Consider the following found in a recent email from Adbusters:
How can we have spaceships and virtual reality and starving children at the same time? Weighing the almost magical technological advancement of recent years against the regression of our relations with nature and each other, one wonders what kind of life we will propel ourselves into.
This is a recent example of a sentiment I feel like I see everywhere. Perhaps I see it so much because of recently feeling aligned with it or because I’m surrounded by others who feel aligned with it.
Wording like this now sticks out like a sore thumb, thanks to the Kegan personal development theory and Meaningness’ extension of it to wider society.
This is a classic expression of anxiety about the systematic mode’s ambiguous benefits and the loss of the communal mode’s close personal relationships. Without any sense of a next stage that might be able to resolve the balance of connections vs cold systems and resolve the contradictions of the systematic mode, the assumption this paragraph makes about “the future that we propel ourselves towards” is undoubtedly negative.
This is post-systemic nihilism, post-modernism, stage 4.5, where the old systematic mode apparently does not work but a new way of making sense of the world is not yet available. It feels at this moment that things are going from bad to worse. It feels as though we have ditched our close bonds, become heartless automatons in a world of systems and for what? The systems turned out to be corrupt, contradictory and useless. From here the only way is down, bottoming out in pure psychopathic individualism, where currency feathers the beds of the few heartless CEOs and the many starve alone in the streets.
There are a few things wrong about that analysis, most obviously the enormous benefits of the systematic mode of organising society, even (especially) for the starving children. However my wider thought is: what if more people had confidence that things would get better, not worse? Or at the very least be different, not the same? How would that change the tone of the message?
“Won’t it be a relief to swing back to a more connected society, now that we have seen the benefits of hard boundaries and individualism?”
“I look forward to releasing my grip on the rigid rules of systems, that I force them to have just as much as they force me to have”
“What are the best ways to leverage personal bonds and harness a flexible capacity to change in order to fill the final, obvious gaps that systems have not managed to fill?”
No doubt this is the whole point of Meaningness. Society has been in an angsty, postmodern stage, stuck between systems and the void, for long enough now. It’s been a couple of generations of alternately ignoring and hand wringing about the failure of the systematic mode. Time to realise there is something beyond the abyss, indeed we’ve always been living in an uncertain world, both flexible and stable, both contradictory yet functional, nebulous yet patterned with commonalities.
It’s just our way of abstracting it that has changed, our way of telling ourselves what it means that is different. Time to ditch the angst and work on the next set of emotional skills needed for our fluid world to work better than it ever has before.