It seems that almost any irrational belief can dominate life in the digital age. Liberals are cancelling those not woke, being politically correct and defunding the police – while conservatives are convinced of the big lie, anti-vaccination, and climate denial. The Knowledge Age of the past two decades was supposed to bring greater understanding and even enlightenment. So why are people so emotional, misinformed, and unreasonable?
Because today’s flood of smartphones, social media and artificial intelligence is driving the world beyond knowledge into a new frontier governed by emotions, values, beliefs, and higher-order thought. The world is entering an Age of Consciousness, though it’s dominated by post-factual nonsense, political gridlock and other threats that pose an existential crisis. Henry Kissinger recently wrote in Time: “… what fascinates me is that we are moving into a new period of human consciousness which we don’t yet fully understand.”
This rule of unreason pervades life, and it is rampant in politics. The US government, for instance, has been locked in stalemate for decades, though Congress has more knowledge than it can handle. Emotional issues like abortion, gun control and immigration are supported by strong majorities and have been studied to death. Still, gridlock persists because of conflicting values, reluctance to compromise, and hunger for power – issues that lie beyond knowledge. They hinge on stark differences in consciousness.
This dilemma poses one of the great ironies of our time. The digital revolution has created a wealth of knowledge that is almost infinite. The smartphone alone has made the world’s store of information available at the touch of a finger. There is no shortage of knowledge, but the power of facts is badly limited. Knowledge cannot tell us what is worth doing, or what is right morally and what is wrong. Rational logic can never replace love, wisdom or a guiding vision.
My studies of social evolution show that this rise in consciousness is part of a far broader “Life Cycle of Evolution (LCE).” Above the rise and decline of empires, wars and other random events, evolution traces a precise historic direction. It took nine thousand years to evolve from Agrarian Era to Industrial Society about 1850. One hundred years to the Post-Industrial Service Era in 1950. Five decades to a Knowledge Age in 2000. The pace of the LCE and today’s wave of post-factual thought show we are entering Age of Consciousness about 2020.
Consciousness appears to be the culminating phase in social evolution, and it poses enormous threats that seem almost impossible. Climate change, pandemics, gross inequality and other end-of-the-world challenges comprise a “crisis of global maturity.” The covid pandemic made it clear that the present world system is not sustainable. The late Stephen Hawking worried: “…widening inequality, climate change, decimation of species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. This is the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity, and our species must work together.” (The Guardian, Dec 1, 2016)
The global crisis is an infinitely larger version of the same crisis of maturity that transforms teenagers into adults. At some point, the stress becomes so severe that most teens eventually find the courage to grow up and become responsible adults. In a roughly similar way, today’s global crisis is humanity’s challenge to become a mature civilization. The world is being forced to grow up, meet this historic challenge, and develop a sustainable civilization – or face disaster.
Social evolution also shows that each stage has been propelled by revolutions – the Agrarian Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, Post-Industrial Revolution and, most recently, the Digital Revolution. For instance, the Industrial Revolution was made possible by the rise of the Protestant Ethic, or “economic man.” Now the world seems to be in the throes of a mental/spiritual revolution to kick-start global consciousness. We appear to be heading toward some type of historic shift in thought, a collective epiphany, new mindset, or global ethics.
Other studies forecast that a global consciousness is likely to emerge among the leading edge at about 2030 +/- 5 years. Transforming the global mindset seems formidable, but examples are seen all around us. When William Shatner flew into near-earth orbit and saw the Earth as a living system aglow with life, he was flooded with profound emotion … the iconic Captain Kirk experienced global consciousness.
A mature global order will still bear the normal human failings, but it will make our current strife look as primitive as the brutal reign of kings in the feudal ages. This may sound too good to be true, yet these trends suggest we are likely to see a rising global consciousness soon and the triumph of human spirit, once again.
William E. Halal, PhD, is Professor Emeritus at George Washington University. Professor Halal has published seven books and his articles have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Fortune, and other major media. He was cited by the Encyclopaedia of the Future as one of the top 100 futurists in the world. He also served as a major in the US Air Force, an aerospace engineer on the Apollo Program, and a business manager in Silicon Valley. His new book, Beyond Knowledge: How Technology Is Driving an Age of Consciousness (Foresight Books, August 27, 2021), explores a vision for the next stage of human evolution. Learn more at billhalal.com.