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Modernity, like patriarchy, is already dead with regard to its global meaning, because it is unable to efficiently help humankind to orient itself toward a sustainable future. Thus, we are again changing our vision of the world. We are shifting paradigm, as we must to ensure our survival. We are passing from the modern paradigm to a “transmodern” (planetary) paradigm.
Meanwhile, however, more than two billion people on earth remain in either the agrarian and pre-modern paradigm.
What is a “paradigm”? The word comes from the Greek term “paradeigma,“ which means “example.“ To my knowledge, it is mainly the book of Harvard professor Thomas Kuhn, who coined the expression by showing that science progresses all along its history by leaps and hard conflicts between different interpretations, which he called “paradigms.“21 Every time someone proposes a new working hypothesis (like quantum mechanics, for instance) based on reproducible experiments, the holders of the official prior explanation are in crisis. Kuhn describes the four stages of the advent of a new scientific paradigm that is a new vision and explanation of scientific phenomena.
The paradigm is ignored.
The paradigm is ridiculed as absolutely unimportant and irrelevant.
The paradigm is violently attacked, including sometimes at the level of the private life of the inventor.
Everyone agrees that, from now on, it is the only way to think, and that actually, “everybody always thought that way.”
As Willis Harman wrote, a “paradigm is the basic way of perceiving, thinking, valuing and doing, associated with a particular vision of reality”22. He said also, “We are living through one of the most fundamental shifts in history—a change in the actual belief structure of Western society. No economics, political or military power can compare with the power of a change of mind. By deliberately changing their images of reality, people are changing the world.” Indeed the paradigm of a civilization determines how it perceives itself, how it sees the nature of reality, the society, the surrounding world, and the goal of existence. And this is precisely what is changing today.
Our paradigms determine not only our thoughts, but also the way we view life. A paradigm is like a pair of eyeglasses. When a civilization leaves one paradigm for another, the transition touches the heart itself of our lives. Unfortunately, at the political level, power transfers occur most often in a violent manner—resulting in wars and revolutions.
It is important to recall that at the end of the Middle Age, it was almost impossible for scientific minds like Copernicus or Galileo to pursue their research quietly without being threatened with death by the Inquisition of the Catholic Church. The modernity that they represented was a liberation movement with regards to the then-current ecclesiastical obscurantism—that is, the withholding of knowledge and the opposition to its dissemination. Their ideas provided a new vision, a new way to consider the relationship to the truth.
This new way to consider life (the modernity paradigm) was very successful. Over the centuries, it has allowed an extraordinary soaring of sciences and technologies, which produced the industrial society.
The global meaning of the “modern” vision is one of making human intelligence autonomous with regards to all obscurantisms, whatever they may be. And this autonomy reflex remains deeply rooted in many intellectuals. It is as if there is a collective subconscious memory, a collective reflex of autonomisation, which remains deeply anchored and very strong. For instance—with the recent scandal created by the publication Mohammed’s caricatures in a Danish newspaper. Regardless of the substance of the issue, it calls attention to the uproar that arose to protect the human intelligence autonomy as old wounds of a collective unconscious resurfaced.
I shall describe modernity in more detail in Chapter 9, by comparing the matrifocal, pre-modern, modern, postmodern, and transmodern paradigms.
In adopting modernity as the global paradigm, Humanity went too far in the direction of analysis, separation, and dissection. Following Descartes, we have sliced the problems too mush in order to resolve them. We also went too far in pushing the values of conquest and submission of opponents... too far in the conquest of nature, oceans, continents, other cultures and other religions... too far in attempting to control our personalities and our minds by reason and by rational and analytical arguments… too far in the exaltation of suffering and the despising of pleasure and sexuality.
We as a global civilization are tired now. The earth is also tired, as it shows it by the alarming environmental jolts that are shown on the evening news. Other (pre-modern) cultures have started to complain and to speak out, reproaching us for directing the invading arrogance of modernity toward them. And the West is surprised by the critics, because it did not see the hidden face of our “modern” behaviour, our collective shadow.
Thus, to save the planet and ourselves, we urgently need to install a new relation with the other cultures—to create a new horizon where the supreme value is our mutual and collective survival.
That is the reason why modernity is dead—because our civilization does not anymore consider that autonomy of human intelligence is our supreme and most urgent task. Our most urgent task is survival. But, let us look at things more in detail.
As I noted above, the supreme value of modernity is rooted in the urge for autonomy of the human mind against Middle Age obscurantism. And we just saw that we are living today in a completely different landscape. Today the supreme value is the absolute necessity to ensure our survival and that of the future generations.
When we (the citizens of the world) saw the first pictures of Earth brought back by the astronauts in the 1960s—and saw clearly that our planet is a marvellous-but-fragile blue ball, we began to enter the planetary (or transmodern) paradigm. A new priority suddenly imposed itself on us—that of preserving and protecting this beautiful blue ball if we want to survive and care for our children.
The principal reason for the paradigm shift is that our supreme value has changed in a short period of time… since the astronauts came back from the Apollo mission in the 1960s and 70s. That supreme value, the deepest aspiration of Humanity, is different now. And we as a species feel lost and in distress because we (consciously or unconsciously) are looking for a system of thought and action (paradigm) that corresponds to our new and urgent mission—to save the planet.
The modern paradigm, which is mainly analytical, has proven extremely effective in leading us to the moon and developing science and technology… and also war machines. But it has several drawbacks, including:
It is incapable of thinking in a synthetic and holistic manner.
In order to reflect on Humanity’s future, we must look at the problem in the most global way possible. And the modern analytical methods appear insufficient and ineffective. Indeed, modernity tends to follow the advice of Descartes, which is to cut a difficult problem into pieces that are easier to analyze and to resolve. So that, at the end, one only has pieces of solution or partial solutions—never a global solution. For example, if you have a problem in Europe, and you go to your local, national, or European authorities, you will be obliged to formulate your request by adapting it to different ministries (secretaries) and departments. Then, in time, you will receive different answers from each ministry (secretary). And you have to do the synthesis yourself, which is not always easy and, most of the time impossible.
It is incapable of rethinking itself in depth as a system to reach a sustainable solution for our future.
Indeed, we must rethink in depth our economic and political systems to orient them toward life and future generations, and not toward collective death. But the modern mentality considers itself as perfectly objective and thus above any reflection on paradigms.
The “modern” leaders are somewhat like the captain of the Titanic.
They do what they can to limit damages. But the most lucid ones feel deeply powerless. For one needs to learn to think differently. And it is not easy and almost impossible in their context. They have to go down with the ship. It is their duty.
It is dead.
Modernity is in a mortal crisis in this beginning of the 21st century because its supreme value (autonomy) is not tuned to the necessary supreme value—survival. Modernity is incapable of helping humankind in the face of the survival urgency.
Owing to these drawbacks, we must today look for holistic, synthetic and global solutions that concern our collective survival. At the same time, we must rethink:
The global economy (Economics)
Our relationship with nature and the environment (Philosophy, Anthropology)
Our relationship with the sacred, since we have desacralised nature so much that we have allowed ourselves to plunder it (Philosophy, Theology)
Our political systems, which are not even capable of launching a suitable debate (Political Sciences). (Note that Nobel Prise winner Al Gore had to wait to be out of politics to make the film that made him more famous than his political career.)
Thus, modernity’s supreme value of autonomy is not valid anymore in the 21st century because Humanity has other, more-urgent needs. This is the main reason that modernity is dead. It is incapable of providing a new supreme value for the 21st century.
Changing a global paradigm is a delicate, painful, and laborious endeavour. After all, one does not change culture—the way to see and judge other beings and things—as easily as one changes ones shirt. The birth of a new world is always difficult and dangerous.
The death of modernity is very difficult to describe because it addresses the way we currently look at reality. It addresses the very eyeglasses through which we perceive reality. The ”paradigm” is ours—that is, all the values and implicit prejudgments through which we ourselves apprehend reality. The major difficulty is that most people are unaware that they wear these eyeglasses—including most modern intellectuals, who are convinced of their objectivity and are certain that their views are not shaded or skewed by any such lenses; therefore, they have no need to reflect on any paradigm shift.
Another difficulty is that in the death of modernity, it is not just one value that changes, but a whole set of values and, chiefly, their relationships and hierarchies. It is an entire matrix of values that changes all at once and together—a group of factors related together by defined equations.
But, the major difficulty in talking about the death of modernity comes from the political and institutional side, because it is difficult, even dangerous, to challenge the existing structures. They are sure to fight back in order to ensure their survival.
Modernity is dead, but most citizens of the world are unaware of the fact, even if some of them are more or less conscious of it. Everything is happening in the background. A world is dying, but in an astonishing silence. Why this silence?
The soft silence of the intellectuals
Many intellectuals, who should be the ones to explain the situation to the public, are not convinced of the occurring changes. They would rather continue to implicitly hold up the slogan, “There is not salvation outside modernity.” Indeed, many intellectuals are convinced that only chaos will ensue if we abandon modernity. They are convinced that there is no front door. There only is a back door, which wakes up sufferings in our collective unconsciousness—religious wars, crusades, and inquisition. Yes, one could be frightened if there truly was no front door… but there is one. (I shall talk about it in the second part of this book.)
Extreme difficulty for institutions to adapt to changes
The other reason for the silence is more political. It is almost impossible for an institution to change paradigm, because an institution is made to last, not to change. I came to understand this while working at the European Commission. The idea of the founding fathers (Monnet, Shuman, Adenauer, Spaak, de Gasperi, etc.) was precisely to create in the midst of the European Union, then called European Communities, an institution that would survive them and become a lasting, stabilizing element of their initial intent—that is, non-violence between European states and, thereby, definitive stabilization of our continent. And we in the “Forward Studies Unit”, created by the President of the Commission, were then questioning the vision (paradigm) and thus, inviting the Commission to reflect at adapting itself to the new era. This was a message that could be heard by individual officials—sometimes with interest, often with scepticism—but at the institutional level was very difficult to accept. Thus, the “Forward Studies Unit” was suppressed.
It is important to note the huge difficulty for institutions to reform themselves from the inside. This often is impossible. It is not in their basic “program.” And this is true, even if the individuals who run the institutions are interested in the ongoing changes and are of good will.
Ces messieurs ont appelé dame Bess, dit-il; mais dame Bess n’est pas au cottage