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.
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.
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.
This post falls under the "Why Would Anyone Want the Current Paradigm" category. One problem in modern society is that we seem to have stopped questioning anything. When I attempt to explain a different and more interesting way of living most people's eyes seem to glaze over. It doesn't help that most have the attention span of a gnat. (It's fun to be a critic.)
The following excerpt from E. F. Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful describes work as it could and should be:
The question of what technology actually does for us is therefore worthy of investigation. It obviously greatly reduces some kinds of work while it increases other kinds. The type of work which modern technology is most successful in reducing or even eliminating is skilful, productive work of human hands, in touch with real materials of one kind or another. In an advanced industrial society, such work has become exceedingly rare, and to make a decent living by doing such work has become virtually impossible. A great part of the modern neurosis may be due to this very fact; for the human being, defined by Thomas Aquinas as a being with brains and hands, enjoys nothing more than to be creatively, usefully, productively engaged with both his hands and his brains. Today, a person has to be wealthy to be able to afford space and good tools; he has to be lucky enough to find a good teacher and plenty of free time to learn and practise. He really has to be rich enough not to need a job; for the number of jobs that would be satisfactory in these respects is very small indeed. [p. 149]
While this would seem to be the case, it does not have to be the case. It seems to me that as long as a person can get themselves out of the many binding obligations that modern society has come to take for granted, a person could live a very different life. Some of those obligations are debt, offspring and the mindless jobs that we accept as a consequence. Another consequence is the large homes that are required to live this lifestyle. The whole catastrophe, as Zorba would say.
I was recently thinking about what I would do if I had to invest in this conventional paradigm. While I marveled at the ease (a click of a button) in which one can invest within the system, I was unable to come up with a single investment that I could feel good about and secure about. While I want to be in the click of a button world, I also want to create a product that is secure and meaningful. It seems to me that a product that helps us get rid of the mortgage is a good start. Can a R.E.I.T. (Real Estate Investment Trust) be created that serves as an equity partner for those who want an alternative to a mortgage? Can this entity operate in a less hierarchical way than current entities do? Maybe most importantly, can this entity provide a way for us to use our brains and our hands and learn in the process? And start to thinking seriously about transitioning to a whole new way of living? Hmmmm. Maybe so.
As Herman Daly noted in one of his books, we need to move beyond a knowledge economy. He suggests a wisdom economy. Most system experts think that the world is overpopulated by at least 5 billion people. The benchmark for attaining a wisdom economy would be a world in which we did not feed the fish and a world in which all food products are grown organically. If you do not agree that this is a worthwhile goal then you may as well stop reading right now. If this is our goal we are obviously overpopulated and have a lot of work to do. We have to dramatically reduce our consumption in order to have even a slim chance at avoiding the collapse that many already believe is inevitable.
Why have we got ourselves in this mess? It appears that biologically and psychologically we are pre-disposed to be breeders and consumers -- both habits do not bode well for a quality future. Much has been written on the topic and many of the books are listed in the left column of this page. I personally think that boredom -- inactive minds -- is behind both activities.
How do we get ourselves out of this mess? We have to get beyond the dogma of the right and left and to me this will require active minds, rather than the closed ones of the right and the wide open ones of the left. Active-mind education -- let's call it a liberal education -- is a key component of reversing our destructive and unethical course. Education is a key.
We also have to switch from an economy that is remarkably inefficient in delivering a quality life to one that is efficient. As one example, let's think about the process of getting food to our tables. The downside of fast food is so obvious that we'll skip the discussion and focus on the supermarket. Most of us drive to the supermarket. If we look around the supermarket these days we notice all the vendors who are roaming the aisles stocking their products. We notice all of the packaging. And the fact that there are actually people who do nothing all day but scan items over a scanner. (No wonder that they just want to go home to breed and consume!) Why not deliver meals through a series of neighborhood dining clubs who grow their own produce to the extent possible?
To be ethical, we have to start to occupy less and less square footage. In order to house the entire world in a quality way, we will eventually have to exclusively occupy less than 200 to 300 square feet per family. Keep in mind that this will be the wisdom economy. An economy that will not even remotely resemble the one we have now. Indeed, it will grant us the leisure time to develop personally and intellectually. One finds that the more one develops personally and intellectually, the less material things one needs.
Timing is of the essence. How do we launch the wisdom economy before much more destruction of our minds, bodies, spirits, and the environment occurs? It will likely involve the greatest marketing mechanism created to date: Wall Street. We create a company that grants access to its assets -- 200 to 300 square foot suites with a restaurant/club nearby -- based on the number of shares that are held by respective shareholders. Everything is at cost and all shares issued will be priced at $1.00 per share. The company is non-profit, ethical, and operated by fellows (not the kind who work for the think tanks dedicated to defending the status quo) who are interested in learning and serving in exchange for room, board, and incidentals. This will give investors the opportunity to put their wealth in a system that recognizes that resources are finite.
In a comment to an earlier post, I linked to an essay that I believe provides some good counsel for our times. The abstract of that essay follows:
An Abstract of "A General Statement of Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons"
Although "The Tragedy of the Commons" is widely acclaimed, activists in environmental causes as well as professionals in ethics continue to act as if the essay had never been written. They ignore the central thesis that traditional, a priori thinking in ethics is mistaken and must be discarded. Hence the need remains to give the tragedy of the commons a more general statement--one which can convince a wide public of the correctness of its method and principles. In essence Hardin's essay is a thought experiment. Its purpose is not to make a historical statement but rather to demonstrate that tragic consequences can follow from practicing mistaken moral theories. Then it proposes a system-sensitive ethics that can prevent tragedy. The general statement of the tragedy of the commons demonstrates that an a priori ethics constructed on human-centered, moral principles and a definition of equal justice cannot prevent and indeed always supports growth in population and consumption. Such growth, though not inevitable, is a constant threat. If continual growth should ever occur, it eventually causes the breakdown of the ecosystems which support civilization. Henceforth, any viable ethics must satisfy these related requirements: (1) An acceptable system of ethics is contingent on its ability to preserve the ecosystems which sustain it. (2) Biological necessity has a veto over the behavior which any set of moral beliefs can allow or require. (3) Biological success is a necessary (though not a sufficient) condition for any acceptable ethical theory. In summary, no ethics can be grounded in biological impossibility; no ethics can be incoherent in that it requires ethical behavior that ends all further ethical behavior. Clearly any ethics which tries to do so is mistaken; it is wrong.
February 26, 1997 Herschel Elliott Emeritus Philosophy University of Florida Gainesville, FL 32611
Intuitively, many people know this to be true. Most have not thought about how to live their lives under this new system of ethics. Over the years, I have given it a great deal of thought and the result is the "club" that has been described at this blog.
Young people in particular have a strong incentive to see society move towards this new system. The old one screws them big time. The following excerpt from Beyond Growth is relevant:
In standard economics ["mainstream" economics that does not acknowledge the Second Law of Thermodynamics] the balancing of future against present costs and benefits is done by discounting. A time discount rate is a numerical way of expressing the value judgment that beyond a certain point the future is not worth anything to presently living people. The higher the discount rate, the sooner that point is reached. The value of the future to future people does not count in the standard approach. [p.36]
This is in some ways related to the immorality of usury that I have discussed in earlier posts. Although I think that most people will find it difficult to move away from the current, materialistic paradigm, interestingly enough, unmanageable levels of debt may force people to another paradigm -- one in which there is not any monetary income for the creditors to come after. Although debt is an individual responsibility, it is also a societal problem. Debt is embedded in almost all costs of goods and services.
It is possible to see ones life neither as self-made nor as the product of human society alone but as a gift of the total evolutionary process. If I view myself primarily in this way, then it is appropriate for my response to be one of gratitude. The fitting ethical action then is service of that to which I find myself so comprehensively indebted. To serve the evolutionary process can be understood to mean furthering its inclusive work. One would then strive in general to contribute to the progress or growth of life in all its diversity of forms, beginning with human life but by no means limiting oneself to it. [From an essay titled Ecology, Ethics, and Theology by John Cobb, Included in Toward A Steady-State Economy]
There are so many reasons to live differently. Over the past few days I have come to realize that what I am proposing is a liberal arts club -- something that we can get involved with at an early age and have throughout our lives. Most people never get a liberal arts education and most of those that do inevitably enter the world of materialism.
In fact some people, who reason correctly, reason from different premises. They may choose to live simply so as to meet the needs of life with the least effort and with the least damaging impact on the environment. For such persons, simplicity and frugality can afford a better life because they allow more opportunity for leisure, for cultural and social activity, and for intellectual development.
Please note that I start with "A" in the Title of this post. I often think about how Christopher Alexander got his book at the head of the list on the left of this page by using "A" rather than "The". This distinction between "a" and "the" happens to be critical to my philosophy on life and living.
..."Thinking, reading, and art require a cultural space," writes Russell Jacoby in Dogmatic Wisdom, "a zone free from the angst of moneymaking and practicality. Without a certain repose or leisure, a liberal education shrivels." [p.122 of The Twilight of American Culture]
The university may look like an institution for the advancement of higher culture, in other words, but its content and organization are corporate, and the result is that the coinage of education is severely debased. ("Another bad effect of commerce," wrote Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations, "is that the minds of men are contracted, and rendered incapable of elevation. Education is despised, or at least neglected....") [p.123 of The Twilight of American Culture]
The key to life and living is to have the time to learn in a liberal arts -- and sciences -- sort of way. However, this learning must continue throughout our lives and indeed this learning -- in my opinion -- is the meaning of our lives. Any time we think we know "the" way, we stop learning and transition from an active mind to a closed mind. As indicated in the excerpt above, the corporate nature of our learning -- and living -- contracts our minds. The expectation is for us to be clever rather than wise.
The Jesuits were [are?] fond of saying, "Give us the child for the first seven years; after that, nothing much matters." [p.241 of Dark Ages America]
This is true of our culture in general. We indoctrinate our young through required pledges in our public schools. The result is a nationalistic and close-minded perspective that thoroughly inhibits our ability to be humble. The mind closes down early and stays shut down for the remainder of most people's lives. Most end up believing in a Supreme Being rather than experiencing the joy of being -- and the joy of not setting any boundaries to our learning.
A Related Note on the movie An Inconvenient Truth:
The suggestions for reducing your carbon footprint at the end of the movie are not enough to make a difference. Our only hope for getting closer to a sustainable world is to dramatically change the way we live. Rather than buying a hybrid car, for example, we must do without a car or share one with dozens of other people. I've found that one of the consequences of the on-going learning that is described above is that the more you learn the less you need. In other words, there is a practical reason to initiate a philosophy of expanding your learning boundaries.
Our dominant institutions are unable to change the destructive course of mankind. While some of these institutions may be able shift to the positive side of the equation, it is doubtful that it will happen fast enough to assure a quality living environment for future generations. Therefore, it is critical to form new institutions that can provide a model for shifting our behavior so that the rights of future generations to a quality life are recognized. Evidence is overwhelming that preservation and restoration of all natural systems is a key to a quality life.
In order to shape a new institution, it is helpful to list the positive and negative attributes of our dominant institutions. (Please note that there are exceptions within any institution. This is a general description of the attributes.) In my opinion those are:
Religion- A positive attribute is that saints and sages throughout history have realized the wholeness of the universe. A negative attribute is that the religion of those who are most powerful in society today is one of fear as the result of the literal interpretation of scripture that was written hundreds of years ago when the population and the knowledge of the universe was much, much smaller.
Business/Corporations- A positive attribute is teamwork and goals. A negative attribute is that, by design, corporations do not have a conscience.
Education- A positive attribute is the compact and pedestrian-friendly design of many campuses. A negative attribute is that the primary reason for existence is to train people to work for corporations.
Politics/Government- A positive attribute is that a certain amount of governance is necessary in order to maintain a free and civil society. A negative attribute is that government is controlled today by the influence of religion and corporations.
As you can see, this is really very simple. The complexity comes into play when trying to understand why we as a society have allowed the negative attributes of these institutions to shape our lives. Many of the recommended books in the column to the left attempt to explain our irrational behavior.
We can analyze this irrational behavior until the cows come home -- or are genetically altered beyond recognition and prudence due to the negative attribute of corporations. What we need to do is form new institutions that integrate the positive attributes of the above institutions. Let's at least start the discussion.
I'll expand on this in the next day or two, but for now, a copy of my post at TPM Cafe:
While values certainly have a role in politics, it is hard to give much credence to those of a professed Catholic -- unless they acknowledge that they are a proponent only of the wisdom of the church and not the dogma and doctrine. In an enlightened society, many voters might have a problem with an organization that does not allow women to have an active role in the leadership structure. There are those who also might have a problem with a leadership structure that (1) permits the abuse of children and (2) promotes population policies that were formulated in a period when the earth had a few billion less people. (Maybe both are a consequence of the aforementioned gender imbalance.) Unless and until Democratic candidates run on the wisdom of religion and not the dogma and doctrine, the Democratic party will be no better than the opposition -- a party that is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the religious and corporate fundamentalists.
The above comment was in response to a post about the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor talking about his "faith" on the campaign trail. Since 9/11, the general public has regressed developmentally as a result of fear. In a time when we need complex-thinking leaders, we get simplicity. As has been noted in an earlier post, we either get more complex and move to a higher level or we collapse.
What we need is complex thinking and simple living. What we have is complex living (a study showed that multi-tasking makes us stupid) and simple thinking.
If I am not mistaken, Laurie David is one of the thinly-disguised characters in Michael Crichton's State of Fear. Based on my research of a diverse range of topics, I agree with the Einstein quote at the top of her web page: "We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive." While Crichton may rightfully be disdainful about the hypocrisy of the Hollywood environmentalists, he is delusional if he thinks that we are even close to living sustainably. However, Crichton does make a worthwhile suggestion at the end of his book:
We desperately need a nonpartisan, blinded funding mechanism to conduct research to determine appropriate policy. Scientists are only too aware [of] whom they are working for. Those who fund research -- whether a drug company, a government agency, or an environmental organization -- always have a particular outcome in mind. Research funding is almost never open-ended or open-minded. Scientists know that continued funding depends on delivering the results the funders desire. As a result, environmental organization "studies" are every bit as biased and suspect as industry "studies." Government "studies" are similarly biased according to who is running the department or administration at the time. No faction should be given a free pass. [p.573]
It is interesting that Crichton does not mention academia. I would suspect that most of the refereed articles mentioned by Elizabeth Kolbert in The Climate of Man were written by university professors. Putting that aside, I think that there is a need to initiate some sort of institution that can "determine appropriate policy" through a "substantially new manner of thinking."
Education has to be the foundation for new and more complex thinking. My vision is a series of "campuses" that are built by local students who have working scholarships. In addition to independent study, the students will be involved with every aspect of building and operating the campus. The physical structure shall be lodging/shelter that is ecologically sound and practical. The capital for the campuses will be provided by "patrons" who have access to the properties based on their level of commitment. This provides a much-needed alternative to charitable and cause driven giving. It provides a way for patrons to store their wealth rather than giving it away. In the process, they provide an environment that encourages the complex thinking that is so necessary for mankind to survive.
One way to kick off this more complex level of thinking would be to explore why someone like Crichton would write a book that encourages policymakers to continue down the destructive path on which mankind finds itself. What are his motives? Is he a fundamentalist? A cornucopian? Does he truly believe that we can't improve on the system that we have in place today?