I’m reading a book which deals with the Protestant Reformation at the moment. I think for anyone who knows some history, there have been times which have truly been unprecedented; things have changed so quickly that people haven’t been able to keep up.
We’re living during a slow, but accelerating, car crash. We do need to update our mental models, for sure. But collectively, and most important at levels which are going to have an impact. Let’s not forget that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions.
Those of us with active minds are constantly gardening our worldviews. We adjust our perspectives as events around us unfold, as age and experience inform our received wisdom, as we learn new facts — and as cultural change around us pushes us to think differently. Even in extremely stable and slow-changing societies, there are always some people doing this gardening
But this is not a stable society, and today gardening is not enough.
We grew up in societies built upon certain assumptions about how the world works, and how the planet around us should be seen. We now know those assumptions were wrong in profound ways, and in one human lifetime we have altered the climate and biosphere, squandered vast natural riches and destabilized a myriad of systems we depend on. We have made the circumstances of our lives discontinuous with everything that came before us. The societies we live in are now catastrophically unsuited for the planet we’ve made. Yet we still see the planet around us with worldviews formed inside of those societies.
Seeing with fresh eyes is something we can learn to do. It offers real advantages. At very least, an updated worldview means being able to stand in the surf and face the ocean, to see the waves rolling in, giving us a better shot at not getting plowed and dragged when the next sleeper wave suddenly surges up and hits us.
Right now, rebuilding our worldviews involves a lot of labor-intensive personal exploration. Being native to now demands finding insight, not just receiving it. It demands teaching ourselves how to learn new things, when both the course of our study and the lessons to be absorbed are complex and constantly evolving. This is a real challenge when we have such busy lives. A lot of people will decide to worry about it later.
The greatest danger in any work that asks you to think systemically about the future is getting locked into the worldview that made sense to you when you first began, that you built your successful career on.
We all have limited time and energy. Building up an insightful mental model of how the world works takes a lot of both. The pay-off is in the profit and sense of purpose gained from one’s expertise. It is very common, when you’re highly rewarded for a given set of working insights, to commit more to those insights as your career unfolds, to begin even to defend those insights from challenging new perspectives (ones you fear might devalue your intellectual stock in trade). This “sunk-cost expertise” can easily become a set of shackles.
All this is to say that the very process of worldview-building is undergoing an unprecedented shift. The planetary crisis is swallowing the world we thought we knew, whole, in one great gulp.
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