|Last week I listed forty actions — technological, social, entrepreneurial, political — that could create a new ‘tipping point’ to restore our planet’s, and our, health, and replace the thirty thousand year old, well-intentioned but fatally flawed and unsustainable culture called civilization. These forty actions would undermine civilization and render it obsolete, not by taking us back to hunter-gatherer culture, but by taking us forward to a post-civilization culture in balance and harmony with nature.
This transition to a new culture –which I have called Relater-Sharer culture — could, I argued yesterday, take decades or even centuries to accomplish. It will start slowly, as more and more of us abandon the existing political, educational, economic, business, religious and media systems and institutions, and build a new culture with the building blocks shown in blue in the chart above. Increasing natural scarcities, pressures and disasters (factors shown in green above) — all consequences of civilization’s excesses and failures — will begin to dissuade adherants of civilization’s perpetual growth mantra, and create a further sense of urgency for a sustainable, Relater-Sharer culture, as the established institutions of civilization continue to prove themselves unable to adapt.
I also made the point yesterday that the mechanisms by which we usually try to bring about change — politics, law, economics, and formal education — really aren’t up to the job this time, and although sympathetic changes to these systems won’t hurt, ultimately they’re neither sufficient nor necessary to take us forward out of the mess we have created for ourselves and our world. For that reason, they’re not represented in the building blocks of Relater-Sharer culture shown above. And although these artefacts of wealth and power will be wielded, as always, by those most determined to maintain the status quo, they ultimately won’t be effective against builders of the new culture who will simply opt out of these bankrupt systems, which are as unnecessary in a Relater-Sharer world as they were in the Hunter-Gatherer culture that preceded civilization.
Several readers have said this analysis is informative but not helpful — it doesn’t indicate what each of us, as individuals, can do that will at least not make things worse, and which could make the transition a little less painful and a little quicker, perhaps, for our descendants. Here is such a list, a combination of the forty actions in last week’s post and the Save the World Roadmap I published last year, but taken down to the personal, practical, present-day level. Answers to the question: What Can I Do Now?
Trust your instincts: Reconnect with them, listen to them, and don’t let other people tell you you’re stupid, crazy, irrational, or immoral. If you’re unhappy it’s for a reason. Your gut feeling, your intuition, is written in your DNA, and it’s the source of knowledge that allows every living creature to know what to do. And it worked for man for the first three million years of his life on Earth as well — before language, before laws, before codes of right and wrong — and these were arguably the most successful, leisurely, and happy years of man’s existence. Listen to them, and they’ll tell you what to do.
Listen, Learn, and Teach Others: Spend time both in nature, away from civilization, and with people, listening and talking about things that matter. In nature, reawaken and reconnect with your senses, focus each sense until you really see, hear, smell, taste, feel, connect with the rest of the living organism called Earth. Open yourself up to the joy, and learning of nature. Pay attention. Re-learn to wonder. Then, ‘back’ in civilization, have the courage to talk openly to people about things that really matter to you. Ignore the raised eyebrows and comments about your seriousness and intensity — you’ll find most people care, too. Then listen, don’t preach. Leave behind one practiced, important (to you), articulate idea or thought with the other person, like planting a seed. Learn to tell stories — it’s the only effective way to teach. But share what you know. When you’re talking to someone who strongly disagrees with you, listen, don’t try to convert them. There’s a reason why they feel so differently from you — ferret out and really understand what that reason is (don’t assume they’re ignorant or stupid). Then sow a single seed of doubt. And read quickly and selectively, but don’t let it keep you indoors, or away from people. The real learning is outside. So travel when you can, but forget the hotel chains and chain restaurants. Live with the locals, talk to them, try different things, listen and learn.
Learn and Practice Critical Thinking: Challenge ‘established wisdom’, especially your instincts tell you it’s dubious. Learn your vulnerability to spin, and how to recognize and discount it. Learn to avoid the intellectual fallacies of groupthink and arrogance, but also avoid black hat thinking. Develop emotional intelligence, but never use it to manipulate.
Re-Learn How to Imagine: The school system and most business environments drive it out of us, and it’s easy to get caught up in your own left brain. It can also be frightening: imagining literally means putting your thoughts into images. But it’s powerful, motivating, educational, and creative. Imagine — picture it — what it happening in Sudan where genocide is happening right now. Imagine what is happening in the factory farms before you decide what to make for dinner. Imagine what you could be doing if it wasn’t for your boring, meaningless job. Imagine a better way of doing something, a better way to live. Imagine what could be. Your instincts will tell you what to do next. If we can’t imagine, we can do anything. That’s what got us into this mess.
Use Less Stuff: Consumerism is doubly addictive — you get the fleeting pleasure of acquiring something, and then you have to work harder and earn more money for The Man so you can pay off the debt you incurred to buy it. Learn to live a Radically Simple life — buy better quality stuff that lasts longer, make your own meals instead of using processed foods, think before you buy, don’t get into debt (only buy when you have the cash in your account), buy local rather than imported goods (especially stuff from countries that have poor social and environmental standards), complain about excessive packaging, recycle, reuse, buy used, share tools with neighbours, turn off the lights, cover the pool, use energy-efficient lighting, keep your tires inflated, carpool, walk or bike instead of driving — you know what to do. Make a list, draw up a schedule, and do it.
Stop at One: Consider the virtues of a single-child family. Learn why children in such families are the happiest and most successful. Better yet, adopt.
Become Less Dependent: Learn how to fix things and make things instead of always having to buy replacements. Cut your own lawn, and perform other services yourself, even if you can afford someone else to do it. Self-sufficiency is good for your self-esteem, reduces consumption and waste, helps the environment, and is good exercise.
Become an Activist: Pick a cause you care about, research what needs to be done, use the Internet to organize, and do it. But follow Peter Singer’s advice to make sure your time is well-spent. Especially the parts about not getting caught up in administration, and not trying to change, or enforce, laws. The most fruitful activism is all about informing and educating people, making them aware of their options, and their power as citizens and consumers, often one person at a time, until enough people have changed their minds or their behaviours to change the system.
Volunteer: Rather than sending guilt money, go out and spend time helping those suffering or in need. Pick a charity that you really care about — the soup kitchen, the animal shelter, whatever. Get involved, and talk to the people you’re helping. Don’t get talked into fundraising activities — really get out there and do something with your own two hands. You’ll learn a lot, you’ll feel better, you’ll make a difference, and you just might find out something important about yourself.
Be a Role Model: Talk to others about, and show others, what you’re doing, not just what you’re thinking. People are far more inspired by a good role model than a good speech. And if people tell you you’re a good role model, get out there and flaunt it in the right places — if you’re a woman engineer, go out to the schools and tell girls what a great career it is. If you’re doing half the things on this list, you’re a great role model — inspire others to follow your example.
Be a Pioneer: If you have the time and the passion for it, pick a new cause, use the Internet to find like minds, do your homework, organize, and do something completely new. Start a community energy co-op. Set up a ‘virtual’ market for local crafts, organic or free-range foods, or whatever needs better local distribution. Establish a community-based business. Or create a whole community, self-selected, self-organized, self-sufficient, with people you love, and show the world how much more sense this makes than living in a community of strangers and driving long distances to work for someone you dislike so you can buy stuff you don’t need made by other strangers even unhappier with their lives than you are. The new culture will be built bottom-up, one community at a time, and the sooner we start finding a community model that works well in a post-civilization society, the better.
Find or Create a Meaningful Job: Each of us has talents, interests, and time. It’s amazing how many of us spend all our time doing work that we find uninteresting, and which doesn’t effectively use our talents. We become wage slaves, underemployed and bored because we’re convinced or afraid that a better job doesn’t exist. And we work so hard at it we have no time left to challenge that conviction or fear. That’s what the corporatists are counting on. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Find the time to figure out what you really would like to do with your life, how you’d really like to make a living. Then research the possibilities, talk to people who are doing it, find out what’s possible, learn what’s involved in creating your own business (and don’t listen to accountants or MBAs). If we were all doing jobs we loved, with people we love, and in charge of our own careers, the corporatists would have no staff, and their environmentally devastating empires would crumble.
Share Your Expertise: If you have talents, specialized know-how, or technical or scientific skills and knowledge that could be useful in solving birth control, clean energy, disease prevention, conservation, animal cruelty, pollution and waste, local self-sufficiency, non-animal foods, ‘more-with-less’ product streamlining, self-organization, collaboration, consumer and citizen awareness and activism, animal communication, conflict resolution, mental illness, and other issues contributing to environmental deterioration, create ‘open source’ spaces where others can access what you know, contact you, and collaborate with you and with others to solve these problems.
Be Good to Yourself: You’re not going to be any use saving the world if you’re depressed, unfit or stressed out. Don’t take the problems of the world personally, or blame yourself for them. If news or failure to accomplish something gets you down, go out and do something you enjoy. Eat healthy and stay fit, but don’t make a religion of it — indulge yourself from time to time. Learn how to prevent illnesses instead of waiting for them to occur. Spend time with people who like you, and accept their compliments warmly. Love yourself, realize that you can do anything you want to do. Appreciate that you’re part of the solution, and that makes you extraordinary.
Infect Others With Your Spirit and Passion: Love openly, completely, as many people as you can. Be emotional, except in those very rare occasions when dispassion is needed. Smile excessively. But refuse to tolerate cruelty, suffering, unfairness, bullying, jealousy, apathy, despair, cynicism or hate, in yourself or others — alleviate it, disarm it, discharge it, whatever it takes to stop these negative emotions and activities, and appreciate that they’re signs of sickness, not evil.
A period of great change is always turbulent and unsettling, and the transformation to a Relater-Sharer culture won’t be achieved in our lifetime. So we will need to be, like all pioneers, patient, indefatiguable, and aware that the beneficiaries of what we do starting now will be our descendents, future generations who will only know us from stories. As human beings, and as the species that created this mess in the first place, we owe them no less. We know, instinctively, that that is why we’re here.
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Re-Learn How to Imagine:Dave, we have enrolled our 3 year old daughter ( an only child ) into a Steiner school, developing and nuturing her imagination is one of our priorities as parents..during our tour of the school, i focused on talking to the children, i wish i had had the chance to attend a steiner school whilst i was growing up, i have no doubts about the kind of adults these kids will grow into..
Thanks Dave! Your writing has really spurred a surge of critical thinking on my part about what I can do to move out of the current cultural situation. I was leaning toward just flat out abandoning the US of A for some other country. Now I see a better path that I can start on at home.
Mark3 of my nieces and nephews are well into several years at a Steiner school – it is simply wonderful. I wonder if school as it is designed today – all about control, atomization, dogma and above all no questions – is a major influence for mush that is bad in our world. if so – then working hard to offer an alternative such as Waldorf may be highly leveraged work
Great list, these are really concrete things that make an individual difference, a visible difference.
Thanks, everyone. I’m intrigued by alternate school systems like Steiner-Waldorf and Montessori. They are both European inventions in response to rigidity, large class sizes, and lack of balance. But they seem to substitute one form of imposed discipline for another, and they have very intense curricula including heavy loads in ‘the basics’. I think the fact most of us are public school survivors indicates the system itself may not be the problem for those that have critical thinking skills. I also think a good education system needs to get kids out of the classroom and working on projects together with different people (including non-classmates) and learning about what’s really going on out in the world. As my PTV future state post a while back suggested, I also like the idea of self-managed study, with no mandatory classes for those that maintain a certain level of work quality and productivity. Getting rid of grades would also help.
I know Rob P has read or is reading a very interesting book, related to Dave’s point of getting rid of grades. The book addresses something that is at the core of North American society, at least, which may be almost at the level of DNA in this culture, is the issue of being rewarded for winning, or being right. “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn takes a very clear and direct look at this fundamental belief, and it’s pernicious effects in many of the spheres of our daily life and work.
I notice that most of these actions are primarily individual. I’d like to add a meta-action:Don’t try to do it alone. Find kindred spirits, create a pair, a team, a community. It’ll be easier, more enjoyable, and more effective. Next, look for other pairs/teams/communities doing it, and create the next higher level unit.
I printed out this post, so I can re-read it -> daily!
Don: Good point — I tried to get at that with the teaching/sharing points but I should have been more explicit about Organization and Collaboration.Kara: Thanks — you’re always so kind. Hope some day we’ll have a chance to meet.
If only the messages on your site could penetrate each and every person who exists today and will exist tomorrow…The first step is opening every mind to new ideas. Only how?
Thanks, Dave. You said it right. Buy quality stuff that could last and hence buy less. It is disheartening to see the vicious cycle going on between the manufacturers and the consumers here where cheapness is only thing they care for, hence more rubbish created, and some of this plastic material is indestrutible biologically.Because of cheapness, everybody seems to be affordable to throw away rather than spending some effort to repair it. The bad culture is that people start to laugh at you if you try to repair. One should be proud to be able to use one’s own hands to repair or create something really useful and lasting.
Thank you for writing this piece, and for keeping this blog going. I am so incredibly depressed by the state of the world right now and the very sad reality that very little is being done. Most people are so blinded by their myopic existence that they truly cannot seem not to care. Those who do care — very passionately — have not found a means to harness it in a way that can inspire major social change. I am hopeful that total destruction of the environment can be averted only because if I am not, I cannot stand to be alive right now. It helps me very much to see that others, like yourself and your readers here, are feeling like I am. If enough of us think hard enough, maybe somehow, something will happen.
I agree with many things you say but I think it is not true that only children are happier or more intelligent. You should take a closer look at today’s Chinese youth.
Jean. While what you say is very likely true, the root problem is probably not the one child. It is that the one child is very likely living in a “nuclear family unit” as Dave put it. Isolated at home. With little to no sense of community. Isolated at school. With the only focus being academic success. And soon to be isolated at work. With all the perks that working in China affords. Whereas in a proper community setting any given child would have many other children to interact with on a meaningful level.I could go on about this subject further, but this is not the place.If you would like to talk further with me please drop me an e-mail. Raydurrent(“at”)gmail(“dot”)comAlso great read Mr. Pollard. I do hope you will be hearing from me in the near future.