Evidence for Cultural Maturity

A notion with implications as dramatic as those we find with the concept of Cultural Maturity requires good evidence. In my writing, I draw on four kinds of supporting evidence. None provides proof. But together they paint a compelling picture.

First is how today’s new challenges make related demands. On first blush, today’s new questions can seem wholly distinct, and any attempt to address them all in one place ill-conceived. But while the specifics of today’s new challenges could often not be more different, we find fundamental similarities in what these concerns ask of us. The “Cultural Maturity’s Defining Themes” section of the blog lists the most important of these common tasks. This fact of similarities at least supports the notion that change of a basic sort is afoot.

The second kind of evidence is developmental. We find more limited versions of these same tasks (along with the capacities needed to address them) with the shift that defines maturity in our individual lifetimes. Indeed we find something related with the mature stages of human change processes wherever we find them. (Here I refer to extended change processes of a developmental sort, for example, what we see over the evolution of a creative project, over the course of a relationship, or with the growth of an organization.) From this big picture vantage, maturity in an individual lifetime comes to represent not just a helpful metaphor for Cultural Maturity, but a detailed developmental analogy.

The third kind of evidence is more specifically theoretical and turns to the underlying cognitive processes that produce the changes in thinking and relating we see with Cultural Maturity. The leap in perspective that took us beyond the superstitions and narrow ardencies of the Middle Ages and gave us our modern worldview—in the 17th-century thinking of Newton and Descartes, and before that the 15th-century artistic perspective of Michelangelo and Leonardo—involved changes not just in what we believed, but how we understood. We gained a newly objective, “from the balcony” kind of perspective. In a similar way, we can make sense of everything about the needed collective “growing up”—what it asks of us, why it does so, and why the changes it describes are things we might expect—in terms of a further, just as readily delineated, set of changes in the mechanisms through which we make sense of ourselves and the world around us.

We derive support from the fact that these cognitive changes again find parallels in the mature stages of other formative processes. And the nature of these changes provides particular support of culturally mature understandings significance. The cognitive changes that today give us the possibility of culturally mature perspective are arguably even more significant that those that produced the leap in understanding of Leonardo’s and Newton’s times. Certainly there is how the potential consequences for failing at these changes are globally catastrophic. But there is more of significant consequence. Besides providing new ways to think, it also helps us rethink history and better understand why in times past we have thought about things in the very different ways that we have. Culturally mature perspective offers that we might understand the human narrative as a whole in a more encompassing and vital manner than has ever before been an option.

The fourth kind of evidence is comparative. We can use culturally mature perspective to better understand common belief structures and more familiar views of the future—for example, the conventional beliefs of the political left and right, viewpoints that imagine the future only in terms of technological advancement, New Age wishful thinking, and postmodern social critique. If we look beneath the surface of anyone’s story about the future, we will find that the story contains unexamined more general assumptions about the human endeavor. Mature perspective helps us to tease out these assumptions and to recognize when they keep us from the sophistication of thought and action the future will require. This ability to provide an overarching vantage, if it does not itself provide final evidence, at least adds to the concept’s utility.

On first encounter, the idea of a needed collective “growing up” can seem extreme and too far-reaching in its implications. But how these four sorts of evidence combine to make Cultural Maturity’s conclusions for many people hard to refute—and to seem like common sense. There is also a more personal kind of evidence that is, for me, ultimately the most persuasive. I find it hard to imagine a world I would want to live in without Cultural Maturity’s changes. When I look deeply at the questions ahead and the risks and possibilities they imply, I don’t see how a vital and healthy human future is possible without them.

Related posts, essays, and snippets:

Cultural Maturity’s Defining Themes
Developmental Parallels
Cognitive Reordering
Compare and Contrast

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