As I explore the issues of our culture, I start with Vision because it is essential to our being. As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.” Vision is what motivates us: we want to move towards it. (We want to move away from global warming, but where do we want to go?)
If we do survive and eventually thrive, how might a mature culture function? Early in my PhD process, prior to retiring, I presented a workshop called “For Our Children.” I based the title on a statement attributed to the theologian Thomas Berry: while in his 70s, he was apparently asked why he worked so hard. His answer was: “For the children.” Personally, I now work “for the children,” to allow them the privilege of “being human in the 22nd century,” at least one hundred years from now. As simple as it is, “for the children” is the best description of what “wisdom as a way of life” means to me, and my best sense of what I want in the future.
What we need is such a vision for our culture. I don’t know what that is, but I hope that together people can come to such a vision — one that motivates. This is again a tall order, given the complexity of people and our propensity to argue when our small domains are challenged. The following are initial suggestions — I will expand upon them in later posts. As you read them, attempt to step into them as a lived experience, rather than an intellectual concept.
As mentioned in the previous post, an effective vision needs to be multi-sensory and emotionally rich. I must be able to step into it, and say: “Wow. I want this.” For me, I can see, hear, smell, touch “for the children.”
I propose that, in a mature culture, the following six priorities would be honored, and lived, on a daily basis—and would form the basis by which all other decisions are implemented. Principally, we would live into the concept of “Seventh Generation Sustainability” (Wikipedia), as originally proposed by the Iroquois League.
The specifics of what I am suggesting may be only pipedreams, but I propose that, in some fashion, the concepts are essential to mature functioning. Most importantly, the specifics require that we come to terms with the limitations of our humanness, and choose to live within our greatness. Such a culture will honor the sacred — the appreciation of the universe as an interconnected, experiential whole, in humility and awe of its underlying mystery — only then will we be true stewards of this planet.
My reservation with presenting a list is this: it is difficult to get a lived experience from a list — possible, but difficult. My best lived experience is to see my grand-child playing with others, including myself, thinking of how I want this to continue, flipping between this and assisting in the teaching of a group of interested students. Then the rest falls in place.
- First, the care of children would be our highest priority. The presence of children would no longer be considered as “interruptions”; we would support each other to attend to children, to facilitate individual adults to take care of ongoing tasks and business. Children would be a choice, and would be raised by the village, in cooperation with the parents.
- Next on the list would be the development and the living of a cultural story that honors the pursuit of wisdom as a life-long study. We need a story. A dominant characteristic of human beings is that we are motivated by stories. We are story-makers; myth and metaphor are strong motivators of our growth. If we lived wisdom, most of our current dilemmas would be resolved.
- The third priority would be the living of the skills necessary for dealing with diversity — and resolving conflict. Our propensity to viciousness needs to be managed — it arises from our lack of clarity, in lacking effective choices.
- Fourth, a mature culture would balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the group, not by imposition, but because the educational system would provide the deep support for members of the culture to want to balance these needs. A mature culture would train its members to live in ways that emphasize both the powerfulness (to create self) and the powerlessness (to change other) inherent in relationship. Such a culture would educate its members that each member is truly accountable for whatever he or she thinks, feels, and does, without shame or coercion of self or other—that the truly unacceptable is that of violation (restriction of freedom without permission, beyond public safety).
- Fifth, a mature culture would develop governance based on wisdom, on statesperson-ship. I propose that a mature culture would actually be a no-party democracy, with individuals elected on the basis of perceived wisdom, and with interlocking regional governments, up to a world government. Individuals would be elected on the basis of perceived wisdom by appropriate regional groups to form a regional level of government, that government deciding within itself who would be the proposers of legislation and who would be the devil’s advocates. Higher levels of government would depend on input both from lower regional governments, and from polling of the general population.
- Finally, the judiciary system of such a culture would function at all levels in the fashion of justice circles, the intention being that any discordance is to be resolved in ways that support the rights of both individuals and the groups concerned. In such a culture, there will arise occasions where individuals repeatedly act contrary to the needs and desires of the group. I suggest that, here, more senior groups (groups to which earlier decisions might be appealed) would have the power to ostracize such individuals from the culture, perhaps to live in enclaves not subject to the standards of the general culture. These alternate cultures would be free to develop their own standards, but would not be permitted to impose their standards on the main culture. If desired, individuals in these substitute cultures could transfer back to the main culture, but a requirement would be they demonstrate they have sufficient intention and maturity to live within the main culture.
What would such a culture actually look like? I suggest the following: The total population of the world would be one to two billion people. I do not believe we can sustain seven to nine billion people on this planet. How we would reduce our population to this level is unclear, but it does not need to be draconian, if the above priorities are in place. In addition, even at two billion people, the human footprint would need to be reduced—this would require that we come to terms with living in community. Communities would be relatively small and self-sustaining. Citizens would understand, be committed to, and share, a set of purposes and moral and ecological principles. These purposes and principles would be developed through intensive participative processes — they cannot be handed down from above. This requires dialogue-rich groups, focused on action shaped by reflection, and such that local groups have the power and authority to create change directly. People would be rewarded with active immediate feedback based on success, and leaders would be committed to their own learning.
Is this type of mature culture possible? I do not know. Is it necessary? I maintain the answer is: Yes — we have to come to terms with a zero-growth sustainable culture, one that honors all species on the planet. Need it have the characteristics I am suggesting? No, but likely something like this would be necessary. We need to live in peace with our world; we need to live in peace with each other, especially our differences. It will be difficult to achieve. Our current civilization is in a state where all of the forces that oppose our maturity are disparaged, and thus, conversion to a more mature state will require much time and effort.
I believe that we are capable of such conversion, once we decide to do so. However, whether we will do so in time to save our species in not yet clear.
In the next post, I am going to look at the problems of having a vision.