New Paradigm: The Necessity and the Opportunity


The multi-dimensional challenges confronting global society today will not lend themselves to resolution by piecemeal sectoral strategies and incremental measures. Their causes are deep, inextricably interconnected and result from deficiencies in values, concepts, institutions, policies and actions. Fundamental change is needed in both thought and action – a new intellectual paradigm that is comprehensive and integrated combined with a new institutional policy framework founded on the values of human welfare and well-being. At every crucial juncture in human history the advent of new paradigms has precipitated radical change. Past paradigm changes confirm that the problems created by human beings can be solved by human beings. At such moments, ideas have the power to precipitate radical change driven by compelling social forces and emerging deep drivers. Today the pressure of rising expectations for freedom and prosperity, unprecedented technological capabilities, burgeoning global financial assets, and an inevitable movement toward an integrated global society combine to generate the opportunity and necessity for fundamental change. The start­ing point is the willingness to challenge the irrationality of the premises underpinning the existing paradigm. Paradigm change is not only possible. It is inevitable. The only question is whether it will occur by gradual, progressive, peaceful social evolution now or drastic, sudden, violent and potentially catastrophic revolution later.

1. Multidimensional Global Challenges
The world today presents unprecedented opportunities intricately intertwined with seemingly unsolvable challenges. A proliferation of money, technology, education, trade, communication links and democratic institutions is fueling ever more rapid global development. At the same time, prevailing ideas, institutions and policies impose severe constraints on our ability to meet the growing needs and rising aspirations of the human community for freedom, security, welfare and well-being in a peaceful, effective, harmonious and equitable manner. The growing global capacity to meet human needs has come face to face with seemingly insurmountable obstacles posed by out-moded ideas and attitudes, vested-interests, entrenched forces and ineffective institutions.

These opportunities and challenges present a nexus of unparalleled complexity. Each positive advance brings with it new problems and aggravates existing ones. Technological wonders widen social disparities and displace workers, generating public discontent, political instability and conflict. Rapid growth accelerates environmental depletion and competition for scarce resources. Spreading democracy provides greater scope for polarization of society on religious, ethnic, linguistic, political and economic lines. Globalization opens up economic opportunities while making states and their people increasingly vulnerable to destabilizing impacts from beyond national borders. The weakening of national sovereignty has created a widening legal and governance vacuum at the international level at the very moment when coordinated global action is more necessary than ever before.

These challenges and opportunities share common characteristics. They are all interrelated and interdependent, global in nature, transcend narrow disciplinary boundaries, and subsist on the basis of erroneous conceptions, flawed theories and out-moded ideas. They defy solution by piecemeal concepts, incremental policies and sectoral strategies framed within the context of the prevailing values, concepts and institutions that preside over the formulation and execution of public policy.  Each can be traced back to similar underlying factors and “root” causes, a major reason why they defy effective remedy by partial strategies. The true source of these crises lies in the ideas and values that underpin the structure of modern society and they will only lend themselves to permanent remedy when understood and addressed from a deeper and wider perspective. They are all anthropogenic in origin. All are the expression of prevailing ideas, values and actions, not inalienable laws of Nature, which means that all can be rectified by a change in those ideas, values and actions. As President John F. Kennedy put it, “Our problems are man-made – therefore, they can be solved by man.” 1

As they grow in magnitude, these challenges will compel a questioning, re-examination and reformulation of things once considered as sacred and unshakeable as the Roman Empire in its day or the USSR before its sudden demise a quarter century ago. Failing this, they will lead to increasing social turbulence unleashing revolutionary forces of violent change as society has witnessed at crucial transition points in the past. Whether by violent revolution or peaceful social evolution, the current impasse must and will inevitably be resolved by effective action, as surely as the Great Crash and Great Depression led to the evolutionary advances of the New Deal and the rise of the modern welfare state.

If not incrementally and piecemeal, then the solution must lie in a broader more fundamental recasting of the political, legal, economic and social pillars on which global society is presently based. We have to move the goalposts that presently constrain our thinking and our action. The existing paradigm must inevitably give way to a new paradigm. This implies significant or even radical changes in the values that guide public policy and action, in the concepts that underpin our comprehension of society and its development, in the political institutions of governance and their relationship with different sources of social power, in the laws governing relationships between sovereign states and between governments and the governed, in the regulation of economic activities and their impact on people and the environment, in social policies that determine the distribution of rights and benefits in society, and in countless other areas.

A better appreciation of their common attributes and root causes will provide a platform for insightful debate and more effective remedies. Approaching the multiple crises from a common perspective and addressing multiple pressure points at their common underlying roots can lead to solutions that are far more practicable, effective and lasting than those resulting from a fragmented approach. Only then can we hope to reconcile these complex economic, ecological, social and political forces and forge a coherent strategy to promote security and welfare for all human beings, present and future.

An integral perspective constitutes the starting point, but in order to translate it into usable, practical results, we will also need to examine the ruling ideas and values that govern the present system, the theoretical constructs and policy framework on which it is based, the social institutions through which it functions, and the structures and laws by which it is governed. These constitute the essential sources of the current problem as well as the principal instruments for building a better world.

2. Characteristics of the Existing Paradigm*
Ideas and values underlie all our thought and action. The world we know today is a natural consequence of ideas and values formulated in the past, adopted over time and still prevalent in spite of increasing challenges to their validity, fairness and relevance. The exist­ing paradigm of global development is based on a set of spurious assumptions, premises and principles which may have had some utility in the past, but now represent serious impediments to global social, economic and political progress. There are numerous reasons why the present paradigm fails to provide optimal solutions.

The current paradigm is based on outdated and naïve economic theories and assumptions, such as the infallibility of free enterprise, which ignores the obvious fact that unregulated markets, like other networks, are neither free nor fair, for they invariably become skewed in favor of the early adapter or the most powerful. It is based on economic doctrines more appropriate to a capital-intensive, technology-driven industrial economy at a time when human services account for three-quarters of all economic activity and the quality of human resources is the single most important contributor to wealth creation. It is based on measures of economic value that consider expenditure on arms exports, war and environmental catastrophes of equal value to those on education, health care and human security. It is based on a narrowly defined notion of economic efficiency that neglects the wider efficiency of the society of which economy is but a part. A society with 20 or 50% youth unemployment does not qualify as efficient by any rational considerations, for it is a society that is squandering its most precious and perishable resource and sowing seeds for future revolution.

The current paradigm is also based on outdated concepts regarding national and global governance. In countries around the world rule by money power, plutocracy, masquerades as representative democracy. It supports an undemocratic system of global power sharing established more than sixty years ago that is grossly out of tune with both professed ideals and current realities. It is founded on a narrow conception of national sovereignty that – regardless of the actual form of national government – subordinates the legitimate rights of individual human beings and the collective rights of the human community to that of national governments acting on behalf of special interests and power groups. It upholds the right of some nations to special privileges unmatched by commensurate responsibilities. It sanctions the production, possession and possibly even the use of weapons that violate the humanitar­ian rights of all humanity and endanger the global environment.

Garry Jacobs: CEO, World Academy of Art & Science; Vice President, The Mother’s Service Society
* This section is adapted from an earlier published article by the authors. See
1 John F Kennedy, American University Commencement, Miller Center June 10, 1963

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