Sunday, November 21, 2010

2012: Crossroads for Humanity

This is a work-in-progress. Comments welcome.
Richard K. Moore


Part I: The nature of the global crisis

1   Prognosis 2012
      the elite agenda for social transformation

2   The Grand Story of humanity
3   The story of hierarchy

Part II: A grassroots response to the crisis

4   The emergence of localism
5   A framework for achieving economic transformation
6   Facilitating the emergence of democratic empowerment
Abstract: The previous chapter presented a framework for economic development, but only at an abstract level. In any particular community, there is a lot of planning to be done, and many choices to be made, in order to achieve the potential of the framework. In this chapter we look at how local citizens can be invited to participate in the planning process, and how this participation can grow into a full-fledged democratic process at the community level.

Part III: Global transformation as an organic process

7   The emergence of community empowerment
Abstract: When a community has created a resilient and prosperous local economy, and has developed processes that maintain community coherence while enabling ongoing community evolution, then we can say that the community has empowered itself to govern its own affairs.
     Local elections become a process where a slate of officials are elected unanimously, and the functions of the official government are effectively integrated into the community’s self-governance processes, as was always supposed to be the case in a democratic society — the government responding to the will of the people.

8   A viral model of cultural transformation
Abstract: The basic premise of the localization movement has always been that society could be transformed by transforming one community at a time, as regards achieving sustainability, local self-sufficiency, etc. Expanding on that premise, if community empowerment can be achieved in a few seed communities, we could expect that widespread interest would develop in other communities.
     The model, particularly the processes that enable community coherence, might with some real likelihood go viral, leading to a grassroots cultural transformation on a society-wide basis. Only some such viral process, based on some appropriate seed, can hope to transform a society which has become so tightly controlled from the center by unaccountable elites.

9   An organic global society
Abstract: The coherence that exists in our current societies is imposed from the center, by laws, taxes, government policies, etc. It is a coherence based on uniformity and conformance to rules. In a natural ecosystem coherence emerges spontaneously through the voluntary interaction of autonomous organisms. Organic coherence is based on diversity and on spontaneous responses to changing circumstances.
     An empowered community operates as an organic system, its coherence emerging through the voluntary interaction of autonomous citizens. If every community in the world were empowered in this way, and if each community is an autonomous political unit, then we would have an organic global society. Coherence in such a society emerges from the voluntary interaction of autonomous communities. It is a coherence based on diversity and on spontaneous responses to changing circumstances.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ch 4: The emergence of localism


Richard K. Moore
Last update: 13 October 2010

Table of Contents: 2012: Crossroads for Humanity

Always darkest before the dawn
In Part I we were looking at the origins of the global crisis, which are ultimately political in nature. Although these origins are not widely understood, the symptoms of the crisis are readily visible to all. One of the most visible of the symptoms is the resource crisis: resource limits, overuse and misuse of resources, resource-related conflicts, and the resulting destruction of our natural life-support systems.

Some people saw the resource crisis coming years ago. A worldwide environmental movement has been active since at least 1962, after Rachael Carson’s The Silent Spring was published to wide acclaim. This movement has focused on lobbying for environmental protections, and for stronger regulation of corporations. The movement has had a number of successes, as when the Environmental Protection Agency was first established in the USA. But over time the movement has become less effective, the regulatory agencies have been corrupted by corporate influence, and the dark clouds of crisis loom ever larger.

But hark! At this darkest time, promising new initiatives are emerging. While the environmental movement may have faltered, environmental consciousness has spread throughout the society. And in the face of government ineffectiveness, activists are turning their attention toward grassroots solutions to the crisis.

From the early days of the environmental movement, we have had the notion of ‘think globally and act locally’. This translated mostly into individual life-style choices, such as driving and consuming less, recycling and bicycling, installing double-glazed windows, etc. The new wave of activists are interpreting ‘act locally’ in a more empowered way: they are working to mobilize whole communities around the goal of achieving sustainability at the local level.

This new wave of environmentalism is non-confrontational and more or less apolitical, unlike the feisty old wave, and yet the new wave represents a much more radical response to the resource crisis. These activists realize that environmental regulations are simply not enough, even if they could be achieved. A total transformation is needed in the way we use resources and in the way we run our economies. If every community could go through a transition process, and achieve sustainability locally, then the whole society would be transformed.

The total economic transformation of our societies is a very radical agenda indeed. If we look back in history for movements with equally radical agendas, we find only violent revolutionary movements, and mass political movements. Our new wave of environmental activists are not at all radically minded, in that traditional political sense, and yet they find themselves on a very radical path, a path toward social transformation. How do we account for this novel emergence of politically innocent, and yet potentially effective, radicalism?

I suggest that this new kind of radicalism comes from a fundamental shift in consciousness on the part of leading-edge activists. That shift is not toward radicalism itself, rather it is a shift from ‘asking government to solve our problems’, to ‘figuring out what we can do for ourselves’. Activists were drawn toward this new consciousness, as it became increasingly clear that governments were simply not facing up to the crisis, and that no amount of political activism was going to wake them up.

As long as activist energy is directed towards influencing governments, only small things will be asked for. In order for initiatives to have any hope of success, they must be framed within the context of overall government policy, and they must not be making ‘unrealistic demands’. Thus stifled in their options, the very imagination of activists ends up being constrained to incremental hopes and proposals.

But once activists turn their attention to grassroots solutions, their imagination, their visions, and their creativity are unleashed. Instead of limiting their thinking to ‘achievable reforms’, they begin to ask, ‘How can the problem actually be solved?’ Once that bold question is asked, sensible people can often find answers, even if governments can’t.

The community is the natural place to pursue grassroots initiatives, and the techniques of sustainability have been pioneered by intentional communities, ecovillages, permaculture farms, etc. This new wave of environmental localism is simply bringing the available tools to bear in a place where they can make a real difference in mainstream society. While governments aren’t listening, communities might be persuaded to pay attention — to ideas that can benefit them. This seems to be a quite sensible strategy for moving toward sustainability, one community at a time.

It is not only environmentalists who have turned their attention to the local, as a focus for effective activism. The crisis is multi-faceted, extending to economic collapse, unemployment, homelessness, etc. And in every such area of crisis, governments show the same inability to respond effectively.

Activists who have ideas for creating employment, or responding to some other area of crisis, are increasingly seeing the community as the best place to apply their ideas and their energies. As these energies converge on the community, we are beginning to see the emergence of a generalized localization movement.
Around the world, there is a growing movement to pull back from the relentless march of corporate globalisation by re-rooting economic and social activities at the community level. From the burgeoning popularity of farmers’ markets and food co-ops to the revitalisation of community banking, people are organising themselves to reclaim the economy from large profit-driven corporations and instead build sustainable, local alternatives.
— Anna White, “Why Local Economies Matter
Anna White talks about a ‘growing movement’, but unfortunately the growth is horizontal rather than vertical. More and more activists are getting involved, in a growing number of communities and a variety of initiatives, but in each community the actual benefit of the initiatives has remained marginal.

There might be a weekly farmer’s market, for example, and it might be crowded with happy farmers and happy customers. But in terms of the overall food business in the community, the farmer’s market usually handles only a negligible percentage. The early adopters get on board, for some percentage of their food purchases, and the program never grows much beyond that.

Localization activists are motivated by a vision of transformation, and their initiatives do have transformational potential. However none of these initiatives, apart from a few notable exceptions, has found a way to escape from marginalism and really begin to have a significant effect on any community’s economy, or to move any community significantly closer to sustainability.

Let us now take a closer look at the various initiatives, in order to understand the nature of the obstacles preventing greater progress. In the next chapter, we will then take on the challenge of figuring out how these obstacles might be overcome. The various localization initiatives can be categorized under three primary threads of activity:
  • achieving greater self-sufficiency
  • revitalizing the local economy
  • awakening grassroots energy
Achieving greater self-sufficiency
These initiatives are oriented around making the most of local resources, reducing consumption of resources generally, and seeking to minimize dependence on goods and services sourced from outside the surrounding region. To the extent these efforts succeed, the community could be shielded from disruption by global resource scarcities, or by a collapse in society’s supply chains.

Among the specific initiatives are campaigns to encourage certain individual lifestyle choices, such as buying from local shops, riding bicycles, installing better insulation, and all those other things that environmentally-minded people have been doing for quite some time, on the basis of the principle, ‘think globally and act locally’.

The new-wave activists have extended the initiatives to group undertakings, such as urban gardens, farmer’s markets, local energy production, and local currencies to encourage local shopping.

As regards the lifestyle-choice initiatives, the obstacle to greater progress is clear. The immediate benefits to the individual from making such choices are marginal, there are costs and sacrifices involved, and only a limited number of people are sufficiently motivated by long-term concerns to join in.

In the case of the group undertakings, there are two different obstacles preventing the initiatives from having a more significant impact on the local economy. In some cases, as with Farmer’s markets, the obstacle is the same as above: not enough immediate benefits to attract widespread participation.

In other cases, we see a different kind of obstacle. In these cases activists have found a way to generate widespread participation. But in doing so they have narrowed the scope of their initiatives to the point where even widespread participation has only a marginal impact on the local economy. Examples of this are Berkshares and the Transition Towns movement.

Berkshares are a community currency that has been introduced into the Berkshire region of Massachusetts. Local residents can purchase Berkshares at a discount, 100 Berkshares for $95. They can then spend those Berkshares as if they were dollars, at merchants who have chosen to participate. Such a merchant can trade in 100 Berkshares and get back $95. The net effect is that merchants are offering a 5% discount to local residents, in order to increase their business volume, and in order to encourage a community spirit of ‘shop locally’.

This is an attractive enough proposition that many local businesses and residents are participating. This has succeeded in increasing the percentage of local shopping, and the local residents are benefitting from the 5% discount. Those are certainly good outcomes, but in terms of moving toward local self-sufficiency or sustainability, the net result is marginal.

The Transition Towns movement is focused specifically on the need to reduce energy consumption, based on the belief that oil is getting scarce and that society’s supply chains are going to break down. The movement has a step-by-step plan for communities, based on educating the people in the community about the need to reduce energy usage, working with local authorities, and developing a multi-year Energy Descent Action Plan, with the overall support of the community.

The town of Totnes, in the UK, seems to be the most advanced of the Transition Towns, having launched their project in 2006. They have an Energy Descent Action Plan, with 39 projects on the go, and the activity has generated more than £8,000 income for the community. They also have a local currency, the ‘Totnes Pound’, and out of a population of less than 8,000, over 3,000 have signed up as supporters of the project.

These are impressive achievements in terms of community organizing, and yet, with all that local support and activity, and four years of effort, the income generated has amounted to only about £1 per resident. And the Action Plan, at this point, is actually just a plan to create a plan, which in turn will hopefully outline a path to becoming somewhat more sustainable by the year 2030.

This has been an admirable effort by the activists and the community, and in many ways the project is an ongoing success story. But again, in terms of moving toward local self-sufficiency or sustainability, the net result is marginal.

Revitalizing the local economy
These initiatives are oriented around stimulating the local economy, putting people to work, and seeking to create local prosperity — while minimizing dependence on the outside economy or outside investment. These objectives are complementary to the self-sufficiency objectives above, but the emphasis is on stimulating economic activity, rather than on reducing imports to the community.

The primary revitalization initiatives have to do with local currencies, local funding entities, and co-ops.

Local currencies
In the previous section, local currencies were seen as a way to encourage buying from local businesses. Here we are emphasizing something else: the ability of local currencies to enable a greater level of local economic activity, than can be supported by the locally available dollars.

Note: for simplicity, I’m using the term ‘dollars’ for the local official currency, but of course this might really be Euros, Pounds, or whatever, depending on where the community is located.

With discount-based local currencies, such as Berkshares, some degree of increased economic activity can be generated, but that is limited to a small percentage increase over what could be supported by available dollars. In order to move beyond that, another kind of local currency is needed, an independent currency, such as Ithaca Hours, Time Dollars, or LETS.

Independent currencies are separate currencies in their own right. Units are not typically purchased for dollars, but are issued on some other basis. And units are not typically exchangeable for dollars; their value is defined by the goods and services that can be accessed with them. Independent currencies have the potential to support a vibrant local economy, even in a dollar-impoverished community.

Discount-based currencies and independent currencies each appeal to different constituencies, and for different kinds of transactions. As we saw with Berkshares, discount-based currencies are appealing to established merchants, as a way of increasing their business volume. However established merchants are not likely to be interested in accepting independent currencies, because they are unlikely to be able to buy their supplies of goods using such a currency.

Independent currencies are appealing to ordinary people, as a way to exchange goods and services among one another. Someone might earn units by giving haircuts, and then use those units to buy bread from someone who bakes. For these kinds of transactions, a discount-based currency offers no benefits over using dollars directly.

The reason discount-based currencies have only a marginal effect on the local economy — despite widespread participation — is that discounts are inherently limited as regards the the benefits they can provide. In the case of independent currencies, the benefits have been marginal because not enough people have participated thus far, and the transactions involved have tended to be of marginal value.

Local funding entities
A local funding entity could be a local bank, a local credit union, or some kind of local entity that is able to invest in local projects and enterprises. In order to serve the purpose of revitalizing the local economy, the funding entity needs to have a certain ethic about its operations. In particular, the entity needs to be dedicated to revitalizing the local economy, rather than dedicated to maximizing its own return on investment.

Credit unions are very beneficial to communities. They are owned by their members, and their mission is to serve their members rather than maximize their profits. They tend to offer better terms on both loans and savings accounts than banks do. And since credit unions don’t make speculative investments, they survived the recent financial collapse relatively unscathed.

Banks, if they are established on an appropriate basis, can also be very beneficial to their communities. If we consider the state of North Dakota to be a ‘community’, then the Bank of North Dakota demonstrates the ability of a bank to insulate its community from external financial problems.

This bank is owned by the state of North Dakota, rather than by private investors, and it is dedicated to promoting the economic welfare of its citizens and businesses, rather than maximizing profits. As with credit unions, this bank came through the financial collapse in very good shape: How the Nation’s Only State-Owned Bank Became the Envy of Wall Street.

Perhaps the most impressive example of how a bank can benefit its community can be found in Mondragon, Spain, as explained in the excellent documentary film, The Mondragon Experiment, and in the article, The Mondragon Co-operative Federation: A Model for our Time?. This bank was created for the specific purpose of developing the local economy, and in particular to fund and launch worker-owned production co-ops.

The bank not only provides funding, but it helps people with entrepreneurial ideas to develop a business plan, and to set up a sound management team. The bank then stays in touch with the enterprise, providing counseling, and making additional funding available, when that makes good business sense. The bank acts as a friendly partner and mentor in such enterprises, and the economic success of the Mondragon system has been remarkable.

The Grameen Bank demonstrates another way that local communities can benefit, using the mechanism of microcredit. Grameen makes small loans to people in poverty, creating self-employment for income-generating activities and housing for the poor. Prof. Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank, received the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work. Grameen has shown that people are not poor due to a lack of talent or enterprise, but because of a lack of opportunities.

One of the most promising proposals for a local funding entity is the Common Good Bank. This bank has been designed from the very beginning as a vehicle to support democratically-managed community development. The plan is to have local divisions of the bank in participating communities, and in each community the depositors would decide what the bank should invest in. Bank profits are to go to schools and suitable non-profit organizations, and some loans will be micro-loans, as with the Grameen Bank.

The most remarkable element of this banking scheme is a very special kind of local currency, called Local Money. This is a kind of independent currency, in that it can be issued for free, but it has the virtues of a discount currency, as it can be exchanged for dollars — and there isn’t even a discount. Such a currency would be appealing to everyone in the community, including the local merchants.

Local Money is an extension of the principle of fractional reserve banking. All banks, under this principle, can issue loans in excess of their actual reserves, on the theory that most loans get repaid, and the bank won’t be caught short. In essence, money is created when a loan is issued, and the bank profits from the interest on this newly created money. It’s a very profitable scam for the banks. Local Money transforms that scam into something beneficial to communities.

Units of Local Money can be issued as loans, or as grants to community projects, or as part of the remuneration for bank workers. These units can then be used to buy things from local merchants, or exchanged for services. The value of a Local Money unit is based on the stable, inflation-free value of some basic local commodities, benchmarked regularly against the dollar. The bank will accept units and exchange them for dollars, based on the current valuation.

Needless to say, the stability of this scheme depends on fiscal prudence in the issuing of Local Money. Just as with national currencies, careful control of the local money supply is called for. The money supply must be kept in balance with the volume of trading taking place in the community. If the money supply is too great, inflation results; if the money supply is too small, the operation of the local economy is unnecessarily restrained. In addition, the amount of Local Money in circulation must be kept in balance with the bank’s dollar reserves, because of the convertibility guarantee.

Provided that Local Money is prudently managed, the scheme has great potential for stimulating development and prosperity in the community. Wherever there are untapped talents, or undeveloped economic potential, Local Money can be made available to put that talent to work and realize that economic potential.

We might recall here that, according to Benjamin Franklin, the main reason for the Revolutionary War was the fact that Britain outlawed the issuance of local currency by the Colonies. Local currencies had enabled prosperity in the Colonies, and the Bank of England was not benefitting. It’s not nice to mess with central bankers.

There is one pitfall for the Common Good Bank’s scheme. If severe inflation occurs in the dollar economy, the convertibility guarantee cannot be maintained. If the value of the official currency plummets, and Local Money retains its value, the bank wouldn’t have sufficient reserves to handle exchanges, particularly if people panicked and started a dollar-exchange run on the bank.

If such inflation did happen, it would be a good idea for the bank to sponsor a public viewing of Jimmy Stewart’s, It’s a Good Life.

I say that only partly in jest. The fact is that in a period of severe dollar inflation, assuming that Local Money has been in use for a reasonable length of time, local people would be happy they have a currency that is working for them. They would have every reason to continue to honor it, and little incentive to exchange for a national currency that is in trouble. They would be likely to accept a change of policy, where exchanges for dollars would be limited based on need, and on the dollar reserves available to the bank.

To sum up this section on local funding entities, we can see that the effect of such entities has gone far beyond the marginal in many cases. With Mondragon, the Grameen Bank, and the Bank of North Dakota, we have seen that a well-managed and well-conceived local funding mechanism can provide very significant benefits to its ‘community’.

In the Common Good Bank’s scheme, we see a very well thought out synthesis, bringing together proven elements into a package designed specifically for facilitating community empowerment. With their Local Money, they have combined the virtues of a independent currency with the powerful monetary model that is routinely abused by central banks, but that can also be a potent enabler of community prosperity, if used wisely.

The Common Good Bank provides a good model of local finance, but there are drawbacks to the centralization aspect of the model, where each community operation is established as a branch of the central Common Good Bank.

Clearly this offers convenience and simplicity to the community, in setting up a local system, but it inhibits local innovation, and it makes the whole scheme highly vulnerable to co-option or disruption at that one central point. Community empowerment would be better served by adapting the model to local circumstances, and implementing it locally, perhaps in a more lightweight form than an officially registered bank.

There are several kinds of co-ops, including worker-owned co-ops, consumer-owned co-ops, and co-ops whose members are other enterprises, such as a marketing co-op for local farmers. Co-ops provide both economic and cultural benefits to the community, and to co-op members.

Culturally, co-ops bring local people into a collaborative relationship, and they give them experience in managing their own ‘community affairs’, within the microcosm of the co-op. In these ways co-ops help build a sense of community, and a sense of empowerment, among community residents.

The initial funding for co-ops typically comes at least in part from the members themselves, which minimizes start-up indebtedness, and motivates the owner-members to make a success of the venture. And without non-participating investors, a co-op has the flexibility to operate on a break-even basis if that best serves the interests of the members and the nature of the co-op. In these ways, the co-op form is complementary to the goals of local self-sufficiency and community empowerment.

Consumer co-ops are a means of leveraging buying power, getting goods at wholesale prices, being able to control the quality of the goods, and being able to choose the suppliers. When people shop at a local co-op, wealth isn’t being drained from the community, as it is when they shop at corporate outlets. And the co-op can give preference to local suppliers. Unfortunately, while cheap foreign imports are still so readily available through corporate outlets, consumer co-ops can have a hard time competing in the local marketplace.

Co-ops whose members are enterprises can be leveraging either buying power or marketing budgets, depending on which side of the supply chain the co-op is operating on. These kinds of co-ops can be of considerable benefit to small local businesses, increasing their competitiveness by reducing their costs, while at the same time providing them with broader access to suppliers and markets.

Local worker-owned co-ops can be very beneficial to both the workers and the community, particularly if the members were formerly unemployed or under-employed. In these cases, the worker benefits significantly, and the community economy also gains from the productive contribution of formerly wasted local talent. Local talent is a local resource, and as with all local resources, if it can become more productive, that contributes to both community prosperity and community self-sufficiency.

Mondragon provides not only a successful model of local funding, but also a very successful and highly evolved model for worker co-ops, as described in the documentary video referenced above. They have developed a set of guidelines, and organizational mechanisms, that make for a very healthy enterprise.

Under their system, the management team is empowered to do its job on a day-to-day basis, while at the same time the owner-workers are effectively represented at every level of the organization, ensuring that the co-op is managed in the best interests of all concerned. Ongoing communication across the levels of the organization is maintained, by means of various councils.

A participatory spirit of ‘being on the same team’ is very important to the sound functioning of a worker-owned co-op, and at Mondragon they have learned that this spirit becomes difficult to maintain if a co-op grows too large. Rather than adding a new division to an existing co-op, for example, it often makes more sense to spin off a new autonomous co-op.

A sense of team participation not only makes for productive and efficient operation, but it makes it easier for members to work out an equitable arrangement in bad economic times as well: Mondragón Worker-Cooperatives Decide How to Ride Out a Downturn.

Awakening grassroots energy
In the various localization initiatives we have looked at so far, the community itself has been a more or less passive participant in the process. The activists provide the energy, the programs are largely pre-defined, and the folks in the community need only decide whether or not to participate.

Those initiatives have been about teaching things to the community, and advising local people about what they should be doing as a community. There is another thread of initiatives that are about listening to the community, and helping the local people to find out what they want to be doing as a community.

Rather than programs, these initiatives involve various processes that are aimed at creating an environment where people can work together more productively and creatively than typically occurs in discussions or meetings.

There are a wide variety of such processes, appropriate to different situations, with varying degrees of effectiveness, and with varying degrees of overhead involved. A comprehensive catalog of community-oriented processes can be found in the Co-Intelligence Institute’s toolbox of processes for community work.

As this book continues, we will be looking at various of these initiatives and processes, as we are considering situations where each might be relevant. For now I’d like to introduce one particular initiative that has achieved remarkable results, as regards:
  • finding common ground
  • generating sensible proposals
  • awakening the energy of the participants
A case study: Wise Democracy Victoria
One very promising initiative has been unfolding over the past few years in the city of Victoria, British Columbia. A group of local citizens came together under the name Wise Democracy Victoria, and they have convened a series of Wisdom Councils in which local residents have participated.

Wisdom Councils were invented by Jim Rough, of Port Townsend, Washington, based on practices that evolved out of his consulting work in industry. The participants in a Wisdom Council are selected randomly from the local population, much like jury members are selected. The Council then convenes for one or more days, using a process Jim developed, called Dynamic Facilitation.

In this process, the facilitator’s job is to give their full attention to whoever is speaking, and encourage the person to fully express what’s on their mind. The facilitator repeats back the main statements, and writes them down on a flip chart, so that everything said is clearly understood by everyone.

The facilitator makes no attempt to push the group toward reaching conclusions, but just helps the group follow its own energy. In a Wisdom Council there isn’t even a topic for discussion: the participants themselves gradually converge on what they want to talk about.

Wise Democracy Victoria has posted detailed descriptions of their series of three Wisdom Councils on this website: Included are videos, newspaper reoprts, reference information, and statements that were created by each of the three Councils. The website offers this summary:
Wisdom Councils precipitate energy, enthusiasm and HOPE for the Future:
      Past participants have indicated that the experience was transforming and energizing because they felt that their voices could actually make a difference!
      Like a match in a haystack, the ‘latent energy of democracy’ is there, ready to be tapped. It only takes a few people at the right time and the right place. You can help provide the spark!
      Three Wisdom Councils have now been successfully convened in Victoria, including the first in Canada and one in the close-knit neighbourhood of Fernwood. In each case the Council members have prepared an amazing statement of community spirit!
      Even though the council members did not know one another prior to meeting and came from a wide diversity of backgrounds and experiences, in each case they have prepared a powerful, unanimous statement.
If you look at some of the videos and statements you will see that this summary does not exaggerate the remarkable outcomes of the Councils. There is indeed a ‘latent energy of democracy’ that can be woken up when people know that their voices can really make a difference, and they are in an environment where they are encouraged to express themselves.

Following each of the Councils, a public meeting was held where the Council participants reported on their experience and their unanimous statement. From the videos of these reports we can see that the participants didn’t just ‘agree on a statement’, rather they are all very enthusiastic about the ideas they have created together. Their enthusiasm spills over to the folks at the public meeting, and for one promising evening, following each Council, the latent energy of democracy comes alive in the room.

These Wisdom Councils provide a very important proof-of-concept. They have demonstrated that ‘ordinary people’ in communities are capable of finding common ground and collaborating effectively, if they are in an appropriately supportive environment. These Councils have demonstrated in microcosm that people have a natural energy for participatory democracy, that there is indeed a ‘latent energy of democracy’ embedded in human nature.

Jim Rough’s hope for Wisdom Councils is that the whole community would respond with enthusiasm to the outcomes of a council, not just those at the public meeting. Unfortunately, such a response has not been forthcoming, despite considerable local promotion and publicity of the councils. As with the other threads of localization, it has proven difficult to escape from marginalism, as regards awakening grassroots energy.

on to Chapter 5


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Part II: A grassroots response to the crisis

Last update: 13 October 2010

Table of Contents: 2012: Crossroads for Humanity


The conclusions reached in Part I are rather stark. Chapter 1 concluded that we are headed for a planned dystopia if things are allowed to continue as they are; Chapter 2 traced our current predicament back to the origins of civilization itself, and Chapter 3 identified the core systemic problem: hierarchical governance always becomes tyrannical.

These conclusions may seem exaggerated, or even bizarre, to many readers. The evidence for those conclusions, however, is quite clear. I see myself in the role of the child who pointed out that the emperor has no clothes, not someone who has done unique historical research. I suspect these conclusions are seldom entertained primarily because they are so frightening: what hope do they leave for us? Nonetheless, that is our situation. And real hope only becomes possible when the reality of our situation is recognized.

Our only real hope is to turn the pyramid upside down from the grassroots, by finding our collective empowerment in our communities, and creating real democracy for the first time since our civilizations began. And in fact more and people are turning their attention to the local as a place to deal with the problems of society. In this part of the book we will be exploring the question of how the emergence of empowered communities might be facilitated.

Chapter 4 surveys the localization movement, in its various aspects, and examines why its impact on communities has so far been marginal. Chapter 5 presents a framework for achieving economic empowerment, based on a synthesis of the various ideas that are being put forward by the localization movement. Chapter 6 explores how local democratic processes can be developed in conjunction with pursuing economic empowerment.

on to Chapter 4


Friday, October 8, 2010

Part I: The nature of the global crisis

Last update: 10 October 2010

Table of Contents: 2012: Crossroads for Humanity


Civilization is facing a myriad of crises, from financial collapse to environmental collapse, from chronic warfare to eroding civil liberties, and the list goes on. In this part of the book we will be examining the nature of the overall crisis. Chapter 1 looks at where things seem to be headed; Chapter 2 looks into how things got that way from a broad historical perspective, and Chapter 3 looks at the nature of the problem from a systems perspective.

on to Chapter 1


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ch 5: A framework for achieving economic transformation


Richard K. Moore
Last update: 14 October 2010

Table of Contents: 2012: Crossroads for Humanity

Development as a focus for transformation
Abstract: In this chapter, community development is identified as a natural focus for community transformation. Development not in the capitalist sense of seeking returns, but in the sense of making the most of resources within the contraints of sustainability, developing value-adding enterprises, finding productive work for everyone, and generally improving the local quality of life. What is understood about national economic development provides models for how community development can be best pursued.

The role of investment
Abstract: Every development project needs some level of initial investment. This is true of building a factory, starting a business, or developing a community’s economy. The greater the investment is, the more ambitious the project goals can be. In the case of community development, the investment should come from local citizens, who will expect to get their investment back, but whose ‘profit’ will not be interest, but rather the privilege of sharing in an improved quality of community life, and the knowledge that they contributed when it mattered most.

Managing the development process
Abstract: The ideas in this section are based heavily on the very successful Mondragon project, extended by the Local Money concept from the proposed Common Good Bank. A local co-op bank is seen as the appropriate vehicle for managing the initial investment funding, investing in and supporting development initiatives, and managing the community money supply wisely, as regards both dollars and local currency. As community coherence emerges, the community itself will increasingly control its own development / evolutionary process.

Milestones of development
Abstract: The development of a community economy, just like the development of a national economy, always goes through identifiable stages, each with its own unique characteristics. At the beginning there is an emphasis on funding new initiatives, later there there may be an emphasis on developing trading partners, etc. At each stage, investments must be directed where the most leverage is provided in that stage, and the money supply must be kept in balance with the level of economic activity appropriate to that stage.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ch 3: The story of hierarchy


Richard K. Moore
Last update: 11 October 2010

Table of Contents: 2012: Crossroads for Humanity

City-states: the first exploitive hierarchies
In a hierarchal society there are a few at the top, who make the big decisions — and everyone else, who are obliged to abide by those decisions. If the interests of those at the top are aligned with the interests of the general population, hierarchy can be a somewhat reasonable mode of organization. The few are able to reach coherent decisions efficiently, and the many can get on with the business of society.

In our very first hierarchical societies — herding bands ruled by a warrior chief — we had such an alignment of interests. The chief and the band shared the goals of obtaining the best pastures for their herds, and protecting their territory from competing bands. A strong chief improved their combat prowess, and the system worked well for the chief and band alike.

The chief enjoyed many privileges, compared to the rest of the band, yet his role was essentially beneficial to the band, not exploitive. He got the biggest slice of the pie, and his lieutenants did well too, but overall the pie was divided reasonably equitably.

Our second generation of hierarchical societies emerged when herding bands conquered and enslaved early agricultural societies. The few at the top were now exploiting the majority of the population, and most of the pie was now being shared by the new upper class, the members of the conquering tribe. The slaves did all the hard work and grew the food, and subsisted on crumbs from the pie that their labor created.

From our modern perspective, this was a radically different kind of society than either of its ancestor societies, the herders and the agriculturalists. We can appreciate that this was the beginning of exploitive hierarchy, something that has cursed us ever since. This is a perspective that would have made sense to the slaves of that time as well. They had become slaves on the very lands they had once proudly called their own. For the first time, the interests of those at the top were no longer in alignment with the interests of the general population of the society.

From the perspective of the conquering tribe, however, the new societies were in many ways very similar to the original herding societies. The chief — now king — was still the undisputed ruler, and he still shared the pie more or less equitably with his fellows, the members of the conquering tribe. The difference was that the slaves had now taken the place of the herds.

Throughout history, slaves have always been looked on as subhuman by their masters. To the conquering tribe, this first generation of slaves was simply a better source of food than the herds had been. A greater supply of food could be obtained, and without the need to stay on the move looking for green pastures. Slaves were property, just like the herd animals had been, and they could perform many other kinds of labor as well, besides just food production. The slaves were not people: they were multi-purpose beasts of burden.

From the perspective of the conquerors, the internal structure of society had not changed radically — because the slaves were not part of society. Such was the nature of the early city-states that arose in Mesopotamia. Historians consider these slave-based societies to be the beginning of Western civilization.

The new kings were in their hearts still warrior chiefs, but with food surpluses at their disposal, and a more solid base of operations to work from. They could now deploy armies on missions of conquest, to capture more territory and more slaves.

Once these city-states were established, they were characterized by regular warfare. Archeological excavations reveal that the cities were destroyed and rebuilt time after time, falling to successive waves of conquest.

The same dynamics of growth applied to city-states as applied to the herding bands. A larger city-state had a relative survival advantage, and there were still the benefits of alliances. In this way early empires developed, where one supreme ruler managed to gain control of a larger domain, including a collection of cities and their hinterlands.

Thus was born the mainstream thread of Western Civilization. A similar story can be told about the rise of Chinese civilization, or the Incas and Aztecs, all of which followed a similar evolutionary pattern.

This thread continued, with ever-larger societies, and ever-greater complexity. And always there have been the few at the top, exploiting the population as they would a herd of cattle, with the help of a stratified class structure. In that way we have reached the situation described in our first chapter, where a small clique is seeking to dominate the whole globe, while culling the herd in the process.

Paths that could have been followed
The mainstream evolutionary path we have followed was not inevitable. Hierarchy was not an unavoidable consequence of developing more complex societies. There were societies that showed us other paths, moving toward scale and complexity while avoiding hierarchy.

For example, as described in the previous chapter, there were what Riane Eisler called the Early Civilizations of Europe. These societies developed partnership cultures, rather than hierarchies, to deal with the complexities of civilization. Their cities lasted thousands of years without being destroyed by warfare.

This is not surprising, because an agricultural society is inherently adverse to warfare. A farmer wants nothing more than peace and stability, so he can grow and harvest his crops. When the farmers are slaves, however, other forces are controlling their destiny.

Another example is provided by the Sioux Nation, one of the Native American tribes. The Sioux were made up of fierce warrior bands, with horses and hunting territories, in many ways similar to the warrior bands we discussed above. Like them the Sioux were plagued by ongoing conflicts among the different bands, competing for the best territories.

Instead of this leading to ever-larger bands under absolute-ruler chiefs, the Sioux found another solution — based on dialog. They worked out a system of councils, where representatives of the various bands could meet and work out their differences by reaching consensus. This is where we get the image of a pow wow, and smoking the peace pipe around the campfire. This was a stable system, which continued up until the Europeans invaded and destroyed the Native American cultures.

If the early herding bands had invented such councils, or if they had not conquered the early agricultural societies, mainstream civilization might have evolved on a non-hierarchical basis. Unfortunately, once exploitive hierarchies came into existence, they were destined to prevail — by virtue of their ability and motivation to mobilize and deploy military force. The pursuit of exploitation — the knowledge of good and evil — was our toxic Fall from Grace.

Paths that failed: the story of a republic
1776 was a pivotal year. In that year Thomas Paine published Common Sense, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, and the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia. These events were related to one another in important ways.

The Wealth of Nations presents a very cogent argument for the benefits of an economy based on market forces. In fact, the argument is based on the existence of strong market regulations, but that part of the argument has generally been ignored. With the regulations omitted, Smith’s argument has been used as propaganda for totally unregulated markets — laissez-faire capitalism. Without regulations, capitalism inevitably leads to monopolies and cartels, the very things that Smith most adamantly opposed, and which his regulations were intended to prevent.

Common Sense was essentially an argument against the necessity of hierarchical governance. Paine made a strong distinction between society and government. He argued that society, what we might call civil society, does not require some monarch to manage it. Just as Smith explained how markets are self-organizing, Paine was explaining how societies are self-organizing. Common Sense broke all existing publication records, and was read on street corners throughout the colonies, as most people could not read.

The Declaration of Independence was signed nine months after Common Sense was published. The Declaration was both the articulation of a political philosophy, and the declaration of an intent to overthrow the rule of the Crown in the American Colonies.

The political philosophy claims that citizens have the right to replace their government if that government is failing to serve the interests of the people, and if that government fails to respond to petitions for the redress of grievances. The Declaration does not refer to Common Sense, but the philosophy would have made little sense to colonists if Paine’s thinking was not widely familiar to them.

Prior to the publication of Common Sense, the majority of colonists were not in favor of independence. They had strong complaints, and were calling for better treatment and for representation in Parliament, but they wanted to remain under the protection of the Crown. They believed a monarch was necessary for an ordered society, just as a captain is necessary on a ship.

Common Sense is perhaps the most successful revolutionary document ever written, as it succeeded in persuading an entire population that a radically different form of governance was possible. Paine planted the seed of independence, and after nine months of gestation that seed gave birth to a colony-wide revolutionary spirit. Without Common Sense the Declaration of Independence would have fallen on deaf ears, and the elite signatories would never have found the courage to sign it.

In actual fact, the colonies were already essentially self-governing. There were no Royal administrations or large garrisons in the colonies, only a Governor in each colony who represented the authority of the Crown. Each colony had some kind of representative assembly that had the responsibility for day-to-day governance. The leading elites in the colonies knew they could continue governing successfully if the Governors were expelled and the ties to the Crown were severed.

The colonial elites did not need Common Sense to awaken their revolutionary spirit. They were already governing the colonies, and they had long been yearning for independence. Their reasons, however, had more to do with economics than with the rights of man. This brings us back to Smith, and The Wealth of Nations.

Smith’s ideas did not have an electric effect on society, as Paine’s did. Nonetheless, The Wealth of Nations stands along side Common Sense — as the canonical embodiment of a successful revolutionary manifesto.

On the surface, Smith was expressing revolutionary ideas in the realm of economics, about the advantages of freer markets. But at a deeper level, Smith’s ideas led also to consequences in the political realm. Markets could not be freed without undermining the interests of traditional ruling elites. If the entrepreneurial spirit emerging out of the Industrial Revolution was to find its full expression, that could only lead to the destabilization of existing power structures based on noble lineage and inherited wealth.

Both Smith and Paine, each in their own way, were challenging the existing world order. They articulated two revolutionary threads, one economic and one political, both of which implied a radical shift in how power would be distributed in society. The two threads came together in the colonies, leading to a temporary alignment of interests between colonial elites on the one hand, and the general colonial population on the other.

The general population was responding to Common Sense, and they wanted an end to elite domination — by either the distant Crown or by local elites. The colonial elites, on the other hand, were motivated by the economic opportunities that would open up to them following independence.

They would be able to develop industry, free from restraints decreed by the Crown. They would be able to trade freely, without being forced to go through British ports and pay British tariffs. And a whole continent would be available to conquer and exploit, without needing to share the spoils with the Crown. The colonial elites were eager to expel the Crown from the colonies, but they had no intention of allowing their own privileged positions in the colonies to be undermined.

While Common Sense and The Wealth of Nations were both sincere expressions of revolutionary sentiment, the Declaration of Independence was a deceptive piece of propaganda. It capitalized on Paine’s ideas, translating them into bold rebellious phrases. It sent a message to the colonists: We are on your side. We will be your bold leaders. We have put our own necks on the line for freedom and independence!

Yes, they put their necks on the line — but only after there was general support for independence. And yes, they would be the bold leaders — because they didn’t want any kind of spontaneous leadership to emerge from the common people — what they contemptuously referred to as the rabble and the mob. And yes they would be on the people’s side — up until the time independence was achieved.

After independence, the thirteen colonies became thirteen sovereign States, bound together by the Articles of Confederation. Each State had a governing assembly, elected by the people, and a reasonable level of democracy prevailed. The assemblies represented grassroots interests — the power of the local elites was being undermined. Something had to be done! And so a conspiracy was hatched, a conspiracy known as the Constitutional Convention.

The Convention was chartered by the States, and was given the task of drafting a Constitution that would be returned to the States for review. It would only come into force if all thirteen States approved it. The Convention was to act on behalf of the States, not on behalf of the people directly. It had no standing, no authorization, to act on behalf of the people.

The Convention amounted to a coup d’état. The members of the Convention were all members of the original colonial elite; they met in secret, and they grossly exceeded their authorized powers. They began their Constitution with the words, We the people, which they had no right to do, and they declared that the Constitution would be approved if only nine of the states approved it, which they also had no right to do. Not only that, but the Constitution was rigged so as to ensure the elites would retain their privileged positions, and the forces of grassroots democracy could be held in check:
In Federalist Paper #10, James Madison argued that representative government was needed to maintain peace in a society ridden by factional disputes. These disputes came from “the various and unequal distribution of property.” “Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.” The problem he said, was how to control the factional struggles that came from inequalities in wealth. Minority factions could be controlled, he said, by the principle that decisions would be by vote of the majority.
     So the real problem, according to Madison, was a majority faction, and here the solution was…to have “an extensive republic,” that is, a large nation ranging over thirteen states, for then “it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other…The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States”.
— Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, p. 96

The Constitution did not even contain protections for the rights of the people. The Bill of Rights was added only because popular opposition would have otherwise prevented adoption. Nonetheless, the Constitution had much to be said in its favor. There was a carefully worked-out balance of powers, aimed at preventing the usurpation of power by any one branch of government. And the powers of the Federal government were strictly limited, with the thirteen States retaining a great deal of local autonomy.

The Constitution was an admirable attempt to tame hierarchy, to prevent undue concentration of power at the top. At the same time, as cited above, it was also an attempt to prevent genuine democracy, the ‘undue’ influence on government from ordinary people, ‘the mob’. As history has shown, the protections against popular influence have been quite successful, while the protections against concentration of power at the top have failed utterly.

Not only has the Federal government usurped power over every aspect of society from the States, but also the Bill of Rights has been in effect declared null and void. The United States has become the very thing that both the ordinary colonists and the colonial elites most feared — a despotic tyranny exercising arbitrary powers over the people.

No King of England ever exercised such control over the daily lives of his subjects, or declared publicly that he had the right to imprison or kill any citizen, with no need for due process, as the government in Washington has recently declared. The Declaration of Independence speaks as loudly to us today as it did to the colonists in 1776:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
— That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The dynamics of hierarchy
As we can see from the American experience, it is very difficult to tame hierarchy. It would be hard to imagine a more carefully crafted attempt, than the Constitution. Even its guards against influence from below, though undemocratic, would tend to stabilize the structure. And yet the attempt at taming failed.

When a hierarchy exists, it presents a focus of power that power-seeking individuals and cliques can over time turn to their advantage. In times of crisis, for example, there is always a case to be made that the crisis can be resolved most quickly by giving more powers to those at the top. Thus was lost the Roman Republic, and crises have played a central role in the concentration of power in Washington, and the same story could be told of many other nations as well.

Of what ultimate value are written constraints on a hierarchy, such as a constitution, when the only enforcer of those constraints is the hierarchy itself? No matter what is written, or what is sworn on oath, people remain people, subject to the weaknesses and vices of people. People are sometimes amenable to bribery, and people sometimes conspire to achieve their own advantage. Little by little the constraints are eroded, and the process is always cumulative.

The old saying, power corrupts, is familiar to all of us because it has so often throughout history proven to be true. It is true not only of individuals, but of institutions as well, and of governments. An agency such as the IRS can be just as tyrannical as any despot. A nation with overwhelming power, whether it be Imperial Britain, Nazi Germany, or modern America, tends to act with impunity toward other nations, initiating wars when it sees an advantage in doing so.

Just as water seeks its own level, power in hierarchies tends to concentrate toward the top. The tendency of people to seek their own advantage provides the force, a force as true and constant as the force of gravity itself. Each generation of rulers seeks to enhance their own prerogatives just a bit, whether for good reasons or ill, and in either case they leave in their wake a government where power has been just that bit more concentrated.

The same dynamics can be found in all hierarchies, not just in governments, more or less in proportion to the size of the hierarchy. Corporations, government agencies, intelligence services, even volunteer organizations, are subject to intrigues, power-grabs, covert arrangements, misallocation of funds, etc. The problem is made worse by the fact that those who most desire power, and who are the most ruthless, are the very ones who tend to work their way to the top of hierarchies.

In the opening to this chapter, I suggested that a hierarchy could be a reasonable form of organization — if the interests of those at the top are aligned with the rest of the people involved. But as we saw in the case of America, such alignments of interest are short-lived. The temptations and prerogatives of power eventually prevail.

And then there are the dynamics that operate among hierarchies. Those dynamics have not changed since the days of the warrior bands all those millennia ago. Hierarchies tend to seek their own advantage, much like people do, and thus there is a competition leading to bigger and more powerful hierarchies. The mechanisms of conquest and alliance-building can be seen among corporations and agencies, just as it can be seen among nations, and as it was seen among warrior bands.

Hierarchy always breeds greater hierarchy; every hierarchy provides a position of power for some clique, and power always corrupts, sooner or later. In an age of technology, the inevitable outcome of the hierarchical social model is a tyrannical world government, of one flavor or another. It was always just a matter of time, as was the end of growth.

on to Part II


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ch 2: The Grand Story of humanity


Richard K. Moore
Last update: 10 October 2010

Table of Contents: 2012: Crossroads for Humanity

Our primate origins
Our species ancestors were similar to all other social primates. We were a social species, organized into territorial bands, which were led by an alpha male. Like all territorial species, we engaged in skirmishes with neighboring groups, in order to maintain our territories, or on rare occasions to steal better territories from weaker bands.

These kinds of skirmishes involved fatalities, but they were quite different than warfare. Warfare is a sustained endeavor, where the adversaries seek to either destroy or conquer the other group. That kind of intra-species warfare does not exist in the animal kingdom; there is nothing to be gained by it.

By about 200,000 years ago we had become fully human, genetically the same as today, our brains fully developed. We continued to live in small territorial bands, and continued with the same kind of economy as other primates, which in the case of humans we call hunter-gathering. We continued to engage in skirmishes over territory, but warfare and conquest made no sense with our hunter-gatherer economy, just as it made no sense for our ancestors.

There were three fundamental differences between early humans and their primate ancestors. The first was our markedly superior intelligence, the second was our complex languages, and the third was our abandonment of the alpha-male leadership principle.

Anthropologists have found that hunter-gatherer societies are egalitarian, and that decisions are made by some kind of consensus process. Perhaps we were unusual among primates, and were already egalitarian then. In that case, language would have developed in order to support our egalitarian process. Or perhaps we were unusually communicative as primates, developed language, and then we found that collective decision making proved to be a more effective strategy than relying on the judgment of a single leader.

Origins of intelligence
One of the great mysteries of our evolution is our intelligence. Why are our frontal lobes — and our cognitive intelligence — so much more developed than in any other species? Theories have been put forward that try to explain our intelligence in terms of survival characteristics, but those theories aren’t very persuasive.

Some, for example, have suggested that warfare — with its need to develop a smarter strategy than the enemy in order to survive — explains our intelligence. This makes no sense at all, because we were already fully human long before warfare came on the scene.

Others have suggested the challenges of being a predator as a cause. This makes little sense either, as we were already successful predators as primates, and no other predator has needed to develop such a big brain.

Still others say we needed high intelligence to escape predators. The fact is that once we learned to pick up big sticks, predators avoided us. And the picking up of big sticks — the invention of the club — must have come very early; it is only one step up from the sticks chimpanzees use as tools.

A group of proto-humans with clubs, and later spears, was not something any predator would have tangled with. Predators don’t seek battles with prey that might injure them, they seek prey that turns and runs. Predators knew to respect us from early on. Even today, a young Masai girl can protect a herd of cattle on the African plains simply by standing there with a spear.

Seeking a survival explanation for our intelligence is like seeking a survival explanation for the beauty of a butterfly or flower. We can relate such things to sexual preference, and hence to the evolutionary process, but we are talking about an elaboration of form that goes far beyond the demands of mere survival. Our use of language is a similar elaboration, and intelligence is very closely linked with language.

If you observe the development of a chimp infant, compared to a human infant, you don’t see much difference in cognitive skills at first. The big differences start to emerge when the child begins to use language.

Consider the cognitive complexity involved with language. Not just the parsing, but the process of extracting meaning, and associating that with experiences and existing understandings. And the creating of sentences that will have the intended effect in the mind of a listener. The use of language is the tip-of-the-iceberg of a whole universe of cognitive processes that go along with it. That universe lies in our enlarged frontal lobes.

Intelligence and language co-evolved. Language is the elaboration of experience into the realm of the abstract and the imaginary. The use of language expands the size and complexity of the universe that our minds must deal with. Not only is there what is, but what might be, what could never be, what is planned for later, what might have been, and so on. This complex imaginary world takes up lots of neurons.

In a very real sense, the evolution of our cognitive intelligence has been the evolution of our communication with one another. Our intelligence is not related to survival, but rather to socialization. Intelligence does not represent an adaptation to the world, but rather an adaptation to a language-using society.

Once we had our intelligence, however, we also gained survival advantages. We could find ways to survive in a wider range of environments than our primate ancestors. With our enriched imaginations, we could invent tools and weapons, find uses for herbs and plants, etc. Our intelligence made survival in the world much easier, but it was not a need for easier survival that led to our intelligence.

The story world
Because of language, we are involved in two different complex worlds, the world outside our heads, and the world inside our heads. The outside world is the real world, and I call the inside world the story world. I call it that because it seems to be organized in terms of stories.

Every sentence is a story, where some subject does some action to some object, and every paragraph is a slightly longer story. With Chinese ideograms, each symbol tells a little story. When we have conversations we tell stories to one another. Our dreams come as stories. We learn through stories. When we want to know the truth of current events, we tune in to our favorite channel to get the real story. Even a mathematical proof follows the story form, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, marked by QED, just like amen, the end, or that’s all folks.

Indeed, our very concept of understanding something is being able to tell its story coherently. And our concept of what is true is closely related to the concept of coherent story. A mathematical proof is valid if it tells a coherent story. A suspect appears guilty if he cannot give a coherent story as an alibi. Witnesses are trusted if their story is coherent. Even our concept of being sane is closely linked to being able to speak coherently, which is the same as being able to tell coherent stories.

Because story-processing skills are so central to our understanding, and to our functioning in society, it is not surprising that we get pleasure out of practicing those skills by listening to stories. In general, pleasure is an adaptive mechanism that draws us to what we need. Baby lions love to wrestle, thus learning the moves they will need as adult hunters.

Language and stories are not just about words. The same cognitive machinery supports other modalities. Music is a language, and a tune is a story. Art is a language and a painting is a story. Physics is a language and a theory is a story. Food preparation is a language, and a meal is a story. Each language must be learned before its stories can be told or appreciated.

I suppose all of this can be summed up by saying that we think, understand, create, and communicate in terms of stories, in one mode of language or another. As I write, my concern always is to be telling a coherent story in a coherent sequence. Coherence in a story is like digestibility in a meal.

Because we have specialized in the story way-of-knowing, we don’t feel we understand anything until we know its story. From a very early age we begin asking questions, wanting to hear stories that explain our experience to us. As our experience of the world expands, our need for stories expands. Eventually, we all get to the big questions: What is the meaning of life? and Where did we come from?

Our modern societies do not give us satisfying answers to these big questions, and we’ll talk more about that later. Early human societies, however, did have stories for all the big questions. Anthropologists find that every tribe has a creation story, a story about the sun and moon, and stories that ‘make sense’ of nearly every aspect of the tribe’s experience.

We call such stories myths and superstitions. But to the societies involved, the stories are the unquestioned truth about the world, passed down from the beginning of time. In the same way, a person today knows that matter is made of atoms, even though we have no direct experience of atoms, because of stories we have been told in the sacred language of science.

A Golden Age of innocence
That, then, is the prolog to our story. The curtain to our main story opens about 200,000 years ago. At that time, as individuals, we were exactly like we are today, with the same genetics, the same intelligence, the same level of imagination and creativity, and using languages with the same grammatical complexity and expressive richness as those we use today.

As Homo sapiens sapiens we then entered our First Golden Age as a species. Our basic needs (food, shelter, and security) were easily attended to, relative to other species. We enjoyed a harmonious and egalitarian life style, and we spent many hours each day sitting around sharing stories with one another. Our ability to tell and remember stories and songs enabled us to pass on ideas, observations, and knowledge from one generation to the next, and this dramatically transformed the nature of our relationship to time and to the universe.

Our cognitive memory could now extend indefinitely into the past, as it became possible for us to experience in our fertile imaginations events that had happened generations before, as we listened to the stories of elders. It became possible for us to perceive patterns that spanned more than one lifetime, extending even to the precession of the equinoxes, and the ebb and flow of glaciers.

Australian Aboriginal tales, for example, accurately describe landscapes that still exist today, but have been submerged under the sea ever since the last ice age receded thousands of years ago. Every tribe developed and evolved a Grand Story — its own history.

Thus the nature of our cultures, our understanding of our place in the universe, and our understanding of the meaning of our lives, came to be embodied in the Grand Story of our tribe. For humans there has always been an isomorphism and an interplay between cultural evolution and story evolution. Our cultural evolution sets our stories spinning, and our stories act a cultural gyroscope, a kind of inertial guidance system that can maintain social stability and coherence across millennia, even as circumstances might change dramatically.

Every once in a while, then as now, unique individuals would emerge, individuals who through unusual cognitive insight, or metaphysical perceptiveness, achieved a level of wisdom that qualitatively exceeded that of the human norm. Such individuals were able to inject elements of their achieved wisdom into their tribe’s Grand Story, and thus did our cultures themselves evolve toward ever-increasing collective wisdom. Our First Golden Age was characterized by wisdom and harmony — harmony with nature and harmony and egalitarianism among one another in our bands.

But there was an innocence to our wisdom and harmony. Our harmony with nature, for example, was not a matter of choice but of necessity. Our survival, and our level of prosperity, depended on how well our cultures harmonized with our environment. We did not have the power to control nature, so we had no choice but to harmonize with it.

As a matter of fact, when opportunities arose where we could move out of harmony with nature, and still prosper, we typically exploited that situation. For example, when humans first migrated to Australia, there was so much game available that we hunted much of it to extinction. As the available game animals diminished, we were forced to re-harmonize our cultures with our surroundings.

Similarly, it was relatively easy for us to maintain harmony with one another, because we didn’t have the power to exploit one another. Everyone had to hunt and gather just like everyone else. The economics of the hunter-gatherer life style did not produce excesses that would enable a ruling group to sit around and give orders instead of contributing. Without power, we had little temptation or opportunity to stray from our harmonious ways.

And again, when special circumstances arose, we sometimes lost our ability to maintain harmony. For example, when there were very rich fishing areas, with easily available food surpluses, hierarchy and conquest sometimes emerged, but fortunately remained localized.

Thus our first Golden Age was protected by a shield — the shield of lacking power. Our wisdom and harmony were innocent, because we didn’t have the power to be otherwise.

And that’s how things were for nearly all of us until about 10,000 years ago.

Early civilization
When agriculture and herding were discovered, a little over 10,000 years ago, we found ourselves with powers that we had previously lacked. We no longer needed to depend only on what our surroundings naturally provided. We could plant crops and make our surroundings more productive. And we could keep animals in herds or pens, increase their numbers, and we didn’t need to bother hunting for them when we were hungry. We now had power over nature, the ability to modify our surroundings to better suit ourselves.

With these new powers, we soon were able to create surpluses. It became economically feasible for some of us to produce the food for the tribe, and others of us could spend our time in other ways. Specialization became possible. Formerly we all followed the same trade — that particular kind of hunter-gathering that our particular culture employed.

With specialization it became possible for the same tribe to have several trades, food production being only one of them. Someone might, for example, specialize in making tools for farmers, which could then be exchanged for food. Specialization increased the efficiency of our economies once again, in addition to the increase provided by agriculture and herding.

These new powers, in and of themselves, did not destroy our Golden Age. In fact, at the beginning, they made our Golden Age even more golden. We were able to maintain harmony with nature as long as our agriculture and animal husbandry practices remained sustainable. And we were able to maintain harmony in our cultures due to our cultural gyroscope — our Grand Stories — that had always told us that harmony was part of our nature as humans. During this period we continued with our harmony and our wisdom, while also enjoying the benefits of an increasingly efficient economy, and an increasingly complex culture.

This final, swan-song episode of our first Golden Age is what Riane Eisler refers to as The Early Civilizations of Europe, in her ground-breaking anthropological masterpiece, The Chalice and the Blade. While this glorious era lasted, we were able to combine harmonization and wisdom with civilization. We built cities, developed specialization and writing, enhanced our cultures and our wisdom, and were at the same time able to avoid warfare and dominance-based cultural patterns.

This is the era whose memory is weakly echoed in myths like Shangri-La. We can still view original artistic representations of this era at the palace of Knossos, an architectural structure known to the Greeks as the Labyrinth.

Unlike surviving art from other past civilizations, that of Knossos includes no representations of warriors or conquest. Instead we see scenes of people enjoying themselves, dolphins cavorting under the sea, and other very pleasant and beautiful scenes. When viewing this art, tears come to one’s eyes over our great loss as a species, as one realizes the enormity of our subsequent cultural decline.

As long as our newly empowered economies remained sustainable, and as long as our Grand Stories told us that harmony with our fellows was part of our nature as humans, then our new powers did us no harm, and benefited us in many ways. Unfortunately, certain of our newly evolving cultures — the ones focusing on herding — began to move away from harmonization, as did their Grand Stories. The reasons for this involved economics.

The return of the alpha male
Consider the economics of a hunter-gatherer society. The society operates within its own exclusive territory, where it has access to a variety of food sources, depending on the season. Methods of food preservation, such as drying and salting, were discovered early, increasing the amount of useable food from the territory. The groups regulated their population by various means, sometimes including the practice of infanticide. In these various ways, hunter-gatherer societies were sustainable, and had the capacity to survive in bad years within their territories.

Early agricultural societies operated on more or less the same principles, still within exclusive territories, except they had more food available from the same size territory. They continued to hunt and gather, and they had their crops as well, so larger populations became sustainable. Fixed settlements emerged in agricultural societies, whereas hunter-gatherers tended to use portable or temporary shelters, as they roamed about their territories in search of food.

The territories of both kinds of societies tended to be stable over long periods of time. In good years and bad, they would manage to survive within their territories, based on their variety of food sources. Only under unusual circumstances, such as changing climate, would groups migrate, or seek to displace other groups.

The economics of early herding societies differed in fundamental ways from the two other kinds of societies. Herders had only one primary source of food, their animals. If conditions were bad for their herds, and good pastures were hard to find, they didn’t have alternative food sources to fall back on. Thus, competition for territories occurred much more frequently among herding societies, than among hunter-gatherers or agriculturalists.

Competition for territories is quite a different thing than border skirmishes, which are mainly aimed at maintaining stable borders by displaying strength. When two tribes are fighting for the same pasture, in a year when pastures are scarce, then combat prowess becomes a primary survival requirement. As we know from history, disciplined hierarchical combat units have a marked advantage over less coherent adversaries.

As success in combat became more important in this way, the cultures and Grand Stories of these herding tribes began to honor strong warrior chiefs, and began to honor the hierarchical patterns of dominance that enabled such chiefs to effectively command their warriors in battle. Thus did the alpha-male pattern re-enter our evolutionary path, for the first time since we became fully human. These cultures became hierarchical rather than egalitarian.

When you have hierarchical bands, each led by a strong warrior chief, and which engage in fierce combat with one another, then there is a natural dynamic toward enlargement of the bands. For one thing, if two bands are of unequal size, then the larger one would be more likely to win a battle between the two. So there is a survival value in bigger bands, which would tend over time toward larger bands on average. But an even more potent force would tend toward enlargement: the obvious advantages provided by alliances.

An astute warrior chief would naturally think about alliances: making deals with other chiefs so that they could triumph together, when battles became necessary with other bands. Chiefs who were in alliance with one another would then share their jointly won green pastures among one another’s bands in some negotiated way.

Clearly, out of such alliance-building processes, one chief is going to emerge eventually as a big chief — the one who is most clever about forging alliances to his own advantage. In this way a warrior chief comes to have several bands under his hierarchical control, with the subsidiary chiefs as his generals. These are the very dynamics that led (in much more recent times) to the emergence of Genghis Khan, who eventually became master of the largest empire history has ever known.

Origins of class
Humanity was at this point split into three evolutionary threads. First, there were all those who were still pursuing hunter-gathering, and there are still some of those today. Second, there were those who started down the path of agriculture, and were developing the first permanent settlements and the first cities, still within the harmonious Golden Age paradigm, and who did not engage in warfare with one another.

Third, there were the herders, out there on the steppes, operating under the dynamics of hierarchy and dominance, with big chiefs emerging, with fierce and well-organized warriors at their command. And they had horses, making them formidable from a military point of view.

Our Golden Age had not ended yet however. The herders were living under hierarchy, but a warrior chief was not an exploiter of his band. He was its respected leader, whose strength was essential to the survival of the group. His role was comparable to that of an alpha-male in a primate band, who is the protector of his band, not its exploiter.

These bands did however introduce the principle of male dominance into human cultures for the first time. And in the pantheons of the Grand Stories of these tribes there was always a supreme male god who rules the rest of the pantheon, while in the pantheons of earlier Grand Stories, there were always male and female characters of comparable power, and they represented the forces of nature and the universe.

This overall scenario, with the three threads of humanity, was not stable. If you’ve seen the film, Seven Samurai, recall the scene early on where the warrior band stops their horses on the hill, and surveys an agricultural village below them. They discuss whether to raid it now, or to come back after all the crops are in. The villagers have no defense, and can only hope the band doesn’t return.

That scene, writ large, was the overall scenario facing humanity at this point in our story. It was only a matter of time before the herders would raid, and eventually conquer, the agriculturalists. And that was when our first Golden Age was truly over; that was our Fall from Grace.

For when the herders conquered a village or a city of agriculturalists, they did not integrate the agriculturalists into their herding culture, nor did they integrate themselves into the agriculturalist culture. Instead, the herders enslaved the agriculturalists, creating an entirely new kind of culture and society, one that had never existed before, and one that had no evolutionary precedents.

For the first time ever we had a class-based society. At the top is the ruling clique: the chief and his generals. Then we have the members of the conquering tribe, who have now become a privileged class. Under that are the enslaved agriculturalists, the peasant class, the ones who till the fields and do all the other hard work. Thus was established the perverse, exploitive paradigm that has characterized civilization ever since. Apart from the early era, where civilization blossomed in our first Golden Age, civilization has always been about exploitation of the many by the few.

I cannot think of any non-human species whose dynamics are based on intra-species exploitation. There are cases, for example with certain kinds of ants, where one species enslaves and exploits another. But within a species, exploitation would be very bad for species survival. In all social species, mutual aid and concern has been a central survival characteristic. The advent of this new hybrid society, based on the exploitation of the many by the few within a species, was a perversion not only of human culture, but also of the evolutionary life principle itself.

Leaving Eden
Let us now bring into this discussion our earlier thread, about Grand Stories, and cultural gyroscopes. With the advent of this new hybrid society, the gyroscopes of both incoming cultures were knocked awry. Neither of their Grand Stories reflected the dynamics of the new combined society. If the new hybrid culture was to have the support of a stabilizing gyroscope, then a new Grand Story would need to be invented — a Grand Story customized for an exploitive civilization.

In the Western branch of civilization, the new Grand Story begins with Genesis. The story is set in Mesopotamia, where agriculture was first developed in the West, around 8,000 BC, and where hierarchy was eventually imposed, by about 4,000 BC. The first three chapters of Genesis are allegory, describing the creation of the universe and the Fall from Grace. These chapters came from Babylon, and were adopted by the Hebrews during their period of captivity there.

The Golden Age itself is represented by the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve represent all the hunter-gatherer cultures, and the Garden represents the harmonious relationship between those cultures and the natural world. Thus our Golden Age of innocence, and 200,000 years of our heritage, are dismissed in a single verse, Genesis 2:25: “They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” In the very next verse, the serpent is introduced! This enormous erasure is what Daniel Quinn calls The Great Forgetting.

In the Grand Stories of Early Civilization, prior to the onset of hierarchy, the serpent represented the sacred god of fertility. Thus in Genesis, the serpent represents the temptation to pursue agriculture, to systematically tame nature for the first time. It is dangerous to mess with Mother Nature, and Eve is rightfully warned against crossing that line.

The four thousand years or so of Early Civilization, while we were still in the Garden, is then dismissed in the 24 verses of Chapter 3. Only a few moments pass between the time they taste the fruit, and their banishment. This erasure deserves to be called The Second Great Forgetting.

Cain the farmer and Able the herder represent the two cultural threads that emerged from hunter-gathering, and hence they are portrayed as the sons of Adam and Eve, the hunter-gatherers.

Each hunter-gatherer culture had its own elaborate Grand Story, and all we are left with is a 56-verse summary, the first two chapters of Genesis. By the time we get to Chapter 3, we are already learning how we were expelled from the Garden. Although our earlier Grand Stories find no place in Genesis, they have not been erased from human memory. Our rich heritage is still accessible in the many mythologies that have been preserved from various cultures.

The old pantheons of gods represented the various forces of nature, some characterized as male and some as female. The Grand Stories told about the gods, and these tales explained how a balance is achieved among the forces of nature. The stories explained our place in the scheme of things, in balance with the rest of nature. The serpent was a central figure in most of these pantheons. In Greek mythology he is known as Hermes.

In the Garden of Eden story, the serpent symbolizes the pantheons of our Early Civilization cultures. He is demonized in the story, thus demonizing all previous gods, and opening the way for a new, all-powerful, male god. Yahweh curses the serpent and condemns him to crawl in the dust, and thus Yahweh is established as the one and only true god, master of the universe.

This new monotheistic Grand Story changes our relationship to nature, our relationship to divinity, and it changes our understanding of nature itself. Instead of a dynamic balance of interacting forces, nature becomes hierarchical, under the command of a single divine mind. Instead of merely respecting and honoring the various gods, as we did earlier, we now find ourselves subservient to the new all-powerful god. And instead of being in balance with the rest of nature, we are now told, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it”.

In only 80 verses, the first three chapters of Genesis, our entire world was turned upside down. A pattern of dominance is established, with us subservient to Yahweh, and nature subservient to us. Thus the pattern is set for dominance in society, under the control of an alpha male. These 80 verses establish an all-time record for history’s most effective and damaging piece of propaganda.

This new Grand Story makes it quite clear that we were better off in the Garden, in our harmonious innocence, in our state of grace. There is no pretense that what followed has been a cultural improvement. The onset of hierarchical civilization is correctly identified as being our Fall from Grace.

The story also tells us that we cannot return to the Garden, and that it is our own fault we cannot return, because we failed to follow Yahweh’s commands. Thus it is our own fault that we find ourselves in bondage under the new hierarchical regimes that have been imposed on us.

The Garden of Eden story is a transition story, an explanation to the conquered of why their own Grand Story must be abandoned, and why — through their own fault — their nature is to be in subjugation. The story tells them they are sinful — that there is something wrong with them — because they ate the forbidden fruit. Therefore they have no standing to challenge the hierarchy that dominates them. They need the hierarchy to take care of them and keep them from going further astray. And it is a transition story that masquerades as a creation story, in order to conceal from us our true nature and our true destiny.

Consider for a moment the Santa Claus myth. This is a myth that is to be taken as truth by children, and which adults know is only a myth. The Garden of Eden story is like that. It is to be taken as truth by the peasants, while the ruling elite know it is only a myth. In the story we read, “Therefore Yahweh God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken”. Elites know they have never had to stoop to till the ground.

Orthodoxy and empire
The co-evolution of cultures and of their Grand Stories did not stop when we left the Garden. Nor did the psychological power of Grand Stories ever diminish, even though our minds had escaped from the parochialism of our primordial hunter-gatherer bands. To this day we understand who we are, and what our nature is, by what our Grand Stories tell us is true. There are however some very important differences between the Grand Stories since the Fall, and those that co-evolved with our cultures prior to the Fall.

The Grand Stories prior to the Fall evolved as an organic folk process. For the most part they were passed on unchanged from generation to generation, as exemplified by the accurate thousands-year-old knowledge the Aborigines have of long-submerged landscapes. Additions might be made to the stories, if for example a band migrated to a new territory, thus adding another chapter to their story. Or respected elders might change the story just a bit, reflecting newly acquired knowledge or gems of wisdom.

But no one ever sat down and composed a Grand Story, not before the Fall. A Grand Story carried the accumulated memory and wisdom of a band, and it was passed on with reverence, as a treasured heritage, from one generation to the next.

In the Garden of Eden story, with its propagandistic elements, we see for the first time an episode of a Grand Story being consciously composed in order to better serve the interests of elite subjugation. It was written in very early post-Fall days, was known to the Babylonians, and this composed opening episode of Western civilization’s Grand Story still holds power over us today.

Nearly everyone I talk to — whether they be Christians or atheists, progressives or conservatives, new-agers or scientists — rejects the possibility of direct democracy, because they believe we are flawed, or that we need to become enlightened, and that we are incapable of governing ourselves. These kinds of myths are conditioned into us in many ways as we grow up, but the root of the conditioning is still embodied in the Garden of Eden story, which is told to most of us as children.

The Bible has been the dominant Grand Story of Western civilization until relatively recent times. It consists of two books. The Old Testament is simply the post-Fall Grand Story of the Hebrew tribe, who were a spin-off from the Sumerians, one of the earliest of the post-Fall hybrid societies. The book was consciously revised c. 1300 BC so as to better suit the hierarchy of the time. The Old Testament praises the virtues of a male-dominated hierarchical society, honors warfare and war-like virtues, and of course features the mythical God character, a warrior-chief writ large, as the all-powerful King of the Universe.

This character serves two important functions. First, he makes us feel powerless and insignificant, and second, he makes us believe that when we go forth to slaughter and conquer, he will be on our side. This book is superbly well suited for keeping us in subjugation and to facilitating wars of conquest. Any contradiction to this story is known as blasphemy, and for many centuries blasphemy was a capital crime throughout the Christianized world. Elites have always understood that control of the Grand Story is their primary means of controlling us.

The New Testament has a very interesting history, and provides an excellent example of carefully crafted propaganda, as an element of a Grand Story. The history of this book begins of course with Jesus, an actual historical figure, whose main mission seems to have been to undermine hierarchy, wake people up to their subjugated status, and spread a new Grand Story based on love, compassion, personal empowerment, and the direct experience of divine reality. A very dangerous fellow indeed, and he was soon disposed of by the local hierarchy.

But alas for them, the new Grand Story was so appealing and so powerful that it led to a social movement (early Christianity) that was a continual headache to Roman authorities. Within a century or so after the death of Jesus, this social movement had departed drastically from the original message of Jesus, and had become an intolerant messianic cult, growing rapidly, using the words of Jesus as a come-on to recruiting new members, and controlled by an orthodox hierarchy who had suppressed the experience-of-divinity aspects of Jesus’ teachings.

To the Roman hierarchy, Christianity was more and more being seen as a subversive political movement, challenging and undermining the authority of Rome. The orthodox hierarchy was by this time mainly concerned with its power over those who had been Christianized, the theology being mainly important as an instrument of maintaining that power — again, the Santa Claus phenomenon.

Given the trouble that these two power hierarchies were causing for one another, it is not surprising that they got together in 325 AD, at the First Nicene Council, to join forces for their mutual benefit. There were two main outcomes from the Council.

The first that was that Christianity was to become the officially enforced religion of the Roman Empire, bringing it under the political (but not religious) control of the Emperor, and ending the conflict between the two hierarchies. Second, the Council was used as an opportunity to deal with competing theological interpretations that had arisen, and to agree on a single, orthodox story of Jesus and his teaching, which was to become the New Testament.

Christianity as we know it, as a powerful world-class religion, backed by an orthodox Grand Story (the Bible), can be dated from this Council. From the beginning, then, Christianity has been closely associated with empire and with state hierarchy. Indeed, for many centuries, after the fall of the Roman Empire and up until 1648 (the Peace of Westphalia) when nationalism began to arise, the Catholic Church itself was the overarching political power in Europe. And in the various European wars throughout the centuries, the soldiers of both sides have been told that God is on their side.

Science wobbles the gyroscope
As regards matters which relate to what we would now call science and engineering, the church hierarchy turned to Aristotle, and his writings became essentially a third book in the orthodox Grand Story of humanity, along with the two books of the Bible. As the scientific movement began to emerge, c. 1600, the theories of Aristotle came increasingly under challenge as new scientific discoveries were made. The scientific community was in fact beginning to develop its own Grand Story, based on the scientific method. The hegemony of orthodox doctrine, as the exclusive Grand Story of Christendom, was beginning to unravel.

As the scope of scientific discovery broadened, particularly after the discoveries of Darwin and Mendel, the Grand Story offered by science became a full-fledged competitor to that offered by religion. Indeed, there has been an ongoing rivalry to capture the public mind, with scientists generally considering religion to be superstition. The ever-evolving Grand Story offered by science, however, fails to provide answers to the most important questions that Grand Stories need to deal with, if they are to be psychologically satisfying, such as the meaning of life and the universe.

Orthodox theology continues to be the Grand Story for millions of people, partly because of the unsatisfying nature of the story offered by science, and partly because religious parents typically subject their children to intensive religious indoctrination from an early age. This is a difficult cycle to break, as the Soviets found out when they tried unsuccessfully to eliminate religions after the Russian Revolution. Once a Grand Story is firmly implanted in an impressionable mind, it typically cannot be dislodged, particularly if no satisfying alternative is on offer.

Our modern society, for better or worse, has no unifying Grand Story. We are divided as to what we believe. In fact, divisiveness regarding beliefs has become one of the primary control mechanisms employed by elites these days. That and television. The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy put it this way:
Television, the drug of the Nation Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation
Drug is a very apt characterization of television. It doesn’t try to indoctrinate us into one particular story, that is now out of date. Instead, television offers a continuous drip feed of what Guy Debord refers to as The Spectacle. We sit there hypnotized, watching entertainment, news, documentaries, or whatever, the content doesn’t really matter. The real point is that we are watching television instead of living.

Is there really any difference between sitting in front of a television, or spending your time smoking in an opium den? In both cases, we’re basically trying to escape from the emptiness of our lives, lives made empty partly because we have no Grand Story that gives meaning to our lives, and partly because all of our friends are at home watching their own televisions.

The Grand Story of humanity
Joseph Campbell was one of the leading scholars on the subject of mythology. He talked about how modern society lacks a relevant mythology, a mythology that answers the big questions, about the meaning of life and the universe, and answers them in a way that makes sense to modern humanity. He felt we needed a new mythology, something that would give us a healthy psychological framework, so as to deal with the modern world.

However, the attempt to create a new mythology would be like trying to put grapes back on the vine. We know about science now, and we can’t go back to a literal belief in metaphorical representations of reality. Those kinds of things served us well millennia ago, but we can’t go back there, not without closing our eyes and pretending.

In our first Golden Age, our Grand Stories were our best attempt at understanding who we are, where we came from, and what is the meaning of our lives. We included in these stories the knowledge and wisdom we had accumulated, and the important episodes from our history. These stories were not fabrications invented to achieve social harmony or psychological health. They were the truth as best we understood it.

The religious Grand Story and the scientific Grand Story have one thing very much in common. They both cut us off from 97% of our Grand Story as humans, and from an understanding of our Golden Age. Religion does that intentionally, whether or not current theologians are aware of that, in order to more easily subjugate us to hierarchy. Science does the same thing out of arrogance, out of its groundless assumption that that everything can be explained in materialist terms, and that everything not published in a refereed journal is superstition.

As far as scientists are concerned, nothing much interesting happened prior to c. 1600. Science is an elitist cult with blinders on, defining reality as that which can be accurately measured with its limited instruments that are restricted to the material realm. They are looking for the keys by the lamp post where the light is good; they aren’t looking where the keys were lost. The keys were lost some six millennia ago, and they won’t be found with a telescope or a test tube. They can only be found within ourselves, but scientists won’t venture inside — that wouldn’t be objective.

The only Grand Story that can function effectively for us is our story, as a species, as we best understand it. That is what I have been endeavoring to convey, as best I understand it. Of all the things I’ve talked about, the most important is the fact that for the past 6,000 years we have been in bondage, and for about 200,000 years before that we enjoyed a Golden Age, where we were not in bondage, and we lived in harmony with one another and with nature.

As I see it, there is not really much worth talking about other than, how can we escape from bondage? Rearranging prison chairs is no more productive than rearranging deck chairs.

The saga of our species is an adventure, an adventure that we are meant to participate in, to co-create, not to watch on television. It’s an action story, where the villain has tied us up in the basement, and our business is to get free and escape — otherwise our children and their children will be in bondage as well. It’s an adventure that unfolds on a canvas measured in millennia, but it’s not history — it’s right now. And it’s not far away — it’s right here where I am, and it’s right there where you are.

In our primordial innocence, back in the Garden, we talked to one another, we listened to one another, and we were quite capable of getting along and dealing with the problems of life together. In fact, it wasn’t very difficult at all, and we spent a good part of our time just hanging out, chatting, singing, or dancing around the fire. We have lost none of these capacities; we have simply forgotten that we have them, and have therefore not attempted to exercise them.

The tree of life is far more bountiful now than ever before. We have powers, with our technology and our science, that our ancestors could never have dreamed of. We were never banished from the Garden; we were abducted from the Garden by those who ate the forbidden fruit of exploitation, and turned our powers against us. We are guilty of no sin, there is nothing flawed about us, and we can return to the Garden whenever we wake up and choose to do so. We are no longer restrained by chains, but only by our own timidity, and our lack of confidence in our own good sense and that of our fellows.

We cannot change the part of our Grand Story that lies in the past, but we need to know that story so that we can know who we are, where we came from, and what our life is about. We now know why the forbidden apple is poisonous to us, even if we were not the ones who did the tasting. We are no longer innocent, but we can return again to harmony and wisdom, wiser from our experience in bondage, and knowing that the first thing we need to do is to build a strong fence around the forbidden tree.

Look not to the officials of Babylon for assistance in our return to the Garden, for they are neither our protectors nor our representatives — they are the servants of our exploiters. Yank your television from the wall, just as Neo yanked the cable from his skull, and see for the first time the real world, which has been all around you all the time, while you’ve been entranced by The Spectacle. The time has come to click your heels together three times and return to your real home.

The drama that matters is the drama that is around us every day. We, along with our friends and neighbors, are the actors in that drama, and there is no script and no director; real life is improv. It is up to each of us and all of us to create the next episode of our Grand Story.

The first step is to begin listening to the stories of those around us, and to share our own stories. That is how we learn who we are and where we came from. Then we can begin sharing our dreams with one another, and that is how we can learn about the meaning of our lives. Finally, we can begin working together, to take control of our own destinies, to pursue our dreams, and to cast off the yoke that we have been carrying for 6,000 years.

Our second Golden Age awaits us.

on to Chapter 3