Those who are mindful are beginning to realize that only an entirely
new operating system can prevent the collapse of civilization. However,
to date, no one has presented such a system. This presentation outlines
a system that has the potential to serve as a viable replacement for
the current paradigm.
The following sentence appeared at the end of this article: "Growth is dead. Let’s make the most of it. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste."
This is a good time to go back and review several items that were posted on this site over the last four years. At the time they were posted, they may have not appeared as compelling as they do today. Let's not waste this crisis.
the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental think
tank that Gell-Mann had helped set up in his capacity as a director of
the MacArthur Foundation, founding director Gus Speth and others have
argued that global sustainability is possible only if human society
undergoes at least six fundamental transitions within a very few
1. A demographic transition to a roughly stable world population.
2. A technological transition to a minimal environmental impact per person.
3. An economic transition to a world in which serious
attempts are made to charge the real costs of goods and services --
including environmental costs -- so that there are incentives for the
world economy to live off nature's "income" rather than depleting its
4. A social transition to a broader sharing of that income,
along with increased opportunities for nondestructive employment for
the poor families of the world.
5. An institutional transition to a set of supranational
alliances that facilitate a global attack on global problems and allow
various aspects of policy to be integrated with one another.
6. An informational transition to a world in which
scientific research, education, and global monitoring allow large
numbers of people to understand the nature of the challenges they face.
The trick, of course, is to get from here to there without one of
Cowan's Class A global catastrophes. And if we're to have any hope of
doing that, said Gell-Mann, the study of complex adaptive systems is
clearly critical. Understanding these six fundamental transitions
means understanding economic, social, and political forces that are
deeply intertwined and mutually dependent upon one another. You can't
just look at each piece of the problem individually, as has been done
in the past, and hope to describe the behavior of the system as a
whole. The only way to do it is to look at the world as a strongly
interconnected system -- even if the models are crude.
But more than that, said Gell-Mann, the trick in getting from here
to there is to make sure that "there" is a world worth living in. A
sustainable human society could easily be some Orwellian dystopia
characterized by rigid control and narrow, confined lives for almost
everyone in it. What it should be is a society that is
adaptable, robust, and resilient to lesser disasters, that can learn
from mistakes, that isn't static, but allows for growth in the quality
of human life instead of just the quantity of it. [p.351]
original universities in the middle ages were simply collections of
teachers who attracted students because they had something to offer.
They were the marketplace of ideas, located all over town, where people
could shop around for the kinds of ideas and learning which made sense
to them. By contrast, the isolated and over-administered university of
today kills the variety and intensity of the different ideas at the
university and also limits the student's opportunity to shop for
ideas. [Page 232]
might the company of the future look like? Lawrence Summers, a former
Treasury secretary who is now president of Harvard University, suggests
in the latest Harvard Business Review that the American research
university (ie, Harvard and its few peers) might be a model. He does
not mean that firms should set up their own "universities" -- although
plenty, from Motorola to McDonald's, have done that. Instead, they
should adopt the research university's fluid and decentralised approach
to creativity and hierarchy. "If you look at the organisations in the
economy where the greatest value is being added," argues Mr. Summers,
"they are increasingly the organisations that share the values and
characteristics of universities."
you answer the title question, you should be aware of a few key facts.
I heartily recommend that you take Chris Martenson's Crash Course.
It may cause you to have doubts that the current system will deliver.
This is not new information. However, Chris has done an outstanding
job of presenting the information.
After you have watched and digested the Crash Course come back
here. I have known that we have a sustainability problem for a number
of years. (The problem has been written about comprehensively for at
least 50 years.) All of my thinking has centered around coming up with
a way to live that sets a new course. Most ideas that are
tossed about these days will only help at the margins. Most, if not
all, institutions that exist today are only positioned to help at the
margins. They are not able to effect meaningful change and
really serve only as a balm for the ill-informed and those who want to
delude themselves. (If you are interested in a deeper understanding of
the problem, read this article.)
Freedom is the most important ingredient to a happy and healthy life in
my opinion. (Freedom, of course, has to be balanced by responsibility.) Therefore, freedom is my "measuring stick."
Ask yourself whether you have tangible assets or whether you have
paper assets? If your system provides only -- or mainly -- paper
assets it will not provide freedom in the long run.
Ask yourself whether your system is flexible enough to handle
global climate change? Will you be stuck with a living environment
that may end up beneath the surface of the oceans? Losing most of your
assets in the rising seas is not freedom.
Will you be stuck in a community that you have outgrown? Freedom is not having to listen to those who are not well developed.
In an age of ever increasing energy prices, will you have the resources to heat and cool your home?
Is debt the cornerstone of your system and your balance sheet?
Debt is not freedom. Indeed, it is probably the most insidious
component of any system.
Does your system provide a quality living and working environment
to all participants? It should. Our freedom is contingent upon the
happiness and healthiness of all.
Does your environment promote stimulating intellectual discussions? Freedom is the offspring of such discussions.
Will your system leave something for future generations? Does your
freedom come at the expense of others -- now and in the future?
Does your system provide plenty of leisure time or does it sap so
much energy from you that you plop yourself down in front of the TV
when you get home from work?
The system that currently dominates our culture does not provide
any of the above freedoms. The institutions that exist today do not
provide any solutions. Maybe it is time to explore other options.
have no alternatives to the models of corporate capitalism, social
democratic or Soviet socialism, or technocratic "fascism with a smiling
face." The popularity of this view is largely due to the fact that
little effort has been made to study the feasibility of entirely new
social [and financial] models and to experiment with them."
We actually don't have to give up or adopt any particular system.
We simply need to be creative about rearranging the furniture on the
deck. Fromm was one of the first to integrate several disciplines as
he explains in the introduction to The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.
He realized that this was necessary in order to comprehensively explore
the subject matter in the book. We are doing the same here.
Integrating several components of life that for hundreds of years have
been separate. And, integrating them in a way that is necessary in
order to live comprehensively.
Can we "rearrange the furniture" in a way that gets our footprint
below one (two?) and improves our quality of life at the same time? Is it
time to come up with a way of living that provides the freedom that is
so lacking in the current system? A structure that divides work
into meaningful components? A structure that integrates shelter, food,
education, work, and leisure? Real sustainable development?
have described this integration over the years in various posts.
Although it has evolved and will evolve in the future, the concept is
Capital from members/patrons is used to build pedestrian-only campuses around the world and as working capital.
Living quarters will be approximately 500 s.f. with separate gourmet kitchens and dining areas dispersed throughout each campus.
Those who build and operate the campuses are independent
contractors with rolling quarter-long contracts. These contractors
The entire campus will be a classroom at all times as we should all continue to learn as we live.
On-site gardens and orchards will provide fresh fruit and produce to the extent possible.
Reservations will be based on seniority. Those who reserve and
occupy specific living quarters will have options to reserve those
living quarters in the future.
Members/patrons will draw down their membership accounts as they
utilize/occupy the properties. They can deposit additional membership
funds at any time. So long as funds to cover a stay have been on
deposit for at least a year in advance of the commencement of any
reservation period, members can reserve one or more living quarters.
If there is a sufficient amount of cash in the working capital
account, members can opt to withdraw all or some of the funds in their
Please note that this can serve as a comprehensive alternative to the current carbon offset schemes.
It is important for those with savings to recognize that our lifestyles will likely contract in the future. This does not have to be unpalatable. To the contrary, it can be invigorating. Those who want to store their wealth may be amenable to the idea that it is better to preserve their principle rather than to expect a return over and above their principle.
One cannot expect everyone to shift immediately into more sustainable ways of living. However, those with the capital need to realize that assets with sustainable "footprints" represent a more secure place to store wealth than non-sustainable assets represented by almost all of our current infrastructure -- offices, large homes, sprawling subdivisions, most restaurants, most retail, etc.
The physical campus described above represents a sustainable footprint. It also represents an environment where participants are continually researching, learning, and adapting to the new reality of contraction rather than expansion. The future must focus on the expansion of minds.
This will be easier to launch with the endorsement/participation of an established institution. Does this institution exist?
Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour, Rains from the sky a meteoric shower Of facts…they lie unquestioned, uncombined. Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill Is daily spun; but there exists no loom To weave it into fabric.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay (As quoted in A Bridge to the 18th Century)
I am currently reviewing a book by Amartya Sen entitled Development As Freedom. According to the publisher: "This is a landmark work that shows how in individual human freedom -- the exclusive possession, Sen shows, of no particular nation, region or historical, intellectual or religious tradition -- lies the capacity for political participation, economic development and social progress." In my opinion, this process of individual human freedom -- it is rare here in the U.S. -- has to be supercharged and a "loom" must be developed to integrate existing wisdom. Developmentally, as a society, we are not even to the stage that the founders of the U.S. were in the 1700's. (Wilber, 2000)
We have to create a new loom/institution that enables us to live in a way that provides quality and reverses the destructive course of humanity.
What would the physical infrastructure look like? While the physical structure of a village may be fine, no one has ever claimed that a village is innovative and encourages personal development. Quite the contrary, many find village life stifling. When I think about village, gossip springs to mind. We need to inject a new element into the village. That new element is the university. Another way to look at it is to talk about injecting the university into the village. Most individuals leave the university and their personal development stops. They enter into structures that have boundaries: religion, family, and work/corporations -- just for starters. (It should be mentioned that the corporate infiltration of universities has served to impose boundaries in that institution as well.)
Any new institution -- or re-tooled institution -- must be interdisciplinary.
There are many ideas out there that have merit. However, they do not address the personal development that is necessary in order to lift the world up and reverse the current, widespread destruction that is occurring.
Guiding premises and goals:
All life is important
Reduce suffering/Eliminate empty bedrooms (there are more empty bedrooms each night in the U.S. than there are homeless individuals)
Development is only possible though dropping the desire to acquire
Draw from the wisdom of all religions and traditions
Create an environment that can provide a way for bright, young people to envision a fulfilling life without producing offspring
Institutions must encourage and facilitate lifelong development
Physical infrastructure might physically resemble the villages envisioned here. The creator of the site wisely counsels us that cars need to be banished to the periphery.
Operational structure would resemble a university. Trustees who serve without pay. Researchers/fellows who work a baseline of 20 hours per week in hands-on productive activities. Gardening, Cooking, etc. Home Economics in the sense that this is work that is done anyway by someone in the household. What we are doing is incorporating all the elements of living into one institution that is far more comprehensive than the cobbled up mess that we currently pay homage to.
Improving local sources of food is key to thriving in the coming decades. (See this Richard Heinberg transcript for an explanation of the importance of local and labor-intensive agriculture.) However, if someone is working on an important project, other fellows who recognize the value of their work may step in and "cover" for them in their labor obligations. Fellows will be free to come and go at the end of the "quarter."
Capital will come from patrons who deposit money in an institution account that is drawn down as they use the services. First class accommodations in a university village.
One may argue that neither a chimp nor an elephant could design a computer, but I ask: What is more consequential, the ability to design a computer or the ability to protect, sustain, and nurture the planet on which one resides? Of what value is the computer if none of us is here to use it?
We are at a stage where the next decade or two is fairly easy to project...
Stock market values will leak down in fits and starts to a fraction of their current "worth" as they have been propped up by manipulation rather than production. Why slowly? The system has been designed -- whether intentionally or not -- to make it difficult to do anything other than invest in Wall Street. It is quite likely that the government will increase the early withdrawal penalty in order to discourage people from taking money out of the market. The market will drop a bit -- say 2000 points -- in the next year or two and then stabilize after various laws are put in place and then collapse once it is clear there is no value. The collapse may be 15 years out. [Later note on 10/13/07: What can we count on? Firstly, the government will change the rules so that getting out of the market is more difficult. Big pension plans will stay in the market and by doing so, keep it propped up for a long period of time. Public and private plans will not be able to meet their obligations and the general public will want to be let off the hook for funding retirement for that segment of the population who have defined benefit retirements. Many lawsuits.]
We will transition from a wasteful society to a resourceful society. By necessity, rather than design.
Our education system will shift from developing manipulators to developing producers. Again, by necessity, rather than by design.
Almost all trees in urban areas -- at least on private property -- will be cut down for fuel. Obviously, this will occur more intensely in colder climates.
Most people who work in offices will lose their jobs in the next few years. One consequence will be a collapse of real estate values as current values are a consequence of two wage earners per household.
Many of the wealthy will leave the country for places like South America. It has been reported that George the 1st has bought a ranch in either Uruguay or Paraguay. Those who are perceived to be instrumental in this manipulation phase of empire will be about as popular as Nazis after WWII -- and they will flee to the same part of the world as the Nazis did.
I think that it will be possible to find quality in the future, but it will take the creation of new institutions and the transformation of existing institutions. Universities will have to re-tool from developing wasteful individuals to developing resourceful individuals.
I have characterized my concept in various forms through the years. It may be easiest to envision a first-class university whose mission is to work on the human predicament. Funding will come from patrons who provide capital in return for access to the physical infrastructure.
I watched The 11th Hour last night. Just one of several environmental movies recently produced. It is easy to watch the impassioned interviewees -- David Suzuki is an especially talented communicator -- and come away thinking that maybe the tide has turned. However, once you vacate the theatre, take a look around. We have some major work to do.
In the movie, James Woolsey speaks glowingly about automakers (during WWII) making the rapid shift from making cars to making tanks, planes, and all the trappings of war. He believes that the government will play a major role in the shift that is necessary to prevent further deterioration of our environment. Highly unlikely. However, there is no doubt that a rapid shift must take place.
We have to ask ourselves why we didn't take action earlier. What is it about our dominant institutions that did not permit them to take a leadership role? The answer is quite straight forward.
Religion is mostly about faith and dogma and doctrine. None of these are conducive to the change that is necessary to reverse our destructive ways. Religion is also about hypocrisy. Our local faith-based university has the CEO of one of the largest mortgage lenders on its board. He has personally benefited -- to the tune of hundreds of millions -- by his company making loans to people who likely can't repay them. Those who are least able to pay, pay the most. The original policy manual for this faith-based entity did not even permit the charging of interest.
Corporations are mostly focused on profit and are generally hierarchical. Both are mighty distractions when it comes to making the rapid changes that are necessary to reversing our course. The so-called free market has shifted prodigious amounts of wealth from the bottom and middle of society to those at the top.
Universities might seem a likely source of wisdom. However, they have been re-tooled since the start of the industrial age to train specialists, rather than to educate or enlighten.
And of course government is simply the hand maiden of these institutions -- regardless of which party is in power.
A system that is influenced by any of these institutions is literally and figuratively bankrupt.
At the movie's website, I was struck by the label of "Consume Less, Live More." For years, I have been dwelling on this paradox of our current predicament. With few exceptions, why would we want what we currently have? I long for the days when people did not walk around in a daze talking on their cell phones -- and for the days when our horizons weren't marred with the tens of thousands of cell towers necessary for us to walk around in a daze.
So, how do we use technology wisely and create a world that is sustainable? We have to dwell on the Live More side of the equation.
Over time, I have asked myself what it would take to Live More. My answer is no debt, no insurance, no job, no commuting, no possessions other than a few clothes, no cell phones or other distractions, no noise other than the sound of productive building and the sound of nature, no lights to dim a starlit night, no streets, fresh vegetables, and an environment that is high quality. And the company of those who share my concept of Living More.
ParadigmClub.org offers solutions to many of the problems that plague society today. Some examples are as follows: Carbon Offsets
Carbon offsets are typical of the existing paradigm whereby we use elaborate mechanisms -- complete with an office full of employees and bumper stickers -- to address problems. Carbon offsets effectively involve a transfer of funds from those who feel guilty about their carbon usage to an office full of employees who are professional carbonists. We need to switch from being professionals to being producers. As a refreshing alternative, we can make membership deposits into a club that actually constructs environmentally sound infrastructure and provides livelihoods -- operating and eventually building first class lodging properties around the world -- for a group whose quest for knowledge has no boundaries. As members utilize the property, they draw down their membership accounts.
Inflation and Deflation
Because members can access the properties at the lesser of cost or market, they are protected against hyper-inflation and deflation with respect to their membership deposits. This enables those who are morally opposed to usury to be protected from inflation and deflation.
One of the problems with the carbon economy of the past 100+ years is that we built an infrastructure that is of a scale that is not hospitable to pedestrians. It also created a tremendous amount of noise pollution. ParadigmClub.org properties will be built to human scale -- no buildings taller than 5 stories, for example -- and will banish automobiles to the periphery of any property. Asphalt and concrete -- major causes of environmental degradation -- will not be used or used in a minimal way.
An infrastructure built to human scale will lead to a more civil environment. We can actually acknowledge each other as we meet on tree-lined and perma-culture lined pathways. All electronic devices will be "banished" to private quarters in order to encourage members and scholars to live in the moment.
Access, Not Possess
Although private property rights are important, we place too much emphasis on ownership. Property ownership is a burden and makes it difficult to be nimble and expose ourselves to new ideas. If we deposit our capital in a "bank" that owns many properties, we gain access to all of those properties. We also create a system that encourages 100% occupancy. Empty rooms are the antithesis of environmental responsibility. The survival of the human species and all other species requires that we lower our footprint considerably.
A Taste of Freedom
The design of the reservation system permits one to essentially "bookmark" a place in the club system. We can make a small commitment and if we like what we see, we can make additional deposits for extended access to the system. It is hoped that members will eventually live all year round in this infrastructure that will permit members to live well with an ecological footprint that is far smaller than is the average today for those in developed countries.
This type of system is far more comprehensive than anything that exists today. It should attract start-up capital from any non-profit interested in sustainable development. Instead of providing grant money that is never seen again, non-profits will see their capital returned as members make deposits.
As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware of problems such as peak oil, climate change, mass extinction, population overshoot, etc. Many books have been written and many blogs have been dedicated to the topics. To date, however, the solutions proposed -- if solutions are proposed at all -- seem to revolve around personal survival. Implicit in the nature of the solutions is an understanding that the existing system represents the pinnacle of civilization. My position is that if the system is wonderful, we could have avoided this current predicament.
Is there a system that could have been designed so that we all could be healthy, happy, and wise about our resource use? I think that we could have designed such a system and that we must design and implement one before we all end up in compounds guarding the belongings of a few wealthy people who gamed -- intentionally or unintentionally -- the existing system.
We need a system that encourages independent thought. We need a system that balances work and leisure. We need a system that balances labor and capital. We need a system where we are not all guarding our little stockpiles of gold, silver, and platinum. We need a system that is efficient and provides the opportunity for a quality lifestyle.
We need a system that shrinks government by about 99%.
I think that system would look similar to ParadigmClub.org. Please note that the system addresses each of the issues listed in the first paragraph in a meaningful way. Join today or join the discussion today -- at this post -- about how we need to find a solution that is not cut from the same old and tired paradigm.