How the Postnormal era will change everything 

Organizations are becoming fast-and-loose, reconfiguring around social networks instead of business processes, becoming more decentralized and as autonomy increases, more egalitarian.

We will completely drop the pretense of objectivity – a tension that is eating away at journalism and old school media like hydrochloric acid – and accept the inherent need for partiality as the grounding of all belief.

We will belong to our networks – which are our own – and not to institutions that require us to subordinate our interests and selves.

Families will become less Leave it to Beaver and instead we’ll embrace a broad spectrum of alternative living arrangements that include the growing numbers of people who live alone but are very social, groups of friends sharing space and other intentional communities, and non-traditional families with multiple generations living together, gay and lesbian families and all sorts of extended arrangements.

The corner on the postnormal is when we actively work to build an economy that is not fueled by growth and globalism and instead is local and steady-state oriented.

Today’s political boundaries make no sense: they are the outgrowth of royal treaties, conquest, and the misuse of resources. We should start with the natural ecological unit – the watershed – and replace the notion of provinces (US states) with those. I for example, live in the Hudson River Watershed. Locale is still relevant, so people still would be tied to San Francisco, or Beacon NY. And regionalism is still meaningful, but not necessarily the way today’s borders fall. And finally, we need to consider the world and its resources as a shared commons, and not spoils to be owned by the fortunate or wealthy.

Participative media not mass media.

A major transition to restorative and sustainable relationship to the environment is essential, or we will all boil.

And a relaxing of the failed dogmas of orthodox religions, and a more taoist reorientation of our spirituality toward the enigma of life and the universe, and a greater acceptance of the myriad ways in which people might choose to express their awe and faith.

Technology is changing men. According to Philip Zimbardo, co-author of a new book, Man (Dis)connected: How Technology has Sabotaged What It Means to Be Male, “Technology attracts men. We have a natural affinity with it. It can obviously be a great thing in that in can enable, say, shy people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t.

“But the problem is that some guys are using it to excess and are not actively social because they are living in a virtual world.”

Americans spend 60 hours a week plugged into the four main digital devices: high-definition televisions, computers, tablets and smartphones. Last year, research by communications regulator Ofcom showed that UK adults spend an average of eight hours and 41 minutes per day on media devices.

Welcome To The Postnormal: Globalization In Decline?

In a recent McKinsey report, Financial globalization: Retreat or reset?, we can see that cross-border capital flows have collapsed since 2008, and remain more than 60% below the 2007 peak.

As the report states:

Western Europe accounts for some 70 percent of this drop, as the continent’s financial integration has gone into reverse. Eurozone banks have reduced cross-border lending and other claims by $3.7 trillion since 2007, and central banks now account for more than 50 percent of capital flows within the region.

Even beyond Europe, global banking is in flux. Cross-border lending has fallen from $5.6 trillion in 2007 to an estimated $1.7 trillion in 2012. In light of new capital and regulatory requirements, many banks are winnowing down the geographies in which they operate. Commercial banks have sold more than $722 billion in assets and operations since the start of 2007; foreign operations make up almost half of this total. Expanding the debt and equity capital markets will take on greater urgency as banks scale back their activities.


Commercial banks and sovereign investors are drawing back from globalist investments, and looking closer to home for investment opportunities. Also, there is a major transition in international capital flows to old school foreign direct investment – owning all or part of foreign businesses – which is a much less volatile form of capital flow.

The authors suggest two scenarios, one which lines up with my theories of the postnormal economy we are careening into. That is a return to more domestic capital formation: glocalization, where nations and regional economies reject the high risks and volatility of globalized capital.

McKinsey is more sanguine about a second scenario, which is a lala-land ‘sustainable approach to financial-market development and global integration’ which would support high growth but sidestep the excesses of the past. Yeah, sure.

We should expect a continued disintegration of the globalist money machine, as distrust and discord divide even the advanced economies of the West. The message to us in business is clear, perhaps even stark: the high flying globalism of the late postmodern era – from the '70s to the '00s – has crashed. We’ve seen peak globalism, and the world is becoming a more divided place.

A great review of what sounds like a solid book from an author looking for a solution to the problems that confront us, but in the postnormal we don’t have problems, but dilemmas, and dilemmas don’t have solutions:

an excerpt

George Packer’s brutal and riveting new book, The Unwinding, was supposed to have a happier ending. Passionately and meticulously reported during the Great Recession and the rise of Barack Obama, Packer’s work awaited a “Rooseveltian moment,” one of those “big bangs” of history when an epochal economic crisis meets a leader and a movement that have emerged to solve it. For all the positive accomplishments of the Obama presidency, that moment never arrived—or at least hasn’t yet. And so Packer and his subjects and his readers are stranded in history, trying to make sense of the unraveling of the American economy, maybe the whole damn American experiment.

I’ve struggled with how to describe a book that I think people should read in terms that don’t make it sound like a grim slog. In The New York Times, Dwight Garner (who loved it) compared it to “a three-day flu.” I’d say the flu lasts longer than that. It’s like reliving the last 30 years of political history but really paying attention this time, and knowing how the story ends for most of us, at least for now: badly.

In a book that stubbornly resists prescription, and maybe even argument, this widely quoted passage from the prologue has to suffice:

If you were born around 1960 or afterward, you have spent your adult life in the vertigo of that unwinding. You watched structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscape—the farms of the Carolina Piedmont, the factories of the Mahoning Valley, Florida subdivisions, California schools. And other things, harder to see but no less vital in supporting the order of everyday life, changed beyond recognition—ways and means in Washington caucus rooms, taboos on New York trading desks, manners and morals everywhere. When the norms that made the old institutions useful began to unwind, and the leaders abandoned their posts, the Roosevelt Republic that had reigned for almost half a century came undone. The void was filled by the default force in American life, organized money.

Packer keeps himself out of The Unwinding, but he was born in 1960 himself, and graduated from high school in 1978, which is where he places the beginning of “the unwinding,” and where he starts the book. (This is roughly my own timeline, which is why the book was sometimes painful to read.) It opens with what becomes a recurring device throughout the book: a pastiche of headlines and pop culture detritus from that year, from the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” to a sentence from a Jimmy Carter speech about inflation to an ad for Vantage cigarettes to a headline about Jonestown. You know from the beginning you’re going to wander through some depressing precincts.

If you require such wandering to lead you from despair to hope and a renewed sense of political direction, this is not the book for you. The Unwinding has its heroes, but their heroism lies in perseverance, not achievement. A committed liberal optimist (like myself) may come away from it with his or her optimism unwound. But spending time facing how feebly we’ve met the challenges of the last 30 years and how much harder life is for so many people despite our political exertions can be restorative, too. Sometimes it’s bracing to admit: Yes, things are as bad as they seem. Sometimes we have to hit bottom. We can only hope that what The Unwinding depicts is the country’s bottom.


I hate to say a writer has tried to do too much when most of us fail by attempting too little. But in his effort to encompass the entirety of our experience, Packer lets his ambition get the best of him. His inclusion of famous people—not in the narrative, but interspersed throughout in short, discrete chapters—was ultimately distracting. The device appears to be Packer’s attempt to spotlight people who have a genius for the self-propulsion and self-promotion that, for good or ill, is over-rewarded these days. It’s notable that he seems to feel a little more disappointment, even disdain, toward successful characters on the liberal side, like Alice Waters, Oprah, and Jay-Z, than for, say, Newt Gingrich, who comes off slightly more sympathetically.

One of those liberals hovers on the book’s margins: Barack Obama, who seems to disappoint Packer so much that he doesn’t even merit his own chapter. Obama wanders through The Unwinding like a ghost or a rumor or maybe Zelig: Here he is meeting Dean Price as he announces stimulus spending on renewable energy in Virginia. Price later told Packer that “it was the softest of any man he’d ever shaken hands with,” and “it told him that Obama had never done a lick of physical work in his life.” The 2012 election barely registers in the book, because it clearly strikes Packer as missing the point: No one in that campaign talked about the extent of the country’s unraveling or sorrow.


And yet I felt my own sense of regret, if not quite resentment, that Packer refused to make a more coherent argument with this book. What’s going on here, George? What are we supposed to do now? You’re the guy who carried boxes of outdated DSA position papers up and down stairs in Boston. Surely you can carry the torch for the social justice movement a little longer?

But he can’t force what he doesn’t feel, and he’s a reporter, not a fabulist. If Packer doesn’t know what the future will be like, he does a haunting, maybe unrivaled job telling us about the grim present, and it will stay with you. In the end, his resignation about the future is almost as disturbing as the present he’s so chillingly chronicled.

This review is tagged ‘declinism’ which is indicative but not really defining. But go read it.