Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 11, No 1 (2015)

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Global Insanity Redux

James A. Coffman, Donald C. Mikulecky


In our book Global Insanity we argued that the existential predicament faced by humanity is a predictable consequence of Western Enlightenment thinking and the resulting world model, whose ascendance with the Industrial Revolution entrained development of the global consumer Economy that is destroying the biosphere. This situation extends from a dominant mindset based on the philosophy of reductionism.  The problem was recognized and characterized by Robert M. Hutchins.  In 1985, Hutchins ideas were discussed by Robert Rosen in Chapter 1 of Anticipatory Systems: Philosophical, Mathematical & Methodological Foundations.  Building on Hutchins' ideas, Rosen laid the foundation for an entire new, non-reductionist paradigm, which he called "complexity theory".  This new paradigm is what we are further developing here.  One has to recognize that a paradigm shift is needed to overcome the entrenched mindset and world model that reductionism has created.

Here we explore the myriad interconnected ways-psychological, social, cultural, political, and technological-that the Western world model and consumer economy works as a complex system to thwart, neutralize, or co-opt for its own ends any effort to bring about the kind of radical change that is needed to avert global ecological catastrophe and societal collapse. This resistance to change stems from the need, inherent in the Western model, to continually grow the consumer economy.  The media's continued portrayal of consumptive economic growth as a good thing, the widely held belief that the Economy is paramount, and current political and technological trends all manifest the system's active resistance to change. From the perspective of the mature economic system, any work that does not serve to grow the Economy is counterproductive, and viewed as unnecessary, a luxury, or subversive. The potential for real change (i.e. toward creation of a better system) is thus inversely related to the viability of the Economy, which will eventually decline as the system develops into senescence. To the extent that the fragile metastability of senescence affords opportunity for radical change, economic decline can be viewed as a hopeful sign. But taking maximum advantage of that opportunity will be extraordinarily difficult, as it will require widespread recognition of the problem, major voluntary sacrifice by the relatively large numbers of people who still benefit from the system (including what remains of the "middle class"), and concerted "grassroots" efforts.  It can be expected that the system will resist those efforts until the end, becoming increasingly reliant on media-enabled distraction and divisive politics, as well as violent coercion, to maintain itself.  Investment in education and science is widely touted as necessary for improving our situation, but this is misguided as long as the educational system and scientific enterprise continue to work in collusion with the larger system, as they currently do. Until the reductionist mindset and world model that drives the system is effectively challenged, there can be little hope for the kind of change needed to avert the catastrophic collapse of civilization.

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