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Three theses for the Protopia Lab

Highly polarised societies won’t tackle the environmental crisis

Tackling our most pressing problems like climate change requires ground-breaking solutions that can reach broad societal consensus, but that are impossible to achieve in the context of increasingly polarised Western societies.

Ideological bubbles keep us trapped in certain ways of thinking and encourage us to reject anything that challenges them. This isn’t just a social issue, it’s also cognitive and psychological.

The shutdown of pluralistic conversation stifles the creativity that is needed for solving the most pressing deep-rooted social and ecological problems. (see also here)

We must grow beyond these bubbles if we want to meet the considerable challenges we face in our societies. A new pluralistic conversation aimed at synthesising ideas from different bodies of wisdom is urgently needed.

This will attract and develop trust with new audiences beyond the progressive / environmentalist milieu. It will also develop a culture of open-mindedness and pluralistic thinking within the ecological transition space.

Embracing complexity means confronting moral dilemmas

Complex problems such as climate change or a pandemic cannot be tackled successfully by attempting to optimise a single metric like carbon emissions or infection rates. Such linear one-dimensional approaches always create unintended consequences in other parts of the system, including effects that are often far removed geographically and in time.

Even tools that can help us understand how systems and complexity work are often used to pursue a particular ideological vision, resulting in strategies that ignore many important aspects that are essential for human well-being.

Instead, dealing with complexity appropriately requires an ideological openness that allows for different views as legitimate perspectives and accepts that difficult decisions must be made about trade-offs and moral dilemmas must be resolved. (see also here)

Education instead of narrative warfare

Anyone who launches a campaign in the age of social media – governments, non-governmental organisations or activist groups – is engaging in narrative warfare that is likely to increase polarisation. Campaigns are designed to reduce complexity by focusing on simple messages that generate maximum attention, and they use framing techniques to manipulate people's thinking.

The same algorithms that help a campaign go viral also ensure that the most emotional and catchy counter-narratives also receive maximum attention. If the goal of campaigns is to prepare the ground for broad acceptance of a political goal, they increasingly seem to achieve the opposite.

The information and propaganda warfare many of us are participating in make collective sensemaking impossible.

Instead, we need to significantly improve our collective sensemaking capabilities in order to address our most pressing complex problems. One way to do this could be to move to a new form of campaigning for education.

Through the efforts of governments and civil society we could build a new information ecology and a digital infrastructure – a new form of social media – that would make it possible to produce collective knowledge and make it useful for everyone. (see also here)


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