Demonstration for the climate (archive picture from 2019): Millions of small and large changes can be reduced to two principles
FRIEDEMANN VOGEL / EPA-EFE / REX
The Munich energy supplier Polarstern not only sells green electricity, it also operates according to the so-called common good economy: a very new economic model that measures the social value of companies according to strict criteria.
For example, the degree of diversity and co-determination, fair wage distribution or fairness towards the people and companies in your own supply chain.
The company stands for perhaps the greatest socio-economic trend of our time: Germany is on the way to a greener and more equal future.
It doesn't matter whether Annalena Baerbock's Greens will soon (co) rule or not.
In view of unconventional thinker protests, diesel affairs and a Kafkaesque wind turbine bureaucracy, it may not always look like this.
But apart from such problems and apart from the ritualized grumbling, a lot of optimism can be felt right now.
In addition to fear, sadness and frustration, the corona crisis has also sparked a new beginning.
A new desire to solve problems.
A boost of creative energy.
That may be because so much is changing all by itself.
That we can hardly avoid the fear of change - and therefore inevitably shape our future.
Or about the fact that the crisis is dissolving old certainties and habits and thus creating space for new things.
Either way, a lot has happened in the past 16 months, both economically and socially.
And the direction of change almost always seems to be the same.
First, the republic is becoming more sustainable in many areas.
Car companies are running a race to see who will be the first to get rid of the internal combustion engine.
The steel giant Thyssenkrupp wants to build one of the world's first CO2-free blast furnaces by 2025.
Organic and natural food stores are seeing up to 60 percent more demand.
The legal system, the central framework of our economic and social life, is also being greened up.
At the end of April, the Federal Constitutional Court forced the government to adopt a more ambitious climate policy.
The state tightened the requirements as to how much CO₂ each economic sector may still emit.
Since June a law regulates the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen lines.
Almost at the same time, the city of Berlin issued a photovoltaic requirement for new buildings and future building renovations.
The second major social trend is the equality of more and more social groups.
Medically unnecessary gender reassignment operations on intersex children have been banned since March.
In June, the first tentative quota for women on board members of large companies was passed.
The private sector is more concerned with diversity, inclusion and new ownership concepts.
The concept of equality is also expanding into new spheres.
From 2023, large German companies can also be prosecuted for child or forced labor in other countries if such crimes can be proven in their international supply chains.
Animals are also being protected better and better in Germany.
We no longer think only anthropocentrically, but increasingly also ecocentrically.
Sustainability and equality: Millions of small and large changes can be reduced to precisely these two principles.
As if we were being drawn to two invisible magnets.
In systems theory, there is the concept of the attractor for this.
It denotes a higher principle of order that is so attractive that entire systems move towards it and in some cases change fundamentally.
Sustainability and equality seem to be central attractors of our time.
Not only in Germany, but also in other democracies, to a certain extent also on a global level.
But why are we so drawn in this direction?
There is a theory that tries to explain this.
It's called Spiral Dynamics and was published in 1996 by management and political consultants Don Beck and Christopher Cowan.
The basis is developmental psychological step models as well as anthropological and historical studies.
There is a whole branch of research in psychology that divides the development of every human being into fundamental, deterministic stages of development.
Of course, no ego is entirely on one level;
it is often closer to four to five.
But there is one thing that it focuses on.
And this has a great influence on how we perceive the world, how we think and how we deal with other living beings.
According to researchers such as Jean Piaget, Jane Loevinger, Lawrence Kohlberg or Robert Kegan, the basic prerequisite for psychological development is cognition - i.e. the ability to perceive our inner and outer world in increasingly differentiated ways and at the same time to see individual elements in increasingly complex contexts.
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The further our cognition develops, the further other areas of our psyche seem to be able to develop. For example, our emotional and interpersonal skills, our moral sense or our beliefs. The developmental steps are measured in psychology according to strict methods, including sentence completion tests and structured interviews. Measurement methods are partly combined and comprehensively checked for their objectivity, reliability and validity.
Beck and Cowan's approach is less academic. It is true that they base their theory on part of this data, especially on that of the late US psychology professor Clare Graves. But above all, they use the data as a basis for a catchy narrative about humanity. Some things in Spiral Dynamics are more imprecise and speculative than in psychological research; in return, the model is more accessible and practice-oriented - and correspondingly popular with organizational consultants, political advisors and coaches.
Beck and Cowan write that groups, organizations or nation states also often have a focus on a certain stage of development - because a majority of the people in these collectives have the same developmental focus.
This in turn has a major impact on the values and norms according to which collectives function.
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The interesting thing about Spiral Dynamics is that the model also addresses interactions between internal and external factors.
Internal cognitive development therefore enables new external structures, for example tools, laws or the Internet.
Conversely, new external structures also favor the internal development of individuals.
And with it the inner development of collectives, which consist of the developing individuals.
According to Beck and Cowan, this interplay of innumerable internal and external factors is the engine of our development.
And from their point of view, it is basically going in one direction: societies, like individuals, are becoming more differentiated and complex.
Despite all crises and wars and despite all dialectical counter-movements.
According to Beck and Cowan, the development of collectives can be divided into the same stages as that of individuals.
A new level always arises when serious problems in society and the environment can no longer be solved.
New values then emerge, new socio-economic attractors that create a perspective for problem-solving.
The new values are gradually being adopted by more and more people and will eventually dominate the collective - which will take it to the next level.
According to Spiral Dynamics, humanity came a long way before it began to focus on sustainability and equality.
The current change in values in Germany therefore marks the transition to stage six.
At level one, prehistoric humans fought for survival alone or in loose hordes.
Property or even an economic system did not exist.
In order to protect themselves better, at some point the first humans formed solid tribes and thereby reached level two.
Indigenous people in the Brazilian capital Brasília
Photo: Pablo Albarenga / dpa
Under the protection of the tribe, people had more time and energy to develop their cognition.
They began to fathom the cause and effect of natural events and named them with the first terms.
At the same time, they made many logical mistakes.
Magical thinking, shamanism and rituals to appease suspected spirits were the result.
At the same time barter trade and a rudimentary distribution of goods probably arose.
This can be observed at least with some indigenous peoples, who still show many characteristics of the second level today.
Scene from "Conan the Barbarian"
Photo: B2432 Eve Goldschmidt / dpa
At level three, people discovered their power.
An increasingly differentiated observation of the world and an increasingly complex language made superstitions vanish.
The first tribe members noticed that they were not struck by lightning if they resisted protective rituals.
Free will became a central value.
The era of heroic epics, empires and great battles began.
And the era of slavery and an economic system in which the strong exploited the weak.
Street gangs and civil war societies are current examples of such collectives.
According to developmental psychological studies, five percent of people in Western societies still focus on level three.
St. Peter's Basilica in Rome
Photo: Claudio Peri / dpa
At level four, the first humans were fed up with tyranny.
Often supported by religious authorities, they formed social orders with clear rules and roles.
This made possible much larger collectives with a finer division of labor, a disciplined military and much more prosperity - which again favored conventional development.
At the same time, a planned and state economy, rigid hierarchies, ethnocentrism and the abuse of authority emerged.
Those who did not belong to the group or who doubted absolute truths were now often cast out as enemies.
Such systems are still widespread today, for example in village communities and absolutist states.
According to studies, around twelve percent of people in western societies are on level four, and significantly more in other regions of the world.
Corona test center
Photo: Frank Rumpenhorst / dpa
At level five, analysis and rational thinking replaced absolute truths.
The era of modernity, enlightenment and science began.
Today around two thirds of the population are assigned to this level.
The boom in rationality enabled flexible problem solving, long-term planning, strategic thinking and the optimization of structures and processes.
Performance became increasingly measurable, which led to fairer competition, but also to more competitive thinking and pressure to perform.
This social system produced remarkable things: universal human rights, the moon landing, globalization, industrialization, the free and social market economy, the rise of the middle class, the explosion of economic growth and prosperity.
But it also created crises of global proportions through the power of its productivity that simply would not have been possible at earlier stages.
As early as 1972, the Club of Rome warned that the global economic boom was threatening our ecosystem.
Since 1990 the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been warning that our excessive CO2 emissions are heating the earth.
We are now experiencing the first offshoots of an existential global crisis.
At the same time, the modern boom in prosperity, cheap travel and the Internet have once again promoted our cognitive development. A growing number of people think more systematically, recognize how strongly cultural context shapes our thinking, and suffer from more cognitive dissonances. This raises awareness of how much you are still disadvantaged in Germany if you are not a German, white, heterosexual, non-disabled cis-man.
Or for how strongly our western prosperity is based on the exploitation of nature and people in other regions of the world and how much we promote global inequality through our consumption.
For example, by buying a smartphone that contains cobalt that child laborers in the Congo have mined at risk of death.
At the same time there is a growing awareness of the explosive social potential of such inequality.
According to Spiral Dynamics, it is only logical that all of this pulls us to the next level - and that sustainability and equality are central.
Without these two values we would have to despair.
You are a giver of hope, an emergency exit from the looming ecological-social inferno.
Seen in this way, the notorious "green do-gooder" is not an altruist.
He just doesn't like heat waves, economic crises and social revolts.
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The postmodern economic system that emerges from it has great potential.
For example in the energy industry: In theory, almost every country can completely cover its own energy needs with green electricity;
in practice, many countries still struggle with this due to corruption, administrative problems and other factors.
But there is at least a chance that the oligarchy of the petro-states will be followed in the long term by a more heterarchical world energy system: with more producers, transport routes and broadly diversified capital.
The time of the oil wars should therefore be over at some point.
At the same time, level six also harbors risks. Like the previous five, she creates her own problems. The sustainability boom is leading to new conflicts over the distribution of raw materials that are needed for electric cars or wind turbines. And to new environmental damage. We are also experiencing the first diplomatic conflicts and trade disputes over more sustainable products such as green steel.
The striving for more social equality also has its downsides - as Cancel Culture, the moralistic part of the Woke movement and exaggerated political correctness debates show: Some advocates of equality and acceptance themselves generate inequality and unacceptance - because they only accept that who correspond to their own values.
All others are accused, embarrassed, morally condemned or otherwise made contemptible.
This promotes cultural struggles and an increasingly polarization of society.
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Collectives are not united in this way, but are even more fragmented. There is a threat of a confused conflict, a paralysis in deconstruction and small-scale criticism. This also paralyzes productivity and slows economic growth. Above all, however, problems such as global warming cannot be solved in this way - because increasing polarization and moralizing make sustainable majorities impossible.
It seems like we have to go through there now. At least in Beck's and Cowan's deterministic model, our society is inevitably moving in this direction, for better or for worse. Around ten percent of the population in western countries has their focus on level six, many other people have at least developed there in certain facets or are currently at it. The influence of this value system should therefore continue to grow.
The current political landscape seems to confirm this.
The Greens, who have been campaigning for a sustainable, egalitarian world for decades, are very popular.
The Union, the SPD, the FDP and the Left are also increasingly green and
Perhaps the upcoming federal election will determine the pace of social change more than its fundamental direction.
If the Greens come to power with them, the likelihood increases that sustainable and inclusive structures will emerge in Germany at a faster pace and in greater density.
Those who live by these values would then have more advantages.
Accordingly, more people are likely to align themselves with it in their everyday lives.
If the Union or the SPD come to power, the same thing should essentially happen.
It'll probably just take longer.
We cannot avoid the problems of level six. They will plague us too - until the socio-economic suffering becomes too great at some point and drives us to level seven. According to Beck and Cowan, this is the level at which we learn to integrate contradicting perspectives and to manage polarities in a meaningful way.
We could then build a society to which each and every one of us contributes the best possible within the framework of our own possibilities and is promoted in the best possible way.
A society that recognizes that everyone is partially right - but no one is entirely.
Which first allows all contributions to the solution of a problem and then prioritizes them utilitarianily.
A society that can perhaps solve major global problems like global warming better than we can today.
Before she too creates her own perhaps even bigger problems.
However, such a society is still hardly in sight.
At the moment, only five percent of the western population are assigned to level seven.