Point, Counterpoint: A Subscriber Differs With My View

September 2010

The email below was sent by Dr. John Armstrong, a London-based engineer, in response to my July 2010 editorial, “The New Human: Stepping Into the Next Evolution of Our Species” which was adapted from my forthcoming book. Below John’s email is my response. – JR

From John Armstrong:

A great read, your latest editorial – it made me think enough to write the following.

I loved the distinction you draw between content and context, and the analogy of the seabird in oil, which I hadn’t heard before. (I don’t actually believe ‘context includes form’, but more that it includes as you say the underlying assumptions, conscious and unconscious, attitudes and beliefs – in short one’s world view).

Looking in this way at your article, what you write seems to imply a number of world views that you hold:

  1. Evolution is something we can influence (‘stepping into the next evolution of our species’)
  2. We can change the context, ie we can each personally take a decision to change our world view (‘free choice will replace desperation’
  3. There is something we need to do now, and it is up to each of us individually to decide, and if we fail to do so we will be disadvantaged (‘we are at another such milestone… let us not squander the opportunity’).

I would like to suggest an alternative world view:

1a. Evolution (transformational change) happens unconsciously through selective benefit – we can only be aware of it afterwards

2a. We cannot change context: the most we can do is notice what is happening now… or to be accurate, what has just happened

3a. There is nothing we need to do now, except notice our process.

Your final paragraph reminds me of the Hunger Project, part of the EST movement in the 1980s, when a group believing very much in the power of context, declared that the global ending of hunger by 1990 was an idea whose time had come. If enough people could be persuaded to sign up to a commitment of their belief that the ending of hunger was indeed an idea whose time had come, then it would happen. Of course, it didn’t…. one would suppose because there was insufficient selective benefit to those who were not hungry. On the other hand, there was enough selective benefit to end the Cold War, bring Mandela to power and so on.

For me, talk of lofty visions, the Great Dream or the next evolution is not only pointless; it is actually a distraction from noticing what is going on and the appreciation of the present moment, which is the gateway to real transformation.

Kind regards
John Armstrong

My response:

John, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments concerning my July editorial, a view which will also be expressed in my new book when it comes out.

We definitely disagree, and thankfully with respect, on all three points you raise. So let me respond point by point.

Evolution has mostly happened unconsciously as you suggest. But the past need not dictate the future. We humans possess the power to choose and, as addressed in the book, we can make the choice to evolve consciously – on purpose. Is it unprecedented? You bet! It will not occur if we remain passive and can only occur if sufficient numbers of us choose to move ourselves and our communities into full adulthood.

Secondly, we cannot only change context we have precedent. History is loaded with examples where people have brought about shifts in context, from Copernicus to Mandela, Gandhi to the Magna Carta, the modern democracy movement, and public attitudes about drinking and driving here in the U.S. in addition to others. Is this shift in context I’m addressing a larger scale? Yes, indeed, but that does not preclude it occurring. Again, this is a matter of conscious choosing.

Thirdly, your point that there is nothing to do but “notice our process” rings of resignation, perhaps even cynicism. I recognize this is also the view of many Eastern teachings about acceptance. My view is that the times call for responsible action. As the “Serenity Prayer” says (in part), “…the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can…” Besides being in our nature to explore and expand our horizons, most people I’ve polled or seen polled realize we are still in our adolescence as a species, having avoided full adulthood with the responsibilities that accompany this higher level of maturation. It is not only our destiny to grow up but also what many highly functioning adolescents want.

Regarding your mentioning the Hunger Project, that was over thirty years ago when the idea of context change was in its infancy. Since then we have grown two generations of academics, consultants and leaders who are informed on this subject. We know a lot more than we did in 1980.

Again, John, I thank you for writing and allowing me to share this exchange with my subscribers.

All the best,


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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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