Cultural Maturity and Responsibility

Adapted from a manuscript draft of Creative Systems Theory:

Cultural Maturity involves a depth of responsibility not before needed and that before now would not have been ours to entertain. Certainly Cultural Maturity is about greater responsibility in our personal choices and their consequences. But it is also about fuller awareness in, and responsibility for, our shared social choices—and the truths on which we base them. In the end, it is about a new kind and completeness of responsibility in the human enterprise as a whole.

Needed new responsibilities are layered. Certainly new responsibility follows from our ever-greater capacity to affect our worlds—for both good and ill. Our future wellbeing will depend increasingly on our success as planetary stewards. I think of Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart’s warning that “We aren’t passengers on spaceship earth, we’re the crew. The difference … is responsibility.” Today we confront both the brute consequences of our human numbers and the unintended effects of our actions. Like it or not, our success as a species has made us not just a particularly interesting product of the planet’s evolution, but at least for this brief period in creation, responsible for the continued vitality of that evolution.

New responsibilities also accompany today’s loss of once-defining cultural guideposts. In a sense never before the case, the truths we use to guide our lives have become ours to determine. Choices of every resort require of us a new kind of double responsibility. We have become responsible not just for what we chose to do, but also for the assumptions on which we base our choices.

And we face an even more ultimate kind of responsibility. We have becomes responsible for crafting a new human story. When we surrender established cultural truths—and not just those familiar in our time, but cultural truths in any absolute sense—in the end we surrender our species narrative as a whole. We have become responsible for articulating what today it means to live purposefully. We have become responsible, too, for choosing in ways consistent with a purpose-filled future. We have become newly responsible not just for our actions, but also for consciously articulating—and explicitly making manifest—a new chapter in our human narrative.

The biblical admonition that “Unto whom much is given, of him shall be most required,” today assumes whole new layers of significance. The future will require not just greater responsibility than in times past, but whole new levels of responsibility. It will also require a more mature understanding of what responsibility is ultimately about.

Cultural Maturity’s cognitive changes help us make sense of today’s new responsibilities and provide the perspective needed to address them. They don’t make things easier. The new responsibility’s and their considerable demands remain. But Cultural Maturity’s changes do make what is needed more understandable and appear more possible.

Key to this is how culturally mature perspective reframes responsibility, gives it a fuller, more creative, and ultimately straightforward meaning. Thankfully this is so. If it did not, the burdens of today’s new responsibilities would be more than we could bear.

Set in this context, Cultural Maturity itself becomes our time’s ultimate responsibility. The future depends on our ability to find (and maintain) the place within ourselves, personally and collectively, where the greater perspective, and more encompassing acceptance of responsibility Cultural Maturity describes becomes not just possible, but common sense.