Negotiating a common narrative

Jos van den Broek, Professor in Science Communication at Leiden University, mentioned four global narratives during the workshop ‘An emerging Technological and Societal Transition’. Narratives are needed to understand the world and they determine how we think and act.

The first narrative he called ‘Paradiso’, after one of the three parts of Dante Alighieri’s La Divina Commedia. In Paradiso (Paradise, Heaven) opportunities are paramount. The 17 global goals formulated by the United Nations are a good example of this, but might be too many. Therefore, Van den Broek reduced these to ten global goals.

The second narrative, closely linked to the first one, is ‘Inferno’ (Hell). This narrative focuses on the global risks we are facing. These risks, as formulated by The Global Challenges Foundation, can be divided into several classes: current risks, global policy risks, exogenic risks, and emerging risks. The BINC technologies might fall in the last category.

Paradiso or Inferno? Time is running short for making that quite important choice. Sandstone ornamentation at Hooglandse kerk, Leiden, The Netherlands, made by the Dutch sculptor Rombout Verhulst around 1660 (© Jos van den Broek)
Paradiso or Inferno? Time is running short for making that quite important choice. Sandstone ornamentation at Hooglandse kerk, Leiden, The Netherlands, made by the Dutch sculptor Rombout Verhulst around 1660 (© Jos van den Broek)

According to Jos van den Broek there is competiton between these two narratives when connected with the BINC technologies. These technologies can be a blessing as well as a curse. ‘Purgatorio’ (Purgatory, Mount Purgatory, the Mountain of Purification) therefore is the third narrative; it is about the global choices we have to make. This narrative is linked to the first two, because the world has to make a choice. As the BINC Manifesto states: “If we are wise, we can use the emerging BINC transition to move everybody beyond austerity and into a world of plenty. However, apathy could allow the BINC transition to bring our world into a new dark age, a dystopia controlled by a tiny elite.”

Van den Broek’s last narrative, ‘Terra’ (Earth), is about the great urgency to act here and now. The central question is how to come from Purgatorio to Paradiso without getting lost in Inferno. We only have one planet; only global governance can lead to a bright future for all.

According to Van den Broek it is necessary to use a bottom-up approach to decide how we as a society are going to act, by using the already existing societal forces and values. The keyword here is negotiation. Van den Broek calls himself an optimist: “We live in a global home with many houses, so we have to negotiate a common narrative with different voices.”

By Amanda Schaaf

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