Discover more from Creative Destruction
From Self-Reform to Worldview-Reform
How individualism undermines systemic change
Throughout the last few decades, our economic system has transformed society into a market, citizens into consumers, and communities into individuals. One major consequence of that is a prioritization of an individualism-centric mindset and approach to things.
This way of thinking is ingrained into our brains and cultures, leading to finger-pointing, social bubbles, and polarization. What’s more, we get stuck in discussions on the surface level of problems and solutions, hindering us from thinking more systemically and changing things more radically.
A simple example of that is the idea of the carbon footprint. Instead of changing the market dynamics and the system, and instead of focusing on citizen power or on leveraging community movements, the individual (= the consumer) is asked to reduce their carbon footprint by consuming those things that emit less carbon. And yes, not even consuming less because that wouldn’t be good for the system (which needs growth), but really just consuming things that produce less carbon. This results in people getting too distracted by finger-pointing and social disputes.
So, instead of tackling decarbonization systemically, the burden falls onto the people. Systemic problems become problems of the individual, and self-reform is favored over social or systemic reform. 😒
However, the good thing is that things are starting to change!
In various domains, we are increasingly witnessing a shift towards a systems approach or a focus on the system as a whole instead of focusing on the level of the individual. Here are just a few quick examples:
As you can see from these examples, an almost instant focus on the individual level leads to completely different, more surface-level solutions to the issues. And again, I want to stress how that creates the perfect playground for social conflicts, fearmongering, and social polarization. It’s what those who do not want the system to change love.
So, it’s essential that we shift our focus to the system level! Because a deeper level of analysis and thoughtful reflection are the keys to radical, not just incremental, change.
However, to fully abandon an exploitative and destructive status quo, we need to dig even deeper.
We need to not only shift our attention toward the systems level but also toward the worldviews or mental models that lie behind it.
We need to ask ourselves:
What beliefs keep the system in place? And what new narratives could change or replace the system?
Or, as illustrated by one of my all-time favorite quotes:
“The task is not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought about that which everybody sees.”
Let’s look at an example:
In one of my recent Rabbit Holes issues, I shared an interesting article about ‘The Play Deficit’ and how we have gradually reduced children’s opportunities to play. Now, this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if it didn’t have any negative consequences. But it does have those…
Here is the issue:
We are seeing an increase in childhood mental disorders, a rise in narcissism, and a decline in empathy and creativity among children and young adults.
Let’s explore and try to solve this on the individual level:
Psychotherapy for kids and psychotherapists
Mental health practitioners in schools or psychotherapy tools for teachers
New school programs that teach social skills and “emotional intelligence” such as empathy, humility and solidarity
Creativity-boosting programs and workshops
This doesn’t sound so bad, right?! Well, that’s the tricky thing. Same as with a consumer carbon footprint, it does make sense, but (again!) it also distracts us from solving the deeper, more systemic issues at hand.
Peter Gray, the author of ‘The Play Deficit’ article, argues that the issues outlined above correlate with a reduction in children’s opportunities to play.
So, let’s look at potential systems-level solutions:
Shortening school hours and less homework, allowing kids to have more time to play
Building more spaces for play, i.e. more playgrounds, car-free and kids-first streets and public places
Making the school system less competitive and more communal and collaborative
Changing the curricula to accommodate more creativity-boosting programs (e.g. less memorizing of answers to questions and more learning how to ask good questions and investigate issues)
Okay, now this is getting more interesting. We have now reformed some of the underlying systemic structures that led to the issues. Now, the burden of reform and transformation isn’t only on the individuals but also on the system.
Lastly, however, let us explore the worldview or mental model level:
From Playing vs. Learning to Playing = Learning
We need to let go of the dichotomy of learning versus playing and this belief that play is, at best, a refreshing break from learning
As the article notes: “Playing is learning. At play, children learn the most important of life’s lessons, the ones that cannot be taught in school. […] We think of play as childish, but to the child, play is the experience of being like an adult: being self-controlled and responsible. To the degree that we take away play, we deprive children of the ability to practise adulthood […]. Without the freedom to play they will never grow up.”
And even deeper, we can also shift from the worldview that learning or self-development requires suffering to the idea that learning or self-development can (or should) come from a foundation of pleasure
Letting go of the idea that suffering equals progress
When we build school systems based on the idea that self-development comes from suffering, we create children who will start their adulthood with all kinds of traumas
As I highlighted in my piece Pleasure Activism: “People operating from a lifelong list of ‘shoulds’ have often completely lost touch with their intrinsic motivation.” And “pleasure is what allows us to make decisions aligned with our true selves.”
Play is learning from a foundation of pleasure rather than pain
Lastly, we can also shift from this idea that children need adults or teachers who supposedly have all (or most of) the knowledge and skills to an appreciation of children’s natural ability to educate themselves
Alright! We got deep into some very fundamental belief systems there and reframed things. On the basis of these new narratives, we can then build even better systems that will ultimately not only solve the issues but even build a new and much better alternative.
And that’s important!
It’s super important because the new alternative we propose to the world needs to convey a new story that’s more exciting, enjoyable, and healthier than the old one. It needs to be an improvement, and it needs to “hit home”!
"To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." Buckminster Fuller
Essentially, this exercise helps us to reframe common notions of modernity and progress. And it unearths values and cultural “ab-normalities” that have been suppressed by the dominant power structures of the world.
It’s always, of course, quite a challenge to reframe long-held beliefs and worldviews. But it all starts with decoupling from that focus on the individual level. 😉
That’s it for this special Friday edition!
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