What will the historians of the future call our epoch? As the ages of reorganization? As the epoch of social hysteria or distorted perception? As incipient post-capitalism?
Facts versus alternative facts
We live in parallel realities: on the one hand the world subjectively perceived as catastrophic and on the other hand the basically normal – in empirical comparison – quite positive world.
The crisis of our time is above all a crisis of the soul
Today we live healthier, longer, safer and better than ever before in human history. Severe poverty is on the decline worldwide, just as democracy is on the rise globally. Yet many people feel the exact opposite. Fear, uncertainty, doomsday scenarios, suspicion, insinuation, conspiracy theories, arrogance, anger, riot, polemics and rudeness dominate the social discourse in many places.
Nostalgic longing is rampant. The belief in a better future is often replaced today by a transfiguring turn to the past. Zygmunt Baumann has created the term “Retrotopia” for this longing. Yet people have never been as well off as they are today. What’s up there?
The old world is falling apart: that’s it!
Together we are witnessing the end of an authoritarian order that for centuries mercilessly exploited its weakest members – worldwide. At this point, some may argue that the relative prosperity of the working population has steadily improved and that Manchester capitalism has long been overcome.
But – if one looks today, for example, at the factories of China or the harvest workers of southern Europe, a completely different picture emerges: globalization has so far only meant that the balance of power between labor and capital has become internationalized. Class society has never dissolved. It has become a global phenomenon.
Until now – as digitalisation reaches the working individuals and upsets all sales markets and production conditions. Today we speak of “disruptive markets” and actually mean a reorganisation of the world.
The world orders us – and we the world
Human beings and the environment behave reciprocally. This means that our technologies not only change the world, but also us. People have always adapted to technological developments. They are in interaction with their environment – like resonating bodies that the music amplifies their surroundings.
In social psychology one speaks of a “social character”. This refers to those character traits that we have not inherited genetically, but have been formed by our society and culture.
But what kind of culture was it? Most of us have grown up in an authoritarian and hierarchical system. Particularly in demand was the ability to adapt to the meritocracy – to function as well as possible, like the cog in a clockwork, was considered a success. How should such individuals suddenly have an autonomous and liberal social character?
The only catch is that we need such a social character now in order to survive in the world as it already is and will be even more so tomorrow: Above and below – authorized and bound by instructions – everything dissolves in the rapidly changing environment in which everything and anything is connected with each other. Our world has become as flat as our screens!
Discontinued model: “Higher, faster, further”
Trend research describes us as a “resonance society”. This is because the social response to “Industry 4.0” is increasingly minimalism, mindfulness and a conscious approach to the environment.
If you google the term “Mindfulness” you will find more than 120.000.000 hits today – and the trend is rising! Behind this term hides a movement that should not be underestimated: it is the quietest, most peaceful and at the same time most powerful revolution ever and – it is global! All over the world people are turning to the happiness of the moment instead of striving for consumption and performance.
Every economist knows this: supply and demand are interdependent!
In a world where senseless consumerism is no longer in demand, there will be no more exploitative piecework production. The end of the meritocracy has begun. We are all already on the way to the post-capitalist age.
You think they’re safe? Buckle up, please!
The performance principle and profit maximisation have abdicated. Instead, respect and sustainability will determine the future. Nowhere is change occurring as rapidly as in the world of work. Just a moment ago the boss’s office was pompous and the workplace a physical place. Culture was understood as a luxury in large parts of the world and the level of income determined the pace of life.
The hierarchical position in a company determined the identity more than the meaning of the work order. Today, fast processes, increasing automation and the demands of customers and employees are turning virtually every company upside down.
The reaction in the workplace? One restructuring after the other, in a desperate attempt to adapt the company to the new requirements of the disruptive markets and – on a personal level: fear and hysteria!
A working model has had its day
For many years, they worked like cogs in a system, ducked away and carried out commands that were requested from above.
Personal success usually depended on having a patron. “Vitamin B” is an established term for progress based on connections and bonds. I cannot imagine how often people have acted against their personal morals in order not to lose the favor of an influential superior.
Those responsible for the now emerging chaos are sought everywhere. Fingers are pointed at each other and guilty parties are labelled. Although people today have incomprehensible possibilities of personal influence, they feel completely contrary to this – powerlessness and helplessness. As if they were still a cog in a vertically ordered world.
For – what does an authoritarian social character do when his old order breaks up? Of course: He trembles with uncertainty. There is fear and the impression of helplessness.
The fear of freedom
One must be able to be free. A working environment in which all routines and tasks are given to the employees is becoming increasingly rare. Simple tasks will soon no longer exist – they will be performed by artificial intelligence and robots. Nuovel Harari already speaks of the class of the useless of tomorrow.
Self-determination, initiative, willingness to act, open-mindedness, the ability to network and the willingness to learn throughout life are not only highly valued: they are essential for survival! This may sound cruel – but it is not.
The end of alienation
What Marx called the alienation of work is dissolving. Home and family are no longer alienated from work. Already today many employees can work from home. Work means less and less the physical connection to a place. The community of digital nomads is growing continuously.
Trade unions are desperately fighting for members who will soon no longer exist. More and more people are working freelance or in small start-ups – they are by no means alienated from the end product of their work, but have a say in it. The meaning of life and the task of work are more and more often connected in a way that creates identity.
Those who can rethink will be the winners in Industry 4.0 because they know how to seize their opportunities. Certainly, old doors are closing – but new ones are opening everywhere: Inventions are developed together with customers, open innovation is very much in vogue, tomorrow’s corporate communication is dialogue instead of monologue, anyone who has a good idea can find a market for it worldwide, and the bosses of the future will be more consultants than clients. Human qualities such as creativity and compassion are becoming a much sought-after commodity.
Processes and developments that used to take place in secret, backroom discussions, political agreements in camera – all this will soon no longer exist. The world has become transparent, like the primordial ocean of our earth, which was suddenly flooded by sunlight.
“Great again” is merely the nostalgic transfiguration of a non-glorious past.
Social change is both a threat and an opportunity. The reaction is uncertainty and longing for old times. But let us not linger too long in Retrotopia. “Great again” is not an appropriate goal in a world where we can be “great like never before”.
How do we begin the journey to a better future?
Our journey begins with the individual striving for happiness and the associated sense of entitlement. The demand for unconditional existential security is part of it! All potential for our future lies in the present: whether political, social, economic or personal. There has never been a better time in the history of mankind than today. We just need to quickly understand what opportunities we have today. Now is our time! We may take the liberty of being uncomfortable, unadapted and demanding.
Our tools of the trade for this? The journey to ourselves!
Our better future begins with the honest question of each individual: How will I live tomorrow, what will I do? Only those who know what work fills them with meaning can set out on their journey and find the comrades-in-arms who share their definition of success.