A Different Kind of Idea—Implications for Cultural Maturity’s Challenge and Significance

The concept of Cultural Maturity and other contributions of Creative Systems Theory represent not just fresh thinking, but a fundamentally different kind of idea than we are accustomed to. Appreciating how this is so helps highlight what makes these notions so powerful. It also helps us understand why, at least at first, people can find them challenging.

The fact that these notions initially stretch us is not because they are complicated or mysterious. Arguably, in the end they are more straightforward than more familiar kinds of ideas. By stripping away past ideological assumptions, they help us see more clearly—get more directly at what is. But getting to that clarity requires that we fundamentally expand how we think.

As simple way to recognize that we are dealing with something new is to observe how these notions don’t fit into usual categories. Below I’ve listed some common categories of thought and how these notions require that we step beyond them:

News—I’ve used one difference to introduce this site. I’ve described how we can think about the Cultual Maturitty Blog as a news site—with one essential difference. Most news is “old news” in a few days or weeks. Posts on this site will be as or more significant five, ten, or even twenty years from now as they are today. These are developmental/evolutionary ideas—notions that put culture in motion.

The Thinking of Futurists—These notions are also fundamentally different from the larger portion of views that specifically address the future. Most often such views give their attention to technological innovation, to invention and how it changes out lives. The notions drawn on here support better understanding technological change, but their primary concern is more basic: understanding changes in how we think—and, in the end, predicted changes in what it means to be human. Some popular views focus on changes in how we think, but more often than not they reduce to simplistic New Age interpretations that have more to do with wishful thinking than anything that can usefully guide us going forward.

Academic Thought—Another difference easily takes people by surprise. Because these notions take on serious issues, a person might initially categorize them as intellectual and academic. But even where the conclusions might seem obvious, discussing these notions in academic settings can be tricky. The concept of Cultural Maturity and the ideas of Creative Systems Theory “fail” the academic test on two essential counts. First they are highly interdisciplinary. Are these notions psychology, history, science, philosophy, political science, art? Academia is only beginning to be comfortable with broadly systemic concepts. Second, because they require that we draw not just on our intellects, but on the whole of intelligence—on the entirety of our cognitive complexity—they inherently challenge the claim on which academic understanding is based. Modern academic thought has its foundations in the Age of Reason assumption that truth can be reduced to rational reasoning and objective observation.

Ideological Belief—A further difference is more explicit. These notions call into question any thinking that is ideological. (Creative Systems Theory defines ideology as belief that takes one part of a larger systemic complexity and makes it the whole of truth.) For example, I’ve described how they challenge the underlying assumptions of both the political right and the political left. They also call into question views that, while not so obviously ideological, ultimately fail the systemic test. In my book Cultural Maturity: A Guidebook for the Future, I describe how, through history, philosophical belief has taken sides within fundamental conceptual polarities (or, as with dualism, has made contradictory truth claims for both sides as once). Integrative Meta-perspective thus directly challenges almost all traditional philosophy. Its more encompassing vantage also challenges formulations where the polar relationship extends beyond the bounds of particular spheres of understanding. This includes science when science reduces truth to the mechanistic (and becomes “scientism” rather than courageous inquiry). It also includes even the most well-meant of spiritual interpretations (which, in the end, reduce truth to an equally simplistic—and unhelpful—ultimate unity).

Systems Thinking—These notions also require that we step beyond the great majority of systemic thinking. This recognition is key if we are to develop conceptual frameworks that can serve us going forward. Most systemic thinking fails us for reasons related to those just noted for mechanistic science and for almost all spiritual/religious formulations. The greater portion, while it succeeds at helping us appreciate complexity and interrelationships between parts, ultimately draws on engineering-model assumptions. It thus fails us if we wish to describe living systems, and certainly if we wish to deeply understand the audaciously creative sort of life we are by virtue of being human (and fails even with inanimate systems if we look deeply enough.) More popular versions of systems thinking often fail in an opposite way. They can reduce to elaborate arguments for ultimate connectedness—becoming in effect, but another form of spiritual ideology. (See the Dilemma of Differentiation.) Creative Systems Theory’s application of a creative frame offers a way past both of these traps.

Progress As We Usually Think of It—A final distinction is implied in all these examples, but making it separately helps clarify why, in each case, familiar categories stop short. It expands on the recognition that these are developmental/evolutionary notions. These notions reflect not just a next step in how we think, but a point of discontinuity, a new chapter in how we understand. Indeed, they reflect discontinuity of particular significance

A couple of observations highlight this fact. First is how these notions require that we step beyond the assumptions described by familiar cultural narratives—of every sort. I’ve described how three basic kinds of stories about how things work underlie both belief and popular expression in modern times: romantic narratives, heroic narrative, and postmodern narratives. Belief and expression that draws on culturally maturite narrative is fundamentally different. (See The Evolution of Narrative.)

The second expands on how these notions reflect not just better thinking, but specific cognitive changes. By engaging who we are with a depth and completeness that we have not known before, Integrative Meta-perspective fundamentally alters what effective thinking means. And it does so in particularly consequential ways. This new, more mature and encompassing kind of perspective not only makes the kind of thinking needed for the tasks ahead possible, it also clarifies why at previous times in history (including our Modern Age) we have understood in the particular ways that we have.

In the end, the concept of Cultural Maturity and the ideas of Creative Systems Theory not only don’t fall into any of these categories, we can’t really understand these notions if we limit ourselves to the assumptions that create these categories. Again while these observations might seem to point toward understanding that is terribly complex, when are ready for these kinds of ideas, we find almost the opposite. Because needed new, more systemic ways of thinking better address all that is involved in a situation, they can be ultimately more straightforward, even simpler than what they replace. I emphasize repeatedly that, in the end, these notions reflect common sense. But, we must appreciate, too, that this is a maturity of common sense that we are only now becoming capable of.