So What Next?

Some of you will know that a lot of my current writing is directed at framing the “systems thinking” problem / solution as more formal research, but notwithstanding that, the thinking and writing continues.

Recently I framed this as “Where Next With Iain McGilchrist?” Iain has characterised the situation as well as anyone, but stopped frustratingly short of the “so what” does a world-scale solution / improvement look like?

Jonathan Rowson, CEO of Iain’s publisher Perspectiva, has already picked-up that baton a couple of times, with his Systems Souls Society initiative and his “Attention as a Moral Act” series, also with Iain.

Today Jonathan posted on the Perspectiva blog, a long piece with some direct questions about the problem and solutions:

“Prefixing the World –
why the polycrisis is a permacrisis, which is actually a metacrisis, which is not really a crisis at all.”

I’ve not digested the whole, but I did respond to his direct questions:

Q1: Do the world’s problems have an underlying/overarching/inherent cause that we might do something about?

A1: YES, one underlying problem – to do with our (individual and collective) decision-making rationality – but as you suggest more meta than specifically relatable to each “crisis”.

Q2: Do the main ways that those with political and economic power currently try to solve problems (policy, regulation, trade, technology, economic growth) tend to make those problems worse?

A2: YES (and no) – the problem above – we including our political executive peers are held to account by us and by our press suffering the same meta-problem above, it’s the knowledge ecosystem in which we (all) operate. – (even if we / they individually have more creative flair).

Q3: Is there reason to think our historical moment is qualitatively distinct from other historical moments in a way that calls for a fundamental shift in our relationship to reality?

A3: NO – more a matter of degree with the multiplying factor of mass (ubiquitous and instant) electronic communications. Same problem really existed since “the enlightenment” but much slower / mediated dialogue. But YES- we therefore have to take issue with the meta-problem, adopt the better world-view directly, head-on rather than assume / hope common sense will automatically prevail (it won’t).

Q4: Should we take care to ensure that the terminology we choose to distil the essence of our global situation is as accurate and edifying as it possibly can be?

A4: YES – but this is more to do with “care” than tight “definitions” – we won’t simply be able to create neologisms or new definitions of old words that automatically escapes the baggage of old thinking. It’s why I see the solution more like evolving a better knowledge (and communications) ecosystem.

Q5: Is there something about the very idea of crisis that militates against the kinds of transformation we now need?

A5: OH YES! – I think this is key. The reason for Douglas Adams “Don’t Panic”. I’ve made myself unpopular with some “activist” groups by suggesting that their making everything critically urgent is a major part of the problem. If we rush to perceived solutions in this world of here and now, we miss out the meta-level where the real problem lies. And make THAT problem even more intractable.

Although I’ve not digested the whole of Jonathan’s thoughts, do have a read yourself and answer his questions, and give him/us any other feedback.

He does (as he has before) also mention the influence of Robert Pirsig’s thoughts on his work too.

Only this morning I was (a) referring to Iain McGilchrist
And (b) discussing the 50th Anniversary of Pirsig’s ZMM.

Onward and upward.


Post Note:

I first related Jonathan’s “Meta-Crisis” proposal to my own 20+ year Meta interests a couple of years ago in May 2021: “Meta (Really) is the Word“.


2 thoughts on “So What Next?”

  1. Thanks for the link to Rowson’s article. It contains many interesting references to other like-minded thinkers. I must try to find time to look into them all.

    His main argument is that the word “polycrisis” reflects an old way of thinking, and “metacrisis” is a better choice for finding a way forward. The framework for this concern is that humanity is in a special kind of crisis. Not only do we need to find the right word for it, but the right word is an important part of the way forward, because it engages how we think as much as what we think. And how we think is the key to the crisis.

    I couldn’t answer his five questions with a simple “Yes” or “No,” as he recommends, so I didn’t bother too much with them. I think he’s just using them temporarily to help the reader grasp the distinction between “poly” and “meta” as a choice of prefix. “Polycrisis” suggests a multitude of the same kind of crises we’re accustomed to thinking about: external, objective, amenable to instrumental thinking. They’ve become entangled in complex, perhaps emergent ways, but the “polycrisis” is still a crisis of the same type: external, objective, amenable to instrumental thinking. “Metacrisis,” on the other hand, suggests a crisis about our crises, or so he hopes. Rowson wants us to see that thinking about our crises as external, objective, and amenable to instrumental thinking has become the crisis; that we need a different way of thinking.

    I agree that “metacrisis” is better than “polycrisis” for this purpose, but it’s not perfect. For one thing, it sounds too intellectual, too archly “po-mo” to shake things up in the right circles. For another, “meta” is a difficult and slippery prefix; it can be interpreted many ways. Nothing about it hits people in the eye, which is the kind of language one needs for true rhetorical power.

    I don’t have a better suggestion , but he’s got me thinking about it!

  2. Hi AJ, yes he does indicate Yes / No choices can’t really capture the complexity, but makes a plea to give it a go 🙂

    As a PoPoMo myself I’m good with “meta” in fact early on my own trajectory I started with “Meta is the word”. But when he talks / asks about language, I don’t think he’s just thinking of the name for the overall concept, but communication more generally.

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