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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