Monday, October 29, 2012

News Flash

One problem I see with so many discussions about politics, culture, the economy and other areas is the refusal of people on all sides of the issues to accept the reality of change. Whether it's liberals or conservatives, materialists or followers of religions, they tend to blame the "other side" for the situation and seem intent on returning to a time when things were supposedly better.
The terms "old paradigm" and "new paradigm" get thrown around quite a bit, and they can mean many things. A paradigm, however, generally refers to something significant and fundamental rather than just a minor or secondary aspect of something. So let's look at some areas where the old paradigm is simply not going to return no matter what anybody does, no matter who gets elected and no matter how much we try to deny it:
*** The Economy -jobs that were created for the industrial age are fading fast.
*** The Environment - regardless of the cause, the climate appears to be changing.
*** Culture -the "nuclear family," a world of distinct and separate nations and races; these are already anachronistic concepts.
*** Dogma -politics, economics, nationalism & religion are increasingly irrelevant.
None of the above are exactly revelations. Everyone sees this occurring right before our eyes, but the problem is that hardly anyone accepts that it's really happening and that it's irreversible. I propose that, rather than see such things as problems, we take them as axioms for the times we're living in and look for ways to make the best of them. If we explore these phenomena in more detail, we can see that this isn't so hard to do. In fact, when we really look at it, we should be glad all of this is happening!
As I write this, there are spreading protests in the U.S., called Occupy Wall Street.
As thousands protest economic inequality and hardship, conservatives condemn the protestors as socialists, anarchists or just lazy hippies (this is from reading actual message boards!). At the same time, we're approaching an extremely divisive presidential election where Democrats and Republicans hurl accusations and insults back and forth.
Both sides talk about the economy as though it was either possible or desirable to go back in time -specifically to the post-World War ll era where the industrial economy was expanding and the United States was the dominant power. The fact is, these days are gone forever, and, more importantly, why should we even mourn them?
Both corporate capitalism and socialism are based on an industrial age model that is less and less relevant. Rather than asking whether we should trust Big Business or Big Government to solve our problems, is it not time to come up with viable, grassroots alternatives? In fact, the very idea of economics in the traditional sense, or a monolithic abstraction known as "The Economy" should perhaps be abandoned.
Granted, when people are facing difficult economic times, unemployment is a frightening prospect -or reality. Yet, let's be honest. How many people really want to work in a factory or in an office cubicle? Yet these are the archetypal jobs that were created in the industrial age. Regardless of the reigning political ideology, the structure of employment is based on hierarchy, mass production,centralization and conformity.
The same, of course, is true for modern education, whether public or private. Education is simply preparation for a job in the industrial age economy. The prevailing, widespread cynicism regarding modern institutions may be largely due to an underlying, mostly unconscious realization that none of these institutions really belongs here anymore.
The apparent mindlessness and narcissism of contemporary popular culture is easy to dismiss as either a symptom of a culture in decline, or perhaps as a conspiracy on the part of the power elite to divert people from what's really happening. Yet, another way to look at it is as a reaction and escape from the even more mindless prison of bureaucracy, irrational laws and norms, corporate "culture" and a world where few actually believe in the outmoded habits they are compelled to repeat day after day.
When it comes to energy and the environment, it's largely a matter of making use of emerging technologies that replace the oil based paradigm. This may or may not leave room for the personal automobile as the dominant form of transportation. At the very least, it would seem that this mode of getting around will have to be sharply curtailed -not by the big government so dreaded by conservatives and libertarians (with some justification), but by the reality of diminishing supplies of oil and rapidly expanding populations.
Global warming or, more accurately, climate change, appears to be a reality, whether or not it's primarily caused by humans (this is still highly debatable, even though it's heresy to say this in many circles). Here's another area where a paradigm shift in perception is necessary. Rather than denying the reality of climate change (i.e. conservatives) or pretending it's still possible to reverse it (i.e. liberals, many environmentalists), why not start accepting it and looking for ways to minimize the harm and, in some cases, actually benefit from it?
I am no scientist, but common sense dictates that an overall increase in the average temperature can't be all bad. And those aspects of climate change that clearly do have harmful effects -e.g. unstable weather patterns, increased hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.- must be dealt with, and resources must be allocated to prepare for such events.
The realms of culture and dogma are closely related, and it's clear that the ideologies, categories and belief systems of previous centuries are not going to be able to guide us much further into this millennium. Defining oneself based on race, religion or country of origin is becoming increasingly untenable in a world where conversations -as well as business transactions- can be conducted instantly via smart phone, Skype or Twitter messages.
The emerging global culture is hard to define, but it will have to be some kind of smorgasbord -an even bigger melting pot than the one America was supposed to embody. As people travel and emigrate more and more (whether legally or illegally), intermarry with people of other races and religions, and people with wildly different and often opposing beliefs are forced to live in close proximity to one another, the idea of a single, dominant ideology or dogma becomes impossible.
It's now time to stop trying to prop up aspects of the old paradigm that cannot be revived -and that no longer serve us anyway. It's time to question many of the sacred cows of modern society, including the corporation, education as an institution, the modern medical model, the nation state, and even that most sacred of modern cows, money. Not that these institutions will be abolished in some kind of Marxist-style revolution. They are, rather, in the process of either dying a natural death or morphing into new and more appropriate (for this time) forms.
There was a time in the not so distant past when none of these things existed in anything resembling their present form. Most likely, whether we like it or not, none of them will exist in their present forms in the not very distant future. Rather than seeing this as something to dread, portending the end of the world, why not see it as the end of an outdated paradigm?