Society 4.0
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Society 4.0

Transcending Humanity’s Collapsing “Social Contract”

(But let’s find another, more fitting metaphor)

“A society’s fate lies in its own hands and depends substantially on its own choices.” ― Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Video source: The Gadget Guy

At the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Annual Meeting in January, Sharan Burrow, the first female General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) called for a new social contract. The article is a worthwhile read, because it succinctly summarises the depravity and insanity of continuing with the global status quo:

Burrow concludes the article with:

“We must ask why corporate heads are silent. And worse, why the majority of governments simply bow to the self-interest of a powerful few. People will not come to the rescue of a system that fails them, and fails them by design.” — Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, ITUC

The topic of an entirely new social contract is near and dear to my heart — it’s why I’ve committed the rest of my life to find effective ways of birthing Society 4.0 — so I’m delighted to hear a call like this from the WEF. However, I’m not quite sure how seriously to take Burrow, considering that many past attendees of the Davos meetings have architected the very system she bemoans: neoliberalism.

The seeming WEF contradiction aside, others too are calling for an entirely new way of interacting with each other and with institutions and business. CIVICUS, the global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world, has identified 10 key trends in their annual 2018 State of Civil Society Report. These trends succinctly summarise precisely why there is a pressing need for a new social contract:

  1. Globalised neoliberalism is failing people all around the world;
  2. Polarising politics are dividing our societies;
  3. Personal rule by political leaders is undermining democratic institutions;
  4. Attacks are increasing on journalists reporting on corruption and public protests;
  5. Growing surveillance and manipulation of opinion is betraying the promise of social media;
  6. Uncivil society is claiming civil society space;
  7. Multilateralism is in the firing line;
  8. The private sector’s growing role in governance demands more scrutiny;
  9. Patriarchy is now firmly under the spotlight;
  10. Civil society is fighting back and building resolute resistance.

“Almost everywhere we look, we see signs of citizens organising and mobilising in new and creative ways to defend civic freedoms, fight for social justice and equality, and push back on populism.” — Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, CIVICUS Secretary General

The report concludes with the finding that we need “…to find new ways to make the case for progressive, people-centred multilateralism that reinforces the primacy of internationally agreed norms on human rights, sustainable development and climate justice…” — CIVICUS

Clearly, the time is ripe for an entirely new social contract, architected from the ground up, taking into account Emerging Strategic Technologies. However, as Jordan Greenhall points out:

“I wonder if there is a better, more up to date metaphor than a “social contract”? Sometimes the metaphor matters.” — Jordan Greenhall, co-founder and CEO of Neurohacker Collective.

Greenhall has a point. The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau popularised the idea of the social contract in the 1700s, but it’s unlikely that millennials and Generation Z will embrace the idea and, after all, they are our future leaders. While the hashtag is used on Twitter, it’s unlikely that it will trend any time soon. Here are a few of my favourite:

Back to the issue of finding a more up to date metaphor for “social contract” — what are your thoughts? Do you agree that the phrase “social contract” is old-fashioned? If so, what’s a suitable alternative? This is not an easy one — I would love to hear your ideas. If we receive more than a dozen or so responses I’ll summarise them. A worthwhile effort for the future of humanity? Here’s the question on Quora.

Incidentally, in early 2016, Jordan Greenhall wrote a fascinating article on Bitcoin as a movement — highly recommended and still as relevant as ever:



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Michael Haupt

Michael Haupt


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