DANGERS of ECONO-CENTRISM

Otto Scharmer’s blog post “10 insights on the Ego-2-Eco Economy Revolution” may be one of the most comprehensive analysis of humankind from an econo-centric perspective. The economic subsystem is only one of many subsystems that make up the system we call humankind. Econo-centrism is a perspective that elevates the economic subsystem to a very dominant position over all other subsystems – and given that has been the view for centuries most people assume that their (econo-centric) perspective is the natural perspective and are unaware of their centrist focus.

  •     In a rather ugly analogy, if the digestive subsystem of our bodies becomes our primary focus the result would be “obesity is beautiful”, “eat everything”, and don’t be concerned about “where you defecate”. One might attribute the mess we are in to our econo-centrism.
  •     In no way am I proposing that viable economic subsystems aren’t important. Indeed, when economic subsystems are in balance with other subsystems, the economic subsystem would better serve the whole of humankind and be far less threatening to our survival.

It is interesting that the educational subsystem (including schools, media, and all ways that facilitates learning/change) is not mentioned.  Only in (10) does Otto cite MOOC’s as his mention of education, along with calling for a “leadership school”.  In (7) he lists eight “institutional innovations” which doesn’t include innovations in education.  Otto is not alone having education in his blindspot.

Two days after receiving Otto’s post I received access to Jim Bell’s recent book, “Creating a Sustainable Economy and Future On Our Planet”.   This is an excellent detailed case study for economic change in the San Diego/Tijuana Region. Jim presents his ideas as a process applicable to any region/population and is the context for his upcoming presentation at China’s 2013 Low Carbon Earth Summit in Xi’an, China, September 26-28. Jim is econo-centric, as are most futurists, and what I say below re Otto Scharmer’s proposals are equally relevant to Jim Bell’s proposal: the success of relevant economic change is dependent on significant uplifting of the knowledge, attitudes, and competencies of a large part of the human population, which cannot be accomplished by contemporary “educational” systems and processes.

Given what we know about the distribution of competencies in the global population it astounds me that proposals are made for significant change that don’t call for radical uplift of this distribution. At most, the competencies of humankind are expected to rise with an improving economy. The goals of future education, if considered, are that people are trained to work hard, have good families, and be peaceful (subservient). A truly knowledgeable and creative public is the top fear of the powerful who design to “rule the economy”.

Yet, Otto’s psychological and spiritual themes imply radical and significant changes in the population. Contemporary knowledge about human learning establishes that “educating well” may be our primary challenge. I have redefined “education” as “Organizing-for-Learning =&= Learning for Organizing”, where the vast and essential diversity of humankind is explicitly attended to. This cannot be accomplished by any reform of contemporary education, as the “best” of contemporary education falls far short of meeting the basic requirements. Nor will the many very exciting experimental innovations in education evolve into what we need.

I speculate that, if we shifted focus to uplifting the distribution of competencies of humankind, the economic subsystem we need would be a spin-off. New, more competent humans need to explore the kind of lives they want to lead and then design a complex of economic subsystems to achieve that system. Starting with an objective to build a better economic subsystem may well trap us in a context that blocks the psychological/spiritual changes Otto desires. After humankind’s birth to Humanity/Gaian symbiosis I expect that “economics” will slip into the background, analogous to our conscious mind’s attention to biological subsystems for digestion and respiration.

  •     Our behavior relevant to health must be based on accurate knowledge of biological processes, but we don’t attempt to make significant changes in how these subsystems function. Once humankind has established an economic subsystem that “works”, we can move our attention to other domains.

The need for uplifting applies to “leadership” as well as to the varied populations that comprise humankind. All significant changes start with small teams of “leaders”. Every person, including geniuses, work within contexts/frames which are unconsciously rooted in belief as universal/inevitable. However innovative they may be, they are limited by these contexts/frames. These can change, but seldom by on input of information. Our human emotional/intuitive complex is powerful in controlling conceptual thinking (e.g., Daniel Kahneman ).

  •     Some work has been done in exploring how to seaf (support, enable, augment, facilitate) changes in contexts/frames, sometimes referred to as shifts in paradigms/perspectives. Graves, Beck and Cowan in Spiral Dynamics and Robert Kegan’s “objectification” model are good first efforts, but much more work is needed.
  •     Contemporary leadership is infested with talented socio/psychopaths who find contemporary competitive ladders-to-power highly facilitating on their climb to the top.  Any leadership community-of-teams for Otto’s vision or for my uplift vision must filter for this toxic threat. Also, decision participation on challenges of global scope must be weighted by an assessment of comprehension of the issues – as difficult as this will be.  However, input to the knowledge base for decision making can be much broader; to include persons or groups with narrow, but potentially insightful, perspectives.
  •     Gut estimates of the time and effort needed for uplifting (a process emerging uniquely in different populations over time) is highly biased by our contexts/frames related to our limiting assumptions about “human nature”. Hypotheses can be formulated whereby humankind is ripe for uplifting and our collective (but not yet collected) knowledge in relevant domains forecasts an explosive burst of fundamental change in an augmented emergence of Humanity.
  •     The awesome magnitude of challenges in our Crisis-of-Crises (J.R. Platt) calls for a system-of-augmented-changes commensurate with this challenge. But, survival must not be our sole focus. What emerges may determine the multi-millennial future of Humanity/Gaia, equipped to handle new threats (asteroid collisions, mega-volcano eruptions, etc.). From this perspective, Humanity may be the creation of Gaia to insure a long and fruitful future. Gaia may have “gained”, in the long term, from prior mass extinctions; but this may not be the case in the future.

We must abandon the practice of viewing human diversity in terms of norms and deviations. We have yet to adequately comprehend the vast diversity field of human differences in cognitive/conceptual/emotive/spiritual/performance domains. We might view humankind as a chaotic field of diverse potentials.  In our brief evolutionary history we remain embryonic as to what will actualize from our radically new potentials.

Contemporary leadership, even for uplift, are not yet competent to design a future, sustainable/resilient humanity with growing creative potential.  This is a task for an uplifted humankind, tapping into its wide diversity. What leadership can focus on today is designing/implementing a process to seaf uplifting, and to temper the excesses of established orders in their suicidal march in search of ideological delusions.

Author: nuet

01/24/1935. BS-physics RPI 1956; MS-physics UofChicago 1958; PhD-physics Yale 1965; PhD-Edu Psy Uof MInnesota 1970. Auroral Research Byrd Station, Antarctica 11/1960-02/1962. MINNEMAST curriculum dev 1964-68. Woodstock. faculty Pima Community College, Tucson 1974-1997. Transdisciplinary scientist, philosopher, educator, futurist, activist. PC user since 1982. "Wife". daughter, 2 grandsons. 5 dogs & 7 cats. Lacks mental imagery in all sensory domains.