Failing Strategies for Coherence
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
The biggest problem we face as a civilisation is coherence – the ability to belong together and to love one another fiercely in the face of diversity and disagreement.
Our ability to meet every other challenge depends upon our ability to do this. And yet our so-called ‘leaders’ would prefer to divide and conquer for their own gain, rather than do what is necessary to save us from the devastating impacts of polarisation.
We used to be able to create a kind of coherence through homogeneity and by avoiding disagreement.
For example, we could use ethnic nationalism to unite people by creating in-groups and out-groups.
Or we could exploit foreign lands and people without considering the distant consequences, or the distant voices. We could close our borders, talk to ourselves, and convince ourselves that everything was OK just by keeping inconvenient feedback away.
As human activity has increasingly global consequences, and as our media has increasingly global connectivity, it is not possible to sustain these old strategies without a dangerous level of authoritarianism, irresponsibility and self-delusion.
Yet even the political left, which notionally stands for inclusiveness and value of the collective, increasingly lives in ideological silos and uses divisive and authoritarian strategies to win power.
Long-standing institutions like parliaments, as well as newer environments like social media, systematically attack coherence, and exploit the power of polarisation for short-term gain.
Or, they try to create the illusion of coherence the old way: through homogenous echo-chambers of self-serving avoidance.
We try to hide from each other in like-minded online communities that do not challenge us. Common tests of being a 'community' have become:
do we all whinge about the same people?
do we congratulate ourselves on how right we are?
do we all sneer at the same people?
do we share the same cynicism?
do we protect each other from voices that would disrupt our pre-existing conclusions?
As the world becomes increasingly connected, we are running out of spaces where we can hide the ‘externalities’ of our poisoned conversations and broken strategies. There is no ‘other’ left to attack, exploit or reject without shooting ourselves in the foot, or in the head.
We need a new strategy for community coherence.