The Cultural Maturity Blog: A New Kind of “News Site”

The Cultural Maturity blog (www.culturalmaturityblog.net) is a contribution of the Institute for Creative Development, a Seattle-based, non-profit, non-partisan, think tank and center for advanced leadership training. Its purpose is to support the sophistication of understanding and decision-making needed long-term if we are to have a vital and creative human future.

You can think of the blog as a “new site,” but it is this in a particular sense. News of a more conventional sort tends to be “old news” in a few days or weeks. Content on the Cultural Maturity blog will most often be as significant five, ten, or even twenty years from now as it is today, if not more so.

This result follows in part from the simple recognition that foresight is essential. Not just reporting events, but big-picture, long-term perspective is critical to being informed. More specifically, content on the blog is a product of the particular kind of perspective the Institute’s work draws on. The Institute’s efforts center around the recognition that our times are requiring us to rethink values and institutions that we have assumed to be ideals and end points. Over the last thirty-five years, the Institute has worked to understand how challenges before us as a species require not just fresh ideas, but an essential “growing up” as a species—that we learn to think and act in new, more sophisticated, “culturally mature” ways.

The concept of Cultural Maturity is a formal notion within Creative Systems Theory, a comprehensive framework for understanding human systems developed by Dr. Charles Johnston and his colleagues at the Institute. It describes how our times are requiring — and making possible — an essential new chapter in the human story. The Cultural Maturity blog presents an ongoing conversation about this needed greater human maturity—what it looks like, how it might be possible, what it asks of us, and how it is beginning to manifest in the best of contemporary thought and action. Culturally mature perspective can initially be a stretch. But most people find that, in the end, the conclusions that result represent common sense, just common sense of a more complete sort than we are used to.

Dr. Johnston has just completed a three-book series on Cultural Maturity and what it asks of us. The blog applies observations put forward in the books to key emerging challenges. A small handful of examples provide illustration and introduction. Each draws on a quote from the most general audience book in the new series, Hope and the Future: An Introduction to the Concept of Cultural Maturity.

Stepping beyond our need for “evil empires:” A key theme in Cultural Maturity’s “growing up” concerns our past need for enemies. From Hope and the Future: “Since our species’ earliest beginnings, we humans have divided our worlds into ‘chosen people’ and ‘evil others.’ We’ve viewed people like ourselves as in some way special, and projected the less pleasant parts of ourselves onto our neighbors. If this ‘chosen people/evil other’ dynamic is biologically hardwired, it is difficult to be optimistic. Combine ‘chosen people/evil other’ thinking with today’s readily available weapons of mass destruction and our future does not look bright. But as it turns out, this dynamic is just as much psychological as it is biological. It is also the case that we have already made important progress in getting beyond it.” This example is most obviously important because it suggests that what might otherwise seem a dead-end circumstance can be avoided. But, in addition, it provides some of the best evidence that Cultural Maturity’s changes are not just possible, but beginning to be realized.

Limits and climate change: Cultural Maturity makes us more accepting of the fact of real limits. Climate change presents a striking example of how more systemic perspective can provide needed clarity. From Hope and the Future: “When I meet people who use the observation that we can’t know for certain whether global warming is real to justify not responding to the climate change threat, I will often first agree that we can’t know for sure, and then ask a couple of simple questions. I ask them what they think the odds are that, in fact, human-caused climate change is real. (I make them commit to a number.) I then ask them how they feel about their children playing Russian roulette. Few people are willing to claim that the odds of global warming being real and significant are less than Russian roulette’s one in six. And those who claim that the odds are less than this have a very hard time escaping the conclusion that their beliefs have more to do with ideology than reasoned evaluation.” The book examines how the ideological beliefs not just of climate-change deniers, but also of those who are most ready to accept that global warming is real, can get in the way of the mature risk assessment that good decision-making in the face of climate change will require.

Spiraling health care costs: The health care debate to this point ignores the hard fact on which the possibility of real cost containment depends: If we are not to spend an ever-increasing percentage of resources on health care, we must somehow restrict availability of care. Neither the political left nor the political right has faced up to this fact–and for a very understandable reason. We have not before been capable of the maturity in our relationship with death needed to do so. From Hope and the Future: “Restricting care in this way puts before us a whole new order of ethical challenge. At the least, not providing care when we have effective care to offer calls into question modern medicine’s defeat-disease-at-any-cost heroic mythology. But the challenge is deeper. Restricting care demands a new relationship to the most taboo of topics: our human mortality. Medicine has always been about life-and-death decisions. But limiting care demands in effect the conscious choosing of death—at least in the sense of withholding care that might delay death’s arrival. Good long-term health care policy will require a maturity in our relationship with death not before necessary, nor, within our human capacity to handle. Putting an end to spiraling costs will make other death-related hot-button issues like abortion and assisted suicide look like child’s play.”

A new chapter in the story of love:  The way Cultural Maturity makes possible an important new chapter in how we think about relationships of all sorts—including love—is one of its most fascinating aspects. This evolution in how we as individuals relate also provides some of the clearest evidence for the concept of Cultural Maturity.  It is increasinly reshaping our lives, whether we recognize it or not. From Hope and the Future: “Our Modern Age Romeo and Juliet picture of love is not only not some final ideal, in fact it represents something quite difference than what we most often assume it is about. We tend to think of romantic love as love between individuals. Modern romantic love did take us an important step toward individual choice, beyond the more traditional practice of having mates chosen by families or matchmakers. But in the sense of love between two whole people, romantic love is not about loving as individuals. It is two-halves-make-a-whole love. The bond is created through the projection of parts of ourselves. With romantic love, we mythologize the other, making that person our answer, our brave knight or fair lady, our completion (or, at less pleasant moments, the great cause of our suffering).” Cultural Maturity invites the possibility of more mature—more whole-person—human bonds in all parts of our lives. This new chapter in human relating alters not just love, but relationships of every sort, from our friendships to how we think about and engage social institutions.

Beyond partisan pettiness: One of the places where we witness the most striking lack of culturally mature leadership today is also where we might appropriately most hope it would thrive: in the halls of government. At some level we recognize that this is the case even if Cultural Maturity is not a familiar notion. We get that partisan pettiness seems to draw ultimately on the worst of adolescent impulses. From Hope and the Future: “Bringing greater maturity to the halls of government will be essential not just to good future decision-making, but to the effective future functioning of government. This is so for a simple reason—the important questions before us are all systemic in nature. We tend to the think of opposing political worldviews as rationally arrived-at differences of opinion. More accurately, they represent predictably opposed polarized positions within larger systemic realities. To address today’s critical questions—indeed simply to ask these questions in ultimately useful ways—we must come to think about them in more encompassing ways.” Cultural Maturity’s changes make this possible. The concept of Cultural Maturity also suggests a related, particularly provocative conclusion. It proposes that modern “government by the people” represents not the ideal and end-point we have tended to assume, but just one stage in governance’s ongoing evolution. More systemic, “post-partisan” debate is something a next stage in the story of governance should bring with it. Greater agreement in debate would not necessarily be the result—culturally mature perspective is able to take into account greater difference of opinion. But we should expect debate to produce more useful and creative outcomes.

Addressing our modern crisis of purpose: One challenge helps bring the others together. We can think of all the various “crises” of our time as aspects of a single, more encompassing crisis of story—in the end, a crisis of purpose. From Hope and the Future: “The guiding stories we have known and lived by—the American Dream, progress’s promise of ever onward-and-upward advancement, opposing political ideologies, the beliefs of our various religious traditions—can today still help us in limited ways. But most often they fall decidedly short. And the narratives put forward to replace them rarely do more than just capture pieces of the larger picture. Do we think of our time as a dramatic new Information Age offering endless potential for the human species? As a time of aimlessness, decay of traditional institutions, and loss of basic cultural civility? Or, with the end of the Cold War, as a period of new hope for a peaceful and democratic world? Do we think of this moment as a time of profound environmental crises that might be beyond our power to solve? As a spiritual New Age? As a time of moral downfall, of impending Armageddon? Each of these new candidates for a new guiding story addresses something we feel. At the very least, they reflect real hopes or fears. But none, by itself, quite explains what today we witness around us. And none succeeds at providing reliable and compelling guidance. If we are not to run from the great demands we face today, we must have concepts and images able to put the immense complexities before us into meaningful perspective.” Our times cry out for a fresh, more complete kind of story.

The “news” on the Cultural Maturity blog involves the reader in the crafting of that needed new cultural story. It also supports development of the new, more sophisticated leadership perspectives and capacities that successfully engaging that necessary new chapter in our human narrative will require.