New paradigm must be adopted

By Jerome Keating  / 

Tue, Jul 30, 2013 - Page 8

Ever since Marshall McLuhan popularized the term “global village” in the 1960s, the word “global” has become standard fare in everyday discourse.

The practical business world quickly adopted the metaphor and expressed the need to see all from a new paradigm, a global economy.

Executives instructed their companies to search out global markets, develop global policies, produce global brands, etc.

The business world was not the only one; ecologists adopted it and coined their own term, global warming.

They now seek to raise awareness of this threat, a threat to the planet that businesses bent on profit ironically contribute to.

The arts then got in on the act. In literature and film over the past decade, the concern over global warming spawned a new genre (or sub-genre depending on how one defines it) to address this danger. That genre, “cli-fi,” pointed to the developing and conflicting paradigms and the problems they bring.

The use of the word paradigm gained prominence with Thomas Kuhn in his work The Structure of Scientific Revolution (1962). Kuhn was only describing the paradigm shifts and perspective changes in “physics” i.e. science; but his use of the word was quickly coopted by numerous other fields beyond science, including economics and others where metaphysical paradigms exist with humanistic teleology and purpose.

The global or spherical perspective of Earth had been available for some time as a paradigmatic frame of reference, but it did not have the immediacy of influence that is caused by the reduction of the planet to a village. However has that change in perspective gone far enough?

Today, a half-century later, global warming and cli-fi are pointing out that it has not; we still only frame things in terms of our solar system. Technology continues to advance and consciousness expands, bringing a new immediacy. It is an immediacy that pushes us to look back at how paradigms develop and influence our lives, as well as to look forward in how they can help impact future change. The global village must shrink further to a single home.

Science and metaphysical paradigms have had a long complimentary interplay. Ancient seafarers first saw the Earth as a flat plane or disc and in their resultant paradigm they realized that their ships could take them to trade with lands not visible from their shores.

Homer felt by sailing far enough west on this plane, Greeks might even reach the storied Elysium Fields. Yet at the same time, the plane could not be endless; there must be end points on this “flat sea” that when reached, a ship would fall off.

Pythagoras (sixth century BC) used the science of his time to dispel this belief and introduce a sphere. Ptolemy (90—168 CE) calculated the circumference of this sphere. His calculations were a bit short and Columbus, basing his first voyage (1492) on them was lucky he ran into and “discovered” the present day Americas.

Neptune and the Greek gods had disappeared, but in the new paradigm, sea monsters still lurked within the deep, and Magellan circumventing the sphere still took three years.

The spherical paradigm prevailed of course. Columbus’ achievement promoted a new type of business model, one that allowed Europeans to explore and colonize for trade and economics; this brought its own problems.

In addition, science brought a new paradigm shift when the global perspective changed from geocentric to heliocentric.

With this change, Renaissance confidence changed to Baroque emotion and skepticism. Earth was no longer seen as the center of the universe, but resources and commodities still remained and seemed limitless in availability. Man’s metaphysical/teleological paradigms of purpose struggled to adapt and keep pace.

Fast forward to the 20th century, where science and technology developed air travel and oceans could be spanned in less than a day.

In The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman kept this global reality even though he used the past flat metaphor to illustrate how in the global village, the playing field has become more level.

Yet though we now have a global village and a more level technological playing field, our science had also created new problems.

Among them are the threat of nuclear destruction, an economic model dependent on over-consumption, dwindling resources and of course global warming. These new moral issues challenge our metaphysical and teleological paradigms to adapt.

In this “brave new world,” multinational companies can cross boundaries and become major players along with countries, but all still think in terms of competing monopolies with a winner-takes-all mentality.

While science now also points to a global village that needs to face existence in a galaxy, the mind-set of everyone remains operationally in our solar system where man is the dominant life form.

The arts and science fiction continue to contribute. A surprising panic was caused in the US with an imagined invasion from Mars (War of the Worlds, Orson Welles’ radio drama, 1938), but that fear receded in recent years when NASA’s Mars Rover traveled to Mars and dispelled the possibility of that threat.

Nonetheless the reality of having to deal with other life forms in the galaxy has continued. The arts boldly continue to precede science in anticipating what other life forms could be out there in the galaxy and asking whether they are friend or foe.

Multiple possibilities have arisen from ET to Klingons and Vulcans, to Transformers and more. Though these are perceived hypothetical threats from without, they still point to the need for a new paradigmatic perspective.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, most native Americans never knew that Europeans existed, let alone that they would soon be on their shores. If they knew the scope and impact of that threat, they might have rethought their territorial paradigms and united.

The same could be said of Taiwan’s Aborigines, who in the 16th century, made up 98 percent of the population, while they now make up about 2 percent.

Those are threats from without, but there are also threats from within and this is the reality of what cli-fi is telling us; the global village is not enough. In a galactic paradigm, the global village becomes a global house/home and mankind must now get its house in order.

Taiwanese should be able to relate to this challenge and perhaps best lead the way in resolving it, for they are a microcosm of this macrocosm.

They face a real external threat from a hegemonic China, which, though loaded with its own pollution, corruption, lack of democracy and growing consumption, still wants to control Taiwan.

However, at the same time, Taiwan must also resolve continued internal threats: It has achieved a well-earned democracy and functioning economy, but its house is not in order.

Taiwan has nuclear issues to resolve; its military command seems to desire to exist above the law; its executive branch wishes to make dangerous economic agreements without consulting the legislature branch; and the rights of its citizens regarding land ownership, or other issues, are being ignored.

These challenges will not be solved by science, but by establishing and holding to a new paradigm where Taiwan clearly finds its place.

Jerome Keating is a commentator in Taipei.