The ‘hidden forces’​ shaping human societies in THE 21st century planetary transition

We are in a phase of fast human evolution and planetary transition. The 21st century will be crucial for the Planet Earth, passing from an environmental degradation never experienced in its anthropogenic era. The 21st century will be crucial also for the Homo Sapiens Sapiens (HSS) species, the cause of this environmental crisis, having a fast never experienced evolution, opening for first time the possibility to end itself as a species. By the end of this century there will be an answer.

This century in fact will be crucial to make the final evolutionary step towards a sustainable species (as there are some living on the Planet since millions of years) and avoid extinction as well as environmental collapse. We are currently the only living members of what zoologists refer to as the human tribe, Hominini (family Hominidae, order Primates) but we were preceded for millions of years by other hominins. We made until now for our superior intelligence, and some other characteristics – opposable thumb, adaptation and collaboration in great groups (see Harari, Homo Deus, 2016). But there are three paths for the possible extinction of HSS (a part from an alien invasion): an environmental collapse (including pandemics), an AI upgrade that will make a speciation of HSS, or a clanistic self-destruction, with the new weapons that are being currently created by our human tribes to annihilate themselves in few seconds.

The first real world pandemic crisis of 2020 is giving humankind strong challenges but also opportunities, as every crisis. The most important opportunity is to understand the current human evolution and planetary transition, exactly to try to survive as a species. But to do it we need a deep dive to analyze some trends, what we could call “hidden forces” (but if we analyze reality not so hidden) shaping human societies in this period. Here a brief list of 5 open for discussion.

1) CULTURAL/IDENTITY LEVEL The first of these hidden forces is that human societies are passing from many changes, from nationalistic to multicultural (), from after the Age of Anger (Mishra, 2017) we are entering the Age of Solitude. Anger has 5 phases: trigger, escalation, crisis, recovery and depression. But after the cycle ends you have only two possibilities: destruction or resilience. Resilience is what we need today in our societies. Problem you cannot have resilience when you have isolation and social distancing, which is destroying social capital, meaning the ability of society to be a society. We have always been social creatures from the start, mammalian bees, who depended entirely on each other. Currently there is an erosion of society, specifically of ‘social capital’ and we are entering in a post-social condition. All started with the disintegration of society after the start of Great acceleration era, in particular after WWII in the US (Putnam, Bowling Alone) with car industry that made possibility to move alone and move away from aggregations. Internet made the second step of isolation. Terrorism the third (with Sediction Act etc.) Pandemics the fourth. AI will do the fifth in one or maximum two decades. We are going in the same direction: from societies made of clans to societies made of isolated beings.

2) MATERIAL/ECONOMIC LEVEL Another hidden force is that economy is changing. The Keynesian state is coming back. Western capitalism can rebirth and fight against Eastern statalism, but will need some support from the State anyway. After the great recession of 1929 and of WWII an active role for government intervention was fundamental and will be the same now. But besides a resurgence in Keynesian thought, like after 2008 crisis, there is also a cutting on some elements of globalization with a return to authority and national sovereignty. In fact, it is not sure that there will be a Post-Scarcity period after 2050 as some economists argue. Post-scarcity is a theoretical economic situation in which most basic goods can be produced in great abundance with minimal human labor needed and almost for free. But this is not a guarantee. What is a guarantee is that a 9 or 10 billion human population (with a stabilization of this numbers by the end of the century) will need to make more equal living standards in order to survive with an inclusive way in a resource limited planet. Therefore, the only path for the survival is globalized thinking, both at economic/resource/energy level as well as at political one.

3) INSTITUTIONAL/POLITICAL LEVEL Another hidden force, but not so hidden anymore is the crisis of liberal democracy, with the degradation of party systems, polarization, populism, propaganda, post-truth and post-participation society etc. There is a real risk of authoritarianism and nationalism surge also in the West. As Plato said democracy becomes tyranny because of too much freedom and chaos. So, we need to control some of the freedoms, but not too much. That’s why we need a new Social Contract, in order to strengthen democratic elements inside our Western countries and make liberty and freedom at the service of human evolution again. One good element is the current request of reform of IOs. Before to create something you need to destroy something that was there before (as in the Gramscian thought) so we need an institutional framework based on network organizations etc. (see New Power, 2018). We need to transform IOs, starting with reforms of UN, WHO, WTO etc. to create new world organizations that will take care about first of all the environmental and climate change.

4) ECOLOGICAL/BIOLOGICAL LEVEL Another hidden force is the ecological/biological convergence, with globalization of the biosphere, where we also are immersed. From the Greta movement to the new Green parties, human societies are realizing that are living in an increased boiling planet but also in an increasingly interconnected biology The result is the request to change the development system in order to protect us from climate change but also pandemics that will increase in the near future. The first continent to deal with both ecological and biological transition will be Europe with the Green Deal by the middle of the century and the adaptation to the New Normal of the Pandemics era. But the most important countries to lead all the world will be the US and China: in few decades if these global powers will make a Grand Bargain there will be a hope for the planet and so our species.

5) TECNOLOGICAL LEVEL In a couple of decades, after the end of the Information Age (based on thinking and analysis) probably there will be the Era of Speciation (Harari, 2016). We are living an accelerating change, perceived increase in the rate of technological change throughout history, with faster and more profound change in the future. Some scholars spoke about too much change in too short a period of time already last century (Toffler, 1970) but now is clear that we are entering for this in an “age of shocks”. Other scholars argue that after the Era of Information there will be an Era of Imagination, when technologies like virtual reality, user created content etc. will change the way humans interact with each other giving creativity and imagination power again. We don’t know about this but what we know is that we could really arrive soon to a speciation, with the fusion between biotechnology and AI technology. HSS could become soon a Homo Artificial Sapiens.

These are the ‘hidden forces’, the forces that are shaping this fast evolution and transition. These forces are accompanied by other systemic characteristics as acceleration, convergence, and complexity (see Axelrod, Bateson, Rosenau etc.) The future will say if we can make it or not. In the meantime, let’s get to work with some strategic foresight of the trends and strategic planning of the policies to prevent and accompany this process.

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