The Protopia Lab
Us-versus-them activism is sending us down the spiral of polarisation and tribalism. The current path might lead to violence and destruction instead of laying the foundation for a better system.
How can we instead harness and foster our astonishing human capacity to cooperate?
How can we become wise agents of change to help make lasting change in our complex world so that life on Earth can flourish?
How can we design social systems that have the welfare of the whole system in mind, and how can we do this before it’s too late?
The Protopia Lab is a space for open dialogue, learning and innovation on how to redevelop trust within our polarised societies, create ways to cooperate effectively across humanity and upgrade our civilisation to help prevent its collapse.
What is protopia?
Utopia is the perfect world that we dream of and that we will never reach. Historically the fight for utopia has often led to dystopia, when the only way to make progress has been to enforce one’s vision through totalitarian approaches.
Our aim is not the perfect world, but protopia, which is a vision that takes into account multiple perspectives, acknowledges that there are always many trade-offs to consider and avoids throwing the baby out with the bathwater when making changes to the system.
Nobody has all the answers for how a better system will ultimately work and look like. What we propose here is a process of trial and error, an evolutionary search process towards protopia.
What are our aims?
Learn new ways of sensemaking
The complex problems of the world require that we be capable of seeing issues from multiple perspectives. But the reality of our information ecology makes this increasingly hard if not impossible. The old ways of sensemaking are breaking down rapidly as the traditional media become less committed to seeking the truth and have become partisan guards of a particular moral worldview. The algorithms of Facebook and Twitter curate information according to our pre-existing beliefs and are fuelling tribalism and polarisation across the world. As a result, people increasingly live in separate, very different realities and ideological bubbles. Common sensemaking becomes impossible.
In the Protopia Lab we will create awareness about our own cognitive biases and build capacity for seeing issues from multiple perspectives. We will put emphasis on the psychological processes that can help us step back from our ideological frames. We will bring a much broader set of ideas of good faith into our discussions, including from people who hold different values from us.
Reduce moral certainty and cultivate generosity of spirit
We will only be able to successfully tackle the biggest problems of our times like climate change if we can stop the spiralling polarisation across our societies. Only a deep and empathic understanding of the dynamics that led us to the current societal divide will allow us to lay the foundations for renewed trust and a new social contract.
We see that the political polarisation and the rise of authoritarian nationalism is a rebellion that is only partly against the economic effects of globalisation. It is at least as much a rebellion against the effects of the cultural liberalism that has become hegemonic over the last few decades.
It’s a conflict not between good and evil, but between different moralities, where each side is convinced that they are fighting for a good cause rather than out of self-interest. Learning this will help us to reduce our moral certainty and learn to live with, rather than fight, people who hold values different to our own.
In the Protopia Lab we will develop a deep understanding of the root causes of the current political and societal crisis as well as of the underlying evolutionary foundations (genetic and cultural).
We will exemplify non-dogmatic dialogue and explore how we can regain trust between different tribes.
Become designers for cultural evolution
It is exactly this profound crisis of liberalism that offers those who accurately assess the situation the opportunity to embark on a collective search process to identify and start building the pillars of the next paradigm.
It is often ignored or tabooed that our social systems and the way our societies function and deal with their problems are deeply rooted in our shared human biology.
In the Protopia Lab we will make explicit use of the body of knowledge from evolutionary sciences. It will help us to make more informed choices about which design features and which change strategies towards just and ecologically sustainable cultures are more likely to work and which aren’t, given our biological (genetic and cultural) predispositions.
We will ask some fundamental questions: How can we switch off the autopilot and take evolution into our own hands? How can we become designers of evolutionary processes that can effectively upgrade our civilisation and help prevent its collapse?
Prototyping is an adaptive approach: probe, sense, respond. How do we take civilisation-wide dynamics and make iterative shifts on them that move the whole system forward?
The biggest and most urgent problems of our times cannot be solved at the levels at which humans have achieved successful cooperation to date. Our civilisation and indeed the earth’s ecological systems are highly interdependent and require a level of cooperation at the planetary level that we are unfortunately still far from reaching.
We need to design social systems that have the welfare of the whole system in mind, and we need to do this before it’s too late.
What are we planning?
We will bring together people from civil society and other change agents with a broad set of viewpoints/ideologies and who are open minded and willing to be part of an explicitly un-dogmatic space.
We are currently fundraising in order to be able to kick off the project with a big conference in Europe in 2021.
In the meantime, we are considering smaller activities that are feasible in times of Covid-19.