New Paradigm: The Necessity and the Opportunity

3. Characteristics of Paradigm Changes
History offers precedents for radical change. Usually it occurs in the form of violent revolution in the face of intractable vested interests that resist dilution of their power, as in Revolutionary France and Czarist Russia. Occasionally it has been ushered in by far-sighted leaders who recognized the urgent need for rapid social evolution to preempt the possibil­ity of violent revolution, as nineteenth century England sought to avoid a repetition of the bloodshed that wiped out the French aristocracy by opening up to the prospering middle class a greater share of political power and social respectability.

The challenges confronting humanity today are as formidable and threatening as any or all of these earlier challenges combined. At the same time the opportunities available to human­ity to meet the needs of all human beings have never been greater. Both the compulsions of eminent danger and the prospects for unprecedented progress constitute powerful incentives and enabling conditions for unparalleled actions with potentially momentous consequences.

This naturally raises questions as to whether a significant change in paradigm is possible or likely in the foreseeable future and as to whether there is anything that can be done by a group of like-minded organizations and individuals to make that change occur or occur any sooner than global social conditions determine. An examination of past paradigm changes during recent WAAS conferences at Trieste, Geneva, Alexandria, Washington DC, Ottawa and Podgorica provides some insights regarding these questions.

3.1. Paradigm changes are not uncommon
A review of past centuries and more recent times supports the conclusion that significant paradigm changes are more common than is commonly believed. In 1932 US President Franklin Roosevelt spearheaded a remarkable and unprecedented change of paradigm in US economic and social policy. In the wake of the banking panic that led to the closure of more than 6000 US banks, he pushed through radical reform of the banking system, erect­ing the safeguards that protected the economy from recurrent banking crises for the next seven decades. But he did not stop there. It was almost unthinkable in 1932 to imagine that the world’s leading proponent of free enterprise would adopt strong social welfare policies. Yet during the following two years FDR ushered in the New Deal, a radical reformulation of public policy to promote social security in a country previously resistant to all government-sponsored welfare measures. Had he not died prematurely before the end of the war, he would have capped his revolutionary program with a new bill of economic rights, which included the right to employment. The adoption of similar social welfare policies in Europe led to a period of unprecedented economic development and rising levels of prosper­ity throughout the Western world.

Since 1945 four equally remarkable changes in paradigm have radically advanced the cause of freedom, peace and global security. India’s non-violent independence movement marked the end of colonialism and was quickly followed by freedom for more than 50 subject nations representing about one-third of humanity. After fighting two horrendous world wars, the great powers founded the UNO to permanently shift the theater of major conflict between nation states from the battlefield to the conference table, thereby successfully preventing a third world war during the 20th century. In the 1950s the perennially warring European powers took the first steps toward founding a trans-national union that has brought unprecedented peace and prosperity to the continent and made war in Europe unthinkable. Again in the late 1980s, Gorbachev initiated steps which led to the dissolution of the authoritar­ian Soviet Empire, ended the Cold War and brought down the barriers dividing East and West. As a cumulative result of these four great transformations, between 1945 and 2012, the number of democracies rose nearly five-fold from 21 to 98.2 During the same period, annual war casualties dropped from 500,000 to 30,000.3 Since 1988 high intensity wars that kill at least 1000 people a year have declined by 78%.4

In past centuries and with increasing frequency, significant and sometimes radical changes of paradigm have altered the complexion of society in countless ways. Paradigm changes are of many types: intellectual, political, economic, technological and social.

The Copernican and Newtonian revolutions, scientific positivism, the theory of evolution, theories of economic progress, psychoanalysis, Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory, cybernetics and complexity theory are just a few of the radical changes in ideas that have powerfully influenced our understanding of the world and our ways of relating to it. The politi­cal revolutions in England, America, France and Russia are prominent historical examples. Since 1980 successive waves of democratic revolution have swept through Eastern Europe, Central Asia and from there to every continent.

The Industrial Revolution, monetarization of the economy, rise of the modern corporation and later the MNCs, rise and spread of the Middle Class, emergence of the modern service economy, financialization, neoliberalism, globalization and deregulation mark significant changes in economic paradigm which have had profound impact on global society.

Recent technological revolutions in telecommunications and computing are only the latest in a long history of radical transitions brought about by new forms of energy, transport, production and communication.

The New Deal, the rise of the welfare state, protection and equal rights for minorities, and emergence of global civil society represent game-changing shifts in social values and policies.

3.2. Paradigm changes are rarely perceived before their onset
Paradigm changes tend to occur suddenly, unexpectedly and rapidly. After more than five centuries of incessant warfare culminating in two world wars, the idea that war in Europe would finally come to an end and within decades become almost unthinkable seemed mere wishful thinking in 1945. The founding of the European Coal & Steel Community, the European Economic Community, and the European Union marks a peaceful evolutionary paradigm change in political, social and economic dimensions of unparalleled speed and magnitude.

In the mid-1980s, it was simply inconceivable, even to the most far-sighted, that communist authoritarian governments, the Berlin Wall, the entire East-West divide and the very existence of the USSR would disappear within five years.

The revolutionary impact of the Internet on global communications, access to information, the porosity of national borders, global commerce, the rise of global civil society and now global education remained unforeseen and unexpected until after it was already well underway.

These facts must caution us against succumbing to the frustration and cynicism that naturally results from recent experience with the blind refusal, bureaucratic dithering and entrenched opposition to progress on abolition of nuclear weapons or climate change.

3.3. Paradigm changes are driven by deep forces that gather momentum beneath the social surface before emerging into view
Events that appear suddenly and unexpectedly have hidden origins in the distant past and are driven by forces that grow in intensity unseen until they are strong enough to precipitate radical change. The American Civil Rights movement launched by Martin Luther King in the mid-1950s achieved remarkable progress on racial equality in America within a decade. King drew inspiration from Gandhi’s non-violent freedom struggle in India during the previous three decades. The forces that drove it can be traced back to Lincoln’s inspired leadership during the American Civil War in the 1860s, which led to adoption of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. These landmark accomplishments were in turn driven by the growing movement for abolition of slavery that began in Europe during the 18th century and spread gradually from home countries to their colonies around the world. Underlying the whole movement was the growing aspiration and demand for freedom that stirred rebellion in the American colonies and revolutionary France. The value of Freedom has been an irresistible driving force that has transformed the world over the past three centuries, politically, socially and economically. It continues to spread and grow globally today in magnitude and intensity. Its impact on the complexion of global society in the future will be equally inevitable.

An understanding of paradigm change requires an appreciation of the deep drivers and longer term trends that build momentum for long periods before expressing themselves on the surface. Therefore an evaluation of the current prospects for significant paradigm change necessitates an inquiry into the deep drivers that are in various stages of preparation and emergence today.

2 “Polity IV Annual Time-Series 1800-2012” Systemic Peace
3 Kishore Mahbubani, The Great Convergence (New York: PublicAffairs, 2013), 16.
4 Ibid

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