The Fifth Cultural Step

by Dag Andersen

Dag Andersen (Norwegian, born 1947) is a political scientist, freelance advisor, lecturer, and author of The 5th Step: The Way to a New Society (2007).

The first half of the twenty-first century will be affected by huge numbers of people wishing to catch up, first with the standard of living of those in industrialized countries, and thereafter with their democracies. At the same time, the negative effects of the current system will become clearer. Nevertheless, I do not believe there will be a great conscious choice to change that system before 2052. Not even a total collapse of the current financial-capital system will lead to a deliberate decision in favor of transformational change. But what is already happening, and what will become clearer over the next forty years, is that the contours of the new will take shape. They are beginning to emerge on the creative periphery of current reality.

I am talking about a great shift of paradigm, perhaps even greater than the emergence of the modern era from the Middle Ages. In today’s globalized society, without a globalized power structure, no one is in a position to stop such a shift. At the same time, however, no one is in a position to accelerate the shift at a time when it still could be done without great cost.

My belief in the coming system shift is based on simple extrapolation. The main characteristic of cultural history over the past 10,000 years has followed a path from the simple and unconscious to the complex and conscious. The rate of change has increased with the recent maturation of consciousness. Even though many will gradually come to understand that endless material growth is not possible on a small planet, the decision-making structures—whether economic or political—are not organized to decide on a fundamental paradigm change. The alternative must emerge, demonstrate its superiority, and take over gradually.

If one examines previous transitions from one cultural step to the next, they have four important characteristics in common. First, they have been shifts from a more restricted to a wider paradigm.

Humanity has learned to relate to an increasing part of reality, both objectively and consciously. Second, the transitions have uncovered new skills and techniques that have enabled the use of this expanded understanding of reality. Third, the transition has involved a higher level of organization and, fourth, greater freedom.

Although I believe it will take more than forty years before the next—the fifth14—step in human evolution will have come into being, its emerging contours are already discernable and can be looked at through its three main pillars: the physical, the social, and the spiritual.

The Physical

Sooner or later the planet’s ecological systems will enforce a transition from a growth-based to a closed-loop economy based on recycling and renewable energy—hopefully through high-tech, comfortable means but, if everything goes wrong, in a low-tech fashion. This shift involves purely physical phenomena that one can touch and feel.

From a technical point of view, the physical transition can already be performed in a relatively sophisticated way. Robotization, smarter machines, and nanotechnology will be well evolved before 2052 and will make it easier to reorganize into small-scale, high-tech units based on local raw materials and renewable energy sources. It means a transition from the simple mechanical models of industrialization to more complex organic models, where the whole life cycle is considered.

The shift may be introduced gradually and be financially profitable.

All the same, it will constitute a radical break with the current economic wisdom of growth-based capitalism and is likely to be resisted by those currently earning fortunes of global proportions.

For this reason, even the physical shift will emerge on the periphery of what is already established. It is only there that it will not be perceived as a threat. And it will be followed by more fundamental shifts.

The Social

One can already discern the emerging characteristics of the next cultural step in the field of human relations—a nonphysical phenomenon.

A shift in this intangible world will be feared more than the technological/economic change. But the shift is already observable, and most visibly in the competitive spearhead of business.

The emerging phenomenon takes the form of what I call the creative team. In a system dominated by creative teams, the old, hierarchical, authoritarian control system is gone. The creative team is based on dialogue, where everyone submits his or her best in terms of ideas, insight, and experience to the group. If the team is wisely composed, it is more giving, more dynamic, creative, and adaptable, but also more demanding. Network organization at its best is a variant of the same construct. A higher level of consciousness is required, but the amount of energy liberated will outcompete the old systems in crucial areas in the long term.

Constructive dialogue, used in a conscious way, represents a radical break with competition—which is the basis of traditional economic thinking. It also represents a new way to resolve conflicting interests in democratic systems. In true dialogue you no longer seek security by controlling external factors. The energy in the relation lies in the pleasure of giving; the security is in yourself. The more you give, the more you get. Over the next couple of generations, positive experiences from such interaction will ensure that the old, antagonistic model is phased out.

The Spiritual

But the real core of the old paradigm that will be dying in 2052 is the idea that physical material—what we can see with our own eyes—is the only real reality.

Currently thoughts, feelings, and spiritual phenomena are considered side effects subordinated to the physical processes. Well into the next cultural step—once the new perception of reality has taken over—the core of the old paradigm will be expanded to include the nonphysical. Phenomena that have been left to religion from Descartes’ time will once again become an integrated part of our perception of reality.

New religiosity, self-development, and healing are on the way in. Most people already believe in one form of god or another, and in life after death, so what will the practical consequences be? The next step is transformational change, not a question of more or less interest in religion. People will experience their own existence in a different way.

The old paradigm will seem narrow and primitive—the representation of a lower cultural level to which almost none will want to return. How we perceive ourselves and our surroundings is crucial. When that changes, everything changes. But perceptions do not shift overnight.

A growing constituency has already started on the path toward self-development. They perceive self-development as important in order to have a good life and to perform well in various contexts. For this group, the development of consciousness has become a goal in itself. They consciously seek a continuing maturation after adulthood, because it provides meaning and a qualitative content to life.

Currently there is much methodological development, investigation, and experimentation in this area. All sorts of alternatives are being tried out, many of them from a paradigm well outside that of the established order. Consider alternative medicine—where the interaction between physical and mental aspects is a core issue.

Alternative medicine is working within a holistic model, where the physical aspect is only one of several dimensions, and where things must not necessarily have a physical cause—quite to the contrary.

Most of this methodological development is taking place outside the established research institutions. Much of it has the character of kitchen-table experimentation, but this was also the case for technical revolutions up until the 1930s. How quickly things will evolve is difficult to tell, but it is worth remembering that it took no more than sixty-six years from when two bicycle-repair men, the Wright brothers, got the first aircraft to lift off until Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. A great deal will happen over the next forty years.