The Weapons of Reason book marks the end of the magazine, at a time when “humanity is at a crossroads”
In the book’s foreword, Ideo’s Tim Brown urges that society must band together against the world’s complex problems, as it has done for Covid.
- Jenny Brewer
- 2 December 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
When creative agency Human After All launched its magazine Weapons of Reason back in 2014, it always intended to finish after eight issues. So it seems apt that the publication made to explore and dissect the world’s big issues, has come to an end at a pivotal moment in global history. While its eight issues never covered pandemics, it did take on hefty topics such as environment, population, health, conflict and sustenance, each issue delving into these themes via long reads by experts. And upon publishing its final issue, it has a key lesson to share from its learnings – that “short-term thinking in global leadership is a common theme at the heart of the world’s most pressing problems”. This is the theme of its book, which updates and republishes some of its key stories from the eight issues, before analysing and exploring the theme through a collection of new pieces.
In the book’s foreword, Ideo chair and author of Change By Design Tim Brown, writes about the current moment, and the potential it provides for society to band together against its other “common enemies” as it has done with Covid-19 – below is an exclusive extract.
Humanity is at a Crossroads by Tim Brown
The modern world is full of complexity, but often the simple narratives we hear from politicians, the media and in wider discussion fail to clearly and effectively address the realities and repercussions of how complex global systems interrelate. That’s a problem, because human beings are drawn to simple narratives like moths to a flame — it’s one of our great evolutionary strengths, but also a debilitating weakness.
The Earth is in crisis. Between climate breakdown, ecosystem collapse and other resource limitations, we’re reaching the bounds of what our planetary systems can support. Humanity is at a crossroads. Naiveté is no longer an option.
Perhaps strangely, I find the arrival of such a portentous moment to be very exciting. These instances of societal transformation have happened numerous times in human history, but they are by no means regular, and they offer enormous potential for creativity. The last one occurred around 150 years ago when the Industrial Revolution took hold and brought scale to everything. New technologies enabled mass manufacture, the industrialisation of energy, and the building of what ultimately became global markets. It was a massive transformation over the course of decades in which almost all our societal systems had to be reconfigured or redesigned to fit with what technology was allowing us to do.
There is much we can learn from the great societal shifts of the Industrial Revolution, not least of which is how to avoid repeating its mistakes. So many of the behaviours and practices it brought about have been damaging to the planet, but it’s hard to think of another time when society was revolutionised at such speed. In our post-industrial, software-driven age of dwindling resources, we need to learn lessons and take action faster than ever before.
Before 2020, the necessary pace of this change might have seemed impossible to all but the most steadfast optimists, but if a positive lesson can be learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s that we’re capable of redesigning enormous facets of our world very quickly in order to adapt. We’ve already had to redesign the way we engage with public spaces, purchase staple goods and services, and enjoy our leisure time. We’re redesigning the way we work, we’re redesigning how we think about travel, and we’re going to have to redesign our public health systems because they’re proving inadequate to deal with moments like this. All of these changes have happened in weeks and months, not years.
The only difference between a global pandemic and climate breakdown, ecosystem collapse, exploitative capitalism, commercially based globalisation, unchecked technological development and the many other problems we face is how we choose to conceptualise them. We have chosen to think of Covid-19 as a common enemy and deal with it accordingly. Perhaps now is the time to do the same to the rest of the world’s complex problems so that we might build more resilient, lasting systems in their place. To do so will, I think, require the confluence of three different strategies, the first of which Weapons of Reason is already beginning to address.
We must learn to think long term again. What might be the impact if we can successfully apply our collective effort to the truly wicked problems of the 21st century? How might we design organisations, education, civic engagement, industrial systems, markets, healthcare, transportation, taxation, faith, work, communities both physical and virtual, to be fit for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren, our grandchildren’s grandchildren? These, I would argue, are worthy challenges for the whole of society to engage with. These are the challenges we all must face.
The Weapons of Reason book is available to order via its Kickstarter campaign.
GalleryWeapons of Reason (Copyright © Human After All, 2020)
Weapons of Reason (Copyright © Human After All, 2020)