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The Big Answer


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The Age of Bifurcation: Understanding the Changing World

a book by Ervin Laszlo

(our site's book review)

This book is about stability, chaos, and change. The author takes a nondeterministic stance in which the change processes of society and civilization are not the “plaything of chance.” We can steer the “random interplay of fluctuations” from the inside, by understanding the systems involved and applying Third Wave knowledge effectively, creating new lifestyles, alternative patterns of behavior, appropriate technological innovations and environmentally conscious and effective social and political movements. He says: “When established beliefs and practices become nonfunctional and obsolete, the search for more functional and effective ideas and behaviors gets under way. Many new concepts and strategies surface, and some of them could catch on. Replicated and disseminated through the rapid communications networks of our age, these . . . can become the major factors shaping the future.” (Think MC. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Laszlo says "when established beliefs and practices become nonfunctional and obsolete, the search for more functional and effective ideas and behaviors gets under way" But in the area of religion, only in Europe did this happen—agnosticism has been spreading rapidly for decades, since established beliefs and practices have indeed become nonfunctional and obsolete.

Americans are scared and want someone to save them from the dangers of the 21st century world, so they become fundamentalists
Americans are scared and want someone to save them from the dangers of the 21st century world, so they become fundamentalists

In America, the followers of religions just got more fundamentalist, more adamant, more stubborn, more born-again, and less science-accepting and Third Wave accepting. The people are scared and want someone to save them from the new Third Wave realities and dangers in the world. They want to be born again into simpler beliefs, a simpler time, a safer time. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, more than 9 in 10 Americans say "yes" when asked the basic question "Do you believe in God?" while only 51% of Europeans say "yes."

Belief in Creationism and Astrology is increasing as belief in science and critical thinking has decreased in the U.S.: huge stadium-filling churches spring up and get carried on Sunday morning TV
Belief in Creationism and Astrology is increasing as belief in science and critical thinking has decreased in the U.S.: huge stadium-filling churches spring up and get carried on Sunday morning TV

Belief in Creationism and Astrology is increasing as belief in science and critical thinking has decreased. Huge stadium-filling churches spring up and get carried on Sunday morning TV. The ministers saw all the fear and alienation and confusion and were eager to exploit it, all the while painting it as helping them be saved by Jesus. To be honest, such things do fill a need—to make the "flocks" feel better. Which they do. Are the flocks being fleeced? Judge for yourself. Our main concern if that fundamentalist beliefs are often accompanied by worse childraising, harsher discipline, more sexist beliefs that favor paternalism, authoritarianism, and overall worse parenting. This is the exact opposite of the changes that Laszlo is championing.

Are the fundamentalist flocks being fleeced? Judge for yourself.
Are the fundamentalist flocks being fleeced? Judge for yourself.


Democracy is being less valued by the young in the U.S. and rule by authoritarians is becoming more acceptable to the young in the U.S. as our schools fail to educate and more U.S. churchgoers are fundamentalist—the U.S. has a scary future ahead
Democracy is being less valued by the young in the U.S. and rule by authoritarians is becoming more acceptable to the young in the U.S. as our schools fail to educate and more U.S. churchgoers are fundamentalist—the U.S. has a scary future ahead

Laszlo laments the short-term perspective that businesses, nations, politicians and even most citizens have about their endeavors; everyone lives from paycheck to paycheck, stockholder meeting to stockholder meeting, election to election, etc. Everyone’s a NIMBY environmentalist and a fair-weather friend. Like John Chancellor, Don E. Eberly, and dozens of others, he sees the need to find a more useful framework of reference than the liberal (zoo)-conservative (jungle) dichotomy—which encourages the escalation of the Culture War and ensures that neither side listens to nor learns from the other.

The pushmi-pullyu is the perfect metaphor for the ludicrous clown show called United States elections
The pushmi-pullyu is the perfect metaphor for the ludicrous clown show called United States elections

What is our oligarchy-directed, corporatocracy-funded debate, with all its clichéd, bombastic, Culture War passions trying to accomplish in elections, since no significant changes ever evolve and neither side has corporatocracy permission to rock the boat and advocate serious, systemic changes, much less effect such changes? The voters feel impotent since votes for neither candidate will create the changes they need. They wonder why they even bother to vote and why the corporatocracy even bothers to put on the clown shows they call elections.

Voters wonder why they even bother to vote and why the corporatocracy even bothers to put on the clown shows they call elections
Voters wonder why they even bother to vote and why the corporatocracy even bothers to put on the clown shows they call elections

But, a bit of thought and the mystery is solved. What purpose DO elections serve? And for whom? Simple: the purpose is distraction and this purpose serves the oligarchy. (See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.) As the rich get richer and everyone else finds their money mysteriously ending up in the wallets of the corporatocracy, to keep the unwary public distracted from the robbery the oligarchy makes sure election platforms dwell on emotion-laden, hot-button issues that get predictable responses from the sheep/public as their buttons are pushed.

Stand in front of the tomb vault at Mount Vernon where George Washington is buried and listen: the sound you hear is Washington turning over in his grave—look what our 'Democracy' has become!
Stand in front of the tomb vault at Mount Vernon where George Washington is buried and listen: the sound you hear is Washington turning over in his grave—look what our 'Democracy' has become!


George Washington turning over in his grave
George Washington turning over in his grave


As long as corporations are the main deciding force in elections rather than the citizens, democracy will be impossible
As long as corporations are the main deciding force in elections rather than the citizens, democracy will be impossible

Laszlo says that neither capitalism nor communism are viable 21st century choices—neither are really optimizing autonomy and individual freedom at the same time as they ensure social justice and equality.

Vision 2020 is a 1994 book that looks at world survival from a systems theory viewpoint. It expands on his 1991 The Age of Bifurcation: Understanding the Changing World and is worth a look.

The US gets called upon every time regional conflicts erupt
The US gets called upon every time regional conflicts erupt

Laszlo says that the greater the military establishment, the harder it is to integrate it into a peacekeeping system—Toffler would concur. Effective regional and global peacekeeping may be too much to hope for in 1991 when the book was written, but it may not be so in the Twenty-First century, according to Laszlo. If we decentralized modern nations into human-sized communities full of self-determination and autonomy, and without sovereignty pretensions, these new systems of organization could cover issues of mutual security.

We need a universal ban on aggressive weapons. He likes how local/regional economies would then be freed from the burden of maintaining costly military establishments. And the U.S. wouldn’t need to be called upon every time regional conflicts erupted. He also emphasizes that the environment—meaning the biosphere as a whole—needs to be respected so that it doesn’t get thrown out of balance. (Many ecological balances have already been thrown off.) We'd love to see his "universal ban on aggressive weapons" but, unfortunately, so would terrorists, who would use this to their advantage to threaten enemies with these forbidden weapons which they'd buy on the black market.

Laszlo's universal ban on aggressive weapons reveals he is wearing rose-colored glasses
Laszlo's universal ban on aggressive weapons reveals he is wearing rose-colored glasses

We're a bit sceptical about his aspirations regarding "If we decentralized modern nations into human-sized communities full of self-determination and autonomy . . ." Given the aggressive, super-competitive and win-lose nature of modern nations' people (most childraising techniques in these nations use steep-gradient nurturance), isn't it more likely that mutual insecurity would manifest as these human-sized communities created win-lose relationships with neighboring communities that became aggressive and eventually hostile? The community leaders would end up as warlords, and we'd have miniature Somolias on our hands. His idea sounds great, in an ideal world full of unrealistically ideal people. But given the true nature of modern man and his severely flawed upbringings that result in win-lose worldviews, we see this idea as a vulnerability—a step backward rather than forward.

Laszlo supports the new, ecological-holistic paradigm (which he calls “the emerging world-view”) wholeheartedly, and eschews the old, mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm (which he calls “the modern view”) as obsolete. He says that we need a change in the way we think about ourselves, our environment, our societies, and our future. "If we change our policies and our technologies without changing ourselves, we do not evolve our condition—we only produce temporary fixes without enduring effects." Only a basic change in the values and beliefs that guide our thinking and acting is of lasting consequence.

To trigger cultural evolution, the heavy hand of dictators with their infamous ‘social engineering’ superheroes is not needed
To trigger cultural evolution, the heavy hand of dictators with their infamous ‘social engineering’ superheroes is not needed


Laszlo says we need a leap in cultural evolution: If only someone had a social evolution raygun to zap humanity toward social-cultural enhancement; but until they invent that, the MC movement will be our only real hope
Laszlo says we need a leap in cultural evolution: If only someone had a social evolution raygun to zap humanity toward social-cultural enhancement; but until they invent that, the MC movement will be our only real hope

He says we need a leap in cultural evolution. Amen. This should come not from above but from below, in new thinking and social movements. “If . . . ideas and values that inspire historically adapted and humanly beneficial trends would surface, they, too, would spread in society and influence social change. To trigger cultural evolution, the heavy hand of dictators [with their infamous ‘social engineering’ programs] is not needed; it is enough to create well-conceived fluctuations in values and beliefs, and support them in the welter of competing ideas and movements.” (Think MC. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match


We don’t need revolutions in the political sense; we need revolutions in our thinking—the political readjustments will follow; however, changing thoughts is insufficient to effect the desired goal of cultural evolution
We don’t need revolutions in the political sense; we need revolutions in our thinking—the political readjustments will follow; however, changing thoughts is insufficient to effect the desired goal of cultural evolution

We don’t need revolutions in the political sense; we need revolutions in our thinking—the political readjustments will follow. However, changing thoughts is insufficient to effect the desired goal of cultural evolution. Laszlo says it is enough to create such new and improved thoughts, values and beliefs, and it would be wonderful if he were correct, but he is not. As already pointed out, contemporary character traits are antithetical to the overall goal. And since thoughts, values and beliefs evolve out of upbringings, parental examples, peer examples, and cultural examples, his overall idea has a fatal flaw. In the U.S., even more than elsewhere, most upbringings, parental examples, peer examples, and cultural examples are deeply and irrevocably win-lose in nature. No amount of thinking better thoughts, or holding better values in ones head because some liberal idealist says it is a good idea, will evolve a culture one whit, since underneath, people's real values are the same unfortunate win-lose brew as always.

In the U.S., most upbringings, parental examples, peer examples, and cultural examples are deeply and irrevocably win-lose in nature; as a result, the U.S. is raising warriors, not peacemakers
In the U.S., most upbringings, parental examples, peer examples, and cultural examples are deeply and irrevocably win-lose in nature; as a result, the U.S. is raising warriors, not peacemakers

He says no scientists, within the current boundaries of the disciplines, would be able to successfully confront the challenge of the creation of the needed models of change. It would take not just eclectic and synthesizing people but holistic, cross-disciplinary systems thinkers to effectively address the needed contextual and mindset prerequisites of this challenge. (The Tofflers are all of these.)

He asserts that: “If contemporary religions were to become truly relevant today, they would need not only to recover the humanism of their traditions but also to forge ahead to give new meaning to life in our age of bifurcation. To achieve this objective, a return to fundamentals, no matter how enlightened, is not enough. There must be a new development, a creative extension of the ideas that have informed and inspired the great religions since the dawn of civilization.” Sacred Pleasure, a great book by Riane Eisler, has the right replacement ideas, but they would be violently rejected by the orthodox religions.

If contemporary religions were to become truly relevant today, they would need to recover the humanism of their traditions
If contemporary religions were to become truly relevant today, they would need to recover the humanism of their traditions

He says today’s institutions are full of outmoded (First and Second Wave) concepts of the world, and fragmented along various lines due to widely divergent mindsets and beliefs. These divisions are obsolete and dangerous and prevent people from understanding themselves or their world from the vitally needed integrated, holistic, systems perspective. We are not taught how to think—merely what to believe. We are given a win-lose context on the world, on success, on conflict resolution, and on relationships as we’re raised, at home and at school. Even the steep-gradient-nurturance parenting practices of the U.S. and many other advanced countries are intrinsically win-lose.

We are not taught how to think—merely what to believe
We are not taught how to think—merely what to believe

This cripples our ability to perceive accurately or operate successfully—in the holistic, overall sense—in the new Third Wave civilization in which we find ourselves in the 21st century. The author rightly insists that: “The overview we all require is not a simplification but an integration of the latest fruits of contemporary knowledge.” (This would be followed by its application, obviously.) The Tofflers’ books of the last several decades illustrate this type of integration, as does this website. The specialists see the trees, but the synthesizing generalists see the forest as well. There are even institutions beginning to specialize in this type of knowledge. The Vienna International Academy’s stated aim is to promote holistic thinking based upon leading-edge knowledge in the natural and social sciences and a creative dialogue between the sciences and the humanities.

The specialists see the trees, but the synthesizing generalists see the forest as well.
The specialists see the trees, but the synthesizing generalists see the forest as well.