Alternative Editorial: What Emergency?

Tomas Bjorkman introduces the new paradigm at Emerge

Tomas Bjorkman introduces the new paradigm at Emerge

To emerge: to move out of or away from something visible. 

Emergence:the process of becoming visible after being concealed.

By Indra Adnan, A/UK co-initiator

I’m ruminating after several days in Kyiv, Ukraine, attending the second gathering of self-styled meta-modernists, under the name of a network named Emerge. What have I been witnessing? Why here? And what has been concealed until now, by what? 

Convenor Tomas Bjorkman, author of  set the tone with the question: “How can we support emergence to avoid a civilizational collapse? What can we do on an individual level, an organisational level and on a societal level to support the development of consciousness and capabilities for collective sense-making? 

The original expectation was for 90 people, an eclectic mix of creatives of all ages who were called by the invitation to explore the integration (or maybe coincidence) of inner personal development and social transformation.

In the week leading up the event, the number doubled and was eventually over-subscribed: people clamouring to attend from all over Europe, but also from the US and Canada and Israel. Maybe half in their thirties, two thirds men. Not all, but many making the journey overland, by train and bus. 


Many of them have appeared on our pages before – in coverage of the Alter Ego events, PerspectivaEkskaretBurning ManNoisily Festival – those who explore the new technologies of the self. From old and new forms of spirituality, to esoteric embodiment practices and plant medicines. They also try to carry their message through new social and digital technology.

But some of these are also businessmen and women, economists, politicians, mediators. Many are artists and contributing to a new school of Metamodern Art, which was exhibiting in Kyiv at the same time. It would not be easy to sum up what they all had in common, other than that they would be willing to sit with others, and deeply challenge their own internal capacities, in the name of social transformation.

Metamodernity is itself an emergent concept and practice. Building on the integral teachings of Ken Wilber and others, Memo is beginning to capture a developmental ethos for the 2020s.

What that means is an understanding of humans as not fixed in character and capacity, but constantly developing. First naturally, as part of growing up. But beyond that, displaying different - but also new - forms of agency as they move through life. Sometimes in response to circumstances, other times through assiduous practice on themselves.  

That may seem obvious to many of us. But the diversity of forms of agency - for example, in a room where people are trying to come to an agreement - often stand in the way of people hearing each other properly. One person may be looking for resources to get their immediate needs met, but they will be hoping for different outcomes than someone else—who might be busy strategizing for the longer term, intent on institution building. 

Generally, we are not aware of own broader motivations. We can be easily led by arguments that appeal to our distinct sense of agency – that is, capture our personal, felt sense of how we experience power. It’s messy.

When Ken Wilber first published his introductory Theory of Everything in 2000, the West was living in a post Berlin-Wall world. A period characterised by the mainstream media as liberation – where state oppression appeared to have been defeated by a human desire for more autonomy, freedom and individualism. Thirty years later the story appears more complex.

As a concept, metamodernism is arising in more fluid, although more dangerous, times. Profound conditions of inequality continue, and the environmental crisis has rapidly accelerated. The effects of social media – allowing not only access to information but encouraging constant reflection – have accelerated individual learning. But social media has also made us more capable of manipulation and shape shifting, in all directions.

I can’t do metamodernism justice in this editorial – for that, maybe read Jonathan Rowson’s essay. But one clear pointer would be its rejection of what is described as post-modernism – the relativism of values, scepticism about leadership, a surrender to chaos.

It articulates new ideas about progress and purpose. No more flat networks without direction. More dynamic self-organising within fast evolving and dynamic systems. Fluid, serial leadership rather than rigid leadership.

Metamoderna music

Metamoderna music

While post-modernism was calling for the end of top down politics, metamodernism is calling for the end of flat, bottom-up structures where no one has authority at all. What is now being pointed at - still erratically – is the appearance of new experimental structures that have higher forms of agency. Structures that can offer autonomy to people at a variety of levels – personal, community, planetary – without sacrificing direction and purpose.

There are leaders within these structures, but they are not always highly visible at the front and top, giving instructions. Their action is more pre-figurative, modelling new kinds of relationship to power.

Here’s a good example. When Alternativet first emerged in the Danish Parliament in 2013, they were called the ‘circus party’ because of their more playful, imaginative and energetic ways of being political. Their leader Uffe Elbaek ran the Kaos Pilots for twenty years and was Denmark’s Culture Minister before making the leap into something new.

Alternativet began simply by identifying six values and an intention to link the health of the complex human being to the health of the planet. On that basis, they crowd-sourced a manifesto – revealing a strong call for a radical green party. They became the fastest growing political party in Denmark for several years, winning ten seats and several mayoralties in the first leg.

Their green mantle has since been stolen by others (a gentle triumph for them). But the culture of political entrepreneurship Uffe and friends pioneered can reveal innovation at any point in the system. 

Here at A/UK, our own focus on cosmo-localism and citizen action networks (ref) would be an example. And deeper within that, we have emphasised the importance of one’s own internal development. Where we cultivate response-ability, and where the personal directly generates the political (ref).

Walking around Kiev with Klaudia Shevelyuk – founding partner at Change Agency and co-Founder / Owner at Responsible Future in Ukraine – I experienced first-hand why Kiev might be ‘the new Berlin’ for this metamodern age.

St Andrew’s Church

St Andrew’s Church

Not only because of its historical importance at the heart of Europe but also for the way it functions in relationship to the established power in Moscow – innovating and experimenting with new forms of cultural and social expression. The arrival of young software designers from all corners of the globe to Kiev, opening tech hubs and co-working spaces, has drawn the attention of the global tech community.

At the same time, spending time inside and outside the awe-inspiring St Andrew’s Church left me with no doubt that the very heart of European civilisation can be reckoned with here 

The combination of the frescoes of Christ on the cross and his struggling disciples inside the church and the commemoration of the young men who lost their lives in the Revolution of Dignity on the outside, was startling.

And a clue maybe, as to why the metamodern movement – which attracts so many young men to a journey of spiritual growth – feels at home in Kiev.