is by stupidity and hubris. It seems that pride always comes before the fall.

Recommended Resources

So as we wrap up this first video in our series, here are some recommended resources on this idea of the 275-year cycle. Links to all of these can be found in the Resources section immeditaly below the video above and if you have any recommendations of additional resources please leave a comment.

  • Overshoot by William Catton: Examines how we have long ago overshot the Earth’s capacity to support humanity’s consumption load. Explains that ‘sustainable economic growth’ within a finite system is a fairy tale.
  • The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter: Describes two dozen cases of collapse. Reviews more than 2000 years of documented studies. Develops a new theory that accounts for collapse.
  • Immoderate Greatness by William Ophuls: Describes how a civilization’s very magnitude conspires against it to cause its downfall. Explains the inexorable trend toward moral decay and practical failure, at the height of economic success. The deliberate renunciation of hubris is the only way out (which never happens). Hubris is excessive pride and self-confidence. It’s when someone gets so high on their own technical genius that they can no longer see straight.
  • Amin Maalouf: One of the Arab world’s most influential writers (Arabic, French & English). Deep philosophical and psychological inquiries into the nature and condition of contemporary humanity.
  • The Changing World Order by Ray Dalio: Examines history’s most turbulent economic and political periods. Reveals why the times ahead will likely be radically different from those we’ve experienced. But similar to those that have happened many times before.
  • The End of the World is Just the Beginning by Peter Zeihan: Explains the real issues, which are energy and shrinking & ageing populations. Maps out the next world order, which will consist of 1) Local production with less global trade, 2) Micro-local food consumption, 3) New forms of national energy (not renewable).
  • Post-Doom with Michael Dowd: Shows how most of us alive today were born between a rising civilization, the peak and a collapsing civilization. Speaks about TEOTWAWKI: The End of the World as We Know It.

What Can We Expect Between 2022 and 2030?

This video has not been particularly light-hearted. It can be challenging to stare into the abyss of collapse. We know it’s not easy.

But we have not yet spoken about Stage 7, which is the emergence of what comes next. So video 2 will be far more inspiring, I promise! And then in video 3 we’ll bring it all together to talk about real solutions.

So, we hope to see you there!

You can find an overview of the series, with links to Parts 2 and 3 here.

An Invitation to Courageous Conversations

What we’re hoping to achieve with this series of videos is to catalyze conversations around the complex, inter-related topics of energy, war, disease, climate and human progress.

If you know someone who might be interested in these overlapping ideas, please share this series with them. If you’d like to engage directly in conversation, please reach out. 🙏

I am a systems thinking advisor and confidant on a mission to bring the benefits (and profits) of Ethical Sustainable Development Initiatives to the boardroom. I am grateful for the support I receive from my extensive network, without which I would not be able to offer consulting and project implementation services, systems thinking workshops and bespoke training for teams and executives that want to embrace systems thinking to leave a lasting legacy.

If you would like to find out more, please visit https://magicinitiative.com.

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Society 4.0 is the emerging meta-society being nurtured into existence by a global network of self-directed thinkers, architects, builders, doers & supporters. We are all united by a vision of thriving, equitable, and sustainable communities within an ecologically healthy world.

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Michael Haupt

I cut through (and expose) ESG & sustainability greenwashing. Speaker | Writer | Social Artist | Architect of Transformation