Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #4: two ways out, two ways ahead
I better get back to this series, even if it leads to scattered repetitive fragmentary postings while I try to refine my thinking and make it relevant to our present situation. I fret that my key points about a future quadriform system and commons sector, assuming they are correct, may be years too early and too abstract to gain traction. Onward nevertheless.
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There are only two ways out, two ways ahead for America. The first is to work at fixing our aging muddled triform system. The second is to push for transforming it into a quadriform system — the next stage of social evolution. Neither will be easy. But the first will prove futile. Only the second can prove fertile.
The purpose of society is to enable people to live better together, hopefully by becoming better themselves. That’s why people first clustered together in familial clans and communal tribes. Then, centuries later, why they accommodated to the rise of governments, militaries, and other hierarchical institutions that enabled large undertakings. And still more centuries later, why they opened up their societies to make room for free markets for business, trade, and commerce.
Not everybody benefitted along the way. But overall, this evolution from tribe-centric, to state-centric, to market-centric societies enabled most people to live better. Their societies improved as people learned to combine tribal, institutional, and market forms of organization — that is, to progress in complexity from monoform systems (tribes-only), to biform systems (tribes + institutions), to triform systems (tribes + institutions + markets).
The best result has been our United States of America — the paragon of a triform society, the epitome of a liberal democracy. After the fall of the Soviet Union (a totalitarian biform system), the triumph of our own and other democratic triform societies inspired an optimistic belief in the “end of history” model (Fukuyama, 1989, 1992), whereby “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
But matters have not evolved that way. The “end of history” is a trifomist model — offered at the moment of its greatest power and success, but also, unknowingly, on the eve of its looming obsolescence. For this model did not recognize that a new form of social evolution was emerging: the information-age network form. The rise of this next great form — with its bundle of digital technologies, organizational dynamics, and philosophical implications — is still in its early disruptive phases, and it remains unclear exactly what it will bring in the coming decades. But its rise lies behind the vast loosening and questioning, both functional and dysfunctional, that presently besets our aging triform system across all sectors.
If/as matters progress, this promises to lead to the evolution of a radically new quadriform system (tribes + institutions + markets + networks) for addressing society’s issues. It will lead to the creation of a new sector — a commons sector? — to resolve the complex problems that our aging public and private sectors are no longer suited to resolving, and which cannot, and should not, be simply tossed back to burden individual families and communities, at least not if we are to remain a great country on the cutting edge of human progress. Unfortunately, America’s current political, economic, and social leaders are all still thinking and planning in primarily triform ways — perhaps they cannot do otherwise, for the triformist design is all they know.
Thus we find ourselves in a transitional moment, peering Janus-like in two directions, facing two choices: One is to persist with the triform system we know — the legacy of the past. The other is to head deliberately toward a quadriform transformation — the promise of the future. It’s a perplexing choice, fraught with uncertainties. I shall argue for the quadriformist choice.
I’ve started doing so in posts #1-3 in this series. But there is much more to be done. While this post has not offered any new specifics, it has rendered a new preamble, in particular by pointing to the obsolescence of the triform “end of history” model that has limited so much thinking in recent decades about how future societies will be structured.
More next time....
[Revised from earlier draft posted on my Facebook page, December 7, 2018.]