Paradigm Shift

Back in 2010, in a post about changes in urban life, I quoted Neil Pierce, who had written that “for humans, displacement from their known settings may be exceedingly painful…the psychological impact of forced removal from a familiar neighborhood is like a plant being jerked from its native soil.”

For “neighborhood,” substitute “reality.”

The world is in a state of flux, what scientists might call a “paradigm shift,” and the pain and discomfort that undeniable fact is causing is manifest in our communications, our economy, and especially our politics. (How else do we understand the angry and frightened voices insisting that they want “their country” back and the belligerent demands to “Make America Great Again”?)

In 2015,  a site called “The Big Blue Gumball” discussed paradigms and paradigm shift:

Among the biggest paradigm shifts of the last 10 years have been the transitions from analog to digital, and from wired to wireless. These revolutionary technological changes have led to major sociological and behavioral modifications that impact our everyday lives – from the way we live and work, to the ways we entertain ourselves and engage with others.

True enough–but only a small part of the changes we’re experiencing.

All of us develop worldviews– paradigms–as we are “socialized,” into seeing and accepting the “way things are” as understood by the cultures into which we are born.

In The Nature of Prejudice, Gordon Allport’s seminal book about the roots of bigotry, published in 1954, Allport pointed out that most  prejudices come from relatively unthinking acceptance of what “everyone knows”–Jews are “sharp” businessmen, blacks are lazy, women are emotional and illogical. The dangerous haters had twisted psyches, but most people weren’t emotionally invested in these negative social stereotypes–they didn’t really think about them, any more than they thought about the fact that we call the color of the sky “blue”– and Allport thought the misconceptions would erode with greater familiarity and more contact.

We’re still working on that. Social change is painful and very slow. (Granted, a global pandemic may speed things up…)

I’ve been particularly interested in a change that has been less noted, although several of its consequences have been subject to expressions of concern. I think we are beginning to see the demise of consumerism. Not consumption, necessarily, but consumerism.

Most pundits attribute the recent struggles of retailing to the Internet, the assumption being that we are simply taking our consumerism online. I think there is more to it.

When I was young, people viewed a trip to the mall or shopping district as entertainment; there was intense interest in what one’s friends were wearing, what “this year’s look” was, what upscale car the neighbors had purchased…and all these things were markers of status. There is obviously still an enormous market for personal purchases, especially for electronic gadgetry, but we are also undergoing a very real change in public attitudes about stuff. 

What that shift means for our economy, which is driven by consumption, remains to be seen, butthere are signs that those attitudinal changes are accelerating,

For example, I found this article from the Guardian significant.It was a report about a new downtown development in the Dutch city of Groningen–an example of the movement to reinvent urban hubs for the post-consumer age.

The €101m, trapezoid Forum building is part library, part meeting space, part science museum and part recreational hangout – a 10-storey “multi-space” designed to resonate with citizens who know that shopping is not necessarily the answer. It’s a new-look department store that doesn’t actually sell very much.

But with high streets feeling the pinch across the developed world, with shops shuttered and town centres wondering what they are for any more, the Groningen experiment is being closely watched.

The lengthy article is fascinating; it describes the Forum as an effort to build community, not commerce.

The Forum seeks to orient all its cultural activities around a common thread. Whether it’s the current exhibition on artificial intelligence (recently on show at the Barbican in London) or Spike Jonze’s futuristic film Her at the cinema, everyone is collectively inching towards the same page (“optimism about the future”, in the Forum’s case).

Social change is inevitable. Unfortunately, thanks to the current pandemic and the economic disaster likely to come in its wake, our paradigms are likely to change far more rapidly–and challenge us far more dramatically–than many of us can handle. What will come next is a question for social scientists–or perhaps science fiction writers.

At a minimum, it will be interesting….


  1. The best instigator of a paradigm shift in a diverse and divided society is a life threatening shared experience. Pearl Harbor was one of those events. So was 9-11. Today we have Covid-19. What results from this will indeed be fascinating to observe not only in others but to observe in ourselves.
    Will we learn? Will we grow as individuals with new insights and realizations? Will we emerge better off, or will we descend into a hell of our own making? Time will tell.

  2. Sheila,

    “What will come next is a question for social scientists–or perhaps science fiction writers.”

    The SOCIAL SCIENTISTS better “step up to the plate” before it’s all over, except for the shouting.

  3. We’ve been treated as consumers since the 1950s — psychology has been used against us. Marketing and advertising are geared toward our unconscious mind.

    Another industry founded on the psyche is public relations or propaganda. The CIA hired Sigmund Freud’s nephew to help develop their program when it started in the 50s. We can see the apparent manifestations of propaganda in our modern world and in our political realm (we get daily pressers reminding us about propaganda got a 6-time loser into the White House).

    Urban architecture has been moving toward gathering spaces for quite some time. Much of the problem is convincing those who have political clout (mostly Boomers) that investing in large retail spaces is a doomed philosophy.

    Moving people out of their comfort zones via a pandemic and government’s decisions meant to flatten the curve has produced a lot of fear in people. Fear makes us act irrationally. Consider the hoarding of toilet paper and bottled water. Neither makes sense, but seeing empty shelves caused, even more, to fear they’d go without. You can’t buy either of these items online.

    What society will look like when we come out of this pandemic will undoubtedly be transformed. Politically. Economically. Socially. The younger generations adapt rather quickly to working at home and self-distancing because they are comfortable with technology. Many of the Boomers are lost because all they have is television, which talks at you.

    Also, consider all those being forced to work at home will eventually be called back to offices.

    Were workers more productive at home or in an office? Can businesses save money via the Gig economy? Will commercial buildings become the next shopping malls?

  4. Reward resilience. There are people and retailers far better prepared for current reality than others. It is remarkable to witness. We are paying small business services we value half price when cancelling regular appointments. It is in part reserving our queue when recovery comes to ensure services we value survive. Look for doom and gloom? You got it. Invest in the positives? What goes round … comes round. The latter lesson taught and demonstrated by my maternal grandfather who brought his small West Texas farm through the dreaded draught and massive dust storms of the 50’s. For us, life will never be the same, and from my perspective, investing in positives will reap far better dividends, including my votes come November.

  5. The only constant in life is change. I’m looking forward hopefully to the changes that are coming. The last three years have proven that going backward is not desirable for any but a few elite white males. I’m not sure what change the pandemic will ultimately bring. Perhaps we will be the people we are after all other major disasters and be caring and kind for a while, then revert to who we have been.

    The lesson I would love to see us learn is that we are indeed all in this together, regardless of skin color, age, gender, or nation. Our world today is much smaller than it was when I was a child and we need to recognize this and move toward greater personal integration. Take down the walls. Keep laughing. It’s the best cure for what ails us.

  6. Another paradigm shift at age 82 is simply shifting gears…again. About that going from wired to wireless; that resulted in an irritating snake pit of coiled, entangled wires which cannot be hidden from public view as we shifted with that paradigm. I have believed for many years, as I watched younger generations taking for granted the electric appliances we had to adjust to and appreciate; they would never survive as pioneers. We of the older generation lived with being actually quarantined in our homes with childhood diseases which also could be deadly; the health department required notification from doctors and nailed large yellow quarantine signs on the front of our homes. We will adapt to the changes as we go through this Covid-19 Pandemic; I worry more about surviving the lying president who has publicly admitted to having the government buy up testing and treatment supplies and materials to “stock up” in his own words while state governors are turned away due to shortages and outages needed by health care workers and American people to survive a deadly disease.

    Shorter hours at Meijer’s on East Washington Street, as reported by my son and daughter-in-law who went to shop early; there were already lines before new 8:00 a.m. opening and “people are being asses”. Employees of that Meijer’s announced to those in line they are already out of many items in that store. Those of us who can remember WWII will remember shortages which did not mean temporary empty shelves we remember many necessities had become non-existent; shortages to us meant rationing and using ration cards, victory gardens, sharing, and supplying cans of fat and stacks of newspapers for the government. We remember buying war bonds to aid the government; today people are waiting for Trump’s handout; what of his personal demands are hidden in the bills providing the offered help? Being out of work meant being out of money; there was no unemployment check coming. It looks to me as if we are not heading for a recession but a full depression. Time to watch the classic movie, “Grapes Of Wrath” or read Stephen King’s book, “The Stand” to prepare for days ahead and this 21st Century paradigm.

  7. Theresa,

    While I appreciate your optimism, and the optimism of several other contributors today, I think our divisions will only deepen from COVID-19 issues. Oh, the rational people will indeed behave as you suggest and come together to offer mutual assistance and comfort. But the IRRATIONAL segment of our population will continue to buy guns and red hats while yelling at everyone not them. They are the hoaxers who are hoarding TP and cat litter, both for the same purpose, no doubt.

    This cessation of cash flow will absolutely freak out the moguls and banks. They will hide their billions and trillions in off shore banks and beg for more cash via the American taxpayer. That’s how OUR capitalists work. They have and will have NO social conscience whatsoever. The stock market plunge shows how fragile the psyche of the “investor community” really is. Add to that the example of abject corruption by Senators Burr, Feinstein and others and you see what we’re made of.

    The only paradigm shift that will be worth watching is when the rationals finally defeat the irrationals by modeling what courage and decency actually look like instead of shopping for more freezers or bidets.

  8. We spend billions every year by the Defense Department, CIA and other “Intelligence” gathering missions. Since electronic surveillance is all pervasive, the “phone” and Internet Traffic should have lit up like a big Christmas Tree when Covid 19 (coronavirus) was detected in China. This traffic would be centered in Wuhan.

    The Chinese appeared to take the approach of the Soviet Union when Chernobyl first happened – Cover it up, Stone Wall It – until the epidemic began to explode. Probably, nothing could have stopped the spread. Covering up bad news is especially practiced by dictatorships. Dictatorships are accustomed to absolute control.

    Our government, led, aided and abetted by The Trumpet stood by with “Happy Talk”. Given that High Command of Trumpet appointees are stooges for him no one likely challenged The Trumpet.

    The Reactionary Right Wing GOP and FOX instantly taking The Trumpet’s lead dismissed the early warning signs.

    We do not live in a dictatorship. The Trumpet acts, walks and talks like one and his stooges treat him like dictator. So The Trumpet dismissed coronavirus, the Stooges could not and would not challenge him.

    Thus, valuable time was lost. The Trumpet’s press conferences are a hideous display of out lies and mis-information.

    It is painfully obvious a plan for this type of scenario was dismissed – After all The Trumpet did not believe the coronavirus to be a threat and his Stooges sat by.

  9. The saddest paradigm shift is the move away from religions and, therefore, shared values across most of the population. Instead values are “what I value” and/or “what my tribe values”. This will not aid us through this crisis….

  10. Vernon,
    You need to re-read my earlier post. Nowhere in my words did I suggest that people would come together to aide each other. I only pointed out that this crisis would force all of us to shift our own and thus society’s paradigm. And that shift may or may not be for the better.

  11. Paradigm Shift is going to be immense. Toilet paper will return to the shelves probably in vast quantities at some point. Then since people hoarded, you will have warehouses full of toilet paper.

    If you work for Mega-Corporations or small business the chances for lay-offs, reduced hours, etc., will be there. I suspect many small businesses, the locally owned restaurant, will go bankrupt. As I learned many years ago in Finance classes, certain fixed charges have to be paid by a business whether you have one customer or one hundred, such as insurance, mortgages, utilities, taxes, etc.

    The Mega-Corporations will survive. They will probably receive generous bail-outs.
    I suspect you will see a surge of bankruptcies in the personal and business sectors. If you cannot work, you cannot pay your bills.

    Here in America there is a “Safety Net”. It only catches big fish, if you are a minnow, you will be own your own in a sea of predators.

  12. Theresa,

    I beg your pardon. Sometimes I merge thoughts and what I thought I read. So, how did you like the rest of my comment?

  13. Came across an article in the Guardian:
    Strangely competent Mike Pence finds his 9/11 moment in coronavirus crisis.

    After reading the article it obvious they are grading Pastor Pence on the curve.

    Such as:
    David Axelrod, former chief strategist for Barack Obama, tweeted this week: “Other than the incessant fawning, the @VP is a far better briefer than his boss. Tries to stick to facts.”

    The below quote is more true to the facts:

    Jeff Greenfield, a political analyst and author, tweeted on Wednesday: “Have some sympathy for Mike Pence. I’ve learned that there is an electrified belt around his waist and if he speaks for more than 7 seconds without praising the President, a White House aide presses a button and Pence suffers a painful shock.”

    Side Bar: Pastor Pence appears competent only because he is contrasted to The Trumpet.

  14. Like every global crisis, this pandemic will bring out the worst in some of us and the best in others. I can’t control what others do. I choose to move toward bringing out the best in myself.

    There are 2 young men who describe themselves as “minimalists.” They were both in lucrative jobs and found themselves feeling empty. Due to global warming, younger generations are moving toward being “minimalist”. This was once called voluntary simplicity. I wish I lived in a neighborhood where people shared their lawn tools and someone who is out of sugar or flour could go next door and ask for the amount needed to bake a cake, make some cookies for the kids. I wish I lived in a neighborhood where kids came by asking to mow my lawn for 10 bucks.

    When I was a young child living in W. Cottage Grove and later in Rushville, farmers would harvest or sow the fields of their neighbor if he/she was sick and in the hospital. I doubt Monsanto would support that sort of “socialism.”

    In the meantime, our carbon footprint is lower due to the pandemic. Dolphins and white swans are moving into Venice now that the gondolas are not moving through the canals.

    I am hearing that we will continue to have pandemics for a variety of reasons. World leaders will have to develop much better public health infrastructures in every nation to deal with this new challenge. But will they? Or will the plutocrats continue to ignore the simple truth that they are no more immune from the future of pandemics than are the poor in 3rd world countries?

    The question for each of us is simply are we willing to make the sacrifices required to ensure the survival of the human race? In the mean time, I’ve taken food to a food bank and volunteered to take food to those elders who are shut ins.

  15. Monotonous,

    “Side Bar: Pastor Pence appears competent only because he is contrasted to The Trumpet.”

    It’s like the cartoon characters: Heckle and Jeckle of my youth. What role is Pence taking?

  16. Vernon, I like your last paragraph. I hope it comes about, but I won’t hold my breath until it does.

  17. Trump is in big trouble. He will even be in bigger trouble if the movement he “hijacked” starts to crumble from a CASCADING effect within the UNDERLYING STRUCTURE. It only takes a successful encounter at a MAJOR NODE.

    As the psychiatrist Carl Jung commented long ago, “one person can bring down any system.”

  18. Waymon Williams was 26-years-old when he discovered he could learn languages rapidly. I knew him and watched him change from a bronc-riding rodeo cowboy in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to the creator and director of one of the government’s most adept language schools.

    It still amazes me that anyone could go 26 years without knowing about a talent they were born with.

    But now I think I’m seeing that all of us are finding a long-latent talent.

    Unbeknownst to most of us we are currently in the midst of learning a very important thing about the power of the people.

    Exempli gratia:

    As inconvenient as lock-downs and mandatory closures are, they do deliver a powerful wake-up call to big business and government.

    Imagine the influence citizens can exert later on by VOLUNTARILY and COOPERATIVELY locking-down, even for a few days…or even one day…when government and the corporate world are again refusing to fix pervasive problems.

    We the people now know we can do it; we can tough out a lock-down, but most of our keepers cannot.

    Imagine getting our keepers so trained that in order to get long-neglected potholes fixed, all we have to do is make a run en mass on toilet paper. Government’s Pavlovian response will be: Oh, shit! They’re going to shut down again; let’s fix those potholes they’ve been bellyaching about, and just to be safe, let’s fix a few other things, too.

    One beautiful and awesome irony of life is the great grinding wheel of oppression cannot help but sharpen the edge of the scythe blade and the tongs of the pitchfork.

  19. The “paradigms” have changed for the worse and not slowly.

    With the invention of cellular telephones, and then smart phones, and in a parallel time frame albeit slightly before, the invention of the Internet, and then add to that all of the social media hubs, these “paradigms” gave those with an agenda, those with “intensely” hateful and manipulative psyche, a platform to reach millions of individuals, those who are willing to be led rather than be leaders themselves.

    You can correlate the demise of shopping malls, with the rise of social media and all of its accoutrements. The Internet itself is not evil, but it definitely is used for evil(Selfish and self-serving and manipulative) purposes. Will building interesting public hubs with more than just consumeristic windowdressing take? The genie has been out of the bottle since the advent of the home computer and Internet, and the ability to now carry it in one’s pocket, allowing one to be tracked and manipulated with permission is not a genie so easily stuffed back in.

    Maybe a gigantic cataclysm, Possibly, for example, a magnetic pulse which would annihilate most electronics, that might get people to open their eyes once again, something that hasn’t happened with any regularity since the age of Enlightenment, (Renaissance). The Renaissance was actually the last real paradigm shift before our current social media archetype. Just like the Renaissance, our social media archetype had/Has a lot of moving parts as mentioned above, but it made actual socialization extinct. Let’s face it, unless you personally know an individual on the other end of your keyboard/keypad most of the time it’s just cat fishing!

    The Russians(But you can pick your poison) are just one example and very good at it, then, it’s picked up by loudmouths who use it for their agenda, and a whole generation of lemmings are born! Manipulated and deep fake videos are just another tool in the repertoire of deception (Cat fishing on steroids)and manipulation towards those easily manipulated. But unlike after the Renaissance, all of this so-called “social media” (antisocial media) has direct contact with everyone, 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year because it’s carried around in your pocket, the world at one’s fingertips, without having to leave your sofa! And also, malleable minds at the fingertips of the manipulators on the other side of that keyboard! That’s an awful huge, powerful and unwilling genie that will resist to its last breath to be stuffed back in that bottle!

    We willingly, for ourselves, AND with gratitude by those Manipulators, Fear mongers, Hate spreaders, and sons of destruction, KEEP the devil in our pocket wherever we go!

    It will actually take a cataclysmic paradigm shifting event, to even begin to repair the damage that has been done!

  20. What society is learning from this viral pandemic is that we are in fact out of control. We could have learned that from climate scientists several decades ago but their message was socially obscured by fossil fuel corporations following the one rule of commercial institutions, make more money now regardless of the impact on any others ever. Now that the pandemic consequences of atmospheric fossil fuel waste are already weighing on taxpayers through FEMA expenses (in the US) helping those of us financially impacted by extreme weather causing more floods and droughts and wild fires and wind speeds that exceed the capacity of many structures to withstand we still are deaf to the reality of it. Like disease pandemics what we are seeing now the tip of change that will only grow in impact.

    The structure of our civilization is crumbling and we are not smart enough to manage the necessary transition to whatever is determined by forces out of our control.

    That’s a very painful reality to learn.

  21. A wise man once said that”In the end, all is philosophy,” and though this (I hope) is not the end, I decided to write about change from that stance today. Thus what may be different in re change this time with this confluence of AI, plague and institutionalized greed is a change in the nature of change itself. Other such changes in the past, glacial but predictable in retrospect, have come off as advertised while our current glacier of change may be collapsing before our eyes. So how do you put a collapsed glacier back together? Answer > Perhaps you don’t. Our collapsing glacier, for many eternally argued reasons, has not served all of us well. Additionally, It doesn’t help to have a (charitably described) demented leader in charge these days.

    So what to do? Pick out hunks of ice from the collapsed glacier, discard others, and proceed to construct a new society and economy that are the ones we talk about now but do not have, one in which we all share in the bounty, whether such bounty runs through a corporate AI sieve or other means, all of which when combined will partake of what we now (and erroneously) call socialism. I think without knowing that tomorrow’s citizens will not tolerate today’s arrangement (one in which AOC would be labeled a right-winger), so it’s just as well (though painful as with the advent of the Industrial Revolution) that we have this sea change in change itself.

    What will tomorrow look like and will it itself be subject to evolving change? I don’t know what it will look like, and yes, it will be subject to yet evolving change. I will leave description of the results to Nostradamus and other philosophers since it is not algorithms, wealth, status, or even power which will ultimately decide humanity’s direction, but rather how we define and intermix these (or their substitutes’) measures and reapply them to the common good, always with a eye to lurking authoritarians who are in every generation. As with democracy today, we will be called upon then to nourish and protect the then existing (if evolving) order.

  22. The human species is a social species. Small observation: I’ve recently moved to a community with expanding suburbs and every new housing development has a “clubhouse” or community space built into it. We’ve always had social gathering spaces but they often served more than one purpose. Long ago the well for water and the river for washing served as community gathering spaces. In the 20th century America, the town square served this purpose and evolved to the shopping mall. So the need for community spaces continues and seems to be transforming into that single use facility. I wonder if this is a paradigm shift, or just another shift in the shape of social spaces. – A second related comment is about theatre arts. My education and experience is theatre arts. The theatre as a social gathering – that also builds the social myths – always survives while shape shifting. While we are isolated physically in our homes, we are turning to the storytellers, the performing arts – on tv and online – to maintain our connections and our defining stories. Social gathering and storytelling are in our DNA and evolution shifts much more slowly than paradigms.

  23. Kate – those “community spaces” in developments also ensure that you have community only with folks like yourself, unlike (hopefully) real community places like public parks, public libraries, etc.

  24. “Fear makes us act irrationally.”

    It is from my learnings, understandings and experiences that fear does not do this; our own perceptions, understanding, and beliefs are what motivate us to act and react. If we use reflexivity rather than reactivity, our choices may not only be different, even more caring for others, and also we may gain more self awareness and self understanding on yet deeper levels of our ability to self manage.

    We cannot change others. We can only change ourselves and our reactions toward others. In doing so, we shift the relationships, and often see change in the others.

    Thank you, Sheila, for addressing the concept of paradigm shift or change. If the world is changing, we will ultimately be forced to change in alignment with it, or not. The viruses are in constant mode of change, on their own minute level of life. As we humans are on ours. We all live together in this universe, like it or not.

    Thanks to lol who are at the party together …you are all AWESOME!

  25. I’m 75 and if not for all the laptops, phones and Ipads I would not have the opportunity of inviting each of you into my home on regular basis!! I love the intelligent/thoughtful exchanges of ideas and information facilitated by Sheila. Scary times but I’m an eternal optimist and after the last 4 yrs we really need change. God bless and wash your hands.

  26. Replying to Lester Levine, yes. I sadly understand that and didn’t address it in my short comment. You make a valid point. Thanks.

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