RESPONDING TO A WORLD IN TRANSITION
Part 2: What is Emerging?
Evolution and Leaps in Complexity
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 here. It will make much more sense if you watch Part 1 before watching this video.
In Part 2 we explore the evolutionary cycle of all living beings. We compare immature and mature species to the development of nation states and we explore the question of what a mature, balanced human civilization might look like.
00:00 — Introduction
01:43 — The Cycle of Evolution
05:34 — Competition vs. Collaboration
13:05 — Recommended Resources: Cooperation
14:20 — Rebalancing Society
(Watch on YouTube; scroll down for transcript.)
All bit.ly links below open direct links to a Roam Research database (a note-taking tool for networked thought). 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.
- Gaia’s Dance by Elisabet Sahtouris: https://bit.ly/Sahtouris
- The Momentous Leap by Clare Graves: https://bit.ly/CGravesML
- On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: https://bit.ly/CDarwinOrigins
- Mutual Aid by Pyotr Kropotkin: https://bit.ly/PKropotkin
- Address to 10th Moscow Conference on International Security by Vladimir Putin: https://bit.ly/Putin-V
- Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows: https://bit.ly/Sys-Think
- The Social Instinct by Nichola Raihani: https://bit.ly/Raihani
- Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard: https://bit.ly/SSimard
- The Patterning Instinct by Jeremy Lent: https://bit.ly/JerLent
- Rebalancing Society by Henry Mintzberg: https://bit.ly/Rebal-Soc
Welcome to Part 2 of our 3 part series which attempts to provide organizing principles for understanding the human and planetary condition.
In part 1 we looked at the patterns which have appeared over the past 8,000 years.
We saw that there is a repeating pattern which occurs every 275 years or so and we are at or near the end of a cycle which started in 1776.
In this video, Part 2, we’ll explore what key things are emerging as an inevitable consequence of the collapse of the old way of doing things. In other words, the good news amidst the doom and gloom.
- Cycle of Evolution: We’ll look at the evolution biologist’s explanation of how species evolve. (This is different to Part 1, where we looked at the repeating pattern of human settlements.)
- Then we’ll look at the evolution of Competition & Collaboration.
- And finally we’ll consider how the evolution of the human species can support an effort to Rebalance Society.
And in the final video we’ll attempt to answer the question of “What should we do?”
Let’s dive in with one of my favorite quotes.
“Our great challenge is to imagine how a new era of Earth’s history can emerge. Our work in the world is not just a stopgap to extinction or a stopgap for pollution or fracking or whatever it might be. We are part of the Great Work of laying the foundations of a new cultural and biological era.” — Mary Evelyn Tucker, A Roaring Force, Orion Magazine, June 2015
It’s because of this last sentence that we will take so much time to explore our history and the evolution of species in this video series, rather than immediately responding to individual crises.
The Cycle of Evolution
Evolution is a series of leaps in complexity. Evolution biologists tell us that we started out as hydrogen and carbon that combined with DNA which then became fish, amphibians, dinosaurs and eventually mammals and hominoids. So we start with very simple structures which come together and gradually increase in complexity.
Elisabet Sahtouris tells us that this process happens with human settlements as well. Our settlements evolved from tribes to villages to cities and now nation states. Each is a huge leap in complexity. Elisabet has a very good 35-minute talk that gives us an excellent overview of this evolutionary cycle:
If I understand Elisabet correctly, her key point is that these leaps in complexity cannot occur without collaboration between different organisms. Collaboration is key.
Each leap in complexity involves giving up the previous, comfortable, safe way of doing things. Whatever we did in the past is not going to work as we make this huge leap forward. And that involves embracing the next, scary, unknown way of doing things. There’s no guarantee that the leap will work as expected. Think of the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly: not every caterpillar makes it. And so this leap can result either in death or transformation.
In Part 1 we saw that we are nearing the end of a naturally occurring cycle of civilization. When that happens, there is the potential for a leap in complexity. But there is no guarantee that the leap will benefit everyone.
Way back in 1974, psychologist Clare Graves found that there are three possible outcomes for the future of humanity. He published his findings in a paper entitled ‘Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap.’
- Massive Regression (back to hunter gatherer societies)
- George Orwell’s 1984 (tyrannical governments, surveillance, loss of freedom)
- Momentous Leap (fundamentally different form of society)
What comes next depends on whether we focus our attention on the dying caterpillar or the emerging butterfly.
Now it might make more sense why we had to discuss in detail the 275 year cycle in video 1 and now this emergence process. How you view the next decade or so matters. You can either view the world through the lens of Business as Usual OR you can view the world through the lens of Transition.
Mainstream media focusses only on the very narrow view of what-has-been, typically described as growth-at-all-cost or neoliberalism. They tend to focus on the doom and gloom, because that’s what sells. By limiting our options to a very narrow perspective, we are kept small and unable to see new perspectives.
As we go through the transition, our worldview starts widening, becoming more colourful. But there is a bit of interference as old ways of thinking die out and new ways of thinking emerge. This always happens between stage 6 and 7, so we should expect and anticipate this.
Our challenge between now and 2030 is to find those who can see the emergent and help amplify what they see. That way we collectively drive the emergence forward, no matter what happens during the collapse of old ways of doing things.
Competition vs. Collaboration
Now that we’ve seen that evolution is a series of leaps in complexity, let’s look at Competition and Collaboration, but within the context of evolution.
There are two distinctly different worldviews. A worldview is how we and the society we live in perceives how the world works. Our society’s worldview affects all the social systems in that society:
- Religion (some say it is religion that determines worldview, but that is another long and courageous conversation)
- Defence and policing…
One world view is all about aggression, competition and acquiring as much as one can for themselves. The other is about cooperation, collaboration and helping others less fortunate. As you can imagine, these different worldviews create very different types of societies.
What was the origin of these worldviews?
Charles Darwin was an English naturalist, geologist and biologist. He was heavily influenced by Thomas Robert Malthus, an English cleric, scholar and influential economist. It was Malthus who coined the term ‘survival of the fittest.’ Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, in which competition among living things is viewed as a major part of the ‘struggle for existence’ and therefore as a basis for natural selection.
Darwin admitted that he had no explanation for animals that did not appear to compete in the sexual struggle for survival of the fittest.
The absence of a struggle for survival posed “one special difficulty, which at first appeared to me insuperable, and actually fatal to my whole theory.” — Origin, Chapter 7
Darwin = Competition.
Pyotr Kropotkin was a Russian anarchist, socialist, revolutionary, economist, sociologist, historian, zoologist, political scientist, human geographer and philosopher. Kropotkin published Mutual Aid in 1902 (43 years after Origin), in which collaboration and mutual aid was the key to survival and thus successful evolution.
Kropotkin was intimately familiar with On the Origin of Life but was perplexed by the idea of Competition as the sole driver of evolution. That’s why he wrote Mutual Aid: to provide a different perspective to Origin and ideally to stimulate discussion and healthy debate.
“…even where animal life teemed in abundance, I failed to find evidence of the struggle for life as the dominant factor of evolution.” — Mutual Aid, Chapter 1
Kropotkin = Collaboration.
Here is my favorite quote about ‘survival of the fittest,’ which comes not from Malthus nor Darwin:
“If we … ask Nature: ‘who are the fittest: those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another?’ we at once see that those animals which acquire habits of mutual aid are undoubtedly the fittest. They have more chances to survive, and they attain, in their respective classes, the highest development of intelligence and bodily organization.” — Pyotr Kropotkin in Mutual Aid
What about geopolitically? Is there any evidence of Competition and Collaboration playing out on the world stage?
Absolutely. On the Competitive side you have NATO intent on expanding territory and world domination. Provoking Russia through Ukraine and provoking China through Taiwan are but two of the latest examples of NATOs hegemony.
On the Collaborative side you have BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This collaboration and solidarity might not be obvious if you only pay attention to press which originates from NATO countries, but remember that we are in a “post Truth” era. Perhaps NATO countries have a vested interest in suppressing geopolitical manoeuvring that does not support the idea of constant war and competition.
If you read Putin’s speeches directly from the Kremlin website, you will see frequent mentions of Solidarity, Collaboration, Cooperation, Sovereignty, a Multi-Polar world and the like. A highly-recommended Putin speech is his August 16th, 2022 address to participants and guests of the 10th Moscow Conference on International Security.
As you watch news coverage, it might help to do so through the lens of Competition vs. Collaboration. As you do, you will easily be able to see which nations are Competitive and which nations are Collaborative.
We are in a World War over how nations view and frame the world and therefore treat other nations.
Hostilities in Ukraine and Taiwan represent an ideological battle between a worldview of Competition and Collaboration.
NATOs Competitive worldview is inconsistent with evolution. That’s because evolution strives toward collaboration and leaps in complexity.
If we adapt Kropotkin’s earlier quote about ‘survival of the fittest’ we get the following:
“Which nations are the fittest: those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another? Those nations which acquire habits of mutual aid are undoubtedly the fittest. They have more chances to survive, and they attain the highest resilience to external risk, like inevitable fluctuations in climate.” — with apologies to Pyotr Kropotkin
And here is a quote which clearly shows the difference between the ideologies of NATO and what is referred to as ‘non-aligned’ states:
“The world needs a platform like BRICS to offer leadership that does not rely on threats, sanctions and war.” — Her Excellency Dilma Rousseff, former President of Brazil
Let’s go back to the two world views again and ask whether both Darwin and Kropotkin could have been correct, even though their two books appear to contradict each other. I mean, look at the beards of both Kropotkin and Darwin. There are more similarities than differences between these two gentlemen.
There are two theories which support the idea that both a worldview of Competition and a worldview of Collaboration could have their place in the story of human progress.
The first theory is one put forward by Elisabet Sahtouris, who we mentioned earlier. Sahtouris explains that collaboration comes with maturity. During the youthful years there are high levels of competition, whereas with maturity comes higher levels of solidarity, cooperation and collaboration.
The second theory is one put forward by Donella Meadows in her 2008 book Thinking in Systems, where she essentially says that it’s the system that determines behavior. If you view the society as the system, an altruistic person will tend to compete when placed in a competitive society.
“The system, to a large extent, causes its own behavior. An outside event may unleash certain behavior, but the same outside event applied to a different system is likely to produce a different result.” — Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems
When we merge the two models from Sahtouris and Meadows together, we could say that a more mature society collaborates and a less mature society competes. And then, individuals within each society take on the behaviors of that society.
To sum up, we have seen that evolution is a series of leaps in complexity. We explored two different worldviews of Competition vs. Collaboration. We saw that it is more mature to collaborate and we can conclude that the evolutionary drive is towards collaboration and solidarity among nations.
Next we’ll explore an evolutionarily coherent response to rebalance society. But first, a few recommended resources.
Recommended Resources on Collaboration
- The Social Instinct by Nichola Raihani: Cooperation is not only commonplace in nature, but is of profound evolutionary and social significance. Cooperation is responsible for most of the major evolutionary transitions. Offers profound insights into what makes us human and how our (cooperative) societies work.
- Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard: Forests are social, cooperative creatures. Trees are connected through underground networks by which they communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities. The communal lives of trees are not that different from our own.
- The Patterning Instinct by Jeremy Lent: Explores differences in the underlying stories that cultures have used to construct meaning in their world. Shows that our current crisis of unsustainability is not due to human nature, but is driven by our cultural stories. Foresees a coming struggle between two contrasting views of humanity: one techno-utopian, the other an intrinsic connectedness with each other and Nature.
The idea of rebalancing society was introduced by Canadian academic, Henry Mintzberg, in his book, Rebalancing Society. In it he compares today’s society to the spin cycle of a washing machine. If the load inside is unbalanced when the spin cycle starts, the wobble eventually goes out of control. The load must be rebalanced before the spin cycle can continue.
Societies today are in that same phase. The three influential sectors of society: Private sector (business), Public sector (government) and People sector (civil society) are unbalanced. The People sector — at least according to the Private and Public sectors — contribute the least to society as a whole.
Before we address how we rebalance society, we must understand how each sector ‘officializes’ their value to society.
In the private sector, we have a certification process. In order to operate in any professional capacity, you must have a piece of paper that confirms your qualifications.
In the public sector, we have a licensing process. In order to engage in certain activities, you must have a piece of paper that confirms your ability to do so.
In the people sector, we have large numbers of citizens contributing massive value to society but there is no formal process of recognising that contribution. Examples include:
- Food gardens
- Home schooling
- Care for the aged
- Soup kitchens
- And many, many more…
Only once we have a people-led process to formally recognize these ‘base of the iceberg’ activities, will we have a chance of rebalancing society, the way Henry Mintzberg envisioned. We’ll talk more in a future video about how we could achieve this.
A rebalanced society is an evolutionarily mature society, where each sector cooperates and collaborates with each other, and voices solidarity with each of the other sectors. In this kind of society there is respect and appreciation for the contribution every sector brings to society.
In this kind of society, there are:
- Robust, resilient communities,
- Respected governments, and
- Responsible businesses
Do you live in a society like this? Does anyone? What will it take to get us there?
That’s what we’ll cover in an upcoming video in this series, because we’re all about solutions, not predicaments.
Thanks for reading!
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. 🙏
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