THE FIVE ELEMENTS: REMAKING OUR CULTURE TO CHANGE THE WORLD

windmill Change is hard. It’s counter-cultural. It only occurs on any large scale when the situation demands it, when there is no alternative . We are now living in a world where huge change is needed, but the awareness that there is no alternative has not yet reached public consciousness. Like the frog immersed in water that is slowly but inexorably increasing in temperature, we are unaware that we are dying a horrible death by tiny increments.

To prevent this requires a fundamental change in our culture, in the prevalent behaviours that have defined us for thirty millennia. Culture change does not occur by revolution, it’s not something that can be imposed by law or persuasion or even a massive shift in public will. It is evolutionary , it is viral, it occurs viscerally, instinctively in response to an external threat or extraordinary opportunity. The profound changes that brought about, and were in turn wrought by, human agriculture, animal domestication, mass-production and antibiotics are examples of this.

Evolutionary doesn’t necessarily mean slow. As the indomitable Freeman Dyson has argued, where there is awareness, even by a small but empowered minority, of the need for change, evolutionary changes can be introduced quickly and effectively, even in the absence of popular consensus, or even in the face of popular opposition. The abandonment of three million years of hunter-gatherer culture by our ancestors a mere thirty thousand years ago, in favour of the incredibly interdependent, fragile and sedentary culture that replaced it, was certainly viewed as horrific, unnatural, wrong, to most of those ancestors. It succeeded not because if was popular, or even acceptable, to those that adopted it, but simply because it worked, and the old culture didn’t anymore .

That’s where we are now, again. We need the same degree of focused, subversive effort to build a new culture that works, and show this, as a scalable pilot, to the rest of the world. When the rest of the world sees that the old culture by contrast doesn’t work, or, in today’s language, is unsustainable, they will join the new culture. Build it and they will come. Don’t tear down the old culture, create a new one that supplants, undermines the old, replaces it from within.

The new culture this time around must have five features that are astonishingly different from those of today’s prevalent culture:

  1. A New Business Driver: The driver for the new culture’s businesses, its economic enterprises, must be the well-being of its members, not growth and profit for its shareholders. The old business model has become completely dysfunctional, pitting us as citizens against us as shareholders. It’s now the tyrannical handmaiden of elite greed instead of the servant of common public interest, as it was originally intended.
  2. A New Population Ethic: We are naturally programmed to want to have many children, so that a couple of them  will live long enough to propagate the species. With new medical and reproductive technologies, we have changed the world to the point that having no more than one child is the best way to ensure the healthy propagation of our species. In educated societies we are already there, but massive immigration between uneducated societies and educated ones is preventing this ethic from taking hold quickly and broadly enough. We need to have the courage to make having more than one child socially unacceptable. Not illegal, and not unaffordable (that just makes it unacceptable to the poor). Never underestimate the power of social norms (just talk to any smoker).
  3. A New Energy Economy: The principles of the new energy economy will be renewability and self-sufficiency. Our present economy ties us to a power ‘grid’ and makes us utterly dependent on foreign energy supplies. The consequence of this has been excessive energy consumption and waste, military adventures strictly to protect oil ‘interests’, and massive political corruption in countries that rely utterly on other countries’ insatiable thirst for their energy. The pioneers of the new energy economy will innovate and use renewable wind and solar energy sources, capture the energy using new hydrogen-cell technologies, and demonstrate the political and economic liberation that comes from freeing your community from dependence on the ‘grid’.
  4. A New Trade Economy: The myths of ‘free’ trade and globalization are quickly unraveling. Unregulated trade, and the extraterritorial laws that diminish local authority that come with it, lead to a host of dysfunctional results: massive local unemployment as jobs are exported to countries with low wages, non-existent labour laws and dreadful environmental laws, the importation, with wasteful and unnecessary transportation costs, of shoddy foreign products made without standards into countries that used to make these same products locally (and better), the forced dismantling of progressive labour and environmental codes, the replacement of overt production subsidies and protections with politically-motivated, politically-extracted hidden subsidies and protections, and the absurd dislocation of local agricultural and manufacturing production in favour of inferior foreign ‘coals-to-Newcastle, corn-to-Mexico’ imports that the dislocated local workers can no longer afford to buy. The governing principle of the new trade economy is simple: Import nothing that can reasonably be produced locally. If we all refuse to buy foreign goods that could be made domestically, everyone will win. 
  5. A New Conservation Ethic: We currently make it hard for people to conserve. Recycling takes time and is awkward. Buying stuff in bulk is inconvenient. Bicycling to work in most of the world is not only uncomfortable, it’s dangerous, and logistically impossible. ‘Common’ property is neglected, to the point no one takes pride in it, so it becomes unusable, and everyone has to have their own private everything , even though they use most of these things rarely. A conservation ethic means making it easy to conserve, not making it illegal or expensive to waste. That means investing big time in public infrastructure — parks, transit, bicycle paths — to ensure it is high-quality, efficient, and a pleasure to use. It means making the reuse and recycling of materials easier than throwing stuff out — door-to-door pickup and delivery, reusable containers that are attractive, lightweight and convenient, hygienic, omnipresent ‘refilling’ stations that dispense products at a cost that is a fraction what over-packaged ‘disposable’ individual portions cost. And just as we need to make having many children socially unacceptable, we need to make unnecessary waste, excessive consumption and unwarranted private ownership socially unacceptable — greedy, thoughtless, and antisocial. We need to make disposable a dirty word.

All of these things are happening, to some extent, with varying degrees of success, and with almost as many steps backward as forward, today. But they aren’t happening in a cohesive manner.

We all live in several physical and virtual communities: the one we make our living in, our family, our neighbourhood, and our communities of interest. Because business is so pervasive today, I believe that what I call New Collaborative Enterprises (NCEs), which exemplify change #1, are absolutely essential to creating the new culture we need. If their business purpose is renewable energy production NCE’s can also contribute to change #3. They can espouse the principle of change #4 in their purchasing decisions and the principle of change #5 in their production activities.

In our families and neighbourhoods we can organize programs as citizens and consumers to advance change #3 (co-operative buying of renewable energy is now available to consumers in many areas), change #4 (by simply refusing to buy imported goods unless they’re absolutely essential and can’t possibly have cost local people their employment), and change #5 (by not only reusing and recycling, but agitating and lobbying and writing and talking to others about what needs to be done to improve public infrastructure and make conservation easier). And we can be a little more overt (not rude or confrontational) about expressing our view that large families, unnecessary waste, conspicuous consumption and extravagant private property are immoral in today’s world.

Each of these five changes will ultimately reach a Tipping Point . Our future depends on how quickly they get there. Each one of us, in how we make our living, how we raise our families, how we live our lives, and how we spread the word, can play an important role in getting us there faster. Together we can change the world.

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7 Responses to THE FIVE ELEMENTS: REMAKING OUR CULTURE TO CHANGE THE WORLD

  1. Very well done, Dave. This should be made part of the Meme Manifesto by reference.

  2. Kate says:

    Hi, Excelent points! I’d like to say something about change # 2. People who want more than one child should be encouraged to adopt. That way they’re taking care of someone who needs a family instead of just adding to the population.PS, good luck with the vegetarianism, Dave!!

  3. Doug Alder says:

    Yup I agree – excellent points. I just don’t see how you’re going to make the power elite – that is the wealthy who by one means or another control the enforcement arms of the state – become irrelevant. Every thing you’ve stated would deprive that power elite of power. So long as money buys power I can’t see this coming about. They simply won’t let it happen.Looking at point 4 as an example of another problem. Even though it is in their comminuities best interest and ultimately their own best interest we can’t get people to stop shopping at Walmart. in fact the rate of consumer spending at Walmart is steadily rising despite he negative effect that has on communities and small businesses. If we ca’yt get people to do that small thing how can you expect them to stop buying anything imported?The ideas are great Dave I just think they fly in the face of human nature (which is by no means necessarily intelligent). We arrived at where we are today by being adaptive. If, as a species, we weren’t other carnivores would have ended our run at history many hundreds of millenmia ago. But that adaptation is a slow process and can just as easily fail as it can succeed. Indeed one could likely make a case for us being on a failure curve in adapting right now to changing conditions that are of our own making. Not just environmental changes, but technology advances and social changess as a result of that technology. It may very well be that the logarithmic advance in knowledge, particularly since the industrial revolution, with its ever accelerating pace will destroy us simply because as a species we can not adapt fast enough to it. Or the adaptive path we choose is ultimately the wrong one and takes us down an ecolutionary dead end.I guess I don’t have your faith inthe human race Dave. I don’t see us as being altruistic enough to accomplish what you want. I wish we were because I fully agree it is where we need to go to survive, and survive well.

  4. Bill Seitz says:

    1 child per family is only half the replacement level. Are you aiming toward a 50% reduction in the world’s population, or saying that the 1st-worlders have to cut back to average out with everyone else?

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Doug: Power elites that didn’t adapt in past have disappeared. The French monarchy. The Soviet leadership. The railroad and steamship czars. If you look at the makeup of the Fortune 500 over time, you’ll see an almost continuous undermining of old elites by new ‘disruptive’ innovators. And I don’t think it requires altruism. Despite our aversion to change, most of us willingly and quickly change when there’s something proven to work, to change to. CD’s replacing cassettes for example, was a pretty painless changeover. As for people’s willingness to buy local products, this has worked well before in our own lifetimes. Again it’s an evolutionary process. First, people who can afford it, and those who really care enough about the issue to sacrifice a bit, and rabid patriots get on the bandwagon. Vendors respond by putting ‘Made in USA’ in bigger letters to cater to the new need (like they’re already doing with Organic). New niches are created for small domestic producers in areas where there’s now no alternative to imported. They employ Americans and grow and advertise. The media starting with Fast Company etc. report a surge in ‘New Home-Grown Industry Flying in the Face of Globalization’. Consumer Reports recommends the local stuff because it’s better made than the imported stuff (set aside the auto industry, that’s a special case). The foreign producers of crap lose shelf space, even in WalMart, and hence lose economies of scale, so they stop exporting, refocusing on their own markets. See how it works? I think we can do it. Wonder if we can get the Dems to jump on board — they’re looking for a stake in the Patriot game and this would seem to be a harmless, even beneficial way to do it.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Kate: Adoption — Great point. Or they could do what I did, and marry someone who already had children.

  7. Your five main points are exactly what I think could be changed about the world, too. It’s nice to know like-minded individuals do exist and believe that we as individuals do have the power to change society for the better.

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