A paradigm is everything inside the box. The basic assumptions on how the world works is a paradigm. It's the framework that holds a person's belief system. It's coloring within the lines.
Paradigm has specific meanings in the world of science. When radical discoveries in a scientific field happen, they can cause a paradigm shift. The box changes shape. In the 19th century, science had just about everything placed in a neat box. There were just a few troubling little things that didn't quite fit. Those tiny problems because quantum mechanics and blew apart how scientists think about the world -the whole world. Everything is different.
Most people can't tell they are even in a box. Does a fish contemplate water? Does it know of land and air? Perhaps it's focused on swimming and ignores the nature of water itself. Just because you can't see the bars doesn't mean you aren't within a prison.
When we are little kids growing up, the bounds of our world are laid out for us. Our parents, schools, political leaders, religious leaders, social life, economic life -all structures of our existence, set up the walls of our box.
It's not just one box. It's many boxes -the religion box, the political box, and so on. In one's life, they might break out of one or two boxes, but never question the overall box that contains it all.
For example, a kid might be raised in a religious environment: parents, schools, and clergy all helped build that box. At some point in life, the kid might question his upbringing. He might change religion, or become agnostic or even an atheist. He's broken out of the religious paradigm he was raised in.
How society reacts to that depends on how much it challenges the overall system of control. In Western Europe, breaking out of one's religious paradigm doesn't have the same penalties as in a conservative Islamic culture. Why is that? Europeans have other systems for controlling a person's behavior. Secular institutions are strong. In a conservative Islamic culture, religion is a stronger and bigger box. It controls more of a person's behavior. It's more important that the religion box stay intact.
Once a person becomes aware that their life is in a series of boxes, they can take a good hard look at them. Knowing you are in a box, you can then decide what to do about them. Maybe nothing. Certain behaviors make good sense in their own right, like the golden rule, treating others like you'd like to be treated. One does not need a religious framework to live a moral life. Instead of doing it out of fear of eternal damnation, a person can live a virtuous life as it actually makes logical sense.
Other paradigms don't hold up so well to observation.
Take the whole American Dream for example. Does it really make sense to always grasp for more? Bigger houses, more expensive cars, the latest electronic gadgets -to have more stuff than than your parents ever had? It's not even a very stable paradigm. Economies falter, energy resources become scarce, and opportunities shrink. It doesn't make sense that something can get bigger forever.
Why do people want more and more in the first place? Let's kick the lid off of this paradigm box. Picture a primitive hunting and gathering society. The big man of the tribe is the best hunter. He has the most meat and furs, making him the richest. Because he is successful, woman want to be his mate. Their children will not go hungry. More and better make a certain amount of sense here.
How does that hold up over time? Women still seem to be attracted to the wealthy guys. Would Bill Gates have ever gotten laid without all his millions? So okay, it works on that end of the scale. How about everyone in the middle? Woman do seem to like a guy who earns a good living. Nothing mysterious about that.
How's it working out for the guys? Not so good. If you are working like mad trying to get ahead in a bad economy, when do you have time to get laid? If the economic game is changing, shouldn't behavior change?
The system made sense to the hunter/gather. The need for food, shelter, and safety had to be satisfied. That's what we should concentrate on, not the abstract things like money are are currently used to purchase those things. A smart girl should go for the guy who has self reliance skills. The guy who can build and off-grid cabin, dig a well, has mastered sustainable energy technology, can grow a garden, knows how to cook, and is comfortable with his nontraditional path. Of course, this goes for men too. They should be seeking out women who aren't locked into the old paradigm.
When I was a teenager, somewhere I heard that most of what men did to gain status was a substitute for sex. The big car, high power job, the big house, the fat bank account -all were substitutes for sex. I thought that was silly. Why not just concentrate on getting sex? (cut me some slack here, I was a teenager.) As I matured I realized it wasn't just sex, but love, affection, companionship and all the rest. Still, why go for the cheap substitutes when the real thing is out there?
It was just a matter of finding someone who wasn't totally boxed in by the American Dream paradigm.
The problem with living outside of the accepted paradigms is the constant pressure to conform. Much of the world is constantly telling you what you are doing is wrong. Worse yet, sometimes living outside the paradigm has pretty negative results. Not only does the dominate society object to your life choices, sometimes it really is a bad choice. That's the burden of being a bit experimental -sometimes experiments fail. A smart person will adapt the new information and modify their paradigm.
We are at a very interesting point in time. The old paradigms are failing. The economic paradigm is a bust. The oil energy paradigm has poisoned the Gulf. The political paradigm looks questionable. (Bush and Obama are as different as can be, yet Obama is pursuing pretty much the same policies as Bush. What's up with that?) The work your whole life for a comfortable retirement paradigm is failing. Basic assumptions on how the world works are coming into question.
The thing that the Powers That Be fear more than anything is a loss of belief in the old paradigms. The old boxes proved to be highly profitable and comfortable for the rulers. Problem is, it all goes away if people stop believing in it. Call it the Tinkerbell Effect if you will.
When I see young people acting outside of the dominate paradigm, I see the beginning of the end of the old systems. They know Social Security won't be there for them, so they don't worry about retirement. It ain't gonna happen. Some see that debt doesn't just get them stuff quickly, it wraps chains around their necks. Many college degrees are a bad investment. Some have rejected getting new cars. The old work well enough and don't bury a person in debt. Maybe they can get by without a car at all. Owning a house in the suburbs doesn't make sense to these people. Maybe co-housing, primitive cabins, living on a boat, squatting, or even a nomadic lifestyle make more sense to them.
Somewhere along the way, a small yet not insignificant number of people will find a new paradigm that works better. It's rewards were will be real and tangible. There will be joy in their lives. Not all the details have been worked out. Most likely the solutions will be highly localized to fit conditions on the ground. Looking outside of their boxes, people will see what they really have to work with and build with the materials at hand. Once others see there is a way out of the old paradigm, many will join the early adopters.
Not everyone will get with the new paradigm. People in their 50s will get clobbered. Older people have gotten what they can out of the old paradigm. Younger people will be able to adapt as they don't have much invested in the old ways. Those in the 50s invested much of their lives in the old system, but now all that they worked for will be taken away. It's tough at that age to lose your retirement, your job, your house, and all the material things that once gave you status. If you are in that age group, try and find a way to let yourself down easy. It's not your fault. Your were duped.
No matter what happens, some will never believe there can even be another paradigm. There are still people who believe the earth is flat.