Sunday, 31 August 2008

The Crisis... A Year Closer

In the year since I last posted to this blog, a whole slew of changes have occurred, both worldwide and locally. However, none of these contradict what I have been saying, all of them further reinforce the strength of the arguments I have laid out. People are more aware that "something is going on" today than they were a year ago. Also, many doomsayers are predicting a massive, global economic crisis within five years, an even more draconian time frame than the prediction of 20 years I had read about before.

I got stuck writing more, not because I had little to say, but because I had so much to say and it was so complex, I found the blog format difficult to "fence it in". Since then, I have had a number of opportunities to speak in public to these issues and to evolve my own understanding of how to talk about them, so I'm going to make another try to get down some of the impacts and issues that the process of "peripheralization", the term my colleagues and I have started to use to refer to the shift from orthodoxy to paradoxy, engenders.

Also, when I wrote up the blogs originally, I had identified a number of key sectors that would need to gain awareness of the changes in progress and learn new ways to function. These included the museum sector, in which I have become professionally active, issues in relation to the aging population, disability and identity, another area in which I have become professionally engaged, and the education sector, about which I have a lot to say that is urgent but have been unable to articulate clearly and neutrally. Because I work at a university, I have found I am emotionally caught up in the issues of education and that this makes it hard for me to step back and talk more neutrally about this area and the crisis that I believe is coming.

Like the doomsayers, I believe a major economic crisis is coming, but I think its scope is as much about social change as it is about economic change. I also believe the crisis is necessary to "get us past the hump" onto a different incline, a different set of dynamics. Crises are the means by which transformation occurs. They are always painful, but they are absolutely necessary to move past a knot. So I don't count myself among the doomsayers, who say crisis is inevitable, it is coming and it will be disastrous. I agree it will be painful, but that is it both useful and necessary.

On Baby Boomers, Peak Oil and Climate Change

Three arguments currently dominate social thinking about change and society - the impacts of an aging population of so-called baby boomers, the increasingly urgent idea that our climate has entered a cycle of human-caused change, and the idea that the energy supply will pass through an economic crisis in the next few years (the so-called "peak oil" crisis). These ideas are so compelling, that current national research policies, when they are not focused towards the issue of technology growth, are dedicated to increasing our understanding of their nature and their impacts. It has become apparent that tremendous socio-economic forces are being engaged to deal with these problems. As a result, focus on longer term issues, whether these be the paradigm shift I have been discussing, or problems such as ongoing poverty and inequality in the world, often take a back burner.

These issues, as important as they are, are obscuring deeper issues that will have consequences at least as profound, perhaps more so - the process of peripheralization and the shift from orthodoxy to paradoxy discussed here. In some ways, the aging population, the peak oil crisis and the environmental crisis are major challenges that are tying up resources in such a way that by the time our attention frees up again, the other changes in progress will be sufficiently advanced that the transformation risks being well underway. It behooves us to pay attention to these deeper issues while dealing with the current crises ... paradox management means being aware of the many interconnected forces in play and maintaining an open active stance towards them all. The era when we could focus our efforts exclusively on one or two issues is gone if it ever existed - policies that try to simplify the world go awry. From a systems perspective, it is important to understand and maintain a set of "nudges" aimed to making changes to the system flows - it is the collection of all such nudges that constitutes a program for change, not one single effort. The world is not an object that needs to be shifted, it is a complex collection of systems and flows, and change is brought about by nudging those flows.

Fortunately, it is possible to address the deeper issues while focusing on the current crises. The result is a modulation of our actions, a change in focus when appropriate, rather than a radical change in what we do.