Free Will is Highly Overrated
by Ulrich Golüke
Ulrich Golüke (born 1952 in Germany) studied systems dynamics with Dennis Meadows and has worked extensively with systems, scenarios and sustainability. In the 90ties he built up and ran the Scenario Unit of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. For the last 12 years he has worked as a freelancer with Fortune 100 companies, universities, foundations and students. http://www.blue-way.net
But what if they do? This short article looks at why they might.
The end point of my argument is a little bit like Dag Andersen’s in his glimpse – The fifth culture – but I develop my argument from a different starting point – and I argue that there is an inevitability to this – thus, hopefully, strengthening Dag’s argument. It goes like this.
We humans need overarching stories – also known as paradigms – that help us make sense of our lives. These stories spell out the ideal, they name key actors, they specify the language, they determine the behaviour and they need to be clear about the energy powering the paradigm.
We currently live at the end of the 4th big story, namely the economic metanarrative. Its ideal is growth, actors are consumers and producers (note: not normal human beings!), its language is images and numbers, its defining behaviour is maximizing advantage and its fuel is fossil. Fossil fuel is the underbelly of the fading age of economics – one that allowed an ideology to take hold of never-ending growth and maximizing advantage.
Table 1: Historical Paradigms
Source: Adapted from Betty Sue Flowers
I’ve told you nothing new so far because you and I live it every day; it’s in our bones and for most of us it is not a story, it is the truth. Still, this story is only the last in a series of sense-making stories, after the heroic, the religious and the scientific ones.
We need to ask ourselves why stories or paradigms shift? It is because the sense-making power of the old one fades away. The dissonances between the paradigm and reality accumulate, then cause pain and finally become unbearable. At that point a new story emerges. Inevitably so.
Since the economic story is no longer fit for purpose, what could the new, emerging paradigm look like? First, and foremost, it is regenerative. Just like after any life threatening illness, or any major disaster, we will concentrate intensely and relentlessly on getting back to heath: individually, collectively and environmentally. The new story’s ideal is most like to be resilience. And resilience, I want to stress, not in any mysterious way, but really a rather simple structure of a capacity to cope: something that you can understand, develop, measure, use – even pass on when you die.
So far we’ve taken the resilience of the systems that support us for granted, because largely they were limitless. But thanks to 200 years of relentlessly ‘taking costs out’, we’ve ground them down so far that now we need to nurture them back to health. Just as we learn geology the day after the earthquake, we will learn about resilience the day after it’s just about gone.
The language of the new story will be feedback (system dynamics) stories (scenarios), its dominant behaviour will be service and the key actors will be learner-builders. Finally, the new paradigm’s fuel will be solar. And one of the consequences of a solar-fuelled paradigm is decentralization in all of its splendour and dullness.
Table 2: The Next Paradigm
All this is inevitable – trust me, free will is highly overrated. Two points to end with. First, let me remind you that despite the title of this little speech, fate only favours the prepared mind. So go off and prepare yourselves. Second, if you recall the transition from the scientific to the economic story, it becomes clear that despite the title of my article, the task ahead is daunting, to say the least. So go off and prepare!
 I recently saw a book in Germany called Resilience and subtitled, freely translated, ‘the mysterious inner strength that lets you succeed’.