Evolutionary Toolbox for the Great Transition
* Book: Switching off the autopilot: An evolutionary toolbox for the Great Transition. By Micha Narberhaus. Smart CSOs Lab, 2019
"This book is about the ecological crisis that threatens to collapse our entire civilisation. It is about the crisis of liberal democracy unfolding before our eyes. And it is about a new approach that aims to tackle both crises.
Over the last few years, campaigns and activist approaches to tackling systemic problems have increasingly looked at the world through a lens of identity, power and privilege. I’m deeply concerned that this approach is highly divisive and counterproductive. Instead of bringing us closer to tackling our most pressing issues, like climate change, they contribute to further political polarisation and increase the risk of authoritarian regimes. The current political climate might set us back many years from tackling the ecological crisis, years we don’t have. It might also reverse some of the enormous social progress made in recent years instead of contributing to a fairer world.
I haven’t written this book with the hope that everybody would agree with the ideas I set out. In fact, I have written it because over the last few years I have felt that the strategy discussions about the Great Transition I have been involved in have too often operated within an ideological echo chamber, where arguments and evidence are selected to justify the pre-existing intuitions. I hope to provide an impulse towards bursting the ideological bubble.
The book argues that civil society leaders and funders have a lot to gain from adopting an evolutionary worldview. Evolutionary science teaches us how we got to where we are now, and how understanding our gene-culture co-evolutionary heritage will make it much easier to switch off our destructive deep-seated tendency for tribalism and design a good society. We have to shift all our attention to tackling the hard problem of evolution: figuring out how to adapt to the new conditions on Earth much faster than humanity has ever done or has had to do."
"We are currently experiencing a continuous spiral of polarisation in our societies. It is unlikely that we can successfully transform our whole economic system to tackle the ecological crisis in the face of growing opposition to this project by a significant segment of our societies. Progressive civil society in the Western world is far from having understood the dynamics that are at play in this process of polarisation and what role they themselves play in this process. Everybody who supports the Great Transition should also support ways to stop and reverse polarisation. Funders should make this a priority."
"Identity politics on the left has encouraged white, rural people in Europe and America to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored."
"It is this power and dominance over the political discourse in liberal democracies that progressive activists may not perceive but that is very much felt by those who don't identify with these values, those who are now increasingly attracted by the far-right discourse."
"Tribalism is a deep-seated human drive. History shows how the right circumstances can activate our genetic predispositions, put us into tribal mode and make us capable of committing the worst atrocities. Culturally, we need to develop much more awareness of the fact that the enemy is within us. It is not some kind of outside group of bad people – it’s us. We need to develop systems, institutions and a culture that prevent us from getting into tribal mode. This requires first developing a good understanding of the social mechanisms that make the situation likely. Preventing significant segments in our societies from feeling threatened is a good starting point."
"A systemic approach is open-ended and looks at the world from diverse perspectives. It is an open-minded and science- based attempt to understand the system, its grievances, its potential causes and solutions.”
"Instead of dividing the world between bad and good people or seeing it mainly as a result of structures of oppression created by the dominant classes, activism would gain much from taking an evolutionary worldview. It much better explains how we have arrived to where we are now. It explains the ugly part of human history (domination and oppression), but it also shows that hierarchy, competition and our groupish instincts have played a positive role in creating the amazing civilisation that we have. Most importantly, an evolutionary worldview will help us find better solutions and strategies for our (intentional) cultural evolution. To cite Nicholas Christakis once more: 'We should be humble in the face of temptations to engineer society in opposition to our instincts.’ "
"As an important first step to get out of the current mess, we the Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic (WEIRD) people should indeed realise that we are the WEIRD minority, globally speaking. We have to learn to live alongside this majority of people who don’t fully share our morality. Only from a position of respect will we be able to focus on what unites us as citizens of this planet. Our fate depends on each other.”
"This book is presenting a preliminary set of ideas for how we should approach the project of intentional cultural evolution for the Great Transition. My impression is that we are still in an early stage of developing the evolutionary toolbox for a successful transformation of our societies. As a next step we need to set up processes with multidisciplinary teams who have the capacity, skills and energy to get involved in prototyping for intentional cultural evolution. In the spirit of evolution, these teams would be seeding and supporting a pool of cultural evolution experiments. The goal would be to design variation and selection systems that will allow alternative institutions or organisational forms to compete with each other.