Transformational/New Paradigm Scenarios

Adapted from Cultural Maturity: A Guidebook for the Future

This grouping is made up of thinkers who frame our future task in terms of “changes in consciousnes” or new scientific and spiritual “paradigms.” It includes both efforts that make a serious and concerted attempt to understand cultural change and a wide array of highly simplistic and ultimately unhelpful popular interpretations. Transformational/New Paradigm ideas at their best encourage us to think radically about what the future will require of us. At their worst, they present intractably ideological conclusions that are not in the end new at all.

Transformational/New Paradigm thinking can share important characteristics with culturally mature perspective. This fact both alerts us to where contributions may lie and, because we find such similarities with both the best and worst of such thinking, emphasizes the importance of taking particular care in teasing apart specifics. Transformational/New Paradigm thinking highlights the need for change that makes a fundamental leap. It also most often argues that needed changes are as much about ourselves and how we think as they are about what we might do or invent. And, almost always, too, it acknowledges the importance of seeing interconnections that before we have ignored, and better including more archetypally feminine, left-hand values and sensibilities, along with those of a more right-hand sort.

Transformational/New Paradigm thinkers have sometimes brought these recognitions together in ways that at least knock on Cultural Maturity’s door. Transformational/New Paradigm perspective at its best is represented by historically significant contributors to big-picture understanding. I think immediately of Jean Gebser, Carl Jung, Erich Neumann, and Joseph Campbell. More recently, leadership theorists with Transformational/New Paradigm inclinations have also made important contributions.

At the same time, Transformational/New Paradigm ideas—certainly those commonly found with popular, New Age sorts of views—frequently have nothing at all to do with Cultural Maturity. Commonly, they really have nothing to do with the future. More accurately they represent modern explications of timeless romantic, philosophically idealist, or mystical beliefs. In Chapter Eight, I made reference to how the beginnings of Reengagement can have people confuse various timeworn views that make left-hand sensibility primary with needed new understanding. With unfortunate frequency, Transformational/New Paradigm ideas reflect polarized identification with the archetypally feminine and miss that the truth claims that result get us no closer to culturally mature perspective than do ideological beliefs of a solely mechanistic sort. Even Transformational/New Paradigm views that succeed at being helpful are commonly limited by their strong left-hand biases. They may ask important questions, and in so doing take us up to Cultural Maturity’s threshold. But their picture of the future most often then collapses into what is ultimately left-hand belief.

We can miss the left-hand bias with certain Transformational/New Paradigm writers because they make science their primary focus. The essential difference from science-related references in this book is that with the more simplistic of Transformational/New Paradigm scientific writing, science ends up reduced to interpretation that makes interconnectedness if not what it is all about, certainly primary. Transformational/New Paradigm interpretations of science can be as limited and ultimately unhelpful as the narrowest kinds of scientism—just limited and unhelpful in an opposite way. Earlier I described how we find a similar kind of simplistic interpretation with popular systems writing that reduces to little more than an elaborate way of arguing for ultimate unity.

Transformational/New Paradigm ideas often find significant overlap with We’ve Gone Astray interpretations, more so than Transformational/New Paradigm supporters, with their commonly upbeat identification with things inspirational, wish to admit. People of more romantic or philosophically idealist inclination can fall into either camp or vacillate back and forth. In a Chapter Eight footnote, I observed how, when people who make left-hand sensibilities primary look to the future, they are often drawn to images of collapse and resurrection. People who ascribe to Transformational/New Paradigm views can be some of the quickest to see the future in cataclysmic terms—whether physical cataclysm such as environmental catastrophe or fundamental failure of past worldviews.

Sometimes Transformational/New Paradigm views interpret history in ways that are at least superficially similar to what I’ve described with developmental/evolutionary perspective. Indeed some of the best of such thinking depicts early cultural stages in ways that can be quite helpful. But, at least with more simplistic interpretations, when we turn to making sense of our times and the challenges ahead, we tend to find descriptions that have more to do with utopian wishful thinking than anything really possible. What gets put forward as radical in its implications, is instead all-too-familiar idealized projection, some hoped-for new Golden Age. The result tends to be a picture of the future that, even if it were realizable, we would not want.