Jim Liu on global consciousness

I’ve been meaning to blog this for a while. In late September, my friend, colleague and occasional mentor Jim Liu gave his Professorial lecture. I was forced to miss the event, but was able to watch the whole thing online. I recommend you do as well – it’s a great talk. It’s called Towards a Psychology of Global Consciousness, and brings together a bunch of Jim’s research interests to reach a conclusion that’s challenging, even shocking.

First, he goes through some fascinating research into how we perceive history, using a huge international survey where people in different countries listed events and people from history in order of importance. This stuff is fascinating in its own right, and Jim uses it to draw some conclusions about the basis of what he calls a global consciousness.

Then he connects this to the NZ situation, and looks at how NZ history is conceived and how Maori and Pakeha relations are complicated by our views of history. (“Historical negation” emerges as an incredibly powerful method to preserve the status quo.) But it’s also clear that Maori culture is much better suited than Pakeha culture to make sense of the collectivist/high-power-distance societies that are rapidly increasing in global power.

Finally he turns to one of those rising societies, China, and looks at the basis of societal relations in Chinese culture. Their model of benevolent authority, Jim suggests, is the way the world is going. In fact, given the failure of democracies to cope with the signal challenge of this era, climate change, perhaps a benevolent authoritarian society is the ideal way forward.

It’s an extremely challenging conclusion, and you really need to hear Jim tell the whole story before dismissing it. Fortunately, you can do exactly that, and read all his slides, right here. It’s a bit under an hour (don’t be fooled by the duration on the video, they just left the camera running in the room after everyone had gone) and worth every minute, particularly for fellow Kiwis.


3 thoughts on “Jim Liu on global consciousness”

  1. The problem, of course, is that the term “benevolent authoritarian society” is an oxymoron, and it’s not a feasible solution unless human beings are removed from positions of power in it.

    OTOH, an AI-ruled authoritarian society like Iain Banks’ “Culture” is perfectly feasible and workable, once technology advances to the point at which people can be sure that AIs cannot be hacked or unduly influenced.

  2. But if an AI cannot be hacked or “unduly” influenced, what to do when it gets something catastrophically wrong? And who would do this?

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