Metamodern View of Reality

Insights about reality itself can sometimes be gleaned from key findings in the sciences – from Newtonian physics to relativity and quantum mechanics to cosmology and topology to the mathematics of chaos and complexity, to the emergence of Darwinism and ecological science – all of these have informed how we conceptualize the fundamental, underlying assumptions about reality that lie beyond all specific scientific endeavors, that lie at the heart of what humans understand as reality. Metaphysics must lie beyond the reach of science, but we cannot escape having a metaphysical notion of reality – in this sense, we are always religious creatures; it’s just that our religions evolve with society and technology. Metaphysics of course always, in the last instance, relies upon metaphors – as the only absolute reality we have is the directness of experience.

Still, there is a fundamental difference between the range of metaphysical ideas, senses and assumptions that were held in medieval Europe, and those that were prevalent by the turn of the 19th century and those that are cropping up today as a result of advances of science and changes of the social and psychological landscapes of the world. There is pre-modern metaphysics, just as there is modern and postmodern metaphysics – and now we are slowly beginning to see the emergence of a metamodern metaphysics.

“Metaphysics must lie beyond the reach of science, but we cannot escape having a metaphysical notion of reality – in this sense, we are always religious creatures; it’s just that our religions evolve with society and technology.”

Let’s take a look at some metamodern insights (some of which are pedagogically necessary restatements of postmodern ideas). To have a metamodern view of reality is:

  • To see the fractal nature of reality and of the development and applica­bility of ideas, that all understanding consists of reused elements taken from other forms of understanding.
  • To be anti-essentialist, not believing in “ultimate essences” such as matt­er, consciousness, goodness, evil, masculinity, fem­ininity or the like – but rather that all these things are contextual and interpretations made from relations and comparisons. Even the today so praised “rela­tionality” is not an essence of the uni­verse.
  • To no longer believe in an atomistic, mech­anical universe where the ultimate stuff is matter, but rather to view the ultimate nature of reality as a great unknown that we must metaphorically cap­ture in our sym­bols, words and stories. To accept the view of a world being newly born again and again.
  • To see that the world is radically, unyieldingly and completely socially con­st­­ructed, always relative and context bound.
  • To see that the world emerges through complex interactions of its parts and that our intuitive understandings tend to be much too static and mono-causal. This is called complexity. It is the fundamental principle of not only meteorology but also of social psychology, where patterns (such as the “self”) emerge through the interactions of inter­related, inter­dependent dividuals.
  • To accept the necessity of developmental hierarchies – but to be very critical and careful with how they are described and used. Hierarchies are studied empirically, not arbitrarily assu­med.
  • To see that language and thereby our whole worldviews travel through a much greater space of possible, never-conceptualized worlds; that lan­gua­ge is evolving.
  • To look at the world holistically, where things such as scientific facts, per­spectives, culture and emotions interact (this form of interactivity is called hypercomplexity, because it involves not only many interacting units, but interacting perspectives and qualitatively different dimens­ions of reality, such as subjective vs. object­ive reality).[i]
  • To see that information and management of information is fund­a­mental to all aspects of reality and society: from genes to mem­es to money and sci­ence and political revolutions.
  • To ­accept an informational-Darwinian view of both genes (org­anisms) and memes (cultural patterns) competing to survive thr­ough a process of dev­elop­mental evol­ution that involves neg­ative selection (that dis­favored genes and memes go extinct, but continue to exist as poten­tials).
  • To see that Darwinian evolution depends equally upon mutual co­oper­ation and competition; that competition and cooperation are always intertwined.
  • To see the dynamic interplay of the universal and the particular, where for instance humans in more complex societies become more individ­ual­ized, which in turn drives the development of more complex societ­ies where people are more interdependent and more universal values are needed to avoid collapse.
  • To see that the world runs on dialectic logic, where things are always broken, always “stumbling backwards” as it were; that things are always striving for an impossible balance and in that acc­idental movement create the whole dance that we experience as reality. So the develop­ment of real­ity does have directionality, it’s just that we are always blind to this direct­ion; hence the metaphor of “stumbling backwards”.
  • To see that reality is fundamentally open-ended, broken, as it were, even in its mathematical and physical structure, as shown in Gödel’s incomplete­ness theorem and in some of the core find­ings of contemporary physics.
  • To recognize that potentials and potentiality, rather than facts and actual­ities, constitute the most fundamental or “more real” reality. What we usu­ally call reality is only “actuality”, one slice of an infinitely larger, hyper­­complex pie. Actuality is only a “case of” a deeper reality, called “absolute totality”.
  • To explore visions of panpsychism, i.e. that consciousness is every­where in the universe and “as real” as matter and space. But panpsych­ism should not be confused with animistic visions of all things having “spirits”.

Okay, this list is a bit dense, admittedly. We won’t go through it all in detail, but at least you have some metamodern metaphysics elixir in condensed form. Add water and you’ll see it expand and we can study its structure and details together. For now, let’s zoom in on a couple of favorites.

”Everything is always also something else, and you can’t ever pin something down and find its very core or essence. You can just have more or less functional or relevant explanations and accounts for phenomena, depending upon certain situated assessment criteria.”

Metamodern Metaphysics

So the fractal worldview means that you generally approach things fractally: everything is built up of iterations of elements that we may normally think of as opposites or at least distinct from one another.  For instance, we think of life and death as opposites, but death is only possible in relation to life, which in turn always consists of dead matter, the life processes themselves also being processes of dying (things are alive because they are always falling apart). Or you can take “Left and Right” in politics, where Soviet Communism is a far left phenomenon, completely dominated by its internal right wing, so that it in practice becomes more right wing than its adversary the USA. Or the relation between a particular person and society as a whole: society contains all the different (in-)dividuals, all of whom in turn contain society, which they do by virtue of concrete interactions with other (in-)dividuals all of whom contain innumerable aspects of society, and so forth. Religion and science are also in a fractal relationship to one another, as people’s religious beliefs about reality are always influenced by the scientific and technological surroundings, and these religious beliefs in turn determine what can meaningfully be inquired into, for what purposes.

This is of course married to the anti-essentialist stance mentioned above, as any “essence” we try to see as fundamental dissolves as parts of larger and/or smaller fractals. From Thales (who hypothesized that the essence of all things is water) and onwards, people have ascribed different ultimate essences to reality or to different phenomena: matter is the basis of all, physics is, mathematics is, consciousness is, information is, God is, love is, perspective is, relationality is the essence of reality. And things have essences: life has élan vital, humans have souls, there are elements like fire, earth and air, heat is a substance called phlogiston, your annoying neighbor is evil. The metamodern mind places instead a fundamental slot of emptiness or nothingness at the heart of reality (and also/neither doesn’t do so, as reality of course has no essence, and thus cannot be ascribed to emptiness either).

Everything is always also something else, and you can’t ever pin something down and find its very core or essence. You can just have more or less functional or relevant explanations and accounts for phenomena, depending upon certain situated assessment criteria.

One such criterion that deserves a special mention is to arrange things hierarchically. Hierarchies are important to the metamodern worldview in order not to end up in a state of disorder, of pure chaos. We have to see which statements or perspectives are more abstract than others, meaning that they contain the less abstract ones and that they are an instance of a zoomed-out mode of whatever fractal we are studying. So for instance, which is more abstract in mathematics, addition or power functions? Of course it’s power functions, because you cannot understand these without first understanding addition, then multiplication, and then power functions. Power functions are hierarchically above addition. You can’t say that one is just a different type than the other – they are the very same “type of thing”, it’s just that power functions are more abstract. But these hierarchies are never in and of themselves moral hierarchies, in which “GOD loves power functions more than HE loves addition”. If we take the killing of God seriously, we must also understand that there is no ”One Superior Vantage Point” to which we can climb and from which we can judge reality and rate the souls, bodies and minds of ourselves and our fellow human beings. Whenever we habitually ascribe essences of good or evil, or superiority or inferiority, to someone or something, we are unconsciously sneaking in a pre-metamodern God into the framework. So it’s not God’s hierarchy that we’re talking about here, not anything like an “objective moral order” of things. Hierarchy is simply a tool for ordering things so that reality doesn’t crash when we open it up for the onslaught of a fractal, non-essentialist view. Hierarchy isn’t the essence of reality either, it’s just part of the fractal (which isn’t the essence of reality either, but just something we need to cling on to).

This in turn connects us to hypercomplexity: since there is not one fundamental hierarchy or essence or fractal to which we can pin reality and we recognize the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena, we must recognize that things emerge not only as the interactions of well-defined and knowable units (patterns of moving billiard balls in a defined two-dimensional space: atoms, individuals, etc.) but also – and primarily – as intra-actions of discernable but fundamentally undefinable phenomena that interact within an equally discernable but undefinable larger set of dimensions. In other words, we can only know phenomena by also knowing their interactions and relations, as these relations also constitute the phenomena themselves (hence intra-action), and we can in turn only know the space within which phenomena are known by studying the phenomena themselves. As this totality cuts through such different aspects of reality as objective facts, socially constructed perspectives, subjective awareness and systemic contexts – all of which we can study at different levels of fractal zoom, ordered hierarchically – it is simply insufficient to think of reality in terms of “emerging complexity”. If we want to include the gaze of the observer within this study of reality (as well as the social construction of that gaze), then we must call this totality something else. Søren Brier has suggested the term ”hypercomplexity” – and I suppose that’s a good term. Hypercomplexity is thus a concept high up in the metamodern hierarchy of reality, higher up in fact than hierarchy itself. That also, of course, makes it a vaguer and more difficult concept. Hierarchies are always only relative descriptions of the interrelations within the order of things.

If we begin to understand the “functions” that work throughout reality, meaning the functions iterating upon the results of former events which in turn result from the same functions (from “repetition”) – the best examples of which are found, perhaps, from metrology and ecology (but you can find them within sociology as well, as the French philosopher Badiou for instance has given repetition a central place in his philosophy of the political state) – then it becomes clear that more of the same logic or event can often produce different results after many iterations. For instance, a body’s metabolism creates byproducts that eventually kill the organism, which then puts metabolism to an end. Another example; the speed of computing and bandwidth speed increase through similar processes over a number of years, but effect in reality a shift from a late industrial society to a postindustrial internet society. This leads us back to the old Hegelian idea of dialectics, that reality evolves and develops as things break down, that everything is transient because it is, ultimately, unsustainable and almost impossible. Order becomes chaos, chaos brings order, the search for happiness births suffering, suffering births wisdom. Everything is shifting, transforming in profound ways, and everything is imperfect, which is what makes evolution possible in the first place. Contemporary notions of entropy and negative entropy come to mind: life is possible because things are always falling apart.

If reality doesn’t have a master plan, it means that it deals with endless possibility or potential in every moment, even if it congeals in the actualities we experience, resulting from an infinitude of collapsed scales of likelihood. So even as reality is patterned in different ways, in the last instance, it is unbound, in a sense “free”.

If there is an unbound infinite potential in all parts of reality, and all parts of reality are interconnected (across time and space if nothing else, but actually much more intimately than that), we have also reintroduced a kind of “God” to our metaphysics. And this God is everywhere to be found; hence we must take up an interest in exploring pantheistic ideas, i.e. the study of an ever-present God-as-nature, which then lets us entertain the possibility that consciousness in one form or another is not isolated to humans and a few “higher” animals, but is ubiquitous to the universe, unlike normally assumed. This idea or notion is called panpsychism. Consciousness is not viewed as an epiphenomenon, but as an inherent aspect of reality. It is closely related to the position that has historically been called “neutral monism”; i.e. that consciousness and physicality aren’t fundamentally two different things, but one and the same. Far from all people who could be described as metamodernists are panpsychists but there is undeniably a close connection between the two as panpsychism is one of the most discussed and debated issues among metamodern thinkers.

Still reading? Welcome to metamodern metaphysics (admittedly the most difficult part of metamodern philosophy). Next we turn spirituality.

[i] Brier, S., 2008. Cybersemiotics: Why Information Is Not Enough! Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

Metamodern View of Science

Without further ado, let’s jump to the bullet list of insights. The metamodern view of science is:

  • To respect science as an indispensable form of knowing.
  • To see that science is always contextual and truth always tenta­tive; that reality always holds deeper truths. All that we think is real will one day melt away as snow in the sun.
  • To understand that different sciences and paradigms are simul­tan­eously true; that many of their apparent contradictions are superficial and based on misperceptions or failures of translation or integration.
  • To see that there are substantial insights and relevant knowledge in all stages of human and societal development, including tribal life, poly­theism, traditional theology, modern industrialism and postmodern criti­que. In the book The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History, I call this the evolution of “meta-memes”.
  • To celebrate and embody non-linearity in all non-mechanical matters, such as society and culture. Non-linearity, in its simpl­est definition, means that the output of a system is not proport­ional to its input.
  • To harbor a case sensitive suspicion against mechanical models and linear causation.
  • To have “a systems view” of life, to see that things form parts of self-organ­izing bottom-up systems: from sub-atomic units to atomic particles to molecules to cells to organisms.[i]
  • To see that things are alive and self-organizing because they are falling apart, that life is always a whirlwind of destruction: the only way to create and maintain an ordered pattern is to create a corresponding disorder. These are the principles of autopoiesis: entropy (that things degrade and fall apart) and “negative en­tropy” (the falling apart is what makes life possible).
  • To accept that all humans and other organisms have a connect­ing, over­arching worldview, a great story or grand narrative (a religion, in what is often interpreted as being the literal sense of the word: some­thing that connects all things) and therefore accept the necessity of a grande histoi­re, an overarching story about the world. The meta­modernist has her own unapolog­etically held grand narrative, synth­esizing her available under­stand­ing. But it is held lightly, as one recog­nizes that it is always partly fictional – a proto­synthesis.
  • To take ontological questions very seriously, i.e. to let questions about “what is really real” guide us in science and politics. This is called the onto­logical turn.

”…we don’t really have a safe ‘ground of reality’, just a strange space that tunnels in all directions. In this magnificent and frightening hall of mirrors, we must still latch on the best models of reality, and we must still respect the authority of science, which can be questioned only by yet more universal authorities of science.”

Beginning with the first two points, these are obvious to most modern people. Science is defined as that which can be studied with a rigid method and can be empirically verified or falsified by further studies. You can also come up with alternate theories that explain the phenomena more parsimoniously, accurately and in greater harmony with other existing knowledge.

This mainstream view of science of course means that whatever we think we know is always only a partial story about a greater mystery. This holds true even in the most emblematic and powerful of the sciences: physics. For instance, Newton’s laws of gravity have been shown to be better explained by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Today some physicists, like Lee Smolin, are proposing that we live in a universe where even natural laws are emergent – i.e. just long lasting “habits” of the universe, rather than “laws” inscribed prior to its existence. In a similar vein, Erik Verlinde has argued that gravity doesn’t exist, that it may be an illusion.

Even the most basic and concrete of our convictions – and the ones that best predict the behaviors of nature – are part of deeper mysteries. And science is the process of building upon what we know, which ultimately always tears down the previously known. It is a dance of consciousness, always delving into a deeper mystery. We don’t live in a universe where “science” tells us “the truth”. We live in a universe where the truth always lies beyond us as we plunge into its mystery.

This insight necessitates a holistic view of the world. We cannot easily subscribe to the reductionist view that physics grounds chemistry, which grounds biology, which grounds psychology, which grounds the social sciences. There is of course a logic to this progression, but it is only a partial truth.

There are genuinely different facets of reality: where, for instance, our subjective experience must always be part of the equation, and this consciousness is always within a social context – in the case of humans, a social context that is imbued with meaningful symbols and their interrelations. So because even the study of “physics” cannot exist as anything outside of socially mediated consciousness, its exploration of the world cannot give us all the answers. The subjective realm, and the social realm, hence merit their own, separate forms of inquiry: humanities, perspective taking, interpretation, contemplation – even meditation.

If you can’t point to a “physics” that would exist prior to anyone’s conscious understanding of it, you can no longer believe that physics alone exhausts the knowledge of nature and reality. It is simply a set of mental models of interrelations between different parts of the experienced world. This is not to say, of course, that physics is reducible to opinions and subjective experience. Rather: all physical reality exists within our socially mediated consciousness, just as that same consciousness only exists within the framework of physical reality. The different fundamental aspects of reality swallow one another. This paradox is what most observers have missed: that one aspect of reality is entirely swallowed by another aspect of reality, which is in turn swallowed by the very thing it swallows. Very few people seem to understand this.

So we don’t really have a safe “ground of reality”, just a strange space that tunnels in all directions. In this magnificent and frightening hall of mirrors, we must still latch on the best models of reality, and we must still respect the authority of science, which can be questioned only by yet more universal authorities of science.

”Our work, as metamodern philosophers and scientists, is to rewrite the very fabric of what is real, as our participatory perspectives express higher truths, as they mirror more profound insights about physics and complexity – and land us in a vast landscape of reflections, gazing deeper into the abyss.”

A New Ontological Turn

The other points on the list present some such models that are fundamental to the metamodern view of knowledge, that give us something to latch on to.

The metamemes are master patterns in our view of the reality. Societies – and their sciences – evolve by changes of bits of knowledge and cultural patterns, which Richard Dawkins famously named memes. But there are also master patterns that organize the overall patterns of these memes: there are “metamemes”. Modernism, or modern life, is one such metameme, showing up in the arts, philosophy, science, legal structures, politics and the social organization of everyday life. Postmodernism is another one that has showed up in late modern societies. And metamodernism is still being born.

So even if science reigns supreme, it is always created in social, economic, cultural and philosophical settings that determine what scientific questions are asked, what methods are used, what problems are seen as worthwhile, which questions are kosher and which ones are taboo.

From within the field of science we see the growth of increasingly non-linear perspectives and models. You have the growing study of complex, self-organizing systems that follow the logics of chaos mathematics – and it is gaining strength across the sciences. When you study systems of this kind, the “input” is generally not proportional to the “output” of the system. This is in itself, of course, a silly and rather trivial observation: of course there are lots of things that cannot be described with linear, mechanical models. But the repeated exposure to systems thinking also changes one’s general sense of reality: we leave behind a view of reality as “a machine”, and begin to see it as a large set of very different interacting systems. From molecules, to cells, to organisms to ecosystems and societies, you can study their autopoiesis, their propensity to self-assemble. And paradoxically, this is only made possible by the fact that everything in the world is entropic, that everything is always decaying.

All this means that you begin to understand how often our general propensity to think in linear terms deceives us, how our intellectual intuitions betray us. We come to expect the unexpected. We begin to understand that matters are always more counter-intuitive than we would think. We begin to focus less on perceived truths and realities, and more on open-ended processes. For instance, writing this blog entry, which uses a number of flattened and truncated theories and concepts, I still see that these half-theories feed into the process of growing a metamodern understanding of the world. An advancement of a larger intuition, if you like. This intuition can in turn lead us to new, more robust science. And across the sciences, such robust theories are appearing – from the diverse work of The Santa Fe Institute for studies of complexity, to the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, to the veritable explosion of Barabasi’s network science, which recently has made its entry into neuroscience and medicine. And you have all the people working on “deep learning”, i.e. making machines learn to facilitate the emergence of artificial intelligence. And then you have the field of complexity economics, and corresponding developments in sociology. The list goes on. It’s a veritable revolution in science, intimately tied to what might loosely be termed a metamodern sense of science. In the humanities you have people like the “enactivists” who work with similar concepts. And of course, there are all the views of complex interactions in meteorology and ecology.

But to view science through the lens of chaos, complexity, interaction, entropy, autopoeisis and emergence is not to have a “stable” view of it. Sure, so there is a “pattern that connects”, described in an increasingly wide variety of authors such as Fritjof Capra, Gregory Bateson, Maturana and Varela, Yuval Harari, Robert Wright, Søren Brier, Manuel DeLanda and so forth. But the metamodern view isn’t that this is “the correct” view or intuition about reality.

It is a proto-synthesis. It is a synthesis of the knowledge and perspectives that can be garnered at this point in history – and perhaps not the only one or the best one – and it is destined to be revised and eventually replaced, just as all former intuitions of science.

But the metamodern mind isn’t contented by a relativist view of science. It still believes that there are greater patterns and mysteries to unravel, and that some truths and intuitions are more useful, and in that sense “higher” than others. So it grasps this proto-synthesis and holds it with self-conscious naivety. Because, after all, we need direction. We need something to believe in.

And we must all bow before the dazzling elegance of science.

And as some authors, notably Karen Barad and the posthumanists, and perhaps the “speculative realists”, have argued, we cannot be contented with a view only of knowledge, only of science. Our view of science is always intertwined with our general sense of reality, of what is “really real”, with ontology.

So the metamodern philosophy tries to figure out what is really real. It thus holds that the hall of mirrors, in which fundamental aspects of reality such as consciousness and physical reality, is a higher reality. It keeps asking questions about the nature of this reality, and understands that philosophy is not being expelled to the margins by empirical science.

Nay, philosophy is reasserting itself at the very core of all scientific endeavors. The same is true of spirituality, as all philosophical endeavors must, at their core, relate to reality itself. This wordless relationship is, after all is said and done, still spiritual.

This is the ontological turn. We are taking a turn in which we base our science upon a deepening philosophical inquiry into the nature of reality. Our work, as metamodern philosophers and scientists, is to rewrite the very fabric of what is real, as our participatory perspectives express higher truths, as they mirror more profound insights about physics and complexity – and land us in a vast landscape of reflections, gazing deeper into the abyss.

And when you gaze into the abyss, it also gazes into you.

[i] Capra, F. & Luisi, P. L., 2014. The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

Metamodernism: The Conquest of a Term

Metamodernism as a Cultural Phase

The first and most widely known understanding involves seeing metamodernism as a cultural phase: you know, like when they study different phases in arts and literature: romanticism, realism, futurism, cubism and so on. This kind of cultural phase is said to be showing up in artists like LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner (yes, Shia LaBeouf as in the movie star from Transformers and dancer in Sia’s music video for Elastic Heart ), and in a wide array of painters and architects as famously described by the Dutch cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van der Akker. Especially, Vermeulen and van der Akker focus on the Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron. The Romanian professor of literature Alexandra Dumitrescu works to delineate “a new paradigm” in the field of artistic writing.

There are many talented thinkers in this field. You can find plenty of interesting stuff on metamodernism as a cultural phase by a number of talented theorists and authors on the community page Notes on Metamodernism. There is even a Metamodernist Manifesto, signed by none other than Shia LaBoeuf. They describe a stance towards life that comes after postmodernism, after the irony and criticism against modern society, where a critically informed mind reintroduces hope and progress, while “oscillating” back and forth from cynical detachment: hence such concepts as “sincere irony”, “informed naivety” and “pragmatic romanticism”.

If you view metamodernism as a cultural phase, you can also analyze different current events and phenomena as being “metamodern” in the sense that they embody the cultural logic of the internet age. This is what the American poet, attorney and scholar Seth Abramson has been doing, looking at Trump and Milo Yiannopoulos (in Huffington Post as well as here on Metamoderna) in an impressive barrage of articles. Seth Abramson has also written an authoritative introductory guide to metamodernism as a cultural phenomenon defining our time.

As a Developmental Stage

The second vision of metamodernism is that of a developmental stage – one that can be studied in societies as well as individual people. This is outlined in detail in my book The Listening Society (psychological stages of development, much of which is grounded in adult development research) and the upcoming sequel Nordic Ideology (sociological stages, which are more difficult to study “objectively”, but can be approached by means of social theory).

In The Listening Society I study four aspects of human development: 1. cognitive stages, 2. the cultural “code” that people base their world views upon, 3. subjective states (wellbeing as well as spiritual experience) and 4. existential depth (i.e. people’s existential relatedness to the world).

These four dimensions taken together form what I call “the effective value meme” of a person. So there are traditional people, modern people, postmodern people and metamodern people – depending on our mix of the different dimensions of personal development. The metamodern people have only been showing up in history recently, because only now is there a society that corresponds to this kind of adult development. Long story.

Needless to say, the developmental understanding of metamodernism makes much stronger claims than the “cultural phase” understanding. Metamodernism in this sense is something that logically can only emerge after postmodernism, and that describes some key patterns how people function in society and life at large. It says something about how they think, about what values they have (or at least the structure of those values), about how they relate to the world, about their life goals and aspirations. A lot of the metamodern people can be found within what I call the triple-H population: hipsters, hackers and hippies.

Because people at the “metamodern value meme” function differently, they also tend to team up and work for a what might loosely be called a metamodern society, much like modern people teamed up and worked to create a modern society during the Enlightenment and onwards. They intuitively see the world differently than do their modern and postmodern fellow citizens. So there is a close connection between the stages of personal development and the structures of society.

What the students of “metamodernism” as a cultural phase have done is to describe some of the expressions of metamodern people. What they haven’t done it to understand how this fits into a larger developmental sequence and how it rests upon a certain stage of psychological development. To see metamodernism as a stage, not only as a phase, makes it a much more powerful and universally applicable tool for understanding the world and effecting change in it.

The Metamodern Philosophy

The third view of metamodernism is that of a philosophy; a coherent but ultimately open-ended stance towards life, science, reality, spirituality, art, society and the human being. There are many strands of thought in contemporary philosophy that could be branded as metamodern, or proto-metamodern, or at least at the border between late postmodern thinking and metamodern thinking.

Among the authors writing specifically about “metamodernism”, what I would call a metamodern philosophy has been most closely approach by Seth Abramson. But most “metamodern” thinking isn’t necessarily branded as such – you have the philosophies of Karen Barad, Quentin Meillassoux, Ken Wilber, Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist and others, not all of whom would acknowledge one another’s works.

So let us begin this brief tour into Hanzi Freinacht’s bullet-point formulation of the metamodern philosophy. Can we wrestle this term from its loose contexts and give a larger, coherent meaning? I’ll begin metamodernism’s general stance towards life – to be followed up in future posts. All larger philosophical programs must include a general life philosophy, a relationship to life; one that is lived and embodied, one that guides everyday actions, goals, activities and ways of expression.

Metamodern Stance towards Life

  • To be exquisitely ironic and sincere, both at once.
  • To be both extremely idealistic and extremely Machiavellian.
  • To see that God is dead and humanism dying (humanism is the hum­an­­ity-centered worldview originating in the Renaiss­ance) and to accept and celebrate this by taking meaning-creation into one’s own hands.
  • To intellectually see, and intuitively sense, the intimate inter­connected­ness of all things: “the universe in a grain of sand.”
  • To accept and thrive in the paradoxical, self-contradictory, alwa­ys incom­plete and broken nature of society, culture, and reality itself.
  • To have a general both-and perspective. But note that it is not either “both-and” or “either-or” – rather, it is both “both-and” and “either-or”. In each case, it is still possible to have well-argued preferences:
    • both political Left and Right (and neither one!);
    • both top-down and bottom-up governance;
    • both historical individuals and social structures;
    • both objective science and subjective experience;
    • both cooperation and competition;
    • both extreme secularism and sincere spirituality.
  • To accept and thrive in both manifesting, systematizing philo­sophy (like Plato or natural science) and non-manifesting, pro­cess oriented, open-ended philosophy (like Nietzsche or crit­ical social science).
  • To recognize the impermanence of all things, that life and exist­ence are always in a flow, a process of becoming, of emer­gence, imman­ence and ever-present death.
  • To see normal, bourgeois life and its associated normality and profess­ional identity as insufficiently manifesting the great­ness and beauty of existence.
  • To assume a genuinely playful stance towards life and existence, a play­ful­ness that demands of us the gravest seriousness, given the ever-present potentials for unimaginable suffering and bliss.

”The solution that metamodernism offers is to keep the postmodern irony, keep the distance, but to create a new sincerity and self-consciously naive belief on top of it.”

Alright, so there is a bit to unpack here. The first point is the mixture of stark irony and pristine sincerity, which all of the cultural theorists have observed. In recent decades you have had a rise of irony – postmodern irony – that the young generation has been brought up with. The aim of this irony has been to relate critically to our commercialized world, full of sales pitches and promises. It creates a distance between us, the critically minded people, and the hysterically pursued ideologies of the 20th century. By being ironic, we can stay safe. And we can avoid the ridicule of others. So we watch South Park and The Simpsons and make internet memes drooping in irony. This irony helps us reveal things: it shows that everything is dependent on the context, that humor can be more powerful than the faith of the “true believers”, that we are always relating to surfaces that others have created for us to see, that we are continuously being manipulated by one another, that people and their aspirations are always more trivial, more banal, than they’d like to admit.

The problem with irony is that it always leaves you at a distance. You can keep going your whole life, always being the smart dude who said the clever thing and avoided being the sucker. But does that really make us free? We still have things we believe in, after all, things worth fighting for. The people of the 20th century really believed in things like human progress, that science will set us free, in the freedom of the market, even in communism or spiritual gurus or the struggle to save the whales. All of that seems a bit silly today, and it seems that if we subscribe uncritically to any of the above, we’ll end up being suckers, or oppressors – or both.

The solution that metamodernism offers is to keep the postmodern irony, keep the distance, but to create a new sincerity and self-consciously naive belief on top of it. So you make yourself vulnerable by stating what you really believe, what you think must be done, what really moves your heart – but you stay ironic towards your own convictions. Think about it – why is this blog relatively different from other commentators? The difference is that I keep presenting you with my own visions of society and reality, and pointing towards what society I think we must achieve: a listening society, a more existentially mature civilization. My neck is exposed. You can cut me up, rearrange me, quote me, ignore me, interpret me and put pieces of me into places I couldn’t dream of. The reader, not the writer, has the power.

”…what is the greater vanity? To hold sincere beliefs and addressing the meaningless tragedy of existence, or to stay at sarcastic distance?”

Metamodernism is the marriage of extreme irony with a deep, unyiel­ding sincerity. These two sides are in superposition to one another. The sin­cerity makes the irony much more effective, because it becomes genuinely ambigu­ous; the irony, because it is all-encompassing, creates room for an unapologetic, even religious, sincerity of emotions, hopes and aspirations. Without the irony and sarcasm, my sincerity would simply be too much; it would awaken severe suspicions, and for good reason too.

This both-and perspective leads us down through all of the other points on the list: to be Machiavellian and idealistic (to not be a game accepter or game denier, but to seek to effect “game change”); to see that you can be an atheist but still have a profound spiritual life and be brimming with faith in the divine; to be both Left and Right (but still taking positions, like the Alt-Left explored on this blog); to have a holistic perspective where all things are beautifully interconnected, yet recognizing that the universe is always tragically broken and that there is no hope for full salvation.

And in that hopeless place of a broken universe, and no God, and no direction of progress, and with a guarantee that you’ll always be mistaken in the end, and with the recognition that whatever you say will be misinterpreted and misused, and that you won’t be the hero or the good guy in the end – you still go ahead with religious fervor, with pristine sincerity – with an ironic smile at your own self-importance.

Religious, glittering, gleaming faith and iron resolve in the face of utter meaninglessness. That is the space that the metamodern stance towards life opens for us. After all, there is development in the world, and I can serve that development: humanity can advance to higher stages. The problem is only that my own vision of development is destined to be disproven and mistaken.

Because, after all, what is the greater vanity? To hold sincere beliefs and addressing the meaningless tragedy of existence, or to stay at sarcastic distance? Surely, the sarcastic distance is a greater insult to the universe. Can that sarcasm and “critical perspective” ever be truly sincere? Is it not perpetually concealing the simple fact that we do care, that we are utterly vulnerable and invested in this reality, here and now?

At the very least this metamodern stance gives me something to do. Something other than posting ironic memes under the open vastness and terrifying mystery of the clear night sky.

So metamodernism is more than a neat cultural phase in architecture. It is a development of a mature stage in which human beings take responsibility as co-creators of our own socially constructed universe. And it is a philosophy.

We must conquer this term and use it, taking the hero’s journey to save the world.

I take it you understand I am being ironic.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

From Premodern to Metamodern Mind: a Brief History of Human Evolution

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter on symbol-stages, the evolution of our shared symbolic toolkits.

”Beyond all human affairs, beyond all of our dramas and pass­ions, lies something far more abso­lute, a reality more real than our everyday lives.” —The Premodern Mind

The Wisdoms of the “Axial” Age

Around 2500 years ago, across the Eurasian continent, there was a wide­spread critique of the “might makes right” logic that prevailed in the complex agrarian socie­ties of the time. This period has also been termed “the Axial age” and it is here we find the beginnings of many of the classical religi­ons, wisdom traditions and philosophical schools: from Judaism on to Christianity and Islam, and the Greek Socratic philosophies in the West, over Zoroastrianism to Hind­uism with the birth of the Buddhist, Jain, Con­fucian and Taoist traditions in the East.

All of these traditions abstract certain universal understandings from the stories and narratives of their time. There is not just “the gods”, but a “God above all gods” – the ultimate abstraction. But this is not only found in Abrahamic reli­gions, you have the Brahman in Hind­uism, form­less emptiness as the ground of being in Buddhism, the Tao in Taoism, the Tian (heaven above all the gods) in Confucianism, Ahura Mazda (the lord of wisdom) in Zoroast­rianism, not to mention how Plato and Aristotle began speak­ing of “God” in singular despite the fact that they were brought up with the polytheistic Greek panth­eon, without any contact with Abrahamic religions.

I am of course not claiming that these traditions had no significant qual­­itative differences between them (or that any of them make up one monolithic system). Particularly Socratic philosophy, Taoism and Jainism stand out, I would arg­ue, as more radically critical of their own societies. But I am claiming that it is no coincidence that they appear under com­parable historical circum­stanc­es (viz. within highly developed agrarian regimes with literary traditions) and that there is an underlying logic that explains this fact (you can read more about this in my history book, The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History.)

The basic idea is that there is something un­namable beyond all stories we mere mor­t­als can tell ourselves, a universal truth beyond anything we can com­prehend, to which we must ultimately surrender. Exit the god-king, the pharaoh; in walks the righteous rebel. Exit Prometheus and his defi­ance of the gods – and the saints come marching in. Exit rebellion, viol­ence and power; enter sur­render, peace and harmony. Beyond all human affairs, beyond all of our dramas and pass­ions, lies something far more abso­lute, a reality more real than our everyday lives.

You have a God or Universal Truth, and the human being has a soul of her own. And what all the wisdom teachers of the Axial Age are telling us is basically the same: don’t sell your soul for pleas­ure and power! It just ain’t worth it.

This existence of a Universal Truth with a capital T means that rebell­ion is futile: the rebel Satan is no longer a cool prince or demigod, but the ultimate symbol of evil. Competing “power gods” like Baal become dem­oted to demon status; there is only one God (or other fundamental prin­ciple, as in the Eastern trad­itions).

” What we today consider traditional or premodern society is actually born from a radical critique of in­jus­t­­ice, war, slavery, oppression and degradation – of the arbitrary use and abuse of power.”

Righteous Rebels

But, and this is a big but, this also means that no king, ruler or wield­er of power can have any ultimate authority beyond serving the univer­sal truth. So the saints and prophets are righteous critics and rebels, wish­ing to align their societies with a deeper, universal order of the cosmos. The Chinese emperor remains, but only as long as he upholds the Man­date of Heaven; no longer is he a god in earthly robes, now merely a divin­ely dressed man on a contract from God. And in India, all rulers must submit to the rajadharma, the path of kings. Sure, render unto Cae­sar what belongs to him; but remember, that in the last instance the law of the heart precedes any law of the land, says Jesus. And to speak out against an unjust ruler, adds another prophet, is the highest form of jihad.

What we today consider traditional or premodern society is actually born from a radical critique of in­jus­t­­ice, war, slavery, oppression and degradation – of the arbitrary use and abuse of power. It is here that humanity realizes that the truth will set her free. Still operating with­in the limits of agricultural, pre-industrial socie­ties, these trad­itions set out to create disciplined spiritual prac­tices to develop the human soul towards real­ization of the ultimate truth, towards some form of inner ascension. And they set out to create just, harmonious socie­ties based on the truth as revea­led by the enlight­ened ones, the pro­phets or messengers of God. The kings begin to try to show that their part­icular rule is indeed the most faithful one, that their power is univer­sally justifiable as the natural order of things, that their supremacy serves the truth.

”In its grasp for universality, this kind of thinking creates a mindless defense of its own particularity, where the deviant and the stranger are harshly discrim­inated against and punish­ed.”

The One True Faith?

But what truth? There is always one true path set for us by the pro­phets – even in the relatively open-minded faith of Jainism – and the other perspect­ives are ultimately false. This creates a blind spot of humongous pro­portions: ethno­centr­icity, i.e. that you only see the perspective and interests of one ethnic group, culture or civilization.

Sure, anybody can be Christian, but what happens if somebody is just not? As soon as the “universal truth”, like the word of Jesus, is seriously challen­ged, this creates an open wound in our whole reality. If those other people, say the Muslims, do not believe in this truth, then either the truth must be false, or they must be collectively mistaken, misguided or degen­erate.

If the One Truth is false, it also means that the reality itself that I live in, that the one source of good, love and hope in this harsh world, is nowhere to be found – that the justification for all my morality is false. It means that my soul, which is given to me eternal­ly by God, does not exist. If oth­ers can find reas­ons to defy this faith, perhaps its truth is not universal after all? No, it cannot be so! Let the infidels die and burn in hell – or convert.

One becomes prepared to oppress and destroy others in order to resist such challenges to one’s ontology (sense of reality), ideology (sense of what a good society is) and sense of self (the social construction of an ego), to protect and maintain the boundaries of one’s symbolic universe. In fact, every infidel becomes a threat to one’s entire symbolic universe. And the heretic becomes even more menacing – one of our own who knows the Truth, but still betrays it. Just notice how grue­somely the word “heretic” appears even in its written form; this is a heritage from the Axial Age.

In its grasp for universality, this kind of thinking creates a mindless defense of its own particularity, where the deviant and the stranger are harshly discrim­inated against and punish­ed. Where it reaches for universal sol­idarity and sis­terhood, it creates bounda­ries and holy wars. Instead of setting us on a sear­ch for uni­versal truth, it says it already has the Truth and installs the inqu­isition; it suppresses all other perspectives in zeal and missionary mad­ness. And as it rea­ches for mercy and kindness in the name of the poor and wret­ched, it creates justifications for kings and bishops to rule us and fool us.

”Why should we trust the words of others, even of the messengers of God, if we can’t check for ourselves and then let others double-check our own per­ceptions?” —The Modern Mind

The Brave New World of Modernity

But if the “truth” is to be truly universal, said the pioneers of the Scientific Rev­olution and the Enlightenment, shouldn’t it be verifiable by everyone? That is, shouldn’t it be inter-subjectively confirmable (or “falsifiable”, as Blaise Pascal and Karl Popper clarified), so that we make certain that what you see is what I see?

Why should we trust the words of others, even of the messengers of God, if we can’t check for ourselves and then let others double-check our own per­ceptions? If both you and I see the moons of Jupiter, then surely the moons of Jupiter are there? If only I see angels and hobgoblins, and none of you do, is it not safer to assume, that there are no angels and hob­goblins?

This line of thinking leads us down the path of materialism, reduction­ism, positivism, determinism and scientism: there is a real reality “out there”, and by means of inter-subjectivity, by verification, by science and the scientific method (induction, deduction and abduction), we can go bey­ond the shackles of subjective illusion and see the real world for the first time.

Beyond our senses, our stories, feelings, thoughts and social conven­tions lies a grey, colorless world consisting only of meaning­less stuff that blindly follows an unchangeable, mechanical logic set out by no-one and nothing at the dawn of the universe. The world of facts. Everything, inclu­d­­ing our con­sciousness, is a giant machine, consisting of particles or waves that collide and together create all of the phenomena we know: evolution, DNA, energy, entropy, atoms, symmetry, quanta, cosmology, spacetime – all bound within the same basic arithmetic. But even the particles and waves are only super­ficial aspects of the ever-present fields that saturate and constitute the univ­erse. The scientific method, and the instruments that go beyond our per­cep­tions, help us “lose our senses”: because our senses betray us. They were only evolved to see and relate to a thin slice of reality, as was our reasoning mind. By disciplining and ben­ding our minds, we are breaking the shackles of illu­sion.

Physics becomes chemistry becomes biochemistry becomes biology beco­mes psychology becomes sociology. With each step you lose some elegance and precision – but this is only because of the imperfection of our knowledge. And at each level, the same Baconian scientific method (invented by Francis Bacon) reigns supreme. There is only one reality, one truth carved in stone. In physics.

”The individual is freed and em­pow­ered by science – the dig­nity of man born under its electric light.” —The Modern Mind

Death to the Soul, Long Live the Individual

Initially René Descartes kept “the soul” as a strange ghost in the mach­ine, but soon enough all such ghosts could be exorcized and left was only the machine. The machine – in blind, perpetual, meaning­less, mechanical moti­on – is the ultimate reality, the final truth beyond all truths. Laplace said it: if there was a “demon” who knew and could calculate all positions and all speeds of all particles in the universe, this entity would know all things that will ever occur. What of God? asked Napoleon, and Laplace replied: “Your majesty, I have no use for that hypothesis”.

Exit God. Exit Jesus and Mohammed and all the saints and their arbitrary stories, always hinging on subjective opinion and historical con­tin­gencies. We have been fooled and manipulated by what is ultim­ately just a bunch of power hungry and self-righteous potheads who dream­ed up realities that suited them. But now we are waking up, matur­ing, and the individual can take respons­ibility and see for herself, see if it makes sense. The individual is freed and em­pow­ered by science – the dig­nity of man born under its electric light. Literally speaking: deaths in childbirth and child mortality fall dramatically.

We leave behind the private revelations, the ones found in remote caves after forty days of solitude, and bring forth the public revelation – that which can be confirmed by every human being by virtue of her own senses, reason and ration­ality. No longer is humanity a slave to the auth­or­­­itative claims of others. Man can think for himself, and for the first time, in universal know­ledge, he meets his fellow as an equal: the infor­med citizen is born.

Enter Francis Bacon, Newton, Darwin and Einstein! En­ter inventions, from James Watt’s steam engine, to Thomas Edison’s refinement of the light bulb to Nikola Tesla’s alternating current to penicillin and the com­puter. The long history of dark­ness, ignorance and prejudice is over. Pro­g­ress has begun.

”…we find the true universals, the SI base units, the reality bey­ond our senses – and in its dazzling elegance and unfathomable vast­ness, our universe is far grea­t­er, more awe-inspiring, beautiful and myst­er­ious than yours.” —The Modern Mind

Enlightened Spirituality

Have we, the moderns, lost spirituality? No, we are more spiritual than the people of traditional religions ever were. We are enlightened. The tradi­tions speak of God and divine universals, of heaven and the individ­ual soul. But we find the true universals, the SI base units, the reality bey­ond our senses – and in its dazzling elegance and unfathomable vast­ness, our universe is far grea­t­er, more awe-inspiring, beautiful and myst­er­ious than yours. Look at those pris­tine, crystal clear lines that define the order of the cosmos, resting just ben­eath every seemingly chaot­ic surface and event. It’s objective. Can you taste that beautiful word? Objective science about objective reality, thr­ough which we can obtain our societal and pers­onal objectives.

The individual is no longer defined by authority, but finds herself anew in relation to the laws of nature, laws that we must contin­uously explore, in an honestly discussing community of equals, where every person has the dignity to find her own path and think for herself.

And we find the real heavens, conquering the skies, crossing space itself, landing on the moon, and bringing salva­tion through the ingenious advances of medicine – medicine that works; better than any of your pray­ers ever did. We feed the people of the world; we create untold abund­ance.

Moses didn’t split and cross the Red Sea; that was a filthy lie they had to tell for people to follow him. But even if he did, we wouldn’t be imp­ress­ed. Our god, science, the knowledge of truth itself, is still so much greater. Part­ing the sea? Was that the best you could think of? We cross it in a Boeing jet at one hundred times the speed, having coffee, with no blist­ers on our feet, and a much better view. And we also abolished slav­ery, globally. Toodeloo, Moses.

You say that your “god” brings universal order. But all the societies you have created have been full of bizarre contingencies. We create an ordered bureau­cracy with rule of law which organizes a highly productive and inno­vative market which fuels a welfare state. Universal peace? You have been bell­igerent from day one, religious wars raging to this day. Has there ever been a war about science, even one small skirmish? No.

”Reality is a harsh mistress. But in a way, reality is fair. People tend to get what they deserve.” —The Modern Mind

Grow Up and Face Reality

Perhaps it would be cute if there really was a heaven, if humans really did have souls who lived on after we died, if there was a pre-given mean­ing for us, inscribed into the very fabric of reality itself. But ultim­ately, these were only ever fantasies. Humans made them up, either because we lacked the real exp­lan­ations for things, or because we wanted to believe in them. Lullabies.

But real maturity can face up to reality. Sure, so when I die, I bloody well die. Is that so bad? Do I have to be a cry-baby about it and think I’m going to flutter around in the skies with grandma and a gilded harp? Sure, so the uni­ver­se is a dead machine that is, always was, and always will be ultimately blind and indifferent to me and all of humanity. Okay, that’s alright. Just face it and it doesn’t get scary. Actually it feels fresh, clear and good in a way. Either way, it’s still the truth, the only one you’ll ever get. So just deal with it and get on with your life.

I can understand that people in the past who really didn’t know any better believed all sorts of bizarre things. I mean, I would too if I wasn’t taught about science, about the real reality. But actually, to persist, in the face of the modern world and science, with that narcissistic, self-righteous, inbred non­sense about this whole of reality being about you and yourself – is just not cute anymore. It’s hurting people, it’s causing unnecessary moral guilt and preju­dices and con­flicts, and it’s getting in the way of real progress and the real solutions to our problems.

Yours is a smaller world, for a smaller human being. And actually, in all honesty, your ideas are crap. A universe which has no pre-given meaning, which is just pristine, open meaninglessness and where we our­selves have to create meaning – be it scientific exploration, political strugg­le, artistic exp­ress­ion or just comfort, love and fun – is so much more exiting. And actually dying, which is just reversing the fact of having been born, is much more comforting than an eternity of self-indul­gent harp playing.

Still though, I’m not going to judge you. If you really need that lullaby, go ahead; who am I to pass judgment? Because after all, it’s up to the ind­iv­idual. It’s up to you. And unlike you, I am so certain of my reality, that I don’t feel the need to threaten others with metaphysical coercion (hell) or force any­thing down their throats with threats of violence. I’m not like you – my uni­versality doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun (which I inven­ted), but from reason and fair debate. What I do insist upon, how­ever, is that every­body gets the best available inform­ation so that they can make informed decis­ions. Nobody should be kept in the dark and forced to believe prepost­erous things out of ignorance. Every­body should get a fair chance.

But what I cannot forgive, dear compadre, is the use of false scientific au­th­ority for dubious purposes and disgusting religious cop-outs: the purple and turqu­oise glowing “subtle energies” and “quantum healing” of New Age charl­atans, always selling us self-help books and worthless gems, always turn­ing our attention away from the real issues of life. Louise Hay, who says cancer is caused by your personal issues and that you can think it away. Deepak Cho­pra who habitually and ritually rapes quantum phys­ics with his profound-sound­ing, incoherent nonsense. You just crossed the line, mister. There can be no mercy towards the spread of pseudo-scien­ce and cult leaders and pro­ponents of “indigo children” ideas. The predators and hypocrites that create all of this pseudo-science show no mercy for the poor, confused people they fool, exploit and molest – and so they can expect none from me.

Reality is a harsh mistress. But in a way, reality is fair. People tend to get what they deserve. The people who are strong enough to face the truth (and don’t cop out and start navel-gazing the hell out of the universe) will win out in the end. While those losers were on their knees fantasizing about a birthday cake from their gods, or hoping to be “special” with secret magic powers, we were out in the real world and discovered evolu­tion, relativity, quantum mechanics, genetics and computation. We had more fun and our knowledge produces results: real, clear, hard, effec­tive, reliable, repeatable, delicious results. The truth, by logic, rewa­rds those who know the truth. And those who shy away from it, by the same clear logic, are punished.

And when their gods fail them, they come crawling to our modern hosp­itals, begging for a cure that only painstakingly hard-earned science can grant them. And we patch them up and take responsibility for them. Because some­body has to. Sheesh.

”There is a central flaw to the whole idea of intersubjective verification: namely that it presupposes that each individual is independent of her social context.”

Postmodern Rebels to the Rescue

But wait a minute – say the Romantic 19th century critic, the post­stru­ct­ural­ist, the critical social theorist, the counter-culture movement and the deep ecolog­ist and the intellectual hipster queer feminist – if your claim on reality is based on inter­subjective verifiability, shouldn’t all per­spectives be in­clu­d­­ed and get a voice?

There is a central flaw to the whole idea of intersubjective verification: namely that it presupposes that each individual is independent of her social context. But what if something in that context affects all the indivi­duals present, so that they all verify something that, under different cir­cum­stances, would be seen as false? There are things like common lang­uage, social hierar­chies, peer pressure, hidden or unaware assumptions, prejudices and econo­mic interests. All of these shape the context within which any intersubjective verification can be made: thus shaping what is taken to be “the truth”. And these things don’t show up in any haphazard manner: they follow clear patt­erns, repeatedly and systematically exclud­ing some voices, truths and pers­pectives. And the most absurd, violent and oppressive beliefs are hailed as inter­­subject­ively verified truths, be­cause we’re all in it. Surely we can’t all be wrong? Yes, mister President, we can.

If your truth is so universal, how come it only really makes sense from a modern, educated, middle class (often white and male) perspective? Not that I argue with the specific results of science – if you drop a rock, it falls, I agree, and if a medicine works, it works – but how come your modern, universal worldview has oppressed so many people and animals?

”…cultures around the world are taking heavy hits as they face an endless onslaught of commercial­ization, instrumentalization, bureaucratiz­a­tion and social degradation. Are those just road kill on the path to the univer­sal truth[?]” —The Postmodern Mind

You Call that Enlightenment?

Let’s start with indigenous cultures. So when modern civilization show­ed up at Greenland and “civilized” the Inuits (by the hand of those pesky Danes), their culture crumbled like a house of cards. Unbelievable misery ensued and many of them became alcoholics at the very bottom of Danish “modern” soc­iety. If you go a little farther back in time, the Europeans consciously and delib­erately conquered and exploited others in the name of civilization and moder­nity, claiming that this was the scien­tifically supported order of things. But even if you don’t go back to colon­ialism, today most indigenous and traditional cultures around the world are taking heavy hits as they face an endless onslaught of commercial­ization, instrumentalization, bureaucratiz­a­tion and social degradation. Are those just road kill on the path to the univer­sal truth you say you found in a high school physics class?

Or how about the process of modernization itself. You said there are no science wars. But did you ever notice there are other wars going on, stemm­ing directly from the vanity of the modern project? Look at how China and the Soviet Union modernized – millions and millions of people died. Oh, that wasn’t real modernization? Only Western modernization is real? They did become modern countries, you know. And what about the US, if it’s so en­lightened, how come its black book of human rights abuses is so thick? Those victims don’t get a say in the universal truth found in chemistry 101? Speak­ing of chemistry, did you know that the British Em­p­ire started using chemical dyes and then instantly collapsed the Indian indigo cloth dye market – that the Empire had created – and let millions starve to death? Oh, that wasn’t real modernity either, was it? How about the Indian traditional society, they don’t get a say on this? Do you know that the biggest and bloodiest war going on right now is in the Congo? A long-term result of some of the worst atrocities in recorded history, committed by enlightened, modern Wester­ners who used their oh-so-hailed rationality to force native Africans to produce cocoa and rubber instead of food so that you can enjoy that delicious fine Belgian choc­olate. Have you thought about that? Oh, and where do the minerals in your Smartphone come from?

And if every individual is being freed by this universal order of enlighten­ment that you are so graciously sharing with the rest of the world, how come a Bangladeshi female semi-slave made the shirt you are wearing, not under direct threat perhaps, but lest her kids be prostituted to Western tourists? Once she does work at the sweatshop, though, she is physically threatened – and her phy­sical health is certainly compromised. What a beautiful universal order that is. Good thing we can continuously check in on it intersubjectively and verify that her life still sucks.

”…you only ever have your sub­ject­­ive experience of things-as-they-are, always in right-this-moment. And that’s the only ‘objective’ reality you ever really get.” —The Postmodern Mind

Do You Really Think Your So Called “Objective” Science Cuts It?

Or how about the patients? Modern medicine is powerful, you’re right. Vacc­­ines are good, most of the time. But the history of modern medic­ine is a marathon of abuses by doctors who were convinced they had objective sci­ence on their side. How much power have they not misused to lobo­tomize and lock up and castrate people – until political, not scientific, currents in society changed? Oh, those patients were weak and crazy. They don’t get a perspecti­ve on universal truth, of course.

And how come this universal intersubjectivity always makes the men right and leaves the women out? I mean, you really have to work hard to find the women in the history of science.

And how come, with these super-objective sciences, that the paradigms keep shifting every generation or so, depending on who wins the acad­emic power struggles? You go from a Newtonian universe to Einstein’s universe, and now Einstein turned out to be wrong about quantum phy­sics, and the uni­verse really does do “spooky things at a distance” after all –and God plays a whole lot of quantum dice. Everyone is so sure of themselves, that they have the real reality, that they are being objective, but all the time they turn out to be wrong – their understanding again and again found to be more bound by their culture, their time and their own interests, than anybody had expected. Not so universal, after all, it is?

What about verifying stuff that is beyond someone’s understanding in terms of education, stage of cognitive complexity, or access to inform­ation? I mean – what if people do not verify some great discovery simply because they are too stupid, afraid or invested in some other idea? Did that ever happ­en? Is it still happening all over science? You betcha.

And when the scientific commun­ity does agree on stuff, does it make a difference that most of them are recruited from more or less the same strata in society? Wouldn’t they ask other quest­ions if they came from other groups, with other interests? And how about big pharma, the meat industry, the sugar industry and the tobacco indu­stry? Suppose any of these little cuties ever aff­ected science; this holy, objective, super-effect­ive effectiveness to which all strong no-bullshit people like yourself are so committed?

And who gets to say what is “effective” anyway? What if I have the best method? And the results are many times more effective “per dollar spent” than your method – at killing Jews. Oh, you think killing Jews is bad? That’s your opinion. I’m looking at the facts, yo. And it just so happens, that I am object­ively right and you are wrong. My method is more effect­ive. Science says. Right.

The world, my dear modernista, before it ever becomes “objective” scien­­ce, is phenomeno­logical. First and foremost, you only ever have your sub­ject­­ive experience of things-as-they-are, always in right-this-moment. And that’s the only “objective” reality you ever really get.

And the phenomenological experience of reality is always bound by social con­structions. You can’t ever reach the “real” reality by anything but the use of symbols: if you look at a chair, the moment you see it, you interpret it as a chair – which is a symbol, not an “objective reality”.

Even an idea in physics, such as the hydrogen atom, is only access­ible to you through the use of socially constructed symbols. No matter how many university cred­its you get in physics, or if you win a Nobel Prize, you still only ever get to understand the world through symbols that others have taught you. And, again, those symbols are not a direct link to objective real­ity. It’s just that some symbols turn out to be more useful metaphors for describing the patterns of relations between other symbols. That’s it. You’ve been living the illusion that you’re beyond illusions.

”You simply take the leap of faith, that there really is a grey, colorless machine-world out there, with one Truth, One Universal Existence in the Non-Eyes of the Non-God.” —The Postmodern Mind

So you Consider yourself Secular? Try again

You say you’ve matured and killed God, that you’ve grown out of it. But I, the postmodern mind, find you as a helplessly god-fearing believer. This is because you think that there is an “objective” view from nowhere, a universal, grey background reality that never depends on anyone’s pers­pective. But where exactly do you find this reality, other than as a subset of your own sub­jective experience and your symbols, which other people have taught you in school? How do you really get beyond your own perspective, created by you in interaction with others? Mind if I ask?

Oh, you persist? You just know it’s there, don’t you? You can’t see it, touch it, or feel it, beyond your own subjectivity, or beyond the symbols, but you fiercely… What’s that word? Yes, you believe it. You simply take the leap of faith, that there really is a grey, colorless machine-world out there, with one Truth, One Universal Existence in the Non-Eyes of the Non-God.

Yep, there you have it. You never stopped believing in God, you punk. You only pushed Him backstage by means of a simple negation. But that negation still posits a God. You’re still doing the same move as Newton and Descartes did: except they actually admitted that they assu­med that reality was made possible by the eyes of God. You didn’t kill God; you hid him away.

You’ve been sitting in His holy lap this entire time. But your Non-God with a “view from nowhere” is just utter nonsense. It is a religious belief and nothing else. And from that “objective” position, which is, and only ever was, a filthy lie – you have been objectifying and instrumentalizing the world, just­ifying a giant extraction project where you get to exploit everything as your legally owned resources. It’s disgraceful, dishonest and deeply harmful.

”All ‘objective’ analysis says that we’re running major risks, but still you’re not really responding, busy as you are wearing a suit and all and making money, stacking stuff in a villa.” —The Postmodern Mind

Is that Progress?

Now, tell me again. All scientific evidence points to a simple fact: that hu­m­­­­ans are animals like any other species. That means that a pig or a cow is as valuable as a little kid. It is undeniably so, from a natural scientific persp­ec­tive. There is really no controversy here. So tell me exactly, how your univ­ersal science justifies that you let sixty billion land animals  many of whom correspond to billions of human children – be enslaved, tortu­red and slit up with knives every year; to be condemned without trial, to die by the fork. Explain to me exactly, how that is “progress in the light of unive­rsal science”. Tell me again, about your universally valid per­spective, about how beautifully intersubjectively verifiable it all is. Didn’t think so.

And this civilization you’ve built. You bragged a while ago about being better than Moses, with your Boeing jet and all. But Moses didn’t sink the Mal­dives into the ocean by means of global warming. You’re managing to do that, not least with the help of the jet plane’s CO2-emissions. And “under the sea” isn’t a very interesting place to live anymore – because you killed all the fish and other aquatic animals, over a trillion a year. Of that, Moses is inno­cent and you are guilty as charged. Fish have pretty advan­ced sensory experi­ences, you know. And you’re letting them die really cruel deaths en masse. In your enlightened objectivity, you then polluted the rest of the sea so that you could have more plastic bags for the snacks you’re eating while watching TV and playing video games.

You do realize that the civilization you’ve built is not sustainable any­way, don’t you? All “objective” analysis says that we’re running major risks, but still you’re not really responding, busy as you are wearing a suit and all and making money, stacking stuff in a villa. Serious things. Resp­on­sible things.

”…what did you expect? To create free expression and inst­itutions that support critical thinking – and that nobody would ever go beyond you, ever speak against you?” —The Postmodern Mind

You Created Me, But Now I’m Going to End you

“SHUT UP! Shut up, you shit-cunt!! Or I’ll split your skull open and watch your disgusting relativist, moralistic, snob-hipster brains smear the street!”

Whoa, whoa! Modernism, is that you? Where have you been? You look aw­fully rugged. Have you been drinking? Now, will you please put that crow­bar down. Slowly, where I can see it. Listen, even if you do split my head open, I’ll just end up looking like a Picasso, and in my death, my multi-perspectival criti­que of your worldview will prevail again. It ain’t worth it.

“Don’t you say another word. I’ve been nice. I’ve been listening to your rotten shit for a long time – and I know your kind all too well. You’re one of those people who just talk and talk, and you’re not really out to help anyone. You’re just out to relativize everything and score cheap moralistic points on ME while living off the society THAT I CREATED for you. And then YOU showed up and turned it into a decadent fuckfest of pretentious ‘modern art’ and irony and self-flattery and almost no rigid science or results, and YOU keep getting all the credit. But I am an individual who can think for myself, and I won’t fall for your sophistry.”

That’s right, you did create me. My multiplistic, postmodern perspect­ive simply wouldn’t be possible without your hard work and centuries of modern progress. And you’re right, I’m often doing better, in terms of privileges and status, than you are, not least because I tend to understand the cultural and psychological asp­ects of the world better than you do. And I do generally get to score the moral goals and come off as more sophisticated.

But then again, what did you expect? To create free expression and inst­itutions that support critical thinking – and that nobody would ever go beyond you, ever speak against you? That I would sit there like a good schoolgirl and be grateful for your alienating, soulless, mind­less, hypocrit­ical and oppressive society? That I would watch reality soaps and play your sports and com­puter games and never ask ano­ther question? Thanks for the offer, but fuck you very much. Weren’t you the one who said that who­ever can deal with reality the most proficiently should win? Well, here it is for you: you’re on the losing side of history.

And I realize that this may be a bad time to say this, but you’re not actu­ally an individual with independent thoughts. You’re really just acting out the struct­ural relations inherent to society, and the true reason that you are react­ing this way has little to do with your own faculties as an inde­pen­dent thinker. You don’t have a “self” in that sense; you’re not mak­ing choices, only being like people in your position in society gener­ally are. These are just structures and properties of the cultural system. So you didn’t just keep God, you kept the soul, and you built your whole life around it, just renaming it “the indivi­dual”.

Some poor modernistas even believe that they have a free will tied to this “individual”. Are you one of them? How cute, but silly you, weren’t you supposed to be all scientific? How does that work in a mechanistic, objective universe where everything can be explained by cause and effect? (Okay, granted, some of you may have read Daniel Dennett’s more soph­isticated case for free will in a deterministic universe, but even then there are unresolved issues.)

You just assumed, no, you – and there’s that word again – believed, that you had some kind of individual will making all those “rational” decis­ions. Why don’t you just come out of the closet alright, you zealous belie­ver of metaphysical nonsense and make-believe. Why don’t you just admit that you really don’t have a clue, but that you put your faith in the great Bible of Nature – a book you, come on admit it, haven’t really read but merely put your hand on.

But hey, if you need that lullaby, who am I to judge? What I’m telling you are all things that you, dear mod­ernism, don’t yet understand. But rest assur­ed, your kids probably will when I’m done with them. And then they’ll join me in all kinds of homoerotic extravaganzas, deconstruct your world­view, make awkward dinner conver­sations and laugh at old grumpy dad, all paid for by you at the nearest liberal arts college.

It’s just that this is bigger than you and your psychological comfort. The way that you limit your pers­pective to “objective reality” means that all kinds of important aspects of reality get locked out. For insta­nce, if only what is intersubjectively verifiable ever counts as universal, and there­fore as real and important, what happens to all of those who cannot partake in the inter­subjec­tive discussion? Like the animals – or poorly educated people. You can’t ask the animals, but does that mean they don’t have subjective exper­ience? Your perspective turns every­thing into one big “object” and it silences so many voices. This opens the way for abuses, as the world is turned into dead, cold resources under your mechanical, exploitative regime.

It will be a solemn pleasure, I can tell you, to watch your colossus of false objectivity and progress crumble and fall under a multiplicity of crit­ical per­spectives that will tear it down from all sides and reveal your true nature (yes, I know there’s no “true nature”, it’s a manner of expression). And it is in the cracks and ruins of your world, in a perpetual questioning and crit­icism, that humanity is truly emancipated.

”…your ideas of science, objectivity and reality are too limited, because they have too much lingering stuff of religions left in every nook and cranny” —The Postmodern Mind

Modernity is not Modern Enough

You see, the problem isn’t that you are too modern, too scientific or too objective. The problem is that you are not nearly modern, scientific or secular enough. It is because your ideas of science, objectivity and reality are too limited, because they have too much lingering stuff of religions left in every nook and cranny, that you keep creating a world of narrow-mindedness and self-deceit. Your “enlightened liberation” and “progress” become vulner­able to any number of hidden, arbitrary, unfair and partic­ularistic power struc­tures. While you say that you are fair and impartial, you in fact end up serving power and oppressing the weak. Systematically, again and again.

Freud was right, to a large extent: there is a lot of unconscious stuff going on. If you look inside your own mind, you will find that this is correct. For inst­ance, modernists have a strong feeling that if you work hard and bow to the Real Hard Reality (the one that your Non-God is watch­ing over with His Holy Eyes of Objectivity), then you will be re­ward­­ed by the universe. Or that if you apply yourself enou­gh, you should get to live in the Real World. Or that if you are Really Object­ive and you plan ahead well, you should get to be the winner – the leader. Or that “smart” people are more deserving.

But, you see, the universe really doesn’t care about you. Nobody gives a shit. It’s not about you. It’s not about your “science” or smarts. You really are thorou­ghly meaning­less, just like you said it yourself (you just failed to take the full consequences of it). And you never get to hit the “bottom line” with “real reality” – it will always be just another story you tell your­self, and you will never have come up with it yourself; it will always be forced upon you by social structures that lie beyond you. Even if you’re the best kid in math class, the universe doesn’t care. It doesn’t budge and disclose itself to you.

Hey, modernista, sorry to break it to you, but there are a few things you need to catch up on. You do know that your science grew directly out of the ancient philosophy and medieval scholastics that you feel so superior to, don’t you? You do know that philosophy didn’t end with you, that you are not the end of history? You do know that your whole world­view and sense of reality will one day look exactly as infantile and stupid as the Old Testament does to you? Indeed, that it already does; that people better informed and more scien­tifically minded than you, have been laughing at you and ridiculing you for almost two generations already? And you do know, don’t you, that you are guilty of the worst crimes against life and humanity that have ever been com­mitted, all in the name of your super­fic­ially understood “progress”?

So that was postmodernity. Exit Newton. Enter Fou­cault. Mic­hel Foucault, the leading French philosopher of the 1960s and 70s, is per­haps the most emblematic of the innovators of the post­modern cultural code. The philosophically most stringent one is probably Jac­ques Derrida. Actu­ally, let’s quote Derrida himself:

“Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the ‘end of ideologies’ and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable sin­g­ular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth.”

Derrida, J., 1993. Spectres of Marx. New York: Routledge, p. 85.

But to­day, of course, a lot of people are “installing” the postmodern code with­out ever hav­ing heard of these philosophers. And you can pretty much install it even without any philosophical underpinnings to speak of, like the case of Noam Chomsky (who of course knows a lot of philosophy, but, as you may know, despises “French theory” and tends to criticize US foreign policy without much philosophical commentary.)

As you can see, postmodernism follows a similar pattern as that of the Axial traditions: they both criticize the former stage from a cultural or philosophical standpoint, pointing out their in­­her­ent inco­nsistencies – and the negative consequences of these. They are both a kind of “moral” projects, seeking to reform soc­iety by critical thinking and self-scrutiny.

”All of your projects have fallen to the ground … we still live in what must be seen as a modern society: still capitalist, alienating, unequal and ecolo­gically disastrous.” —The Metamodern Mind

The Metamodern Mind

Wait a minute – says the metamodernist – if all perspectives are to be included for us to be able to strive towards universal values, how come that the only perspect­ive you pomos (postmodernists) seem to value is your own? Doesn’t the inclusion of all perspect­ives require the successful accommodation of those perspectives, including the modernism that you so vehemently opp­ose? You aren’t really taking the other perspectives seriously, if you don’t evalu­ate, compare and connect them – and give each perspective its due credit.

You say that you go beyond modern society by means of critical think­ing, but what do you really offer us? You are against all grand narratives, all stories about how the world at large is evolving, because you find them mon­olithic and oppressive. You are against all overarching maps of soc­i­ety and reality, be­cause you think they reduce the richness of life and exis­t­ence too much. And you always strive to be on the critical side of things, always aga­inst stuff. And you say you don’t really believe in prog­ress and develop­ment, only in changes of cultures, interpretations and power stru­ctures.

When you vote you often go with the Left or the Greens – and in some cases with intellectual forms of libertarianism. But whenever any of these pow­ers come close to government, the same modern, bureaucratic struct­ures reemerge.

While you criticize the often exaggerated “objectivity” of modern sci­en­ce, and you have produced some interesting resea­rch programs in social science and humanities (such as ethnomethodolo­gy, interactionism, dis­cour­se analy­sis, cultural studies, postcolonialism, eco-fem­inism, queer theory, etc.), you have not really produced a new science equa­ling the 17th century Scientific Revolution.

And what about the Enlightenment – its ideas inform the constitutions of most countries in the world. You had the 1968 student revolution in France and the counterculture in the US and other countries, authors like Herbert Marcuse and Aldous Huxley leading the fray; but where is your new society?

Increasingly, you have got crammed up at university departments where you write critiques of everything from IMF (International Mon­etary Fund) reports to pop songs and music videos – but where is the alternative you offer? For a while it was “democratic socialism”, but after 1989 we haven’t really seen any credible claims for it. Then it was “deep eco­logy”, but the world is industrializing and consuming and modern­izing faster than ever. Then you came up with queer feminism and updat­ed versions of radical femi­nism, which is nice, but nowhere is there any evidence that “breaking the hetero norm” and “crushing patriarchy” bring forth any true revolution, or lead to an otherwise fair society. Frank­ly, women have been more liberated by the pill and other advances of medic­ine, than by postmodern theory. And then you have been going on about neo­liberalism, which you take to be an evil spirit that has possessed the world, but you have yet to produce any alternative beyond bureau­cratic control. Occupy Wall Street didn’t offer more than a buzz. All of your projects have fallen to the ground, without any of them deeply chan­g­ing society. There have been some shifts, yes, but we still live in what must be seen as a modern society: still capitalist, alienating, unequal and ecolo­gically disastrous.

Let’s look at your pomo heroes. Foucault was good at criticizing mod­ern society, I’ll give you that. But what did he believe in? He wanted to make it legal for adults to have sex with kids (no age limit) and was deeply enthused by the Iranian revolu­tion. He never came up with one useful solution. What about Erich Fromm, this wise guru? He wanted a central­ized planning taking over all production, making sure that we only heard classical music on the radio, that a bunch of exceptionally wise people should rule (clearly having himself and folks like Einstein in mind), loved Suzuki (the Japanese Zen teacher who had supported the Japanese regime during the Second World War, giving very Zen accounts of how to poke an eye out with a bayonet) and he despised gay people. I could go on. The point is – as soon as it’s your turn to offer a vision and a new path, your neck is exposed.

”you have to try to construct a synthesis from all that you know from the earlier stages” —The Postmodern Mind

Postmodernity’s Anti-thesis is not enough

The problem you have, dear pomo, is that you fail to construct or suggest anything useful or durable, because you are only truly interested in being an anti-thesis to the existing society.

You don’t truly use a multiplicity of perspe­ctives; your “multiplicity of perspectives” is limited to an epistemological one (vie­ws of knowledge and how it is attained) – it is never an ontological multiplicity (viewing reality itself as shifting according to perspectives).

From a metamodern perspective, this is just not enou­gh. You have to make yourself more vulnerable than that: you have to try to construct a synthesis from all that you know from the earlier stages, in order to create a society that solves the three major problems of modern life: the excessive global inequalities, the alienation or neurotic anxieties of modern life, and ecological unsustainability.

This synthesis must of course be open-ended and continuously revised, a proto-synthesis. You have to offer a path to Utopia yourself, and it has to really include the traditional, modern and postmodern – even while knowing that this path will never be the only one or “the right one”. We do it because we have to, even at the very great risk of being wrong.

And this requires that you take all the former stages of development much more seriously: you have to actually deal with the prospect of One Universal Truth, that you harbor and cultivate within yourself a deep, sincere faith (as those of the Axial traditions); you must look for objective truth that we can all agree upon and seek to wield it to engender progress (that modernity put forth); and you must seek to criticize and find all possible cracks and excluded voices in that story (postmodernity).

Every stage of development creates an unending beauty, cavalcades of new truths, new reali­ties, new melodies of the universe. Multiplicity is not the only melo­dy of the cosmos: it plays within a larger orchestra, consisting of unity, univ­ersality and faith, all of which are important – and comparable to one another.

”to have solidarity with someone, you must also have solidarity with their perspective.” —The Postmodern Mind

Postmodernity is not Critical or Multiplistic enough

Dear pomo, you have been monolithic in your embrace of multiplicity, narrow-minded in your attempts at open-mindedness, judgmental in your non-judgment, hierarchical in your anti-hierarchy. In a few words, your problem is not that you have been too critical, postmodern and muliti­plistic – you have not been nearly critical, postmodern and mul­ti­­plistic enough.

If you are so good at taking perspectives and including everybody, how come the modernist show­ed up at your doorstep, completely destroyed, drunk and with a crow­bar? Have you been imperialist and oppressive with­out notic­ing it? Have you been using your cognitive and cultural superiority for the sordid pleasures of opp­ression and making others, in weaker positions, feel helpless and deprived of their sense of self, morality and reality? And have you been doing this while telling yourself that you were defending the weak? If you are justified in this symbolic violence, where then, is the new society you were to bring about?

Here’s what I believe: to have solidarity with someone, you must also have solidarity with their perspective. This means that one must also under­stand pow­er hierarchies – not just as “evil spirits” in the form of class struct­ures, patriarchy, discourses, etc. to be exorcized with “critical perspect­ives” – but as differences of developmental stage. And pomos are generally at a high­er developmental stage than modernists.

If you deny the differences of developmental stage, you also fail to recog­nize something important: that to be in position to critique some­one, from their own premises, is to act from a position of superiority – from a position of power. Isn’t the realization of priv­ilege at the core of your beliefs? Did you really believe that you were an underdog barking at the powerful? You have been a highly privileged, well-informed elitist kick­ing downwards all along. You, my dear pomo, armed with vast amou­nts of cultural capital and superior perspectives, belong to the highest strata of global society, the upper class of late modernity – so you should better acknow­ledge your privilege and take some responsibility for includ­ing the perspectives of your fellow citizens. The pomos are in positions of power, more so than George W. Bush ever was or Vladimir Putin ever will be.

”Listening to a stranger beco­mes the highest form of jihad.” —The Metamodern Mind

How Metamodernism Beats Postmodernism

The metamodern mind takes all of the earlier perspectives at face value, as real; it’s just that some of them are more real than others. They are ranked, compared and balanced against one another. And for that, one must be able to truly listen to and understand – and to a certain extent agree with – even one’s most bitter enemy. We must learn to listen to another pers­on and to see with her eyes and to merge our reality with hers, to see how her perspective is a real, ontological, part of reality. Listening to a stranger beco­mes the highest form of jihad.

“You would rank people’s perspectives and put them together in unifying vis­ions to improve society? How arrogant and power hungry you must be! You think there are many realities at once, not just many views of the same reality? How utterly confused and crazed! And you want to define ‘progress’ for soc­iety? How dangerous! You seemed to be an okay person for a while, but now that I see where you are going, you fill me with utter disgust!”

Oh, is that you, postmodernism? I thought you might show up here. Well, I don’t mean to be nasty or arrogant, really. It’s just that I am born through you. Everything about you ultimately leads to me. Can’t you see it? I am you. And if you don’t accept my insights, you are still left in the clutches of modernism.

“I am nothing like them! You are like them! Obsessed with rankings and stages and progress and power! But I’m not like you; I will resist, I will critique!”

Listen, if you don’t like what I am saying, and you think that I have regre­ssed to modernism, you are admitting that I am right – i.e. that there are in fact stages of development. Otherwise no “regression” would be possible.

If you want to include all perspectives and treat them fairly, you have to be able to compare them to one another, and see how they are each an important part of reality, and how they fit together. Otherwise you are being condesc­ending and monolithic yourself.

If you want to transcend and leave behind the obsession with hierar­chies, you must be able to dispassionately describe hierarchies and relate to them productively. If you resent hierarchies and deny them, you are still in their grip, still obsessed with them. Precisely by demystifying hier­archy we can free ourselves from this obsession.

If you want to be humble and self-critical, isn’t it more humble to assu­me that there are hierarchical stages beyond your own, that there are people with worldviews that would trump your own on its own premises, even people you may know? As indic­ated earlier in this book, stage theo­ries make for greater epistemological humility.

If you want to be progressive, you have to admit that progress is at least pro­visionally possible – which then necessitates that you define, at least for the time being, in what direction such progress can and should unfold.

If you see that social reality is constructed, that it is a form of patterned “meta-narrative”, and that there are serious gaps and limitations in that narra­tive – aren’t you obliged to try to reconstruct it? To create a new story about humanity, society, reality and progress? To suggest a proto-synthesis?

And if you want to include the excluded voices, don’t you need to show at least some solidarity with all perspectives, even the ones you don’t like or that you feel superior to?

I, the metamodern mind, can no longer believe in the postmodern criti­­que of modern society. I see it as lacking in crucial aspects. We must move on. By virtue of its own dialectical logic, by the structure of its symbols and their inter­relations and by its inherent self-contradictions, post­modernism is the mid­wife of meta­modernism.

Now let’s get out there and kick some pomo ass.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

Beyond Left and Right, at Long Last

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter on political philosophy; a chapter that also includes an inquiry into complexity, transpersonal perspectives and its political consequences, and the developmental-hierarchical aspects that seem to be the lacking piece of the puzzle for progressive change.

”In the future, people will look at these beliefs, being Left or Right, much as we today look at medieval beliefs such as being Christian or Muslim.”

Going “beyond Left and Right” means that we make questions of the rela­tions between public sector, private sector and civil sphere into open discuss­ions where the best empirical arguments for each mechanism, in each case, must be taken into consider­ation. For instance, do “free mark­ets” work more or less efficiently than state bureau­cracies? The answer depends on what area of society we are studying, what values need to be taken into account in our common goals within this area, and what kind of state bureau­cracy and how functional a market we have available.

People on the Left tend to believe, irrationally and a priori, that demo­cratic control through the public sector is better in and of itself. The Right tends to believe that “the market” (whatever that is taken to mean) is in and of itself a more intelligent mechanism than bureaucracy, that it serves a naturally given order, sometimes compared to Darwinian evolution. People of Green (and often anarchist) persuasion often believe that civic, informal and pers­onal relation­­ships are in and of themselves kinder, fairer and less oppress­ive than both markets and bureaucracies.

But once we say these assumptions out loud, they somehow fall flat on the ground. They are revealed for what they really are: prejudices. To a priori assume that democratic control through public bureaucracy is more efficient, fair and morally superior to a “free market” solution is simply nonsensical. It is a religious belief in the negative sense of the word. In the future, people will look at these beliefs, being Left or Right, much as we today look at medieval beliefs such as being Christian or Muslim.

These are case sensitive questions. The answers vary. There is no one an­swer. It all depends on what institutions, levels of psychological dev­elop­ment, techn­ologies and information processes we have available – and which area of social life we are discussing. There is nothing irrational or inefficient in the public sphere itself, just as there is nothing inherently rational and right in a “market equilibrium”. And there is nothing inher­ently humane, kind and cozy about the civil sphere.

”All of the three systems – democratic bureau­cracy, the market and civil sphere – are simply forms of governance that pro­cess information about the behavior of humans, coordinating our actions in order to create desir­able common and individual results.”

Don’t be an Allergic Fool, Acknowledge the Reciprocity of All Spheres of Society

A large part of this issue is to transcend one’s own political allergies. Let’s try out a few words, allergies of the Left: market, power, capitalism, auth­ority, profit – and of the Right: radical, social, feminism, revolution, public.

If you get a sense of spontaneous disgust or aggression upon reading any of these words, if the word itself comes out on the paper sheet as repul­sive, you have a political allergy, hijacking your political mind. One needs to recognize that these are not inherent essences or givens. They can all be good or bad, depe­nd­ing on the context – and more pertinently, they are all good and bad. It just makes relatively little sense to “hate” or “be against” such vague and open categories as “the market”. It limits your thinking. It makes you dumb.

All of the three systems – democratic bureau­cracy, the market and civil sphere – are simply forms of governance that pro­cess information about the behavior of humans, coordinating our actions in order to create desir­able common and individual results. Each of them has its patho­logies, its own sick­nesses, its own limitations as well as its own mag­ni­fic­ent qualities. There are intelligent and unintelligent markets, intelli­gent and unintelligent bureau­cracies and democratic institutions, and the civil sphere can be equally inclu­sive as it can be oppressive.

The three systems depend upon one another for their functioning, for their very existence. There are no countries without markets – and no larger mark­ets without regulating states and bureaucracies (as “the father of sociology” Max Weber pointed out). And the civil sphere, in the sense that the great master of German social theory Jürgen Habermas first des­cri­bed it, grows and gains its force as the modern state comes alive. When the mod­ern state is intro­duced, people have this penetrating, overarching entity that determines much of their lives, which gives us something in common to talk about – in the nat­ional news, papers or cafés. And the modern nation state makes it possible for us to have a “personal sph­ere”, where we are expected to keep our own “individual” dreams, close rela­tions and sexual­ities at some distance from the public and professional realms.

In some important ways, the systems have become more independent from one another under modernity, during the last 200 years or so. As Weber’s classical sociology established, the genius of modernity, the spirit of modern society, is its ability to tease out different dimensions of social reality from one another: 1. the rational/scientific objective truth, 2. the subjective/personal aesthe­tic, and 3. the interpersonal/moral realm.

You can’t burn someone at the stake for making a scientific claim anymore. You can have sexual relations without it necessarily having eco­nomic implications. You can elect officials based on merits rather than who they are related to or how rich they are (in theory, sigh). You can start a business without it threatening your family relations – and so forth.

The spheres gain a certain form of independence or autonomy. And this is a wondrous thing, really: fair markets are ideally free from cozy friend­ships that make for crony capitalism, bureaucracy sees all citizens as equals and should ideally work independently of market interests, and love should ideally be free from power relations and gold-digging.

However, such a teasing out (with a fancier word: differentiation) of the different dimensions of social life is never complete. The systems inter­pene­trate. They continue to affect one another. When a modern society fails to differentiate these three spheres, this brings all kinds of social dis­eases: corruption, favoritism, inequality before the law, misuses of public office, formations of cartels and unfair monopolies, breaches of the personal privacy of people – the list of horrors is endless. Consider what happens if your boss is sleeping with your wife, or the bureaucracy works to help certain ethnicities or clans over others. In modern society we want to be rid of such things. Good riddance.

But the glory of modernity has a dark side: in the meantime we become split up; the same person is a family member, a citizen and a professional. These spheres of life are kept at a certain distance from one another. This is one of the major sources of alienation in modern society. In sociology, this nasty baby goes by many names (all of which catch slightly different mean­ings): fragmentation, the postmodern condition, the corrosion of character, and so forth.

”In our days, democracy, mark­ets and the civil sphere are finding new ways of saturating one another. They are being integrated again”

Re-integration

But society is now shifting past this stage. In our days, democracy, mark­ets and the civil sphere are finding new ways of saturating one another. They are being integrated again – not like in traditional society, but in a distinctly post­industrial manner that pertains to the internet age. These new forms of re-inte­gration are not the same as failed differen­tiations (which causes corrupt­ion and the like). The new re-integration is, to some extent, a good thing. If carr­ied out intelligently, it can make us much less split-up, much less alien­ated. And it can make politics, markets and personal relationships work much more intelligently.

So you need to keep three stages in mind. One: markets, politics and personal relations are not clearly differentiated; two: in modern society these three spheres gain a great measure of independence from one ano­ther; three: in metamodern society (which you can read more about in my books), these three spheres are being re-integ­ra­ted, ideally without any one of them dominating or contaminating the other two.

Examples of this re-integration abound. Let’s mention just a few: Mar­ket mechanisms applied to public sector organization; planning of “triple helix models” for regional economic development (triple helix means coll­a­b­or­ations between public, private and univer­sity agents in a region); an incr­eas­ing pressure from civil sphere influence to break the ali­enating man­agement and bureaucracy of both private corporations and the public sector; and personal relations within professional firms being increas­ingly honed and invested in. Again, this is a major process of our time. The­se examples are just a few superficial such changes visible in today’s society.

The growing re-integration of these three different spheres of social life – the civic (politics, democracy, bureaucracy, public), the professional (market exch­ange) and the personal (the civil sphere, family life, comm­unities) – requires of us a kind of politi­cal thought that does not take one of the dimen­sions as fundamental or inher­ently superior to the other two. We must see the totality of social and political life.

This is what it means to go beyond Left and Right. An example of such re-integration is the growing impor­tance of “the fourth sector”, consisting of hybrid organizations, public-private ini­tia­­­­tives and, above all, of social entrepreneurs – as mentioned, the social entrepreneur being the ideal type person of the new global economy.

At a very trivial level it is of course easy to see how no one political move­ment or direction can be the eternally “correct” one. Almost nobody would in all seriousness believe that all the Left has done, wanted and thought of dur­ing the last century has been good and that all the Right has ever done has been inherently wrong and mistaken. It is simply an unten­able position, rev­ealing itself as nonsense the moment it is recognized.

”Once you accept the metamodern fractal perspective, you don’t seek to colonize and destroy fundamental and necessary dimensions of social life anymore.”

The Fractal Nature of Social Life

There is an underpinning to all of this, a central insight. The phil­osophical principle of metamodern politics is as simple as it is elegant. This principle holds that social life is of fractal nature, and that society consists of three interdependent dimensions that always repeat themselves but ultimately depend on one another: solidarity, trade and competition.

  • Solidarity – in all societies that have ever existed, there has been coop­eration and what the anarchist classic Peter Kropotkin term­ed “mutual aid”. And in all of our lives, there are always at least some aspects of such things as caring, brotherhood, friend­ship, cooperation, help, char­ity, allia­nces, affiliation, liking, love and so forth. The principle is: you, rather than me.
  • Trade – in all societies that have ever existed, and in everyone’s life, in every relationship, there is an element of exch­ange: tit for tat, some­thing for something. The principle is: me and you, but only condi­ti­onally. “Only conditionally” serves to underscore that we only make trade transactions if there is something for us to gain.
  • Competition – in all societies that have ever existed, and in every­one’s life, in every goddamn relationship, there is an elem­ent of competition: con­­flicting interests, power relations, struggle, manipulations, violence, ani­­m­osity, enmity and so on. The prin­ciple is: me, not you.

The unstated, irrational belief that people have, is that one of these three dim­en­­sions somehow makes up a higher truth than the other two. The Left some­how believes, in a subtle but pervasive manner, that solid­arity is the highest truth. The libertarian Right believes that trade is the first principle. The con­servative and the fascist believe in their hearts that fierce competition lies beyond the other two, that it ultimately defines social reality.

The metamodern political activist makes no such mistake, has no such prejudices, and recognizes that each of these three beliefs is equally dis­honest and violent against the nature of reality. Each of these pre­judices comes at a terrible cost in terms of human and animal suffering.

A fractal, as you probably know, means that if you zoom in on one part of its (mathe­matical) structure, you see that the same function repeats itself, creat­ing self-similar patterns on a new level, even if you zoom in or out a thou­sand times or more. The fractal applies the same ingredients or principles (a function applied to itself), but it produces ever new results at each level you study. The patterns of each level of zoom are still some­how self-similar, however; you can recognize what kind of fractal you are studying. Instead of having “three dimensions”, you can have fractions of dimensions (one-and-a-half dimensions, and so forth); that’s where the word “fractal” comes from. You can break up any dimension into smaller parts and see how it repeats itself. You can break up friendship and see how it consists of trade and conflict.

Now look at any relationship, let’s stay with a friendship. Does it not contain at least an ounce of competition? Does it not contain trade, an ex­change where both par­ties gain something valuable? In fact, if there is no gain at all for one party, it is difficult to imagine how the friendship could be sust­ainable. Would a one-sided friendship not amount to exploitation? And does the definition of a friendship not subtly exclude the non-friend – which again means that it relies upon competition?

Or look at the Second World War; did this major conflict not include incr­edible sacrifice, love and solidarity – indeed, did it not rely upon these for its existence? Or the very fact that you were born into this world – is it not a violent act, that you have eaten your way through other organic matter, as much as the result of a mating competition and the authentic bond between your parents? Your very body is organic matter under violent control; killed, chew­ed, digested and brought into new cooperative relations. Recent research has revealed an evolutionary struggle even bet­ween the pregnant mother and her fetus – the growing child’s evolu­tion­ary interests are somewhat different from those of the mother (who may increase the chances of spreading her genes by having more children, and hence not be too drained by this particular fetus). No matter how pro­foundly symbiotic and loving a relationship, there is an element of stru­ggle.

At its heart, metamodern political thought fully accepts and acknow­ledges these three dimensions of social life: solidarity, trade and com­petition (and their intertwined, fractal nature). As such, it avoids the self-imposed blind spots of the Left and Right, going beyond them as anal­ytical categories. Being Left or Right becomes merely a matter of taste or prefer­ence – just as you can choose to call your god Allah, Brahman, Jeho­vah, the Pastafari monster or nothing at all.

Once you accept the metamodern fractal perspective, you don’t seek to colonize and destroy fundamental and necessary dimensions of social life anymore. You are not, for instance, against enmity and competition. If you try to be “against enmity”, you are creating enmity between yourself and others who don’t share your view, views that you then by definition seek to conquer and defeat. You see, you cannot escape any of the three dimensions.

So instead, we begin to look for how solidarity, trade and conflict can dev­elop together, into new forms of social life – and indeed, how they have dev­eloped throughout history. This means that we no longer hate (or roman­ticize) the state, the market or pers­onal life (with its often irrational and unfair compli­cations). We can no longer believe that one of the cate­gories holds the solu­tions to the “evil” or “problems” of the other two. We simply begin to grasp social life itself as a dialectical, develop­mental process, which is at least partly in our hands – and that its categories (state, market, civil sphere) are always slipping, always shifting. They don’t have eternal, inherent qualities of good or evil. They don’t have essences.

You can play the same game with another, related triad: equality, free­dom and order. They sometimes work against one another, some­times create syn­ergies – but they cannot even exist without one another. If you love free­dom, you must also see that, at its very core, freedom is born through order and equality, both of which in turn need freedom to exist. Higher degrees of order is often what allows for greater freedom – but only if the order is of a general and abstract form. Simply making people “organized” by having them march together, as in North Korea, hardly makes for a free society. Having funct­ional policing, orderly statistics and revision of public finances, might.

This fractal philosophy makes you capable of going beyond Left, Right and feeble “center” com­promises between the two. You look at how the new economy and its political and psych­ological landscape can take us to a higher equilibrium balance, where society is farther Left, farther Right and much more sust­ain­­able than today – how such synergies can become possible.

For that we have to allow our minds to think paradoxical thoughts, make experimental leaps, and dream dangerous dreams.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

Feminism, yes. Culture of fear, no thanks.

“Groups with more women have higher ‘collective intelligence’.”

Why so many guys in new, experimental organizations?

There is research that suggests that women on average have a somewhat higher social and emotional intelligence than men, and that groups or organizations where many key positions are held by women are somewhat more functional, i.e. they have higher “collective intelligence” than groups with fewer women (according to the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence).

It is thus in the long-term interest of groups to have pretty much as many women as possible, not only as leaders, but also as members—not least if it’s an organization that deals with complex social and emotional issues.

And yet, there are often more men at the top in many organizations. The usual way of explaining this is prejudice and patriarchy, but there may well be other selection pressures. For instance, you may argue that people at the very top of competitive organizations must make tremendous sacrifices in order to remain in place, and that women less often choose to do so in the long run, as they are less wired to chase prestige and more wired for social and emotional bonds. This is what Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson argues in this clip.

When it comes to new and experimental organizations and new political parties, it should not surprise us that we will tend to find a greater number of men there than women. Across the world, all cultures, you find significant differences in personality traits between men and women: men are more risk prone (going for new extraction projects and unproven organizations), are more keen on advancing in the social hierarchies, have lower “agreeableness” (as in the personality trait studied by the psychologists) and so are more prone to rock the boat and compete and being somewhat less concerned with being likable, and are more assertive and dominant in their demeanor. These differences aren’t always very strong, but they hold across all cultures. Men are often over-represented in newly formed organizations but women are often better at creating new branches of existing social structures.

The reason for these differences probably lie in a number of Darwinian selection pressures that have molded our behavioral biology—basically, much fewer men have gotten to mate than women, so it has been advantageous (in a mechanical, Darwinian sense) to take greater risks in order to advance to the top of the dominance hierarchy. Once there, a male could mate with several females, choosing from the most attractive ones (which in turn creates an embellishment selection pressure in female behavior, contrary to those in most birds where males display nice colors etc.). Males who didn’t take risks have been selected against.

“Males who didn’t take risks have been selected against.”

Given these personality differences in humans, we are left with a dual predicament: Men are much more likely to thrive emotionally in new, experimental organizations with no fixed social boundaries and hierarchies—but this can get us stuck in a situation where the organization permanently has much more men than women, which is counterproductive to the long-term success of the organization.

Blame “the structures”?

For women and others who enter these newly formed organizational structures it is natural to feel subtly uncomfortable as the social environment is permeated by a general “masculine vibe”. There is not only a sense of conquest and adventure, but also—even in cute, progressive circles, let’s be honest—an underlying competition for prestige and positions in the forming social hierarchy.

Even if such hierarchies are consciously designed to be democratic, fair, transparent and flexible, people need to display good merits in order to gain the respect and admiration of others. Men generally feel a little more comfortable in such environments than women, and they are more energized and emotionally rewarded for diving head-on into them with fresh and blind commitment.

In lack of a deeper, systemic understanding of what’s going on, it can be tempting for women to rely upon theories of patriarchy and blame “the dusty, moldy structures” in these situations, as a means of countering what is felt to be an unfair male privilege. This is true especially in societies like Sweden and Denmark, where gender equality is a strongly held social and moral value.

I’m not saying that there are no male privileges or that patriarchy doesn’t exist—it’s just not an exhaustive theory and it doesn’t lead down a very productive path for the organization as a whole. Here’s why.

If people start blaming “the structures” they are making vague and unspecified claims for blame (and corresponding moral claims for victimhood) that are difficult to assess and to give a specific, concrete address in the real situations and interactions. In other words, you are letting a rather nasty genie out of its bottle: somebody, somewhere did or said something sexist or acted to unfairly exclude someone else—but we’re not telling you exactly who, or when they did it, or how. Somebody is being sexist and upholding immoral, outdated “structures”, but it is unclear if it might be you, or that guy, or this one.

“Somebody is being sexist and upholding immoral, outdated “structures”, but it is unclear if it might be you, or that guy, or this one.”

So a pretty strong accusation is there, of a pretty grave moral wrong-doing, but you never know if this accusation is going to hit you, or if people are thinking nasty thoughts about you or might be saying things behind your back.

This, my friends, inadvertently breeds a culture of fear. Nobody wants a culture of fear, but it can show up as an accidental and unfortunate side-effect of imprudent uses of structural arguments about feminism.

Understanding the culture of fear

The culture of fear is very detrimental to the long-term success of an organization for several reasons.

First of all, it lowers collective intelligence as people become more afraid of speaking their minds and just generally “being themselves”. As the collective intelligence of a group depends upon equally and fairly distributed speech, and such communication must build upon the honest and relaxed expression of thoughts, ideas and values, this puts a lid on people’s ability to partake in earnest. Anything you say or do can be taken as a sign that you are the one who “upholds those nasty structures” and so you have to watch your every step, lest it be used against you.

This, in turn, skews the incentives for all participants in the organization. Rewards are reaped to a lesser extent for coming up with the best ideas and putting in the most work (in a functional do-ocracy, which is based on the meritocratic evaluation of effort, skill and competence) and to a greater extent for winning the moral struggles for victimhood and blame. This shifts people’s attention and efforts away from serving the overall purpose of the organization and towards the games for victimhood and blame that flow from arguments of inclusion and feminism. Instead of making sure that your political party has the best possible policies and chances of winning, you need to spend time and effort making sure that you are not painted as a sexist or upholder of unjust social structures. And you end up spending more time trying not to seem power-hungry or dominant or exclusionary, than you do working with real suggestions. It’s a treadmill for moral purity that can, in effect, never be achieved. And it takes up a large quantity of resources in terms of time and attention.

“It’s a treadmill for moral purity that can, in effect, never be achieved.”

And this, of course, means that people will become less experimental, innovative and risk-prone, all of which are necessary for a vibrant and powerful organization. It stifles initiative and innovation. So you get a less efficient organization.

And as people feel stuck in games for moral worth and that they must avoid subtle forms of blame and moral accusations, many react with bitterness and resentment. This of course is a breeding ground for underlying conflicts that begin to permeate the organization, and this will in turn lead to more people struggling to be defined as victims and as the ones who have been unfairly treated and discriminated against. And anyone who is unfairly treated or gets excluded on other grounds than gender, ethnicity or class—for instance, that you are socially awkward, nerdy or have too different ideas, or whatever—naturally feels resentment towards the fact that they cannot muster a corresponding moral victimhood as those belonging to the socially accepted categories of the oppressed. And they start playing games to redefine victimhood and blame, much like the regressive parts of the men’s movement.

Which brings us to the last point about the culture of fear. Since anybody can make vague and unspecified claims of gender discrimination, racism, etc., and these claims are more or less impossible to counter, they lead down a slippery slope. Whenever somebody doesn’t like your idea, or doesn’t think you’re the right candidate, or just doesn’t agree with you, you can comfortably push the feminism or “power structure” button, and you’re off the hook. Now it’s all those people who didn’t give you your due respect and attention who are bad, and you don’t need to reevaluate your stance. This of course corrupts the process of fair and rational democratic deliberation and supplements good arguments for cheap moral scores.

All of this leads to a timid, weak and cowardly organizational culture. A culture of fear. Or at least one of guilt, shame and envy.

So sloppy uses of feminist and inclusionary arguments can and will breed a culture of fear, and this can and will harm the organization as a whole. It is directly detrimental to the organization’s deeper purpose. I can’t overstate how venomous this kind of organizational development is; even if it is very understandable and is not caused by anyone’s ill will. In fact it is paradoxically caused only by people’s earnest struggle for inclusion and recognition.

Logically impossible forms of inclusion

Beyond the feminist argument for inclusion of women, people often make it a moral trademark to want full inclusion of all dimensions of society: gender, class, ethnicity, educational and vocational background, personality types and so forth. The argument goes that the “natural order” of things is that every aspect of society (usually seen as the national society within which the organization resides) is represented in a miniature version, a mirror image of society as a whole. Any deviation from such a representation is seen as being caused by those nasty power structures, in effect excluding significant groups.

While this idea is understandable and compelling, it is really not very feasible, for several reasons.
The main reason is that people tend to cluster around projects due to their values, personalities and areas of interest. If you look, for instance, at the Feminist Party of Sweden, you find that it is almost entirely made up of people with higher-than-average cultural capital, alternative and liberal lifestyles and who have a stake in challenging the cultural status quo. So you will find very few traditional Christians and Muslims, and very few Nationalists or just people with more conservative personalities among its activists and voters. You will find that people here have higher “openness”, “agreeableness” and creativity than the average population, and you will find more women than men, and more gays. In the tech startup scene you will find high risk takers, entrepreneurial types, tech nerds, liberals and creatives. In the banking sector you will find the opposite composition. In academia you will find folks who like thick books.

In other words, society is stratified not only due to power structures but also—and often more pertinently—due to cluster effects and pressures of self-selection. If you work too strongly against such pressures of self-selection, you are also working against people’s own choices and preferences, which is after all not a very nice or democratic thing to do.

But even if you do manage to gain a representation of all of society, there is still the simple fact that most of society is not very open or inclusive. Even strong liberals who don’t mind ethnic minorities tend to have a strong preference for the like-minded and to look at more conservative types with disdain, as recent research has established.

So, to put it bluntly, a highly inclusionary and representative mirror of the population, wouldn’t be very open and inclusive, because the average of the population is not very open and inclusive. In other words, in order to create a super-inclusive environment, you have to select from the small segment group of the population that are most open, tolerant, inclusive and democratic. And these groups are generally found only within certain strata of the population: they are postmaterialist, generally privileged, highly educated, well connected, creative and experimental, and they can be found within limited clusters of the overall population.

So “full inclusion” is a logical paradox, and must therefore be and remain a chimera. Unfortunately, because people cling on too eagerly to sociological theories of power structures and exclusion, they are lead to believe that any homogeneity of a newly formed organization is caused only by the tendency of powerful groups to exclude others. Such explanations may play a part, but they are not exhaustive.

And once you cling to an impossible ideal, and your only explanation for why it does not materialize is to blame the power structures (subtly blaming other people), you feel justified in making vague, sweeping arguments about discrimination and exclusion. And so you feed the culture of fear, which debilitates the vibrancy of your organization as explained above. The leadership naturally becomes less audacious and energized.

Solution 1: Internal discrimination court

Yikes, so this lands us in a few rather venomous paradoxes when it comes to feminism and inclusion for organizational development. On the one hand, there are strong mechanisms that lead to more men taking the lead, which is bad news for the collective intelligence of the organization and makes women feel excluded; on the other hand, if people start crying wolf and pulling the feminism card in vague and general terms, this inadvertently leads to a culture of fear.

But there are solutions to this problem, and they should be instituted on both and organizational and cultural level.

First of all, there must be an internal “court” within the organization to which complaints about discrimination and unfair exclusion can be filed. Such complaints must be specific in nature: Who is being excluded, by whom, on what grounds, and through which mechanisms, and by means of which actions (or non-actions)? You can file complaints not only for gender discrimination, but for any kind of unfair treatment or exclusion.

Such a court must have the mandate to:

a) invite all the concerned parties to a private mediating discussion (no record kept, no outside interference and no prestige in front of the rest of the organization);
b) decide upon disciplinary sanctions against the ones who are deemed to have unfairly discriminated against a person, for instance by relieving them of responsibilities for a period of time;
c) re-open decision processes that have been thwarted and curtailed due to unfair discrimination or exclusion, either of nominations for positions or for policy decisions; and
d) offer official statements concerning occurring forms of discrimination, expressing the feelings and concerns of those who feel that they have been denied their due recognition.

In other words, the organization should take it upon itself to combat all forms of discrimination and offer a viable alternative to the free-for-all calls about structural discrimination. This makes certain that complaints are only made in a specific, targeted form, and that they lead to productive results. The mission of such a court should be to guard the collective intelligence of the organization and to defend all members from feeling excluded and discriminated against, as well as defending all members from undue or unwarranted accusations of discrimination.

Solution 2: Strong cultural norms against general and sweeping accusations

If such an internal court system is in place, there should be less reason to make general and sweeping accusations about the “structural” issues of discrimination. And indeed, there should be an agreement among members that such generalized arguments should not be made at all.

This may feel disempowering to some, as many of us have grown fond of using such arguments. But the arguments can still be made—it’s just that they are made in specific and situated manners with real, organizational consequences. If you are prepared to accuse others of being sexist or exclusionary, you should also be able to say who was, how, and how it harmed you.

“If you are prepared to accuse others of being sexist or exclusionary, you should also be able to say who was, how, and how it harmed you.”

These are norms of adulthood and social responsibility. There should be no room for norms of blame and unspecified victimhood or unspecified accusations. If all members are treated as responsible adults who can fend for their own interests, they should be given the means to do so effectively and productively. Even if you are the victim of unfair discrimination, you must still have the guts and responsibility to stand up for yourself. It is a matter of balancing rights with their corresponding responsibilities.

Because who else will take responsibility for your accusations? Just calling wolf and leaving elephants in the room is not good enough. You have to stand up for yourself and be faced with the real possibility that the court, or other members of the organization, will not necessarily see things the same way as you do. If you are to level such severe accusations at others, you should at least be certain enough of your case that you would be able to explain the specifics to a mediating court. This will foster stronger and more empowered members of the organization at all levels.

These norms should be an open agreement among the members of the organization: that all matters of discrimination are handled through the court, and never through vague charges about structures.

Solution 3: Flexible quota systems

When a position or mandate is to be filled by person by means of election, it may be a good idea to premium women and minorities as a means of countering the natural tendency of men from the dominant ethnicity to fill the positions.

But rather than having “fixed” quota systems (50% women, etc.) it would make more sense to put into place softer, cultural norms that steer this development. A simple solution might be this one:

When someone is to be elected for a position, the round first goes to women with immigrant background. If there are any such persons available, and they accept the nomination, there is a consent round to see if all members of the assembly consent to this person’s election.

If no such person is presents herself, or if consent is not given due to specific and relevant arguments of behalf of some members, the second round looks for a “white” woman. The third round goes to men with immigrant background. The fourth round goes to people with disabilities. Only in the fifth round can “white” men be elected.

In early stages of an organization, this will still mean that most positions are filled with white men. But at least these can be certain that they have not actively or passively excluded other groups. As the organization grows, more and more positions will be filled with women—which is actually beneficial for collective intelligence up to a number of 100%, according to the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.

Wouldn’t this lead to the active discrimination of white men? No. There are going to be so many eager white men around, that this group will easily find representation either way. And in some cases there will be committees and bodies with only white men, and that will also be okay.

“It’s a ‘soft’ quota system, one that doesn’t stare blindly at specific numbers or percentages, but simply makes damn sure that people weren’t excluded on unfair grounds.”

It’s a “soft” quota system, one that doesn’t stare blindly at specific numbers or percentages, but simply makes damn sure that people of some select categories weren’t excluded on unfair grounds. And self-selection pressures will manifest themselves all the same. A new, progressive political party will be filled with creative, open-minded progressive people who are deemed competent by their peers.

Nobody gets in on a quota, but only on merit, as everybody has to consent on rational grounds. There are just some mechanisms in place to counter the unfortunate mechanisms of self-selection. This creates a culture in which women and other minorities feel more welcome and less inclined to want to press charges of discrimination.

Last words: inclusion is important. But not for its own sake. Not as a gimmick. There is no multi-color raincoat god of multiplicity out there who loves us more if we have more varying genitals and skin colors. Multiplicity is a virtue only in so far as it serves collective intelligence, common understanding and productive cooperation.

Feminism is important, not only as a social value, but also as a marker of organizational quality and efficiency. But in its simpler and more antagonistic forms it can breed unproductive struggles for victimhood and let invisible elephants of blame sneak into the room.

Let us counter these tendencies with proactive and consciously designed organizational innovations. Let us work for a deeper feminism that tackles the core of the problem. This requires that social rights are counter-balanced with social responsibilities.

So—feminism, yes. Culture of fear, no thanks.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

The Danish Alternative, a Party about Nothing

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter on new and important agents on the political playing field such as process based parties, metamodern activists, transnationalism and the emergence of the metamodern aristocracy.

”The party re­presents a merger of the artistic, digital and sustainability-concer­ned elem­ents of society. It is, in a way, the party of artists and their often eccentric, play­ful, post-materialist lifestyles.”

The closest thing to a truly process oriented political party to date is the Danish party The Alternative, founded by the former minister of cult­ure Uffe Elbæk in late 2013. The party was ridiculed in the press and by members of the other parties upon its founding, partly for not having a fixed program to begin with, but entered parliament less than two years later with about 5% of the votes (2% is needed to enter parliament) and has since gained in the polls. Apparently the Danish public was ready for a “party about nothing”.

Instead of being based on a readymade political program, the party was formed around a set of principles and values for how to conduct good politi­cal discourse and dialogue. The party also has political content, of course, a program with things they want to change, but this was subsequ­ently crowd sourced by its members after the party got founded. Most central to the party’s founding and organi­zation is still the how, rather than the what.

Starting with the what, the party has three main issues in focus.

  • Transition to a sustainable society (drawing partly on the Transition Town movement, originally from the UK);
  • supporting entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship; and
  • changing the culture of political dialogue (as well as supporting art and culture in general).

As you can see, at the time of writing, the party has yet to discover the idea of the listening society; but still, it is a quite promising movement. Let’s hope some of the members read my book.

The Alternative has its electoral and organizational base mainly in the urb­an creative class – or the triple-H (triple-H“>hipsters, hackers and hippies). Thereby, the party can employ a lot of its cultural muscle to compete in the world of mass and social media – not least with the help of gifted design­ers working for free, people who are sensitive to cultural trends and currents.

The old Left intellectuals of Denmark tend to stay with the socialist mov­e­­ments, whereas The Alternative steals away the triple-H and others with post-materialist and environmental values, creating a platform for their interests and expressions. The party re­presents a merger of the artistic, digital and sustainability-concer­ned elem­ents of society. It is, in a way, the party of artists and their often eccentric, play­ful, post-materialist lifestyles.

”In a media landscape where everyone competes for attention, the people who are more fun and imaginative get an upper hand – not the richest and ‘most proper’ people.”

Why has the Alternative Become a Success?

The party is successful because it represents the new interests being born in a postindustrial society: not only the creative class but also what British economist Guy Standing elaborated and popularized as the pre­cariat (people in precarious economic and social positions, who fall outside the classic class categories). The precariat is supported by an ambi­­­tious program for simpli­fying life for the often surveyed and cont­rolled unemployed, who get stuck in nasty bureau­cratic state prac­tices that in reality seldom lead to employment.

A second reason for the party’s early success is that you have so much cultural capital gathered in once place, so much know-how about making the best meetings, dialogues, media events, parties, campaigns, posters and so on. In a media landscape where everyone competes for attention, the people who are more fun and imaginative get an upper hand – not the richest and “most proper” people.

In a way, you could say that The Alternative represents the revolution of cultural capital against economic capital. The Conservative party of Denmark had much greater campaign expenditure and all the contacts with Danish industry, but still a much less successful election campaign. The Alternative beat them in many different ways. For instance, they had smaller, shrieking green election posters and made a point of not rushing the publicly designated starting time for when putting up posters was allowed. When all the other parties had cheated their way to all the most prominent spots, they calmly squeezed their smaller green posters into whatever cracks remained with the message “There is also The Altern­ative”. A happy, kind-looking 20-year-old reported to the rolling TV-cam­e­ras that there is no need to cheat, because “there is room for everyone”. When the party was widely accused of being “clowns” in the press, members scrambled to create a YouTube video (at the end of the election I recall it had about half a million views, 10% of population, don’t know why it only shows 20K here) featur­ing the lead­ing candidates performing all manner of clown acts while reciting that they are happy to be jesters if that’s what it takes to get their serious policy issues, such as trans­ition to a sustainable society, on the agenda.

You have here a party formation born out of the progressive values of the urban creatives, people who are generally rather privileged, happy and funct­ional. Naivety is also part of such progressiveness. At its best, this kind of movement combines the childlike openness of the idealist with a shrewd political pragmatism that comes with high concentra­tions of cult­ural capital. Cultural capital, as you may know, is a measure of the extent to which people possess a sensitive, intimate understanding of the time they live in.

As in the 2011 Metamodernist Manifesto we can see “info­rm­ed naivety”, or “prag­matic idealism” – terms expl­ic­itly used by the Alternativists, although coined indep­endently from meta­mod­ernist scholars.

At its worst, this amounts to good old uninformed naivety and un­work­able idealism (for instance, too much yoga woo-woo and too little intell­ectual rigor, or stifling moralism and what I call game denial). On the worrying side, the party also attracts its fair share of over-spiritual, pot smoking conspiracy theorists. We’ll see which way it goes. Probably both.

”As voters, many of us often recognize that we cannot know the answers to all the complicated societal questions. And frankly, neither can the pol­itic­ians reasonably be expected to.”

What’s Unique about the Alternative?

A unique thing about this party is its central focus; as mentioned, not its content, but rather its form or process – its how. It is based explicitly upon the idea of harnessing the collective intelligence of citizens and using their insp­i­r­ation and creative ideas to achieve a transition to a sustainable society – ecolo­gically, socially and economically. The party members use so-called “political labor­a­­tories”, and an “alternative citizen parliament” (in the real parliament build­ing) to invite ordinary citizens into dialogue and delibera­tion, gathering ideas and popular impulses, with relatively simple entry paths to participation and responsibility.

The most central tenets of the party are a set of six core values: courage, generosity, transparency, humility, humor, and empathy. These do not pro­mise the voter a certain political program. Rather, they promise a kind of social envir­onment within which the program is brought into being. The members of the party commit first and foremost to these values. This avoids some of the com­plications for the voter in an increasingly complex and contradictory political reality of postindust­rial society, in which it’s often very difficult to even know what one’s own inter­ests are and the effects of policies are difficult to overview. When a party promises a better democratic process, you at least know what you get – albeit in a some­what more non-linear fashion. If politicians act better, you will get smarter politics by means of increased collective intelligence. So let’s take a further look.

In addition to the core values, the party representatives are committed to six “dogma of debate”. Notice this wording, “dogma” (a word with a more pos­itive meaning in Danish as it has been used by progressive film makers to refer to a certain artistic method); it suggests some­thing immutable and strict­ly upheld. This is where you can see meta­modern logic in action. The party has rather loose policies, but does not shy away from hold­ing its mem­bers to strict “dogma” when it comes to behavior and demeanor. Indeed, you will find this structure nowhere within the Left or the environ­mental move­ment, where beliefs in specific policies dominate but everyone would never­theless be deeply allergic to words such as dogma, or prescriptions for peo­ple’s behav­ior. Neither could you find anything like it in the many NGOs informed by more postmodern thinking.

Metamodernism, as a cultural logic, creates new forms of politics. The Alt­ernative is putting culture first. They are committed to the deliberate shaping and development of political culture, by means of participating in the public debate in a trans­parent and kindly fashion. Thereby, they lift their gaze from the concrete issues of ecological sustainability, and target the cultural context within which such long-term politics become possible and meaningful.

For instance, at the party’s inaugural address upon entering parlia­ment, one of the newly elected MPs, Rasmus Nordqvist, gave a speech in which he comm­ended the differ­ent qualities and perspe­ctives of all the other parties – including their ideo­logical Nation­alist adver­saries. This is a sign of trans­partisanism – the prin­ciple of seeing the inter­change of all parties as vital to democracy, and to seek to implement one’s policies by means of affect­ing the other parties (rather than antagonizing them). The Alte­rn­ative can thus be descri­bed as a trans­partisan movement.

Another example of transpartisanism. During the increasing pressures of migration, party leader Uffe Elbæk wrote an open letter in the paper, kindly asking the center-right prime minister (who is rather restrictive on immi­gration) for a dialogue on how to avoid bitter polarization of the Danish public on this hot topic. So what are the dogmas of debate? There are six of them, renamed “debate principles” on their English homepage:

  • We will openly discuss both the advantages and the disadvantages of a certain argument or line of action.
  • We will listen more than we speak, and we will meet our political opp­o­nents on their own ground.
  • We will emphasize the core set of values that guide our arguments.
  • We will acknowledge when we have no answer to a question or when we make mistakes.
  • We will be curious about each and every person with whom we are deb­ating.
  • We will argue openly and factually as to how The Alternative’s political vision can be realized.

As voters, many of us often recognize that we cannot know the answers to all the complicated societal questions. And frankly, neither can the pol­itic­ians reasonably be expected to. But what we can know with some relia­bility is that if politicians are more humble in their opinions – and more open to new infor­mation and thereby more intelligent in their dialogue and debate with others – we are likely to get more balanced and sound politics.

And we can know that the process oriented party vouches for a better dialogue, thereby improving the climate for discussion and deliberation throughout the political realm, not just within that particular party, but within and between all parties. Hence, this approach speaks to the tend­ency of the electorate to be increa­singly disen­chanted with the ongoing debates in post­industrial party politics. It targets a deep nerve within the population of a liberal democracy, where the Left and Right no longer repres­ent clearly defin­ed class interests, and people long for a more honest and nuanced disc­ussion.

”When they state that they will meet their adversaries where these are coming from, they are impli­citly saying that they must be able to understand and see the per­spect­­ives of others, but don’t expect the same treatment in return. A subtle hierarchy is being introduced.”

The Introduction of a New Hierarchy

A party like The Alternative can only pop up once there is a significant population with a certain set of values, norms and social skills. If you scratch the surface of this party, it is both highly egalitarian (spreading power, includ­ing people in dialogue, etc.) and built on the implicit crea­tion of new hier­archies. Of course, almost all the members of The Altern­ative would ob­ject violently to that last part, as they tend to be deeply egal­i­tarian and against hierarchies and elitism (their current leader Uffe El­bæk half-jokingly calls himself a Buddhist anarchist). But look at their dogma of debate. When they state that they will meet their adversaries where these are coming from, they are impli­citly saying that they must be able to understand and see the per­spect­­ives of others, but don’t expect the same treatment in return. A subtle hierarchy is being introduced. When they say that they will accentuate values, they are in fact saying that they will hold a more abstract and general level than others in their thinking. Another subtle hierarchy.

We are here approaching one of the strange paradoxes of our time, one of the many cases where a both-and thinking is required. The paradox is this: We need to simultaneously deal with increasingly clear and well-defined hierarchies, and we need society to become more demo­cratic and inclusive.

The people who end up on top in this strange new hierarchy are the most democratic ones – the people who have the personalities, skills and cultural codes necessary to create social settings that are more inclusive and nuanced. Such social settings can handle contradicting views, allow for more autonomy and experimentation, and can handle a greater number of relation­ships with fewer conflicts. Conflicts are resolved with greater openness and less carnage. In other words, this is the golden age of caring, creative, socially intelligent, psychologically healthy beta boys and girls.

This tendency spills over into other areas – the new main agents of the symbol-based informational economy have the same profile. The artistic, sen­si­tive, complex and multitalented social entrepreneur is increasingly becom­ing the ideal type of the new economy. Social entrepreneurship, peer-to-peer production, sharing economy, democratic dialogue techni­ques such as Art of Hosting – this is part and parcel of The Alternative’s ideology and movement.

The Alternative is also looking for ways to form a commercial com­pany and an NGO. In tune with the metamodern cultural logic, you see how the process oriented party works to reinte­grate the personal, civic and profess­ional aspects of (late) modern life.

Stressing political process, debate culture and democratization is going to be a highly competitive feature amidst the confusing circumstances of late-modern post-industrial societies where more discontent stems from the way politics is conducted than the contents itself. But it’s going to be those who are most knowledgably about efficient methods of deliberation, most skillfully master the ability to co-develop in a transpartisan manner and those who have the best understanding of the perspectives of others who will reap the greatest benefits. These are some of the skills the triple-H possess, and since political parties like the Alternative attract the largest numbers of these people, this will put them at a very favorable position in the political game despite their smaller size. As such in will be in and around the process based parties we’ll find many of the members of the metamodern aristocracy in the future. In fact, if you look closely, you’ll already see that is the case today.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

The Meta-Ideology that Conquered Scandinavia

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter about “How Politics Changed”, the rise of post-materialist values and the progressive developments in the Nordic countries.

It seems as if one meta-ideology has been victorious and come to dominate the entire political spectrum in the Nordic countries. On the surface level you’ll find parties that nominally subscribe to traditional ideologies such as socialism, liberalism and conservatism like in any other western democracy, but if you look closely you’ll notice that they often have more in common with one another than their apparent equivalents in other countries, and that all of them seem to advocate some form of social-liber­alism, with at least a modicum of green, environmentalist hue. All of the parties that are currently represented in the parliaments of the Nordic countries have diverged significantly from their ideological roots to an extent where they in practice subscribe to different variants of the same overarching ideology – a meta-ideology that appropriately can be described as “Green Social Liberalism”.

You only have to look at the political “game of thrones” in these countries to see that this is the case. There are no represented parties in any of the Nordic countries that want to abolish or, in practice, even seriously challenge the market econ­omy. There are, further­more, no parties that want to abolish the welfare state – not even the young hardliner libertarians of Denmark, called Liberal Alliance. (Being the most radical of them all, their long-term goal is to lower income taxes to a not so mindboggling 40 percent.) And there are no parties that don’t at least give lip service to ecological sustainability.

”The only way you can make a nationalist or con­servative argument in Sweden these days is by claiming that you are conserv­ing the national qual­ities of Green Social Liberalism.”

All Parties in All Nordic Countries are in Effect Green Social-Liberals

This peculiar development even includes the nationalist party in Sweden, called the Sweden Democrats, founded through a merger of neo-Nazis and a “populist” tax-cut and anti-immi­gration party, who are nominally pro-abortion, pro women’s rights and claim to have a responsible environmental agenda. Their conservative program must be dress­ed up in social-liberal robes in order to survive at all: they are against immi­gration, of course, but the way they legitimize such resist­ance is by claiming that imm­igration threatens the welfare state and the liberal values of native Swedes, often revolving around women’s rights, and sometimes even gay rights. They also claim to defend small-scale Swed­ish entrepreneurs and industries by not requiring as high tax rates to fund the often costly immi­gration, claiming that funds should be used for foreign aid instead of prolong­ed integration processes of the newly arrived. In other words: this is national­ism and social conservatism under the banner of Green Social Liber­alism. The only way you can make a nationalist or con­servative argument in Sweden these days is by claiming that you are conserv­ing the national qual­ities of Green Social Liberalism. In order to gain respect­ability, the Sweden Demo­crats have gradually lowered their tolerance for anti-liberalism and racism, leading to the expulsions of more and more mem­bers after faux pas in mass- or social media. The party recently broke off with its entire youth corps, after these had elected a too nationalistically inclined young woman as leader. On their pamphlets the Sweden Democrats display their male leader on the back seat of a bike – two female politicians in front, steering the tandem bike. The message is clear: “You can trust us; we play safely within the field of the Green Social Liberal meta-ideology.” And the leader of Chris­tian Democrats joins the fray, marching in the Pride parade.

If you look at the center-left and center-right parties that have hitherto been the largest and dominant ones – indeed, having defined the major divide in politics, like in other countries – they are quite close to one another, both rhetorically and in practice. Sweden had a period of eight years of center-right government from 2006-2014, breaking its long tradition of social democracy. The center-right won, in large part, by prom­ising not to change key features of social democracy, claiming to be the new workers’ party. Indeed, they were influenced by the “third way” New Labour politics of Tony Blair and Anthony Giddens in the UK. When the Danish Social Democrats came to power in 2011, together with a socialist party that once housed many Trotsky­ists, and a small social-liberal party, they proceeded by more or less copying the Swedish center-right policy imple­mentation. When the Swedish Social Demo­crats finally took the power back in 2015, by a very thin margin, they promised not to roll back the market-liberal reforms made by the center-right and seem to have copied the slogans of the Danish center-right, defin­ing themselves, rather neutrally, as “the future party”.

I could go on, discussing how the Left (left of center-left) has become social-liberal, how social-liberalism has become an explicit part of the Green parties, how the actual, historical social-liberal parties have all but vanished, as their niche was taken up by all the others, and so forth. Today, some news­papers, public intellectuals and ex-politicians are even calling out for an alli­ance between the two major parties – the center-left and center-right – in order to leave out the nationalists and the progress­ive parties deemed too irresponsible. This would, of course, ruin the whole dramaturgy of the current system of party politics, causing a major drop in support both for the center-right and the center-left, as they would both lose their identities without their main adversary. But it is a telling sign that serious commentators are making such suggestions.

…and All the Political Parties are Delivering the Same Goods, More or Less

A little percentage lower taxes here, a percentage higher immigration there, but it is all within the same over-arching political framework; all parties in all the Nordic countries adhere to the same dominant Green Social Liberalism, even if wet revolutionary dreams and fascism some­times resurface in individual pol­it­ic­ians (who are then instantly hounded off the stage).

And when push comes to shove, all the parties will defend the state bur­eaucracy and institutions, despite their liberal rhetoric. During the dram­a­tic increase of arrivals of refugees from Syria and other countries in 2015, even Sweden’s coalition between Social Democrats and Greens slammed the door shut the moment that the administrative systems became over­burdened (which was loudly criticized by most of the rightwing parties as violating human-rights and liberal notions of solidarity). This move was not rhetorically justified in nation­alist or state bureaucracy terms but, of course, as a defense of a long-term, sustainable, liberal and social immi­gration policy.

But even if all of the parties in the Nordic countries gravitate towards the same overarching ideology and more or less tend to offer the same things, it doesn’t necessarily mean that politics has moved to the center, in fact, there is no center.

”What we have is one victorious meta-ideology, one recipe for society that has beaten its com­peti­tors when it comes to functionality and rhetorical edge. It is this meta-ideol­ogy that is disguised as a ‘center’, as being the sensible, moderate form of politics. The ‘middle’ is a position that under other circum­stan­ces would have appeared as extreme.”

There is No “Center” of Politics

In popular parlance this phenomenon (of one winning meta-ideology) goes by different names: that all the parties have “gathered around the center”, that the “political scale has been compressed” and the like. The Left, both academic and populist, is thrilled to be shocked by how “ultra­liberal” society has be­come, and its adherents somehow always manage to mention Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher as a kind of transcen­dental prime mover, expl­aining how the world took a wrong turn based on corporate lies and blind­ing neoliberal ideo­logy. The Right, and by that I mean the socially conserv­ative elements of society, is equally thrilled to be appalled by what appears to be an endless onslau­ght of poli­tical corr­ect­­ness, relativism, multi­­cult­uralism, and the exces­sive softness of the nanny wel­fare state. As I mentioned, the neo-fascists like to call it the vic­tory of “cult­ural Marx­ism”. What we are hearing are scattered remn­ants of the voices of the alter­natives to Green Social Liberalism that existed under industrial mod­er­n­ity.

But that age has quickly passed. We are approaching a new landscape. I am not talking about what Zygmunt Bauman calls “postmodernity” or “liq­uid modernity” or what Anthony Giddens calls “late modernity”. What I mean is that we have passed into a postindustrial and digitalized age where new political rules apply – and where metamodern politics be­comes increas­ingly viable.

There is no “center” in any strict, analytical sense. What we have is one victorious meta-ideology, one recipe for society that has beaten its com­peti­tors when it comes to functionality and rhetorical edge. It is this meta-ideol­ogy that is disguised as a “center”, as being the sensible, moderate form of politics. The “middle” is a position that under other circum­stan­ces would have appeared as extreme. Indeed, Sweden is an extremely mod­­ern, liberal country, stabilizing approximately around this equil­ibr­ium:

  • An uncompromising acceptance of the market economy.
  • An equally uncompromising acceptance of the welfare state.
  • A gradual adaptation to the pressures of economic globalization, with a focus on economic growth, liberal markets and international compe­ti­tive­ness.
  • An approximate 50-50% mixture of public bureaucracy and private enter­­prise, usually with a slight tilt towards private (Sweden, for inst­ance, coll­ect­ed 50.4% of GDP in taxes at its peak in 1999, which had gone down to 43.0% by 2015).
  • An uncompromising acceptance of basic liberal values.
  • A rhetorical minimum of ecological awareness.

Anybody who strays from this path commits political heresy. All val­ues, from radical feminism and veganism to anti-surveillance and anti-immigra­tion nat­ion­alism, are justified with at least some reference to this same meta-ideology. This meta-ideology is dominant simply because it is superior to its alterna­tives under the current economic, technological, socio-psychological and hist­orical circum­stances. That doesn’t give Green Social Liberalism any tran­scendental value or divine justification. It just happens to have a com­pet­itive edge under the current circumstances.

Readers will no doubt note that one can see similar tenden­cies in many West­ern countries. The point here is that these tendencies are more pron­oun­ced and have progressed farther in the Nordic countries, which is why we are studying them specifically – they may, to some extent, portend the political development in a more international, even global, context.

In the Nordic countries of today there is no real public discourse about where society is headed, no real tug-of-war pulling in different directions. There are just superficially different varieties of Green Social Liberalism. If we zoom in a little on what may be causing this ideological (but not economic or cultural) stand-still, the list looks something like this:

  • The industrial society we knew has been suspended in favor of a post­industrial, digitalized service economy. Thereby the parties no longer represent real economic classes (peasants, workers and bour­geoisie) that people feel they belong to in their everyday lives.
  • Individual people have increasingly complex identities, interests and ideo­logies (mixing, for instance, feminism with Christianity and online privacy concerns or whatnot), making them harder to repre­sent in coherent pol­itical parties.
  • Politics deals with more and more complex financial, legal, social, pol­itical, technological and ecological realities – thereby landing more power in the hands of non-elected bureaucrats and experts and making public discourse more difficult and filled with distorting simpli­fica­tions.
  • The increasingly mixed class and social interests make it difficult to form monolithic structures to organize and represent voter interests. For the individual person, this also makes it harder to “join” any one move­ment without contra­dict­ing some of one’s own central values.
  • If a country goes farther left it loses in the face of international com­petition for capital; if it goes farther towards liberalization, it suffers social para­lysis and protests; if it retracts civil liberties (gay marri­age, etc.) it loses valuable economic agents; if one ignores the envir­on­ment or the plight of foreigners one loses the rhetorical battles for moral high-ground.

The party system we know, with a Left and a Right, is a product of the classes of an industrial society, where a majority of everyday activity was based around partaking in the production and distribution of industrial goods. The same can be said about the electoral system itself; it is const­ructed to house class-based parties.

In the postindustrial, digitalized and globalized economy, where the most revenue is cycled through rather abstract services, we no longer have the same class division; we no longer have the same social strata that the parties were designed to represent. Social mobility is relatively high in the Nordic countries, which also means that within one family, you can have one un­employed blue-collar person, one with depression and on sick-leave, one with a fancy international job with high salary – and a school teacher. The divi­sions become much more multilayered and complex.

In the parts of the world where this postindustrial economy has mani­fested most clearly, post­industrial politics follows like a shadow: liberal values to­gether with a balance struck between free enterprise and social welfare – and sustainability. In the Nordic countries, the clout and ser­ious­ness of every pol­itical move­­­ment is measured by its dedication to the dominant meta-ideology of Green Social Liberalism. The question is no longer which society we want – one vision has won by walk-over, and it allows no alternatives – but rather, who will be most proficient at getting us there. Who is the best janitor?

”If the ideo­logies and utopias of modern times are increasingly revealing them­selves as bank­rupted, how about taking a sober look at the new political land­scape, and from there develop a new ideology based on the already dom­inant Green Soc­ial Liberalism?”

The End of Ideological Struggle?

What should we make of this? Is all ideological struggle over? Are we, in effect, replacing one janitor-of-a-prime-minister with another? Let’s take stock of some implications.

First of all, don’t be fooled by the fireworks, the displays of rhetorical and practical disputes of the politicians, who have every interest in maintaining the image of deep divisions and conflicts, an interest shared by the media who work hard to create drama concerning relatively small differences.

And secondly, admit defeat. Socialism (or anarchism) is not going to happ­en. And there is no national resurgence of organic community com­ing our way. There will be no night-watchman state and libertarian utopia where the public sector is all but removed. There will be no ecological-spiritual awake­ning spontaneously growing from the goodness of your heart. And no, Mr. Conservative, there will be no rolling back of gay rights, bike paths, vegan diets, animal rights and queer perspectives – they are all here to stay and expand.

You can give up on all of that nonsense. Those were whispers of another time. Let them die hard. Clear your head of these hallucinatory fan­tasies. They are about as meaningful today as belief in ghosts or Jesus walking across King Herod’s swimming pool.

And third, you can take the bull by its horns and tame it. If the ideo­logies and utopias of modern times are increasingly revealing them­selves as bank­rupted, how about taking a sober look at the new political land­scape, and from there develop a new ideology based on the already dom­inant Green Soc­ial Liberalism? Can you take the full consequences of it – and raise it to a new and higher level?

See the “center” for what it is – the total victory of one ideology over all alternatives. And then use it. Break its limits.

”Liberal representative democracy, because it is approaching its own ideals, has slowly begun to render itself obsolete.”

The Voter’s Raw New Deal

Another way to look at the issue is from the perspective of the individual voter and her interaction with the political system. She is faced with a situ­ation in which party politics gradually loses much of its meaning and lure. Because the political spectrum is really a showcase for more or less of the same content, party politics becomes predictable and irrelevant.

Three perceptions of the political realm become deeply ingrained. First, that politics is boring. Secondly, that it is difficult, requiring expert know­ledge of e.g. sustainability, energy or finance. And third, that our efforts won’t make any difference either way. Membership of political parties drops, and has kept decreasing for decades in a very stubborn trend. Everybody claims to be “above” such petty things as party politics.

None of this should be surprising, given that one and the same political meta-ideology overshadows the bickering of day-to-day politics. The Nordic countries have proportional parliamentary systems, which favors the form­ation of six to ten parties, rather than two major ones. If the voter takes an online test before the elections (for party sym­pathies), she often finds only a small difference bet­ween her degree of agreement with the number one party and the number two on her list. Let’s say the gap is five percent. Can you expect her to tie her personal identity to that party, to make it her own project, to stand up for and support it, to hand out stickers and wave flags in its name – only for those meager five percent? Truth be told, it’s a raw deal. Party politics is just not the place to be anymore. The voter will likely be able to better defend her interests and find a positive, coherent civic identity else­where.

Whereas the politicians and the media try to inflate the political debate, focusing on differences and distinctions – as well as increasingly focusing on matters of competence, respectability and scandals (where smaller and more trivial matters begin to count as shockingly scandalous) – the elect­orate and media consumers grow tired of charades and petty squab­bling.

There is an increasing popular demand for things such as “straight talk”, not to score cheap points, not to raise your voice, not to be impolite, sticking to the argument, and bringing up relevant information. Because the electorate senses that there is no real debate and no real class struggle going on, they begin to demand a more deliberative form of politics (del­ib­erative democracy is when people talk to one another and reason their way to a common ground based on mutual respect and understand­ing). The voter expects her represent­ative politicians to listen more care­fully, to co-develop political solutions by taking on multiple perspectives. Nothing is more common in Denmark or Sweden than the complaint that pol­iticians bicker too much and too artifici­ally about too superficial things.

The politicians and the media have not been late to catch the trend. Polit­icians are hurrying to recast themselves as the responsible, holistic ones, becoming increasingly reluctant to cast the first stone, portraying themselves as less ideologically blinded than their competitors. The media, for their part, increasingly try to present their TV-shows, web­pages and newspapers as the ones that “take a higher perspective”, to be the platform where “real deliber­ation” occurs.

Whereas Nordic politics has largely been based around consensus during the 20th century (primarily between organized labor and capital and their respective political representations), it is now taking another step in this direc­t­ion. The individual cannot know his or her interest in advance. Political inte­rests are becoming vaguer and more complex – and thereby more closely related to one another in unexpected ways. The ambiguity of life and our positions in society makes it all but im­possible to form stable interest-based parties. Am I a consumer, a student, a worker, a woman or perhaps an entre­preneur, or will I soon be on sick-leave, or will someone in my family be? Am I threatened by economic crisis, immi­gration or ecological collapse?

Nordic politics is crystallizing around what we may call “the Nordic ideo­logy” – a concept I’ll explore and deepen in my book by the same title. In this ideology people increasingly value co-development: the ability to, together with others, responsibly explore the new landscapes of risks and possibilities that are opening up. Everybody knows the politicians cannot deliver full-blown libertarianism or socialism. So at least let’s hear them speak honestly, and let them listen to one another, and listen to me, the voter.

Nordic politics has moved from consensus (and compromise between the Left and the Right), to a politics of co-development. It’s a major shifting of gears that breaks the trend of the representative class system based on debate and “winning the argument”. This trend is accelerating and gaining strength as we speak.

What we begin to see is a strange paradox. Liberal representative demo­­­­cracy, because it is approaching its own ideals, has slowly begun to ren­der itself obso­lete. It is precisely because liberal democracy has pro­gressed (crea­ting one relatively unified public with no clear distinction bet­ween an educated middle class and an industrial working class, in an affluent post­industrial, merit­ocratic service economy) that it is parting ways with its own funda­mental principles. No longer is there any real choice between the diff­erent parties, between the Left and the Right. Representation is becoming weaker and the need for deliberation (ratio­nal, careful debate aiming for con­sensus) is becoming stronger. The differ­ent parties and their ideologies are all shifting positions, trying to find themselves, trying to find visions and goals to latch on to, copying them from one another. In the process, they come closer and closer to each other, which in turn makes mean accusations and argum­ents seem sillier than ever in the eyes of the voter.

Crammed up in the same political corner of Green Social Liberalism, politicians of all parties start trying to distinguish themselves by being good co-developers – all serving the emergence of the Nordic ideology.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

The Most Progressive Countries in the World

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter about “How Politics Changed”, the rise of post-materialist values and how a new meta-ideology has already been victorious across the entire political spectrum in the Nordic countries.

In the Nordic countries we are beginning to see clear patt­erns of metamodern politics at play. The metamodern political revolution goes under the radar of global media – and academia – because it happens so inconspicuously, so grad­ually. And, moreover, the Scandinavians themselves lack any conception of the profound global changes that are beginning to take place in their own back­yards. Still, people in and beyond Scandinavia haven’t failed to notice that he Nordic countries may very well be the most progressive societies on Earth.

But political “progressivity” is a rather strange notion. The idea pre­supposes that there can be a certain form of “historical progression”, a goal or at least direct­ion towards which humanity can and should evolve. It pre­supposes, further­more, that there is a “background space” with preset mea­­s­­­ures and mark­­ings in it, denoting both directionality and distance of social develop­ment.

Some different possible meanings of “progressive” should thereby be men­tioned before we go on. When people use the word in different con­texts, pro­g­ress­ivity can mean:

  • That one favors values that have appeared recently over values that have existed a longer time.
  • That one is invested in the ideas and political opinions that happ­en to become ratified by people in the future – thereby the future “shows that you were right”.
  • That one is eager to see change in society and thereby is willing to take risks and experiment with new social forms.
  • That one is simply leftwing – and the more leftwing, the more prog­ress­ive.
  • That one is simply good, instead of bad (conservative) or evil (regress­ive, reactionary).

None of these meanings quite capture the idea of the Nordic countries being “progressive”. We are not really speaking of progression through hist­orical time – and certainly not a determined progression.

”Sweden is by no means, and never has been, the socialist semi-utopia it was sometimes portrayed as … but overall, the country has some qualities that make it a good example for under­standing what general cultural progression might look like.”

What Makes Sweden Progressive?

So, what do we mean? Let’s take a few examples. In Sweden, all parties dis­­cuss sustainability issues much more than almost anywhere in the world. This country also accepts more refugees than other European coun­­t­ries (at least until it reached an administrative limit in 2015), shows lower levels of explicit xenophobia in the surveys, gives more money to foreign aid develop­ment, is more digitalized, has lower crime rates and corruption, lower income inequality (at least until recently), higher stand­ards of living, higher levels of reported happiness, and greater gender equality (Sweden has the only signi­ficant feminist party in the world and an explicitly feminist foreign policy). The country generally supports free trade and manages to have relatively little red tape on enterprise despite its high taxes and strong labor rights. People live longer, at better health, with better teeth, with greater trust for other people and the authorities. People are more secularized than in almost any other country. Kids who grow up there now­adays often start working ser­iously only at around 30, after having travelled the world, studied (paid for by government), played computer games and gone to music festivals. Gender equality is much better, with liberal, permissive expressions of sexuality as a result. When the girls select guys, they go less after the hyper-masculine and socio-economic­ally dominant ones than is the case in other countries.

Sweden is by no means, and never has been, the socialist semi-utopia it was sometimes portrayed as. There is unemployment, social tensions of all sorts and plenty of human and animal misery. Issues of racism, exclu­sion and poverty are at every corner. Police, nurses and teachers feel undervalued and protest at waning real wages, sometimes to the point of leaving their jobs. But overall, the country has some qualities that make it a good example for under­standing what general cultural progression might look like.

Sweden is a tiny part of the economic system of some seven billion people that today spans the globe, constituting circa 1/700th of the world’s popul­ation. It has a favorable position within that system, where it has been able to combine relative wealth with relative equality and stability for a considerable period of time. There is nothing within the “Swedish soul”, nothing inherent to their “Swedish model” Folkhemmet (“The People’s Home”, a welfare system which in fact resembles other European count­ries much more than people generally realize), or about the country’s natu­ral resour­ces, that exp­lains this progression. When Mary Wollstone­craft, the English mother of first wave feminism, travelled Sweden in 1796, she wrote in her famous Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark about the appallingly low status of women in these societies, how barbaric it all seem­ed. Until the early 1700s, the Swe­des were arguably the most blood-thirsty, warmongering people in Europe. Only in 1865 did the country transition from an estate system with nobility, church, bourge­oisie and peas­antry to a bicameral parliamentary syst­em (which has since been repla­ced by a single cham­ber).

Sweden had relatively few industries and a poor population, with major migrations to America in the 19th century and widespread poverty well into the early 20th century. The comparatively small bourgeois class could not gain the same political influence as in France and Germany, and worker parties established social democracy – an alliance between poor, relatively conser­vative workers and progressive intellectuals (supported by the peasant party). In exchange for representing their economic interests, the intellectuals im­posed their more cosmopolitan values upon the workers by use of the insti­tutions of the industrial nation state: schooling, mass media and the bureau­cracy. This system was supplemented with a few “popular movements” (Swe­dish: folkrörelse), where wide participation was mustered – Pentecostal reli­gion, labor movements, anti-alcohol and later anti-nuclear energy. The ac­counts of these popular movements tend to be rather romanticized, but they did play a part in popularizing “mod­ern” and “progressive” values.

As the country did not partake in the world wars, its relative economic position was strength­ened and it could sport an impressive growth during the “golden age” of the dec­ades after the Second World War.

The only thing special about Sweden is that it has had a relatively stable development in a relatively favorable part of the world economic system of trade, growth and exploitation – while being at a relatively short geo­graphic, cultural and linguistic distance from the center. That’s it.

”Even if the values of countries do jerk back and forth over time, the overall progress­ion is clear: we are headed towards a world with more cosmopolitan values”

Progressive Values

Most often, in most parts of the world, society tends to be much more tumul­tuous, especially dur­ing periods of rapid change and technological expansion. But for a host of different reasons, this particular part of the world, not only Sweden but also the rest of Scandi­navia, managed to dev­elop a full-blown postindustrial econ­omy with more or less the whole of the population on board, under relatively stable circumstances. This caused the cultural values of the popul­ation to cha­nge during the last part of the 20th century, and the political land­scape shifted accordingly, subtly but radically.

You are perhaps familiar with the Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the Wor­ld (see figure below). It is based on the world’s by far most encom­pa­ss­ing soc­iolog­ical investigation, asking people in most countries of the world a host of survey questions, a total of over a thousand variables (alth­ough far from all parti­cipants are asked all of the questions). Over the decades it has accum­ulated millions of entries, studying cultural differ­ences and trends over time. In the scientific literature there is almost a whole genre of papers directed towards criticizing different aspects of its methodology. But even if criti­cism can be raised against different aspects of the World Values Survey, one of its main results seems rather solid: the overall picture of The Cultural Map of the World. As you can see in the figure, Protestant Europe (and especially the Nordic countries) holds the upper right corner of the two-dimensional cultural map of the world. This means that people here, on average, lean much more towards rational-secular values (vs. traditional values) and self-express­ion val­ues (vs. sur­vival values) than anywhere in the world. This is where people believe in abortion and gay rights rather than God’s reign, and where they are more likely to go to India to “find themselves” on a spiritual journey rather than finish their degree on time.

Inglehart-Welzel_2015

Source: Inglehart–Welzel cultural map of the world, 2015.

It can be no coincidence that the most stable parts of the world, the parts that have had a wealthy and equitable economy for a long time, also have the “most modern” worldview among their populations. In fact, the Nordic coun­tries have sped up in this direction during the last two dec­ades, in the same period as they have become countries of immi­gration, accepting large num­bers of people from more traditional societ­ies. In a way, the figures there­by conceal a yet stronger and clearer trend: the values of late modernity are winning over the traditional values at an astoun­ding pace. Even immigrants in Sweden tend to be “more modern” than e.g. the average resident of Poland. If you zoom out to a couple of hundred years ago, and look globally, the trend becomes clear. The Swed­es and Danes would have been conserv­ative peas­ants back then, com­par­able perhaps with today’s Afghans. Even if the values of countries do jerk back and forth over time, the overall progress­ion is clear: we are headed towards a world with more cosmopolitan values; values which accord­ing to Inglehardt and Welzel’s own analysis work better in modern society.

Think about it. The most secular people in say Pakistan are the richest and most educated ones – and these are the ranks that most other Pakistanis aspire to join. The wealthy Pakistanis, in turn, like to go to the US and adopt large parts of the American lifestyle and values. In the US, the liberal press has a constant upper hand on the conservative press, with TV-hosts ridiculing the rural, conservative population – and the people with the highest status are liberal New Yorkers rather than “hillbillies” and Christian fundamentalists. And among the liberal US population, Swed­en and other Nordic countries have a very strong lure, being viewed as “pure” and “fresh” – or just prog­ressive. If you are a liberal lawyer in Boston, you tend to love watching the Danish TV-series Borgen, (where a divorced woman and mother of two is prime minister of Denmark, dealing with a fictional Green Party to out­maneuver the crude, conserv­ative populists). And you are likely to listen to Nordic pop artists such as Robyn, Elliphant, MØ, Röyksopp or Björk, because these subtly embody more prog­ress­ive values in their artwork.

”I am not saying that the rest of the world is ‘destined’ to become like the Nordic countries … but significant sociological develop­ments have undeniably taken place here during the last century; chan­ges that can help us understand future developments in other countries.”

The Direction of Societal Progression

So the rapidly globalizing economic world-system has produced some pockets where the values and worldviews of a more global, digitalized civili­zation seem to have taken stronger hold, and they just happen to be in the Nordic countries. And these pockets have high symbolic value in the status chain of world cultures, which is evident in the growing cultural exports of these countries and the strong “Nordic brand” in proportion to the small size of the region.

None of this should be controversial. Some parts of the world seem to “develop” values ahead of others and thereby acquire “progressive” values, which in turn grant different advantages on the global market. After all, why should we expect all seven billion of us to alter our values in perfect unison with one another? And why should we expect all value systems to be of equal status on the global scene of cultural prestige?

I am not saying that the rest of the world is “destined” to become like the Nordic countries – technology and culture are evolving much too quickly for such silly recaps to occur. There will never be another 1960 or another 1990. Each historical moment is unique. Neither am I saying, of course, that the world is becoming irrevocably “westernized” and “secul­ar­ized” – there is cert­ainly more going on under the sun than that. But signi­ficant sociological develop­ments have undeniably taken place here during the last century; chan­ges that can help us understand future developments in other countries.

We are likely to see new and unexpected forms of societies emerge, for better or worse. It is in this regard that the Nordic countries offer an inter­est­ing case. If we truly want to understand the development of the global econ­omy and the emergence of its political, cultural and socio-psych­olo­gical land­scapes, we should not confine our analytical gaze to the after­maths of the Arab Spring or the struggling Kurdish state. In this coherent world-syst­em, we should look for the locations where people have the preconditions to write new values on new tablets.

Societal progression is when lasting conditions of stability and abun­dance allow for changes in the games of everyday life to occur: in the workplace, in dating, in friends’ groups, at home (you stop beating the kids, for one thing), in neighborhoods, at school, in the political arena, in the market – and the labor market. The games of every­day life become milder, more sensitive, fair and forgiving as a result.

In this perspective it becomes apparent that the Nordic countries are by far the most progressive societies that the world has ever seen. It is here that we are most likely to find the values and worldviews that best corres­p­ond, in functional terms, to a complex, digitalized, global, trans­national, post-industr­ial society. (Now don’t get cocky and patriotic on me, you stupid Swedes, it’s not about you being better than anyone else.)

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.