As the Chinese proverb says, “you can’t leap a chasm in two bounds”. So if one will have to do, what should it be? I want to leap to proportional representation so that everyone’s voice is heard, and to a universal basic income so that everyone has the resources to make the most of their lives. But the biggest leap I can think of is towards the creation of the Global Mind.
In a world in which technology, the movement of people, finance and environmental degradation have all gone global, human thinking and action has stayed stubbornly local, national and regional at best. This inevitably leads to despair at the impossibility of us taking control of our lives and our society. As Italian futurist Franco Berardi writes, “recent waves of rebellion have proven unable to focus their struggles against a physical centre of financial domination because a physical centre does not exist.”
Of course international institutions like the EU, the UN and myriad others exist but there is no global agora (public realm) to create an effective debate, and no global democracy that allows us to ‘take back control’. There I said it.
But is something magical emerging? Back to the futurism of Berardi we get the ideas that “the geographical model of the nation state is no longer able to explain the daily business of life. A new model of interpretation is needed, and it must be based on the digital technological transformation.”
Building off the Marxist idea of the general intellect, and concepts such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in which the final state is one of cosmic empathy for our fellow human beings, is the networked society of the 21st century creating the basis for a shared consciousness amongst global citizens? It’s too early to tell, but the advances in technology and our ability to know and see everything — and act in concert with others through digital networks opens up the possibility of this Global Mind. Just as the factories produced a working-class consciousness, the networked society holds out the possibility of a shared global or universal consciousness.
“A Global Mind would enable us to soak up as much knowledge and wisdom as we can bear, and to make decisions and act on them in ways that considered the whole planet and every citizen on it.”
Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine has written: “There is a sense in which a global mind emerges in a networked culture. The global mind is the union of computer and nature, of telephones and human minds and more. It is a complexity of indeterminate shape governed by an invisible hand of its own.”
The Global Mind would allow us to think and act beyond out physical limitations. It would enable us to soak up as much knowledge and wisdom as we can bear and to make decisions and act on them in ways that considered the whole planet and every citizen on it. A Global Mind allows us to become a sum far greater than our parts.
The Global Mind isn’t going to come into being simply through state or corporate action, but through a rich and complex eco-system of both, plus civil society establishing the reach and the culture for this to happen. While such a paradigm shift in the human condition is necessary, it is not inevitable. Those that can’t yet put purpose before profit will try to privatise and commercialise the emerging society of networks, and the big data and algorithms that are features of it, to sell us things we didn’t know we wanted, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t know (Ref. Fight Club) — without us even knowing what is going on.
Quoting Berardi for the last time: “Building a common consciousness and spreading the consciousness of a possible social solidarity among neuro-workers is the task for the next decade, and the ethical awakening of millions of engineers, artists and scientist is the only chance of averting a frightening regression, whose contours we are already glimpsing.”
Neal Lawson is a partner at Jericho Chambers and Chair of Compass. In writing this he was greatly influenced by reading Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility, by Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi (Verso, 2017).