Friday, April 30, 2010

Small-scale Innovations

Also on the increase are localized micro-finances whereby communities are issuing their own specific local currencies as a means of promoting local business growth. This is a Depression-era idea and helps to tie-in local consumers with their neighbourhood suppliers. It works by local businesses printing money and then consumers exchanging national currencies for the locally issued one and redeeming them in participating stores. Communities throughout Europe, North America, and Asia are buying food and fuel with such currencies as the ‘Detroit Cheers’ and the Bia Kut Chum. Exchange and credit/barter systems have also been running successfully as in the ‘Local Exchange Trading Systems’ (LETS) that are local, exchange networks that trade goods and services without using a currency. Instead, a credit system is in operation whereby individuals can earn credits by performing services which can then be swapped for gaining the services of others. At present it is estimated that over 400 such schemes operate in the UK alone, with others in France, Australia, and Switzerland.

Such schemes also encourage the interaction and sense of proximity between people and neighbourhoods. We are seeing a shift that utilizes small-scale innovations to replace broader top-heavy dependencies. As elitist Henry Kissinger once famously remarked: ‘Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people’. Such monopolies of control belong to the old paradigm and will find no welcome as people collectively shift towards self-determination. It is predicted that these ‘agents of self-determination’ will emerge as a new social generation of disruptive innovators. A recent UK Report has described this ‘new wave of environmental pioneers’ as bringing in new and unexpected forms of ‘disruptive innovation’. Disruptive innovation is that which is unexpected and arrives, usually from the periphery or bottom-up, to provide services that have previously been monopolised. Such disruptions are highly threatening to the hierarchical status quo, yet often empowering to civil society. The UK Report states that: ‘In short, we need disruptive forms of innovation – cheaper, easier-to-use alternatives to existing products or services often produced by non-traditional players’. It further notes that this is not only a question of ‘new technologies’ but of ‘wider forms of innovation’. There is much disruptive innovation taking place around the world, with many ‘tinkerers’ searching for solutions beneficial for people rather than for profit. And this shall be the new paradigm, the new civic order: a re-organising of the social sphere away from consumerist dependency and exploitation, and towards self-empowerment and community sustainability. People shall be motivated for their families and for other people rather than for profit and those binary digits in a virtual bank somewhere. The fallacy of the old world with its delusional constraints will become transparent and will anger a lot of people. The veil will begin to fall, the curtain pulled back, and Dorothy will see the Wizard as the small grey-bearded man and not as the powerful Maestro. We have been fooled for far too long, and it is time to wake up, to engage with the program of evolutionary change, and to move on. As Doris Lessing wrote:

There is no epoch in history that seems to us as it must have to the people who lived through it. What we live through, in any age, is the effect on us of mass emotions and of social conditions from which it is almost impossible to detach ourselves. Often the mass emotions are those which seem the noblest, best and most beautiful. And yet, inside a year, five years, a decade, five decades, people will be asking, “How could they have believed that?
The time is ripe for a new kind of emergent innovation; one that comes from high energies of experimentation and enthusiasm. Whatever the disastrous social consequences that the world may be forced to live through in the early 21st century, the regeneration will be worth it. Evolution is moving up a spiral and needs to shed some dirty, unclean energies. In short, it needs to get its house in order for the move. And so do we - for we shall be moving too.

A revolution can exist at many levels. It can manifest in physical, emotional, and spiritual change. When that change arrives it is important to accept the uncertain, the unknown. Many people may be forced into action, even if this seems distasteful and unwanted at first. People are often initially afraid of change; afraid of leaving secure territory. Yet we need to change. And when many things are not understandable, the worth of a person will be found not through their wasted thought but through their constructive actions. The next, and final, chapter will discuss some of these evolutionary and potentially radical changes for humankind.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Social Innovations

Frustration and despair can soon shift towards resilience, renewal, and regeneration. When the ground beneath the feet becomes loose, the human capacity to furrow anew comes into play. What is being proposed within this framework of a ‘new civil order’ is that as people are forced to learn new skills, people will take more and more responsibility for themselves. This will manifest also in revitalized concerns for one’s family, friends, and community. A shift of dependency is likely to occur that will take back power that many people had previously given away into external socio-political institutions (and commercial dependencies), and use this to empower themselves. People’s relationship with technology is also likely to undergo a re-evaluation. Instead of being wholly dependent upon complex, unknowable technologies, people will learn to re-design tools to aid and empower them rather than pacify. The view taken in this book is that future years will not see the coming of a super-technological singularity (as envisioned by Ray Kurzweil ), but a re-configuring of our technologies. By this it is meant that instead of technology working beyond us and out of our reach, it will be working for us, and sometimes in more simplified forms. One of the immediate concerns will be energy requirements. Given that a true free-energy revolution is still an uncertainty, alternative energy will need to be harnessed from solar, wind, water, and other natural sources. The corporate red-herring of agro-fuels (mass-produced ‘bio’-fuels) is likely to be rejected by local communities who are seeking to shift to low-carbon alternatives using ‘real’ biofuels. True biofuels are produced from waste such as biogas from manure or landfill or waste vegetable oil. Their development, however, is so far limited. This situation is likely to change once necessity becomes a key factor. Already some local communities are developing their own low-key diesel manufacturing through re-cycling waste vegetable oil. These DIY projects can be developed further by well-organised communities using agricultural processes.

There are a range of oilseed crops, such as sunflower, rape seeds, soy, palm and jatropha, which can be converted into biodiesel used on its own or blended with conventional diesel. A range of cellulosic materials, such as various waste products from crops (including grasses, trees and wood) can be broken down with enzymes and turned into bio-ethanol. Bio-ethanol can also be produced from a number of crops including sugarcane, sugar beet, barley, corn/maize, grain, and cotton. Using cellulosic biomass to produce ethanol would lessen the strain placed upon standard agricultural land needed for growing crops. Butanol is currently a potential second-generation bio-fuel produced by fermentation from a range of organic material, such as molasses left behind by sugar production or whey from cheese production. Butanol has several advantages over ethanol in terms of higher energy output and being easily blended with diesel. In the future we may see regional areas, and localized communities, adopting a bottom-up biofuels market that would serve to create energy-sufficient lifestyles. This can be achieved not only through a supply of recyclable waste but also through citizen-managed low-scale farming. Genuine biofuel schemes could be located within sustainable programs based within active communities and separate from corporate top-down energy suppliers. This would involve a move from mass production to distributed and localised schemes which would aid many communities. It is foreseeable that these, and more, energy innovations will begin to manifest through grass-roots pioneering and newly emerging citizen information networks. The corporate control and monopoly upon such natural resources, and primary human needs, will be rejected for local empowerment projects. Part of the civil revolution will occur when people, desperate in terms of supplying basic needs, will be forced to create these supplies for themselves. Then there will be no going back; no return to former dependencies.

Projects and schemes already underway around the world include gardening workshops for growing-your-own. Information made available for ‘self-farmers’ will encourage food production to be once again a prime aspect of family and civic life. There is currently a growth in the number of urban gardens and communal composting. Neighbourhoods are sourcing water supplies and introducing local permaculture schemes. Social networks are already established that seek to bring home-gardeners together to share tips, advice, and friendship. One such social network - Freedom Gardens – describes itself as ‘a food security movement person to person…A modern gardening era/movement for the 21st century resulting in efforts to become free of foreign oil, corporate controls, contamination and food miles while creating a sustainable future by promoting local food production’. Inspired innovators are currently developing new sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture that push towards forming a ‘post-industrial food system’ that is less resource intensive and more locally-based and managed. An array of such start-ups include BrightFarm Systems,SPIN-Farming, Virtually Green, Aquacopia, and NewSeed Advisors. Similarly, new networks are emerging of investors, donors, entrepreneurs, farmers, and activists who are committed to building local food systems and local economies.

In a similar manner the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) elders suggest a re-vitalizing of sustainable, locally-orientated cultures; they suggest the creation of 'liberation technologies'. By this they mean technologies that can be created and used by people in a specific locality to enhance self-sufficiency and respect for the natural world. Wind turbines, solar power, biomass plants, and organic agriculture are all examples of liberation technologies. Likewise, Dhyani, who puts forth Cherokee teachings, states that
This age ending has been a time when people have gathered information about building and about inventions to make life better. Now it's time for people to recognize that the inventions are a creation of mind, to put aside such inventions as cause harm, and to bring forth and further develop those activities that benefit all beings and the future generations.

Alternative technologies are arising that seek to bypass traditional dependencies as the civil movement grows in power and determination. There are now markets for rocket stoves, vegetable oil generators, solar fridges, cheap wind generators, and reusable water bottles used as solar lamps. Innovations are also turning shipping containers into virtually cost-free homes. Social information networks are advising people on how to make their own soap, toothpaste, clothes, and much more. Instead of re-cycling there is now a movement towards pre-cycling; that is, training people on how to exist not only on what they have but to transform their conception of necessity so that non-primary needs are taken out of the equation. Individuals and communities are learning how to live more on less. Part of this re-education is a perceptual paradigm (a ‘new mind for a new world’). For many of us, if we don’t choose to think and behave differently in the upcoming years, then we may be forced into change – and perhaps brutally.

Friday, April 16, 2010

New Civic Order

A prescient report from 1997 forecasted a possible future social scenario that was termed the Great Transition which involved a social shift towards new paradigms of sustainability in the form of Eco-communalism. In this the report envisioned a network of self-reliant communities:

Eco-communalism could emerge from a New Sustainability Paradigm world if a powerful consensus arose for localism, diversity, and autonomy… Eco-communalism might emerge in the recovery from ‘breakdown’. Under conditions of reduced population and a rupture in modern institutions, a network of societies, guided by a “small-is-beautiful” philosophy conceivably could arise.

Physical social networks modelled on self-reliant communities could be established that are based around ecological practices. Already some urban design groups are using industrial ecology techniques, as in the integrated resource management system (IRM). In this way there is a shift that sees urban centres becoming closer to ‘living’ centres that encourage closer physical proximity and interaction between citizens.

Another example of creative architectural thinking is that of the ‘Compact City’ proposal from celebrity architect Richard Rogers. Rogers proposes that the creation of the modern Compact City rejects the dominance of the car and instead favours a design whereby ‘communities thrive’ and the streets are re-balanced ‘in favour of the pedestrian and the community’. Further, Rogers’s ‘Compact City’ design proposes that home, work, and leisure districts/regions/zones become more densely interrelated and overlapped rather than as separated areas.

The compact city idea is to increase the density of shared spaces so that there are increased opportunities for social connection and interaction. There is a rise worldwide in urban innovation that seeks to move towards constructing more compact, sustainable communities. This will become more of an imperative, rather than luxury thinking, in the ensuing years. Such changes will need to be implemented if our social systems are to be resilient enough to adapt to the coming global changes. The emphasis needs to be upon recycling of goods and waste, efficient alternative energy production, localized distribution, and change in such social drivers as consumerism, economics, and general well-being. Already several precedents exist; one of these being the concept of garden cities and the ‘garden city movement’.

This movement was founded in 1898 by Ebenezer Howard in England as an alternative to existing urban schemes. Garden cities involved the merging of town and country, of rural partnerships with urban dynamics. They were designed as self-contained communities containing living, working, and agriculture surrounded by green belts and public spaces. In this respect Howard’s thinking was ahead of its time in seeing the need for both rural and urban improvement as a single process. The garden city movement was inspired by Howard’s first book titled To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898). The Garden City Association was founded in 1899 and led to two new cities in England being constructed around this design: Letchworth Garden City in 1903 and Welwyn Garden City in 1920. Howard planned his garden cities to be located on roughly 6,000 acres of land, with 1,000 acres set aside for accommodating up to 32,000 residents, and for an additional 2,000 people on the surrounding agricultural estate. The circular garden city town plan had 120-foot wide radiating tree-lined boulevards, and each city linked to other larger cities via railways. The design for such garden cities even today seems remarkably environmentally aware:
Howard meticulously separated pedestrian streets and vehicle traffic, and residential and industrial areas. When a garden city had reached its optimal population of 32,000, its growth would be halted and another town of similar size would be built within its own zone of land. But the inhabitants of the one could very quickly reach the other by a rapid transit system, and thus the people of the two towns would really be part of one community.

The concept of the garden city was also especially influential in the United States with the creation of Pittsburgh’s Chatham Village; Sunnyside, Queens; Radburn, New Jersey; Jackson Heights, Queens; the Woodbourne neighbourhood of Boston; Garden City, New York; and Baldwin Hills Village in Los Angeles. In Canada there is the garden city of Walkerville, Ontario, and the first German garden city, Hellerau, a suburb of Dresden, was founded in 1909.

Howard also believed in citizen participation whereby the town residents could own a share of the city’s assets. Even today a foundation jointly owned by the citizens of Letchworth controls 5,300 acres of land, including two farms and 118 shops. All the money earned from these ventures stays in the community, and from the period 1997 to 2003 the community’s assets trebled to £160 million. This shows that with the correct organization, intention, and dynamic motivation, communities can be created for the better well-being of its citizens. Also, such living centres can become more self-sustainable and environmentally connected to the Earth. The garden city concept can be an inspiration for those communities wishing to accommodate increased agricultural spaces for growing vegetables. Over recent years there has been a vigorous interest in permaculture as a way of combining living centres with agricultural systems.

Permaculture is a way of integrating the ecology of natural agricultural practices with the needs of the community. The word permaculture, as a combination of permanent agriculture and permanent culture, reflects the social aspects of the system. Permaculture encourages the construction of self-sufficient communities that work with nature’s cycles within the surrounding ecosystem. Permaculture is often seen as a more holistic system as it looks at both the natural (agricultural) and human systems as a whole, rather than as separate systems. In this way localized communities could benefit tremendously from incorporating permaculture practices into their way of life. Not only would it provide a means for self-sufficiency but also help to sustain the local ecosystems at a time of increased strain.

The future years will demand that we change many of our current practices. It is imperative that creative individuals begin to think ‘out of the box’. Civic regeneration requires left-hemispheric thinking as well as the right; lateral thinking as well as rational. The good news is that the world is already awash with impressive grassroots social innovations. It seems that our future will be steered more from the bottom-up than from the top-down.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Social Collective

Just as humans are a social species, individuals are the building blocks of society. The worth of any society is the sum of the citizens who comprise it. Unfortunately, most political systems dumfound and dumb-down the masses, and castrate the power of the people. Yet this form of social castration has been increasingly contested over recent years by the welcome emergence and rise of some powerful and potent civil movements and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). A part of the upcoming social transitions will be the need for increased social agency. The social community should once again become an empowering body; a collective that invests diverse individuals to work together for the common good. In this way people are encouraged to become more creative, constructive, and influential within collective life. This can work as an encouragement for each person to develop to the best of their capacity; to be a functional human, able to transform dynamic inner power into a productive and useful force. Repeating what was said before, the renowned metaphysical poet John Donne once wrote - no man is an island.

Social scientist and futurist Duane Elgin has researched and written extensively upon the subject of social consciousness and evolving societies. In this respect he writes that

When we communicate and reflect among ourselves as citizens—publicly learning about and affirming our shared sentiments as an extended community—then we “know that we know.” In our dangerous and difficult time of global transition, it is not sufficient for civilizations to be wise; we must become “doubly wise” through social communication that clearly reveals our collective knowing to ourselves. Once there is a capacity for sustained and authentic social reflection, we will then have the means to achieve a shared understanding and a working consensus regarding appropriate actions for a positive future. Actions can then come quickly and voluntarily. We can mobilize ourselves purposefully, and each person can contribute his or her unique talents to building a life-affirming future.

Elgin goes on to state that for a sustainable future to be viable it needs six requirements: to dismantle consumerism; to return to ecological living; to engage with sustainable futures; to create a conscious democracy; to embrace a reflective paradigm; and to work with reconciliation. All these features support a communal immersion; the very opposite of what has been occurring within the western urban landscape. To a large degree modern urban living has contributed in isolating individuals from their wider social community and from the influence of their peers. Many have been starved of developmental input that comes from dynamic social intercourse. Progress cannot be achieved through extremes: neither through total individualism (anarchy) nor through an absolute collective (totalitarianism). As in quantum physics, each living organism has the capacity to function both as a sentient individual (the particle), and as part of the unified collective field (the wave).

In fact, the concept of the ‘organic collective’ has been a central theme running through many science-fiction stories. As just one obscure example, a pulp paperback sci-fi book from Norman Spinrad called ‘The Solarians’ (1966) has the following extract:

‘As the human race evolves, the differences among its individual members become greater, not less. Specialisation becomes more and more pronounced. And if the race continued to be organised on the basis of nations, clans, families of like clustering together…

‘The human race would explode!’

‘Exactly,’ said Lingo. ‘The Organic Group is a new basic unit, based not on the similarity of its members, but on their differences. It’s not merely a good idea – its an evolutionary necessity…And of course, with the basic unit built upon this kind of functional cooperation, the whole civilisation is stable and unified.’

So the growth and development of the individual within a diverse yet coherent collective might be, using the words of Lingo above, not merely a good idea but an evolutionary necessity. To accomplish this may require new forms of social community: emerging micro-communities; transit-orientated communities; garden cities; eco-cities, etc. This could foster a new sense of contracted and coherent communities to replace the alienation of large urbanized areas and suburban sprawl.

Urban life is increasingly out of balance with the needs of the people. This situation will be exacerbated when disruptive events impact the daily life of the urbanite. This is especially so if the individual is dependent upon supermarket food supplies, petrol station fuel, and other necessary external amenities. In short, the average urbanite is partly (and sometimes wholly) dependent upon the plentiful supply of ‘always available’ goods, such as food and energy. As western societies, and their cities, have become increasingly complex, their supply infrastructures have likewise become increasingly complex, interdependent, and fragile. In these modern times, no event occurs in isolation as everything is connected to everything else; thus, everything matters. As most major cities go, life is comfortable within the home, yet moving around within the city offers less and less pleasure, safety, and comfort. As civil unrest manifests, as it is almost certain it will, major European cities will see bouts of violence, disorder, and potential chaos. Perhaps even some areas will become ‘no-go’ zones (as they already exist in some US and South American cities, for example). It is necessary then to address the issue of creating more sustainable social living zones. Until now, too much effort has been placed into creating suburban sprawls that alienate the community; families are either boxed-in their homes or boxed-in the iron-cage of the car. The rise of suburban living has been described as ‘best understood as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world’.

It is important then that creative individuals view the upcoming years (or even decades) as opportunities to transform these dense urban zones into more compact, sustainable living centres. For example, instead of segregated areas the city could be functionally integrated between living, working, and leisure areas; mixed-income communities integrated as different skill-sets are likely to be important rather than traditional income status. Also, public spaces can be transformed into well-integrated and interconnected walkable networks and easy-access corridors. A sense of community needs to be re-vitalized through open spaces, parks, and community landscaping projects such as communal gardens and food gardens. Superstores and large shopping complexes should be replaced with local shopping areas and farmer’s markets. Whilst this may sound the death-knell for many corporate giants, their presence will be replaced by something more beneficial to the community. The large supermarkets have exploited and manipulated consumer demand for too long, and many smaller retailers and farmers have suffered greatly over their monopoly. There are already positive signs that groups of individuals are recognizing the urgent need to transform urban living centres.

A recent movement called NewUrbanism was established online in 1998 and has grown to promote ‘good urbanism, smart transportation, transit oriented development and sustainability’ . The organisation promotes policies for national and local governments to revitalise many existing cities and towns into walkable, car-free, mixed-use communities. This has influenced the creation, in 2001, of the Charter of the New Urbanism, which states that:
We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.

Out of this ‘new urbanism’ movement has also emerged a trend in urban development called Transit Oriented Development, or TOD. For example, in the town of Orenco Station (15 miles west of Portland, US) transit-oriented development has been successfully implemented. It was designed as a neighbourhood community and organized around a pedestrian spine that extends out towards a grid of walkable tree-lined streets and parks. The town promotes a walkable, pedestrian-friendly community and discourages the use of the car and other fossil-fuel transit.

Likewise, Principles of Intelligent Urbanism (PIU) is a theory of urban planning that aims to integrate various environmental, technological, socio-cultural, and mobility needs into urban design. As put forward by architect Christopher Charles Benninger in 2001, PIU works towards maximising human interaction, public spaces and movement, and environmental sustainability. A similar movement has been gaining momentum within the UK and which specifically aims to transform smaller towns into sustainable communities.

The ‘Transition Towns’ movement was established as a means to design a strategy for helping small towns move away from fossil fuel dependency. It also promotes public participation and citizen action within the context of a sustainable and self-sufficient community. The first UK ‘transition town’ was Totnes in Devon, where local town forums were created for citizens to come together and decide on ways to develop low-carbon energy resources. In other words, how better to survive in a ‘post-peak oil’ world. The ‘Transition Town’ network, in its mission statement, aims to
inspire, inform, support and train communities as they consider, adopt and implement a Transition Initiative. We’re building a range of materials, training courses, events, tools and techniques, resources and a general support capability to help these communities…We’re hoping that through this work, communities across the UK will unleash their own collective genius and embark on an imaginative and practical range of connected initiatives, leading to a way of life that is more resilient, more fulfilling and more equitable, and that has dramatically lower levels of carbon emissions.

The ‘Transition Towns’ movement aims to raise awareness by giving talks and screening films in various towns and villages. One of their creative projects has been the introduction of a local currency (such as the ‘Totnes pounds’) that can only be spent in local shops. The move to local currencies is also on the increase in various towns across the US as a way to revitalize local businesses in the wake of the global financial crisis. Representatives of the transition town movement have also conducted ‘oil vulnerability auditing workshops’ with local businesses to see how they can reduce their reliance on oil. Other local projects set up under the scheme include running workshops on growing fruit and vegetables, bread-baking and sock-darning. So far there are over thirty towns and cities in England signed up to a ‘Transition Town’ plan, with others in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. Schemes such as this, and others similar, are on the increase in communities all over the world. People are reading the signs and becoming motivated and inspired. The writing is, as they say, already on the wall; and as more people get this ‘gut feeling’ there will be more and more alternative community projects arising. It is essential that in these times people – individually and collectively – start to take power back into their own hands. The creative energies residing within the human network has been either ignored or under-used for far too long. People need to take the initiative as familiar structures around begin to fail and dissolve. The opposite, doing nothing and weeping for sorrow or in despair, will do nobody any good. We are being encouraged (or pushed) to show ourselves how wonderfully resilient, resourceful, and creative we can really be. Many of us may be surprised at what can be achieved when a group of motivated people join together. To quote again the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: ‘A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has’.

For now the transition town initiative is largely restricted to smaller towns, where civic engagement and localised sustainable practices from the bottom-up have some chance of success. However, the same model could work in larger cities if they split into smaller scale sustainable neighbourhoods.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Re-evaluating life principles

As events begin to unfold and social changes become more manifest it is likely that more and more people will feel the ‘pull-n-push’ towards downsizing and re-evaluating life principles and needs. The old thinking and energies of self-survival and material gain will need to be replaced with a new paradigm of creation, communication, and collaboration. The new imperatives and opportunities arising will require us to embark on a path towards re-vitalized partnership relations of community. The era of global excess and greed, which filtered down to the masses as consumer excess and credit greed, is no longer a viable future path. We have now been getting a wake-up call we cannot ignore. As one-time business advisor David Korten now explains:
Rather than to give in to despair in this often frightening time, let us rejoice in the privilege of being alive at a moment of creative opportunity unprecedented in the human experience...Let our descendants look back on this time as the time of the Great Turning, when humanity made a bold choice to birth a new era devoted to actualizing the higher potentials of our human nature - We are the ones we have been waiting for.
We have been waiting for the opportunity and challenge to adjust to new changes. In this respect, we have been waiting long enough for what will be an epochal transition. The challenges facing us are not so much about a ‘once change’, leaving us again to sit comfortably in our newly adapted state. Rather, we are encouraged to shift into a permanent state of adaptation so as to be better placed to face uncertainty. Such uncertainties may push social affairs towards reorganization at more contracted levels and scale of activity. In the face of these contractions individuals need to start thinking soon about what courses of action to take. We can walk into the future willingly, or we can be back-flipped kicking and screaming like children. Either way, it seems highly likely that novel social transitions are coming down the line.

Social Transitions

According to social commentator James Kunstler those of us who presently live in the comfortable ‘west’ are facing ‘the comprehensive downscaling, rescaling, downsizing, and relocalizing of all our activities, a radical reorganization of the way we live in the most fundamental particulars’. This may come as a shock to the many who are constantly connected into a networked global world. Does this mean we are to be transported back into the Dark Ages? In a previous post I made mention to an almost Dark Ages scenario that I termed ‘Lock-Down’. This was suggested as a physical possibility should tumultuous events play out over a prolonged period of time. However, once the turbulence has passed (which I feel will be short-lived rather than protracted), there will be a different kind of age. It will be a return to values and relationships no longer obscured by unbalance and folly. The 21st century should be the Age where we recover many of the valuable insights and skills in the art of living. Our efforts and skills, the very basis of our human activities – our spiritual and moral values – need to be re-directed towards creating a more integral relationship between human living and our earthly environment. In other words, we need to discover a ‘way back’ to the Earth that has been forgotten. We, as individuals, need to develop our critical reflexive faculties and to find a balance between inner and outer needs. We require food, clothing, shelter, and community; we also require a sense of worth and belonging, of communion with our environment. In giving shape to ourselves radical new social and cultural forms are needed. These new forms should serve to place the human within the dynamics of a living cosmic, creative, intelligent universe. After all, the universe of which we form a part is a fundamental sacred reality. By losing our connection with the sacrosanct we create a bubble of alienation between our species and our planetary and cosmic home. This is not esoteric blurb, these are natural laws. For many of us the context for our existence has become mechanical and often unfulfilling. We have lost touch with the organic, with the alive and renewing, and exist in material cocoons that are drip-fed. Within this barren context we obscure our natural capacity for intimacy and cohesion with the living sea of energy that surrounds us. We have so far lacked the epiphany (or revelationary experience) needed to shock human consciousness awake to its sacred communion with living processes. Perhaps that shock epiphany will come in the form of crisis transitions. In this sense we ‘need to reinvent the human within the community of life systems’. Instead of being a pivotal force the human has become an addendum or intrusion into organic, living processes because of a lack of spiritual insight and understanding. Cultural historian Thomas Berry reinforces this predicament when he says
The proposal has been made that no effective restoration of a viable mode of human presence on the planet will take place until such intimate human rapport with the Earth community and the entire functioning of the universe is reestablished on an extensive scale.
This point emphasizes that the human presence exists within both a physical environmental context as well as a cosmic universal one. All things thus exist in differing degrees within all levels: this is our integrative creative, living matrix. It is another name for LIFE (Living an Integrated Fulfilling Existence).