In the past few weeks, I have been traveling through beautiful country (New Mexico, Arizona, Grand Canyon, and Utah, amongst other areas), with stunning views. With such vistas, it is easy for me to connect to a sense of grandeur and mystery, of questioning as to how did this world became so beautiful, of what perhaps did God create.
It also then leads me to question why we are destroying it. My understanding is that the human species originated in the African continent, and migrated outwards, initially to the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East (much less fertile now), and subsequently to other parts of the world, eventually to North and South America. I can speculate that those who remained in the Middle East had to develop empires so as to compete for limited resources, whereas for those who moved towards the Americas, the resources simply seemed limitless. Thus, perhaps the Eurasians became the People of the Ladder, the dominators, and the Native Americans became the People of the Wheel, those who remained with a sense of awe. Perhaps as well, all those peoples (the connectors) who remained connected to the land, and to spirit, have become the peoples of the wheel.
In the previous post, I described the People of the Ladder as empire builders, and dominators, with the extended consequences of incredible technology on the positive side, and dehumanization and global warming on the negative side. They learned the rules of power, and one of the principle rules became: Don’t talk about the rules. In contrast, as I became aware in reading Rupert Ross’ Dancing With A Ghost, the People of the Wheel developed a very different set of rules for living.
Here in this post, I will briefly describe the Peoples of the Wheel as those who retained a sense of mystery, of connectedness to the grandeur of the world. In describing my sense of the People of the Wheel, I do not mean to imply an either/or dichotomy; both cultures offer great values, and some limitations. However, what we need is integration, not polarization, although I personally prefer the values of the People of the Wheel.
For the most part, the People of the Wheel remained as hunter-gathers (although they knew the value of agriculture). They lived in small groups (tribes), somewhat isolated from each other, often with considerable exchange with other tribes. Their principle rule base was acceptance and non-interference; there was no sense of ownership, and there was extensive sharing; power was gained by prestige, not domination. They valued experiential learning, and education was principally by modeling. Wisdom and self-sufficiency were both highly valued. They sought connectedness, not conquest. A fundamental question was always how to restore harmony, especially the sanctity of all life.
They also had their limitations as a society. Overall, as small groups living within natural environments, they faced starvation when times were scarce. Thus, for the Inuit as an example, the elderly often voluntarily exited when times were tough, or were perhaps abandoned. In addition, such small societies often had to hide their emotional lives — the expression of anger, for example, could be of major danger to the survival of the group. Tribes fought with each other, not for the possibility of building empires, but likely as a way to contain the natural aggressiveness of our species.
Yet, we are now a global tribe, a global village, and we have not yet learned how to live in harmony. For the most part, our societies are still dominator societies. The challenge is now to blend these viewpoints, these worldviews, to find a balance of the positives, that minimize the negatives.
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.
(Although the intended meanings of climate change and global warming are similar, I have read recently that global warming has more emotional impact, and therefore more likely to influence people — it is the term I will use in future.)
In particular, Al Gore noted:
There will be many times in the decades ahead when we will have to take care to guard against despair, lest it become another form of denial, paralyzing action.
Eisenstein, in his article, discussed the complexity of the inter-relatedness of our world, and the need for a grand vision. These are exactly the messages of my dissertation: Acedia and its Transformation, and my book Acedia: The Darkness Within, and the darkness of Climate Change (AuthorHouse, 2012, available on Amazon).
As illustration of the difficulties, I was listening to a podcast interview of David Suzuki, one of the world’s leading environmentalists (CBC Ideas, The Global Eco-crisis, 2014 Jun 20), where he indicated that he believes that the environmental movement of the past 50 years has failed — any advances have been temporary — and the destructive forces just keep on coming.
As a species, we are hugely subject to denial, seeking short term resolutions when long-term vision is essential. I believe it is time to create and act towards the kind of planetary civilization that we will require if we wish to survive as a species.
In my dissertation/book, I proposed that acedia is the basic underlying human characteristic that has both led to the problem of global warming (amongst other problems), and also stops us from effective action in its resolution (and possible maturation as a species). I also discussed some of the needed characteristics of a mature civilization.
The intention of this blog is to initiate a discussion of what is needed for our survival and maturation as a species. Throughout, I will be reflecting on my own issues as well as my own learnings over the thirty years that I have been studying human dynamics.
The starting point, from my perspective, is a two-pronged approach:
develop a culture-wide vision of the civilization we want, and
study and transform our acedia.
A tall order; in fact a super-wicked problem, and a major factor in acedia. It is possible that such approaches as mine will also fail, but “in basketball, you miss 100% of shots that you do not attempt.”
Those who wish can contact me, either within this blog itself, via email directly (firstname.lastname@example.org), or via Facebook.