Wednesday, June 9, 2010

David Korten: The Great Turning

The Great Turning: Epic Passage
by David Korten article link

Our time is a defining moment for the human species. We have a brief window of opportunity to navigate the passage from a 5,000 year Era of Empire characterized by violent domination to an Era of Earth Community characterized peaceful partnership. This passage to a new level of species maturity promises a more secure and fulfilling life for everyone. Its successful navigation requires that we free ourselves from the illusions of a cultural trance that blinds us to the higher order potentials of our human nature.

We now have an unprecedented opportunity to turn the human course. This opportunity is born of a convergence of the imperative created by a potentially terminal global crisis and the possibility created by a global communications revolution.

A Three-Fold Crisis

The cause of the crisis is three-fold.

* Over consumption: Growth in human consumption resulting from a combination of population growth and growth in consumption per capita is depleting the natural life support system of the planet, disrupting natural water cycles and climate systems, and threatening human survival.

* Inequality: Unconscionable and growing concentration of financial power in a world of ever more intense competition for a declining base of material wealth is eroding the social fabric to the point of widespread social breakdown.

* Pathological Governing Institutions: The most powerful institutions on the planet, global financial markets and the transnational corporations that serve them, are institutions of Empire dedicated to growing consumption and inequality. They convert real capital into financial capital to increase the relative economic power of those who live by money, while depressing the wages of those who produce real value through their labor. These institutions respond to environmental and social crises with palliatives that side step the need to reduce overall consumption and reallocate resources from rich to poor. To do otherwise would be contrary to their legal and financial imperatives. We cannot expect the institutions that got us into the crisis to get us out of it.

We face the imperative to:

1. Reduce aggregate consumption, which means renouncing economic growth and obsessive over consumption as our defining economic priority in favor of meeting real human needs, including needs for dignity, community and meaningful work.

2. Eliminate extremes of inequality, which means renouncing domination as our defining mode of organization in favor of equity and deep democracy.

3. Transform our institutions and cultures to support reduction of consumption, conversion of financial capital into natural, social, and human capital, and expansion of the middle class through redistribution of wealth from rich to poor.

Imperative as Opportunity

There is significant evidence that for all our apparent differences, most all the world's people want the same thing: happy healthy children, families, communities, and natural sytems. Properly understood, the imperative creates an unprecedented opportunity to unleash long suppressed potentials of the human consciousness to bring forth the world for which we humans have long shared a deep yearning. See "What will Earth Community look like?"

The sacrifices are marginal relative to the potential gain. Mostly we must give up wasteful or actively destructive forms of consumption to free up resources for uses that actually increase our happiness and well-being. It involves, for example, reallocation from:

* Instruments of war to health care and environmental rejuvenation.

* Automobiles to public transportation.

* Suburban sprawl to compact communities and the reclamation of forest and agricultural land.

* Advertising to education.

* Financial speculation to local entrepreneurship.

Such a radical reallocation is far beyond the realm of current political feasibility. The work of making it feasible begins with a conversation. Fortunately, that conversation is already underway in localities all over the world, spreading the good news that the world we must now create to secure the human future is the same as the world most all the world's people want.

We face a race against time between the awakening of an Earth Community consciousness and the spread of social and environmental collapse. Our window of opportunity could slam shut at any time with chilling finality.

An Irrevocable Choice

Success depends on facing up to the extent to which the crisis is a consequence of deep social and institutional pathology. Although green technologies will have an essential role, there is no technological fix. The fate of our children turns on our current irrevocable choice between two contrasting ways of relating to one another and Earth.

The Way of Empire features a pyramid of coercive power based on principles of domination and exclusionary private accumulation. It is the way of domination, greed, violence, wasted lives and environmental devastation. Left in place, it is destined to play out as a last man standing imperial competition for what remains of Earth’s natural bounty.

The Way of Earth Community features self-organizing networks based on principles of parthership and a cooperative sharing of Earth's resources to create a world that works for all. It is the way of partnership, sharing, reconciliation, mutual responsibility, and respect for all life.

How we choose will determine whether those who follow us will refer to our time as the Great Turning or the Great Unraveling.

Competing Stories

Empire’s power depends on its ability to control the cultural stories and the language that shape our collective understanding of our world and of the choices available to as a species. Empire stories induce a kind of cultural trance that conditions us to accept the dominator relations of Empire as just and righteous and to dismiss talk of alternatives as naïve, dangerous, or even sinful. Once we recognize the truth that Empire stories deny, the trance is broken. To change the future, change the story.

Global Awakening

The institutions of Empire will not act from within to voluntarily relinquish their power. Leadership for theturning must come from popular civic initiatives centered outside the institutions of Empire.

Empire has always met resistance from those with a larger vision of human possibility. Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were among the more visible examples. Mostly, this resistance was geographically isolated and the institutions of Empire contained or co-opted it. No longer. Modern communications technology has obliterated the barriers of geography and is linking ordinary people into a seamless global web of learning and sharing unfiltered by imperial agents and institutions. Millions of people of every race, religion, and nationality are are now using this technology to create a species capacity to choose and act as a whole in the service of life, as documented by Paul Hawken in Blessed Unrest.

Earth Community Agenda

Our collective future turns on the success of the efforts of ordinary people with an awakened consciousness to advance the three primary elements of a bold Earth Community agenda.

1. Earth Balance: Bring human consumption into balance with Earth’s natural systems by eliminating unproductive consumption and by restoring and even enhancing Earth’s natural regenerative processes.

2. Fair Share/Equity: Bring our human relationships into balance with one another by sharing of resources and knowledge equitably and turning from a culture of competition and private accumulation to a culture of cooperation and sharing.

3. Living Democracy: Create a system of radically democratic life-serving governing institutions that support Earth Balance and Fair Share, give voice to every person, and nurture the higher order potentials of the human consciousness. (see below)

We are engaged in the greatest and most creative adventure in all of the human experience. It is a race against time. The window of opportunity is closing fast. Accelerating social and environmental collapse creates the imperative to act with deliberate speed to accelerate the awakening and focus the positive life energy it is unleashing.

In these dangerous and often frightening times it is important to regularly remind ourselves that we are privileged to live at the most exciting moment of creative opportunity in the whole of the human experience. The time is now. We have the power. We are the ones we have been waiting for.


Living Democracy

A healthy society balances individual liberty with a mutual accountability that nurtures Earth Balance and Fair Share. We in the United States have generally stressed the individual liberty side and consequently reduced democracy to a competition between narrowly defined short-term private interests. This has led to rule by a global financial market that recognizes only the short-term financial interests of the very wealthy and actively disrupts the relationships of mutual caring essential to social health.

Human well-being and survival depend on learning to think and act as a radically democratic living Earth Community in which we share our resources to balance the interests and well-being of the self with the interests and well-being of the whole. Vandana Shiva and Frances Moore Lappé call it living democracy. (See Living Democracy Movement.) We create living democracy by rebuilding the relationship of strong, caring communities and advancing supportive institutional reforms such as the following.

Living Indicators: It is odd that we choose to measure our collective well-being and progress by financial indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP) or a favored stock index rather than by living indicators of the health and happiness of our children, families, communities, and nature — measures of true well-being. As ecological economist Joshua Farley notes, GDP is actually a measure of the financial cost of maintaining a given level of health and happiness. Seeking to maximize GDP makes no more sense than trying to maximize health care costs. A rising stock index is a measure of the rate at which the wealthy few are increasing their exclusionary claims against the real wealth on which all our lives depend, hardly something to celebrate in a world in desperate need of greater equity.

Democratic Elections: An open, fair, and honest electoral system is essential to any form of meaningful democracy. An electoral system that depends on corporate money and turns third party candidates into spoilers creates an appearance of democracy at the expense of real democracy. Public financing of elections, a secure right of every person to vote and have their vote counted, assured media access, instant runoff voting, proportional representation, elimination of the electoral college, and barring corporations from seeking to influence elections and legislation are all basic democratic reforms essential to bringing democracy to the United States.

Accountable Corporations: Corporate forms of organization that aggregate resources under coherent management are essential to any modern society. At the same time, without built-in safeguards of public accountability, the resulting concentration of power is subject to abuse by the unprincipled. Guided by a false ideological premise that the single-minded pursuit of individual profit maximizes the well-being of the whole, we have created corporate forms with no such safeguards. The only reason for government to grant a corporate charter allowing a unified aggregation of power and resources is to serve a public purpose. An Earth Community corporate charter would specify the public purpose for which it is granted and provide for revoking the charter of any corporation that that fails to fulfill its public purpose or abuses its powers.

Public Service Media: The broadcast spectrum is a public commons properly used to serve the public interest. Allowing a few private media corporations to monopolize it to promote narrow private interests and create a culture of individualism, greed, violence, and material excess does not serve the public interest. Independent public and community radio and TV stations representing a diverse range of perspective should receive a substantial preference in allocating the broadcast spectrum over absentee corporate owners.

Advertising: The proper role of business in Earth Community is to provide Earth friendly products and services in response to human needs, not to create artificial wants. Advertising beyond informing the public of the availability and features of available products and services has no legitimate place and is not a legitimate business expense. Simply banning advertising would raise complex Constitutional free speech issues. There is no Constitutional barrier, however, to requiring that the costs of advertising beyond providing basic information on product availability and specifications be paid from after tax revenues, the same as other forms of speech.

Local Stakeholder Ownership: Absentee ownership mediated by global financial markets strips decision-making of all but short-term financial values and exclusive private interests. Eliminating absentee ownership, broadening ownership participation, and breaking up unaccountable concentrations of corporate power are foundational to living democracy. A progressive tax on assets combined with tax breaks for firms owned and managed on a cooperative model by their employees, customers, and those who live in the communities where they are located would provide appropriate market incentives. Making absentee owners personally liable for harms caused by the corporations in which they hold shares would also create a powerful incentive for such restructuring.

Honest Money: The existing debt-money system is history's most successful con game. Run by private bankers devoted to the financial interests of themselves and their wealthiest clients, it gives banks the power to create money out of nothing by lending it into existence. As demonstrated by the recent mortgage lending meltdown, banks find it highly profitable to use this power to finance financial speculation and fraud that reward and enrich social and environmental predators. See "The ABCs of Finance Capitalism."

An honest money system creates money in return for the creation of public value when government spends it into existence for public goods like infrastructure and education. It distributes money equitably to facilitate life-serving exchange and enriches society by creating a capacity to finance public goods without taxes or borrowing.

Replacing debt-money with honest-money is one of the most important elements of an Earth Community agenda. It is also one of the most difficult to implement, because debt-money serves powerful interests and its ability to scam the public is invisible to most of its billions of victims.

David Korten is co-founder and board chair of YES! Magazine and author of Agenda for a New Economy, The Great Turning, and When Corporations Rule the World.

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