Changemakers Speaker Series with Thomas Homer-Dixon
September 16, 2020
Royal Roads University President and Vice-Chancellor President Steenkamp welcomes bestselling author Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads for the first online event in this series.
2 thoughts on “Changemakers Speaker Series with Thomas Homer-Dixon”
I applaud Dr. Homer-Dixon’s focus on hope and promoting values of community and solidarity and taking positive action in the face of almost intractable global challenges. But his prescription regarding political action seems to me more likely to fan the flames of division, rather than build bridges to understanding and compromise. It is simplistic to say there are only two visions for the future, one leading to horrific violence and the other to solidarity and community. There is much more nuance in visions for the future and people can legitimately differ on what the problems are, their magnitude and what needs to be done about them. One gets the sense from this talk that so-called “progressive values” are the ones that society needs to accept and that need to prevail because these are the only ones that will lead to hope and positive change. On the other hand, so-called conservatives, people with religious convictions and those that hold more traditional views are the ones that need to change their worldviews. This is politically contentious and simplistic and one would hope that Dr. Steenkamp’s nodding approval is not an indication that such prescriptions will be promoted in the RRU community.
Geoff: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think you’re making two somewhat separate points: first, that there are more than two visions of the future, and that we aren’t faced with the stark choice, as I suggested in my talk, between a pathway of division and another of solidarity; and second, that it’s not the case that only “progressive values” can lead to us along the solidarity pathway.
I don’t, in fact, disagree with you in either case. Some of the apparent disagreement is likely an artifact of the abbreviated presentation format (I had twenty-five minutes to present the argument of a 100,000-word book).
Let’s take the first point. I think it’s true that people’s visions of the future aren’t *currently* crystalized into these two distinct positions; but I argue in my book, Commanding Hope, that as stress and turbulence rise in the future, heightened fear will drive more and more people towards what I label a “Mad Max” worldview–one that emphasizes that the world is a dangerous place, that there are intractable and essential differences among groups distinguished by race, ethnicity, religion, class or some other marker, and that those of us in the “we” group need to prepare to defend ourselves, with violence if necessary, from outsiders–that is, from “them.”
The question then becomes: What worldview are we going to articulate in response to the Mad Max worldview of brutal and insurmountable division? Complexity theory suggests that worldviews tend to “co-evolve,” that is they develop in competition with somewhat antithetical perspectives; social science evidence also indicates that societies tend to gravitate towards a relatively small set of dominant worldviews or political ideologies, sometimes just two, especially when fear is strong. But so far, humanity hasn’t developed a clear, principled alternative to the violent, divisive worldview being espoused by political authoritarians around the world (Bolsonaro, Duterte, Trump, Orbán, Putin and the like) . In chapters 18 through 20 of my book, I try to describe what that alternative might look like.
So, with regard to your first point, my argument in my talk was that “Humanity is on the cusp between a pathway of division and a pathway of solidarity.” In this statement, I was referring to what I believe is humanity’s emerging choice as turbulence rises and fear becomes a more dominant emotion. It’s a claim about the future rather than the present. The type of hope I describe, which is at the center of what I call the “Renew the Future” worldview (and which I juxtapose to the Mad Max worldview) could be, I believe, an antidote to deepened division in the future.
Which leads to your second point. It certainly wasn’t my intention to suggest that only narrowly defined “progressive values” can anchor our hope and lead to positive change. In fact, the last several chapters of the book argue for bridging just such conventional ideological and value divides, and I provide two tools (cognitive-affective mapping and the state-space model) to show how that bridging might happen.
The state space model specifies 15 key questions that I argue most if not all political ideologies must at least implicitly answer. The “Renew the Future” worldview I propose incorporates fairly conservative positions on several of those questions (for instance, on the role of agency in determining our fate, and on the objectivity of certain values). Also, in chapter 20, I argue (as I did in my talk) that four key principles need to underlie any worldview that can effectively oppose the Mad Max perspective: opportunity, security, justice, and identity. Many conventional conservatives would find themselves quite comfortable with both the opportunity and security principles, as I define and describe them in that chapter. In fact, I argue for their inclusion as foundational principles for the “Renew the Future” worldview precisely because it’s vital to bring people with conservative perspectives into the fold.
The one place where I part company with at least some conservatives, though, is on the issue of essential social differentiation. Folks on the right of the political spectrum often believe that there are large and essential differences between human groups (however they distinguish or characterize those groups). I explain in the book that no other single ideological commitment has a greater determinative effect on the prospect of intergroup conflict. And I think the conservative assertion is just empirically wrong, too. As I emphasize in Commanding Hope, the similarities between human beings vastly outnumber and outweigh their differences. And if people around the world can better recognize and celebrate those similarities, then we’d indeed have much greater reason for hope for a positive future.
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