a central unifying vision of the future

“Modern society has no single designer nor an overall, coherent design. There are multiple sources of organizing principles, rules and policies, many of which compete with and contradict one another. The pressures for change are many and varied. Diverse rulemaking groups and institutions pursue their own particular interests, visions, and modes of knowledge development. Coordination and integration among different rulemaking processes, and the agents involved, tends to be weak. We refer to this condition as structural incoherence.”

Tom Burns and Helena Flam


“What has been lacking in the 20th century is a central cultural thought that would unify all these things – economy, technology, ecology, society, matter, mind, and spirituality.”

Nan Huai-Chin

“But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”


I would argue 95+% of issues arise from having a lack of unifying vision, i.e., something that encompasses economy, technology, ecology, society/community, matter, mind, and spirituality. I apply this thought to individuals, governments  (governing forces), society and businesses.  The reality is most people, businesses and even government focus on a part believing fixing that part will attain not only that objective, but (hopefully) all the other parts. Uhm. Hope is not a strategy. Maybe its we have convinced ourselves to ‘do one thing at a time’ to the detriment of having one vision to rule all the parts when we want to focus on the part.’ This is lack of understanding systems thinking, but that is another discussion for another day.

That said. Let me get to a central unifying vision of the future. I have written about civic professionalism in the business world and this is most likely an extension of that thinking in that everyone should have a sense of equilibrium between I & We – a civil mindset – in order to maintain a civil society.  To be clear, Society isn’t a ‘thing’, its people – people organized into groups and groupings, connected and disconnected and, well, sharing and not sharing. Business is the same thing. But let’s get to sharing and shared. Any construct in any of these things I am discussing demands that there is something holding the people together, a sense of community, a sense of fulfilling a vision, or sense of something, that implies ‘together.’ I could argue this is the reason everyone mentally ‘holds’ that suggests why we SHOULD belong to the same community or society. Without that there is little hope of a cohesive and sustainable institution (institution being home, community, business or society). This has evolved, societally, over time as civilization expanded beyond tribes and villages. Most typically we could point to shared religion as what was used to maintain a modicum of social coherence. But with the transition to modern countries and nation states with defined borders and larger populations, it became increasingly important that people share similar cultural touchstones, i.e., self-defined human boundaries within globally accepted geographic boundaries. Some shared collective agreement was needed to ensure peaceful and productive relations between different classes and different culturally backgrounds who now lived side-by-side in broad swaths of geography within one nation. In other words, we needed some agreements in order to have a productive civil society where people could organize and act together in pursuit of shared interests, purposes and objectives. With that vision and vague outlines of collective community spirit, citizens can organize themselves in ways that embrace ‘tribe identities’ and, yet, embrace the collective identity. Interestingly this concept embodies a sense of shared destiny. Maybe that’s my point, a unifying vision enhances the possibilities of a shared desired destiny.

Which leads me to the role of media.

The challenges to attaining a shared vision, and a shared desired destiny, has changed over time. National newspapers, network TV, public Radio, all increased national literacy, shared enough information to raise the general knowledge base of the citizenry and gave them access to a national identity narrative. During that time, it may have stifled dissenting views, but it also permitted a unifying vision to prosper. And while we can debate the positives and negatives of limited media choice, the reality was media had to make choices in what they shared and as with anyone forced to make choices, the extreme, the fringe, the outlandish, were sacrificed so that a moderate and mainstream narrative could be shared. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out mainstream is typically indicative of common beliefs, attitudes, wisdom, an indicative of some basic shared identity and shared ambitions. It’s not that media was wrong at that point; they were just reflective of the average or maybe the median of citizens. Media was neither rigid nor exclusive, but certainly offered a clarity from which every person could begin to craft their own belief system. On the other hand, today’s fragmented media has shattered all of that which makes most of us susceptible to more simplistic ideas like patriotism or nationalism which are frankly simply cheap substitutes for a richer unifying vision. In the end you would like the total media landscape to weave a comfortable blanket in which everyone can wrap themselves in a shared national identity a shared destiny and everyone should feel as equal participants in a democratic society.

Which leads me to the entropy of identity.

There’s a relationship between identity and media. First media has, and does, establish some aspects of peer to peer citizenry. Just as it became harder to tolerate racism as TV shared civil rights intolerance issues are viewed differently when people view others not being treated equally when they believe equal treatment is deserved. This gets a bit trickier in today’s world where identity is barraged with “this is what you should have” or “this is what is being taken from you” messaging. The former feeds into a sense of injustice and the latter feeds into a sense of despair, i.e., things lost. This means a unifying vision is faced with a more fragmented society and one in which shared identities are a bit more difficult to find. I would suggest that our survival and certainly our future thriving is almost dependent upon the need to find some unifying vision where people see themselves and see their future reside. I say survival thinking of the Yeats line from The Second Coming “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” In order to fight entropy our relations with one another will need to be of a much higher quality than what is typical today. Our future society depends on a community spirit and higher levels of collective interest and a healthy shared identity. The future will not be found in some elite group who subtly nudge and shape us, but rather a free, open exchange of ideas, within a shared vision, about how citizens want to shape the conditions for prosperous functional society to thrive.

“That organized social intelligence could shape society.”

John Dewey

 Which leads me to organized social intelligence.

Organized social intelligence is a double-edged sword – it can encourage tighter shapes (entropy), or expansive reshaping (evolving). This is a really important idea to those who seek to shape because whatever they deem is essential to social identity they will seek to strip as much context and interpretation as possible. Circling back to media, media does its own version of this. It simultaneously provides conflicting context analysis analogies and identity memes stripped of context. For example. The MAGA movement appropriated the American flag under the simplistic guise of patriotism, and endlessly covered by television, to such an extent non-MAGA people declined to showcase the flag as much and got trapped in never ending debates over what patriotism is (against a simplistic version). Beyond that example, not only has identity been dumbed down in today’s society, but it is actually creating obstacles to the positive aspects of organized social intelligence. Anyway. I applaud anyone who doesn’t think simplistically and embraces nuance because any unifying vision is only as successful as the coherence of nuances supporting it. That said. The flow of progress always has some directionality and yet is fundamentally open-ended in its potentiality, yet, while things have directionality, if we are not active, if not bold in our desired state, entropy will win. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out entropy is found within the principles of autopoiesis — things degrade and fall apart, and negative entropy, i.e., it is the falling apart which makes life possible. In other words, entropy is a characteristic of Schumpeter’s Creative Destruction. I’m not suggesting entropy inevitably leads to social deconstruction, ok, guess I am, and social destruction fragments organized social intelligence into tighter knit networks.

Which leads me to why people ‘networks’ thrive within a unifying vision.

I could simply say that self-organizing groups, with a shared ambition and shared vision, is the engine for any type of organization let alone an entire nation. It’s easier to say self-organized groups are critical to the success and progress with a unifying vision. That said. The main difference between ecological networks of nature and corporate networks of human society is that in an ecosystem nothing is excluded from the network. Conversely, many segments of a population are excluded from sociological networks. We thought technology would enable no exclusion creating broader social networks, but instead it encouraged self-sealing belief system networks. And maybe to be a little bit more precise we have found the technological divide in the separation between self and other as it enhanced social divides. As a society we seem to be having a number of different conflicts – socioeconomic, geopolitical, cultural, meaning, mattering, spiritual – as well as a fundamental conflict between self and selves. We have lost the ability to cultivate dialog. I believe it was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who said “at its essence dialog involves a collective shift of attention from politeness to conflict, from conflict to inquiry, and from inquiry to generative flow.” Technology, oddly has stunted dialogue while we had always envisioned it would enhance dialog. I would argue the main way it has done so is in how it is fragmented our past so that the past has become a mosh pit of squabbling conflicts unless a shared understanding. This may sound counterintuitive given I am discussing a unifying vision of the future, but the past offers the lily pads of foundational underpinnings from which the future can be defined. In other words, because we typically understand society through the lens of past societies (as well as everything else) if we can’t ‘see’ the past, we cannot see the future. From there that common ‘memory,’ which is important for sensemaking and decision-making, is typically transmitted primarily through popular culture which is primarily transmitted through popular media (social media included). Popular culture is not bad, but it does distort our vision and it certainly challenges any clarity of a unifying vision.

Which leads me to say any unifying vision is less about words then it is about experiences.

Yeah. I experience; therefore I am. This means that moving from thinking to sensing demands having an effective reflective attitude on truth and belief. It is about an orientation and knowledge, but, ultimately, it is about the relationship between the self as an individual and the world as a collective. This means that experiences like stress, threat, increased complexity, urgency, can increase the individual need for certainty, in other words, avoidance of uncertainty. All of the things that I just listed create a cognitive downshift into more survival aspects of our mind and actually inhibit reflective thinking skills. The human mind inherently wants to pull the disparate the many and the diverse into unifying whole or simplistically speaking to achieve some level of simplicity or a general concept to rule which permits the mind to rest and what could be perceived as the center of things. The challenge in that is that once arriving at that general concept and resting space that center can embrace many things into that circle of unity including things that really don’t belong. What’s a bit worse is that adaptability is constrained when there is an individualist mental model and even a unifying vision can become a rigid list of characteristics and things to do.

“She felt a cozy solidarity with the big company of the voluntary dead.”

Dorothy Parker

 Which leads me to end where I began – parts versus the whole.

Without a unifying vision we end up falling back to self, self-interest, and specific plans of action against specific objectives – like economy, technology, ecology, society, matter, mind, and spirituality. And by focusing on the parts, we lose the probability to positively effect the whole. Even worse, the individual parts fly off the center, the centre does not hold, and, well, anarchy is loosed upon the world. and while it may not truly be anarchy it will feel like anarchy and, as noted above, I experience; therefore I am. None of that has to happen if we can only define a unifying vision and we all can envision a shared destiny. From there the future is what we will make of it – together. Ponder.

Written by Bruce