“God-like” Questions

One of the best ways to understand the concept of Cultural Maturity is to examine some of today’s challenges that it helps us address. Increasingly we face questions that can’t be effectively addressed limited to how we have understood in times past. Most involve a degree of complexity that before now we could not have gotten our minds around. Indeed many are God-like in their implications—if before we had encountered them, we would have considered them the province of deities, not mere mortals. With each of these concerns, not just the answers, but just usefully framing the questions, requires venturing into new territories of understanding and experience.

The Cultural Maturity Blog examines many such questions in depth. Here I note ten such critical questions and follow them with some introductory reflections on just what it asks of us. Our ten concerns: How will we keep from destroying ourselves (as weapons of mass destruction become ever more widely available)?  What, in the future, will it mean to act morally (given the world’s overwhelming diversity of traditions and beliefs)?  How, for time ahead, do we best conceive of progress (if progress is to produce real human advancement)?  How will love work in the future (as traditional gender roles and culturally specific rules of relationship less and less serve us)?  What will it mean to lead in times ahead (given today’s crises of confidence in leadership of all kinds)?  Will we have community in the future (given our increasingly mobile and globally interconnected lives)?  How will we come to understand life — and death — in the future (as we likely become able to keep people alive almost indefinitely)?  How will we best manage emerging technologies (with their ability increasingly to be both wondrous and potentially our undoing)? What will be the future of government and governance (given our increasingly complex and globalized world)? And who do we need to be and how do we need to understand? (if we are to successfully confront the magnitude of today’s new questions)

From the ICD Teaching Resource—“Ten Questions on Which It All Depends”:

Question #1:  How do we keep from destroying ourselves?

          (as weapons of mass destruction become ever more widely available)

The genie is out of the bottle.  Most nations, if not now, then in the very near future, will have ready access to weapons of mass destruction—nuclear, chemical, biological.  And increasingly, such deadly capability is becoming available not just to nations, but to ethnic factions and terrorists.

Is widespread destruction inevitable?  Many would say yes.  New defensive measures will only spawn equally ingenious ways to circumvent them.

Our hope, ultimately, must lie in something deeper—on a lessening of the forces that lead to war.  But is this sufficiently possible.  Enemies have been part of the human equation from our earliest beginnings.  Strong social bonds have required that we simplify reality, view our own people as in some way “chosen.”   This in turn has required “evil others”—that we project the less savory parts of ourselves onto our neighbors.

Some have argued that our ever more globally interconnected world will eclipse such sentiments—which is likely in part true.  But as Robert Frost reminded us:  “Good fences make good neighbors.”  Just proximity does not guarantee fondness—indeed, often quite the opposite.  And as the weaponry genie inevitably escapes its past confines, the world will become an increasingly dangerous place to be someone else’s “evil empire.”

Perhaps transcending what lies at the heart of war is a naive dream.  If so, major calamities will be inevitable, and increasingly frequent.  We must simply prepare as best we can.

But at least a start at realizing that dream may not be as impossible as we might think.  With recent decades, we’ve witnessed at least momentary tempering of our historical need for symbolic demons.

We’ve seen the Berlin wall fall—and with its fall a dampening of the sentiments that have for much of the last century divided the globe into polar camps.  And we see leaders less and being able to garner knee-jerk respect and allegiance by fanning the flames of animosity.

We’ve had no shortage of “holy wars”: in Boznia, Somalia, Rwanda, Kosovo, to name just a few.  But these were regional conflicts born from old ethnic hatreds.  For the most part, the rest of the world did not take sides—as it often has in the past.  When other countries did get involved, it was most often in an effort to restore peace.

And while terrorism has brought conflict closer to home for people in the United States than at any time since the American Civil War,  even here, while for its perpetrators the United States was very much the Great Satan, most in the West did not return the projection.  Most people recognized that while terrorism is horrendous, its roots are complex.

Might it be that polarized images of ally and enemy are becoming outmoded, at least for major portions of the world.  Certainly, such projection no longer serves to make us physically safer—in a globally interconnected world safety is dependent on everyone feeling safe.  Just as much they are ceasing to serve cultural identity.

Such would in no way eliminate conflict—such is not in the cards.  But it would certainly offer that we might address conflict more maturely and creatively.


Question #2:  What, in the future, will it mean to act morally?

          (given the world’s overwhelming diversity of traditions beliefs)

Always in times past, cultural belonging has meant having at one’s disposal a set of generally clear moral rules.  Culture has served like a parent—telling us what is right and what is not.  Suddenly things are not so clear.  Moral reality is changing, and not just the rules themselves, but our relationship to them.

Certainly we face moral quandaries that we’ve not before encountered — for example, those presented by new reproductive technologies and other forms of genetic manipulation.

But the changes are deeper than just new questions.   The immense diversity of our increasingly pluralistic world means that few beliefs go unchallenged for long.  And more fundamentally, culture is simply beginning to surrendering its past parental status.

Moral dictates have served important purposes.  They’ve helped coordinate social behavior—kept us generally on the same page.  They’ve offered a shorthand for what tends to work and what not.  And they’ve  provided a sense of order in an often complex and uncertain world.

What do the changes we see mean?  Many view them darkly—as evidence of moral decay, as a sign that we humans have gone astray.  They advocate a return to the clear dictates of old.  But, by all evidence, there is no return.

Others offer an opposite equally partial interpretation.  They hail these changes as liberation from cultural constraint.  Here lies an  equal danger.  A “do your own thing” social ethic in the end simply begs the moral dimension.  It provides no real guidance at all.

Many of our best thinkers have argued that the solution lies in identifying universal moral principles—values that transcend time and place, like the golden rule.  But even that is at best a start.  In a pluralistic world, people with different ethnicities, genders, and personality styles tend to want very different things “done unto them.”

Again our times challenge us to an important kind of growing up—here as moral beings.  This means accepting, both personally and culturally, not just greater moral responsibility, but a whole new level and kind of moral responsibility.  Our task increasingly is more than just  understanding the rules.  In an important new sense it is to write them.  And it means bringing to bear greater sophistication how we frame moral decisions—learning to weigh an increasing complexity of often contradictory concerns and accepting that even when we do so successfully, we can never know for sure that we are right.

Our times demand that we set aside our moral training wheels—address moral concerns with a subtlety and sensitivity not before needed, or really, I would argue   within our capability.


Question #3:  How, for times ahead, do we best conceive of progress?

          (if progress in the future is to produce real human advancement)

Modern civilization’s definition of progress—new inventions and economic growth—has brought untold wonders—from the printing press, to the steam engine, to today’s computer revolution.   But projected into the future unaltered, its “onward and upward” imagery becomes questionable at best.  We face today a dramatic array of new planetary limits—limits to population, limits to available resources, limits to space for the effluvium of civilization. We ignore these limits at our peril.

How a culture defines progress could not be more important.  It lies at the heart of any age’s collective story.  It describes how a people measure success—a time’s meaning of more.

The question of progress is new today not just because it asks for new answers.  Like with morality and the implications of conflict, in a way not before seen, it lies in our very mortal hands.  In the 1950’s we might have asked whether we would succeed at progressing—”Can we beat the Russians to the moon?”  But it is extremely unlikely that we would have asked about progress itself.  At the heart of the needed new human maturity lies a new responsibility not just for succeeding as a species, but for defining what in the future it will mean to succeed.

Along with a new kind of responsibility, redefining progress will require that we stretch how we understand—learn to think with a new complexity and subtlety.  The question of progress tends to evoke polar response — pitting economics against the environment, those who view bigger as better and those who argue for small is beautiful.  Is progress good?  Is it bad?   Limited to old definitions of progress, each answer is right.  And just as much each is wrong.

For example, progress in the sense of technological advancement will be critical to a healthy future, and not just for how it might increase our human bounty.  It will play a crucial role in realizing the environmental sustainability that those who most questions progress’s old story urge.  But however enlightened their use, new technologies alone cannot be enough.  If everyone on the planet consumed resources like people in the modern industrialized world, we would be doomed.

So without question, we need to do with less. Yet in the end, calls to do with less stop just as short as views that blindly trust growth.  Most people find calls to do with less not terribly compelling—however well meant they might be—and for good reason.  Ultimately, redefining progress is not about less—but about revisiting what we mean by “more.”

Along with new responsibility, we need to bring a new breadth and sophistication to how we think about human advancement. No task is more critical.  Redefining progress will be essential for our  future physical well-being.  And just as much it will be essential for continued psychological and spiritual well-being.  A culture’s story of progress is its story about what matters.  Writing a new chapter in our story of progress is about redefining—and with this discovering afresh—the soul of culture.


Questions #4:  How will love work in the future?

(as traditional gender roles and culturally specific  rules of relationship less and less serve us)  

Since earliest history, culture, like a good parent, has provided clear rules for what it means to be a woman or to be a man and how each sex should relate to the other.  The rules have been different at different times and in different places.  But they have always been there—assumed, treated as divine truth.   If we learned our expected gender roles, we could be confident that someone else was learning his or her complementary set.  And if we adhered to culture’s codes about what it means to be friends, to date, or to marry we could rightly expect at least adequately satisfying partnership.

And today the rules are changing.  This doesn’t mean that culture has ceased giving us messages, nor that men and women are suddenly the same, far from it.  But the changes we see are more foundational than we may assume.   They are not just about new rules.  They are about a loss of once-and-for-all guideposts altogether.  In a new way love lies in our very mortal hands.

For example, ask fifty people today whether they feel we will ever again have gender roles in the sense we have had in the past—that is, whether we will simply replace our old set of gender roles with a new, though now more enlightened set—and most, after reflecting, will respond “no.”  We aren’t just replacing old roles with new ones, however liberated.  Or if that is what we do, we will fail at what is being asked of us.

These and related changes are of immense significance.  Never before in the human story have we been without clearly defined gender dictates or rules of relationship.

What will be the fate of love?  Transcending gender roles and love’s old rules is about much more than just the removal of shackles that have limited our freedom.  Love’s rules have served us powerfully—by making life’s immense uncertainties more manageable.  Clear behavioral codes have let us come together like two precut pieces of a puzzle.  And polarized gender imagery—white knight and fair maiden, Scarlet and Ret, Romeo and Juliet—has provided much of the magnetism and glue of love.

But however useful traditional roles and rules for love have been, today, both identity and love ask more.  Increasingly it is no longer enough to meet as two halves of a predefined puzzle.  We may continue to try.  But most often when we do, our efforts in the end bring frustration more than fulfillment.

These changes increase what is possible, but they don’t necessarily make life easier.  For example, they contribute greatly to the present instability of the family—a most appropriate concern.   And love in this more mature—more whole—sense is much more demanding.  Coming together as precut parts of a puzzle has let us engage intimacy’s profound vulnerabilities with only the most beginning understanding of ourselves or the person we might love.  More mature love requires much greater knowledge of both self and other.  And it will require the ability to move among an ever more overwhelming multiplicity of options.

Our times require us, both personally and culturally, to bring a major new kind of responsibility, and a fundamentally new level of awareness, to this most intimate question of human truth.  We are just beginning to understand this new chapter in the story of love.  Appropriately it humbles us.  But few people would deny this chapter’s rightness and importance.  When we catch a glimpse of what it offers, it becomes increasingly impossible to go back.


Question #5:  What will it mean to lead in times ahead?

          (given today’s crisis of confidence in leadership of all kinds) 

We face today diminishing confidence in most every kind of leadership—that provided by political and religious leaders, by teachers, by doctors, by leaders in business.  We simply don’t respect—either honor or fear—leaders in the same way as in times past.

Is something terribly wrong?  Many would argue profoundly so.  But I suspect that the larger part of our growing unwillingness to put leaders on pedestals is less a failing of social structure than part of that same cultural growing up —this time in our relationship to leadership.

Authority in times past has always been at least to some degree mythologized, parental.  The Pharaoh was seen as in incarnation of the sun god rah.  And while in modern times we know that doctors, religious leaders, and presidents are not deities, at once they have not been wholly mortal.

Part because of the nature of the challenges ahead, but more because of where we have come to in the human story, such parental mythologizing today serves us less and less well.  In the future it should benefit us even less, indeed often result in great harm.  Good leadership is a heroic enterprise — it always has been and always will be.  And the future will no less need powerful leadership, quite the opposite.  But if what we see today tells us anything about the future, the kind of heroism required for times ahead will need to be of a more expressly human sort.

Leadership, today, along with every other kind of human relationship, confronts us with limits to what ultimately we can be for one another.  With love, we’ve seen how it increasingly gets in the way to make the other person half of ourselves.  And we’ve seen how with relations between countries regarding one’s own people as chosen creates the necessity for demonization.  In the case of leadership, the limitation has to do with what a leader can be for his or her followers.  Whether our concern is intimacy, war and peace—or, here, authority—in times ahead, it will serve us less and less well to make another our answer.

What will define good leadership in the future?  We only begin to understand. But without question, again, it will stretch us mightily.  Surrendering old heroic imagery demands that we bring to bear capacities that in their own ways are even more heroic.

Leadership in the future will be a more humble enterprise.  At once it will be more demanding.  It will require deeper maturity of being.  And it will require a new appreciation for the easily overwhelming complexity of one’s task.

At this point,  we tend to be better at demanding the gift of mature leadership than knowing what to do with it.  We want leaders to get off their pedestals.  But when they attempt to do so, we often respect then less not more.  We want leaders to more transparent, to reveal more of themselves and to make fewer decisions behind closed doors.  But when they do, our first response is often to attack them for their human frailties.

Changes in what it means to lead will reshape every kind of institution and every domain of culture in the decades ahead.  And essential changes in how we understand leadership are not limited to formal authority.  They are just as pivotal for how we think about authority in interpersonal relationships—between friends, between parents and children.  And they are just as dramatically relevant to how we relate to ourselves, to what will be required in the future for us to effectively direct our daily lives.


Question #6:  Will we have community in the future?

(given our increasingly mobile and globally interconnected lives)

Many of the past ways we’ve addressed our human need to belong are disappearing.  Increased mobility means fewer people live long in one place.  Extended families have largely disappeared.  And the diversity and complexity of our globalized world, while rich, also serves to weaken traditional ethnic and national bonds.

Has our modern Age of the Individual become, as philosophers have warned, an age of alienation, an age defined most by our isolation one from another.  Or perhaps worse, will the future be defined most by fragmentation, as people, fearful of how big the world has become, retreat to gated communities and chat-rooms of the like-minded.

I suspect neither of these will be our fate.  The human need for belonging and community is just too much in our bones to be lost to history.  And fragmentation, while it may temporarily address such needs, in the long run undermines their fulfillment.

But community in the future will often look very different from what we have known in the past.  And it will require new abilities—again capacities new to us as a species.

For example, like with each of our previous questions, community in the future will require a new kind of human responsibility.  Community in times past was a given.  It was our birthright—and ever present, like water to a fish.  By contrast, we will have community in the future just to the degree we choose to make it a priority and consciously create it.

In addition, it will require, again, that we expand who we are and how we understand.  Use past images to guide us and we become vulnerable to advocating outcomes that we not only could not achieve, but that we would not want to achieve.  For example, if our ideal for community is the close-knit neighborhoods of our great grandparents’ days, we’ve got real problems.  The sense of community our forebearers experienced was a product not just of place and proximity, but of often inviolable blood bonds and narrowly prescribed notions of appropriate behavior.  Even if we could go back, we would likely feel our freedom and individuality intolerably stifled.  Community in the future will require greater appreciation for who we each are as unique, whole, beings.

Along with this, community in the future will require greater acceptance of diversity, complexity, and change—dimension of experience that in times past we would have view as enemies of community.  Community in a globally interconnected world will more and more involve people of diverse beliefs and hues.  We will likely meet our needs for belonging in a growing multiplicity of ways: from shared locale, to the workplace, to avenues—many barely imagined—that utilize emerging communications technologies.  And few of tomorrow’s new forms of belonging will be as once-and-for-all as the community bonds of times past.

Garnering the maturity and perspective needed to address the future of belonging represents one of our time’s most important challenges.  As with war and peace, love, progress, morality, and leadership, we are only beginning to grasp that the challenge is new, much less understand how to address it.  In times ahead, it should be increasingly obvious not just that belonging and community ask new things of us, but that a world without them would be deeply impoverished.  Indeed it would be simply unlivable.


Question #7:  How will we come to understand life—and death—in the future?  (given that in the future we will likely be able to keep people alive almost indefinitely).

The future will require a new, more mature relationship with death, and through this ultimately with life.  Dramatic changes lie ahead in how we relate to death, changes that will present both fascinating new possibilities and wrenching new moral quandaries.

Philosophers through time have identified death as life’s greatest teacher, and rightfully.  Nothing so directly challenges an individual to ask the important questions than confronting his or her mortality.   At a cultural level, addressing death more maturely should be no less profound—and no less unsettling.

Many of the most important challenges to our thinking about life and death lie well in our future, barely grasped consequences of the  manipulation of the genome.   But many confront us right now.  For example, how we relate to death lies at the heart of the modern health care debate.  Health care costs are spiraling uncontrollably.  Unless we are willing to spend an ever-expanding percentage of human resources on medical care, we have no choice but to somehow limit its availability.  We already in effect limit care—we make it extremely difficult for people who can’t afford care to get it.  But consciously choosing to do so is something totally different.

Medicine has always required life and death decisions.  But limiting care demands, in effect, the conscious choosing of death—at the least, in the sense of withholding care that might delay death’s arrival.  Limiting care requires a level of responsibility in our relationship with death not before necessary or, I would argue, within our human capacity to handle.

Plenty of situations existed in time’s past where we “chose” death.  But always before this was for people we considered fundamentally different from ourselves—enemies, criminals­­.  Imbedded in our cultural mores has been the assumption—I think  accurate—that anything else risked starting down a slippery slope that we likely could not manage.  Nazi death-camp atrocities performed in the name of medical advancement powerfully illustrate this slippery slope.

Today we have no other option.  The health care delivery debate is mute unless we are willing to confront the face of death more directly.  Without this, none of the delivery approaches we debate today will work.  Each leaves us in the same impossible tangle.

Health care delivery is but one of a provocative list of quandaries that we can address only with a new maturity in our relationship to death.  Some of the issues are decidedly familiar—abortion, assisted suicide, capital punishment.  Others, such as the moral entanglements that will inevitably accompany efforts at artificial life, we can only guess at.

Each will require both a new responsibility in our relationship with death and a new sophistication in how we think about death if we are to go forward.  For example, without these things the abortion debate will remain eternally unresolvable.  At present, neither side is any closer to maturely addressing death.  The pro-choice side denies that abortion is about death—that it is at least a kind of killing.  The pro-life side keeps well at arms length the unsettling truth that sometimes death can be the best way to support life.  As long as the face of death is not more consciously confronted—from both sides—the two extremes of the abortion debate will sit forever at opposite ends of an unbridgeable divide.

It is unlikely that death in the future will be any less an unsettling specter.  Or any less a mystery—indeed, most likely death’s mysterious nature will only become more obvious.  But more directly confronting death will free us to make choices that before were beyond us—at least to make wisely.  In the end, doing so will help us not just better understand death, but to more deeply appreciate, and better support, the wonders of life.


Question #8:  How do we best manage emerging technologies?

(with their ability increasingly to be both wondrous and potentially our undoing)

The future will require that we as tool makers assume a new kind and depth of responsibility for the tools we create.

New technologies have always been two-edged.   Learning to make fire, while it let us better warm ourselves and cook our food, also risked our immolation.  Today, the automobile makes us much more mobile, and also pollutes the environment.  The telephone lets us communicate long distances, and also disrupts our privacy.

But the magnitude of possible harm in the future will be well beyond anything imaginable in times past.  Advances new on the horizon will have the potential to end the human experiment.  Learning to manage increasingly Janus-faced technologies will present some of the future’s most critical challenges.

Innovations with obvious cataclysmic potential, such as the splitting of the atom and the manipulation of the human genome, most readily come to mind.  But many that present the most frightening risks are more subtle in their effects.

For example, I would argue that the information revolution, while it has more potential to benefit us than any other sphere of discovery, at once has the greatest potential to be our undoing.    This is worth looking at more closely as grappling with the gifts and curses of the Age of Information so well illustrates the easily unsolvable-seeming quandaries that new technologies present

While information technologies are designed to increase

communication, just as easily they can have the opposite effect.  They can serve as delivery systems not just for useless information, but for information that is exploitative, indeed directly damaging.

We catch of glimpse of this potential with the endless car crashes, explosions, and splattering blood that pervade modern visual media.  Media violence works—keeps us glued to the screen—because it has a direct neurological effect.  The mini-injection of adrenaline that comes with each shooting or explosion mimics the biological signals we use to know whether something is important—whether we should stay tuned.

At the least, such exploits human compassion—making us in the process numb and cynical.   But experienced over time the effect can be even more disturbing.

I’m reminded of an experiment often referred to in psychology classes to illustrate the mechanisms of addiction.  A wire is inserted into excitement centers in a rats brain, then run to a depressable peddle in its cage.  Eventually, quite by accident, the rat steps on the peddle.  Over time the rat discovers the connection between pressing the peddle and the jolt of excitement it brings.  He presses it with growing frequency.  Eventually, the animal neglects other activities, even eating, and dies.

Future advances will have the capacity—using the addiction analogy—to function as increasingly powerful ‘designer drugs.’

So what do we do?  We face parallel bewilderments with attempts to manage any kind of emerging technology.

For example, it is not nearly as simple as we might think to separate effects that can serve us from those that will not.  Using media violence again to illustrate, there the task of management would seem straightforward:  we oppose, even legislate against, violent content.  But things aren’t that simple.  A good argument can be made that visual media’s ability to depict violence with graphic inescapability represents one of its greatest strengths—remember the tanks rolling through Tienamen Square, or, during the Vietnam War, that picture of a young girl, her body scorched from napalm running naked toward the camera.  Again and again, what we wish to catch slips through our grasp.

Perhaps the best approach, then, is to do nothing—just trust the marketplace.  But this gets us no closer.   Trust is not warranted when the product being sold is diversion and addition—and has this potential magnitude of effect.   Communications technologies will serve more and more as our social nervous system.  The choices we make in regard to them will define the future of human meaning—and perhaps even our survival.

But is managing human invention—of any sort—really even possible? Many have argued that the drive to be tool-makers is unstoppable, impervious to self-reflection.  But if that is the case, our future will not be bright.

Perhaps management is not the right word.  In the end we can’t, “control” invention any more than we can once and for all control love or the creative process of a work of art—and wouldn’t want to.  But neither love nor art, of any significance, are about unbridled impulse.  Once again we are only beginning to ask the right questions.


Question #9:  What will be the future of government and governance?  (given our increasingly complex and globalized world)

Today’s crisis of confidence pertains not just to leaders but to the institutions they lead.  Nowhere is this more true than in government—with its tired inefficiencies and endless partisan bickering.

What lies ahead?  The story of governance, from tribal chieftains, to god-kings, to government by royal decree, to modern democracy describes a proud lineage.  Some would claim we have reached that story’s end point. Certainly, modern representative government makes a powerful step beyond what came before.  And socialist experiments, at least of any centralized sort, have produced decidedly unpromising results.  Perhaps we’ve arrived — this is it.

But problems loom.  Government by the people, at least as traditionally conceived, breaks down in a globally interconnected  world.  As national boundaries become increasingly permeable, it is ever more difficult to decide just who “the people” are.  And global democracy would only multiply present inefficiencies.

Perhaps what lies ahead is not government at all.  Global corporations now wield more power than most governments, and in a fully globalized world will likely wield more.  Perhaps what lies ahead is rule by economics:  Corporate rule will replace democratic rule just as in times past democratic rule replaced the authority of kings.  But if so, our future will likely not be positive.  We are more than just economic beings.

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Are there other possibilities?  If so, they will almost certainly ask two things of us.  They will require the same kind of growing up in our relationship to government that we saw with leadership in general.   Treating government as a parent—whether kingly or institutional—results in a passivity we can no longer afford.

And they will require a more mature understanding of the tasks of governance.  Social determination has always been about more than governmental edifices.  It has been the product of an  intricate mosaic of entities and influences—some economic, some governmental, others religious, educational, scientific, artistic.  Before now, appreciating this complexity was not needed—at least by the average person.  It will be essential in times ahead if one piece of the mosaic is not to regressively claim our future.

Once more, we are only beginning to glimpse what the future asks.  But the possibilities—and the potential dangers—justify our deepest commitment and creativity.  In fact, we’ve never witnessed real government by the people, at least in the egalitarian sense the words imply.  The voices heard at the venerated New England town meetings were primarily those of wealthy land owners.  And the often idealized democratic processes of ancient Athens governed a city state in which the greater portion of the inhabitants were not citizens, but slaves.  The outcome of our efforts might conceivably be the closest thing we have yet had to true democratic determination—true government by the people.

Whatever the outcome of our efforts, again, we don’t really have a choice.  A new maturity in our relationship to governance appears the one option consistent with a healthy future.

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Question #10:  Who do we need to be and how do we need to understand? (if we are to successfully confront the magnitude of today’s new questions)

 Our questions on which it all depends span the human experience—they could not be more different.   But what each asks of us, both personally and collectively, is remarkably similar.

As we’ve seen, each of our questions, to be at all effectively answered, demands a new kind of human responsibility.  The new questions are indeed god-like, both in what they ask and in their implications for the future.  Again and again, today new questions require not just that we responsibly participate in the human story, but that we, in an important new sense, take responsibility in that story’s creation.

Along with this, each of our questions on which it all depends demand a new creativity and sophistication in how we understand.  They require a new subtlety in the distinctions we make—whether the distinctions of moral choice or the nuances of leadership.  And they require that we better see the whole of things, recognize interconnections, think systemically­­ ­– whether the connections are environmental, social, political, psychological, or spiritual.

Such finds dramatic illustration in how often answering today’s new questions demand that we link concepts that in the past we have viewed not just as different, but opposite—for example, with gender, the polarity of masculine and feminine; with international relations, the polarity of ally and enemy, with health care delivery the polarity of life and death, and with governance the polarity of government and governed.  Indeed, if we look deeply enough we discover that answers to any of our ten questions bridge not only just such specific opposites, but also understanding’s most eternal polarities—determinism and free will, humankind and nature, the scientific and the religious, and on.  The future demands that we think with a complexity and completeness not before necessary, or really possible.

We can only guess where the future’s new maturity—and the new robustness of understanding it makes possible—will lead us.  What we can know is that it will demand much of us.  And we can know that most certainly it will reveal possibilities that today we can only begin to imagine.