The walls are built up, stone by stone,
The fields divided one by one
And the train conductor says “Take a break Driver 8,
Driver 8 take a break We’ve been on this shift too long”
And the train conductor says “Take a break Driver 8,
Driver 8 take a break We can reach our destination,
but we’re still a ways away” R.E.M,
A couple months ago, I introduced a series of posts dealing with the critical components for building a successful, new way of living in And Now for Something Completely Different. The series is nowhere near complete, but I do think we are due for a little recap and integration of the various ideas I have presented, so far.
We started with the first component being Sustainability, which was explicitly defined as “always giving more back than one takes.” We live in a finite world, a finite universe, and so our consumption of resources must, on average, be less than the resource replenishment rate. Otherwise, we will eventually run out – and of course, we are seeing that problem arising even now with issues such as peak oil and the holocene extinction.
Next, we discussed the nature of mankind. After all, if we are to embrace a ‘natural human lifestyle,’ we must start by determining what that nature looks like. In There’s Nothing Wrong with People, I presented the argument that evolution and natural selection precludes the possibility that humans are inherently flawed and maladaptive animals. If that were the case, we never could have flourished in the first place. So if humans are not flawed, then the problems we now face must have another source. This leads to the obvious question, can we find any humans that do not exhibit behaviors leading to these sorts of problems? In fact, there have been thousands of cultures that appear, from all study to date, to have been sustainable, relatively peaceful (which does not imply lack of violence, only that they do not appear to have many of the issues with chronic violence and full scale war), and integrated into the ecologies within which they live. This makes these other cultures ideal places to look for ideas on what works and, more importantly, what features they share that our own culture lacks.
The first feature I identified as Working Together. Through an analysis of the Prisoner’s Dilemma game theory experiment, we explored the ways one might encourage cooperative behavior in place of the current paradigm of competitive behavior. Giving individuals a shared goal with a successful completion fundamentally dependent on cooperation can create an environment where those same individuals can discover for themselves the value of cooperative behavior. With sufficient iterations, this can change the way those individuals view and interact with one another.
Once you have individuals working together toward shared goals, it becomes obvious that our modern culture is deficient in teaching people the vital skill of communication. He Said, She Said explores my personal experiences with learning how to communicate more truthfully, openly and honestly. Although this occurred within the context of my love relationship, I believe that something similar will be necessary between any individuals that hope to become a cohesive, effective, interdependent cooperative group.
Once we have a group of people working together at sustainable endeavors, with open communication the social dynamic begins to evolve in new ways. Questions of leadership and power relationships need to be considered. As we saw in Respect My Author-i-tay, these relationships can be based on hierarchal structures(ascribed power) or they can be based upon demonstrated knowledge, wisdom and ability(attained power). I believe that true leadership only exists in cases of attained power and that egalitarian communities that avoid the pitfalls of hierarchy will be more dynamic, adaptable and creative than similar communities with either strict hierarchies or cult-of-personality rulership.
Generations addresses the problems inherent in the nuclear family as the primary model for familial structure. As we have separated the young from the youthful, from the elderly, we have lost a vital link between the past and the future. At the same time, we have made aging shameful and undignified. By contrast, traditional societies generally excel at providing a place, a purpose and a role for every individual. We need to find ways to do the same.
So far, everything I have mentioned is absolutely, in my opinion, necessary for a successful community. This next one, I think is necessary for any community I would be willing to take part in, although I could be convinced that it is not absolutely necessary for everyone. As best we can tell, all primitive peoples shared an animist world view (In my articles, I have been referring to this as monism, in an effort to avoid the religiousity imbued in the word animism, and I will continue to do so moving forward.) Down The Rabbit Hole discusses how the assumption of duality, as in our current culture, provides a whole series of ‘outs’ for people. It allows us to dismiss concerns about the physical world – environmentalism, behavior, life choices — as relatively unimportant in the face of the eternal world of spirit. Whether the Christian heaven, Valhalla, the Buddhist nirvana or anything in between, all of these belief systems draw a divide between us as human animals, and the natural world of which we are an integrated part. This leads to behaviors that deny our integration with and dependence upon the world.. And Into the Garden explores the assumptions inherent in to monist philosophy, while …Of Eden ponders what the world might look like if monism were the prevalent world view. Further, Tell me a Story discusses oral traditions and the importance of re-learning orality in our future culture, while Maslow’s Network suggests that when all of these things come together within us, the result is Self Actualization.
We have a long ways to go, and many of these themes will be fine tuned as we continue. My hope is that these puzzle pieces that I am describing will gradual start to create an image that others can see. As it begins to come together, we may be in for some lively debate over the validity of the image, or the details therein. But I see this as a good thing that can only make the final portrait that much more vital and alive.
(Originally Posted October 24, 2006)