Many of my huge Baby-Boom generation born starting in 1946 into a burgeoning middle class after World War II were beginning to come of age in a relatively prosperous America. We had better access to education, and through the growing electronic media of radio and television, access to a popular culture that included championing the expression of sexuality and other forms of human liberation. Facilitated by the development of a reliable birth control pill in 1960, elements of American culture were moving away from traditional values and social strictures towards more permissive and informalized attitudes. Rock-and-roll music, emerging in the 1950s borrowing from black R&B roots and becoming mainstream in the 60s was a huge cultural aphrodisiac, urging its listeners to “rock”, its thinly-veiled code word for sexual activity.
Archive for the ‘Context’ Category
For five-thousand years human civilization has been about a small privileged elite mostly directing the activity of the rest of us. The bankruptcy of this approach to human society, if not evident previously, became brutally so in the 20th Century when some of the most “advanced” countries on Earth sent millions of their young people to slaughter each other for national pride and systematically exterminated millions of other people simply attempting to live their lives in peace.
Better late than never, there is a more egalitarian approach to human civilization that we have to date only seen small glimpses of. In the vision of great thinkers like Isaiah, Laozi, Gautama Buddha, Jesus of Nazareth, Michael Servetus, Mikhail Bakunin, Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Emma Goldman, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Aung San Suu Kyi. In the consensus governance practices of the Quakers and the Iroquois. In the egalitarian societies of Scandinavia and the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Some of the key principles of this revised approach to civilization beyond control and conformity include…
For nearly 200,000 years our human species (homo sapiens) lived on this bountiful planet in what most anthropologists now believe were mostly small egalitarian bands or tribes of hunter-gatherers, less than a million people scattered about Earth’s various habitable environs living for the most part peacefully with each other and within the larger web of nature. Each autonomous group might be as few as 10 to as many as 100 people generally woven together by a web of kinship with a basic equality among members including between men and women. It is generally believed today that all told, these people lived good lives in harmony with nature and were anything but the conventional pejorative notion of “savages”.
Unlike the tribal “chiefs” we are familiar with in contemporary indigenous societies, most bands of hunter-gatherers are believed to have operated without permanent leaders, with various community members taking initiative based on their expertise in the particular task being performed. Think more the informal organization of a contemporary large extended family or a group of people on a field or camping trip rather than a highly stratified hierarchy of decision making. The fact that this organization of our species evolved naturally and continued for nearly 200,000 years mostly unchanged speaks to its efficacy and compatibility with innate human nature.
What I’m really wrestling with these days is the most recent 5000 to 10,000 years of our history, specifically our experiment with “civilization”, which seems to have been quite a mixed bag. In an effort to see what lies beyond and maybe even evolve beyond our nature, we created complex human societies where we all participate (some willingly but many coerced) as a sort of super-organism that has been able to explore and take control of virtually all of our planet’s territory and natural resources, compile an edifice of knowledge now almost universally available through the Internet, and take at least the first baby steps to explore beyond the friendly confines of our planet. A super-organism mimicking a purely biological organism which has a certain small portion of that organism dedicated to its control and executive function.
At its best this experiment with civilization has created a world that currently allows seven billion unique souls to inhabit it at the same time, share an incarnation on a beautiful planet, and share ever more connectedness with (through diminishing degrees of separation from) each other.
But the downside is that we have created complex societies and institutions within those societies which as designed require a controlling elite executing that executive function in a way that generally favors that subset of people at the expense of the rest of us participating in the super-organism. This privilege of a controlling elite may or may not have been an aspect of previous human hunter-gatherer societies, but it continues to be a foundational cog of our “civilization” approach to human society.
What’s a species to do?
It seems we Americans are caught up in and even obsessed with dualities. Good and evil, god or no god, democracy or tyranny, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, men are from Mars and women from Venus. It all makes for a compelling competitive narrative and a great show when our team, however that’s defined by a group of us, goes up against the opposition, particularly when our team wins. I even tend to think in the duality of patriarchy versus partnership, and frame my own narrative of the latter (the circle of equals) triumphing over the former (hierarchies of domination and control).
But more and more these days I’m thinking this is an overly simplistic and unsophisticated approach to the world, that maybe sells tickets to some sort of framed contest between two opposing sides, but does not serve the cause of coming to some sort of compromise consensus on a pragmatic path forward for our society. What is needed I think is a different metaphor for constructive conflict that allows for an array of constituencies to form ever-changing relationships with each other.
This is a follow-up on my previous piece, “From Civilization to a Circle of Equals”, where I put forward a view that human civilization, since its flowering 5000 years ago with the invention of literacy, appears to have been built around the control of the majority of people within its purview by a minority elite. This piece focuses on some of the specific mechanisms of control, some developed in ancient times but continuing today, and others that are more recent “innovations”.
I think it is critical that progressive people understand this history and these continuing mechanisms of control, so we have more of a chance to rise above these manipulations by controlling elites. It is equally critical that we avoid advocating for these manipulations ourselves, in our efforts to create a more egalitarian narrative for human society going forward into the future. Control, even by the forces of egalitarian ends, is still control, and diminishes the natural human spirit to control ones own destiny.
So here’s my list of such mechanisms, certainly not a comprehensive one, but some of the obvious bigees and a few others you might not have thought of.
What follows is an outline of a book I intend to write and get published (even if self-published) in the next few years, based on a lot of the reading, thinking and writing I have done to date. The bulk of the links you find in the overview are to pieces I have previously written that I will attempt to weave in.
My working title at this point is “From Civilization to a Circle of Equals”, because I have come to see civilization, as human beings have mostly developed it so far, as an exercise in domination and control of the bulk of human beings by a vested elite. As we truly embrace the “circle of equals” in our society, we will see such a transformation as to perhaps move beyond any current concept of “civilization” as we know it.
Given that disclaimer, if you are interested in my thoughts on the grand narrative of our species, please keep reading, and please (please, please) comment with your thoughts! (It will also be posted on my site as a “page” called out in the right column!
Human society is gradually transitioning from hierarchies of domination and control towards egalitarian circles of equals. At least that’s my take on things, and my “life’s work” including this writing that I do is all about bearing witness to and championing that transition. A critical aspect of moving away from other people (including ones employer) controlling your life, is to develop the ability to exercise that control yourself instead. So moving beyond the realm of just an abstract philosophical discussion I want to talk about how I try to make this a reality in my own day to day life.
What I’ve learned over an almost six decade span of this life is to essentially “create my own reality” (a mainstay of new-age thinking) as a key part of directing my continuing life and development. Nowhere is my creation more evident these days than in how I am able to build most of my weeks to meet my unique mix of needs to be productive, have fun, maintain my health, and generally live a balanced life. Each week is a seven-day “opus” mainly written and wholly performed by me. Each week includes some regular facilitating rituals, but hopefully enough variety as well to make each a unique expression of who I am becoming and the worldview I champion.
I have not come to this point easily or without much personal development of my own sense of agency and how I manage my interactions with others, including my supervisors and other colleagues at work. I have been working in the corporate world for over twenty years, and my current comfort level with that sort of work environment has been learned incrementally over those years.
Sustainability… it will by all accounts be a key theme of 21st century human society. Sustainable agriculture, energy use, carbon footprint, and average family size are already on the table towards informing governmental policy and economic practice. But in order to dial down in these areas we are realizing the need for a sustainable level of economic activity, which includes a finite amount of commoditized work to be divided between an increasing number of people seeking that work.
Put more simply… there may not be enough full-time jobs to go around if we hope to move towards a sustainable human society!
Growth was certainly a key theme of the previous century. The Earth’s human population tripled from under two billion in 1900 to about six billion people by 2000. During that same hundred year time period, according to Wikipedia, the GWP (gross world economic product) increased almost forty-fold (adjusted for inflation). To try and meet the rapidly growing need for food, agricultural practice moved toward monoculture with increasing use of inorganic chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers which trade short-term increases in land yield for long-term soil degradation. The massive increase in economic activity has led to comparable increases in fossil fuel use (leading to global warming), stress on other non-renewable resources, reduction in the planet’s forests and other degradations to the ecosystem.
Rates of human population growth are beginning to slow due to increasing education, government policy (particularly in China), and the growing empowerment of women to control their own bodies including the number of children they give birth to. But as more and more of the world’s population moves from subsistence to more of a “modern” industrial-consumerist economy, it is now argued that the rate of growth in economic activity needs to slow as well to prevent resource depletion and ecological disaster.
My “ministry” is all about celebrating and championing human development at an individual and societal level. A key thread in that development (at both the individual and societal level) is our society’s transition from hierarchies of control towards circles of equals. So in that regard, what light (if any) does the recent election shed on our path forward?
I’m a lover of lists, and here is my list of the areas of this transition that continue to be of most interest to me…
1. The engagement between youth and adults – With women emerging more and more as partners to men around the world, young people remain the world’s last human “chattel”, often beyond the reach of full human rights even in a democratic country like the U.S. At issue is the liberation of this group of people, that many still diminish as mere “children”.
2. Human development – While more and more we acknowledge this as a lifelong process, we still generally constrain that development, particularly among our young people, by prescribing and proscribing what they can learn in school, while minimizing the possibility for informal self-directed learning outside of a formal teacher-led classroom.
3. The engagement between men and women – The most profound divide between people that bifurcates every societal institution from the intimate family to macroeconomics, and plays out with the related issue of sexual orientation, all still juiced with masculine/feminine mythology.
4. The engagement between white people and people of color – Our greatest source still of “us and them” thinking based on a siege mentality still prevalent among many people. Acknowledging that racial privilege still exists while trying to move to a more egalitarian society is a continuing difficult challenge.
5. The levels of governance – The degrees of separation between the decision-makers and the people impacted by those decisions. The truest quantifiable indicator of the overall transition from hierarchies of control to a circle of equals. Also the degree of “one dollar one vote” plutocracy versus “one person one vote” democracy.
So here’s my take based on the gestalt of the election where we are at in these six areas, respectfully though perhaps provocatively put forward hoping to spur discussion.
As a progressive, I continue to be frustrated with the ideological split in our country’s governing bodies that seems to be preventing them from addressing key issues that will help us move forward as a society. But as not a particularly partisan one, I always try to appreciate the positions and underlying world view of more conservative comrades on the other side of our current dysfunctional divide.
So trying to get beyond all this pitched political conflict that has lead to a paralysis of pragmatism (how Spiro Agnew, if you even remember that far back!), I am trying to synthesize something, using components from both sides, that could be a practical path forward. My thinking at the moment revolves around some sort of synergy of entrepreneurship with a strong “commons”. We can continue to be an innovative risk-taking society, but with an overarching belief, as Bill Clinton so eloquently pointed out in his Democratic convention speech, that we are all in this together, rather than “You’re on your own”. The latter I fear will lead to all sorts of bad stuff like competition within a world view of scarcity, economic winners and losers, one dollar (rather than one person) one vote, and increased “us and them” thinking. (more…)