Designing a New Game: from Rivalry and Separateness to Collaboration and Connectedness
Education has a central role in the systemic societal changes needed through the continued development of human interiors. However, to design education that prioritises an expansion towards more integrated ways of being in the world, we must thoroughly understand the larger cultural transitions required. This includes understanding the dominant paradigm, the systemic forces that resist change, and the design criteria for more sustainable ways of being together.
One way to understand a cultural paradigm, is to look at the ‘rules of the game’ being played and the outcomes if played indefinitely. The current dominant cultural paradigm is based on frameworks such as extraction, consumption, linear causation, competition, differential advantage, certainty, dualism and opposition. I believe that two concepts underlie these cultural frameworks, rivalryand separateness. The belief that we are separate selves competing for limited goods/rewards is foundational to capitalism, consumerism and the dominant western expressions of democracy. Success is therefore often marked by what one has in comparison to others or how one has defeated or asserted themselves over a competitor. This is illustrated in most current expressions of business, sports, education and entertainment.
This game play has contributed directly to wide ranging phenomena. Examples include: extreme wealth disparity, ecological destruction, prejudices, climate change, wars and mental health problems. Beneath the many crises we are now facing is a fundamental problem. To borrow from James Carse (1986), we are playing a finite game rather than an infinite game. The progression of this finite dominant paradigm, among many things, includes increasing ecological degradation, mass extinction and a human race further alienated from the rest of the natural world (this is explored further in Article Ten).
According to Carse, finite game players tend to compete, exercise power-over others, seek titles and work to an endpoint. On the other hand, infinite game players tend to collaborate, play voluntarily, prefer mutual play and engage in ongoingness.
There are many ways in which the finite dominant paradigm resists the systemic changes needed. These include power structures, interdependent systems and industries, traditions and socially constructed cultural narratives. Transition design, as outlined in Article Three, provides a framework for the coordinated move towards more integrated systems and societies. Buckminster Fuller summarised this non-aggressive approach to change in his famous quote:
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
However, building a new model might require us to address our interior structures that either corroborate with the dominant paradigm or impact our approach to change. Two such complimentary human structures emerge as highly relevant. On one hand, we have a high capacity as humans to adapt to and maintain existing physical and social environments. On the other hand, reflective consciousness and the ability to imagine and create future realities (science, design, philosophy, technology) are also central to being human. These survival advantages have contributed to humans inhabiting and thriving in all climate/bioregions on Earth.
Beneath both this adaptabilityand transformabilityis our drive to develop and maintain practices that advantage those in our sphere of concern. Within a human-centred paradigm, we will continue to create (do, say, make, think) in ways that benefit our group of belonging and externalize harm to the individuals, groups and systems we see as ‘other’ or on the ‘outside’. Biological science, social science and quantum physics all confirm that we are all more interconnected and interdependent than modern thinking could conceive. In this way, there is no ‘other’ or ‘outside’.
Human development naturally expands from ego-centric to ethno-centric to anthropocentric to eco-centric (and beyond). Therefore, to leverage both of these capacities towards more sustainable ways of being in the world, we must expand our sphere of concern to include all Earthlings (living and not). This expansion of consciousness moves us towards a more eco-centric or integral way of being. The problem is that our best conceptions of the nature of reality and how the world works have not yet translated into practical ethics and ways of being in the world.
Unique at this point in history, we are faced with the need to consciously choose not to adapt to the dominant paradigm (environments) in which we were born. Instead, we must become conscious participants in our continued development. Initiating this transition is what some have called the ‘second shock of existence’ or our awareness of our capacity and movement towards self-extinction/harm. Timothy Morton (2013) describes this awareness as the emergence of ‘hyperobjects’, time and space distributed complex phenomenon such as global warming and radioactive pollution.
Whatever the cause, there seems to be an emerging human understanding of our ability and need to intentionally participate in the continued evolution of our consciousness (see Article Eleven). The expansion towards more integrated and eco-centric ways of being is not a return to premodernism. Instead, it is an expansion from the anthropocentric self that transcends but includes previous ways of being.
Fundamentally, this is a transition from the rivalry and separateness of our current finite paradigms towards a way of being that embodies a depth of collaboration and connectedness characteristic of ecological ongoingness. This, I believe, is the demand history is placing on education today.
Carse, J. (1986). Finite and Infinite Games. New York: The Free Press, Macmilan.
Morton, T. (2013). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.