Published in Network
This is a revolutionary book for conservatives ¾ or rather, for "cultural creatives": for that group of people, making up a quarter of the US population, who "seek a new society in which science and spirit, technology and community work together for the salvation of all,"(p.10). The science is contemporary but restrained (no quantum theory, no extra dimensions). The spirituality is very discreet (no mysticism, no souls, no feminism). And yet Dr Goerner gently builds up a truly revolutionary, and truly practical, picture of the transformation that humanity can now choose to take, and must take if it is to flourish or even survive. Through this book she dramatically broadens the platform of those seeking this transformation, so that a middle ground of concerned individuals can now work alongside those of us who start from a more radical metaphysics.
Her starting point is the idea, now familiar, that civilisations periodically undergo "Big Changes" which involve changes in the overall view of the nature of the world; and that we are on the cusp of such a change, involving the replacement of the "Clockwork" (Newtonian) view by a "Web" view of a universe marked by interconnected intricacy. She begins with a rather scary high-speed drive through Big Changes of the past (historians of science should take a stiff gin before reading this part), and then expounds the scientific core of her thesis. Her approach is governed by the realisation that "the main reason the new science failed to take root is that it remained arcane. … the only way the new science is going to take root is if it is: firstly, clear; secondly, relevant to everyday life; and thirdly, linked to a deeply felt, motivating vision (spiritual)." (p 112)
In my view she achieves these criteria for a science that can take root, and does so largely through using the unifying concept of intricacy ¾ "the order which arises from interweaving."(p. 135) In an evolutionary universe driven by a constant dynamic flow of energy, subsystems link together to form bigger systems, which link to form bigger ones still, which feed back to modify their subsystems, … producing a web of open, interconnected units which utilise and transport energy ever more efficiently. The web extends up to the overall ordering unity of the entire Cosmos, and down beyond the reaches of our physics. It is the stuff of consciousness and the fabric of society. The growth of the web is marked by collaboration, which becomes an overwhelmingly more important factor than Darwinian competition. Moreover, the evolution of this web manifests a "learning universe" of which the learning capacity of humanity is the highest form we know. Seen through this concept, the world is simultaneously "re-enchanted and demystified …"(p. 219)
She then applies this viewpoint to the human social predicament, in the largest section of the book. Clearly "we are going to have to rediscover ennobling ideas which give wings to people’s feet and commitment to their souls,(p 324)" but on the other hand "Vision and values alone are not enough. Inventing a system to maintain our dreams is perhaps the more crucial need. … The challenge of the integral age is to figure out how to nurture intricacy …(pp 289, 292)" Here her basic analytical tool is the contrast between the dominator and the mutualist tendencies in society. We are emerging from a long dominator era into one that demands mutuality. The dominator (hierarchical) mode appears strong, but in reality is too slow to respond to the crisis of the time. Mutualism, on the other hand, is liable to be too fragile in the face of dominator pressures: the only way to resist these, based on intricacy, "is for small circles to join hands in a collaborative network that is broader and tighter than anything domination can provide.(p 286)" The keys to doing this, which she works out through many practical examples, are "education, empowerment, infrastructure, support networks, liberation and love.(p. 430)"
In terms of political effectiveness, this is a landmark book. There are some aspects of the science that may need closer study, particularly the way in which the whole weight is placed on energy in the strict physical sense of the word, whereas I would argue that in many places the relevant concept is exergy, and that information needs to be distinguished from energy, despite their close interlinking. But my main qualification would be that the story she tells, vital though it is, remains complementary to an internal story that is told more clearly by other writers. The change we are undergoing is necessarily accompanied by a change in the structuring of our consciousness, a concept where her treatment is very weak. And in the transformation of our consciousness, which enables us to navigate and build the intricacy of society, we need the skills of imaginal and mystical vision as well as natural vision. None of this, however, detracts from the magnitude of the achievement of this powerful and readable book.