Civilization Project URL http://debategraph.org/civilization
Nobody doubts that the world will undergo seismic changes over the coming decades – a shift in the global balance of economic power, technological changes so profound as to potentially change human nature itself, unprecedentedly large movements of people across national frontiers and environmental challenges that humanity is only starting to get to grips with.
Add to this the re-emergence of autocratic great powers, the reversal of the post-Cold War trend to democratic governance, and the spread of religious fundamentalism, and it is easy to construct some bleak scenarios for the future - such as Samuel Huntington's prediction of a 'clash of civilizations'. This is particularly so for those of us who believe that difficult issues are best addressed in a climate of open debate and accountable government. Could we be in danger of losing the Enlightenment heritage?
Or is this overly pessimistic? What can be done to produce more benign outcomes? These are the sort of matters I see this project addressing. An important goal of the project is to show how the various perspectives are shaped by differing world views and value frameworks.
It might seem that the topic is absurdly broad – and I acknowledge that it is way beyond representation in a single debate map. It does, however, provide an ideal use of Debategraph’s ability to support the creation of clusters of interrelated debates. I have a hunch it might work – but let’s see. It is also clear that this will need to be a long-term exercise unfolding over months and years. I hope to see the maps emerging slowly after careful deliberation. I believe the addition of some important new features will enable Debategraph to handle such a process.
The choice and priority of the issues to be addressed will be the first item of business for the project, but it could include such matters as:
- Clashing civilizations Are we, as Samuel Huntington claims, entering an era of in which the major fault lines separating humanity will be cultural rather than ideological - an era of clashing civilizations?
- Prospects for the Open Society In his seminal book The Open Society and its Enemies Karl Popper describes a battle going back to Plato between advocates of a free, open society and their enemies. How are things shaping up for the 21st century?
- Conflicting visions Political divisions have traditionally been described using the left/right metaphor – or in American parlance, liberal/conservative. Are these notions still useful? What meaning can be attached to them in the present context? Is it time to transcend this way of looking at things?
- Universal values A key issue bearing on whether civilizations will be in conflict is whether certain notions – such as the right to free expression – are specific to a particular culture or apply to all humanity (as envisaged in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
- Technology – liberator or oppressor? Do technologies such as the web enhance prospects for the open society? Or do they provide autocratic regimes with unprecedented scope for surveillance and control of their populations?
There – that should keep us going for the next ten years at least!