... From: Tom Atlee To: undisclosed list Sent: Thursday, July 04, 2002 10:40 AM Subject: Tracking the Big Picture of what we re
Message 1 of 1
, Jul 4, 2002
----- Original Message -----
From: "Tom Atlee" <cii@...>
To: "undisclosed list" <cii@...>
Sent: Thursday, July 04, 2002 10:40 AM
Subject: Tracking the Big Picture of what we're doing
Here is Jay Earley's "Envisioning a Wisdom Society," an elegant overall
vision of where we have been and where we need to go -- and where, in many
way and in many places, we are already going. His book _Transforming Human
Culture_ had a profound effect on my own thinking when I first read a
manuscript in the mid-1990s, and I find this updated outline of his
perspective quite useful.
Jay's work is one of many useful, visionary overviews of the world we want
and the paths there. One of my other favorites -- which I seem to be
sharing often lately -- is Ecotrust's Pattern Language for a Conservation
Economy http://www.conservationeconomy.net/ . I love its coherent, deeply
interconnected pattern of things we need to create a sustainable society --
conditions, technologies, design factors, etc. It covers so much, so well,
so coherently, so respectfully, so usefully -- and offers so much promise
for further development. It was just updated into a more attractive format
for your use and enjoyment.
As we (those of us passionate about making a better world) become
increasingly ripe for COLLECTIVE self-awareness and coherence, I suspect we
will find ourselves drawn to taking a closer look at such groundwork that
some among us have been steadily laying, and using these tools to enhance
our work together.
Ultimately, however, I think we will need a PROCESS by which we can all
PARTICIPATE in generating evolving collective visions and models of our
richly diverse and interconnected roles in healing and transforming the
world. This development -- this evolutionary thrust -- is foreshadowed in
Jay's essay below. I hope many of you find inspiration and clarity in it.
PS: Of course in addition to great models of evolving coherence, we need
such simple, basic things as community. I am told by Leonard Joy that
Christopher Hill's book _The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During
the English Revolution_ describes a period of creative social upheaval
(much like ours) 350 years ago. It was soon repressed. Of the many
remarkable groups that were born then, only one -- the Quakers, "The
Society of Friends" -- managed to sustain itself until today. Leonard
ascribes its survival to its ultimate respect for each human spirit, and so
its members put the highest priority on maintaining respectful
relationships and loving community, even during the most divisive times.
Many of us -- including me -- are still learning how to do that. It's a
long, very important journey...
_ _ __ _
CONSCIOUS ACTION NEWSLETTER
June 19, 2002
Jay Earley jay@...
Envisioning a Wisdom Society
At Conscious Action, we believe that our society is undergoing a major
historical transformation of such scope as has happened only a few times in
human history. The Social Transformation Overview Project intends to sketch
the shape of a wise transition to a new civilization, a new era in human
history. As part of this, we need to envision this new society, which many
are calling a wisdom society. Here are two steps of this vision, seeing a
wisdom society in terms of its worldview and the historical trends that are
A transformation from one stage of social evolution to the next involves a
fundamental change in worldview. In very simple sentences, we could say the
that worldview of our current society is:
We are separate individuals and nations competing for domination in a
fragmented, mechanical world.
The worldview of the new society that is emerging might be framed in this
We are co-creating, related participants in a dynamic, complex, conscious
Here are some implications of this.
Before we saw ourselves as separate individuals or nations or
cultural groups. Now we realize that we are profoundly related to each
other and the natural world as participants in a larger whole.
Before we saw ourselves as competing for domination. We now realize
that we are co-creators of our world and therefore cooperation is our
primary value, within which competition can sometimes be useful.
Before we saw the world as mechanical and fragmented into parts. We
now realize that it is an organic, complex inter-related whole.
Before we saw the world as static unless we worked hard to change
it. We now realize that it is dynamic and evolving.
Before we saw the world as lifeless and meaningless with humans
providing meaning and consciousness. We now realize that humans are simply
the most conscious part of a meaningful, conscious universe.
This is the overall flavor of the transformation. It has implications for
every aspect of our world. To read more about the transformation of our
worldview see my Transforming Human Culture, Duane Elgin's Promise Ahead
and the article "Is the Modern Psyche Undergoing a Rite of Passage?" by
Richard Tarnas in Revision, Winter 2002.
We can begin to understand this transformation in more detail by looking at
six broad historical trends:
1. Emergence from Participation.
2. Wider Global Connection and Inclusion
3. Growth in Size
4. Enhanced Understanding
5. Intelligence of Organization
6. Personal Growth
1. Emergence from Participation
Originally we experienced ourselves as participating in relationships, in
nature, in the cosmos. Over historic time, we have emerged from this
participation in a variety of ways. We have emerged from belonging into
individuality, from cooperation into competition, from being embedded in
nature to controlling nature with technology, from participatory
spirituality to rational practicality. This could be summarized as emerging
from a feminine into a masculine way of being. Now this emergence has gone
too far into dissociation, where the emergent qualities are split off from
participation, resulting in individualism, domination, unbridled
technology, meaninglessness, and hyper-masculinity.
However, though the dominant culture has suppressed participation, it still
exists in our world. It is lived by women, indigenous peoples, some
cultural groups, and some Third World cultures. They can help the new
society to regain it.
The transformation involves reclaiming our participation integrated with
the healthy aspects of these emergent qualities, integrating feminine and
masculine modes. This is discussed in detail in my book Transforming Human
Let's look at this in a variety of areas of human life:
Relationship. Originally we humans experienced ourselves as belonging to
our tribes, our families, our clans, and our cultures. Over historic time
we have developed a sense of individuality, a sense of being in charge of
our lives and able to think for ourselves. We learned to define ourselves
through our personal qualities and our achievements. Now this has gone too
far, and we think we are separate from those human connections that sustain
us. This has resulted in individualism--alienation, compulsive striving,
lack of empathy for others, and self-aggrandizement (or its opposite,
low-self-esteem). In a wisdom society, we will develop a sense of conscious
belonging, where community is integrated with healthy individuality, where
we can belong and be ourselves.
Power. Originally humans were largely cooperative, at least within each
society. As we have emerged from participation, we have become increasingly
competitive, so that in the modern era, our economic system is based on
competition and our political system is adversarial. In fact, things have
gone so far in this direction that our lives are shaped by competition--in
school, at work, in business transactions, in international affairs, in our
legal system, and in politics. And competition has led to domination, by
the strongest or largest or most successful. This means domination of
politics by corporations, domination of the world by the U.S., domination
of racial and ethnic groups by the white Christian majority, domination of
women by men, domination of nature by humans.
As we transform, we will reclaim our cooperative attitude, so that we work
together to create a world that works for all. We will create cooperative
systems for governance and economics, free from domination by any nation or
group. We will learn to appreciate our differences and use them for greater
collective intelligence. We will create technical and industrial processes
that are aligned with the natural world. And within this framework of
cooperation, competition has its place.
Environment/Technology. We started out living in harmony with the earth and
feeling our belonging to the natural world. Through the development of
technology, we have emerged to create a relationship where we try to
control and dominate nature for our own ends. This has resulted in
unbridled technological development and a largely artificial way of living,
disconnected from the natural world. It has also resulted in an ecological
crisis that is threatening our life support systems. In a wisdom society,
we will regain an understanding of our connectedness with nature while
appreciating our specifically human contribution to evolution. We will also
develop technology and industrial processes that are aligned with natural
cycles and an economic system that promotes sustainability.
Meaning. We started out with a sense of belonging to the spiritual world,
which wasn't really separate from the tribe and the natural world. Over
time we emerged from this to develop a transcendent spirituality, where
individuals could become redeemed or enlightened. Now our dissociation has
led to a rational practicality that denies any meaning to the universe.
With the transformation, we are moving toward a spirituality that
integrates the transcendent and the imminent, the rational and the
experiential, the sacred and the worldly.
2. Wider Global Connection and Inclusion
A second historical trend is that we have become increasingly connected as
a world, moving from bands to villages to states, and now leading to a
world economy and the beginnings of world governance. Though there are
problems and dangers in how globalization is being done, it is a positive
development. While supporting the trend toward global connection, we must
also support the relative autonomy of nations and regions. We must work to
change the current domination of the global economy by multi-national
corporations, and we must guard against a non-democratic world government.
Over time, humans have become increasingly tolerant and appreciative of
different cultures, races, genders, and religions, though we have a long
way to go. Though it may look as if we are very racist, sexist, and
intolerant, things have actually improved significantly from previous
historic times. In a wisdom society, this trend will complete itself in
full inclusion, appreciation, and caring for all peoples and cultures. We
will also extend our caring beyond the human sphere to animals and the
3. Growth in Size
Over historic time many things have grown in size--population, size of
societies, consumption of energy and resources. In the current era we have
valued growth for its own sake--economic growth, increasing size of
organizations, and larger, more centralized technology.
Now we have hit the limits of a finite planet, and this trend is
necessarily stopping. The transformation involves appropriate size of
societies and organizations, sustainable use of energy and resources,
decentralized technology, stabilizing and gradually reducing population,
and a steady state economy, which can be healthy without needing to grow.
Furthermore a wisdom society will balance size with distributed control. In
cases, where a society, organization, or technology must be large because
of its function, this doesn't mean that all power must be centralized. The
only power that should be held at the top is that which affects the whole.
The rest will be decentralized as much as possible.
4. Enhanced Understanding
Our understanding of the world has improved over historic time, and in the
modern era, it has been greatly enhanced through science. We have learned
to think rationally, recognize our biases, and experiment to understand the
world scientifically. However, we are still hampered by static, mechanical,
reductionistic models. While this has worked reasonably well for the
physical sciences and somewhat less well for biology, our science can't
understand human endeavors very well at all. A wisdom society will use
systemic, complex, multi-level, participatory, dynamic models.
In the industrial era, we believed that anything could be understood by
simply analyzing its pieces. In the emerging wisdom society, we now
recognize that reality is a complex whole requiring a systems perspective.
It has many nested levels, such as psychology based on biology which is
based on chemistry which is based on physics, and we now realize that none
of them can be reduced to their lower level building blocks. Each must be
studied in its own right.
While the current view of reality is rather static, a wisdom society
embraces the notions of development and evolution. It recognizes that
people and social systems sometimes transform in fundamental ways, and this
can sometimes happen through a dialectical process of the synthesis of
Where we have tended to view other people and societies through the lens of
our own culture, which we assumed to be superior, in a wisdom society we
are learning that our view of reality is inevitably colored by our
context--our gender, culture, power relations, and unconscious motives.
This is providing us with the perspective to truly understand and
coordinate multiple viewpoints on the world.
Our current society believes that there is a given reality to be observed
and understood, and it is simply a question of how accurate our models are.
It tries to rule out any observer bias in studying the world. In a wisdom
society, we are realizing that the observer is always part of what is being
observed, and we are embracing participatory knowing. In fact, we are
embracing multiple ways of knowing, including action research and
While the current paradigm assumes that reality is mechanical and dead, and
any meaning or consciousness is added by humans, we are now beginning to
recognize that we are part of a living universe, and meaning,
participation, and consciousness are intrinsic aspects of reality.
5. Intelligence of Organization
How intelligently do we organize our systems--organizations, communities,
institutions, societies? The intelligence of a system refers to how well it
uses all of its resources to respond to situations and take care of its
needs and deal with threats. Also how well it contributes to the health and
well being of each of its members, its environment, and the global society.
Historically, we have improved the intelligence of our organizations and
institutions over time. In the current era, we have improved the
intelligence of our governance through democracy, though this intelligence
is limited because our democracy is representational and adversarial, and
because it is greatly dominated by corporations and wealth. In a wisdom
society, we will develop democracy that truly uses the power and wisdom of
all the people.
In the economic realm, our current market economy is an improvement over
feudal systems, though it is very competitive and leads to great imbalances
of wealth and power, especially between nations of the north and south. Our
current economy is also leading toward the destruction of our biological
support systems. In a wisdom society, we will develop a truly democratic
economic system, both nationally and globally, with shared wealth and
economic self-sufficiency. This new economic system will also foster
Our current society has created business organizations that have some
flexibility and leave room for initiative, creativity, and achievement,
though they are largely hierarchical and alienating. In a wisdom society,
we will develop organizations that truly learn and transform when needed,
that are self-organizing with distributed power.
6. Personal Growth
In the past, there has been very little attention paid to personal growth
by the general population, other than intellectual development. As we
transform to a wisdom society, a variety of approaches to psychological
awareness and spiritual development are being used by increasing numbers of
people. There is a also burgeoning interest in holistic health and
nutrition, body awareness and movement, interpersonal and group dynamics,
and artistic exploration. All these are helping people to grow in
consciousness and values to a new developmental level that can support the
transformations in social structures that are needed.
Each of these trends supports the others. Becoming more cooperative
supports greater intelligence of organizations and societies. Enhanced
understanding of the systemic, participatory nature of reality supports
greater global appreciation of different cultures and peoples. Stopping the
increase in economic activity and resource use supports aligning our
technological processes with nature. And so on. This transformation is a
This has been a summary vision of the new society that is evolving. Other
parts of the Social Transformation Overview Project will look at a wisdom
society in more detail.
I welcome your feedback and comments on this. Send to jay@....
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