What is the most powerful environmental or contextual force impacting on our individual and collective lives today?
I would argue that human interaction – embodied, social and networked – is the most complex, and now the most widespread, phenomenon on planet earth. Therefore, we – seen as the act and consequences of human interaction and human relating – have become the most powerful environmental force impacting on our lives.
However, the critical feature of this environment – which takes the challenge to a whole new level – is that this ‘we’ is global, and increasingly so. Such levels of interconnectedness and diversity (a.k.a. complexity) are not only unprecedented but they have surpassed a paradigmatic threshold.
At lower levels of complexity in our environment, we – defined as social groups, communities, organisations and institutions etc. – operated successfully using certain modes of perception – underpinned by experience-derived assumptions about the degree to which the future is predictable, and the degree to which we are able to shape and determine it. This means we developed tried-and-tested forms of social sense-making and meaning-making – from which emerges our behavioural norms.
If we take the view, as I do, that human sense-making – individual and collective – consists of a set of perpetually dynamic social processes of interaction, which exhibit distinct levels of complexity, then knowing when we have crossed a threshold – transitioning from one qualitatively different level of complexity to another – and understanding its consequences, becomes vital.
One such consequence is that the social norms of the previous level – for individuals and groups – are no longer tried-and-tested at the new level of complexity. We are, in my view, increasingly seeing evidence of this hypothesis all around us – particularly in the way the societal legitimacy of so many institutions – social, political and economic – has become significantly undermined.
These changes, in the very nature of our context/environment, mean that modernity – and even postmodernity – are no longer sufficiently accurate descriptions of the world we live in. In fact, I would argue that postmodernity is more of a ‘sense-making holding pattern’ than an articulation of a new world order.
Hence, Supramodernity is an attempt to both articulate a very different description of our environment, and to provide a corresponding mode of sense-making and meaning-making. Its construction is a consilience of cutting edge thinking in complexity theory, neuroscience, interpersonal neurobiology and network theory – much of which is increasingly achieving widespread acceptance.
We could say that at a lower level of complexity, we were able to build our prosperity on a ‘noun-based’ perception of our environment – categorisation, determinism, predictability etc. – all of which assume equilibrium as their organising principle.
However, in order to move on, it is not enough to simply say – as often seems to be the case – that our new environment requires us to move to a ‘verb-based’ perception; perpetual dynamism, emergent novelty, co-evolution etc., all of which assume disequilibrium as their organising principle.
Instead, we must go a step further still, and integrate these two modes of perception – but not as equals; noun-based perception must serve and support, but not lead, verb-based perception in an integrated way. Displacement of the former by the latter would, I believe, throw away the best of what we should learn from the 20th century.
In essence, Supramodernity seeks to articulate an understanding of our environment which is based on more accurate reality approximations than those which have served us so well so far – this is a challenging and grievous task. However, if we rise to the challenge our potential reward is deep artistic insight in every domain.
Ultimately, such an endeavour will lead us to redefine our aspirations for what we think it means to be human – and how that manifests in the way we live our lives.