Revolution or Renaissance - Part Two

Upper Case welcomes back D. Paul Schafer, author of Revolution or Renaissance: Making the Transition from an Economic Age to a Cultural Age. This time we asked him, to tell us a little bit more about the cultural age he imagines – what is it, how is it different from an economic age, and when will it get here?

In my view, a cultural age would be an age in which people, the natural environment, and other species are valued more highly than products, profits, material and monetary wealth, and the marketplace. The focus would be on seeing the world and the large majority of things in the world in holistic rather than specialized terms - thereby putting a great deal more emphasis on ‘contexts’ as opposed to ‘contents’ - as well as making it possible for people in all parts of the world to live creative, constructive and fulfilling lives without straining the globe’s fragile eco-systems and finite resources to the breaking point. This would be realized by taking maximum advantage of culture’s capacity for holism, caring, sharing, conservation, and co-operation, as well as drawing fully on the three principal concepts of culture as the arts, humanities, and heritage, a complex whole or total way of life, and the organizational forms and structures of different species.

Making the transition from an economic age to a cultural age is imperative in my view because we need to reduce the demands we are making on the natural environment and conserve the world’s scarce resources at every opportunity, as well as achieve a much more effective balance between the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of development. I believe the natural environment will steadily deteriorate, climate change will intensify, and the world will become a more chaotic and dangerous place if this does not occur, especially as resources are used up, the world’s population is increased, and the carrying capacity of the earth is approached.

The major change that would result in the world from a cultural age would be a transformational shift from activities that are high in material inputs and outputs - especially industrial, commercial, technological and transportation activities - to activities that are low in material inputs and outputs, such as the arts, humanities, and many heritage and spiritual activities. This would be accompanied by new meanings and measures of wealth, as well as a great deal more environmental sustainability and ecological harmony.

In order to make the world a better place, I believe it is necessary to fully understand the age we are living in at present. I have attempted to do this by calling the present age an economic age - rather than a technological, information, computer, scientific, materialistic, or individualistic age as most authors do - as well as showing that this age is based on a very specific worldview, value system, model of development, ideology, and set of strengths and shortcomings. This is necessary to comprehend the nature, extent, and complexity of the challenge we face at present, as well as to determine what is required in specific theoretical and practical terms to respond effectively to this challenge.

I do not believe it will be possible to make the world a better place for all the diverse peoples, countries, and species of the world - as well as address such devastating problems as climate change, environmental exhaustion, and the need to reduce income inequalities throughout the world - without making a fundamental change in the existing worldview, value system, model of development, ideology, and way of life. To me, this is a cultural matter more than any other type of matter, since it requires a fundamental change in culture and cultures in general and cultural values, attitudes, and beliefs in particular.

This is why I have called the future age a cultural age. I feel we need to understand that culture and cultures have a powerful role to play in making the world a better place for all, and hope that Revolution or Renaissance serves a useful purpose in this regard by helping people and institutions in all parts of the world who are engaged in this process.

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