This is just a sneak peek from Anne’s feature in SCENARIO 2:2014. If you are not a current subscriber to SCENARIO or a member of The Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, then subscribe or get in touch with us here.
Lene Andersen is a wealth of words and an enthusiastic speaker. Her hands are gesturing wildly, and her arms are raised high above her head. About 100 times during our interview she sweeps her long, brown hair back behind her ear, and her shiny spectacles constantly reflect flashes of light. She fills the room with personality, lively ideas and courageous theories.
“There is a global culture that synchronises constantly,” she e.g. says. “For decades, Europe has copied American culture. The rest of the world also follows suit. For instance, we raise huge shopping malls outside city centres; something they started doing in the US already in the 1950s. Our cultures and ideals of liberty come to resemble each other more and more, and hence the same needs arise. With the internet, this happens faster than ever, and with YouTube and Facebook, cultures and trends are copied at lightning speed.”
Lene Andersen is trained as an economist and has worked with TV and radio satire. However, her real breakthrough has been as a self-taught philosopher and writer. She doesn’t cut corners, but works with a so-called grand theory. This is a theory about how the world fits together, from micro to macro; from small, interpersonal relationships up to the very big global economic and political relationships. Her collective work constitutes one big study of civilisation.
According to Andersen, the development of civilisation is driven by 17 megapatterns of very different character. One of Andersen’s megapatterns is evolution, which undeniably is a very important driver for the world’s progress. However, also maturity, scale-free networks and globalisation are examples from Andersen’s catalogue of important megapatterns (see page 20 for the full list; ed.).
With megapatterns as a foundation, Andersen works with how our society will develop, and she has many ideas about how we can – and necessarily must – develop a better world. One of her most important conclusions is that our civilisation is headed for yet another big step forward – a step towards maturity.
The dawning maturity of society
“I have divided our civilisation into three phases: a collective childhood, a collective youth, and a collective maturity, and we are on the transition to the latter. Our childhood was the time of our hunter-gatherer ancestors; our youth began with the great city states in the Middle East 6-7-8,000 years ago and continues today, when we can be compared to a pubescent teenager about to find his or her identity. A teen finds identity through distancing herself or himself from others, and this gives rise to conflicts. But when you are mature, e.g. in a relationship, you find enrichment in being with another person unlike yourself. You value what is different.”
The possible dawning maturity of our society will be a question of valuing what is different and weaning ourselves off always being in opposition. Just a few decades ago, national states were often at war – or at least cold war. Today it is difficult to imagine European countries attacking each other. Instead, we work together in e.g. the EU, the UN, and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The budding and growing international communities become the next big steps in the development of our society and civilisation. This is possible because ‘the grand narrative’ is changing fundamentally.
The nations of the world are cooperating more, and the grand narrative of society itself, the meaning of our direction for our civilisation’s development, is changing to become a tale of communities and trade as something good. The narrative is changing because many countries no longer change their identities or build the legitimacy of their nation states in opposition to other peoples, ideologies or religions. Instead, almost all countries in the world are potential trading partners.
“The grand narrative is changing from being ‘what is different is wrong’ and ‘us versus them’ to be: ‘What is different contributes with something extra.’ This is not relativism, where all communities are good simply because they are ‘multi’. We need to be open to how others have arrived at their viewpoints. In order to move on as a civilisation, we basically need to reject the idea of a public debate. Instead, we need a public conversation.
In a debate, you take part to win – in a conversation you take part to listen. We need to listen in order to create a community and make use of the new opportunities and develop new power structures and a new economy.”
Meaning, hope and heroes
Meaning, hope and heroes constitute an important megapattern to Andersen. It revolves around the very dominant saviour story that has for thousands of years permeated through many societies and in particular shaped how people in the West and Middle East interpret the world. Through the common saviour story, societies and individuals have created meaning in everything, from idols and geography (“us vs. them”) to hopes about new technology that like a ‘saviour’ can pull the chestnuts out of the fire for society as a whole.
“The heroes we have had for the last 3,000 years have been the same. The same archetype; Messiahs all. Just look at Batman, Superman, Obama, Pippi Longstocking, Harry Potter, and James Bond. When our society has a problem, it is always the loner standing outside the community that comes along, fixes everything and then disappears again. Like Mohammed or Jesus – all the great loners.”
However, if our society is to move towards a new type of community, Lene Andersen thinks that we can no longer focus on the archetype saviour that always shows up at the last moment and cleans out humanity’s mess. According to her, we are on the verge of a major societal shift that can just as easily turn bad as good. Hence, the grand narrative about who we are and how we live together needs to change: “We are in the middle of a financial crisis. At the same time, we are undergoing a very important technological and societal shift from analogue to digital culture. We are moving from having one life to having two: one in the real world and one in the web…