Eyes Wide Open:

Archiving Y2K, the CSAT (Civil Society Aptitude Test)Archiving Y2K, the CSAT (Civil Society Aptitude Test)

AY2K is a lightning bolt which, when it strikes, will illuminate the contours of our social landscape.

Y2K has three factors that make this statement particularly true. First, it is a world-wide phenomenon that will affect people globally whether they know or not. Second, it is something about which we have had warning for years. Third, it is of unknown proportions and sweep: we cannot know with certainty how bad it will be or how far the collateral damage will spread. Indeed, a crucial ingredient to this problem lies in the varying sense of how serious the problem B an issue whose contours we will only begin to know next year. Y2K, at the end of this millennium, serves as the ultimate cognitive test: with billions of costs and trillions on the line, how well did any individual, any entity, any country, any culture, judge accurately and deal appropriately with the threat of Y2K.

The threat of this unknown quantity untreated, moreover, strikes at the very technology that has permitted the last decade to transform the global community, that which allowed modernity to penetrate into more traditional economic cultures everywhere. At various levels of acuity and striking at both new and older techno-structures, Y2K will ripple around the world in 2000. And no one really has an idea of how strong that ripple will be. There will be egg on beards at both ends of the spectrum.

No one could have engineered a more interesting test for so broad a range of people. But test of what? Test of a culture=s ability to handle a cognitive challenge, to think and respond creatively to difficulties. And, it turns out, those qualities necessary for handling Y2K are also those closely, if not exclusively, associated with civil society. Indeed, one might even call Y2K the global CSAT, Civil Society Aptitude Test. Consider the traits that will best equip a culture B individual, community, corporation, government B to assess and prepare for Y2K.

Then, if Y2K proves more troublesome than we have been led to believe, consider the traits that will serve us best:

Let us contrast this list with one of those traits that are most likely to prepare a society poorly for both tackling Y2K at an appropriate level, and handling whatever disruptions that might cost.

What we have here, on the one hand, is a list of factors, institutional and cultural, that strengthen civil society, and, on the other, a list of what characterizes authoritarian societies B both traditional and modern. And if we follow the logic of the two approaches, we can discern the lineaments of a process whereby Y2K could either drive a wedge further between the haves and the have-nots, or, inversely, bring them together. Where what occurs in this regard could well be the story of this millennial cusp, and have a great deal to do with understanding the dynamics of global culture in the next century.

Now we know that no culture falls perfectly into the former category. Corruption, opacity, unwillingness to admit error or listen to criticism, systematic mistrust, greed B these are endemic human tendencies, to which, at millennium=s end, add the Y2K culprit, procrastination. They plague the civic cultures as well as authoritarian. Nor are the Y2K virtues unique to civic culture; while civil society has tried to build institutions around the ability of the decisive majority to follow them most of the time. The question is, how much good or bad will exists in any given culture, and what channels for expression can they find. Just as there is always a difference between what we think and what we say, what we say and what we do, so too there is a gap between the ideals of civil society and the real workings of any culture.

But with Y2K, it is precisely the split between public and private that controls how poorly we approach our test. The bigger the split, the more we sail into this iceberg zone without binoculars at the lookout. If the icebergs are small, as promised, then the oversights will pass unnoticed. The whole point of concealment is that, most of the time it works. But every once in a while something more revealing comes along, and, as the Japanese say, when the tide goes out, you find out who=s swimming naked. That is where Y2K comes in: if it is serious, it will be a litmus test revealing real forces at work in economies and cultures around the world.

There is more: as any student of the phenomenon knows, the Y2K story will not be over in January. Both the technological and social dynamics set in motion by Y2K=s advent at the end of the millennium, and its onset at the beginning of the next, will continue to influence global culture. This brings us to the greatest challenge of Y2K: to see it as a lesson for the learning. For at least two millennia, religious women and men have looked to the millennium=s end for God to make his Last Judgment on the human race. Maybe the first lesson of the Y2K B Year 2000 B is that, while it may not be the Last Judgment, it certainly will be an interesting and revealing one. And if we are to navigate the shoals of the 3rd millennium=s technological and social whitewater, we may want to know as much as we can about ourselves. Y2K offers us as steep a learning curve as we wish to take. It just takes keeping our eyes wide open when it hits.

Timequake: The Social Resilience Scale

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The cases of Y2K around the world will distribute widely over this mapped terrain. We need to identify various places that promise to cover this terrain, both extreme cases and ambiguous ones. We need to track as consistently and with as much depth as possible, the process whereby the quake hits (with varying degrees of intensity around the world), and the role of markets and society in either intensifying or absorbing the shock. We should be able to identify at what intensities of quake, certain social factors take over in either ameliorating or aggravating the situation, and which factors play the most notable roles at various times and in various conditions. In the end, one might surmise, Y2K will drive fragile cultures towards still greater inequities of wealth distribution, and resilient ones towards a more equitable one. Indeed, one might even define social resilience in terms of public cultures where the vast majority of people feel committed to them.

We can thus watch not only the democratic and authoritarian processes in action, but the underlying cultural values of democracy (Open Society) and authoritarianism (Paranoid Imperative). One of the key differences between open societies and authoritarian ones lies in its historical memory: in the latter, propaganda dominates and falsifies the past to justify the present; in the former, history, as best it can, inquires honestly into the past to understand the present. In the one, history stupefies, in the other, it opens a learning curve.

In order for us to make the most of Y2K at this late date, we must turn at least some of our resources towards learning its lessons. If this is a massive CSAT, we do not only want the final scores, we want to follow as closely as possible what led to that score. Our major problem in this case is what we might call the I knew that, syndrome. In all matters of future predictions where the stakes are high (half a trillion at millennium=s end qualifies), we have a phenomenon of restrospective narrative, history rewritten in light of how it turned out. Thus, to get a genuinely valuable archive, we need to collect, as intelligently as possible, as much of the story as it happens as we can.

Project: To track, document, and archive, in a variety of ways

The resource cascade effects and social impacts

The social response to Y2K and correlation between given factors and impact on civil society

The workings of world interconnectedness in terms of markets, media of information, social and cultural dynamics, international relations

Means:

Identifying a good sample of cases around the world (Open Society Institute, CMS, Arlington Institute, Naval War College)

Social Tracking Software to get statistics on behavior patterns (Arlington Institute)

Political information to follow governmental responses (Naval War College)

Historical Narratives by local historians to record events and collect material specific, if not unique, to each locality (Center for Millennial Studies)

 

Historical Project: Encourage and mentor a generation of local historians who take it upon themselves to chronicle the community=s handling of Y2K.

Historians will be recruited in all those neighborhoods or regions that the project selects, as well as a campaign on the net to encourage people anywhere to undertake the task. This would include collecting documents, interviewing various figures, public and private, and clipping local news items. The result would be minimally a local archive, maximally, a narrative history with appendices of how the local community handled Y2K. This will hopefully be a short story in many places, but in others, some of which we hope to identify, it will not be so. Such a project focuses attention on the relationship between the public and the private record, and the parallel but not identical relationship of written to oral testimony, since history, good history, must grapple precisely with these gaps. That is the difference between propaganda and inquiry. This is an extraordinary opportunity to study that difference.

And cultures that face the truth do better than those that lie to themselves. That is, after all, the fundamental assumption of the Open Society.