Building the New Paradigm ourselves is not necessarily an absolutely, positively ridicules idle fantasy. Success is pretty much nothing more than gaining the focus and commitment to do it; OK, that is a lot, but arguably not impossible. If we focus our energies on doing the things we can do, we might be surprised at how much control over our lives we do have. I have started a list of reasons why success is very possible. I’m sure many of you reading this could add to it. Please do. Here’s my list so far:
1. We are probably not out-numbered. Having been active in the “activist” community for a long time I feel comfortable in stating that there is widespread belief that a small but powerful elite direct the general direction of the planetary activities which have brought us to our current condition [present predicament]. What this means is that even though those vigorously pursuing our ideals are also small in number relative to the over-all population, that we are probably not outnumbered. Unfortunately this situation seems the result of the fact that the overwhelming majority of humans, especially those living in the wealthier nations, are largely apathetic and not vigorously engaged in anything that does not affect them very personally and directly. Also, let us not confuse the perpetrators with those who have bought into it and who appear, on the surface at least, to make it work. Most of the latter would buy into any system that could deliver their creature comforts and allow their denial of the ugly realities around them. One could also easily and cogently argue that many of these folks, probably most, would prefer to be part of a more humane, environmentally sensitive paradigm if a truly functional one existed (It doesn’t). (If you build it, they will come). And, I think it useful to add that our values and goals are much more in tune with generally accepted notions of the ideal than those currently guiding the dominant paradigm. Although the use of generally accepted values and goals by those in power is often deceptive and hypocritical, they are, nevertheless, the same values and goals.
2. Skills. People who are into things like organic gardening, permaculture, alternative structures, appropriate technology (solar and wind energy etc), holistic health, herbal remedies and such, have a tendency to be earth and people friendly. Arts and crafts and entertainment are also very popular in the peace/justice/environmental (PJ&E) community. And there are those who can do just about anything else needed. I could go on to include all the skills necessary to create a sustainable, viable community, but don’t think it necessary. Having the skills is not a problem and there is much literature concerning this readily available. As a permaculturist, I have experienced it.
2(a) A little tangent for clarity. One of the reasons for such a concentration of power is that historically, a very small percentage of people were capable of conceptualizing major projects and able to put all the pieces together to make it happen. They made civilization as we know it possible, the comforts as well as the agonies. People of that type tended to use their ability for personal ends, building wealth and power for self-aggrandizement and at the expense of others and the Earth. In these times (part of the evolutionary process?), there are many more people with these skills, many of whom are willing to use them for the common good. What this means is that we no longer have to give the bulk of the fruits of our labor to people whose objectives conflict with ours in order to live in reasonable comfort and abundance.
3. Resources. More abundant than many of us realize.
a. For instance, we have a lot of land that is not being used or not being used very efficiently. We don’t need to buy more to get this going, we just need to get along with each other better so we can better utilize the resources we already have. There are literally thousands of good, progressive people who have purchased land for themselves and to build communities. Many of the people who have these skills and resources are already a part of, or sympathetic to, alternative lifestyles.
b. Jobs. Many of us have jobs including income producing activities like arts and crafts etc. Some of these jobs pay decent money, some even good money. Some of the people in these jobs even kind of enjoy them or at least don’t mind them too much. These people can keep their jobs until a better one opens up in the community while contributing a part of their disposable income to the creation of communities and cottage industries.
c. Trust funds. Some of those among us actually have trust funds to live on. Sometimes there is a little extra, occasionally a lot. At minimum this frees up time to contribute to the community, at best it can also provide financial resources.
d. Keep as much of our spending inside the community as we can. We can learn to provide most (eventually the aim is all, of course) of what we consume”. Many of us are already producing many of the things we need to live, like food, housing, healing, clothes, etc. We just aren’t very organized about it as a whole. Many of us don’t like organizations or organizing, yet we spend much of our resources supporting other people’s organizations in return for needed or desired commodities. We need to learn to be organized without buying into the negative aspects. More ideas on how to do that later. And when we do spend outside the community, try to spend it in a way that builds relationships with kindred spirits who may not yet be ready to fully participate.
e. There are many kindred spirits with some money stashed away and/or with disposable income. They are just reluctant to share it with people who do not have a viable plan and a history of competence. We need to build that trust.
f. There are many people of fortune and/or fame, many of the icons of the 60’s for example, who share the “vision” and who have the means to significantly benefit the cause -- inspiration, charisma, money, entertainment -- many of whom have some good projects going but who could, and most likely would, do more significant/effective things if an appropriate framework for that existed. Many of these people have been burned by often well-intentioned schemes to benefit good causes and are a little reticent to get burned again. I think this can be dealt with and will share such things in future articles. [Like credible boards of directors]
4. Markets & Worker Pools. We have many networks that could be much more efficiently utilized. The environmental and peace & justice networks, greens, bio-regionalists, rainbows and other hippies, some women’s and minority networks, intentional communities, some of organized labor, many Native Americans, transition towns, and more, of course. We sometimes forget that we have a large natural constituency that has not been effectively tapped.
5. Cooperation from many in mainstream business. Many of the “flower children” of the sixties who got “practical” and joined the mainstream economy are now occupying high positions in industry and business. Many of these have not forgotten the dream, would still love to see it work, and would be willing to help this type of project where they could, even if it had to be behind the scenes. If we were to start looking viable, this could be a huge source of help. And, lest we forget, many of these elders are approaching retirement and would have the time to work on these things and pension plans to help finance them! Of course many people who were not flower children of the sixties who are so situated would be willing to contribute as well.
6. No intelligence gap. Perhaps more assumption than provable fact, but a reasonable assumption and probable fact nonetheless, that we are at least as intelligent and conscious as this power elite. Indeed, the condition of the planet might suggest that they may not be as intelligent and conscious as many would give them credit for. If we take the current condition of the planet as an indicator, it could be cogently argued that not only are those primarily responsible not more intelligent, but probably not thinking clearly either. Allowing literally billions of people to needlessly suffer, die, go hungry or otherwise live under miserable conditions and endangering the ecological health and sustainability of the planet while amassing, as a means of amassing, personal fortunes and power bases, could easily be seen as not coming from a psychologically “healthy” state of mind. Many contend that this makes them dangerous, and I won’t dispute the obvious. On the other hand, this also has its advantages and may actually increase our chances to succeed. In any event, it may become apparent to many that leaving their fate in the hands of psychologically unhealthy people is not in their long term best interest; that it is worth the risk and the effort to do something about it.
A little Aside here:
If we can convince this power elite that we are benign, that we are not out to do them harm, that we have their best interests in mind as well as our own, and that this house of paper they have created is likely headed for disaster even without our interference, maybe we can reduce the risk. That is, their long term interest may be better served by cooperation or at least by minimizing interference, than by resistance. I don’t think it unrealistic that some may already be thinking along these lines.
I think it will be very necessary to approach these differences in lifestyles very diplomatically with a willingness to seriously negotiate. Telling people that their lifestyle is inappropriate and that you plan to take it all away is likely not the most effective way to proceed. The aim is to be non-threatening. This way we can focus more resources on creating something good and less on fending off the attacks of those who feel threatened. The less threatened they feel over time, the more amenable they will likely be towards more Earth-friendly lifestyles (again, if one existed).
7. Young people tend to be more idealistic and a lot of energy and talent is being lost. It is easy to be cynical and, although there are many good things going on, there is really no viable alternative to the mainstream paradigm happening. This is a major potential force. I recall the free speech movement in Berkeley, the civil rights workers, the anti-war movement, the youth behind the McGovern campaign (until McGovern lost the faith). More recently the WTO protests and currently the Occupy wall st et all movements. If we give them something good and real to work towards, they would contribute in a big way.
8. There also exists a large number of retired people who would love to have a way to beneficially contribute to society and would contribute to this project if it appeared viable.
9. Although mentioned in reason #1, I would like to emphasize that most people would prefer to live in peace & harmony in a sustainable, Earth-friendly way if a functional choice existed. Again, if we start building it, they will help, but most people are simply not willing to try something new until it has a track record. It is up to the dedicated to provide it. Again, if we build it, I suspect they will come.
10. Perhaps the most persuasive selling point to mainstream workers is a way in which we can take advantage of the fact that our current economic system is profoundly inefficient. Even if we wanted to maintain the existing material lifestyle, we could do it with less than 50% of the resources now consumed in providing it. Far less I would say but I cannot remember more than one or two who have questioned at least 50%. That means 50% + less impact on the environment; but, more important to some in the mainstream, less than 50% of the work hours with no cut in real income. And please don’t look at this as a loss of jobs. We already have way more jobs than are needed to provide a comfortable life for everyone. It is an equitable distribution problem, not a jobs problem.
Obviously this is a longer term objective, but by no means an unrealistic one. How long a term depends on how fast we gather participation. If enough people “buy” into it fast enough, it doesn’t have to take that long: maybe ten years to get something roughly in place and operating. But remember, it will be getting better all the time and, for those involved, the potential to experience an almost utopian existence -- given a somewhat frugal conception of utopia of course.
11. Reduced material consumption would be beneficial. As non-material aspects of personal satisfaction increased, the desire for materialism would diminish. For those of us already so inclined, it would become much easier.
12. Widespread agreement on fundamental values. Let us focus on some basic values/goals common to many: sustainability, peace, justice, fairness, harmony, egalitarianism, love... Let me further acknowledge the infinite diversity of beings; but at the same time establish that there is widespread agreement among those involved in the PJ&E movements -- loosely defined -- (and largely among most of humanity) as to what constitutes appropriate living. You can see it in literature dealing with permaculture, bioregionalism, environmental protection, intentional communities, Green Party platforms, Rainbow Guides and newsletters, religions, and in many “mainstream” and even “right wing” publications, etc. In other words, tho it is difficult to articulate it in a way with which everyone will agree, we have a pretty clear and common idea of what it is. (I’m looking for intuitive understanding here, and throughout my observations, but the theme can be supported with extensive research.) And there is widespread agreement on what it is not -- murder, mayhem & destruction, ecological devastation, pollution, social injustice etc. People may do these things, but they generally do not publicly profess them to be their goals or values. They rationalize such things on the basis of necessity, not upon their intrinsic value as good things to do. Given reasonable alternatives, they would most often act differently.
13. Much energy is lost through people trying to get over on the system or doing other destructive things. This may take the form of outright thievery, vandalism, fraud, deception and other behaviours that diminish community well-being. Oftentimes people who are aware of such activities ignore it or at least do nothing about it. A lot of this failure to get involved is due to the perception that the whole system is messed up and some people need to cheat to get by and/or a general feeling of not belonging or feeling a part of the community; that the system is not really there to serve the public, so why bother. If we create an environment whereby the people are convinced that the community is genuinely concerned with the public welfare, then most people will participate in trying to make it work.
This operates on many levels. There will be less reason to do destructive things because people will be better taken care of and feel less motivated to do them and more people will get involved on a personal level to further decrease destructive activities. This means that much fewer resources will have to be used for policing and other security measures. I think we are all aware of the multi-billion dollar security industry, both public and private. It could be greatly reduced. A sick note here. We need to recognize that with billions riding on the crime rate remaining high, there are pressures to keep it high, another expensive contradiction to our collective well-being and another reason to question whether those currently in power can be trusted to take us to paradise.
14. Mavericks. Although Industry is filled with collusion and conspiracy, there are Mavericks and we can often work with some of them.
15. Cottage Industries. Many people think that to make money in the marketplace they have to come up with something new and distinctive. Although the rare individual makes a fortune doing this, the vast majority who try fail. The way to make money in the marketplace is to perform a task, or deal with a commodity that people commonly pay money for and just provide it in a better way. Most people just want a congenial atmosphere, a quality product, and vendors who are honest, competent, helpful, and friendly. It is surprising how little of this exists out there. How often do you walk into a store and think how well this place is run. How many people do you know who cringe at the thought of going to a mechanic, plumber, electrician, doctor, dentist, or lawyer. It would not be difficult to compete with most businesses if we were willing to focus and commit energy to them. And we could add an element of environmental consciousness and social responsibility at little to “no extra charge”. A major contributor to our success here would be our natural constituency (markets) mentioned in reason 4.
For instance: coffee shops and restaurants. People in the PJ&E and kindred souls spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year across the US in these places. Almost all of this money goes outside the PJ&E community. What if we owned them? In some places those in the alternative culture have opened their own. We can expand on this and keep this money in the community and better focus the resources these enterprises manifest; for instance bankrolling appropriate cottage industries.
A couple more examples I would like to briefly mention are educational and social services. Many states have a charter school program whereby, if you are willing to dance through some hoops, you can acquire government educational funds to educate your children. Don’t like what’s going on in our schools? There’s money available to “do it your way” if you’re willing to put some focus and energy into it. Not only are you providing an alternative educational experience for your kids, but the kids of anyone else who wants to participate. This does not have to be elitist; in fact it’s much more lucrative if it isn’t. Wages and benefits are often quite reasonable and provide an opportunity to contribute some of the discretionary income to the “cause”; that is to support other projects and enterprises. And there are many creative ways, like grants, to do good and interesting things like gardens, vocational training, and arts and crafts that are much easier to come by if you are part of an educational institution.
I am aware that many don’t like charter schools cuz they are often abused and believe that we should instead work on improving the public school system. Ideologically I agree, but public schools in the US have been going South for many years and I don’t witness efforts to make them better succeeding. At least with charter schools we acquire some ability to improve the educational system.
What about programs for juvenile delinquents, the disabled, the elderly, etc? There is money available for people willing to provide these services. Since these businesses are often more focused on profit than people it would not be difficult to succeed in this industry. Caring for people may not be a high priority to those currently directing the grand scheme of things, but many people who are in charge of the agencies dispensing the funds like to be able to proudly point to the efficient use of funds so allocated. Some even care. I know of kindred spirits who have made good use of these inclinations and funds. So could many others. Again, it is the focus and commitment that are the obstacles, not just the system and its goons.
16. Resources: To those who even now doubt the availability of resources (and anyone else interested), I will mention the following. Starting with Seattle, if you do the math, you will realize that international protests against the WTO; other financial conferences like IMF, World Bank, G20, G8, climate change conferences, the world economic forum, the US political conventions, etc. have consumed billions of dollars. I’m certainly not against these efforts. However, if there are so many resources available for such activities, why are there so few available for building an alternative economic infrastructure truly capable of having concrete, long-term impact on the condition of the Earth. Impacts, I suggest, that could far outweigh, dollar for dollar, those spent on protest. Of course we would not do all of one strategy and none of the other. It is a matter of emphasis, priorities and balance.
17. Most people on the front lines of environmental and social justice struggles recognize that any effort seen as having significant impact upon the current power structure is likely to meet resistance in sometimes very brutal ways. Although I see no way to escape this entirely, I would like to mention some ways in which the tactics included herein might mitigate this resistance.
a. It is not as confrontational and should thus appear to many as less threatening. It is more of a competition in right livelihood and many involved in perpetrating the current paradigm have some respect for competition and right livelihood.
b. It is not as direct an attack on people’s lifestyle. We may see the current lifestyle of industrial nations as heading in a disastrous direction; but attacks on lifestyle often result in very energetic defense of it, even when the person defending the lifestyle has some inner doubts of their own (which may prove exploitable if properly handled). However tempting lifestyle bashing seems, if our goal is to create a better world, the less we stir-up this “hornet’s nest”, probably the better.
c. In general, the tactics mentioned herein seem less likely to “piss-off” the masses than most I’ve seen used and suggested.
d. I think that the successes of environmental and social litigation illustrate that those running the system do not have absolute control and recognize that they still have to give at least the semblance of respecting and upholding some of the values the populace holds in high regard. But, while it can be argued that we have made significant progress concerning civil rights, it can also be argued that our rights and freedoms are currently being eroded and the window of opportunity for using some of them is limited.
e. Somewhat related to d is the rule of law practiced by most of the western industrialized nations. There is some irony here in that while it can be cogently argued that these nations are among the worst at exporting war, arms, poverty, and terror, they do provide often effective, if imperfect, legal protections internally. This means we can use the legal system to help protect some of our activities if we conduct our activities within that framework. Big business and big religion have big influence on laws and tax loopholes. We can use these same laws, albeit in a far superior moral and ethical context, to provide flexibility of activity and minimize tax contributions. This means we can be relatively free of legal challenge, as challenges to us would constitute challenges to themselves.
f. An extension of the above is that those living in the bellies of the beast must take the initiative. People in many 3rd world nations often do not have the access to resources and have much less legal protection and even “legal” activities can be much more risky.
18. Recent events have awakened many to at least some genuine suspicions as to what is going on. A widely held adage states that ‘people will not take action until things get so bad they almost have to to survive’. Although most have not yet gotten to that point, many have, or are on the brink. This improves the probability that many will come if we build it; and many more than before are teetering on the brink of being the builders.
19. The processes extolled here are more likely to gain the support of the middle class than more antagonistic approaches.
In summary, the point is that there is enough talent and resources available to do something significant, something capable of generating the means and the momentum to grow and include all who want to be included.
So why do we, particularly the Peace, Justice and Environmental (PJ&E) community, continue to actually pay others to destroy the planet so we can have our daily bread? Partly out of habit I suppose. We are more creatures of habit than most would like to admit. Partly out of convenience, no doubt. Also, many of those most capable of pulling this scene off are capable of being comfortable in Babylon without working very hard and just do not feel the urgency (this is an accusation 3rd world folks often toss at USians and others living in the industrial nations). And the fear of success is likely real, or at least the dynamic that is often so described. Part of it is the psychological obstacles that afflict many people in a wide variety of activities that are not necessarily activist related. Part is the observation that if you get too successful, things could get more nasty than you want to deal with. Mostly, I think, because we have not yet figured out how to effectively cooperate with each other; to focus on, and commit our talents and resources to, achieving this friendlier paradigm.
This is part of what I call the psychodynamics, that interplay of personalities that stand between us and paradise. Yes, the “good guys” have some psychological work to do too. The pieces to this puzzle are probably all there, we need “only” to put them together. That is the purpose of this project I propose to you.