Language as witness to change. As a consequence of it, driven by complexity and chaos. As a catalyst, at the same time, for a new order. As a phenomenon triggered by crisis, by systemic interaction, by the point of no return humankind currently finds itself at. As plates shift and our comfortable paradigms teeter on the brink of collapse, current languages fail us, and we grope for new systems of communication that can give voice to this startling reality.
Our paradigm teetes on the brink of collapseAccording to Robert K. Logan, language first appeared among our earliest human-like ancestors, or hominids, when the increasing complexity of life became such that percept-based (as opposed to concept-based) thought processes were not enough to explain the world. In this more sophisticated, enhanced existence, which could no longer be handled “based solely on [a] perceptual sensorium”, it can be conjectured that “a new abstract level of order emerged in the form of verbal language and conceptual thinking”.
Fast forward to one of the earliest forms of urban organization as we know it — more specifically, to the Sumerian civilization flourishing in Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq, where, as a consequence of increasingly advanced economies, including new forms of trade, commerce, and taxation, the old pictorial signs were gradually substituted by a set of characters representing the sounds of the spoken language. Writing had been invented.
In both these cases, the intricacy of life, as lived by our forebears, made the current communications systems insufficient, and brought forth new ones — first, a language in which to interpret and expound on a world which could not be grasped by mere perception, but required abstraction and conceptual thought processes; and, much later, a set of symbols to accompany the blossoming of a wholly new urban and social order, which more primitive signs could not serve adequately.
Change and evolution brought about the arguably most important landmarks in human history — the oral and, later, the written language. Mathematics, a language in itself, drove the emergence of other relevant landmarks, such as the wheel, the sail, double-digit accounting, and many more. All of these arose as a consequence of turning points in human civilization — turning points which these landmarks also embodied, drove, and catalyzed.
Like the ancient Sumerians or medieval tradesmen, we are now feeling the pressure of dizzying, mind-numbing change. Our world is mutating faster than we can grapple with, the challenges deeper and more perplexing than ever before, and way beyond our ability to respond.
To quote Charles Dickens’ opening lines to A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”.
Anguish, uncertainty, and very real danger (of overstepping our planetary boundaries beyond remedy, and of irreversible systemic collapse) coexist with heightened levels of wisdom, determination, and strength. These two dimensions live side by side and sometimes overlap.
Like in the rapidly developing ancient world, the rich tapestry of the Middle Ages, or the heady days of the birth of computing science, tradition and innovation are enmeshed in each other. The difference is that these processes are now much faster, overwhelming, and interwoven with an awareness of the peril humankind is facing as its beleaguered home. The Earth nears a watershed beyond which our survival will be impossible.
In this best and worst of times, fraught with despair and at the same time soaring with hope –for our lives are all of this at the same time–, it is hardly surprising that a new language should begin to emerge, or that those who have the ability, compassion, and commitment should adopt it in all its richness and promise.
There is no way to jumpstart this knowledge — it has to be learned, even as we are galvanized into action, fully and consciously embracing this new paradigm in all its potential, without shunning its dark side, which is the fact that our world is spinning out of control even as we speak.
And, while the new language now emerging will be governed –like any other system– by a set of rules and principles, and organized around patterns and connections (what Jeremy Lent would call a culture’s “patterning instinct”), these rules and principles will have to be learned, espoused and taken to heart in order for the arising paradigm to fulfill its function.
But what is this new language, called for by hitherto unknown complexities, stemming from of the chaos of our twenty-first-century world and demanding that we deploy all our capacity for resilience and regeneration?
I posit that our current times are giving birth to a crypto-language, where Blockchain, Holochain and other technologies will arise as a new accounting system, as decentralized economic fulcrums which may sooner than later replace some of the most crucial –and seemingly unchangeable– models of the collapsing paradigm.
This newly emerged system will be based on a decentralization of the trust, accountability and transparency commonly associated with governments and other “official” institutions, with self-executing “smart contracts” –supported by this new, non-institutional kind of backing– gaining increasing traction on the financial transaction scene.
I further posit that, while it can be predicted that this latest of languages –born out of the unprecedented shifts, challenges, and transitions of our time– will behave according to the patterns and principles long identified by John Fullerton for all living systems, it will be up to each and every one of us to call on our deepest resources of discernment, empathy, and competence to make it thrive, driving the emergence of a new economic and financial paradigm.
Thus, modern-day disquiet, anxiety, and apprehension, as well as the certainty of being at a critical crossroads in our common journey, may be, to quote the visionary poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, “graves from which a glorious Phantom may / Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day”.
Ernesto van Peborgh
Entrepreneur, writer, filmmaker, Harvard MBA. Builder of systemic interactive networks for knowledge management.
Unconventional economist, impact investor, writer, and some have said philosopher..