At the first GSIS conference in Vienna in October 2023, people from science, research and business as well as artists shed light on the current polycrisis from different perspectives. They explored the paradigm changes needed to transform our societies and showed: We need to come together and move forward despite different positions and they proved that this is possible!
Karolin Pichler from the artist duo “Pauseroni” spoke with Wolfgang Hofkirchner, Director of GSIS, about the conference and the cornerstones of the techno-eco-social transformation:
Why did we gather, why did we need an intensive discourse on the transformation towards a future worthy/sustainable society?
We live in the age of existential threats to humanity. It is a developmental crisis of human-caused origin. And it can be undone by us, as long as we act in time. My generation could know this. Now, that the crisis has intensified, it’s mainly the young generation that has woken up. Big industries, politicians and media are still trivialising global challenges or spreading alarmism. We need to get rid of such false narratives. We need to grasp that humanity, as a matter of fact, has become a community of destiny and that it has to come of age if it does not want to go extinct.
How did this event help to move the issue?
We organised the event such that we invited persons and groups to contribute to the themes what they deemed most important from their point of view and to contribute in a way they felt comfortable with. We needed to be careful in a situation in which the mood is heated, facts are being doubted and opinions are dividing society – while we need consilience in order to be able to act together on a planetary level!
“Every approach to collective action, every facet of the problem, every framework to understand its working has the potential to become like a river that connects with other rivers, which, finally, feed the sea – a shared utopia.”
The Institute for a Global Sustainable Information Society is good in unifying without outvoting the diverse. After the event, our colleague Liang Wang from China gave us a present – a calligraphy saying “the sea admits a hundred rivers”. This inspired Annette Grathoff from our organising committee. She has drawn a picture to illustrate these words: every approach to collective action, every facet of the problem, every framework to understand its working has the potential to become like a river that connects with other rivers, which, finally, feed the sea; and by connecting what fits together, we are concretising the Global Sustainable Information Society or whatever the name of our vision shall be – a shared utopia which is like the sea: All the rivers flow to the sea!
That’s a very impressive metaphor! How do you think we’re going to get there?
When I was young, the peace movement was strictly separated from the environmental movement and both were separated from the solidarity movement and all were separated from the workers or trade unions movements. When we recognise that the claims of the social movements of today have something in common, when we recognise that the manifestations of the different crises of today show a similar pattern, when we recognise that transdisciplinarity in academic research can today build a bigger picture from the detailed analyses, then we can see the structure that underlies all of them and that relates them to each other.
How has this relationship been discussed at the event?
It is neoliberalism that is identified as one cause of the malaise by the second manifesto of the convivialists*, it is the imperial mode of living that was mentioned – a term Ulrich Brand from the University of Vienna had coined –, it is any capitalist economy as many participants agree, and it is the tools that are applied in a specific way as our Institute is accentuating – therefore we do not speak of a social-ecological transformation only but, better, of a techno-eco-social transformation that is necessary. But the root cause might even be deeper. According to convivialism, it is hubris, the lack of self-reflexion, the lack of understanding of how to live together for the sake of all and everybody, with which I agree. This failure – I would like to add – has been materialised for thousands of years in a structure of unequal and unjust social relations through the praxis led by those who have been abusing their power.
There is a lot to do – could the event provide answers from your point of view? Which ones are the most exciting for you?
The most exciting insight I got and, I believe, most of us got too is this: there is a window of opportunity that allows changes to be done. This window is, however, shrinking by time, and that means that the changes that can be done are becoming narrowed down. The realm of those possibilities that can be realised at a certain point of time is fading down or even out compared to a next point of time. This is due to the passing of tipping points in developments that have not been prevented –
What does that mean for the shaping of future – is a utopia still possible?
Yes, that is the question and the answer is: yes, a utopia is still possible, however, it means that this utopia which we are able to realise is more and more deprived of features we would value high. Annette Schlemm talked about that. Think of the heating of the planet. The year 2023 might become the year with the highest average temperature since the industrial revolution. The goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is no longer within reach, as experts tell us. Such a future is over. It is too late for that. Tipping points have been set in motion that might proliferate by cascading further detrimental developments. Thus, humanity is compelled to accommodate the heating – no matter whether human-made or not. Humanity must seek new futures, it must explore the new possibility spaces for other realistic and still wishful futures. This is the task of today!
* Convivialism is a theory and an art of living together in peace without violence and is becoming an international movement. French philosopher and sociologist Edgar Morin who wrote the book “Homeland Earth” – he is member of the GSIS advisory committee – is one of the initiators of convivialism. Frank Adloff, Frédéric Vandenberghe and Wolfgang Hofkirchner belong to the early signatories of the second manifesto that were present at the event. See in German “Das zweite konvivialistische Manifest – Für eine post-neoliberale Welt”, transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2020 (https://www.transcript-verlag.de/media/pdf/b7/1b/c1/oa9783839453650GIJl6nGn1Cyph.pdf), and parts of it in English in the journal Civic Sociology (2020), 1 (1), 12721, https://doi.org/10.1525/001c.12721.
[picture in the header: Annette Grathoff. Photo: Annette Grathoff]