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We Are in the Middle of Transformational Change: It's Time the Debate Matches up with the Huge Challenges Ahead of Us

Our methods of solving problems for the past 200-300 years are not adequate for the issues we face. The current reality requires much more. We must begin anew.

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A better world is possible. So is a worse one. Which will we get? Finding the proper focus is itself a challenge.

For example, much of the conversation these days among well-meaning people about the state of our economy and what the president (or somebody) ought to do about it centers on jobs. Do we need more jobs? The conventional answer is of course we do, so let’s keep on having the old arguments about tax breaks versus government stimulus, big business versus small business, blah, blah, blah.

But maybe we don’t need "jobs" at all. Maybe instead of scurrying around to create "jobs" as defined for the last 100 years we should start by taking a different tack altogether.

As it always has been and as it always will be, there are plenty of things that need to be done -- growing food, moving people and goods around, teaching young people what they need to know, manufacturing various kinds of stuff, curing sick people and so on. But the 20th century "jobs" method of connecting those needs to individuals, families and communities has been seriously out of whack for quite some time.

A huge portion of the population is already totally outside that model with no prospect of inclusion. That’s the meaning behind our exorbitant rate of incarceration, massive school dropout and perpetually high unemployment, especially in our cities. Further evidence of systemic breakdown is revealed by recent “revelations” that more education does not truly bestow immunity to income stagnation and recurring unemployment. Like it or not, absent a radically different approach, job elimination will continue to outpace the trend toward job creation in good times and bad.

Truth be told, just about all of the systems that sort-of, kind-of solved various problems for the last 200-300 years don’t work all that well anymore. They are out of alignment with current reality.

The reaction to the Supreme Court’s "free speech for corporations" ruling provides another example. Those crying the alarm have it backwards. That ruling is decidedly not going to cause the end of democracy. And "fixing" the ruling isn’t going to "save" democracy either. It is actually but one effect of a line crossed some time ago. Thanks to the superseding power of the transnational corporation, democracy “peaked” in the United States some time ago.

Until we break out of the straitjacket of 20th century paradigms we can expect nothing but more gridlock and frustration. Even mainstream pundits like Frank Rich are quoting mainstream historians like Alan Brinkley to observe that, "We will soon enter the fourth decade in which Congress -- and therefore government as a whole -- has failed to deal with any major national problem, from infrastructure to education."

Neither the founding fathers of the United States, nor for that matter Marx and Lenin, envisioned the world we live in today. By way of reference points, we all know about the huge societal transformation from feudalism to capitalism or the shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy. But even these examples do not capture the magnitude of the forces at work today:

  • Economic globalization under the domination of transnational corporations
  • Climate change
  • Nuclear disorder that has displaced the relative stability of the cold war
  • New science and technology
  • Changes in the species homo sapiens (It is rarely part of our political discourse, but us humans ain’t what we used to be: human reproduction no longer requires intercourse; there are new, reliable and widely available methods of birth control; neuroscience and pharmacology are increasingly used to modify human behavior, longevity has increased dramatically; our diet is very different; the economic status of women has become drastically altered.)

These five forces are rocking our planet as it has never been rocked before. All are fast moving. Each is significant. And each one powerfully impacts the others. By way of illustration, consider the nature and role of nation states.

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