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By Otto Scharmer
Why do the forces of destruction seem so much more powerful than the forces of co-creation? Because the latter one’s do not have any real amplification mechanism. And that’s exactly what we are trying to build and prototype over the next few months. The main purpose of the interactive media hub and platform is to help the emerging global movement sense and see itself across sectors, systems, and cultures. To the degree that this happens we will see the dynamics shift from destruction to creation, from absencing to presencing.
If you want to join this local-to-global movement building for awareness-based systems change, please sign up for the PI mailing list so we can keep you informed when the enabling infrastructures are ready for launch.”
The following is from a longer article at Huffington Post.
Five Forces that Amplify the Cycle of Destruction
But why does the public conversation and public consciousness focus almost exclusively on the cycle of absencing and self-destruction? Why does the cycle of absencing and destruction dominate the public conversation—while the cycle of creation remains largely invisible and unattended to?
I see five structural forces that make what’s happening today different. Let me quickly describe them and then conclude how the destructive direction of these forces can be turned around to functioning as forces for co-creation.
(1) The News and Social Media as a Noise Amplification Machine
Media and social media keep amplifying the noise and creating distractions that penetrate every corner of our private and professional lives. One of the drivers is that negative news often sells better than positive news. It’s better business for the platform. For example, it was widely reported by BuzzFeed that at the height of the 2016 U.S. election people shared more fake news stories on Facebook than they shared stories from real news sites.
Much of what the news and social media do amounts to amplifying the noise machine and magnifying society’s condition of collective ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)—that is, jumping from one crisis flash point to another, without ever addressing any of the deeper issues involved.
Instead, we need to deepen our collective focus on the systemic root issues that underlie the symptoms. We need to close the feedback loop of collective awareness and action—that is, we need to become aware that in this age of reflexive modernity our own actions can backfire and crumble the foundations of our own system.
(2) Technology: Dark Posts, Micro-Targeting, and Eco-chambers
The second structural force is technology as it currently shows up through tech giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Technology was first seen as force for good. But as companies like Facebook and Google grew, they started to put their profitability and ambition for global empire building above their commitment to be a force for good. That choice has turned us, the users, from being customers to being the product that is sold to whoever pays most (i.e., right wing billionaires or the Russian government). The result is that these companies have become a force for undermining our democracy, as last week’s congressional testimony by tech executives made shockingly clear. The use of dark posts, micro-targeting, and algorithm-based social echo-chambers are examples of how technology is now a sophisticated mechanism to manipulate voters in ways that increasingly rip our communities apart. The heightened incidence of aggression and violence within the United States is just one example. As these giant monopolistic forces increasingly dominate our lives and refuse to behave responsibly, we have to ask ourselves what future we want for our societies. A future in which human behavior is just an extension of machine-made algorithms, or a future in which these monopolies are broken up unless they voluntarily refocus their purpose from global empire building to serving the well-being of all. If aiming for the latter, it would require the leaders of these organizations to shift their mindset from ego- to eco-system awareness, from empire building to serving a larger eco-system of societal innovation and renewal.
The final three structural forces relate to the missing update of the operating system that we use to run our economies, democracies, and educational systems.
(3) Massive Economic Failure
The ever-increasing levels of inequity represent the third structural factor in our current moment of disruption. Two quick facts to illustrate this point. One, in the United States the life expectancy of the country as a whole is becoming shorter, which is extremely unusual and alarming for a highly developed country. The decline is particularly pronounced for white males with low levels of education and income—i.e., the “forgotten people” that Trump has given voice to. Two, eight rich people in the world own as much as half of mankind combined. At the root of this massive economic failure—the four-decade-long decline of the middle class—is the neoliberal economic paradigm that promised a rising tide of wealth would lift all boats, but never delivered on that promise. Instead, the biggest of these boats just got bigger and bigger. One of the main amplification mechanisms here, as we also learned this week through the Paradise Papers, is the tax system that allows the 0.01%, the superrich individuals and institutions (like Apple) to engage in legal tax avoidance and re-using the same money to further (legally) bribe the political class in D.C. to even increase these same tax loopholes in the system. Which brings us to the fourth factor.
(4) Dark Money and the Slow Death of Democracy
The fourth structural force concerns the creeping death of democracy that is nowhere more visible than in Washington, D.C. If you are lawmaker, you spend roughly 50 percent of your time raising money for your next election campaign. How do you do that? You go where the money is. That means you spend your time listening to the 0.01 percent and their armies of lobbyists. Five major industries control the lion’s share of all lobbying power in Washington: Wall Street, Big pharma, Big energy, the military-industrial complex, and the Silicon Valley big data empires. The lobbying power of these industries makes sure that all major policies reflect their interests and preferences, while the will of the majority of voters is routinely ignored. Examples: Wall Street banks roll back financial regulation and consumer protection, health care costs, already the highest in the world, keep soaring, environmental protection is being dismantled, climate change ignored, weapons are sold into crisis regions, and the right of citizens to control their own private information is almost completely ignored.
In her book Dark Money, Jane Mayer describes how the rise of Trump and the far right is the result of a long term multi-billion-dollar investment by a small group of billionaires that included to change the public perception of climate change and the creation of a movement that put the Trump administration into office to execute the five point special interest group agenda mentioned above. Some of them have been long-term investors and funders, like the Koch brothers. Others, like Robert Mercer, only recently joined that field (by making the Breitbart media platform work for Trump messaging). The Koch brothers and friends intentionally created a climate denial industry. Over the course of just seven years, from 2003 to 2010, they invested no less than half a billion dollars in this venture. The campaign was funded by 140 conservative foundations that pooled their money and distributed $558 million in the form of 5,299 grants to ninety-one different nonprofit organizations (Dark Money, p. 251).
While it is not new that plutocrats in the United States (and elsewhere) buy political influence or entire elections, what is new is the level of professionalism in the strategic funding effort, including the pooling of resources and strategic long-term investing in high-impact individuals with influential ideas, well-known think tanks, and university programs and media infrastructures, as well as in on-the-ground movement building.
(5) Massive Educational Failure
So we have some media-related issues. We have economic and political issues that relate to the lack of further evolving our economic and democratic operating systems. But what is at the even deeper source level at issue here? Education and learning. The fifth force concerns a massive failure of our educational systems.
In most educational systems we have moved from an input orientation (1.0) to an output orientation (2.0) as outlined in figure 3.
Education 2.0 can also be described as “bulimia learning”: fast in, fast out. Information is ingested and regurgitated in standardized tests, but never has a chance to become real knowledge. While the mainstream schools have moved into 2.0 and the better schools today are moving from 2.0 to 3.0—that is, to a more student-centric architecture—only the most innovative are beginning to move into education 4.0, which focuses on activating the deeper sources of creative, professional, and human development.
Thus, the primary challenge for our educational systems is to move beyond education from 2.0 towards 3.0 and 4.0, i.e., student centric forms of learning that activate the deeper sources of creativity and knowing.
Five Forces for Remaking Our World from Within
What does it take to turn the tide of these five forces from destruction to co-creation? If we attend to it, we can see many inspiring initiatives on local, city, and sometimes state or country levels that are modeling ways of bridging the ecological, social, and spiritual divides. But only a few of them are doing so on a larger level of scale that is called for today. What does it take turn these manifold grassroots seeds into a vibrant eco-system that transforms capitalism towards social and environmental justice, towards well-being for all?
A New Initiative For Making Our Movement See Itself
One part of what it takes are new coalitions, new cross-sectional partnerships that pool our resources, networks, and capacities to serve this larger purpose. To prototype such collaborations, HuffPost is teaming up with the Presencing Institute (PI) in a joint initiativethat blends the online news media reach of Huffpost with the global capacity and movement building infrastructures of PI and MITx u.lab in order to launch a joint initiative that will:
HuffPost has already launched a Facebook page and started reporting on New Economy topics. The main interactive multimedia learning hub is being developed now and will be launched in March 2018 on the PI website. It will include monthly, online live-broadcasts on key areas of transforming capitalism, regular digital community café’s in which change makers and movement builders connect with each other in order to form place based hubs for change, and many other features that will help change makers to move their initiative from intention to impact.
So, to return to the question of the ECB manager, why seem the forces of destruction so much more powerful than the forces of co-creation? Because the latter one’s do not have any real amplification mechanism. And that’s exactly what we are trying to build and prototype over the next few months. The main purpose of the interactive media hub and platform is to help the emerging global movement sense and see itself across sectors, systems, and cultures. To the degree that this happens we will see the dynamics shift from destruction to creation, from absencing to presencing.
If you want to join this local-to-global movement building for awareness-based systems change, please sign up for the PI mailing list so we can keep you informed when the enabling infrastructures are ready for launch.
Thanks to Adam Yukelson and Laura Paddison for their input on this column.
About the Author
Otto Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer at MIT, a Thousand Talents Program Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and co-founder of the Presencing Institute. He chairs the MIT IDEAS program for cross-sector innovation that helps leaders from business, government, civil society to innovate at the level of the whole system. He is author of Theory U (translated into 20 languages) and co-author of Leading from the Emerging Future, that outlines eight acupuncture points of transforming capitalism. In 2015 he co-founded the MITx u.lab, a massive open online course for leading profound change that has since activated a global eco-system of societal and personal renewal involving more than 100,000 users from 185 countries.
Fall | Winter 2017