In principle, it is a good idea not to jump to conslusions, especially ethical conclusions, in times of great social and cultural change. We are in such a time, and yet an ethical imperative is developing in various guises, whether in political correctness, fundamentalist attitudes, anti-smoking campaigns or recycling crusades, or any other behavioral groupware. Some trends, such as ‘political correctness’ , multiculturalism, social responsibility movements in professional societies and even in free enterprise, talks about collaborative rather than competitive ventures, new gender relationships and attitudes, indicate a general orientation to a radical mood change. Part of this phenomenon can be attributed to ‘population implosion’: thanks to media, people are exposed to each other in greater numbers, with greater frequency, greater intimacy and greater impact. We are thrown to the face of situtations that do not, at first, concern us. The media bring us to the world just as much asthey bring the world to us. They make each one of us commensurate with the planet. Just as we are responsible for our own welfare and happiness, we are becoming responsible? whether we are willing to recognize this or not ? for that part of us which extends far about and around the Earth. The self-centered ego is now calling for a counterpart in the world henceforth perceived as an extension of self. Furthermore, our minds are being extended very far and wide and fast by our computerized technology. The ecological consciousness is not only a matter of global hygiene, it is also the best metaphor for the expansion of our minds to global proportions. This technology is approximating the mind and enabling it to command material change in real time. So much of our technology is geared to informationprocessing rather than industrial production that more than half the world’s population is engaged in activities more closely related to mind than to matter. New technologies are now preceded by popular metaphors such as ‘virtual reality’, ‘information highway’ , ‘personal digital assistants’ which turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. This implies that the way we think and the way we shape thoughts with language now is endowed with transforming power. When you can do (at least by simulation) anything you want, the question ceases to be what you can do, but what you want to do. As we move from a culture of archiving (oriented to the past) to one of programming (oriented to the future), we may discover a new urgency in thinking up the ‘right’ metaphors. It may be more urgent than ever to practice collective positive thinking when global mood changes can go either way. The word is not out yet on the fall of the Wall, the crumbling of all walls, for that matter. Getting rid of guilt, paying increased attention to other people’s voices, staying open, expanding one’s mental proportions to the new size of other people’s voices, staying open, expanding one’s mental proportions to the new size of our collective body, consulting one’s body and the body politic for proprioceptive information about the state of things generally, may be among some suggestions for grounding personal ethics in a democratic and sustainable development.
- Derrick de Kerckhove, Belgium, Director of the McLuhan Centre at Toronto University, Canada; author of several books.