Beyond ecological stewardship: Toward a new planetary culture

Elevator Sign

It's time for humanity to take it to the next level. Photo:

Over the last 500 hundred years, Western civilization has attained global dominance through its mastery of technology, or what the critic Lewis Mumford called “technics.”

New scientific technologies were accompanied by innovative social technologies, such as the joint stock company. The modern corporation became an extraordinary engine for efficiency, progress, and growth. However, we have learned that the social and financial systems connected to this corporate form depend upon instability and waste. Excess labor capacity is marginalized, while environmental costs are externalized.

We will soon realize that capitalism was a transitional system. Humanity arrived on the earth only recently, and we are still in an immature, adolescent phase of our development, and often act unconsciously and destructively.

A healing crisis

I believe we have entered an initiatory crisis for the human species brought about by Western Europeans’ sense of separation from the earth. This separation has led us to dominate nature, and defined the natural world as a set of resources to be extracted for human consumption. Industrialization has unleashed processes that have reduced soil fertility, depleted basic resources like fresh water, and accelerated climate change.

Traumatic changes in climate can happen suddenly. Glaciologists found that “roughly half of the entire warming between the ice ages and the post-glacial world took place in only a decade,” writes Fred Pearce in With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change. The average temperature increased by 9 degrees during that time. In the past two centuries, humanity has increased levels of carbon in the atmosphere by about a third. Our continued tinkering runs the risk “of producing a runaway change—the climatic equivalent of a squawk on a sound system.”

Through studying the work of Rudolf Steiner and other thinkers, I believe that humanity’s unconscious, chaotic, and destructive behavior has an esoteric purpose. We are inciting an evolutionary crisis to bring about an alchemical transmutation of human consciousness, a quantum jump to a new level of knowing and being. This jump will materialize in new social systems, different technologies, a renewed spiritual kinship with the natural world, and the displacement of the current financial system by new mechanisms for exchanging value.

The devastating scenarios proposed by scientists like James Lovelock can be averted—through mass collaboration and through the rapid dissemination of a new kind of initiative, one that is not just material but also spiritual, or psychic, in nature.

As above, so below

On the material level, we need a worldwide initiative dedicated to re-localization, self-sufficiency, and community resilience. Ironically, the interactive environment of the Internet—a system developed by the US military-industrial complex as a distributed network capable of surviving thermonuclear war—provides the technical infrastructure needed to distribute practical tools, sustainable technologies, and concepts that can bring about a rapid movement toward local thriveability.

We have just witnessed the power of social networks like Facebook and Twitter to galvanize unanticipated social movements overturning entrenched despotic governments in the Middle East. We do not yet have a popular social network to facilitate collaboration, sharing of resources, deeper analysis of issues, and group decision making. As a tool built for personal display that has been fully absorbed into the corporate system, Facebook is useless as a medium for the deeper processes of inquiry and transformation. It may spark revolutions, but it will not finish them.

We also require a structural transformation of the economic system to support a transition to sustainability.

As Bernard Lietaer, a Belgian economist and one of the architects of the Euro, notes, there is no way to create a sustainable planetary culture within our current financial system. By the logic of the stock market, publicly traded corporations are forced to maximize profit for the benefit of their shareholders. This means they will automatically seek to avoid or lobby against environmental safeguards, worker protections, and so on.

One remedy Lietaer proposes is the development of a trading currency, the Terra, indexed to a bundle of resources and goods that remain stable over time. A currency with a negative interest, or “demurrage” charge, would be a counter-incentive to hoarding value, and would instead promote sharing and collaboration. The current monoculture of money would be replaced by a suite of instruments for exchanging value, each serving different functions.

The material world

Ultimately, I agree with Buckminster Fuller that unemployment is not the problem: work is the problem. Fuller noted that it would be much cheaper, from the Gaian perspective, if we subsidized people to live in their home communities, grow their own food, and develop a local culture. The new planetary culture would adapt William McDonough’s proposal, in Cradle to Cradle, to reinvent our industrial processes so they use closed loop manufacturing, and redesign industry to release byproducts that are harmless rather than toxic.

We do not have a coherent mass movement to create sustainability, reduce economic inequity, and develop a rational approach to social and environmental problems because we lack a civil society infrastructure that informs and educates people. Television reduces our public discourse to stereotypes and sound bites that deny the complexity of the crises we face. We require a new form of education to promote analytic reasoning and independent thought.

As a remedy for this dangerous condition, we developed Evolver as a prototype for a self-organizing social movement, a civil society infrastructure, based on community inquiry and local action.

The Evolver Social Movement (ESM) currently has 45+ groups meeting each month in cities and towns around the world. We create themes—subjects range from peace activism to shamanic initiation—that become focal points for local gatherings and community projects. Our Atlanta group has developed Permaculture gardens, while our Baltimore group is responsible for a new alternative currency, the B-Note.

A purely volunteer initiative, the ESM reveals the deep hunger many people feel for finding other like-minded souls to connect and engage with towards transformative action.

As within, so without

My perspective is informed by my work with shamanism, and my engagement with esoteric thought. Rudolf Steiner, like other visionary thinkers, recognized that human beings can be trained to develop “supersensible” capacities, and that our level of psychic development is linked to the present incarnation of the earth.

While I began as a skeptic, my experiences with shamanism in the Amazon and West Africa convinced me of the validity of psychic abilities and spiritual forces, as well as the existence of a “synchronic order,” a direct non-dual relationship between human consciousness and the physical world. Many modern Westerners are making this discovery. To take one example: Cambridge anthropologist Peter Whiteley spent years with the Hopi in Arizona, and witnessed the ability of Kachina ceremonies to produce rain, along with other phenomena he was “unable to explain rationally.”

At the same time, we have increasing scientific evidence from groups like the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton University, Institute of Noetic Sciences, Maharishi University, and others, supporting the existence of psychic phenomena.

Dean Radin, a scientist at IONS, proposes we could be at a threshold of inquiry similar to what happened after the discovery of electricity. After isolating this power, it took decades of experiment before scientists learned to reliably conduct and store this energy in order to make use of it. In a parallel procedure, we may be at a similar point with psychic energy, where we are learning how to transmit and make use of it.

Toward a fuller realization of man

What if our unconscious activity has impelled the planetary crisis so we are forced to access the latent capacities of the mind and apply them systemically in solutions? If Hopi dancers can change local weather patterns, could planet-wide psychic exercises mitigate the effect of global climate change?

A new initiative, Unify Earth, seeks to create a global spectacle on December 21, 2012, with the participation of world-renowned artists (Carlos Santana and Sting currently support the project), leading to a silent moment of planetary unity that should have measurable effects on coherence, registered by the Global Consciousness Project. The infamous “end date” of the Long Count cycle of the classic Maya, 12/21/12 is associated, in the popular culture, with apocalypse and destruction. Unify Earth intends to reverse this misconception by using this cosmic deadline to celebrate humanity’s potential and attune global consciousness to a new harmonic of peace and selfless cooperation.

Of course, nobody knows what will happen in the time to come—our world seems increasingly fragile and insecure. However, if profound thinkers like Steiner as well as indigenous shamans are correct, we have the surprising option to become co-creative with the evolutionary process. We can do this by elevating our consciousness with a visionary intention. Our intention must be backed up by unstinting service and dedicated action.

Since consciousness is inextricably linked to the material universe, our thoughts and our psychic energy directly impact the moment-by- moment reality we manifest. This is the grave—and joyful—responsibility we must accept, if we would like to break the “mind-forg’d manacles” that restrain us from striking a new tone of harmony and uniting us with the earth.

–Daniel Pinchbeck, Transition Voice

Cross posted from the Rudolf Steiner Foundation Social Finance Quarterly

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  1. Auntiegrav says

    “unable to explain rationally.”
    Yeah. That pretty much explains it….the less rationality that gets applied, the better the story and the easier it is to be fooled by randomness.

    The problem with humanity isn’t complex and doesn’t need billions of wasted hours in meetings and contrived group hugs. (But there is nothing wrong with a spontaneous hug if it feels good.)
    The key is that Bucky Fuller was right: it’s the work we do, not the beliefs we hold or the grand schemes of “salvation” and frakking paranormal bullshit.
    Just do things that are not consumption-based or belief-ridden infestations of shamans (capitalism, theism, etc) and other marketing experts who play on your randomness vulnerability.
    Stuff happens. The patterns are in your head 99.99999% of the time. Getting you to believe there is a pattern where none exists (white supremacy) is what gets you to drink the kool-aid and use resources for the gain of others instead of improving your resources.

    • Annie says

      Love it.

      This kind of horseshit is easy for privileged, over-educated white Americans to spout. It has nothing to do with the cold hard reality we’ll all be facing soon. “Let’s all link pinkies and WISH really hard.” It’s depressing to see this kind of fantasy substitute for constructive action take hold of so many, but what the hell. These people will be that much less competition for food down the road.

  2. Annie says

    There are NO credible studies that have supported psychic phenomena as anything but baloney. NONE. If you can show some evidence for psychic phenomena in a controlled environment (one that precludes cheating), The Amazing Randi has $1,000,000 for you.

    Just because you “can’t explain” something “rationally” does not mean that there is an irrational explanation for it. “God did it” is not an explanation for anything; nor is “it’s magic.” All those propositions do is add to the level of explanation required. If “God” is the explanation, how did God come into being? How does “God” work? What are the properties and characteristics of “God”? Ditto for magic.

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