The invasion of Ukraine by Russia highlights how much we are alone in this world. We have not advanced from the 19th century ideal of the nation state. Organizations that focus on our global common humanity, like the United Nations, have been useless in stopping the carnage in Ukraine. The fact that Russia, or any other country, has a permanent seat on the Security Council underlines the UN’s inherent weakness to deal with belligerent states. The weakness of the global order shows how difficult it will be to deal with the impact of climate change.
Most countries today have lifted public health measures to counter the SARS-CoV-2 airborne viral pandemic. Those people who are at-risk or immunocompromised see first-hand how our institutions and markets will help people deal with the impacts of climate change — they won’t. It has become obvious that we are on our own.
But we are seeing signs of self-organization as individuals contribute to the defence of Ukraine and citizens put pressure on their governments to help. We also see individuals freely sharing data, information, and knowledge on social media in order to better inform people how to deal with each new variant of the virus. People are building their own Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, using CO2 monitors and sharing their readings from public places, and collecting and sharing data no longer disseminated by public health authorities.
Networked individuals, outside established hierarchies of institutions and corporations, are the power behind all social media. Understanding the effects of pervasive networks like social media is now an essential literacy. Each citizen has to be informed through active engagement in a digitally-mediated society. We have to consciously develop expert networks that we do trust. This requires effort, such as the discipline of personal knowledge mastery. In the long run our networks can make our sense-making much easier. Without personal knowledge networks, we are at the whim of whatever current outrage is flowing through the social media platforms, or whatever disinformation is being pushed by vested interests.
We live in a world where one person, not necessarily in a position of power, can influence the course of history [e.g. Malala Yousafzai, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Emma Gonzalez, Greta Thunberg …].
“Never in the history of humanity has a single human being had so much power. Never in the history of humanity have YOU had so much power!
Optimistic or pessimistic, it is like being a spectator of a film of which we seem to know the ending, whether happy or unhappy. Today one must cease to be a passive spectator but an actor in this fast-changing world.”
—Bruno Marion (2014) Chaos: A User’s Guide
We can no longer afford to be passive spectators in a digitally connected world. We have to use “ridiculously easy group-forming” to our collective advantage. Also, we have to make efforts to avoid tribalization and the comforts of our echo chambers. For example, the centre-left and centre-right of the political spectrum often highlight their minor differences and turn them into great schisms.
“It would help if folks in the middle didn’t vilify those of us towards, but not in, the 15% [on the extremes]. Everyone knows those folks are irrelevant, but when we get lumped in with them by the centre 50%, it dilutes policy creativity and the possibility of better solutions.” —Chris Corrigan — Hold the Centre