The next R

A Bear of Very Little BrainA Bear of Very Little Brain

I’m going to try to put down what goes round in my head, my worldview, or at least the main thrust of it. It’s an ever evolving kaleidoscope of thought, but I felt it was time to try to share it more. But as I do so, I’m reminded of a quote from a great sage:

“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”

We are a great moment of change. A period of instability, and in a complex living system, novelty emerges from critical points of instability.

How would I characterise this instability? It’s a feeling. A sense of powerlessness, a general malaise often disguised by escapism and consumerism, but we feel something is wrong and we’re starting to think about it. We work jobs that often have little meaning, that are a means to an end. We are passengers, flotsam in the river of life, slowly being washed out to sea. Our world, our creation, seems out of control – we’ve successfully created a complex living breathing system that is beyond our control. That’s not to say that it’s uncontrolled, it’s just that it is self controlled and although we are the system, we cannot direct it. Control is an emergent phenomena (Frijtof Capra has written some excellent work on these concepts and set up the Center for Ecoliteracy).

How does this lack of control manifest itself? Global inequality, rampant consumerism, war, violence, hunger, poverty, the faltering of the economic system (I won’t describe it as a collapse just yet), climate change. Giddens described it as a runaway world. To me, we are like cellular slime mould – a remarkable organism that will create beautiful complex patterns when a population is grown in a petri dish, patterns that increase in complexity and beauty as the individuals interact in ever more intertwined, networked ways. Eventually this breaks into a third dimension and the individual cells begin to behave like a whole – a 3d organism emerges (there’s a whole other ramble about the role of global communications technologies and the internet in faciliting this development, but I’ll save that for another time).

We as a species have multiplied and grown, interacting with each other in increasingly sophisticated ways until now, we are starting to emerge as a living single organism. That’s not to say that we’re all going to join hands and teach the world to sing, but we are part of an interconnected whole (DFID’s White Paper is but one acknowledgement of this).

This critical point of instability is exciting and worrying – it’s a uncertain and messy, out of our individual control. And the change, the novelty that will emerge, this sort of paradim shift is on the same scale as the Reformation and the Renaissance. Its scale and nature are so great that we cannot comprehend what the other side will look like, yet we will look back and wonder how on earth we thought like we do now. And, try as we might, we cannot plan it and mobilise the masses to bring it to life (although these efforts will be part of the change, just as carrying on will be part of the change – there’s so much more to be said about this, but again, it’ll have to wait). This next R of the world is driven by a cast of thousands of changes and socio-political drivers, yet in a way we can’t do anything about it, it is just happening. In some ways it’s a Reimagining of the world, a Rethinking of our view, but they both imply conscious thought and control. So is it ceding control, a Relaxation of our cartesian desires? Or is it simply a Realisation, a Revealing (or perhaps for those with a more biblical bent, a Revelation)?