Jeremy Lent https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/25806/all cached version 17/01/2019 21:59:35 en Sapiens, Homo Deus, 21 Lecciones, y las ficciones inconfesadas de Yuval Harari https://www.opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/jeremy-lent/sapiens-homo-deus-12-lecciones-y-las-ficciones-inconfesadas-de-yuval-h <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>El profesor Harari influye en los más poderosos y ha vendido millones de ejemplares, pero no se enfrentan los problemas existenciales de la tierra sustituyendo un conjunto de mitos por otro. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/unacknowledged-fictions-of-yuval-harari"><em><strong>English</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/557099/JeremyLentnew3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/557099/JeremyLentnew3.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yuval Noah Harari en Davos, el 24 de Enero del 2018. Copyright by World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard. CC BY-SA-NC 2.0. Todos los derechos reservados.</span></span></span></p><p>Cuando habla Yuval Noah Harari, todo el mundo le escucha. O, al menos, gran parte del público lector del mundo. De sus dos primeros éxitos de ventas, <a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/sapiens/"><em>Sapiens: </em><em>una breve historia de la humanidad</em></a>, y <a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/homo-deus/"><em>Homo Deus: </em><em>una breve historia del mañana</em></a>, <a href="https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/books/sapiens-author-on-rewriting-the-rule-book-after-a-cult-bestseller-a3860256.html">se llevan vendidos </a>12 millones de ejemplares y su último libro, <a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/21-lessons/"><em>21 Le</em><em>cciones para el siglo XXI</em></a>, está en las listas de los más vendidos en todo el mundo. </p><p>Entre sus fans se cuentan Barack Obama, Bill Gates y Mark Zuckerberg, le admiran creadores de opinión tan diversos como Sam Harris y Russell Brand, y se le agasaja en el FMI y en el Foro Económico Mundial.</p> <p>Uno de los temas más provocadores de los que escribe Harari es el de que a los humanos nos mueven ficciones compartidas, a menudo no reconocidas e inconfesadas. Muchas de estas ficciones, señala acertadamente, subyacen a los conceptos que organizan la sociedad, como el valor del dólar estadounidense o la autoridad de los estados nacionales. </p><p>En cuanto a un tema de tanta actualidad como las llamadas "noticias falsas", Harari hace notar que no se trata de nada nuevo, sino que existe desde hace milenios en forma de religión organizada.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">&nbsp;Harari perpetúa un conjunto de ficciones no reconocidas, que constituyen la base de su versión de la realidad.</p> <p>Sin embargo, aunque aparentemente sin querer, el propio Harari perpetúa un conjunto de ficciones no reconocidas que constituyen la base de su versión de la realidad. Considerando su enorme influencia pública como intelectual, esto podría acarrear daños considerables.</p><p> Al igual que los tradicionales dogmas religiosos de los que se burla, sus propias historias implícitas ejercen una gran influencia sobre la élite del poder mundial -&nbsp; siempre y cuando permanezcan inconfesadas.</p> <h3><strong>Ficción nº1: la naturaleza es una máquina</strong></h3> <p>Una de las profecías más impactantes de Harari es que la inteligencia artificial sustituirá incluso nuestras labores más creativas y será capaz, en última instancia, de controlar todos los aspectos de la cognición humana. </p><p>El razonamiento que subyace a su predicción es que la conciencia humana - incluidas las emociones, intuiciones y sentimientos - no es más que una serie de algoritmos que, en teoría, podrían descifrarse y predecirse con un programa informático. </p><p>Nuestros sentimientos, <a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/21-lessons/">dice</a>, son meros "mecanismos bioquímicos" que resultan del "cálculo que realizan miles de millones de neuronas" en base a algoritmos perfeccionados por la evolución.</p> <p>La idea de que los humanos – y, de hecho, la naturaleza en su conjunto - pueden entenderse como máquinas complejas, es en realidad un <a href="https://www.jeremylent.com/is-nature-a-machine.html">mito cultural exclusivamente europeo</a> que surgió en el siglo XVII y se ha instalado desde entonces en el imaginario popular. En aquellos embriagadores días de la Revolución Científica, Descartes declaraba que no veía ninguna diferencia "entre las máquinas construidas por artesanos y los distintos cuerpos que solo la naturaleza es capaz de componer".&nbsp; </p><p>Hoy, la metáfora preferida es el ordenador - <a href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins">Richard Dawkins</a> (que al parecer ha influenciado a Harari) dice que “la vida son solo bytes y bytes y bytes de información digital” -, pero la idea sigue siendo la misma: todo lo que forma parte de la naturaleza puede reducirse a sus componentes y entenderse en consecuencia.</p> <p>Por atractivo que resulte en nuestra era tecnológica, lo cierto es que este mito es tan ficticio como la teoría de que Dios creó el universo en seis días. Los biólogos señalan principios intrínsecos de la vida que la diferencian de modo rotundo incluso de la más compleja de las máquinas. </p><p>Los organismos vivos no pueden dividirse entre hardware y software. Y la composición biofísica de las neuronas está intrínsecamente vinculada a su comportamiento: la información que transmiten no existe independientemente de su construcción física.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Según Damasio, los supuestos de Harari "no son científicamente sólidos" y sus conclusiones "ciertamente erróneas".</p><p>Como afirma el neurocientífico Antonio Damasio en <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/02/strange-order-of-things-antonio-damasio-review"><em>Strange</em><em> </em><em>Order</em><em> </em><em>Things</em></a>, los supuestos de Harari "no son científicamente sólidos" y sus conclusiones "ciertamente erróneas".</p> <p>Los peligros que entraña esta ficción surgen cuando alguien se basa en ella - un fundamento defectuoso - para actuar. Creer que la naturaleza es una máquina da pie a la arrogancia de suponer que la tecnología puede resolver todos los problemas de la humanidad. </p><p>Tenemos a biólogos moleculares promoviendo la ingeniería genética para mejorar la producción de alimentos, mientras que otros abogan por la geoingeniería como solución para el colapso climático - estrategias ambas que conllevan el riesgo de consecuencias indeseadas a gran escala. </p><p>Reconocer que los procesos naturales, desde la mente humana al ecosistema global, son complejos, no lineales e intrínsecamente impredecibles, es un necesario primer paso para poder diseñar soluciones sistémicas para las crisis existenciales que enfrenta nuestra civilización.</p> <h3><strong>Ficción nº2: “no hay alternativa”</strong></h3> <p>Cuando Margaret Thatcher se unió a Ronald Reagan en los años 80 para imponer al mundo la doctrina neoliberal de un libre mercado impulsado por las corporaciones, utilizó la máxima de "No hay alternativa" para argumentar que las otras dos grandes ideologías del siglo XX, el fascismo y el comunismo, habían fracasado, y dejaban como única opción viable su versión del capitalismo de mercado sin restricciones.</p> <p>Sorprendentemente, treinta años más tarde, Harari se hace eco de esta interpretación caricaturizada de la historia, afirmando que, tras el colapso del comunismo, "ha quedado solo la versión liberal". La crisis actual, tal como la percibe Harari, consiste en que "el liberalismo no dispone de respuestas evidentes para los principales problemas con los que nos enfrentamos”. </p><p>Lo que tenemos que hacer ahora, dice, es “crear una narrativa completamente nueva” para responder a la confusión de los tiempos modernos.</p> <p>Harari parece haberse perdido, desgraciadamente, el efervescente cultivo de motivadoras visiones de futuro que llevan años desarrollando un buen número de pensadores progresistas en todo el mundo. </p><p>Parece ignorar por completo los nuevos fundamentos económicos que plantean pensadores pioneros como <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kate-raworth/seven-ways-to-think-like-21st-century-economist">Kate Raworth</a>; los apasionantes principios orientadores de futuros que apuestan por la vida en el marco de una <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2018/10/10/we-need-an-ecological-civilization-before-its-too-late/">civilización ecológica</a>; las bases morales que establece la <a href="http://earthcharter.org/discover/what-is-the-earth-charter/">Carta de la Tierra</a>, respaldada por más de 6.000 organizaciones en todo el mundo – entre otras muchas variaciones de esa "nueva narrativa" que Harari lamenta que no existe. Se trata de una narrativa de esperanza que celebra nuestra humanidad compartida y enfatiza nuestra profunda conexión con una tierra viva.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Harari está inmejorablemente posicionado para poder informar a los pensadores establecidos acerca de la oferta existente de posibilidades esperanzadoras.</p><p>El problema no es, como sostiene Harari, que nos hayamos "quedado sin narrativa" sino, más bien, que en el mundo en el que vivimos,&nbsp; <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">los medios de comunicación de masas controlados</a> por las mismas corporaciones transnacionales que dominan prácticamente todos los demás aspectos de la actividad global y se niegan a ofrecer espacio a las narrativas que socavan el mito thatcheriano de que el neoliberalismo sigue siendo la única alternativa.</p> <p>Harari está inmejorablemente posicionado para poder informar a los pensadores establecidos acerca de la oferta existente de posibilidades esperanzadoras. Si lo hiciera, tendría la oportunidad de influir en un futuro cuyas perspectivas son, como señala acertadamente, aterradoras a condición de que no se produzca un cambio de rumbo. </p><p>¿Está dispuesto a aceptar el desafío? Tal vez, pero primero tendría que analizar los supuestos que subyacen a la Ficción nº3.</p> <h3><strong>Ficción nº3: la vida no tiene sentido, es mejor no hacer nada</strong></h3> <p>Yuval Harari se sienta cada día, durante dos horas, a practicar la meditación<em> </em><a href="https://tricycle.org/magazine/vipassana-meditation/"><em>vipassana</em></a><em>&nbsp;</em>(ver las cosas tal como son), que aprendió como discípulo de <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._N._Goenka">N.S. Goenka</a>. Basándose en lo aprendido del célebre maestro, Harari ofrece su propia versión de las enseñanzas de Buda: "La vida", escribe, "no tiene significado alguno y no necesitamos darle ninguno". </p><p>En respuesta a la pregunta de qué debería hacer la gente, Harari resume así su visión de la respuesta de Buda: “No hacer nada. Nada en absoluto".</p> <p>Como colega meditador y admirador de los principios budistas, comparto la convicción de Harari de que la perspectiva budista puede ayudar a reducir el sufrimiento a muchos niveles.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">La afirmación de que "la vida no tiene sentido" parece surgir más de la ontología reduccionista moderna del físico Steven Weinberg que de lo que dijo Buda.</p><p>Me preocupa sin embargo que, destilando unas pocas frases con gancho de las enseñanzas de Buda, lo que hace Harari es ofrecer una justificación filosófica a quienes deciden no hacer nada para intentar evitar las inminentes catástrofes humanitarias y ecológicas que amenazan nuestro futuro.</p> <p>La afirmación de que "la vida no tiene sentido" parece surgir más de la ontología reduccionista moderna del físico <a href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Steven_Weinberg">Steven Weinberg</a> que de lo que dijo Buda. Sugerir que la gente "no necesita darle ningún significado" contradice el instinto evolucionado del género humano. </p><p>Como describo en mi libro <a href="https://www.jeremylent.com/the-patterning-instinct.html">The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning</a>, la cognición humana nos impulsa a imponer un significado al universo y es este un proceso que configura esencialmente la cultura en la que nacemos. </p><p>Sin embargo, reconociendo las estructuras de significado subyacentes que nos inculca nuestra cultura, podemos llegar a ser conscientes de nuestros patrones de pensamiento, lo cual nos permite remodelarlos a fin de conseguir resultados más beneficiosos para nosotros - un proceso al que doy en llamar "conciencia cultural".</p> <p>De hecho, existen otras interpretaciones de las enseñanzas básicas de Buda que permiten destilaciones muy distintas: piden a gritos “¡Haz algo! y animan a un compromiso pleno con las actividades terrenales. </p><p>El principio de "originación dependiente", sin ir más lejos, resalta la interdependencia intrínseca de todos los aspectos de la existencia y constituye, por ejemplo, la base del <a href="https://www.mindfulnessbell.org/archive/2015/02/dharma-talk-history-of-engaged-buddhism-2">budismo políticamente comprometido</a> del monje vietnamita y destacado activista por la paz, Thich Nhất Hạnh. </p><p>Otra práctica budista esencial es el <a href="https://tricycle.org/magazine/metta-practice/"><em>metta</em></a>, o meditación de la compasión, en la que el meditador se centra en identificarse con el sufrimiento de los demás y toma la decisión de dedicar sus energías vitales a reducir ese sufrimiento. Todas ellas, fuentes de significado de la vida fundamentalmente consistentes con los principios budistas.</p> <h3><strong>Ficción nº4: el futuro de la humanidad es un deporte espectáculo</strong></h3> <p>Una característica distintiva de los textos de Harari, y que puede explicar gran parte de su prodigioso éxito, es su habilidad para trascender las ideas preconcebidas sobre la vida cotidiana y ofrecer una vista panorámica de la historia de la humanidad, como si estuviera orbitando la tierra a diez mil millas de distancia y transmitiendo todo lo que ve. </p><p>Harari confiesa que la práctica de la meditación le ha permitido "observar la realidad como es" y esto le ha aportado el enfoque y la claridad necesarias para escribir <em>Sapiens </em>y <em>Homo Deus</em>. Y establece una diferencia entre <em>21 lecciones para el siglo XXI</em> y sus dos primeros libros porque, en contraste con su órbita terrestre a diez mil millas, ahora lo que hace es "acercar el foco al aquí y ahora".</p> <p>Aunque el contenido de su último libro es, desde luego, nuestro conflictivo presente, Harari sigue observando el mundo como a través de la lente objetiva de un científico. Pero la comprensión que tiene Harari de la ciencia parece confinada a los límites del terreno de la Ficción nº1 - "La naturaleza es una máquina" -, que requiere un completo desapego del objeto de estudio.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Los pensadores de sistemas de distintas disciplinas científicas han ido desmontando la noción de que existe una prístina objetividad científica.</p><p> Reconociendo, eso sí, que su pronóstico para la humanidad "parece manifiestamente injusto", Harari <a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/homo-deus/">justifica su desapego moral con el argumento</a> que "se trata de una predicción histórica, no de un manifiesto político".</p> <p>En las últimas décadas, sin embargo, los pensadores de sistemas de distintas disciplinas científicas han ido desmontando esta noción de prístina objetividad científica. </p><p>Reconociendo que la naturaleza es un complejo fractal auto-organizado y dinámico de sistemas no lineales, que solo puede entenderse realmente en términos de cómo todas las partes se relacionan entre sí y cada parte con el conjunto, han demostrado que estos principios se aplican no solo al mundo natural, sino también a los sistemas sociales humanos. </p><p>Una implicación crucial es que el observador es parte de lo que se está observando, de manera que las conclusiones del observador y las acciones subsiguientes se incorporan al sistema que se está investigando.</p> <p>Esta perspectiva tiene importantes implicaciones éticas a la hora de abordar los grandes problemas con los que se enfrenta la humanidad. Una vez que se reconoce que somos parte del sistema que estamos analizando, este reconocimiento genera el imperativo moral de actuar en base a nuestros hallazgos y concienciar a los demás acerca de sus responsabilidades intrínsecas. </p><p>El futuro no es un deporte espectáculo. Cada uno de nosotros forma parte del equipo y puede marcar la diferencia en cuanto al resultado final del partido. Ya no podemos permitirnos ninguna ficción, las apuestas son demasiado altas.</p> <p><em>Para cualquier persona interesada en explorar más a fondo las cuestiones planteadas en este artículo, ofrezco </em><a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/the-patterning-instinct/a-reading-list-for-yuval-noah-harari/"><em>aquí fuentes</em></a><em> para una investigación complementaria.</em>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/democraciaabierta/jeremy-lent/necesitamos-una-civilizaci-n-ecol-gica-antes-de-que-sea-demasiado-tard">Necesitamos una civilización ecológica antes de que sea demasiado tarde</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/qu-hay-despu-s-del-final-abrupto-del-fin-de-la-historia">¿Qué hay después del final abrupto del fin de la historia? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-are-fatally-flawed-these-eight-graphs-show-why">Steven Pinker’s ideas are fatally flawed. These eight graphs show why.</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Internet </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> DemocraciaAbierta DemocraciaAbierta Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality Ideas Internet Jeremy Lent Fri, 11 Jan 2019 16:56:04 +0000 Jeremy Lent 121264 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The unacknowledged fictions of Yuval Harari https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/unacknowledged-fictions-of-yuval-harari <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Replacing one set of myths with another is no basis for confronting the earth’s existential problems.<em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/jeremy-lent/sapiens-homo-deus-12-lecciones-y-las-ficciones-inconfesadas-de-yuval-h"> Español</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JeremyLentnew3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Yuval Noah Harari in Davos, January 24, 2018. Copyright by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/worldeconomicforum/39165596054">World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA-NC 2.0</a>.</p> <p>When Yuval Noah Harari speaks, the world listens. Or at least, much of the world’s reading public. His first two blockbusters, <em><a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/sapiens/">Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind</a></em>, and <em><a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/homo-deus/">Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow</a></em>, <a href="https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/books/sapiens-author-on-rewriting-the-rule-book-after-a-cult-bestseller-a3860256.html">have sold</a> 12 million copies globally, and his new book, <em><a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/21-lessons/">21 Lessons for the 21st Century</a></em>, is on bestseller lists everywhere. His fans include Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, he’s admired by opinion shapers as diverse as Sam Harris and Russell Brand, and he’s fêted at the IMF and World Economic Forum.</p> <p>A galvanizing theme of Harari’s writing is that humans are driven by shared, frequently unacknowledged fictions. Many of these fictions, he rightly points out, underlie the concepts that organize society, such as the value of the US dollar or the authority of nation states. In critiquing the current vogue topic of “fake news,” Harari observes that this is nothing new, but has been around for millennia in the form of organized religion.</p> <p>However, though apparently unwittingly, Harari himself perpetuates a set of unacknowledged fictions that he relies on as foundations for his own version of reality. Given his enormous sway as a public intellectual, this risks causing considerable harm. Like the traditional religious dogmas that he mocks, his own implicit stories wield great influence over the global power elite as long as they remain unacknowledged.</p><p><strong>Fiction #1: nature is a machine.</strong></p> <p>One of Harari’s most striking prophecies is that artificial intelligence will come to replace even the most creative human endeavors, and ultimately be capable of controlling every aspect of human cognition. The underlying rationale for his prediction is that human consciousness -including emotions, intuitions, and feelings - is nothing more than a series of algorithms, which could all theoretically be deciphered and predicted by a computer program. Our feelings, <a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/21-lessons/">he tells us</a>, are merely “biochemical mechanisms” resulting from “billions of neurons calculating” based on algorithms honed by evolution.</p> <p>The idea that humans - and indeed all of nature - can be understood as very complicated machines is in fact a <a href="https://www.jeremylent.com/is-nature-a-machine.html">uniquely European cultural myth</a> that arose in the 17th century and has since taken hold of the popular imagination. In the heady days of the Scientific Revolution, Descartes declared he saw no difference “between the machines made by craftsmen and the various bodies that nature alone composes.” The preferred machine metaphor is now the computer, with <a href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins">Richard Dawkins</a> (apparently influencing Harari) writing that “life is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information,” but the idea remains the same - everything in nature can ultimately be reduced to its component parts and understood accordingly.</p> <p>This myth, however attractive it might be to our technology-driven age, is as fictional as the theory that God created the universe in six days. Biologists point out principles intrinsic to life that categorically differentiate it from even the most complicated machine. Living organisms cannot be split, like a computer, between hardware and software. A neuron’s biophysical makeup is intrinsically linked to its behavior: the information it transmits doesn’t exist separately from its material construction. As prominent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio states in <em><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/02/strange-order-of-things-antonio-damasio-review">The Strange Order of Things</a></em>, Harari’s assumptions are “not scientifically sound” and his conclusions are “certainly wrong.”</p> <p>The dangers of this fiction arise when others base their actions on this flawed foundation. Believing that nature is a machine inspires a hubristic arrogance that technology can solve all humanity’s problems. Molecular biologists promote genetic engineering to enhance food production, while others advocate geo-engineering as a solution to climate breakdown - strategies fraught with the risk of massive unintended consequences. Recognizing that natural processes, from the human mind to the entire global ecosystem, are complex, nonlinear, and inherently unpredictable, is a necessary first step in crafting truly systemic solutions to the existential crises facing our civilization.</p><p><strong>Fiction #2: “there is no alternative.”</strong></p> <p>When Margaret Thatcher teamed up with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s to impose the free-market, corporate-driven doctrine of neoliberalism on the world, she famously used the slogan “There Is No Alternative” to argue that the other two great ideologies of the twentieth century - fascism and communism - had failed, leaving her brand of unrestrained market capitalism as the only meaningful choice. </p> <p>Astonishingly, three decades later, Harari echoes her caricatured version of history, declaring how, after the collapse of communism, only “the liberal story remained.” The current crisis, as Harari sees it, is that “liberalism has no obvious answers to the biggest problems we face.” We now need to “craft a completely new story,” he avers, to respond to the turmoil of modern times.</p> <p>Sadly, Harari seems to have missed the abundant, effervescent broth of inspiring visions for a flourishing future developed over decades by progressive thinkers across the globe. He appears to be entirely ignorant of the new foundations for economics proffered by pioneering thinkers such as <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kate-raworth/seven-ways-to-think-like-21st-century-economist">Kate Raworth</a>; the exciting new principles for a life-affirming future within the framework of an <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2018/10/10/we-need-an-ecological-civilization-before-its-too-late/">Ecological Civilization</a>; the stirring moral foundation established by <a href="http://earthcharter.org/discover/what-is-the-earth-charter/">the Earth Charter</a> and endorsed by over 6,000 organizations worldwide; in addition to countless other variations of the “new story” that Harari laments is missing. It’s a story of hope that celebrates our shared humanity and emphasizes our deep connection with a living earth.</p> <p>The problem is not, as Harari argues, that we are “left without any story.” It is, rather, that <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">the world’s mass media is dominated</a> by the same overpowering transnational corporations that maintain a stranglehold over virtually all other aspects of global activity, and choose not to give a platform to the stories that undermine the Thatcherian myth that neoliberalism is still the only game in town.</p> <p>Harari is well positioned to apprise mainstream thinkers of the hopeful possibilities on offer. In doing so, he would have the opportunity to influence the future that—as he rightly points out—holds terrifying prospects without a change in direction. Is he ready for this challenge? Perhaps, but first he would need to investigate the assumptions underlying Fiction #3.</p><p><strong>Fiction #3: Life Is meaningless - It’s best to do nothing.</strong></p> <p>Yuval Harari is a dedicated meditator, sitting for two hours a day to practice <em><a href="https://tricycle.org/magazine/vipassana-meditation/">vipassana</a></em> (insight) meditation, which he learned from the celebrated teacher <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._N._Goenka">Goenka</a>. Based on Goenka’s tutelage, Harari offers his own version of the Buddha’s original teaching: “Life,” he writes, “has no meaning, and people don’t need to create any meaning.” In answer to the question as to what people should do, Harari summarizes his view of the Buddha’s answer: “Do nothing. Absolutely nothing.”</p> <p>As a fellow meditator and admirer of Buddhist principles, I share Harari’s conviction that Buddhist insight can help reduce suffering on many levels. However, I am concerned that, in distilling the Buddha’s teaching to these sound bites, Harari gives a philosophical justification to those who choose to do nothing to avert the imminent humanitarian and ecological catastrophes threatening our future.</p> <p>The statement that “life has no meaning” seems to arise more from the modern reductionist ontology of physicist <a href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Steven_Weinberg">Steven Weinberg</a> than the mouth of the Buddha. To suggest that “people don’t need to create any meaning” contradicts an evolved instinct of the human species. As I describe in <a href="https://www.jeremylent.com/the-patterning-instinct.html">my own book</a>, <em>The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning</em>, human cognition drives us to impose meaning into the universe, a process that’s substantially shaped by the culture a person is born into. However, by recognizing the underlying structures of meaning instilled in us by our own culture, we can become mindful of our own patterns of thought, thus enabling us to reshape them for more beneficial outcomes - a process I call “cultural mindfulness.”</p> <p>There are, in fact, other interpretations of the Buddha’s core teachings that lead to very different distillations - ones that cry out “Do Something!” - inspiring meaningful engagement in worldly activities. The principle of ‘dependent origination,’ for example, emphasizes the intrinsic interdependence of all aspects of existence, and forms the basis for the <a href="https://www.mindfulnessbell.org/archive/2015/02/dharma-talk-history-of-engaged-buddhism-2">politically engaged Buddhism</a> of prominent monk and peace activist, Thích Nhất Hạnh. Another essential Buddhist practice is <em><a href="https://tricycle.org/magazine/metta-practice/">metta</a></em>, or compassion meditation, which focuses on identifying with the suffering of others, and resolving to devote one’s own life energies to reducing that suffering. These are sources of meaning in life that are fundamentally consistent with Buddhist principles.</p><p><strong>Fiction #4: Humanity’s future Is a spectator sport.</strong></p> <p>A distinguishing characteristic of Harari’s writing, and one that may account for much of his prodigious success, is his ability to transcend the preconceptions of everyday life and offer a panoramic view of human history - as though he’s orbiting the earth from ten thousand miles and transmitting what he sees. &nbsp;Through his meditation practice, Harari confides, he has been able to “actually observe reality as it is,” which gave him the focus and clear-sightedness to write <em>Sapiens</em> and <em>Homo Deus</em>. He differentiates his recent <em>21 Lessons for the 21st Century</em> from his first two books by declaring that, in contrast to their ten thousand-mile Earth orbit, he will now “zoom in on the here and now.”</p> <p>While the content of his new book is definitely the messy present, Harari continues to view the world as if through a scientist’s objective lens. However, Harari’s understanding of science appears to be limited to the confines of Fiction #1 - “Nature Is a Machine” - which requires complete detachment from whatever is being studied. Acknowledging that his forecast for humanity “seems patently unjust,” <a href="https://www.ynharari.com/book/homo-deus/">he justifies his own moral detachment, retorting that</a> “this is a historical prediction, not a political manifesto.”</p> <p>In recent decades, however, systems thinkers in multiple scientific disciplines have transformed this notion of pristine scientific objectivity. Recognizing nature as a dynamic, self-organized fractal complex of nonlinear systems, which can only be truly understood in terms of how each part relates to each other and the whole, they have shown how these principles apply, not just to the natural world, but also our own human social systems. A crucial implication is that the observer is part of what is being observed, with the result that the observer’s conclusions and ensuing actions feed back into the system being investigated.</p> <p>This insight holds important ethical implications for approaching the great problems facing humanity. Once you recognize that you are part of the system you’re analyzing, this raises a moral imperative to act on your findings, and to raise awareness of others regarding their own intrinsic responsibilities. The future is not a spectator sport - in fact, every one of us is on the team and can make a difference in the outcome. We can no longer afford any fictions - the stakes have become too high. </p> <p><em>For anyone interested in exploring the issues raised in this article, I offer<a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/the-patterning-instinct/a-reading-list-for-yuval-noah-harari/"> sources here</a> for further inquiry. </em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-are-fatally-flawed-these-eight-graphs-show-why">Steven Pinker’s ideas are fatally flawed. These eight graphs show why.</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/culture-shift-redirecting-humanity-s-path-to-flourishing-future">Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/we-need-ecological-civilization-before-it-s-too-late">We need an ecological civilization before it’s too late</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Jeremy Lent Economics Culture Sun, 06 Jan 2019 19:52:52 +0000 Jeremy Lent 121096 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Necesitamos una civilización ecológica antes de que sea demasiado tarde https://www.opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/jeremy-lent/necesitamos-una-civilizaci-n-ecol-gica-antes-de-que-sea-demasiado-tard <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Las promesas del “crecimiento verde” no son más que pensamiento mágico. Lo que tenemos que hacer es reestructurar los fundamentos de nuestros sistemas culturales y económicos. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/we-need-ecological-civilization-before-it-s-too-late">English</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/557099/IMG-8148_0.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/557099/IMG-8148_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rincón del Río Tapajós, al atardecer, en el Amazonas brasileño. Imagen: Francesc Badia i Dalmases. </span></span></span></p><p>Los más destacados científicos del clima advierten de que tenemos tan solo doce años para poner coto a la catástrofe climática. </p><p>El Panel Internacional de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático (IPCC, por sus siglas en inglés) <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report">puesto al mundo sobre aviso</a> de que un aumento de la temperatura de entre 1.5&nbsp; a 2.0 grados centígrados por encima de los niveles preindustriales tendría consecuencias desastrosas: inundaciones sin precedentes, sequía, devastación oceánica y hambruna.</p> <p>Entretanto, las políticas que se implementan hoy en el mundo <a href="https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/4/30/17300946/global-warming-degrees-replace-fossil-fuels">nos están llevando por la senda</a> de un incremento de más de 3 grados centígrados a fines de este siglo y los científicos del clima advierten de que podrían producirse retroalimentaciones que <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/06/global-temperature-rises-could-be-double-those-predicted-by-climate-modelling">empeorarían todavía más las cosas</a>, por encima incluso de estas proyecciones, <a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252">poniendo en peligro</a> la continuidad misma de nuestra civilización. <a href="http://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/pr_181008_P48_spm.shtml">Según el IPCC</a>, necesitamos "cambios urgentes, de gran alcance y sin precedentes en todas las facetas de nuestra sociedad". Pero, ¿qué significa esto exactamente?</p> <p>Hace un mes, en la Cumbre de Acción Climática Global (GCAS) celebrada en San Francisco, notorias lumbreras como el gobernador de California Jerry Brown, el multimillonario exalcalde de Nueva York Michael Bloomberg y el exvicepresidente Al Gore presentaron su versión de lo que es preciso hacer&nbsp; que lleva por título “La Nueva Economía Climática: desbloqueando el crecimiento inclusivo en el siglo XXI”. </p><p>El informe establece una <span><a href="//localhost/N%20HYPERLINK%20%22https/::newclimateeconomy.report:2018:the-new-growth-agenda:%22ueva%20Agenda%20del%20Crecimiento">Nueva Agenda del Crecimiento</a></span>: a través de iniciativas estratégicas ilustradas, afirman sus promotores, la transición a una economía de baja emisión de carbono - que podría generar millones de empleos, recabar miles de millones de dólares para inversiones "verdes" e incidir en un mayor crecimiento del PIB mundial - es posible.</p> <p>Pero estas proyecciones optimistas de los líderes del discurso dominante, aunque por supuesto preferibles a la negligencia del Partido Republicano, resultan totalmente insuficientes para responder a la crisis a la que nos enfrentamos.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Al ofrecer falsas esperanzas, desvían la atención de los profundos cambios estructurales que deben llevarse a cabo en nuestro sistema económico global.</p><p>Al anunciar que el sistema actual puede corregirse solo con algunos ajustes, están haciendo la vista gorda ante <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">los factores fundamentales</a> que están impulsando a nuestra civilización hacia el colapso. </p><p>Al ofrecer falsas esperanzas, desvían la atención de los profundos cambios estructurales que deben llevarse a cabo en nuestro sistema económico global si queremos conseguir dejar como legado a las generaciones futuras una sociedad próspera y floreciente.</p> <h3><strong>El desbordamiento ecológico</strong></h3> <p>Porque incluso la emergencia climática es simplemente el anuncio de otras amenazas existenciales que se ciernen sobre la humanidad a resultas del desbordamiento ecológico – es decir, del hecho que estamos agotando los recursos naturales de la Tierra a un ritmo más rápido del que tardan en reponerse. </p><p>Mientras las políticas de los distintos gobiernos del mundo sigan colocando el crecimiento del PIB como prioridad nacional, y mientras las empresas transnacionales, <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/11/30/ai-has-already-taken-over-its-called-the-corporation/">persiguiendo denodadamente el mayor rendimiento para sus accionistas</a>, sigan saqueando el planeta, continuaremos con el pie en el acelerador hacia la catástrofe.</p> <p>A día de hoy, nuestra civilización está funcionando a un <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2079-9276/4/1/25">por encima de su capacidad &nbsp;sostenible</a>. Estamos agotando rápidamente los <a href="http://www.rain-tree.com/facts.htm">bosques, los animales, los insectos, los peces, el agua dulce e incluso la capa superficial del suelo</a> imprescindible para nuestros cultivos. </p><p>Ya hemos traspasado tres de los <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/461472a">nueve umbrales planetarios</a> que determinan los límites de seguridad del espacio operativo de que dispone la humanidad y, sin embargo, la previsión es que el PIB mundial <a href="https://data.oecd.org/gdp/real-gdp-long-term-forecast.htm">se duplicará</a> a mediados del presente siglo, lo que acarreará consecuencias posiblemente irreversibles y devastadoras.</p><p> En el año 2050 se estima que <span><a href="//localhost/h%20HYPERLINK%20%22https/::www.washingtonpost.com:news:morning-mix:wp:2016:01:20:by-2050-there-will-be-more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-worlds-oceans-study-says:%3Futm_term=.4299cfb53950%22%20abr%C3%A1%20m%C3%A1s%20pl%C3%A1stico">habrá más plástico</a></span> que peces en los océanos. El año pasado, más de quince mil científicos de 184 países <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/12/1026/4605229">lanzaron esta funesta advertencia</a> a la humanidad: "Se está acabando el tiempo. Pronto será demasiado tarde para cambiar el rumbo de nuestra trayectoria fallida".</p> <p>A los tecno-optimistas, entre ellos muchos de los dignatarios del GCAS, les gusta responder a estas advertencias hablando de "crecimiento verde" - es decir, disociando el crecimiento del PIB de un mayor uso de los recursos. </p><p>Aunque sería éste sin duda un objetivo encomiable, son varios los estudios que demuestran que <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0164733">simplemente no es factible</a>. Incluso situándonos en las hipótesis de eficiencia más estrictas, hacia mediados de siglo seguiríamos consumiendo e<a href="https://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-09-19/why-growth-cant-be-green/">l doble de recursos que &nbsp;nuestra capacidad sostenible</a> - una situación en verdad desesperada, pero que no debe llevarnos a la desesperación.</p> <p>Existe un escenario en el que se puede redirigir a la humanidad hacia un futuro próspero en una Tierra regenerada. Pero nos obliga a repensar algunas de las sacrosantas creencias de nuestro mundo moderno, empezando por la dependencia - incuestionable - en el <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">crecimiento económico perpétuo</a> en el marco de un sistema capitalista global dirigido por corporaciones transnacionales <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/11/30/ai-has-already-taken-over-its-called-the-corporation/">orientadas exclusivamente</a> a incrementar el valor de las participaciones de los inversores.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Necesitamos cambiar las bases de nuestra civilización global. Hay que pasar de una civilización basada en producir riqueza a otra basada en mantener la salud de los sistemas vivos: una civilización ecológica.</p> <p>En pocas palabras, necesitamos cambiar las bases de nuestra civilización global. Hay que pasar de una civilización basada en producir riqueza a otra basada en mantener la salud de los sistemas vivos: una civilización ecológica.</p> <h3><strong>Una civilización ecológica</strong></h3> <p>La idea clave que subyace al concepto de civilización ecológica es que nuestra sociedad tiene que cambiar a niveles mucho más profundos de lo que supone la mayoría de la gente. No se trata solo de invertir en energías renovables, comer menos carne y conducir automóviles eléctricos.</p><p> Hay que transformar el marco consustancial a nuestra organización social y económica. Y esto solo puede ocurrir cuando un número suficiente de personas reconozca el carácter destructivo de nuestra cultura actual y la sustituya por otra de afirmación de la vida – adoptando valores que enfaticen el crecimiento de la calidad de vida en lugar del crecimiento del consumo de bienes y servicios.</p> <p>Un cambio de esta magnitud sería sin duda un acontecimiento memorable. Solo en dos ocasiones en la historia se han producido dislocaciones radicales que han resultado en una transformación de prácticamente todos los aspectos de la experiencia humana: la Revolución Agrícola, que se inició hace unos doce mil años, y la Revolución Científica del siglo XVII. </p><p>Para que nuestra civilización sobreviva y prospere a través de las crisis que se avecinan en el presente siglo, es preciso que transformemos nuestros valores, objetivos y comportamientos colectivos en una escala similar.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">&nbsp;Las maneras en que las ecologías se auto-organizan ofrecen pistas de cómo podríamos organizar la sociedad humana de modo que permita una abundancia sostenible.</p> <p>Loa principios básicos de una civilización ecológica son los mismos que sustentan los sistemas vivos que coexisten en las ecologías naturales. Las maneras en que las ecologías se auto-organizan ofrecen pistas de cómo podríamos organizar la sociedad humana de modo que permita una abundancia sostenible.</p><p> Los organismos prosperan cuando desarrollan múltiples relaciones simbióticas, en las que las partes toman y dan recíprocamente. En una ecología, los flujos de energía se equilibran y los desechos de una especie se convierten en alimento de otra.</p> <p>Las entidades en el seno de una ecología siguen un escalado fractal en el que los microsistemas existen como parte integral de sistemas más grandes, formando un todo coherente. En un ecosistema que funciona adecuadamente, cada organismo prospera al optimizar su propia existencia dentro de una red de relaciones que resulta en un incremento del bien común. </p><p>La capacidad de resistencia que genera esta dinámica significa que - si no hay perturbaciones humanas -, los ecosistemas pueden mantener su integridad durante muchos miles e incluso millones de años.</p> <p>En la práctica, la transición a una civilización ecológica implicaría la reestructuración de algunas de las instituciones fundamentales que están llevando a la destrucción nuestra civilización actual. En lugar de una economía basada en el crecimiento perpetuo del PIB, instauraría otra que priorizaría la calidad de vida, utilizando métodos alternativos como un <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genuine_progress_indicator">Indicador Real de Progreso</a>.</p><p> Los sistemas económicos se basarían en el respeto de la dignidad individual y en recompensar de manera justa la contribución de cada persona al bien común, al tiempo que garantizaría la satisfacción de todas sus necesidades de nutrición, vivienda, atención sanitaria y educación.</p> <p>Las corporaciones transnacionales <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2018/07/12/five-ways-to-curb-the-power-of-corporations-and-billionaires/">se reorganizarían totalmente</a>: rendirían cuentas ante las comunidades a las que se supone que sirven, optimizando el bienestar humano y ambiental en lugar de las ganancias de los accionistas. Las cooperativas de propiedad local se convertirían en la estructura económica y organizativa por defecto.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">En una civilización ecológica, el principio rector de las empresas sería que todos estamos interconectados en la red de la vida y que la prosperidad humana a largo plazo se basa en que la Tierra goce de buena salud</p><p> Los sistemas alimentarios se diseñarían priorizando la producción local y las <a href="https://agroeco.org/">prácticas agroecológicas de última generación</a> en lugar del uso de fertilizantes y pesticidas a base de combustibles fósiles. Las manufacturas priorizarían los <a href="https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/concept">flujos circulares</a> que integran la reutilización eficiente de los productos de desecho desde el principio de la cadena de producción.</p> <p>En una civilización ecológica, la comunidad local sería la unidad básica de la sociedad. La interacción cara a cara recuperaría su papel principal en las relaciones humanas y la relación de cada comunidad con las demás se basaría en principios de respeto mutuo, aprendizaje y reciprocidad. Se seguiría fomentando la innovación tecnológica, pero se dirigiría a aportar soluciones eficientes para mejorar la vitalidad de los sistemas vivos en lugar de generar multimillonarios. </p><p>El principio rector de las empresas sería que todos estamos interconectados en la red de la vida y que, por consiguiente, la prosperidad humana a largo plazo se basa en que la Tierra goce de buena salud.</p> <h3><strong>Cultivar un futuro próspero</strong></h3> <p>Aunque esta visión pueda parecer un sueño lejano para aquellos a los que fascina, cautiva y paraliza el frenesí diario de acontecimientos, son muchas las organizaciones pioneras en todo el mundo que están ya plantando las semillas de esta metamorfosis cultural.</p> <p>En China, el presidente Xi Jinping <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2018/02/08/what-does-chinas-ecological-civilization-mean-for-humanitys-future/">ha declarado</a> que el concepto de civilización ecológica forma parte del núcleo de su visión a largo plazo para el país. En Bolivia y Ecuador, los valores relacionados con el <a href="https://www.pachamama.org/sumak-kawsay"><em>sumak</em><em> </em><em>kawsay</em></a> ("buen vivir") están incorporados a la constitución y, en África, el concepto de <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/reverend-william-e-flippin-jr/ubuntu-applying-african-p_b_1243904.html"><em>ubuntu</em></a> ("yo soy porque somos") es el principio - ampliamente compartido - que rige las relaciones humanas. </p><p>En Europa, cientos de científicos, políticos y formuladores de políticas <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/16/the-eu-needs-a-stability-and-wellbeing-pact-not-more-growth">redactaron recientemente un llamamiento</a> para que la UE planifique un futuro sostenible en el que se priorice el bienestar humano y ecológico por encima del PIB.</p> <p>Los ejemplos de prósperas cooperativas a gran escala, como las de <a href="http://www.praxispeace.org/assets/pdf/THE-MONDRAGON-REPORT.pdf">Mondragón</a> en España, demuestran que es posible que las empresas satisfagan eficazmente las necesidades humanas sin utilizar modelos de negocio centrados en los dividendos de los accionistas. </p><p>Think tanks como <span><a href="//localhost/The%20Next%20System%20HYPERLINK%20%22https/::thenextsystem.org:%22%20Project">The Next System Project</a></span>, The Global Citizens Initiative, y la <a href="https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/">P2P Foundation</a> están formulando parámetros para la organización política, económica y social de una civilización ecológica. Autores visionarios como <a href="https://www.kateraworth.com/">Kate Raworth</a> y <a href="https://davidkorten.org/home/ecological-civilization/">David Korten</a> han escrito ampliamente sobre cómo replantear la manera en que pensar acerca del camino económico y político a seguir.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">La humanidad se dirige hacia la tercera gran transformación de su historia - ya sea en forma de colapso global o de metamorfosis en fundamento nuevo para el progreso sostenible.</p><p>A medida que la corriente dominante impulsa inexorablemente nuestra civilización hacia su punto de ruptura, es fácil descartar estos pasos hacia una nueva forma de civilización por demasiado insignificantes para cambiar la situación. Sin embargo, a medida que el sistema actual empiece a descomponerse en los próximos años, un número creciente de personas en todo el mundo se dará cuenta de que se precisa una alternativa fundamentalmente diferente.</p><p> Si se encaminarán hacia movimientos que apelan al miedo y a prejuicios, o si lo hacen hacia los que se sustentan en una visión de un futuro mejor para la humanidad, dependerá, en gran medida, de las ideas disponibles que encuentren a su alcance.</p> <p>De un modo u otro, la humanidad se dirige hacia la tercera gran transformación de su historia - ya sea en forma de colapso global o de metamorfosis en fundamento nuevo para el progreso sostenible. El concepto de civilización ecológica señala un camino a seguir que podría resultar la única esperanza real de que nuestros descendientes puedan prosperar en la Tierra en el futuro.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/democraciaabierta/daniel-macmillen-voskoboynik/el-colonialismo-incesante">El colonialismo incesante</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democraciaabierta/alberto-acosta/hambacher-forst-yasun-y-la-lucha-por-salvar-el-planeta">Los bosques alemanes de Hambacher Forst, el Amazonas ecuatoriano, y la lucha por salvar el planeta</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/democraciaabierta/romano-paganini/nosotros-los-industrializados-y-los-derechos-internacionales-de-la">Nosotros, los industrializados, y los derechos internacionales de la naturaleza</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> DemocraciaAbierta DemocraciaAbierta Civil society Culture Economics Ideas Jeremy Lent Mon, 05 Nov 2018 17:49:49 +0000 Jeremy Lent 120473 at https://www.opendemocracy.net We need an ecological civilization before it’s too late https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/we-need-ecological-civilization-before-it-s-too-late <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Promises of green growth are magical thinking. We have to restructure the fundamentals of our cultural and economic systems.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JeremyLentnew2.jpg" alt="" /></p><p class="image-caption">View from lookout hill of Japanese Gardens, Cowra, NSW, Australia. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:04._Japanese_Garden,_Cowra,_NSW,_22.09.2006.jpg">John O’Neill/Wikimedia Commons</a>.&nbsp; CC BY-SA 3.0.</p><p>We’ve now been warned by the world’s leading climate scientists that we have just twelve years to limit climate catastrophe. The UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report">has put the world on notice</a> that going from a 1.5° to 2.0° C rise in temperature above preindustrial levels would have disastrous consequences, with unprecedented flooding, drought, ocean devastation, and famine.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the world’s current policies <a href="https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/4/30/17300946/global-warming-degrees-replace-fossil-fuels">have us on track</a> for a more than 3° increase by the end of this century, and climate scientists publish dire warnings that amplifying feedbacks could <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/06/global-temperature-rises-could-be-double-those-predicted-by-climate-modelling">make things far worse</a> than even these projections, and thus <a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252">place at risk</a> the very continuation of our civilization. We need, <a href="http://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/pr_181008_P48_spm.shtml">according to the IPCC</a>, “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” But what exactly does that mean?</p> <p>Last month, at the <a href="https://www.globalclimateactionsummit.org/">Global Climate Action Summit</a> (GCAS) in San Francisco, luminaries such as Governor Jerry Brown, Michael Bloomberg, and Al Gore gave their version of what’s needed with <a href="https://newclimateeconomy.report/2018/">an ambitious report</a> entitled “Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century by the New Climate Economy.” It trumpets a <a href="https://newclimateeconomy.report/2018/the-new-growth-agenda/">New Growth Agenda</a>: through enlightened strategic initiatives, they claim, it’s possible to transition to a low-carbon economy that could generate millions more jobs, raise trillions of dollars for green investment, and lead to higher global GDP growth.</p> <p>But these buoyant projections by mainstream leaders, while overwhelmingly preferable to the Republican Party’s malfeasance, are utterly insufficient to respond to the crisis we face. In promising that the current system can fix itself with a few adjustments, they are turning a blind eye to <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">the fundamental drivers</a> that are propelling civilization toward collapse. By offering false hope, they deflect attention from the profound structural changes that our global economic system must make if we hope to bequeath a flourishing society to future generations.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Ecological overshoot.</strong></p> <p>That’s because even the climate emergency is merely a harbinger of other existential threats looming over humanity as a result of ecological overshoot—the fact that we’re depleting the earth’s natural resources at a faster rate than they can be replenished. As long as government policies emphasize growing GDP as a national priority, and as long as transnational corporations <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/11/30/ai-has-already-taken-over-its-called-the-corporation/">relentlessly pursue greater shareholder returns</a> by ransacking the earth, we will continue to accelerate towards&nbsp; catastrophe.</p> <p>Currently, our civilization is running at <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2079-9276/4/1/25">40% above its sustainable capacity</a>. We’re rapidly depleting the earth’s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.rain-tree.com/facts.htm#.Wz6H5thKjUI">forests</a>,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/living-planet-report-2016">animals</a>,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/20/insectageddon-farming-catastrophe-climate-breakdown-insect-populations">insects</a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2015-09-16/half-marine-life-lost-in-40-years/6779912">fish</a>, <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/freshwater-crisis/">freshwater</a> and even the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/">topsoil</a> we require to grow our crops.&nbsp;We’ve already transgressed three of the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/461472a">nine planetary boundaries</a> that define humanity’s safe operating space, and yet global GDP is expected to <a href="https://data.oecd.org/gdp/real-gdp-long-term-forecast.htm#indicator-chart">more than double</a> by mid-century, with potentially irreversible and devastating consequences. By 2050, it is estimated that <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/20/by-2050-there-will-be-more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-worlds-oceans-study-says/?utm_term=.4299cfb53950">there will be more plastic</a> in the world’s oceans than fish. Last year, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/12/1026/4605229">issued an ominous warning</a> to humanity that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late,” they wrote, “to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”</p> <p>Techno-optimists, including many of the GCAS dignitaries, like to dismiss these warnings with talk of “green growth”—essentially decoupling GDP growth from increased use of resources. While that would be a laudable goal, a number of studies have shown that it’s <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0164733">simply not feasible</a>. Even the most wildly aggressive assumptions for greater efficiency would still result in consuming global resources <a href="https://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-09-19/why-growth-cant-be-green/">at double the sustainable capacity</a> by mid-century -a desperate situation indeed, but one that need not lead to despair. </p> <p>There is a scenario in which we can redirect humanity to a thriving future on a regenerated earth. But it would require us to rethink some of the sacrosanct beliefs of our modern world, beginning with the unquestioning reliance on <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">perpetual economic growth</a> within a global capitalist system directed by transnational corporations <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/11/30/ai-has-already-taken-over-its-called-the-corporation/">driven exclusively by the need</a> to increase shareholder value for their investors.</p> <p>In short, we need to change the basis of our global civilization. We must move from a civilization based on wealth production to one based on the health of living systems: an ecological civilization.</p><p><strong>An ecological civilization.</strong></p> <p>The crucial idea behind an ecological civilization is that our society needs to change at a level far deeper than most people realize. It’s not just a matter of investing in renewables, eating less meat, and driving an electric car. The intrinsic framework of our global social and economic organization needs to be transformed. And this will only happen when enough people recognize the destructive nature of our current mainstream culture and replace it with one that is life-affirming—embracing values that emphasize growth in the quality of life rather than in the consumption of goods and services.</p> <p>A change of such magnitude would be an epochal event. There have been only two occasions in history when radical dislocations led to a transformation of virtually every aspect of the human experience: the Agricultural Revolution that began about twelve thousand years ago, and the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century. If our civilization is to survive and prosper through the looming crises of this century, we will need a transformation of our values, goals, and collective behavior on a similar scale. </p> <p>An ecological civilization would be based on the core principles that sustain living systems that coexist in natural ecologies. Insights into how ecologies self-organize offer a model for how we could organize human society in ways that could permit sustainable abundance. Organisms prosper when they develop multiple symbiotic relationships, wherein each party to a relationship both takes and gives reciprocally. In an ecology, energy flows are balanced and one species’ waste matter becomes nourishment for another. </p> <p>Entities within an ecology scale fractally, with microsystems existing as integral parts of larger systems to form a coherent whole. In a well-functioning ecosystem, each organism thrives by optimizing for its own existence within a network of relationships that enhances the common good. The inherent resilience caused by these dynamics means that—without human disruption—ecosystems can maintain their integrity for many thousands, and sometimes millions, of years.</p> <p>In practice, transitioning to an ecological civilization would mean restructuring some of the fundamental institutions driving our current civilization to destruction. In place of an economy based on perpetual growth in GDP, it would institute one that emphasized quality of life, using alternative measures such as a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genuine_progress_indicator">Genuine Progress Indicator</a> to gauge success. Economic systems would be based on respect for individual dignity and fairly rewarding each person’s contribution to the greater good, while ensuring that nutrition, housing, healthcare, and educational needs were fully met for everyone. </p> <p>Transnational corporations <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2018/07/12/five-ways-to-curb-the-power-of-corporations-and-billionaires/">would be fundamentally reorganized</a> and made accountable to the communities they purportedly serve, to optimize human and environmental wellbeing rather than shareholder profits. Locally owned cooperatives would become the default organizational structure. Food systems would be designed to emphasize local production using <a href="https://agroeco.org/">state-of-the-art agroecology</a> practices in place of fossil fuel-based fertilizer and pesticides, while manufacturing would prioritize <a href="https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/concept">circular flows</a> where efficient re-use of waste products is built into the process from the outset.</p> <p>In an ecological civilization, the local community would be the basic building block of society. Face-to-face interaction would regain ascendance as a crucial part of human flourishing, and each community’s relationship with others would be based on principles of mutual respect, learning, and reciprocity. Technological innovation would still be encouraged, but would be prized for its effectiveness in enhancing the vitality of living systems rather than minting billionaires. The driving principle of enterprise would be that we are all interconnected in the web of life—and long-term human prosperity is therefore founded on a healthy Earth.</p><p><strong>Cultivating a flourishing future.</strong></p> <p>While this vision may seem a distant dream to those who are transfixed by the daily frenzy of current events, innumerable pioneering organizations around the world are already planting the seeds for this cultural metamorphosis. </p> <p>In China, President Xi Jinping <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2018/02/08/what-does-chinas-ecological-civilization-mean-for-humanitys-future/">has declared</a> an ecological civilization to be a central part of his long-term vision for the country. In Bolivia and Ecuador, the related values of <a href="https://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-03-24/degrowth-in-movements-buen-vivir/"><em>buen vivir</em></a> and <a href="https://www.pachamama.org/sumak-kawsay"><em>sumak kawsay</em></a> (“good living’) are written into the constitution, and in Africa the concept of <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/reverend-william-e-flippin-jr/ubuntu-applying-african-p_b_1243904.html"><em>ubuntu</em></a> (“I am because we are”) is a widely-discussed principle of human relations. In Europe, hundreds of scientists, politicians, and policy-makers recently <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/16/the-eu-needs-a-stability-and-wellbeing-pact-not-more-growth">co-authored a call</a> for the EU to plan for a sustainable future in which human and ecological wellbeing is prioritized over GDP. </p> <p>Examples of large-scale thriving cooperatives such as <a href="http://www.praxispeace.org/assets/pdf/THE-MONDRAGON-REPORT.pdf">Mondragon</a> in Spain demonstrate that it’s possible for companies to provide effectively for human needs without utilizing a shareholder-based profit model. Think tanks such as <a href="https://thenextsystem.org/">The Next System Project</a>, <a href="https://www.theglobalcitizensinitiative.org/">The Global Citizens Initiative</a>, and the <a href="https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/">P2P Foundation</a> are laying down parameters for the political, economic, and social organization of an ecological civilization. Visionary authors such as <a href="https://www.kateraworth.com/">Kate Raworth</a> and <a href="https://davidkorten.org/home/ecological-civilization/">David Korten</a> have written extensively on how to reframe the way we think about our economic and political path forward.</p> <p>As the mainstream juggernaut drives our current civilization inexorably toward breaking point, it’s easy to dismiss these steps toward a new form of civilization as too insignificant to make a difference. However, as the current system begins to break down in the coming years, increasing numbers of people around the world will come to realize that a fundamentally different alternative is needed. Whether they turn to movements based on prejudice and fear or join in a vision for a better future for humanity depends, to a large extent, on the ideas available to them. </p> <p>One way or another, humanity is headed for the third great transformation in its history: either in the form of global collapse or a metamorphosis to a new foundation for sustainable flourishing. An ecological civilization offers a path forward that may be the only true hope for our descendants to thrive on Earth into the distant future. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/culture-shift-redirecting-humanity-s-path-to-flourishing-future">Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-are-fatally-flawed-these-eight-graphs-show-why">Steven Pinker’s ideas are fatally flawed. These eight graphs show why.</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/five-ways-to-curb-power-of-corporations">Five ways to curb the power of corporations</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation ecology climate change Jeremy Lent Environment Sun, 21 Oct 2018 19:36:26 +0000 Jeremy Lent 120111 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Five ways to curb the power of corporations https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/five-ways-to-curb-power-of-corporations <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Of the world’s 100 largest economies, 69 are transnational businesses. How can we control—and ultimately transform them?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent9.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Corporation by&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nyphotographic.com/">Nick Youngson</a>.&nbsp;<a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>&nbsp;<a href="http://alphastockimages.com/">Alpha Stock Images</a>.</p> <p>Transnational corporations have become the dominant force directing our world. Humanity is accelerating toward a precipice of overconsumption, and the large transnationals are the primary agents driving us there. We’re rapidly losing the earth’s <a href="http://www.rain-tree.com/facts.htm#.Wz6H5thKjUI">forests</a>, <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/living-planet-report-2016">animals</a>, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/20/insectageddon-farming-catastrophe-climate-breakdown-insect-populations">insects</a>, <a href="http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2015-09-16/half-marine-life-lost-in-40-years/6779912">fish</a>, even the <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/">topsoil</a> we require to grow our crops. The earth is becoming denuded of its bounty as every living system ­is ransacked for resources—not to mention the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2016/mar/18/welcome-to-the-climate-emergency-youre-about-20-years-late">looming emergency</a> of climate breakdown. As a result, twenty thousand scientists have <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">recently issued</a> a public warning to humanity, while prominent academics consider the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.2845">collapse of civilization</a> this century to be a serious threat.</p> <p>Changes in our personal consumption patterns are important, but are ultimately inconsequential compared with the impact of the transnationals that have come to dominate our global economic and political system. Of the world’s hundred largest economies, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/corporations-not-countries-dominate-the-list-of-the-world-s-biggest-economic-entities/">sixty-nine are now corporations</a>. Political parties in many of our so-called democracies are <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/05/american-elections-battle-billionaires-civic-inequality">funded in large part</a> by billionaires, while government cabinet positions are <a href="https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2017/06/21/nearly-70-percent-trumps-picks-top-administration-jobs-have-corporate-ties">staffed by corporate executives</a>. International bodies setting global policy are <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/01/fossil-fuel-companies-undermining-paris-agreement-negotiations-report">infiltrated by corporate agents</a> so successful at entrenching corporate power that even those governments that still prioritize their people’s needs can no longer make autonomous decisions without <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/badge/globalsupercourt">risking crippling lawsuits</a> from the transnationals whose interests they threaten. Meanwhile, countries and cities compete with each other to beg their corporate overlords for investment dollars, even it means <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/cities/series/big-tech-desperate-cities">undermining public services</a> and legal protections for their own populations. </p> <p>Environmental groups, recognizing where ultimate power resides, try to pressure corporations to improve practices through the threat of public shaming, with <a href="https://www.ran.org/campaigns">some appreciable results</a>. However, these attempts are necessarily constrained by the very structure of big corporations, which exist to <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/maximizing-shareholder-value-the-goal-that-changed-corporate-america/2013/08/26/26e9ca8e-ed74-11e2-9008-61e94a7ea20d_story.html?utm_term=.bee6f69c0bd1">enrich their shareholders</a> regardless of the consequences. The common goal of corporations around the world is to monetize human activity and what’s left of nature’s abundance as rapidly and efficiently as possible. The overriding purpose of the world’s powerful institutional force is thus directly at odds with a flourishing earth or a viable future for humanity.</p> <p>Having spent the first part of my career in the heart of the capitalist system, consulting to major international banks and corporations, I developed a sense of the underlying forces that direct the centers of financial power. These ideas are my distillation of what I believe could be effective levers for humanity to take back some control from the increasing hegemony of corporations and billionaires. </p> <p>If we are to avoid disaster, our global economic system with its gaping inequities and deranged consumption will eventually need to dismantled and replaced by one <a href="http://davidkorten.org/home/ecological-civilization/">based on life-affirming principles</a> rather than wealth maximization. These suggestions, even in aggregate, wouldn’t do that. They represent mere tweaks in a system that ultimately needs to be completely transformed. But like a modest trim tab that helps <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/val-jon-farris/the-power-of-trimtabs-wha_b_5863520.html?utm_hp_ref=impact&amp;ir=Impact">redirect an ocean liner</a>, perhaps they could begin to curb the destructive force of transnationals and redirect their enormous power toward a more sustainable path. </p> <h2>1. Triple bottom line required for corporate charters.</h2> <p>A fundamental reason for the rapacious behavior of transnational corporations is their drive to maximize shareholder value above anything else. While there is <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/04/16/what-are-corporations-obligations-to-shareholders/corporations-dont-have-to-maximize-profits">no explicit requirement</a> for this in the standard corporate charter, <a href="http://www.professorbainbridge.com/professorbainbridgecom/2012/05/case-law-on-the-fiduciary-duty-of-directors-to-maximize-the-wealth-of-corporate-shareholders.html">a century of case law</a> has entrenched this principle into the behavior of large corporations to the point that is has become the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/04/16/what-are-corporations-obligations-to-shareholders/a-duty-to-shareholder-value"><em>de facto</em> standard of operation</a>. As a result, if corporations were people, <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/11/30/ai-has-already-taken-over-its-called-the-corporation/">they would be considered psychopaths</a>, utterly devoid of any caring for the harm they cause in the pursuit of their goals. </p> <p>It is easier, however, to change a corporation’s values than those of a human psychopath. All you need to do is change the legal basis of their charter. Instead of pursuing shareholder interests alone, they could be re-chartered with the explicit purpose of achieving a triple bottom line of social and environmental outcomes as well as financial—sometimes known as the “triple Ps” of people, planet, and profit.</p> <p>This alternative corporate value system is already available through chartering as a <a href="http://benefitcorp.net/">benefit corporation</a> or <a href="https://www.bcorporation.net/what-are-b-corps">certifying as a B-Corp</a>, and has been adopted by over 2,000 corporations in over fifty countries around the world—including <a href="http://www.bcorporation.net/become-a-b-corp/how-to-become-a-b-corp/multinationals-and-public-companies">several multibillion-dollar transnationals</a>.&nbsp; My proposal is that, instead of being a voluntary step taken by a select few, this would be a requirement for all corporations above a certain size.</p> <p>Overnight, the intrinsic character of the corporation would be transformed. Currently, CEOs and corporate boards are faced with continual pressure to grow their earnings at all cost. If they chose to make a humane decision, such as not to exploit a copper mine because of the consequent pollution, they could expect to be sued by shareholders, and possibly acquired by a more ruthless competitor. However, if they were legally required to achieve a triple bottom line, they would weigh up decisions in a more balanced way, as a rational person might. With the board responsible for all three bottom lines, they would have to consider the risk of being sued if they caused excessive pollution, or if they were callous to the needs of the communities where their plants were located. </p> <p>Currently, large corporations boast of their <a href="https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-truth-about-csr">corporate social responsibility</a> departments that are supposed to care about issues such as employment practices of their suppliers, sustainability of their raw materials, environmental impact of their packaging, gender balance and ethnic diversity in the workplace, and investments in local communities. Suddenly, they would have to stop paying mere lip service to these issues and take them as seriously as marketing costs, revenue growth and distribution channels—the things that CEOs actually worry about when they go home at night.</p> <h2>2. Charter renewal required every five years.</h2> <p>Changing the corporate charter requirement might not, however, be enough by itself to halt the relentless pursuit of profits by large transnationals. After all, executive pay packages consist of dollars rather than goodwill, and those dollars are linked directly to the share price, which is driven by shareholders’ expectation of financial returns. If they could get away with it, they might continue their rapacious practices, while trying harder to look like they’re meeting the other two bottom lines.</p> <p>That’s the reason for my second proposal, which is to require that corporations, which currently enjoy what’s known legally as a “<a href="https://smallbusiness.findlaw.com/incorporation-and-legal-structures/what-does-it-mean-that-corporations-have-perpetual-existence.html">perpetual existence</a>,” get their charters renewed every five years. If they failed to meet pre-established criteria on their two non-financial bottom lines, they would not be permitted to continue in business. Currently, if a company can’t meet its financial obligations, it’s forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and the value of its stock generally tanks to zero. Under my proposal, executives would also have to consider the risk of declaring “social bankruptcy” or “environmental bankruptcy” as they made their business decisions.</p> <p>As in currently regulated industries such as banking, the final step of losing their charter would not have to be immediate. If a corporation failed to meet its basic parameters, it could be given a warning, with a time period set to fix things. However, the mere threat of this happening would lead corporate executives to make sure they were well above the criteria required to keep their charter.</p> <p>Corporations are, of course, highly adept at using their financial resources to influence regulatory bodies through bribes and other mechanisms. To avoid this, panel members responsible to renew the charter would be representatives of the communities and ecosystems covered in the company’s scope of operations. Their task would be to weigh up the findings of experienced independent auditors on the company’s performance. To minimize corruption, the panel could be chosen by a process of random selection called <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition">sortition</a>, just a like a trial jury is chosen in our legal system. </p> <h2>3. Tax stock trades based on the length of the holding period.</h2> <p>Powerful as they are, even corporations have their masters: their shareholders. But don’t think of the typical shareholder as a Warren Buffet type, sitting back in his leather armchair perusing his holdings. Instead, corporate stocks are subject to the frenetic activity of financial markets, where split-second computer algorithms govern much of the trading. Investment firms spend hundreds of millions of dollars enhancing their computing networks to shave <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/04/everything-you-need-to-know-about-high-frequency-trading/360411/">as little as three milliseconds</a> off the timing of their trades. The hyper liquidity of global markets means that investors are obsessed with short-term market trends, which leads corporate CEOs, forever anxious about their stock price, to focus their time horizon on the next quarterly earnings report. Financial valuations apply discount rates to future earnings, which means that an investment paying off thirty years in the future can be worth as little as five percent of its future payoff in the present. Under these conditions, why would any CEO care about the state of the planet—or even their company—thirty years from now? </p> <p>During the 2016 US election campaign, Bernie Sanders proposed a <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dean-baker/bernie-sanders-takes-it-t_b_7438808.html">Financial Transaction Tax</a> to pay for free college tuition, setting the rate at 0.1% of the transaction. In Europe, <a href="https://www.bna.com/eu-restart-financial-n57982091709/">discussions are under way</a> to apply a similar EU-wide tax. My proposal increases the tax rate by orders of magnitude, and differentiates based on the length of the stock holding. For example, the tax rate might look like this:</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 10% if the stock is held less than a day</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 5% if less than a year</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 3% if less than 10 years</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 1% if less than 20 years</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Zero if more than 20 years</p> <p>The effects of this single step would be enormous. The financial services industry would be transformed overnight. High frequency stock trading and same-day traders would disappear. The short-term orientation of the stock market would be replaced by carefully considered long-term investment decisions. A typical mutual fund, which in the US currently turns over its portfolio at <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/articles/mutualfund/09/mutual-fund-turnover-rate.asp">the rate of 130% a year</a>, could no longer afford to do so, and would have to change its investment decision-making based on sustainable returns. The tax could be waived for individuals experiencing a life-changing event or for simple hedging techniques where, for example, farmers need to lock in the price of their produce at a future time.</p> <p>The result would be a massive shift away from destructive extractive industries and toward sustainable businesses. For example, the fossil fuel industry is recognized to be vastly overvalued as a result of its “<a href="https://www.carbontracker.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Unburnable-Carbon-Full-rev2-1.pdf">unburnable carbon</a>”: the amount of fossil fuels in the ground that can never be burned if the world is to keep climate change below the 2° rise agreed at COP21 in Paris. A recent study estimates the overvaluation <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0182-1">as high as $4 trillion</a>. Investors, however, play a game of musical chairs, hoping they won’t be the ones left holding the stranded assets. This proposed transaction fee would incent them to dump fossil fuel investments immediately for opportunities in renewable energy with longer-term payoffs.</p> <h2>4. Cap on billionaire’s assets over $5 billion.</h2> <p>As corporations have taken increasing control of the global system, they have catapulted founding shareholders and their heirs to previously unimaginable pinnacles of wealth.&nbsp; The combined wealth of the world’s 2,754 billionaires is now $9.2 trillion, an amount that has <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billionaire">doubled in the past six years</a>, and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_World%27s_Billionaires">increased tenfold</a> since the beginning of this century. The magnitude of this wealth is difficult to conceive. The top six billionaires <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/richest-men-in-the-world-2274065153.html">own as much</a> as the lower half of the entire world’s population. Taken together, the world’s billionaires would represent the third largest economy in the world, behind only China and the United States, with wealth equivalent to the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)">GDP of Germany and Japan</a> combined.</p> <p>There is no legitimate rationale for this outrageous concentration of such wealth in a few individuals. The argument that the founders of Microsoft, Amazon, or Facebook deserve such excessive wealth is no more valid than the belief of the ancient Egyptians in the divinity of their Pharaoh, or the Medieval notion of the divine right of kings. Mark Zuckerberg, aged 33, currently owns over $70 billion. If someone had singlehandedly miniaturized the transistor, developed the logic for computer code, invented the PC, and come up with the internet, then maybe they’d deserve having close to that amount as a reward for the value they created. But all Zuckerberg did was figure out a way to connect people up in a network that became a bit more popular than other networks, and because of the internet’s scale effects, he was the lucky one who hit the jackpot. Zuckerberg merely took advantage of all the other infrastructure work that led to the internet, painstakingly pieced together by millions of people over decades, which has been the real value creator for the world. </p> <p>In response to this excess, my proposal is to cap billionaires’ wealth at, say, $5 billion. It’s an arbitrary amount, still obscenely high and presumably more than enough for those who argue that people should receive ample financial rewards for success. Beyond a certain level of wealth, however, what drives these people is power and prestige. This could be tapped by requiring them to donate their excess wealth to a trust over which they could retain some influence. </p> <p>Such a trust, however, would need to have some strict criteria. While the billionaire could influence the trust’s priorities, he would not have control over its activities. The current Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, while a step in the right direction, is <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_%26_Melinda_Gates_Foundation">under the total control</a> of the Gateses and Warren Buffet. The foundation set up with much fanfare by Mark Zuckerberg is viewed by experts as little more than <a href="http://fortune.com/2015/12/02/zuckerberg-charity/">a fancy tax dodge</a>. </p> <p>Each trust would need to avoid interference in a country’s political system and be dedicated to life-affirming activities, the scope of which could be based, for example, on the <a href="http://earthcharter.org/discover/the-earth-charter/">principles of the Earth Charter</a>, a framework for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society endorsed by over 6,000 organizations.</p> <p>The positive impact that these trillions of dollars could have on human and natural welfare would be prodigious. Imagine a country the size of Germany and Japan combined dedicated entirely to serving human and natural flourishing. It would have the resources to <a href="https://www.visionofearth.org/economics/ending-poverty/how-much-would-it-cost-to-end-extreme-poverty-in-the-world/">end extreme poverty</a>, increase regenerative agriculture to <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/regenerative-agriculture">over a billion acres</a> worldwide, educate <a href="https://www.globalpartnership.org/funding/education-costs-per-child">hundreds of millions of girls</a> through the Global South, disseminate <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/clean-cookstoves">up to a billion clean cookstoves</a>, and much, much more.</p> <p>The billionaires of the world, meanwhile, would continue to enjoy enormous wealth, and when they <a href="https://www.verdict.co.uk/wef-2018-davos-year-super-rich-dwarf-worlds-elite/">jet to Davos</a> to hobnob with other luminaries for the annual World Economic Forum, they could finally have something worthwhile to boast about.</p> <h2>5. Declare a crime of ecocide at the International Criminal Court.</h2> <p>Even with all these constraints, the powers of transnational corporations would remain enormous, and there would still be times when, through willful negligence or intentional bad faith, corporate action causes massive environmental damage. A UN study, which <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/feb/18/worlds-top-firms-environmental-damage">remained unpublished</a>, found that the world’s largest companies had caused over $2 trillion of environmental damage, which would cost a third of their overall profits if they were forced to pay for it. Because of their extensive political influence, even their most damaging activities go unpunished. This leads to my final proposal: to declare a crime of ecocide at the <a href="http://www.coalitionfortheicc.org/explore/international-criminal-court">International Criminal Court</a> (ICC).</p> <p>The ICC is an independent judicial body set up by international treaty, the Rome Statute, in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, genocides, and crimes against humanity. While it continues to <a href="https://www.opencanada.org/features/despite-recent-achievements-many-challenges-ahead-international-criminal-court/">face serious challenges</a> to its enforcement powers, it has had the effect of putting tyrants everywhere on notice that they can no longer act with impunity. If ecocide—the loss, destruction, or severe damage of an ecosystem—were declared a crime by the ICC, this could have a similarly daunting effect on those corporate tyrants who currently know they can get away with devastating the world’s “sacrifice zones” where they are pillaging the earth’s resources for profit.</p> <p>There is a campaign, <a href="http://eradicatingecocide.com/">Eradicating Ecocide</a>, already under way to make this happen. A <a href="http://eradicatingecocide.com/the-law/the-model-law/">model law</a> has been drafted, and an <a href="https://www.missionlifeforce.org/">Earth Protectors Trust Fund</a> has been set up to permit common people everywhere to become legal Earth protectors. If a two-thirds majority of the Rome Statute signatories were to approve this as an amendment, it would become enforceable globally. Suddenly, corporate boards and CEOs everywhere would realize they are no longer above the law.</p> <p>There is a strange paradox to consider about these proposals.&nbsp; One the one hand, notice how limited they are in scope. Even if they were all implemented overnight, the global system would not be overturned. People would still go to work and get paid, food would still be on the shelves of the grocery store, the same governments would still be in power, and the internet would still work. The gaping structural inequities of our current world order would continue unabated, and we’d still be consuming far more than our planet can sustain. Ultimately, we need a complete transformation of our global system if our civilization is to survive intact through this century.</p> <p>On the other hand, it doesn’t take a political genius to realize that these ideas are so far from mainstream thinking that they have virtually no chance to be adopted any time soon. They would be considered too radical for even the most progressive mainstream politician to endorse. What does this tell us about our current political dialogue? To me, it suggests that our conversations are too severely constrained by what we’re “allowed” to think in terms of how our system works. We need to cast our gaze outside the norms that our billionaire-controlled mainstream media permits us to consider.</p> <p>Imagine a world where these ideas (or others like them) began to be seriously entertained. How would they even be enforced? The only way corporations could be brought to heel, or billionaires compelled to give up their excess billions, would be a concerted effort led by the United States in conjunction with the European Union, and joined by the preponderance of other countries. </p> <p>This, of course, could only happen if grassroots demand for these ideas spread so powerfully that politicians had to take notice. This is not such an unrealistic scenario, given the worldwide disavowal of the dominant capitalist model: most Europeans have a <a href="https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/02/23/british-people-view-socialism-more-favourably-capi/">higher opinion of socialism</a> than capitalism, and even in the US, the overwhelming majority see <a href="http://fortune.com/2015/11/03/majority-of-americans-dont-like-capitalism-yougov-poll/">big business as unethical and unfair</a>. </p> <p>Then, there is the potential <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/val-jon-farris/the-power-of-trimtabs-wha_b_5863520.html?utm_hp_ref=impact&amp;ir=Impact">“trim tab” effect</a> of adopting these ideas. Even though these proposals alone wouldn’t fundamentally transform our system in the way that’s needed, they might set changes in motion that could eventually take us there. There may be other ideas more effective than these, and of course each proposal contains within it complications that would need to be worked out carefully. However, my hope is that these ideas invite a new mode of political dialogue, along with a recognition that even in the darkest times, realistic pathways exist toward a thriving future for humanity and the natural world. </p> <p>When the Occupy movement failed to achieve its initial promise, many people pointed to its lack of specific demands as a reason for its demise. If and when the next radical grassroots movement emerges, which <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/11/america-left-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-new-york-primary">may be sooner than you expect</a>, let’s make sure they have an array of ideas such as these in their quiver to focus public opinion on actual political deliverables. </p> <p>There are very few people who really want to see our civilization collapse. If these proposals eventually did get implemented, perhaps even the executives of the transnational corporations might sleep better at night, knowing that they can become part of the solution rather than a force of destruction.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-are-fatally-flawed-these-eight-graphs-show-why">Steven Pinker’s ideas are fatally flawed. These eight graphs show why.</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/culture-shift-redirecting-humanity-s-path-to-flourishing-future">Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/david-sogge/corporate-wax-nose">The corporate wax nose</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Jeremy Lent The role of money Economics Sun, 22 Jul 2018 20:53:05 +0000 Jeremy Lent 118859 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Steven Pinker’s ideas are fatally flawed. These eight graphs show why. https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-are-fatally-flawed-these-eight-graphs-show-why <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s time to reclaim the mantle of “Progress” for progressives<em>.</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Steven_Pinker.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Steven Pinker giving a lecture to Humanists UK, February 22 2018. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Steven_Pinker.jpg">Bhaawest via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>.</p><p>In <em><a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/317051/enlightenment-now-by-steven-pinker/9780525427575/">Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress</a></em>, published earlier this year, Steven Pinker argues that the human race has never had it so good as a result of values he attributes to the European Enlightenment of the 18th century. He berates those who focus on what is wrong with the world’s current condition as pessimists who only help to incite regressive reactionaries. Instead, he glorifies the dominant neoliberal, technocratic approach to solving the world’s problems as the only one that has worked in the past and will continue to lead humanity on its current triumphant path.</p> <p>His book has incited strong reactions, both positive and negative. On one hand, Bill Gates has, for example, effervesced that “It’s my new favorite book of all time.” On the other hand, Pinker has been fiercely excoriated by a wide range of leading thinkers for writing a simplistic, incoherent paean to the dominant world order. John Gray, in <a href="https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2018/02/unenlightened-thinking-steven-pinker-s-embarrassing-new-book-feeble-sermon">the <em>New Statesman</em></a>, calls it “embarrassing” and “feeble”; David Bell, writing <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/waiting-for-steven-pinkers-enlightenment/">in <em>The Nation</em></a>, sees it as “a dogmatic book that offers an oversimplified, excessively optimistic vision of human history”; and George Monbiot, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/07/environmental-calamity-facts-steven-pinker">in <em>The Guardian</em></a>, laments the “poor scholarship” and “motivated reasoning” that “insults the Enlightenment principles he claims to defend.” (Full disclosure: Monbiot recommends my book, <a href="https://www.jeremylent.com/the-patterning-instinct.html"><em>The Patterning Instinct</em></a>, instead.)</p> <p>In light of all this, you might ask, what is left to add? Having read his book carefully, I believe it’s crucially important to take Pinker to task for some dangerously erroneous arguments he makes. Pinker is, after all, an intellectual darling of the most powerful echelons of global society. He <a href="http://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/steven-pinker-excessive-political-correctness-feeds-dangerous-ideas">spoke to the world’s elite</a> this year at the World’s Economic Forum in Davos on the perils of what he calls “political correctness,” and has been named one of <em>Time</em> magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” Since his work offers an intellectual rationale for many in the elite to continue practices that imperil humanity, it needs to be met with a detailed and rigorous response.</p> <p>Besides, I agree with much of what Pinker has to say. His book is stocked with seventy-five charts and graphs that provide incontrovertible evidence for centuries of progress on many fronts that should matter to all of us: an inexorable decline in violence of all sorts along with equally impressive increases in health, longevity, education, and human rights. It’s precisely because of the validity of much of Pinker’s narrative that the flaws in his argument are so dangerous. They’re concealed under such a smooth layer of data and eloquence that they need to be carefully unraveled. That’s why my response to Pinker is to meet him on his own turf: in each section, like him, I rest my case on hard data exemplified in a graph.&nbsp; </p> <p>This discussion is particularly needed because progress is, in my view, one of the most important concepts of our time. I see myself, in common parlance, as a progressive. Progress is what I, and others I’m close to, care about passionately. Rather than ceding this idea to the coterie of neoliberal technocrats who constitute Pinker’s primary audience, I believe we should hold it in our steady gaze, celebrate it where it exists, understand its true causes, and most importantly, ensure that it continues in a form that future generations on this earth can enjoy. I hope this piece helps to do just that.</p> <h2>Graph 1: Overshoot</h2> <p>In November 2017, around the time when Pinker was likely putting the final touches on his manuscript, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">issued a dire warning</a> to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.” </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JeremyLent1.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 1: Three graphs from World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.</p> <p>They included nine sobering charts and a carefully worded, extensively researched analysis showing that, on a multitude of fronts, the human impact on the earth’s biological systems is increasing at an unsustainable rate. Three of those alarming graphs are shown here: the rise in CO2 emissions; the decline in available freshwater; and the increase in the number of ocean dead zones from artificial fertilizer runoff.</p> <p>This was not the first such notice. Twenty-five years earlier, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world, calling for a recognition of the earth’s fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that “we all have but one lifeboat.” The current graphs starkly demonstrate how little the world has paid attention to this warning since 1992.</p> <p>Taken together, these graphs illustrate ecological overshoot: the fact that, in the pursuit of material progress, our civilization is consuming the earth’s resources faster than they can be replenished. Overshoot is particularly dangerous because of its relatively slow feedback loops: if your checking account balance approaches zero, you know that if you keep writing checks they will bounce. In overshoot, however, it’s as though our civilization keeps taking out bigger and bigger overdrafts to replenish the account, and then we pretend these funds are income and celebrate our continuing “progress.” In the end, of course, the money runs dry and it’s game over.</p> <p>Pinker claims to respect science, yet he blithely ignores fifteen thousand scientists’ desperate warning to humanity. Instead, he uses the blatant rhetorical technique of ridicule to paint those concerned about overshoot as part of a “quasi-religious ideology… laced with misanthropy, including an indifference to starvation, an indulgence in ghoulish fantasies of a depopulated planet, and Nazi-like comparisons of human beings to vermin, pathogens, and cancer.” He then uses a couple of the most extreme examples he can find to create a straw-man to buttress his caricature. There are issues worthy of debate on the topic of civilization and sustainability, but to approach a subject of such seriousness with emotion-laden rhetoric is morally inexcusable and striking evidence of Monbiot’s claim that Pinker “insults the Enlightenment principles he claims to defend.”</p> <p>When Pinker does get serious on the topic, he promotes Ecomodernism as the solution: a neoliberal, technocratic belief that a combination of market-based solutions and technological fixes will magically resolve all ecological problems. This approach fails, however, to take into account the structural drivers of overshoot: a growth-based global economy reliant on ever-increasing monetization of natural resources and human activity. Without changing this structure, overshoot is inevitable. Transnational corporations, which currently constitute sixty-nine of the world’s hundred largest economies, <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/11/30/ai-has-already-taken-over-its-called-the-corporation/">are driven only by increasing</a> short-term financial value for their shareholders, regardless of the long-term impact on humanity. As freshwater resources decline, for example, their incentive is to buy up what remains and sell it in plastic throwaway bottles or <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/health/colombia-soda-tax-obesity.html?_r=0">process it into sugary drinks</a>, propelling billions in developing countries toward obesity through sophisticated marketing. In fact, until an imminent collapse of civilization itself, increasing ecological catastrophes are <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/10/31/the-cruel-topsy-turvy-economics-of-collapse/">likely to enhance</a> the GDP of developed countries even while those in less developed regions suffer dire consequences.</p> <p><span><strong>Graphs 2 and 3: progress for whom?</strong></span></p> <p>Which brings us to another fundamental issue in Pinker’s narrative of progress: who actually gets to enjoy it? Much of his book is devoted to graphs showing worldwide progress in quality in life for humanity as a whole. However, some of his omissions and misstatements on this topic are very telling.</p> <p>At one point, Pinker explains that, “Despite the word’s root, humanism doesn’t exclude the flourishing of animals, but this book focuses on the welfare of humankind.” That’s convenient, because any non-human animal might not agree that the past sixty years has been a period of flourishing. In fact, while the world’s GDP has increased 22-fold since 1970, there has been <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/living-planet-report-2016">a vast die-off</a> of the creatures with whom we share the earth. As shown in Figure 2, human progress in material consumption has come at the cost of a 58% decline in vertebrates, including a shocking 81% reduction of animal populations in freshwater systems. For every five birds or fish that inhabited a river or lake in 1970, there is now just one.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Jeremylent2.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 2: Reduction in abundance in global species since 1970. Source: WWF Living Plant Report, 2016.</p> <p>But we don’t need to look outside the human race for Pinker’s selective view of progress. He is pleased to tell us that “racist violence against African Americans… plummeted in the 20th century, and has fallen further since.” What he declines to report is the drastic increase in incarceration rates for African Americans during that same period (Figure 3). An African American man is now six times more likely to be arrested than a white man, resulting in <a href="https://sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Trends-in-US-Corrections.pdf">the dismal statistic</a> that one in every three African American men can currently expect to be imprisoned in their lifetime. The grim takeaway from this is that racist violence against African Americans has not declined at all, as Pinker suggests. Instead, it has become institutionalized into U.S. national policy in <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/how-the-school-to-prison-pipeline-is-created/433230/">what is known as</a> the school-to-prison pipeline.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Jeremylent3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 3: Historical incarceration rates of African-Americans. Source: <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/04/30/the-meteoric-costly-and-unprecedented-rise-of-incarceration-in-america/?utm_term=.f54d5554031d">The Washington Post</a>.</p> <p><span><strong>Graph 4: A rising tide lifts all boats?</strong></span></p> <p>This brings us to one of the crucial errors in Pinker’s overall analysis. By failing to analyze his top-level numbers with discernment, he unquestioningly propagates one of the great neoliberal myths of the past several decades: that “a rising tide lifts all the boats”—a phrase he unashamedly appropriates for himself as he extols the benefits of inequality. This was <a href="https://www.nationalreview.com/2006/07/rising-tide-more-ways-one-thomas-e-nugent/">the argument used</a> by the original instigators of neoliberal laissez-faire economics, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, to cut taxes, privatize industries, and slash public services with the goal of increasing economic growth.</p> <p>Pinker makes two key points here. First, he argues that “income inequality is not a fundamental component of well-being,” pointing to recent research that people are comfortable with differential rewards for others depending on their effort and skill. However, as Pinker himself acknowledges, humans do have a powerful predisposition toward fairness. They want to feel that, if they work diligently, they can be as successful as someone else based on what they do, not on what family they’re born into or what their skin color happens to be. More equal societies are <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/want-the-good-life-your-neighbors-need-it-too">also healthier</a>, which is a condition conspicuously missing from the current economic model, where the divide between rich and poor has become so gaping that the six wealthiest men in the world (including <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/27/business/mind-meld-bill-gates-steven-pinker.html">Pinker’s good friend</a>, Bill Gates) now own <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/richest-men-in-the-world-2274065153.html">as much wealth</a> as the entire bottom half of the world’s population.</p> <p>Pinker’s fallback might, then, be his second point: the rising tide argument, which he extends to the global economy. Here, he cheerfully recounts the story of how Branko Milanović, a leading ex-World Bank economist, analyzed income gains by percentile across the world over the twenty-year period 1988–2008, and discovered something that became widely known as the “Elephant Graph,” because its shape resembled the profile of an elephant with a raised trunk. Contrary to popular belief about rising global inequality, it seemed to show that, while the top 1% did in fact gain more than their fair share of income, lower percentiles of the global population had done just as well. It seemed to be only the middle classes in wealthy countries that had missed out. </p> <p>This graph, however, is virtually meaningless because it calculates growth rates as a percent of widely divergent income levels. Compare a Silicon Valley executive <a href="https://www.indeed.com/salaries/Director-Salaries,-Silicon-Valley-CA">earning $200,000/year</a> with one of the <a href="https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-global-poverty">three billion people</a> currently living on $2.50 per day or less. If the executive gets a 10% pay hike, she can use the $20,000 to buy a new compact car for her teenage daughter. Meanwhile, that same 10% increase would add, at most, a measly 25 cents per day to each of those three billion. In Graph 4, Oxfam economist Mujeed Jamaldeen shows the original “Elephant Graph” (blue line) contrasted with changes in absolute income levels (green line). The difference is stark.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent4.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Figure 4: “Elephant Graph” versus absolute income growth levels. Source: “From Poverty to Power,” Muheed Jamaldeen.</p> <p>The “Elephant Graph” elegantly conceals the fact that the wealthiest 1% experienced nearly 65 times the absolute income growth as the poorest half of the world’s population. Inequality isn’t, in fact, decreasing at all, but going extremely rapidly the other way. Jamaldeen <a href="http://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/whats-happening-on-global-inequality-putting-the-elephant-graph-to-sleep-with-a-hockey-stick/">has calculated</a> that, at the current rate, it would take over 250 years for the income of the poorest 10% to merely reach the global average income of $11/day. By that time, at the current rate of consumption by wealthy nations, it’s safe to say there would be nothing left for them to spend their lucrative earnings on. In fact, the “rising tide” for some barely equates to a drop in the bucket for billions of others.</p> <h2>Graph 5: Measuring genuine progress.</h2> <p>One of the cornerstones of Pinker’s book is the explosive rise in income and wealth that the world has experienced in the past couple of centuries. Referring to the work of economist Angus Deaton, he calls it the “Great Escape” from the historic burdens of human suffering, and shows a chart (Figure 5, left) depicting the rise in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, which seems to say it all. How could anyone in their right mind refute that evidence of progress? </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent5.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 5: GDP per capita compared with GPI. Source: Kubiszewski et al. "Beyond GDP: Measuring and achieving global genuine progress.” Ecological Economics, 2013.</p> <p>There is no doubt that the world has experienced a transformation in material wellbeing in the past two hundred years, and Pinker documents this in detail, from the increased availability of clothing, food, and transportation, to the seemingly mundane yet enormously important decrease in the cost of artificial light. However, there is a point where the rise in economic activity begins to decouple from wellbeing. In fact, GDP merely measures the rate at which a society is transforming nature and human activities into the monetary economy, regardless of the ensuing quality of life. Anything that causes economic activity of any kind, whether good or bad, adds to GDP. An oil spill, for example, increases GDP because of the cost of cleaning it up: the bigger the spill, the better it is for GDP.</p> <p>This divergence is played out, tragically, across the world every day, and is cruelly hidden in global statistics of rising GDP when powerful corporate and political interests destroy the lives of the vulnerable in the name of economic “progress.” In just one of countless examples, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/06/urban-poor-tragedy-altamira-belo-monte-brazil">a recent report</a> in <em>The Guardian</em> describes how indigenous people living on the Xingu River in the Amazon rainforest were forced off their land to make way for the Belo Monte hydroelectric complex in Altamira, Brazil. One of them, Raimundo Brago Gomes, tells how “I didn’t need money to live happy. My whole house was nature… I had my patch of land where I planted a bit of everything, all sorts of fruit trees. I’d catch my fish, make manioc flour… I raised my three daughters, proud of what I was. I was rich.” Now, he and his family live among drug dealers behind barred windows in Brazil’s most violent city, receiving a state pension which, after covering rent and electricity, leaves him about 50 cents a day to feed himself, his wife, daughter, and grandson. Meanwhile, as a result of his family’s forced entry into the monetary economy, Brazil’s GDP has risen.</p> <p>Pinker is aware of the crudeness of GDP as a measure, but uses it repeatedly throughout his book because, he claims, “it correlates with every indicator of human flourishing.” This is not, however, what has been discovered when economists have adjusted GDP to incorporate other major factors that affect human flourishing. One prominent alternative measure, the <a href="https://liologydotnet.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/kubiszewsky-beyond-gdp.pdf">Genuine Progress Indicator</a> (GPI), reduces GDP for negative environmental factors such as the cost of pollution, loss of primary forest and soil quality, and social factors such as the cost of crime and commuting. It increases the measure for positive factors missing from GDP such as housework, volunteer work, and higher education. Sixty years of historical GPI for many countries around the world have been measured, and the results resoundingly refute Pinker’s claim of GDP’s correlation with wellbeing. In fact, as shown by the purple line in Figure 5 (right), it turns out that the world’s Genuine Progress peaked in 1978 and has been steadily falling ever since.</p> <h2>Graph 6: What has improved global health?</h2> <p>One of Pinker’s most important themes is the undisputed improvement in overall health and longevity that the world has enjoyed in the past century. It’s a powerful and heart-warming story. Life expectancy around the world has more than doubled in the past century. Infant mortality everywhere is a tiny fraction of what it once was. Improvements in medical knowledge and hygiene have saved literally billions of lives. Pinker appropriately quotes economist Steven Radelet that these improvements “rank among the greatest achievements in human history.”</p> <p>So, what has been the underlying cause of this great achievement? Pinker melds together what he sees as the twin engines of progress: GDP growth and increase in knowledge. Economic growth, for him, is a direct result of global capitalism. “Though intellectuals are apt to do a spit take when they read a defense of capitalism,” he declares with his usual exaggerated rhetoric, “its economic benefits are so obvious that they don’t need to be shown with numbers.” He refers to a figure called the Preston curve, from a paper by Samuel Preston published in 1975 showing a correlation between GDP and life expectancy that become foundational to the field of developmental economics. “Most obviously,” Pinker declares, “GDP per capita correlates with longevity, health, and nutrition.” While he pays lip service to the scientific principle that “correlation is not causation,” he then clearly asserts causation, claiming that “economic development does seem to be a major mover of human welfare.” He closes his chapter with a joke about a university dean offered by a genie the choice between money, fame, or wisdom. The dean chooses wisdom but then regrets it, muttering “I should have taken the money.”</p> <p>Pinker would have done better to have pondered more deeply on the relation between correlation and causation in this profoundly important topic. In fact, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/padr.12141">a recent paper</a> by Wolfgang Lutz and Endale Kebede entitled “Education and Health: Redrawing the Preston Curve” does just that. The original Preston curve came with an anomaly: the relationship between GDP and life expectancy doesn’t stay constant. Instead, each period it’s measured, it shifts higher, showing greater life expectancy for any given GDP (Figure 6, left). Preston—and his followers, including Pinker—explained this away by suggesting that advances in medicine and healthcare must have improved things across the board. </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent6.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 6: GDP vs. Life expectancy compared with Education vs. Life expectancy. Source: W. Lutz and E. Kebede. "Education and Health: Redrawing the Preston Curve." Population and Development Review, 2018.</p> <p>Lutz and Kebede, however, used sophisticated multi-level regression models to analyze how closely education correlated with life expectancy compared with GDP. They found that a country’s average level of educational attainment explained rising life expectancy much better than GDP, and eliminated the anomaly in Preston’s Curve (Figure 6, right). The correlation with GDP was spurious. In fact, their model suggests that both GDP and health are ultimately driven by the amount of schooling children receive. This finding has enormous implications for development priorities in national and global policy. For decades, the neoliberal mantra, based on Preston’s Curve, has dominated mainstream thinking—raise a country’s GDP and health benefits will follow. Lutz and Kebede show that a more effective policy would be to invest in schooling for children, with all the ensuing benefits in quality of life that will bring.</p> <p>Pinker’s joke has come full circle. In reality, for the past few decades, the dean chose the money. Now, he can look at the data and mutter: “I should have taken the wisdom.”</p> <h2>Graph 7: False equivalencies, false dichotomies.</h2> <p>As we can increasingly see, many of Pinker’s missteps arise from the fact that he conflates two different dynamics of the past few centuries: improvements in many aspects of the human experience, and the rise of neoliberal, laissez-faire capitalism. Whether this is because of faulty reasoning on his part, or a conscious strategy to obfuscate, the result is the same. Most readers will walk away from his book with the indelible impression that free market capitalism is an underlying driver of human progress.</p> <p>Pinker himself states the importance of avoiding this kind of conflation. “Progress,” he declares, “consists not in accepting every change as part of an indivisible package… Progress consists of unbundling the features of a social process as much as we can to maximize the human benefits while minimizing the harms.” If only he took his own admonition more seriously!</p> <p>Instead, he laces his book with an unending stream of false equivalencies and false dichotomies that lead a reader inexorably to the conclusion that progress and capitalism are part of the same package. One of his favorite tropes is to create a false equivalency between right-wing extremism and the progressive movement on the left. He tells us that the regressive factions that undergirded Donald Trump’s presidency were “abetted by a narrative shared by many of their fiercest opponents, in which the institutions of modernity have failed and every aspect of life is in deepening crisis—the two sides in macabre agreement that wrecking those institutions will make the world a better place.” He even goes so far as to implicate Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election debacle: “The left and right ends of the political spectrum,” he opines, “incensed by economic inequality for their different reasons, curled around to meet each other, and their shared cynicism about the modern economy helped elect the most radical American president in recent times.”</p> <p>Implicit in Pinker’s political model is the belief that progress can only arise from the brand of centrist politics espoused by many in the mainstream Democratic Party. He perpetuates a false dichotomy of “right versus left” based on a twentieth-century version of politics that has been irrelevant for more than a generation. “The left,” he writes, “has missed the boat in its contempt for the market and its romance with Marxism.” He contrasts “industrial capitalism,” on the one hand, which has rescued humanity from universal poverty, with communism, which has “brought the world terror-famines, purges, gulags, genocides, Chernobyl, megadeath revolutionary wars, and North Korea–style poverty before collapsing everywhere else of its own internal contradictions.”</p> <p>By painting this black and white, Manichean landscape of capitalist good versus communist evil, Pinker obliterates from view the complex, sophisticated models of a hopeful future that have been diligently constructed over decades by a wide range of progressive thinkers. These fresh perspectives eschew the Pinker-style false dichotomy of traditional left versus right. Instead, they explore the possibilities of replacing a destructive global economic system with one that offers potential for greater fairness, sustainability, and human flourishing. In short, a model for continued progress for the twenty-first century.</p> <p>While the thought leaders of the progressive movement are too numerous to mention here, an illustration of this kind of thinking is seen in Graph 7. It shows an integrated model of the economy, aptly called “Doughnut Economics,” <a href="https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/">that has been developed</a> by pioneering economist Kate Raworth. The inner ring, called Social Foundation, represents the minimum level of life’s essentials, such as food, water, and housing, required for the possibility of a healthy and wholesome life. The outer ring, called Ecological Ceiling, represents the boundaries of Earth’s life-giving systems, such as a stable climate and healthy oceans, within which we must remain to achieve sustained wellbeing for this and future generations. The red areas within the ring show the current shortfall in the availability of bare necessities to the world’s population; the red zones outside the ring illustrate the extent to which we have already overshot the safe boundaries in several essential earth systems. Humanity’s goal, within this model, is to develop policies that bring us within the safe and just space of the “doughnut” between the two rings.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent7.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 7: Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economic Model. Source: Kate Raworth; Christian Guthier/The Lancet Planetary Health.</p> <p>Raworth, along with many others who care passionately about humanity’s future progress, focus their efforts, not on the kind of zero-sum, false dichotomies propagated by Pinker, but on developing fresh approaches to building a future that works for all on a sustainable and flourishing earth.</p> <h2>Graph 8: Progress Is Caused By… Progressives!</h2> <p>This brings us to the final graph, which is actually one of Pinker’s own. It shows the decline in recent years of web searches for sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes. Along with other statistics, he uses this as evidence in his argument that, contrary to what we read in the daily headlines, retrograde prejudices based on gender, race, and sexual orientation are actually on the decline. He attributes this in large part to “the benign taboos on racism, sexism, and homophobia that have become second nature to the mainstream.”</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent8.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span class="image-caption">Figure 8. Source: Steven Pinker, <em><a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/317051/enlightenment-now-by-steven-pinker/9780525427575/">Enlightenment Now</a>.</em></span></span></p><p>How, we might ask, did this happen? As Pinker himself expresses, we can’t assume that this kind of moral progress just happened on its own. “If you see that a pile of laundry has gone down,” he avers, “it does not mean the clothes washed themselves; it means someone washed the clothes. If a type of violence has gone down, then some change in the social, cultural, or material milieu has caused it to go down… That makes it important to find out what the causes are, so we can try to intensify them and apply them more widely.”</p> <p>Looking back into history, Pinker recognizes that changes in moral norms came about because progressive minds broke out of their society’s normative frames and applied new ethics based on a higher level of morality, dragging the mainstream reluctantly in their wake, until the next generation grew up adopting a new moral baseline. “Global shaming campaigns,” he explains, “even when they start out as purely aspirational, have in the past led to dramatic reductions in slavery, dueling, whaling, foot-binding, piracy, privateering, chemical warfare, apartheid, and atmospheric nuclear testing.”</p> <p>It is hard to comprehend how the same person who wrote these words can then turn around and hurl invectives against what he decries as “political correctness police, and social justice warriors” caught up in “identity politics,” not to mention his loathing for an environmental movement that “subordinates human interests to a transcendent entity, the ecosystem.” Pinker seems to view all ethical development from prehistory to the present day as “progress,” but any pressure to shift society further along its moral arc as anathema. </p> <p>This is the great irony of Pinker’s book. In writing a paean to historical progress, he then takes a staunchly conservative stance to those who want to continue it. It’s as though he sees himself at the mountain’s peak, holding up a placard saying “All progress stops here, unless it’s on my terms.”</p> <p>In reality, many of the great steps made in securing the moral progress Pinker applauds came from brave individuals who had to resist the opprobrium of the Steven Pinkers of their time while they devoted their lives to reducing the suffering of others. When Thomas Paine affirmed the “Rights of Man” back in 1792, <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2015/12/09/creating-new-norms-the-rights-of-nature-tribunal/">he was tried and convicted&nbsp;</a><em>in absentia</em>&nbsp;by the British for seditious libel. It would be another 150 years before his visionary idea was universally recognized in the United Nations. Emily Pankhurst was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmeline_Pankhurst">arrested seven times</a> in her struggle to obtain women’s suffrage and was constantly berated by “moderates” of the time for her radical approach in striving for something that has now become the unquestioned norm. When Rachel Carson published <em>Silent Spring</em> in 1962, with the first public exposé of the indiscriminate use of pesticides, her solitary stance was denounced as hysterical and unscientific. Just eight years later, twenty million Americans marched to protect the environment in the first Earth Day.</p> <p>These great strides in moral progress continue to this day. It’s hard to see them in the swirl of daily events, but they’re all around us: in the legalization of same sex marriage, in the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement, and most recently in the way the #MeToo movement is beginning to shift norms in the workplace. Not surprisingly, the current steps in social progress are vehemently opposed by Steven Pinker, who has approvingly retweeted articles attacking both <a href="https://twitter.com/sapinker/status/698171580707442689?lang=en">Black Lives Matter</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/sapinker/status/942821860689006593?lang=en">#MeToo</a>, and who <a href="http://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/steven-pinker-excessive-political-correctness-feeds-dangerous-ideas">rails at the World Economic Forum</a> against what he terms “political correctness.”</p> <p>It’s time to reclaim the mantle of “Progress” for progressives. By slyly tethering the concept of progress to free market economics and centrist values, Steven Pinker has tried to appropriate a great idea for which he has no rightful claim. Progress in the quality of life, for humans and nonhumans alike, is something that anyone with a heart should celebrate. It did not come about through capitalism, and in many cases, it has been achieved despite the “free market” that Pinker espouses. Personally, I’m proud to be a progressive, and along with many others, to devote my energy to achieve progress for this and future generations. And if and when we do so, it won’t be thanks to Steven Pinker and his specious arguments.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/culture-shift-redirecting-humanity-s-path-to-flourishing-future">Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kate-raworth/seven-ways-to-think-like-21st-century-economist">Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/harry-hendrick/new-vision-for-left">A new vision for the left</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Jeremy Lent Environment Economics Culture Mon, 21 May 2018 21:11:11 +0000 Jeremy Lent 117963 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/culture-shift-redirecting-humanity-s-path-to-flourishing-future <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s time to build a new worldview around a deeper sense of connectedness.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JeremyLent.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption"><a title="Honghe Hani Rice Terraces" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honghe_Hani_Rice_Terraces">Honghe Hani Rice Terraces</a> in&nbsp;<a title="Yunnan" href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Yunnan">Yunnan</a>&nbsp;Province, China.. Credit: By Jialiang Gao, www.peace-on-earth.org - Original Photograph via <a href="///C:/Users/edwarmi/Documents/Documents/By%20Jialiang%20Gao,%20www.peace-on-earth.org%20-%20Original%20Photograph,%20CC%20BY-SA%203.0,%20https:/commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php%3fcurid=2926830">Wikimedia Commons</a>, CC BY-SA 3.0.</p> <p>What do all these ideas have in common—a tax on carbon, big investments in renewable energy, a livable minimum wage, and freely accessible healthcare? The answer is that we need all of them, but even taken together they’re utterly insufficient to redirect humanity away from impending catastrophe and toward a truly flourishing future.</p> <p>That’s because the problems these ideas are designed to solve, critical as they are, are symptoms of an even more profound problem: the implicit values of a global economic and political system that is driving civilization toward a precipice. </p> <p>Even with the best of intentions, those actively working to reform the current system are a bit like software engineers valiantly trying to fix multiple bugs in a faulty software program: each fix complicates the code, leading inevitably to a new set of bugs that require even more heroic workarounds. Ultimately, it becomes clear that the problem isn’t just the software: an entirely new operating system is required to get where we need to go.</p> <p>This realization dawned on me gradually over the years I spent researching my book, <a href="https://www.jeremylent.com/the-patterning-instinct.html"><em>The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning</em></a>. My research began as a personal search for meaning. I’d been through a personal crisis when the certainties on which I’d built my early life came crashing down around me. I wanted my life going forward to be truly meaningful—but based on what foundation? I was determined to sort through the received narratives of meaning until I came across a foundation I could really believe in.</p> <p>My drive to answer these questions led me to explore the patterns of meaning that different cultures throughout history have constructed. Just like peeling an onion, I realized that one layer of meaning frequently covered deeper layers that structure the daily thoughts and values that most people take for granted. It was a journey of nearly ten years, during which I dedicated myself to deep research in disciplines such as neuroscience, history and anthropology.</p> <p>Finally, I discovered that what makes humans unique is that we—to a greater extent than any other species—have what I call a ‘patterning instinct:’ we are driven to pattern meaning into our world. That drive is what led humans to develop language, myth, and culture. It enabled us to invent tools and develop science, giving us tremendous benefits but also putting us on a collision course with the natural world.</p> <p>Each culture tends to construct its worldview on a root metaphor of the universe, which in turn defines people’s relationship to nature and each other, ultimately leading to a set of values that directs how that culture behaves. It’s those culturally derived values that have shaped history. </p> <p>Early hunter-gatherers, for example, understood nature as a ‘giving parent,’ seeing themselves as part of a large extended family, intrinsically connected with the spirits of the natural world around them. When agriculture first emerged about twelve thousand years ago, new values such as property, hierarchy and wealth appeared, leading early civilizations to view the universe as dominated by a hierarchy of gods who required propitiation through worship, ritual and sacrifice.</p> <p>Beginning with the ancient Greeks, a radically new, dualistic way of thinking about the universe emerged, conceiving a split cosmos divided between a heavenly domain of eternal abstraction and a worldly domain polluted with imperfection. This cosmological split was paralleled by the conception of a split human being composed of an eternal soul temporarily imprisoned in a physical body that is destined to die. Christianity, the world’s first systematic dualistic cosmology, built on the Greek model by placing the source of meaning in an external God in the heavens, while the natural world became merely a desacralized theater for the human drama to be enacted.</p> <p>The Christian cosmos set the stage for the modern worldview that emerged in seventeenth century Europe with the Scientific Revolution. The belief in the divinity of reason, inherited from the ancient Greeks, served as an inspiration for the scientific discoveries of pioneers such as Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, who all believed that they were glimpsing ‘the mind of God.’ </p> <p>But the worldview that inspired these breakthroughs had a darker side. The Scientific Revolution was built on metaphors such as ‘nature as a machine’ and ‘conquering nature’ which have shaped the values and behaviors of the modern age. The entailments of a dualistic cosmos inherited from the Greeks have defined our received beliefs, many of which we accept implicitly even though they are based on flawed assumptions. </p> <p>We are told that humans are fundamentally selfish—indeed even our genes are selfish—and that an efficiently functioning society is one where everyone rationally pursues their own self-interest. We accept technocratic fixes to problems that require more integrated, systemic solutions on the premise that nature is just a very complicated machine—one that is entirely separate from humanity.</p> <p>Continued growth in Gross Domestic Product is seen as the basis for economic and political success, even though GDP measures nothing more than the rate at which we are transforming nature and human activities into the monetary economy, no matter how beneficial or harmful it may be. And the world’s financial markets are based on the belief that the global economy will keep growing indefinitely even though that is impossible on a finite planet. ‘No problem,’ we are told, since technology will always find a new solution.</p> <p>These underlying flaws in our global operating system stem ultimately from a sense of disconnection. Our minds and bodies, reason and emotion are seen as split parts within ourselves. Human beings are understood as individuals separated from each other, and humanity as a whole is perceived as separate from nature. At the deepest level, it is this sense of separation that is inexorably leading human civilization to potential disaster. </p> <p>However, the same human patterning instinct that has brought us to this precipice is also capable of turning us around and onto a path of sustainable flourishing. We have the capacity to build an alternative worldview around a sense of connectedness within the web of life—a sense shared by indigenous cultures around the world from the earliest times. </p> <p>I’ve seen this idea disparaged as a New Agey, kumbaya-style mentality even by otherwise progressive thinkers. However, modern scientific findings validate the underlying connectedness of all living beings. Insights from complexity theory and systems biology show that the connections between things are frequently more important than the things themselves. Life itself is now understood as a self-organizing, self-regenerating complex that extends like a fractal at ever-increasing scale, from a single cell to the global system of life on Earth.</p> <p>Human beings, too, are best understood not by their selfish drives for power but by cooperation, group identity, and a sense of fair play. In contrast to chimpanzees, who are obsessed with competing against each other, human beings evolved to become the most cooperative of primates, working collaboratively on complex tasks and creating communities with shared values and practices that became the basis for culture and civilization. In the view of prominent evolutionary psychologists, it was our intrinsic sense of fairness that led to the evolutionary success of our species and created the cognitive foundation for crucial values of the modern world such as freedom, equality and representative government.</p> <p>Just as the values of previous generations shaped history, so the values we collectively choose to live by today will shape our future. The cognitive patterns instilled in us by the dominant culture are the results of a particular worldview that arose at a specific time and place in human history. This worldview has now passed its expiration date. It is causing enormous unnecessary suffering throughout the globe and driving our civilization toward collapse. </p> <p>Rather than trying to transcend what we are, our most important task is to peel away this received worldview, reach within ourselves to feel our deepest motivations as living beings embedded in the web of life, and act on them.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-catastrophe-only-cure-for-weakness-of-radical-politics">Is catastrophe the only cure for the weakness of radical politics? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/left-s-problem-isn-t-politics-it-s-metaphysics">The left’s problem isn’t politics—it’s metaphysics </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/harry-hendrick/new-vision-for-left">A new vision for the left</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Jeremy Lent Culture Tue, 20 Mar 2018 20:33:41 +0000 Jeremy Lent 116590 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Jeremy Lent https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/jeremy-lent <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Jeremy Lent </div> </div> </div> <p>Jeremy Lent is author of <a href="http://www.jeremylent.com/the-patterning-instinct.html"><em>The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning</em></a>, which investigates how different cultures have made sense of the universe and how their underlying values have changed the course of history. He is founder of the nonprofit <a href="http://www.liology.org/">Liology Institute</a>, dedicated to fostering a sustainable worldview. For more information visit <a href="http://www.jeremylent.com/">jeremylent.com</a>. </p><p>&nbsp;</p> Jeremy Lent Fri, 09 Mar 2018 20:11:34 +0000 Jeremy Lent 116591 at https://www.opendemocracy.net