The Only way to Grow is Up: Reflections on the Deep Civilizational Work of the 21st Century
Ruben Nelson, Fellow, World Academy of Art & Science; Executive Director, Foresight Canada.
"Learn the future faster in order to cooperate with our own evolution."
After five decades of reading and pondering what I have come to call the literature of cultural crisis and transformation, for me, these twelve words are the heart of the matter. What do I mean to convey by them?
First, as a species, we are in way more trouble than we know. True, we have a litany of issues that preoccupy a growing number of us - water, food, climate, demographics, governance, the money system, jobs, economic growth, security, etc. But sadly the common belief is not true - that these are separate issues which if "solved" will assure our sustained success. Rather, these problems are symptoms of a yet deeper and far more threatening systemic malady.
I now believe that our modern/Industrial form of civilization has no future as a modern/ Industrial form of civilization. The path we are trying to stay on - economic growth forever for everyone - leads only to species death. As Thomas Homer-Dixon has so eloquently argued, there will be a down; the only interesting question is whether there will be an up.
Happily, there is also good news. Our modern/Industrial form of civilization is slowly and incoherently evolving into a truly new form of civilization. In this sense, all we need to do, as persons, families, communities, organizations, whole jurisdictions and a species, is learn to see, think through and cooperate with our own evolution. By doing so, we will begin to meet the overriding requirement of the 21st Century - to fundamentally alter the substance and trajectory of our form of civilization and embrace ways of being that lay the foundation for the next form of human civilization.
If this sounds outrageous, it is. No culture on the planet has even a vague notion that this work needed to be undertaken. It escapes us still. Today, this idea appears nowhere on the agendas of any significant official body.
But, this is not the worst news. We must not only learn to transform our form of civilization, we must do so openly and reflexively, relatively rapidly and globally, knowing that this is a requirement of our time in history. We ignore these truly novel requirements of our situation at our peril.
Fast: In the past, all transitions to new forms of civilization occurred over long time-spans measured in many centuries, if not millennia. We no longer have centuries to adapt to the emerging conditions that now face us.
Global: In the past, all transitions were local or regional. Today, we know that for many purposes nothing less than a global scale will do.
Required: In the past, all transitions were optional. Today, we have run out of options. Civilizational evolution and transformation are now a requirement.
Reflexively intentional: In the past, all transitions were made unconsciously. Today, we face the new requirement that we must act openly, consciously and reflexively.
And, as of today, no society, culture or nation on the planet knows how to alter its trajectory through history in ways that will add up to its fundamental transformation into a truly post-modern/Industrial form of civilization. In short, as large groups we do not yet know how to cooperate with our own evolution. We must learn our way into this work.
I would place my bet on a new Manhattan-type project. Creating the conditions that would make such a project possible is the first hurdle.
In any case, for humans at every scale, the only way to grow is up.
Need for a New Economic System
Elsa Porter, Fellow, World Academy of Art and Science; Former Assistant Secretary for Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.
I think the world is in for a hard ride in the next half century. Global warming is an immediate threat and perhaps will be the source of global cooperation to deal collectively with the hardships it is already bringing. Millions of people will be affected. Millions will die. We are already seeing climate change "refugees" here in the Pacific Northwest, looking for the life-sustaining water that this rain forest provides.
But the issue before us is not just global warming. That is the consequence of an economic system that has rewarded the plundering of the natural resources of the planet. So, the system must change. To survive, we must move to an economic system that respects the limits of the earth we live on. The sequel to Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations must recognize that this wealth is based on limited resources, and that viable economic activity must live within those limits. So, the new economy must be a sustainable one. That includes providing more equitable benefits to the entire world's population. The present disparity in wealth among nations and within their borders cannot continue to grow. The gap must be narrowed. How to do this?
The first step might be a convention of global powers to examine and reform the current financial system now based on the Bretton Woods Accord.
Rational efforts to manage the world's trading system are al-ready fraying. Perhaps, those encounters would be enough to wake the world powers to the calamities facing us all if we do not shift our consumption-based world economy to a sustainable one.
Corruption in Education: A Major Issue
Mirjana Radović-Marković, Fellow, World Academy of Art & Science; Full Professor, Institute of Economic Sciences, Belgrade, Serbia.
The world today is faced with a large number of problems that threaten our survival on this planet. Not all parts of the world, however, are equally hit by problems that rank among the most serious threats to the human race: high rates of unemployment, poverty, low level of education, poor technological development level, gender discrimination, ethnic and religious inequality and high-level corruption. In addition, lack of financial resources, heavy insolvency of a large number of economies, lack of natural resources, environmental pollution, and political instability in many parts of the world pose more than enough threats to make us tackle these issues seriously. It is difficult to state which of the mentioned problems is most important and endangers the global world most seriously, due to their being interrelated and interdependent. Nevertheless, I would like to highlight the issues of inadequate education and corruption, since these have extremely negative effects upon the survival and development of many countries.
These issues are mostly related to the countries in transition and the developing parts of the world. However, in many developed countries, corruption is also endemic within education. Namely, corruption entered this area and seriously endangers schools and universities. Corruption in the education sector can be defined as "the systematic use of public office for private benefit, whose impact is significant on the availability and quality of educational goods and services, and, has impact on access, quality or equity in education" (Hallak and Poisson, 2002). Unfortunately, very little research has been carried out to compare the costs of corruption in the education sector.
Academic fraud and quality assurance
More than ever before educational institutions have become profit-oriented in their struggle to survive, neglecting their basic function – to train quality and adequate personnel, capable of coping with the crisis the modern world is faced with nowadays.
Ferraz, Finan, and Moreira (2009) provide more direct evidence of the costs of corruption. They show that students in Brazilian municipalities where corruption was detected in education have test scores that are 0.35 standard deviations lower than those without corruption and have higher dropout and failure rates.
Hence, we witness that educational institutions emerge uncontrollably, offering the same or similar curricula in order to attract as large a number of students as possible, rather than curricula that are geared to the structure and needs of the labour market, both at the national and regional levels and at the global level as well. For example, in most Sub-Saharan African countries, enrolment in higher education has grown faster than financing capabilities, reaching a critical stage where the lack of resources has led to a severe decline in the quality of instruction and in the capacity to reorient focus and to innovate. In other words, in Africa's universities, quantity threatens quality. In addition, there are many fake universities, some of which advertise in the international press, circulate information by sending spam and rank high on the hit lists of search engines. We can also see that bachelor, master and doctoral theses can be bought at rather low prices via the Internet, which entirely degrades the importance and sense of education. Accordingly, diplomas are degraded due to their hyperproduction and insufficient knowledge and competence achieved through education to support them. Clearly, this hyperproduction of diplomas cannot solve the problem of insufficient education level of population in many parts of the world, nor can it artificially raise the quota of the literacy level of a nation. Given that education is the basis of the development of a nation and the survival of the global economy, it is necessary that this negative tendency should be curbed as soon as possible. Nothing can ruin a country more than its poor and corrupt education system. Hence, this issue not only calls for a special attention of the scientific public, but largely touches the domain of international criminal law. Consequently, it is necessary that a massive campaign should be launched to close quasi-educational institutions that produce "intellectual cripples". Education should be given back its original role, however, with a new prefix, that of creating education geared to the students’ needs and new knowledge that will be synergic with the demand on the local, regional and global labour markets. More than ever before we need knowledge that can be applicable to the 21st century economy, a knowledge-based economy. It is for this reason that immediate attention should be paid to education, because of its implications for poverty, unemployment and other problems which the world we live in is faced with today.
Finally, I would only add that creating a new model of education that would meet the criteria of encouraging individuality and creativity and focus upon students’ interests rather than those of faculties and other educational institutions is not possible to accomplish without solving the problem of corruption in education in the stride. The diploma has to mean status, knowledge and quality, rather than be an "unsecured paper" and a path to a world of the unemployed and poor.
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