Dave Pollard's environmental philosophy, creative works, business papers and essays.
In search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.



February 22, 2008

Friday Flashback: The Only Life We Know

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 15:40
border collie
A slightly modified version (with my recent point on experimenters not leaders grafted on) of my story from four years ago about why we find it so difficult to imagine a better way to live. This was my reading in Vancouver at Northern Voice ysterday evening.

Recently, our local TV news told the story of Lucky, a dog whose life started out badly, but turned out just fine. Lucky (so named by the Humane Society when they rescued him) was left behind when the family of an alcoholic and abusive man fled to a social services shelter, a “half-way house” that didn’t allow dogs.

Neighbors say Lucky was beaten several times by this man, and left outside in all weather, but steadfastly refused to run away, and even came back to more abuse after the man told neighbors that he’d driven the dog a mile away and abandoned him.

What earned Lucky his name was his discovery, a month later, flailing weakly in a country ditch 50 miles away, by a caring couple who found him, bruised, emaciated, feet tied together and nearly dead. Nursed back to health by the Humane Society with the help of an outpouring of local donations from citizens, Lucky had over a hundred adoption offers.

The reporter covering the story raised the issue of why Lucky didn’t run away, and kept coming back for more abuse from this man. They used the words “brave” and “loyal” to describe this behavior. It obviously didn’t occur to the reporter that Lucky came back for more abuse because that’s the only life he knew. He couldn’t have survived in the wild, and couldn’t have known that another, better life was waiting for him in just about any other house, with any other family.

We are all, in a real sense, like Lucky. Most of us, all over the world, struggle every day, and put up with a huge amount of stress and unhappiness in our lives.

Compared to the hunter-gatherers who lived a natural life for millions of years before modern civilization, we work much harder and longer to make a living. We face much more physical and psychological violence (in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our war-torn world, and sometimes even in our homes).

We suffer from many more physical and psychological diseases and illnesses, we live in crowded, polluted, mostly run-down communities, in constant fear (of an infinite number of things, most notably not having enough), and we are oppressed with hierarchies, laws, rules and restrictions that would have driven our ancient ancestors quite mad.

Why do we put up with it? Because it’s the only life we know.

It has always struck me odd that wild creatures on this planet look after the needs of their community before their individual needs. This is natural to them.  The ‘dog-eat-dog’ world is ours, not theirs! And gatherer-hunter cultures even today live leisurely lives compared to ours, and seem much happier with their natural way of living and making a living.

I believe it’s because of the brainwashing we get in the education system, in the workplace, in the media, and in society at large, that we think the life-long, often joyless and meaningless struggle in the workplace is the only way to make a living. And that the disconnected, alienated way we live in anonymous communities is the only way to live.

We should know better. Just because it’Äôs the only way we know to live and make a living, doesn’Äôt mean it is the only way. There is a better way. The only thing holding most of us back is lacking the knowledge of that way.

We don’t need ‘leadership’ or ‘leaders’ to rediscover that knowledge. What we need are experimenters. The way to create working models that work better than the dysfunctional ones we have now, in a complex system where no one is in control and no one has the answers, is to try things. A lot of small-scale experiments, bold, different, even wacky. And then compare notes with each other about what works (and why) and what doesn’t (and why not).

That will allow the successful experiments to spread, virally, and be adapted and improved. Eventually, bottom-up, it will allow us to create decentralized community-based self-managed political, economic, educational, and social systems that actually work well, for each community.

Unlike most ‘leaders’, experimenters are:

  • collaborators: they don’t do anything alone
  • facilitators and coaches: they help others to learn and discover how to do things better
  • demonstrators: more than just communicators, they show how it works and what it means
  • ideators: they imagine what’s possible, tell stories to bring those ideas to life
  • innovators: they take those good ideas and realize them, make them real
  • researchers: they study what’s been done, in nature, by other cultures and communities, and what’s needed, and spread that knowledge
  • connectors: they bring people together who were meant to work together
  • model-builders: they design and build something that can be understood, replicated and adapted by others
  • founders: they start new things — enterprises, communities, different ways to do important things; they build something new rather than criticizing

That’s what we need. We won’t find it in one or a few people. We have to find it, through love and conversation and community, within all of us. To do that we have to give up on ‘leaders’ and take charge of our own lives, collaboratively, as peers. Who’s ‘leading’ in government, in business, in religious and educational and social organizations doesn’t matter.

The power is in all of us.

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