3/1/99

DRIVING FORCES IN POSTMODERN SOCIAL EVOLUTION 

Arthur Warmoth
Sonoma State University
Skaggs Island Foundation
Copyright©1998

At the most general level, the processes of globalization and social evolution are being driven by the imperatives of electronic communications and information processing technology. Throughout history, every major new technology has carried with it a set of imperatives for social transformation. Societies have responded both by taking advantage of the opportunities offered by technology and by engaging in complex struggles to 'humanize' the society that is created by these technological imperatives. In the modern era, democracy has been the principle social tool for humanizing the dislocations of the industrial revolution. The core imperative of the communications/information revolution is the capitalization of all aspects of information processing and information management that can be capitalized. Global information networks--especially networks processing financial information--are one major aspect of this.

A second major driving force grows out of the history of the industrial revolution, as we become increasingly aware of its ecologically destructive side effects. The information/ communications revolution is intensifying our our awareness of ecological problems, but it also offers us increasingly sophisticated tools to micromanage ecological systems at the bioregional level.

Within this larger framework, there are several more specific dynamics that I believe have significant implications for personal and organizational planning:

•The processes of globalization, particularly the global integration of information about the processes of manufacturing, trade, and finance, combined with the imperatives of ecological limits and increasing demands for democracy and social justice, create a situation in which there are substantial downward pressures on the consumption level of advanced industrialized societies.

•Whether this will lead to a declining standard of living is dependent on our ability to design new social institutions that can deliver a higher quality of life with lower levels of consumption of energy and natural resources. The alternative is the extension of the colonial model of garrisoned ghettos of the very rich and masses of the very poor.

•Automation will continue to be a major force shaping the nature of work, especially in the global manufacturing, trade, and financial services sectors. This means that while these sectors will continue to be sources of new wealth, they may much less important as sources of new employment. The trend toward automation will continue to promote the bifurcation of the work force in these sectors into highly paid top management and low paid production workers, with the virtual elimination of information processing middle management ("downsizing").

•A critical area of necessary social invention is the redesign on the our monetary and economic institutions. The design of conventional national currencies promote inequality and ecological deterioration. (See Bernard Lietaer's The Future of Money, 2001.) Lietaer advocates employment creating regional or complementary currencies and an ecologically sound Global Reference Currency (GRC) as alternatives.

•The adoption of complementary currencies, primarily on a bioregional scale, would encourage full employment and provide the basis for alternative mechanisms for meeting a variety of social needs. It would create an economic basis for local and regional institutions to develop adaptations to reducing consumption levels while improving the quality of life.

•Our political culture guarantees that market mechanisms, which can be very efficient, will be tried in every area where they can work and in many where they cannot. Two areas where alternative models need to be consciously created are:

1) Serving the public good ("the commons"). Goods such as clean air and water, public safety, and education are consumed by society collectively, not primarily by individual consumers. Conventional political mechanisms are distrusted because of their tendency to inefficiency and corruption. It is necessary to invent to forms of democratic decision-making that are more trustworthy and cost-effective (and which can include market incentives where these can work).

2) Saving and investment. Our current institutions for managing savings and investment give too large a role to speculation and what Robert B. Reich called "paper entrepreneurialism," and too small a role to real, ecologically sound, and socially responsible investment activity. The socially responsible investment and micro-banking movements address this issue. The investment process would also be made more ecologically sound by the adoption of Lietaer's Global Reference Currency (GRC).

•There are several areas which involve substantial components of public consumption in which effective political advocacy is therefore necessary:

1) Education. We need educational institutions that address both the need to learn how to manage an increasingly sophisticated capitalized knowledge and information base and the need to support the development of sustainable, self-sufficient, and self-determining communities and families.

2) Health care. We need to figure out how to "get managed care right." Health care needs to be managed, but it is a complex industry involving both 'high touch' human interactions and sophisticated 'high tech' interventions. It needs to be managed in terms of collectively defined social goals, rather than in terms of profits. There is also a need for subsidized access for the working poor, as the labor market will never support wages that are adequate for this group to be able to afford the full average cost of health care. It also requires subsidized major medical care for the middle class, as normal health insurance can cover the average cost of routine care, but the costs of catastrophic illnesses for the middle classes need to be subsidized by some form of progressive taxation.

3) Affordable housing. The working poor need subsidized housing and the middle class needs affordable housing. The housing market needs to be modified by design interventions that preserve affordability and integrate the planning for housing into a comprehensive system for the sustainable management of all of the ecological systems of a bioregion.

4) The working poor and public safety. We are beginning to understand the inadequacy of welfare as the basic safety net for poor women and children, and to find ways to replace welfare with the dignity of work. We need to begin to understand that meaningful work is also a socially cost-effective alternative to crime and violence for men. However, expanding the opportunities for the working poor requires extensive systemic rethinking of the economic, and even cultural, dynamics of low wage work. A healthy low-wage working class will require extensive public support in the areas of education (including family education services), housing and health care, since a competitive labor market labor market will never generate wages high enough to permit the working poor to purchase these essential public goods.

•The rapid pace of technological development will continue to promote a rapid pace of organizational and economic change. This creates an environment demanding continuing resocialization and adaptation to change (which Berger & Luckmann, 1966, call "secondary socialization"). In this environment, an understanding of education as a continuous process of reacculturation (Bruffee, 1993) is becoming increasingly relevant.

•Persons growing up in this rapidly evolving environment will continue to experience contradictory processes of acculturation originating with family, the local community, the mass media, the educational system, and peer culture.

•Intercultural communication and geographic mobility will continue to intensify the polycultural character of regional societies and of global civilization. In this context, the "melting pot" model of education which has served the United States as a society of immigrants is obsolete and needs to be replaced with new institutional forms that recognize the importance of cultural (or ethnic) community and identity in supporting families in the process of "primary socialization," which is the original initiation into the social construction of the self and social reality that takes place in the first few years of life and in the bosom of the family (Berger & Luckmann, 1966).

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All of these trends imply excellent right livelihood opportunities for psychologists and facilitators. However, both individuals and professional groups will need to engage in some creative thinking in order to figure out how to transform these potentials into real opportunities in real regional economies.

 

REFERENCE LIST 

Berger, P. L. & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality. New York: Doubleday

Bruffee, K. A. (1993). Collaborative learning. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University.

Lietaer, B. (2001). The future of money. London: Century. (See also <www.transaction.net/money/book>).