"What if we stopped looking for control and began, in earnest, the search for order?" - Margaret Wheatley
We are living in a time unique in human history.
Thanks to modern technology, the distance between different peoples and cultures has vanished. Borders between nations have faded. Barriers that have been in place for millennia to keep strangers out have become ineffective and irrelevant. Today they can be crossed at will by anyone with a phone, a fax, or an internet connection. Meanwhile, our televisions and computers offer us windows into places and events on the other side of the world.
As people like Thomas Friedman and Robert Wright have noted, our world has become incredibly interconnected. The so-called Global Village has arrived, and intensely different groups with intensely different beliefs have suddenly found themselves confronting each other. As Walter Truett Anderson observed in "Reality Isn't What It Used to Be":
"The collapse of belief we have been witnessing throughout the twentieth century comes with globalism. The postmodern condition is not an artistic movement or a cultural fad or an intellectual theory -- although it produces all of those and is in some ways defined by them. It is what inevitably happens as people everywhere begin to see that there are many beliefs, many kinds of belief, many ways of believing."
This confrontation of beliefs has been profoundly disturbing to many who are passionate adherents to one belief system or another. It is also at the heart of the uncertainty that troubles so many of us today. If so many believe so fervently in so many different ways, how do we know what to believe? What are we to do?
When times are troubled and uncertain, a natural human response is to seek out power. The devolution of society in Iraq after the American invasion provided a textbook case: people sought shelter and solidarity with their clan and their cultural group. They gathered resources, like weapons, influence and money. And they struck out passionately against anyone who they believed posed a threat to themselves or their group.
Unfortunately, as events in Iraq after the invasion demonstrated, this usually makes things worse, with conflicts spinning out of control until either one group prevails over all others or the mutual devastation leads to mutual exhaustion.
However, there is an alternative way for us to respond to today's uncertainties. Albert Einstein once said "No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew." That is where we must turn our focus.
- Perhaps if we recognize that uncertainty is fundamental to the basic building blocks of our universe (per Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle), we can come to accept and learn how to deal with the uncertainty that will always be an inherent part of our lives and our world.
- Perhaps a knowledge of the interrelated nature of the quantum world will help us understand and deal with the interrelated world we find ourselves in today.
- Perhaps an awareness of the dual particle/wave nature of elementary matter will help us understand that we don't have a choice between individualism and collectivism: we are always intrinsically individuals and members of groups at the same time.
- And perhaps we can come to understand, as the science of complexity has revealed, that living systems, be they ecological, economic, social or political, are actually based on the flow of energy (power) from the bottom up within the context of their environment.
Our world has profoundly changed due to a decades-long wave of technological creativity that shows no sign of slowing down. This creativity arose out of a revolution in scientific thought that began in the early 20th century. Why not draw on the principles discovered in this scientific revolution to come to terms with the world its technology has created?
There are many people today who believe we are living in apocalyptic times. In a way they are right. The tremendous and irreversible changes taking place in our world will spell the end for outdated modes of thinking and believing. Cultures, institutions and beliefs that are so deeply rooted in these old ways that they can not adapt to the new will most likely fade away or become irrelevant.
But if we learn from the new principles that have shaped today's world, we can begin to adapt and even thrive in it. And if we achieve the ability to see order beyond the chaos in today's world, we shall unleash a second wave of creativity to overcome the daunting cultural and social challenges we face.