Will we Have a Global Paradigm Shift away from Obsolete Ideologies?

Philosopher Thomas Kuhn gave paradigm its modern definition in reference to the set of principles and practices that define a scientific discipline at a particular period. In his seminal book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, Kuhn introduced the notion that most significant scientific progresses are made by quantum leaps, which he called paradigm shifts.

In the evolution of a scientific discipline, challenges to former paradigms are the paradigm shifts; they are the vectors of scientific revolutions. One of the last major examples of a scientific paradigm shift was when Albert Einstein introduced the groundbreaking notion of Relativity, which radically challenged the very simple rules laid down by Newtonian physic. The same can be said about the communication revolution of the information super-highway, which happened two decades ago. Paradigm shifts of this magnitude are colossal “thinking outside the box” processes and are a leap forward into a new reality.

The greatest barrier to a paradigm shift is the reality and incredible inertia of paradigm paralysis. Paradigm paralysis may be defined as the inability or refusal to see beyond current models of thinking. There are countless examples of paradigm paralysis in the history of mankind. In Europe, up until the XVII century, physicians used to draw out substantial volumes of blood from their patients to “purify” their bodies from some imaginary “miasma.” This would, of course, weaken patients and hasten their death. The first physicians to challenge this absurdity were dismissed and banned from the profession. A better-known example of paradigm paralysis is the rejection of Galileo’s theory of a heliocentric universe, which revolutionized the field of astronomy.

If paradigm shifts are mega-phenomena of “thinking outside the box,” paradigm paralyses are the enemy of progress and may be regarded as the sclerosis of “thinking inside the box”. In today’s world of social turmoil, continuous fast-pace change, globalization, communication revolution, overpopulation, shrinking resources and growing ecological threats, paradigms are double-edged swords. On one hand, they provide a structure and the illusion of permanence, which is a false sense of security. On the other hand, current paradigms, which often fall into the category of paradigm paralysis, prevent us from tackling challenges and major problems to keep life sustainable on this planet for future generations. In other words, we need to step, both individually and collectively out of the “illusion box” of established-thought paradigms, and jump courageously and resolutely into the uncharted and unknown reality that unfolds with each significant paradigm shift.

Thomas Kuhn was on the fence about applying his concept of paradigm shifts to revolutions in the fields of human sciences such as sociology, history, and psychology. But in retrospect, Kuhn’s ambiguity might have been shortsighted. In effect, just like science, history can move at an incredibly brisk pace during social paradigm shifts. It was the case in France during the 1789 revolution, and again in Russia in 1917. Today, there are countless indications that we are going through a major global paradigm shift. The list of  symptoms is extensive. People worldwide are incredibly anxious, insecure even about their immediate tomorrows. The global system of governance is broken or in an advanced state of decay. Our global laissez faire, and the lack of governance vision to address the critical issues of our time have already produced catastrophic consequences.

Climate change is still not treated as a key global priority, and vast area of land across the world are facing its dire consequences in the form of droughts and flood. The rise of sea levels will make coastal areas uninhabitable for 600 million people within two generations. Some months ago, Pakistan had its worse floods on record and was in the “eye of the storm” of the deadly man-made disaster that is climate change. Last summer, fires destroyed Russia’s forests and wheat crop, and now it is the turn of Somalia to face a killer drought. Large sections of America’s southwest, such as Arizona and Nevada, could become uninhabitable in two or three decades from a lack of water.

The stupidity of our respective governance, which is only a reflection of our own shortcomings, has put our world on a path to an abyss. If we don’t go through a massive systemic change, a global social revolution, people could end up fighting for food and resources on a planet where less land will be habitable and available for agriculture. We already have a system of global corporate governance, but it is strictly profit oriented, and it only serves the interests of the few as opposed to the many. If we had a halfway intelligent system of governance, the foremost questions would be: How can we slow down climate change? How are we going to feed all these people? Will there be major migrations because of climate change and overpopulation and where?

Last Spring, a social paradigm shift took place in the Arab world, and it is still unfolding. While the repercussions are hard to put in a historical context, the geopolitical impact is already enormous. There are more questions than answers. Will the neo-colonialist West hijack and neuter the revolution? Will it fall instead under the control of some form of religious ideology? Will the Arab revolution spread elsewhere? Many other times in history, the social paradigm shifts, which are revolutions, have taken a wrong turn. It was the case during the French revolution when the madness of Robespierre turned the street of Paris into rivers of blood. The same applies to Stalin’s murderous spree after he took over the apparatus of power in the aftermath of Russia’s communist revolution.

The setbacks (and in one case complete failure) to both paradigm shifts — the French and the Russian revolutions — were due to a deep-rooted psychological problem most people have: We allow authoritarian forms of government because we identify governance with the unchallenged power of a father figure. This was the psychological makeup of France during the centuries when absolute kings ruled, and it also became the case in the USSR where Stalin became the so called “father of the people.” In North Korea, Kim Jong-il projects a demi-god father figure image to his oppressed population. In 2008, newly elected President Obama was wrongly viewed globally as a providential man who could bring justice and peace to the world. This notion of an all-powerful and enlightened father figure must be challenged if we ever want to move away from the illusion that a providential man alone can “guide” a new path for the multitude. Another notion which has to be radically challenged  is the one of relying on obsolete ideologies. If Marxism appeared obsolete after the fall of the Soviet Union, now it is the turn of global capitalist neo-liberalism. Why would any ideologies of the XIX century, based almost solely on the economic realities of the industrial revolution, apply today? Will our current global paradigm shift redefine us psychologically and socially?

 

 

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25 Responses to Will we Have a Global Paradigm Shift away from Obsolete Ideologies?

  1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Cole
    September 4, 2011 at 10:31 pm

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  7. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Maria Odete Madeira
    September 6, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    The notion of quantum leap does not apply to the notion of paradigm shift in Kuhn. A quantum leap is a systemic dynamics without rupture because it occurs in the system by enaction of the system itself.

    A paradigm, in Kuhn, is nothing more than a postulate based in perspectivic criteria of an intersystemic incommensurability that does not exist in ontological terms. The systems grow through a dynamics of retension and protension, with the respective actualizations, we can talk about growth and evolution but not upon the Kuhnian nonsense of incommensurability, the exaggeration of which Kuhn came, later on, in some way, to recognize.

    To replace paradigms by other paradigms does not solve fundamental issues of human nature. To make depend upon paradigms the solutions to fundamental problems of survival and dignity to which all have right to, is still to alienate the critical autonomy of each in a new power structure.

    One can postulate another paradigm as a fast food solution, but why speak of paradigms at all? This is to replace an ideology by another ideology, the ParadigmIdeology.

    Social control is done through paradigms, why close ourselves in that dynamics of paradigms?

    A paradigm is a good device for power structures, but reality is reality, things are things, existence is existence, life is life. Things grow and develop, in themselves, and by themselves independently of the technologies and instruments through which human animals try to explain them, because of that paradigms fail. A paradigm is a human artifact and no more than that.

    If we do not become more altruistic, if we do not free ourselves from our greed, from our stupid desire of power in an effectively permanent and autonomous way, we will not solve any problems.

    • Gilbert Mercier
      +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Gilbert Mercier
      September 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      Dear Maria,

      Thanks for adding good points to the discussion here. I completely agree with the last paragraph of your comment. I addressed this point of the need for a psychological revolution within ourselves in this article: http://newsjunkiepost.com/2011/08/17/can-we-invent-a-world-based-on-moral-ethic-and-empathy/ It is, if you wish, an introduction to the argument I am making in this article.

      • +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Maria Odete Madeira
        September 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm

        Thank you, Gilbert. I have already read the article: instead of “invent” I’d state “enact”. Ethic and empathy is a matter of survival for us, human animals, as a species.

        There is no capitalism on one side and the human system on another. The capitalism is an expression of our socioeconomic nature. Capitalism is us, in this state of development, and it will exist while we do not change our predatory nature. The point is: if we do not change, we will be an evolutionary dead end.

        It is not a matter of a zero-sum game, the problems of the others, of each other, are our problems, we are all exposed to systemic contamination.

        Our nature of survivors is fundamentally social, but we have contra-social behaviors, we are stupidly contra-adaptive, altruism is a categorical imperative of survival, and it will only become effective and it is only altruism, in fact, when what we do is not based upon the pleasure of doing, but upon the duty of doing, when we detest what we do but we do it, nonetheless, because the common good is also our good, then, we are altruistic, then we will survive, then we can speak of dignity.

        We are not altruistic when we give to the poor just to satisfy our consciousness, or when we adhere to a cause for the same reason, we are altruistic when the effort of doing something may take us up to nausea (in the Kantian sense) but we do it because that is for the good of all, of each one, including ourselves, taken individually, as absolute inalienable dignity, Kant was right.

        • Gilbert Mercier
          +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Gilbert Mercier
          September 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm

          Dear Maria,

          Well said! And you are right, I should have used the word “enact” as opposed to “invent”. Indeed capitalism is within us, it is not an external artificial force coming from nowhere. You are spot on with your reference to Kant as well.

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