When I’ve woken at five o’clock in the morning, and I know that I can’t get back to sleep, the most pressing thing on my mind, it seems, is to write a review of a book. Last night I finished Hanzi Freinacht’s second book in his series on Metamodernism, The Nordic Ideology.
This is the follow up to The Listening Society, in which Hanzi outlines the conditions and the basis on which a metamodern society is emerging. This is the society that is following modernism and postmodernism, and which, according to Hanzi, is populated by people who will be able to demonstrate a higher degree of understanding and grasp of the complexities of our digitally enabled, globalised and interdependent world.
The argument is both simple and complex at the same time, but it can be boiled down to the premise that in order to survive and prosper we need forms of individual fulfilment and social development that are embedded and entwined with forms of political and technical development that are mindful of our role in nurturing our planet. This includes the way that we look after other species who co-inhabit the planet, and also how we look after one another. There is a need, according to Hanzi, for more empathy and understanding as we seek to support our increasingly diverse, but interconnected relationships and world views.
This is summarised when Hanzi proposes that we must prepare people through ongoing education and civic deliberation to handle the “greater complexity in the world.” According to Hanzi
“The world requires not only new ideas; it requires a kind of spiritual development of the average person. It should hence be a societal goal to develop not only higher subjective states in each of us, but also to help more of us develop and integrate greater inner depths, and – if possible – to develop our ability to think more abstract thoughts, to cognitively grasp and relate to more complex realities” (Freinacht, 2019).
This is a view that takes into account a developmental model of human growth and fulfilment, with people progressing through stages of development that relate to their ability to hold and manage contradictions, oppositions and the earlier stages of development that we have been linked with. Often these will seem mutually contradictory and in conflict, but the ability to resolve these tensions and come forward with something new, either dialectically or as Jung might argue, alchemically, means following the attractors and contours of our social experience. Basically, according to Hanzi, we are moving in this direction, so we’d better get ready for it.
The emerging metamodern world view, according to Hanzi, is one in which people get to a point where they understand that they are faced with problems that are much larger than themselves. Metamodernists argue, therefore, that it is not sufficient to remain cloistered in our immediate spheres of interest or influence, but that we must be able to move between the personal, the local, the national and the global. The postmodern ironist is transformed from the harbinger of cynicism, to the practical exponent of multi-perspectival thinking.
This is brought home to me in our present predicament, were what happens in farms and markets in distant towns and villages in China, has a direct bearing on the quality of life and social engagement that we, only a few short weeks ago, took for granted here in Leicester in the UK. We cannot deny the truth that we are in an interconnected world. As much as we might seek to deny that fact, or resort to a chauvinistic feeling of nationalistic superiority, any ecological crisis of the future will not discriminate between those who love their countries and those who don’t. The practical preparations we make for our own protection, or alternatively, our ability to blame others for causing our predicaments, will be as nothing if we don’t start to develop mutual solutions as an insurance policy against future uncertainty. We are all going to be affected, come what may.
What Hanzi argues is that we need an insurance policy. We need to change and adapt the way that we think and live to come up with solutions that will enable us to deal with future crisis and problems. The insurance policies that Hanzi recommends are grounded in renewing the ways that we relate to one another, and enhancing our sense of social solidarity. Recognising that we are not just individuals who are materially motivated and selfishly goal driven, but that we are embeduals, as Robert Kegan calls us, who have multiple relationships and high degrees of mutual self-interest.
To do this, according to Hanzi, we have to change our systems of governance. Moving away from the top-down models of control, and putting in place radical forms of deliberative democracy. Forms of deep civic engagement in which people take-on the issues that affect them for themselves. Discuss them and co-produce solutions together. Governments, because of their tendency to engage in totalising thinking, have limitations in their ability to manage social change. Therefore, people have to be able to redesign their living systems and spaces for themselves, as they are the ones who will have to deal with the environmental and social consequences that affect them.
No more putting our faith in socialism or capitalism, says Hanzi, but instead, going beyond both and figuring out new ways that we can interact and develop without imposing totalitarian controls and reducing our freedoms. To manage change, however, the systems of deliberation that we use need to be legitimate and trusted in the eyes of the people who are facing the changes before us. There needs to be consent and understanding in the process. This means a radical democratisation and decentralisation of our politics, and a radical transparency that will show whose interests and concerns are being prioritised over others.
This therefore means developing and including people in the process of empirical evidence gathering and decision-making. If there is a social process that can be demonstrated in strong empirical grounds to work more effectively above others, then it needs to be actively discussed and considered by the majority of the population, and not simply small numbers of hidden-away and murky think tanks. If radical civic deliberation becomes a standard practice, then these solutions might have a greater chance of being the correct ones given the circumstance, because they will fit with the social needs of the communities that are discussing and considering them. They will have a greater chance of working, because these communities will have invested in them. Remember what John Dewey taught us? Who is best placed to say where the shoe pinches? The cobbler or the person wearing the shoe?
It’s not to say that everything will be perfect, but in true empirical and knowledge-led thinking, when the facts change, we will also change our minds about what we need to do in the circumstances that we face. Hanzi points out, however, that in order to take on this greater level of existential complexity, and to feel secure that we can make a positive contribution to these ongoing discussions, we are going to have to nurture people in an economy that is more pro-social and circular. An economy that takes the fear of failure and the power-trip of winning away from individuals, and which, instead, collectively enables us to respond responsibly to one another’s needs and concerns.
To become a listening society Hanzi describes that
“You need to make certain that all society is aligned with what is empirically shown to create circular economies and cradle-to-cradle processes, and you need to make sure that you spot and correctly understand environmental threats such as climate change and that the public is well-informed and has the ability to respond reasonably” (Freinacht, 2019).
This is what Hanzi relates to as the Nordic Ideology, or to be more precise, the model of Green Social Liberalism that informs the practices of social democratic countries in Northern Europe, like Sweden, Finland and Denmark. The long traditions of social democracy in these countries has nurtured a population that is better educated, more at peace with itself, and is less likely to be phased by the challenges we are facing on a global scale.
I see a number of currents in Hanzi’s thinking that I have recognised elsewhere myself. There is a degree of pragmatism in metamodern thinking that challenges the ideological and historiographic nature of much of what we’ve come up with, theoretically, to account for our globalised and changing world. To paraphrase Richard Rorty, when the language and words that we use no longer butter our bread, then we will find that we will adapt them so that they relate to the changing circumstances about us.
Likewise, the empiricism of Mead and Blumer, who argue that we have to empirically engage with the world as it is to understand how we can change it, embeds critical and evaluative thinking, both on a symbolic level, and on a practical level. Linked with our social understanding, therefore, is the need to develop generative and creative understanding of our inner worlds, which is where Jung and other travellers in the inner realm become vital. For me, Jung offers a rich, developmental approach to our growth and individuation, which encourages us to hold the tensions and the opposites, the contradictions and the alternative, so that something positive can emerge from the untapped collective unconscious that will point us in the direction of more fulfilling relationships and expectations of our potential.
Where Hanzi suggests that this multifaceted and multidimensional approach will lead us, is still to be tested in practice. There are not yet any metamodern policies, only emergent metamodern mindsets. Hanzi points towards a future, however, that is radically egalitarian, as people of this mindset will be less impressed with wealth and power. It will be more peaceful, because people with this mindset will want to resolve conflict through dialogue and compromise. And it will be more tolerant, because people with this mindset will be more accepting of difference and weaknesses both in ourselves and in others.
The metamodern approach reinforces, therefore, my desire to see change in the way that we use our media, and the way that we inform our policy discussions by using our media systems and platforms. The potential of community media, I believe, is that it can be a broad based, inclusive and multidimensional social asset that fosters widespread deliberation and listening. This is a practical promise of metamodern practice that needs to be nurtured and supported. As Hanzi argues, we need to become a listening society, and in order to do that , we need the mechanisms of support for a broader range of pro-social discussions, based on multiple, pluralistic and decentralised platforms that are accessible, inclusive, and which use creative forms of expression as a standard tool of dialogue and participation.
If we exclude our media from the reforms of metamodernism, then we will miss the opportunity to innovate and nurture fundamental and widespread change. Community media has to be able to demonstrate that it is embedded in the values of social accountability and solidarity. Community media, or social value communications, whatever we prefer to call it, has to become metamodern in both outlook and practice.
Freinacht, H. (2019). The Nordic Ideology. London: Metamoderna.