Date : 19 June 2012

 Thriving in the Age of Paradox 


By Suvit Maesincee, PhD



          Looking back to the period of time from the 10th to 18th centuries, the world was made up of rural communities with people living and working on a local platform, in a static society. There were very few significant changes and we can see this from the slow spread of innovation from one area to another.  It is not until the 19th century that we see massive changes in the world of science and technology taking place, resulting in the first and second “Industrial Revolutions” These changes lead to the shifts from  “a static society” to “a growth society”, from “a rural community” to “an urban community”, and from ‘ a local platform’ to  “an international platform”

The changes that followed were in the form of small waves until the 21st century when radical innovations in information and communication technology (ICT) were the main driving force.  Connectivity amongst people has woven into a network, while the interactions both in the physical and virtual worlds are becoming more intense.  The freer flow of capital, goods and services, as well as talent have been increasing dramatically, changing the world from “a growth society” to “the present dynamic society”, from “an urban community” to “the present virtual community”, and from “an international platform” to “the present transnational platform”. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1: A Civilization in the Making


From Modernity 1.0 to Modernity 2.0

          Science and technology’s driving forces through industrialization led us to Modernity 1.0. It transformed “an Agrarian Society” into “an Industrial Society”. The efficiency of this society was reflected through the fundamental logic of “structure,” thus, industrial society was a world governed by hierarchical layers, specialization, command and control, and the division of labor. The fundamental logic of structure made people lives in the World of Dependence.

          The vertical relationship, together with regulatory rules within the society, made the human interaction in Modernity 1.0 become linear, a Linear World, in which its behavior was predictable and determinable to some extent, a Deterministic World.

          This is why Modernity 1.0 was a “Solid Phase Modernity.”  However, globalization through such driving forces as connectivity, interactivity, mobility and virtuality changed the world into a“Liquid Phase Modernity.”  It could be said that we are in the transition from Modernity 1.0 toModernity 2.0 where the efficiency of the society is no longer reflected through the fundamental logic of “structure” but through the fundamental logic of “flow” in which people are more independent but at the same time more interdependent.  This modernity is directed by two sets of constructs:

·        The first set of constructs includes private rights, choices and freedom, creativity and imagination, autonomy and empowerment, and intellectual property and intellectual independence.  These constructs reflect that the world is becoming more independent, the World of Independence.

·        The second set of constructs includes tolerance and sacrifices, social responsibility and political accountability, active participation and commitment, and open collaboration.  These constructs reflect how the world is becoming more interdependent, the World of Interdependence.

In Modernity 2.0, social rules cannot be determined in a top-down hierarchical governance structure, namely regulatory rules, but can be determined in the form of poly-centric multilayer governance networks, namely constitutive rules.  The resulting horizontal relationships within society make human interactions in Modernity 2.0 becoming non-linear, a Non-Linear World.  As a result, reflexivity makes it impossible to determine or predict what is going to happen next, an In-deterministic World.

The shift from Modernity 1.0 to Modernity 2.0 creates the dynamics in the new global landscapes, leading to a new normal which requires a new set of paradigms, a new set of vision, and a new set of capabilities, covering economic, social, cultural and global political dimensions.


The Nine Paradoxes

          Directed by two conflicting sets of constructs under the World of Interdependence and the World of Independence, Modernity 2.0 is “the World of Paradox”, containing at least 9 paradoxical issues:

1.       The Collapse of Space and Time

2.       Dualism of Order and Chaos

3.       A Condition with Indeterminable Results

4.       Limitation of Knowledge Accessibility

5.       Inequality Caused by Social Exclusion

6.       The Overlap of Locality and Globality

7.       Facing Global Common

8.       The Quest for Unity on Different Identities

9.       Legitimation and Representation on Governance Setting


The Collapse of Space and Time

          In spatial politics, Modernity 2.0 has made society face many issues in open multiplicity.  The loose overlapping of these issues creates “multiple realities” where the economy is subsumed in the society and the society is subsumed in the environment.  Simultaneously, it also affects the local to be a part of the regional, while the regional becomes a part of the global, not independent like in the past.  The occurred multiple realities adjust spatial politics from the world where people live in isolation to the world where people need to depend on each other. (See Figure 2)


Figure 2: Multiple Realities


In temporal politics, things used to occur with a slow pace of change in Modernity 1.0, butModernity 2.0 totally changes the pattern.  Things have become more temporary, and they tend to change very fast like “fads”.  This brings about “a culture of immediacy” and “a nanosecond culture.”  These two cultural trends lessen people’s patience, trigger the “easy-to-get-bored” behavior and hence, shorten the life cycle of innovative products and ideas.  As a result, product design tends to be in disposable forms. The higher levels of uncertainty and complexity make it difficult for people to choose between “short-term gain, long-term loss”, and “short-term loss, long-term gain”.  Mostly people tend to choose the first choice (short term gain, long term loss) to shorten their waiting times in which time is considered as costs.   This reflects that people no longer want to wait like they (or their parents) did in the past as what they need is to achieve “hedonism” through such shallow means without obligation.  “Value”, a spiritual one, is replaced with “price” of materials.  Everything is determined by monetary value or tangible benefits.

          In business, there is a behavior of “hit-and-run” or taking a “shortcut”.  Relationships in Modernity 2.0 are in the form of “make-and-break”, meaning there is no permanent ally or enemy.  In terms of global politics, there are more international relationships in the form of “ad-hoc alliances,” and more ad-hoc policies than long-run policies.

          These dynamics create “hypermodernity “ where there are excesses in many aspects of life.  This is reflected through “hypercapitalism”. Hoarding supplies becomes important under uncertainty and complexity, resulted in “hyperchoices.”  That we do not know what will happen tomorrow encourages “consumerism” with “hyperconsumption.”

          Hyperchoices, hyperconsumption on the demand side occur at the same time with hypercompetition on the supply side.  The driving forces from both sides accelerate natural resource exploitation, pollution, global warming and other negative consequences.

          Besides the changes in space and time, the increase of connectivity, interactivity, mobility and virtuality makes the space and time overlap each other, creating a phenomenon “Absent Presence”.  For example, instead of communicating to each other face-to-face, people communicate with one another through networks via such electronic devices even though they are sat in the same table.  This enlarges relationship gap between people that live close together, but at the same time it reduces the relationship gap of people who live far away from each other.  Moreover, people feel that they gain control or can manipulate interactions with others, for example, ignoring e-mail, rejecting phone call, or not engaging in social media, without realizing that their counteractions are also manipulated by others.  In terms of security, the collapse of space and time could possibly lead to war at any time in the form of “Cyber-War”.  In other words, this could be a war where we don’t know who the opponents are, what they are looking for, or what they are capable of.


Dualism of Order and Chaos

          In Modernity 1.0, many people achieved their tasks by following patterns, orders, or procedures.  In Modernity 2.0, people face many activities which have a high tendency to turn our chaotic and the loop of order and chaos can happen at any time.  This phenomenon is called“Chaodic” (which combines chaos and order). 

In management contexts, the attempt to frame, regulate or organize such matters is difficult to achieve in Modernity 2.0.  Conformity is gradually being replaced by flexibility in managing dualism between change and stability, and between freedom and participation.


A Condition with Indeterminable Results

          In The New Paradigm for Financial Markets, George Soros addressed “the Theory of Reflexivity” with the explanation that the human brain has 2 major functions:

1)    Cognitive Function helps us to understand such events so that we gain knowledge and understanding. Learners should not be involved with the said events, but need to step back in order to see how they take place.

2)    Manipulative Function drives the changes to achieve what we need or what we have determined.  In this case, learners should be involved in the events to interfere and drive their desired changes.

These two functions have different natures.  The nature of cognitive function is that if you want to know more, you study to gain more understanding, while the nature of manipulative function is the opposite, if you want something to be as you desire, you manipulate, manage and change it.  In other words, in cognitive function, the independent variable is the actual state of affairs, and the dependent variable is the participant’s view.  Conversely, in manipulative function, the independent variable is the participant’s view and the dependent variable is the actual state of affairs.  We could see that the independent and dependent variables of two functions work in opposite directions.

The economic crisis during 2008-2009 was the result of using cognitive function and manipulative function at the same time, meaning people understood the facts happening on the financial market (historical and present facts), however, they were too greedy and interfered in  it with high expectations (not historical or present facts but future expectation).  The mixture of historical facts, present facts, determination, and future expectation is the major cause that leads to complexity and uncertainty because the facts are deviated by the interfering actions.  This composition leads to contingency from the reverse interaction.  The overlap of two roles creates “indeterminacy” that eventually the results or outcomes are indeterminable which hinder absolute control or management over the issues.


Limitation of Knowledge Accessibility

          We are living in a Knowledge-Based Society.   We assume that we are knowledgeable, accessible to knowledge, and we view knowledge as power.  However, under the Modernity 2.0  we do not know the essence of what we know, and what we know is temporary.  As time goes by, we know less, instead of more, because many unknowable issues occur—“the Not Knowing Zone”where we do not know whether something is starting, emerging, or erupting and if it does, questions arise as to how it will be or how to explain it.

          In Modernity 2.0, the mainstream disciplines, such as science, may be unreliable or unexplainable because things are ephemeral. They occur, exist, and end too quickly, meaning we have insufficient time to study them.

          The interaction between individuals can be grouped into four categories. They are:

1)    Public Space where we and others know the facts.

2)    Blind Space where we do not know the facts but others do.

3)    Private Space where we know the facts whilst others don’t.

4)    Unknown Space where neither party knows the facts.

Facing multiplicity in open system, loose overlapping and reflexive interactions gradually lessen people’s identity, downsizing the private space as well as blind space because there are feedback mechanisms in the network  that leaves smaller gaps of delay, allowing us to know earlier.  In contrast, “public space” is becoming larger, for example, web 2.0—peer- production web bases allow people to create their own world and share information and stories with others through social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia.  Private issues such as exposing personal profiles or expressing oneself on the internet may lead to the anxiety of being traced or stalked (virtually) by others.  This fear will turn “public space” into public-public space rather than private-public spacebecause people are more aware of their behaviors in public.  This indirectly forces people to pretend to be good in public, such as portrayed in reality shows, when in fact they aren’t.

As well as the “public space” increasing, the “unknown space” also increases.  Interactions facing multiplicity in an open system with loose overlapping in a reflexive manner are beyond our knowledge and learning capacity.  This stuns us and thus gives us no clues as how to deal with such situations or experiences.


Inequalities Caused by Social Exclusion

          What we should be aware of is the exclusion from groups.  Whether by intention or not, many people get excluded or isolated because they cannot keep up with the pace of others due to lack of skillsets such as IT literacy.  This has yet to include numerous marginal members of society.  In the new world, people are viewed as “consumer citizens”.  This stirs the demand for goods and services that satisfy basic needs as well as symbolic wants.  The roles of symbolic purchase are increasing in the society.  A reflection of this is the surge over the past decade or so in counterfeit goods such as watches, accessories and clothing, often purchased by low-to middle income earners in an effort to show they can afford such items, hence be included in such groups.  

In the political context, the inclusion and exclusion issues lead us to the concept “Inclusive Development” which focuses on the inclusion of every part of society, especially underprivileged people and the minorities.


The Overlapping of Locality and Globality

          Connectivity woven into complex networks, more intense interactions, a higher flow of capital and more transactions and activities in the virtual world lessen the roles of “Space of Places” and increase the “Space of Flow” at the same time.  Such changes result in nowhere in this world being free from influence of globalization.  Interactions between localization and globalization make two new streams, “Grobalization” and “Glocalization.”

          Grobalization is based on the idea that globalization will make each area in the world become more common.  Therefore, Grobalization is the way to reduce the differences in each area.  In business, standardization is through McDonalization, a process that focuses on efficiency and reliability, pushed and driven by machines and technology rather than human in order to produce goods and services at lowest costs at a more efficient rate.  McDonalization can work at its optimum in the system that focuses on market mechanism.  In contrast, Glocalization is based on the idea that globalization will make the world become more different through the blend of local cultures and external cultures that travel into such areas through globalization.  Thus, Glocalization increases the difference among each area through three major driving factors: Hybridization, Heterogeneization, and Creolization.

          The two new streams are influential over global business strategy.  Glocalization leads to global integration strategy while Grobalization leads to multi-domestic strategy. 

Facing Global Commons

          In the present interconnected world, many internal issues externalize, whilst at the same time, many external issues internalize. Such processes form “global commons,” meaning one’s actions more or less affect others unavoidably.  The possible interactions that may occur could be either “positive externality”, such as open source software, MIT courseware or Wikipedia, or “negative externality”, such as the consequences of global warming and the after-effects of terrorism.

          Higher dependency forces people to face global commons.  Henceforward, people should have the same destiny, sharing both happiness and sorrow.

A Quest for Unity on Different Identities

          The world is liquidating, freeing people across the globe.  Every nation-state looks for freedom.  The world is changing from “the Century of Ideology” where each nation-state had to choose between liberalism and communism, to “the Century of Identity” where each nation-state seeks for a competitive position. The point is that, within the nation-state, while people are craving for “uniqueness”, nations are seeking for “unity”.  This conflicting issue leads to social tension, causing multiple realities, changing the “single identity” to “plural identities”. For example, being a “plural citizen” means that a person is a “national citizen” in a particular context, while in other contexts that person might be a “regional citizen” as well as a “global citizen”. 

          Considering global citizen roles makes the human rights issues become controversial among global community, leading to the issues concerning global justices that would reduce the roles and power of the nation-states over their own or others’ citizens. These roles, however, can be either complement each other or cause a conflict. For example, the thoughts of one person in a “national citizen” role may not be in line with their thoughts when in a “global citizen” role especially when faced with global issues such as global warming, human rights and terrorism.

Legitimation and Representation on Governance Setting

          A liquidating world brings conflicts which finally turn into “hyper-conflict.”  People seek for more coherence through global governance, global collaboration or global coordination.  The issue is how such countries with different strategic positions could ask for fairness on the global stage.  A conference held to solve global issues like global warming is a good example because there have been numerous debates between developed countries (those who have already achieved industrialization), and developing countries (those in the process of industrialization) regarding carbon emission.

          How can we effectively deal with these nine paradoxes? Many challenging issues arise. “Truth”, for example, was taken as literal in the solid phase of Modernity 1.0. Any agreements or obligations were, therefore, acceptable and implementable.  On the contrary, in the liquid phase of Modernity 2.0,the frame of reference can change at any time, meaning truth can be relativized. Any agreements or obligations are, therefore, followed by countless exceptions and conditions. As a result, rules can turn into exceptions, while exceptions can be modified and turned into rules.   Thus, it is almost impossible for a country or an organization to formulate and implement their long-run strategic plans under the liquidating world.

          In global politics, Modernity 1.0 separates “power” from “politics”. While politics is still on a local or national level, power is already globalized.  The relationship between Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is a good example of one that reflects the separation of power and politics.  That the former Prime Minister has control over the current one, even though he is overseas, can be referred to as “A Body without an Organ” (BwO) in sociology terms.

          The management of paradox is thus the key to create prosperity and peaceful existence inModernity 2.0.  The management of paradox could be compared to a car that needs brakes and acceleration.  Under the World of Paradox, we not only need to have new mental models, new paradigms and perspectives to view and understand the world, but also need to have new open collaborative platforms and a new set of capabilities & culture to handle such changes.


          Winston Churchill, one of the greatest former British Prime Ministers, grouped people into two different types when facing new reality

-          The first group being “Optimists”

-          The second beings “Pessimists”

Optimists seek opportunities in any situation no matter how bad it is.  In contrast, pessimists visualize threats.

In the Chinese language, the word “crisis” comprises two words—threat and opportunity, meaning in every crisis, there is hidden opportunity.  In other words, facing new realities in the new world is full of threats as well as opportunities.

Consequently, this forces us to have a new mindset and new capabilities to cope with the “new reality”

-          Some groups of people have not realized that they are in the new reality, and haven’t adapted their mindset and capabilities.

-          Some groups know that they are in the new reality, but they still have the same mindset and capabilities.

-          Some groups know that they are in the new reality and have adapted their mindset but are not yet able to develop their capabilities to cope with it.

-          A limited number of groups know that they are in the new reality and have adapted their mindsets and develop capabilities to handle it.

The great biologist, Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”  According to this statement, only the latter groups of people categorized above are able to survive and thrive in “the Age of Paradox.”






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