Chaos Point 2012 and Beyond: Appointment with Destiny
This expanded version of Laszlo's The Chaos Point (2006) predicts human society is headed for a major crisis in the near future, which will be driven by extreme inequality of wealth, plus unsustainable human financial systems, social structures, consumption, and ecological pressures. A philosopher of science, systems theorist, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Laszlo (Worldshift 2012) argues that human society will be faced with a breakdown or a breakthrough. However, a "chaos-window" allows sudden societal changes that could enable the breakthrough. Laszlo calls for a holistic and sustainable way of living, led by a critical mass of "cultural creatives," and asserts that developing a new universal morality will be essential. More suggestions of tactics to reach our breakthrough would have been appreciated.Verdict The comprehensive apocalyptic message will ring true to many, but the book will probably appeal more to New Age readers than to environmentalists.—David R. Conn, Surrey P.L., BC
New Thinking for a New World
Einstein told us that we cannot solve the significant problems we face at the same level of thinking at which we were when we created the problems. He was right: The problems we face today cannot be solved at the level of thinking that gave rise to them. Yet we are trying to do just that. We are fighting terrorism, poverty, criminality, cultural conflict, environmental degradation, ill health, even obesity and other "sicknesses of civilization" with the same kind of thinking—the same means and methods—that produced the problems in the first place. Two examples will make this clear.
Contemporary nation-states fight terrorism by tightening security. They fight not so much terrorism as terrorists. Terrorism, they say, is to be eliminated by preventing terrorists from carrying out their base projects, and the best way to do that is to hunt them down, put them in jail, or kill them—before they kill us. This strategy is analogous to attempting to cure an organism of cancer by cutting out the cancerous cells. The cure works if the organism is not affected beyond the group of cancerous cells, which is a fortunate case but not a common one. If the organism is affected, other cells turn cancerous and not only replace the ones that are surgically cut out but also spread. Ultimately, of course, they will kill the organism and thus also themselves. If we are to cure a body that produces cancer cells, we would do better to cure the body itself, rather than just cut out the malfunctioning cells. A proper cure means going beyond the logic of the cells that reproduce without constraint; it extends to the process that makes the cells reproduce this way in the first place.
Why do cells turn cancerous? The question is precisely analogous to: Why do people become terrorists? Heads of national security dismiss the question; they say that terrorists are simply evil criminals, enemies of society. They use the kind of thinking that the people who turn terrorist do. Terrorists and those who incite, fund, and train terrorists believe that the leaders of the great powers they threaten are evil criminals, enemies of a just society. Each side feels justified in killing the other. The result is an escalation of hate that produces more terrorism, not less. When a society is sick, the more terrorists one kills, the more people turn terrorist.
Making war for oil or for Allah is not the cause of the sickness of the world but its dramatic symptom and tragic consequence. The cause is old thinking—wrong thinking.
Another example of old thinking is the so-called war on poverty, which is fought mainly through financial measures. The negative developments of the past decades are said to be due to a lack of adequate development aid. The rich nations have given aid at an average level of about 0.2 percent of their gross national product (GNP), although they had formally agreed to 0.7 percent of GNP. The current United Nations-endorsed project called the Millennium Development Goals-Based Poverty Reduction Strategy (MDG-based strategy) asks only for 0.5 percent in aid. This would generate $150 billion a year over a period of 20 years. Economist Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the principal author of the strategy, maintains that this could wipe out the extreme poverty now affecting 1.1 billion people by the year 2015.
Sachs presents the MDG-based strategy as an economic and political "global compact," but on a closer look it becomes clear that it involves far more than politics and economics. Achieving the goals of the strategy, as Sachs himself points out, calls for the world to pull together in a unified and coordinated manner, not just to give money, but collectively to fight disease, promote good science and widespread education, provide critical infrastructure, and act in unison in helping the poorest of the poor. Collective action on all these levels, Sachs says, is needed to underpin economic success. Success in the fight against terrorism, as in the war on poverty, calls not just for better security or more money but for new thinking: change in the very texture of the civilization that governs today's world.
The situation is much the same when cities and states fight criminality. They attempt to do so through bigger police forces, more jails, and more rigorous sentences, rather than eliminating the conditions that breed criminality: big city slums, joblessness, and the sense of futility and hopelessness that infects the minds of many people, especially young people. The case is not fundamentally different with regard to fighting environmental degradation either: These problems are produced by profit-hungry, ecologically irresponsible practices, and they are fought by profit-hungry practices that claim to be ecologically responsible—the latter differ from the former only in making a profit from cleaning up the mess rather than creating it. Winning this particular "fight" also calls for new thinking: recognizing that making a profit and achieving growth are not the sole criteria of success in business; social and environmental responsibility are just as important and are just as much a part of the business of business.
The point need not be belabored. Suffice it to say that in almost all aspects of social and economic activity, and in politics as well as in the private sphere, the mainstream of contemporary society disregards Einstein's warning. It is trying to solve the problems generated by the mindset of industrial civilization with the same materialistic, manipulative, and self-centered rationality that characterizes that mindset.
A change in the thinking that characterizes the fundamental texture of a civilization is not an unprecedented occurrence; it has come about in various epochs in history. In the past, there was time for new thinking to evolve. The rhythm of change was relatively slow; a mindset adapted to the changed conditions had several generations to come about. This is no longer the case. The critical period for new thinking is now compressed into a single lifetime.
In the next few years, new thinking and new action will be crucial; without them, our globalized systems could break down in chaos. A breakdown, however, is our destiny only if we fail to seize the opportunity to choose a better path.
While a global breakdown is already on the radar screen, achieving a global breakthrough remains entirely possible. Seizing this alternative calls for the kind of new thinking that could give birth to a new civilization. This book is dedicated to outlining what that breakthrough is and how we can use it to create a better future for ourselves and our children.
The Birthing of a New World
New thinking starts with greater insight into the transformation that ushers in a new world in place of the old. But for new thinking to be effective, we should have some idea of what it involves. Just what kind of a process is the birthing of a new world?
Talk of fundamental change in the world around us is often met with skepticism. Change in society, we are told, is never really fundamental: as the French saying goes, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (the more things change, the more they are the same). After all, we are dealing with humans and human nature, and these will be very much the same tomorrow as they are today.
A more sophisticated variant of the prevalent view adds that certain processes in society—trends—make a significant difference as they unfold. Trends, whether local or global, micro or mega, introduce a measure of change: As they unfold, there are more of some things and less of others. This is still not fundamental change, for the world is still much the same, only some people are better off and others worse off. This view is the one typically held by futurists, forecasters, business consultants, and all manner of trend analysts. Their extrapolations are highly regarded, as the popularity of literature dealing with megatrends attests.
Governmental agencies also engage in forecasting trends. The unclassified report of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue about the Future with Nongovernmental Experts, was published in 2000. According to this document, the state of the world in the year 2015 will be determined by the unfolding of key trends, catalyzed by key drivers. The seven key trends and drivers are demographics, natural resources and environment, science and technology, the global economy and globalization, national and international governance, future conflict, and the role of the United States. The way these trends unfold under the impact of their drivers can produce four different futures: a future of inclusive globalization, another future of pernicious globalization, a future of regional competition, or a postpolar world. The main deciders are the effects of globalization—positive or negative—and the level and management of the world's potential for interstate and interregional conflict.
When the trends unfold without major disruption, we get what the experts call "the optimistic scenario." In this perspective, the world of 2015 is much like today's world except that some population segments (alas, a shrinking minority) are better off and other segments (a growing majority) are less well-off. The global economy continues to grow, although its path is rocky and marked by financial volatility and a widening economic divide.
Economic growth may be undone, however, by events such as a sustained financial crisis or a prolonged disruption of energy supplies. Other "discontinuities" may occur as well:
• Violent political upheavals due to a serious deterioration of living standards in the Middle East (this has now happened, with dramatic consequences)
• The formation of an international terrorist coalition with anti-Western aims and access to high-tech weaponry (now a real and growing threat)
• Rapidly changing weather patterns that inflict grave damage on human health and on economies (this is now more imminent than ever)
• A global epidemic on the scale of HIV/AIDS
• The antiglobalization movement growing until it becomes a threat to Western governmental and corporate interests
• The emergence of a geostrategic alliance—possibly of Russia, China, and India—aimed at counterbalancing the United States and Western influence
• Collapse of the alliance between the United States and Europe
• Creation of a counterforce organization that could undermine the power of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization and thus the ability of the United States to exercise global economic leadership
In the year 2000, it was anybody's guess whether the world of 2015 would be the same kind of world or something quite different. In 2010, this is no longer an open question. The world in 2015 will be very different from what it is today—not to mention from what it was at the beginning of this century.
The National Intelligence Council, however, is still producing linear extrapolations on what the future will be like. According to another report published in 2005, titled Mapping the Global Future and based on consultations with 1,000 futurists around the globe, the world in 2020 will not be very different from today. Terrorism will still be present, although the prospect of wars conducted by major powers will recede. It is a "relative certainty" that the United States will remain the most powerful nation, economically, technologically, and militarily, although a possible—but manageable—erosion of U.S. power must also be reckoned with.
Such reports highlight the limits of trend-based forecasting. They ignore the fact that trends do not only unfold in time; they can break down and give rise to new trends, new processes, and different conditions. This possibility needs to be considered, since no trend operates in an infinitely adapted environment; its present and future have limits. These may be natural limits due to finite resources and supplies, or human and social limits due to changing structures, values, and expectations. When a major trend encounters such limits, the world is changing and a new dynamic enters into play. Extrapolating existing trends does not help in defining the emerging world.
To know what happens when a trend breaks down calls for deeper insight. It calls for going beyond the observation of current trends and following their expected path—it requires knowing something about the developmental dynamics of the system in which the observed trends appear and may disappear. Such knowledge is provided by modern systems theory, especially the branch popularly known as "chaos theory." Because of the unsustainability of many aspects of today's world, the dynamics of development that will apply to the future is not the linear dynamics of classical extrapolation but the nonlinear chaos dynamics of complex-system evolution.
The Dynamics of Transformation: A Brief Excursion into Chaos Theory
At the dawn of the second decade of the twenty-first century we can no longer ignore that current trends are building toward critical thresholds, toward some of the famous (or infamous) "planetary limits" that in the 1970s and 1980s were said to be the limits to growth. Whether they are limits to growth altogether is questionable, but they are clearly limits to the kind of growth that is occurring today. As we move toward these limits, we are approaching a point of chaos. At this point, some trends will deflect or disappear, and new ones will appear in their stead. This is not unusual: Chaos theory shows that the evolution of complex systems always involves alternating periods of stability and instability, continuity and discontinuity, order and chaos. We are living in the opening phases of a period of social and ecological instability—at a crucial decision-window. When we reach the point of chaos, the stable "point" and "periodic" attractors of our systems will be joined by "chaotic" or "strange" attractors. These will appear suddenly, as chaos theorists say, "out of the blue." They will drive our systems to the crucial point where it will select the one or the other of the paths of evolution available to it.
In the current decision-window, our world is supersensitive, so that even small fluctuations produce large-scale effects. These are the legendary "butterfly effects." The story goes that if a monarch butterfly flaps its wings in California, it creates a tiny air fluctuation that amplifies and amplifies and ends by creating a storm over Mongolia.
The discovery of the butterfly effect is linked with the art of weather forecasting, having its roots in the shape assumed by the first chaotic attractor discovered by U.S. meteorologist Edward Lorenz in the 1960s. When Lorenz attempted to computer-model the supersensitive evolution of the world's weather, he found a strange evolutionary path, consisting of two different trajectories joined together like the wings of a butterfly (see page 98 in the postscript). The slightest disturbance would shift the evolutionary trajectory of the world's weather from one wing to the other. The weather, it appears, is a system in a permanently chaotic state—a system permanently governed by chaotic attractors.
Subsequently, a considerable variety of chaotic attractors has been discovered. They are applicable in some measure to all complex systems, above all to living systems. Living systems are remarkable systems; they do not move toward equilibrium, as classical physical systems do, but maintain themselves in their improbable state far from chemical and thermal equilibrium by constantly replenishing the energies and matter they consume with fresh energies and matter flowing from their environment. (Physicists say that they balance the positive entropy they produce internally by importing negative entropy from their surroundings.)
Humans, as other complex organisms, are supersensitive dynamic systems permanently at the edge of chaos, as are the ecologies and societies formed by living systems. These collective systems are wider and more enduring than their individual members, but the dynamics of systems evolution applies also to them.
The evolution of individual and collective organic systems can usually be described with differential equations that map the behavior of the systems in reference to the principal system constraints. This is not feasible in regard to the societies formed by human beings; here the presence of mind and consciousness complicates the evolutionary dynamics. The consciousness of its human members influences the system's behavior, making it far more complex than the behavior of nonhuman systems.
In periods of relative stability, the consciousness of individuals does not play a decisive role in the behavior of society, since a stable social system dampens deviations and isolates the deviants. But when a society reaches the limits of its stability and turns chaotic, it becomes supersensitive, responsive even to small fluctuations such as changes in the values, beliefs, worldviews, and aspirations of its members.