If you haven’t read the first book, don’t let it haunt you at night; you’ll still get plenty of bang for the buck in this one, even if some of the wider context may be lost on you.
So let’s begin where we left off in Book One, The Listening Society. The final words were:
“We can go ahead to create a Green Social Liberalism 2.0, working non-linearly, co-developing ourselves towards a listening society. We go ahead with pragmatic idealism, with magical realism and informed naivety. At the crossroads of fact and fiction, we work and play with religious fervor, keeping an ironic smile at our own self-importance.”
A lot to unpack in a few sentences. Here’s what it means:
“Green Social Liberalism” is the dominant “meta-ideology” in the Nordic countries today. Here, environmental and social-liberal values have become so widespread in the general population that more or less all the major political parties compete to be the most trustworthy advocate of this ideology. Since there is a wide consensus that the best model for society is a competitive market economy with a universal welfare system, the traditional ideological struggle between Left and Right has waned in favor of a rhetorical spectacle that conceals just how similar the political parties have actually become.
This is not a uniquely Nordic phenomenon. If things run smoothly long enough, Green Social Liberalism is where every liberal democracy with an industrial capitalist economy and publicly financed welfare is heading. It’s just because Scandinavia has been exceptionally stable and prosperous for such a long time that we see the tendency most clearly here.
For the same reason it’s also here we find some vague but substantial bids for what lies beyond this “modern” equilibrium; the 2.0 version of Green Social Liberalism. This new updated meta-ideology is a synthesis that, by today’s standards, would be perceived as far Left, far (libertarian) Right and very Green. And if you look closely, it is taking shape in the Nordic countries as we speak, hence the name “Nordic ideology”.
“The listening society” is the name for a vision of the future welfare system which expands and deepens the current universal welfare programs by addressing the higher psychological needs of human beings such as belonging, esteem and self-actualization—a welfare system determined to ensure that as many as possible don’t feel lonely, socially inferior or trapped in meaningless lives.
The listening society is a welfare society that considers the emotional wellbeing of people just as important as their economic welfare; a society that takes into account the more intimate psychological needs of human beings: good relationships, inner security, meaning, self-knowledge. This would be a society where depression, stress and alienation have become political issues in the same vein as security, jobs and housing are today.
Metamodern activists are unafraid of putting forward such visions; of exposing our necks—although we hold these with a “sincere irony”, always admitting that we are probably, after all, mistaken.
We think that society needs to move in some kind of direction; and if we play with fictions, make experiments, and combine these with sound factual analyses of our time, there is a likelihood that something good will come out of it. Hence such “both-and” concepts as “pragmatic idealism”, “magical realism”, “informed naivety”, and working at “the crossroads of fact and fiction”. These concepts are central to metamodernism. They put us in the space where we can play and be creative around large and serious issues.
In the last book we offered a view of developmental psychology, which explains how people grow “more conscious”—i.e. how we become more complex thinkers, become “happier” (long story, that one), come to adopt more universalistic or progressive values, and relate to more profound aspects of life and reality. A large part of this has been firmly established through psychological research.
This developmental perspective was linked to the vision of the aforementioned “listening society”. The central idea is that by cultivating a listening society, we can not only create much happier human lives, but also dramatically spur the psychological development of larger parts of the population into the higher stages. Such development is necessary for people to create, participate in, and uphold functional societies in this increasingly complex world—an endeavor that has both incredible potentials and great risks.
Now is the time to make it happen. It is time to achieve this goal.
If the last book gave you an introduction to developmental psychology, this book presents you with a developmental sociology, and then links it to a concrete political plan of how you change society.
The book has three parts:
The first part of this book is The Map. First I guide you through an understanding of what it means to be a realistic utopian, one who seeks to change and evolve the everyday games of life. Then I go on to argue that there is a certain kind of evolution of society going on—that we can see where things are going; again, a developmental sociology, i.e. a view of how society itself develops. So I present you with a number of “attractor points”, or “attractors”. These constitute evolutionary steps: How do state and governance evolve, what’s the next step? What is freedom, and what is a higher freedom than the one we experience in the “free world” of today? What is equality, and how can it become deeper? Most people, still today, living in societies committed to freedom and equality, cannot answer these questions.
Armed with this map, you may then reap the rewards: The second part of this book is a large-scale strategy being rolled out before you—The Plan for how to fundamentally transform modern society into a metamodern (relative) utopia. I’d like to underscore that this plan fills a void: I can’t think of anyone else who has a plan like it—a plan for the design of global politics, for a new political system, and how to enact it. If you understand the plan, I hold, you are morally obliged to act upon it, to make it happen. If you see where this is going, you’re either obliged to act, or to come up with something better. It’s a bit vulgar, I suppose, to straightforwardly put a plan out there, not a very scholarly or respectable thing to do. But on the other hand, people reading the first book all wondered: What’s the plan? What do we do? I’ll tell you what I think. We need a political program. This is a political program that constitutes, all said and done, the Nordic ideology. It includes six new forms of politics, all explained in detail: Democratization Politics, Gemeinschaft Politics, Existential Politics, Emancipation Politics, Empirical Politics—and Politics of Theory. It ends with zooming out and viewing the Master Pattern that connects all six forms of politics, including some tactical observations for how to make it happen.
Does this plan make sense? Does the Nordic Ideology work? Shouldn’t we subscribe to one of the existing political ideologies instead? This is where The Proof comes in. This third part of the book is, admittedly, perhaps a bit self-celebratory: It shows you how the Nordic ideology—or political metamodernism—eats all of the existing ideologies alive. It beats them on their own terms. Part Three presents you with the proof for why you can’t just skip metamodernism and stay with one of the old ideologies. Having this understanding helps you organize a transnational metamodernist movement and to outmaneuver all the modern political forces: socialists, libertarians, conservatives, anarchists and ecologists alike—while still helping each of them achieve their respective goals. So you get armed with some well-needed tactics to go along with your strategy. At the very end, we discuss our three evil cousins, the totalitarian specters of the 20th century: communism, fascism and the New Age. All of these dangerous dreams have uncanny but important lessons to teach us. So let us listen.