Meta-Crisis? What Meta-Crisis?
“Once you take the idea of meta-crises seriously and start looking at them closely, it
seems we are caught up in something oceanic in its depth and range,
and plural.” - Jonathan Rowson, Tasting the Pickle.
“The Meta-crisis is a single phenomenon.” -Terry Patten, Youtube video.
Apparently meta-crisis is a thing these days. Lots of writings and Youtube videos on the subject, some of them by Integral thinkers. Recently Brandon Norgaard posted a course outline on “The Metacrisis” on this website, asking for feedback. One must pay attention.
What exactly is the meta-crisis (MC)? The question contains the first problem: there is no “exactly” in the various discussions currently taking place. Everyone agrees that nations, and indeed the human race as a whole, are facing a number of wicked crises— climate change, political polarization, educational failures, pandemics, social media chaos, etc—that are unprecedented in scope because they are global and difficult to solve because they are entangled. These are sometimes referred to as a polycrisis. However, meta-crisis theory (MCT) claims that “polycrisis” does not capture the full dimensions of our predicament. We need the deeper concept of “meta-crisis” to grasp the full meaning of what’s going on, but there is no consensus on how to define the term. Some, for example Terry Patten, think the meta-crisis is a single phenomenon, somehow transcending and including all the individual crises. Others, e.g. Jonathan Rowson, deny that and insist that meta-crisis points to the underlying processes driving the world toward disaster. Still others identify a particular crisis as the Mother of All Crises, e.g. climate change or nuclear war or a crisis of meaning. Confusion rules.
After an inquiry bogs down in seemingly intractable confusion, one wonders whether something fundamental is amiss. Could it be a simple logical error? Gilbert Ryle, a prominent British philosopher of the logical positivist school, offered this colorful story to illustrate his notion of a “category mistake.” A foreign tourist who knows nothing about universities is given a tour of Oxford University. After seeing all the buildings—the lecture halls, libraries, administration offices, dormitories, etc.—he says to his guide, “Those are wonderful, but where is the university?” The tourist, Ryle wrote, has mistakenly assumed ‘university’ refers to a building, whereas it really means the institution of which the buildings are a part. That, Ryle claims, is a category mistake. By analogy, MC theorists who think ‘meta-crisis’ is something other than (“beyond”) than the polycrisis are committing the same logical error. After describing the various crises confronting us humans right now, it makes no sense to look for something else called a “meta-crisis.” The meta-crisis just is the collection of particular crises in global economics, international politics, nuclear threats, and so on, and the interconnections among them. There is no additional crisis called The Meta-crisis. To think otherwise is to commit a category mistake.