The Meta-Crisis – What it is and what you can do about it

We are researching the meta-crisis and we are developing educational modules and curricular assets that will be deployed to educational courses that are delivered by our ecosystem partners within the Liminal Web. We are researching overall nature, causes, and impacts of the global meta-crisis. Our research also covers some of the intricacies of what people can do to address the greatest and most complex ecological, socio-cultural, and political challenges of our time.

How do we meaningfully address these multiple overlapping and interconnected crises, which we can call the meta-crisis? We keep degrading our environment and there is a breakdown of socio-cultural cohesion and apparent instability of our political and economic institutions.

The educational courses that incorporate this research and these modules are intended to to train community leaders, evolutionary change-makers, and social entrepreneurs who would then be in a better position to innovate, organize, and help bring about the foundational changes that we need in order to meaningfully address the meta-crisis.

There is already a vast amount of information available on the meta-crisis in the form of books, articles, podcasts, and videos. These courses will summarize this information and synthesize it and present it to people in a way that is understandable, inspiring, and actionable for course participants. These courses do not just for identify problems, but they also giving participants the tools to begin making some significant differences and working toward tangible positive change in our highly complex world.


Part 1: Framing the meta-crisis

  • We live in a world with immense and seemingly intractable problems.
  • We can find a lot of agreement that the world as we know it is in trouble and that we need to take this quite seriously.
  • There are several interdependent and interrelated crises that we are facing simultaneously and that, collectively, they pose an existential threat to human civilization. This is often known as the meta-crisis and also sometimes as the poly-crisis.
  • The central idea is that our biosphere is facing an ecological emergency and that we have serious failings in other areas of public life that are preventing us from adequately addressing this emergency.
  • Most notably, our political, socio-cultural, economic, and educational systems are all showing very serious failures, and thus we can consider each of these to be a distinct crisis in its own right.
  • These crises are exacerbated by a breakdown in public sensemaking and by distortions within the information ecology.
  • At the core is the so-called meaning crisis, which leads many people to confusion and alienation and an inability to find sufficient intelligibility and purpose within their lives.

Part 2: Some common but simplistic responses to the meta-crisis

  • Is the world getting better like the rational optimists argue? Actually no and here is why…
  • Can’t we just go back to nature and live as indigenous societies? That is certainly not realistic and here’s why…
  • Will technology save us? We will not be able to invent our way out of this meta-crisis and here’s why…
  • Can we embrace transhumanism, such as longevity and space colonization? That won’t work for very many people and will leave the vast majority in the dust…
  • But don’t my political and cultural leaders have the answers? They probably have very simplistic understandings of this. The clash of worldviews has religious fundamentalism vs. modernism vs. postmodernism and there are deep flaws in each of these value memes.
  • A common thread is getting us away from what Roger Walsh calls the “single focus fallacy”, which has 3 aspects:
    • The single issue fallacy: The idea that there is a single important issue that we need to focus on as the most important and the most grave crisis and we just need to hammer that point as much as possible. For example, people who say it is global warming or overpopulation.
    • The single cause fallacy: The idea that all of our major problems stem from a single cause. For example, it is all caused by capitalism or greed.
    • The single solution fallacy: The idea that all of the major challenges of our time can be addressed by a single type of intervention. For example, we just need a better balance between left-hemisphere and right-hemisphere thinking, we just need to consume less and pollute less.

Part 3: Using game theory and complexity thinking to understand the problem space and the potential solution space

  • Generator functions
  • Rivalrous dynamics – arms race, tragedy of the commons.
  • Subsuming the substrate – degrading the environment, damaging society and relationships.
  • Exponential tech – democratization of catastrophic weaponry, influence of digital media.
  • Game theory dynamics that show why progress is difficult
    • Rules for rulers
    • Multi-polar traps / Moloch
    • Principle-agent problem
  • Attractors
    • 1. Chaos – nobody in control and a breakdown in civilization.
    • 2. Oppression – government becomes totalitarian.
    • 3. A third attractor? Despite all of this, we are not doomed because these problems can be overcome through mutual understanding, coordination, and complexity thinking.

Part 4: Assessing the integrative and metamodern approaches addressing the meta-crisis

  • We need an integrative and metamodern approach because we need to integrate our inner and outer worlds and we need to think of things not just singularly but also collectively.
    • Meta-Sensemaking is important, since we need to be mindful of the processes for sorting out fact from fiction and assessing the credibility of claims as we are constantly being bombarded with information, much of which is quite dubious and harmful.
    • It is essential that we develop a new cultural enlightenment (Enlightenment 2.0) to bring together the Western rationalistic enlightenment with the Eastern spiritual enlightenment and also to fill in the so-called “Enlightenment Gap”, which would allow us to understand the relation between mind and matter and between science and society.
    • Folk Bildung is important because we need community development, self-cultivation, and lifelong learning to work hand-in-hand.
    • The concept of Warm Data is very useful because we need to recognize the context that gives deeper meaning to any set of data.
    • The so-called Dark Renaissance can help us integrate our individual and collective shadow through artistic expression.
    • Game B is an excellent way of framing the problem space and potential solution space in terms of game theory, the avoidance of rivalrous dynamics, and the ethical use of technology.
  • There are specific implementations for each of these and many of these approaches are quite useful and helpful. We need a comprehensive vision that includes political, economic, and educational reform along with sustainable hands-in-the-dirt implementation.

Part 5: What would an optimal comprehensive solution look like?

  • What are the main fulcrum points that we would need to simultaneously address in order to get some traction?
    • Recognition that the root cause of our most serious problems is lack of effective communication and understanding. We can’t convey our thoughts and feelings to other people, and we also don’t understand other people’s thoughts and feelings.
    • Identifying shared core values that people of diverse walks of life can agree upon.
    • Developing expanding circles of concern so we are not solely focused on ourselves and our little tribe and we are more cognizant of longer term concerns.
    • Recognition of deep interdependence and interrelations.
    • Foregrounding concerns that are foundational to life itself – meaning that the natural environment must be protected.
    • Developing the complexity of understanding how all the pieces fit together and the capability stack of environment, cultural, economic, and political systems.
    • Having the courage to change and to take some measured risks into the unknown. Having the patience to work in small steps that work toward larger goals.
    • Being mindful of the sophistication spectrum among the general population and using language that is accessible, engaging, and inspiring to a broad range of people without relying on too academic or jargon-laden phraseology.
    • Avoiding both optimism and pessimism and instead moving forward with a cautious but open-minded realism.
  • We need a multi-faceted and multi-threaded solution that involved different people working in different ways, but the comprehensive solution needs to include:
    • Fundamental political reform, but being mindful of different people’s histories and social imaginaries that can be shifted but not rebuilt from scratch.
    • Environmental protection and regeneration, but still allowing human flourishing and economic activity.
    • Boots-on-the-ground implementation at the community level, while still having interconnections with the global.
    • Giving people meaning in life through spirituality, but avoiding harmful cults.
    • The best science – physical, biological, psychological, sociological, and also integrating this with phenomenology.
    • The creation of new psychotechnologies for deeper mutual understanding of our inner and outer world, embodied awareness, and improved communication so that we can build greater inner and outer peace, and this needs to be done in a way that is scientific when possible and science adjacent otherwise but that also avoids the trap of pseudoscience.
    • Smart and humane and ethical technology, but not relying too heavily on it and avoiding the thinking that tech will solve our problems. In some cases, ethically harnessed AI can be beneficial to our efforts.
    • Systems approaches, decentralized, complex adaptive solutions, but with feedback loops that make it sustainable and just while protecting people’s rights.
    • Education for all ages in various aspects of public life, but prioritizing the right things that are important based on the challenges and opportunities of the coming decades.
    • New economic models that are sustainable and allow people sovereignty and prevent the concentration of wealth and power, but not under the delusion that everyone will be equal in every way.
    • Bringing back aspects of our more foundational forms of consciousness, cultures, and lifestyles (indigenous, traditional, etc.) into an integrated future, with a balance that is wise.

Part 6: What are some of the organizations doing these things and what specifically are they doing to address the meta-crisis? What is their implementation? What can you do?

This is where some of the original research of the course teacher would be presented and also each participant would be given the opportunity to present their research, ideas, and findings.

  • A closer look at some of the organizations that are already working to address the meta-crisis, or some aspects of it, in meaningful ways.  This will cover their specific implementation plans.
  • There will be an opportunity for class participants to formulate their own plans for addressing the meta-crisis.  This can be in the context of the organization that they work for or as social entrepreneurs or philanthropists or political reformists or ecological activists or all of the above.  Participants will be able to work individually or as teams and formulate action plans that are supposedly implementable within the adjacent possible space and they will get feedback from the class teacher and the other students in the cohort.

Here are some of the resources already out there that we are summarizing and synthesizing in this educational research and curriculum development:

Sloww websites and wiki
The book A New Republic of the Heart by Terry Patton
The book Metamodernity: Dispatches from a Time Between Worlds by Perspectiva Press
Lots of events hosted by The Stoa where recordings are publicly available
Josh Field’s presentation and diagrams
Brandon Nørgaard’s article