America the Possible: A Manifesto, Part I

Illustration: Gary Waters

Part one of two. Part two was published in the May/June 2012 issue.

LIKE YOU AND OTHER AMERICANS, I love my country, its wonderful people, its boundless energy, its creativity in so many fields, its natural beauty, its many gifts to the world, and the freedom it has given us to express ourselves. So we should all be angry, profoundly angry, when we consider what has happened to our country and what that neglect could mean for our children and grandchildren.

How can we gauge what has happened to America in the past few decades and where we stand today? One way is to look at how America now compares with other countries in key areas. The group of twenty advanced democracies—the major countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, the Nordic countries, Canada, and others—can be thought of as our peer nations. Here’s what we see when we look at these countries. To our great shame, America now has

• the highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;
• the greatest inequality of incomes;
• the lowest social mobility;
• the lowest score on the UN’s index of “material well-being of children”;
• the worst score on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index;
• the highest expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP, yet all this money accompanied by the highest infant mortality rate, the highest prevalence of mental health problems, the highest obesity rate, the highest percentage of people going without health care due to cost, the highest consumption of antidepressants per capita, and the shortest life expectancy at birth;
• the next-to-lowest score for student performance in math and middling performance in science and reading;
• the highest homicide rate;
• the largest prison population in absolute terms and per capita;
• the highest carbon dioxide emissions and the highest water consumption per capita;
• the lowest score on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (except for Belgium) and the largest ecological footprint per capita (except for Denmark);
• the lowest spending on international development and humanitarian assistance as a percentage of national income (except for Japan and Italy);
• the highest military spending both in total and as a percentage of GDP; and
• the largest international arms sales.

Our politicians are constantly invoking America’s superiority and exceptionalism. True, the data is piling up to confirm that we’re Number One, but in exactly the way we don’t want to be—at the bottom.

These deplorable consequences are not just the result of economic and technological forces over which we have no control. They are the results of conscious political decisions made over several decades by both Democrats and Republicans who have had priorities other than strengthening the well-being of American society and our environment. Many countries, obviously, took a different path—one that was open to us as well.

I wish that were all the bad news. Unfortunately, international comparisons only give us a glimpse of what we now face. They miss many of the most important challenges, including in the critical areas of social conditions, national security, and politics. I will spare you the litany of environmental bad news; most of you have already heard it.

When it comes to social conditions, it’s important to recognize that nearly 50 million Americans now live in poverty—one in six. If you’re in poverty in America, you’re living on less than $400 per week for a family of four. Poverty is the bleeding edge of a more pervasive American shortcoming—massive economic insecurity. About half of American families now live paycheck to paycheck, are financially fragile, and earn less than needed to cover basic living expenses, let alone save for the future.

Back in 1928, right before the Great Depression, the richest 1 percent of Americans received 24 percent of the country’s total income. Starting with the New Deal, public policy favored greater equality and a strong middle class, so that by 1976, the share of the richest 1 percent of households had dropped to 9 percent. But then the great re-redistribution began in the 1980s, so that by 2007, right before the Great Recession, the richest 1 percent had regained its 1928 position—with 24 percent of income.

As for national security, the U.S. now spends almost as much on the military as the rest of the world combined. If one totals military and other U.S. security spending, the total easily climbs to over $1 trillion annually, about two-thirds of all discretionary federal spending. In what has been called a key feature of the American Empire, America now garrisons the world. Although the Pentagon officially reports that we maintain a mere 660 military bases in 38 countries, if one adds the unreported bases in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, there are likely as many as 1,000 U.S. military sites around the world. By 2010, we had covert operations deployed in an estimated 40 percent of the world’s 192 nations. On the home front, in 2010, the Washington Post reported that the top-secret world the government created in response to 9/11 now contains some 1,300 government entities and 1,900 private companies all working on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence in some 10,000 locations across the United States.

When you’ve got an armful of hammers, every problem looks like a nail, and the U.S. has tended to seek military solutions to problems that might be addressed otherwise. The costs have been phenomenally high. When all told, our wars since 9/11 will cost us over $4 trillion and more than 8,000 American lives, with another 99,000 U.S. troops already wounded in action or evacuated for serious illness.

Another sorrow is the huge, draining psychological burden that U.S. actions have on its citizens. We see our own military, the CIA, and U.S. contractors engaged in torture and prisoner abuse, large killings of innocent civilians, murders and the taking of body parts as souvenirs, renditions, drone assassinations, military detention without trial, collaboration with unsavory regimes, and more.

Meanwhile, outside our borders, a world of wounds has festered without much help, and often with harm, from the United States. We are neglecting so many problems—from world poverty, underdevelopment, and climate change to emerging shortages of food and water and energy, biological impoverishment, and transnational organized crime.

The following are among the many treaties ratified by all nations, except for a few rogue states—and the United States: the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Land Mine Convention, the International Criminal Court convention, the Biodiversity Convention, the Law of the Sea, the Kyoto Protocol of the Climate Convention, and the Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. The U.S. is the main reason we do not now have a World Environment Organization.

In these respects and in many others, the U.S. posture in the world reflects a radical imbalance: a hugely disproportionate focus on the military and on economic issues and a tragic neglect of some of the most serious challenges we and the world now confront.

These many challenges require farsighted, strong, and effective government leadership and action. Inevitably, then, the path to responding to these challenges leads to the political arena, where a vital, muscular democracy steered by an informed and engaged citizenry is needed. That’s the democracy we need, but, unfortunately, it is not the democracy we have. Right now, Washington isn’t even trying to seriously address most of these challenges. Neglect, stalemate, and denial rule the day. It is estimated that American politics is more polarized today than at any time since Reconstruction. Polarization, of course, is father to gridlock. Gridlock and stalemate are the last thing our country needs now.

The American political system is in deep trouble for another reason—it is moving from democracy to plutocracy and corporatocracy, supported by the ascendancy of market fundamentalism and a strident antiregulation, antigovernment, antitax ideology. The hard truth is that our political system today is simply incapable of meeting the great challenges described here. What we have is third-rate governance at a time when the challenges we face require first-rate governance.

America thus confronts a daunting array of challenges in the maintenance of our people’s well-being, in the conduct of our international affairs, in the management of our planet’s natural assets, and in the workings of our politics. Taken together, these challenges place in grave peril much that we hold dear.

The America we must seek for our children and grandchildren is not the America we have today. If we are going to change things for the better, we must first understand the forces that led us to this sea of troubles. When big problems emerge across the entire spectrum of national life, it cannot be due to small reasons. We have encompassing problems because of fundamental flaws in our economic and political system. By understanding these flaws, we can end them and move forward in a very different direction.

I THINK AMERICA GOT OFF COURSE for two primary reasons. In recent decades we failed to build consistently on the foundations laid by the New Deal, by Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms and his Second Bill of Rights, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead, we unleashed a virulent, fast-growing strain of corporate-consumerist capitalism. “Ours is the Ruthless Economy,” say Paul Samuelson and William Nordhaus in their influential textbook, Macroeconomics. And indeed it is. In its ruthlessness at home and abroad, it creates a world of wounds. As it strengthens and grows, those wounds deepen and multiply.

Such an economy begs for restraint and guidance in the public interest—control that can only be provided by government. Yet, at this point, the captains of our economic life and those who have benefited disproportionately from it have largely taken over our political life. Corporations, long identified as our principal economic actors, are now also our principal political actors. The result is a combined economic and political system—the operating system upon which our society runs—of great power and voraciousness, pursuing its own economic interests without serious concern for the values of fairness, justice, or sustainability that democratic government might have provided.

Our political economy has evolved and gathered force in parallel with the course of the Cold War and the growth of the American Security State. The Cold War and the rise of the American Empire have powerfully affected the nature of the political-economic system—strengthening the already existing prioritization of economic growth, giving rise to the military-industrial complex, and draining time, attention, and money away from domestic needs and emerging international challenges. This diversion of attention and resources continues with our response to international terrorism.

So what are this operating system’s key features, which have been given such free rein by these developments? First, ours is an economy that prioritizes economic growth above all else. We think of growth as an unalloyed good, but this growth fetish is a big source of our problems. We’ve had plenty of growth in recent decades—growth while wages stagnated, jobs fled our borders, life satisfaction flat-lined, social capital eroded, poverty and inequality mounted, and the environment declined. Today, U.S. GDP has regained its prerecession level, but 15 percent of American workers still can’t find full-time jobs.

Another key feature of today’s dysfunctional operating system is how powerfully the profit motive affects corporate behavior. Today’s corporations have been called “externalizing machines,” so committed are they to keeping the real costs of their activities off their books. Profit can be increased by keeping wages low and real social, environmental, and economic costs externalized—borne by society at large and not by the firm. One can get some measure of these external costs from a recent analysis of three thousand of the world’s biggest companies. It concluded that paying for their external environmental costs would erase at least a third of their profits. Profits can also be increased through subsidies, tax breaks, regulatory loopholes, and other gifts from government. Together, these external costs and subsidies lead to dishonest prices, which in turn lead consumers to spur on businesses that do serious damage to people and planet.

Given such emphasis on inexorable growth and profit, the constant spread of the market into new areas can be very costly environmentally and socially. As Karl Polanyi described in his 1944 book, The Great Transformation, “To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment . . . would result in the demolition of society. . . . Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed.” With its emphasis on privatization, commercialization, and commodification, American capitalism has carried this demolition forward with a vengeance.

But the system that drives the capitalism we have today includes other elements. The corporation—the most important institution and agent of modern capitalism—has become both enormous and hugely powerful. Of the hundred largest economies in the world, fifty-three are corporations. Of the three hundred largest corporations in the world, a third are U.S. companies. American business wields great political and economic power and has routinely used that power to restrain ameliorative governmental action. Our corporations have driven the rise of transnational capital as the basis for economic globalization, along with all the challenges that equation introduces.

Then, there is what our society has become. Dominant American values today are strongly materialistic, anthropocentric, and contempocentric. Today’s consumerism and materialism place high priority on meeting human needs through the ever-increasing purchasing of goods and services. We say the best things in life are free, but not many of us act that way. Instead we’ve embraced an endless cycle of work and spend. The anthropocentric view that nature belongs to us, rather than we to nature, facilitates the exploitation of the natural world. And the habit of focusing on the present and discounting the future leads us away from a thoughtful appraisal of the long-term consequences of the world we are making.

Next, there is what our government and politics have become. Growth serves the interests of government by boosting politicians’ approval ratings, keeping difficult social justice and other issues on the back burner, and generating larger revenues without raising tax rates. Government in America doesn’t own much of the economy, so it must feed its growth habit by providing what corporations need to keep growing. Meanwhile, Washington today is hobbled by partisanship, corrupted by money, and typically at the service of economic interests. It is focused on the short horizons of election cycles and guided by a pathetic level of public discourse on important issues. Finally, our government seeks to enhance and project national power, both hard and soft, in part through economic strength and growth and in part through sustaining a vast military deployment.

And there is what our system of money and finance has become. We think of money as the cash in our pockets or the bank, but, in truth, virtually all the money in circulation today is created by the banking system when loans are made. If everyone paid off all their debts, there would be hardly any money. Money is a system of power, and Wall Street wields that power. Today, among other things, the big banks are financing the destruction of the planet’s climate. In 2010, Citi raised more than $34 billion for the coal and oil industries. Within Citi’s portfolio is $1 billion raised for the proposed pipeline intended to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries. Since January 2010, ten big banks have supported mountaintop removal coal mining to the tune of more than $2.5 billion.

These features aptly characterize key dimensions of today’s operating system—the political economy of today’s American capitalism. It’s important to see these features as a system, linked and mutually reinforcing. Taken together, they have given rise to an economic reality that is both colossal and largely out of control. An unquestioning society-wide commitment to economic growth at any cost; powerful corporate and banking interests whose overriding objective is to grow by generating profit, including profit from avoiding social and environmental costs; a government beholden to corporate interests and thus not strongly inclined to curb corporate abuses; and a rampant consumerism spurred endlessly on by sophisticated advertising—all these combine to deliver an ever-growing economy insensitive to the needs of people, place, and planet.

The prioritization of economic growth is among the roots of our problems. Today’s reigning policy orientation holds that the path to greater well-being is to grow and expand the economy. Productivity, profits, the stock market, and consumption must all go up. This growth imperative trumps all else. Growth is measured by tallying GDP at the national level, and sales and profits at the company level. The pursuit of GDP and profit can be said to be the overwhelming priorities of national economic and political life.

Economic growth may be the world’s secular religion, but for much of the world it is a god that is failing—underperforming for most of the world’s people and, for those in affluent societies, now creating more problems than it is solving. The never-ending drive to grow the overall U.S. economy undermines families and communities; it is leading us to environmental calamity; it fuels a ruthless international search for energy and other resources; it fails at generating the needed jobs; and it rests on a manufactured consumerism that is not meeting our deepest human needs.

Americans are substituting growth and consumption for dealing with the real issues—for doing the things that would make us, and the country, better off. Psychologists have pointed out, for example, that while economic output per person in the United States has risen sharply in recent decades, there has been no increase in life satisfaction, and levels of distrust and depression have increased substantially. We have entered the realm of what ecological economist Herman Daly calls “uneconomic growth.” Environmentally, we see a world in which growth has brought us to a situation where more of the same will quite literally ruin the planet. Politically, the growth imperative is a big part of how we the people are controlled: the necessity for growth gives the real power to those who have the finance and technology to deliver it.

IT IS UP TO US AS CITIZENS to inject values of justice, fairness, and sustainability into this system, and government is the primary vehicle we have for accomplishing this. Typically, we attempt to do so by working within the system to promote needed reforms. We work the media and other channels to raise public awareness of our issue, and try to shift public understanding and discourse in our favor. We lobby Congress, the current administration, and government agencies with well-crafted and sensible proposals. When necessary, we go to court. With modest resources, we devote what we can to the electoral process and to candidates for public office. And we hope somehow that lightning will strike and events will move in our favor.

But it is now abundantly clear that these reformist approaches are not succeeding. The titanic forces unleashed by the American brand of capitalism are too powerful. The ceaseless drive for profits, growth, and power and other system imperatives keep the problem spigot fully open. Reform rarely deals with the root causes—the underlying drivers. The forces that gave rise to these problems in the first place continue to war against progress. And our enfeebled political life, more and more in the hands of powerful corporations and individuals of great wealth, is no match for these forces.

Pursuing reform within the system can help, but what is now desperately needed is transformative change in the system itself. To deal successfully with all the challenges America now faces, we must therefore complement reform with at least equal efforts aimed at transformative change to create a new operating system that routinely delivers good results for people and planet.

At the core of this new operating system must be a sustaining economy based on new economic thinking and driven forward by a new politics. The purpose and goal of a sustaining economy is to provide broadly shared prosperity that meets human needs while preserving the earth’s ecological integrity and resilience—in short, a flourishing people and a flourishing nature. That is the paradigm shift we must now seek.

I believe this paradigm shift in the nature and operation of America’s political economy can be best approached through a series of interacting, mutually reinforcing transformations—transformations that attack and undermine the key motivational structures of the current system, transformations that replace these old structures with new arrangements needed for a sustaining economy and a successful democracy.

The following transformations hold the key to moving to a new political economy. Consider each as a transition from today to tomorrow.

Economic growth: from growth fetish to post-growth society, from mere GDP growth to growth in human welfare and democratically determined priorities.
The market: from near laissez-faire to powerful market governance in the public interest.
The corporation: from shareholder primacy to stakeholder primacy, from one ownership and motivation model to new business models and the democratization of capital.
Money and finance: from Wall Street to Main Street, from money created through bank debt to money created by government.
Social conditions: from economic insecurity to security, from vast inequities to fundamental fairness.
Indicators: from GDP (“grossly distorted picture”) to accurate measures of social and environmental health and quality of life.
Consumerism: from consumerism and affluenza to sufficiency and mindful consumption, from more to enough.
Communities: from runaway enterprise and throwaway communities to vital local economies, from social rootlessness to rootedness and solidarity.
Dominant cultural values: from having to being, from getting to giving, from richer to better, from separate to connected, from apart from nature to part of nature, from transcendent to interdependent, from today to tomorrow.
Politics: from weak democracy to strong, from creeping corporatocracy and plutocracy to true popular sovereignty.
Foreign policy and the military: from American exceptionalism to America as a normal nation, from hard power to soft, from military prowess to real security.

We know that systemic, transformative change along these dimensions will require a great struggle, and it will not come quickly. The new values, priorities, policies, and institutions that would constitute a new political economy capable of regularly delivering good results are not at hand and won’t be for many years. The truth is we are still in the design stage of building a new operating system. That system won’t be yesterday’s socialism, by the way, but it won’t be today’s American capitalism either.

It follows that effectively addressing the many serious challenges America faces will take a lot more time than we would like. Meanwhile, America’s decline will persist—“decline” here not referring to losing world power relative to China and other countries, but to decline in human and natural conditions. That is a very depressing conclusion, but we must face it. More importantly, we must use it as a framework for understanding what we must now do. Indeed, there can be a very bright light at the end of this gloomy tunnel. There is the great gift of plausible hope that we can find our way forward.

In this period of decline, the imperatives we face as citizens are threefold: to slow and then halt the descent, minimizing human suffering and planetary damage along the way and preventing a collapse, the emergence of a fortress world, or any of the other dark scenarios plotted for us in science fiction and increasingly in serious analysis; to minimize the time at the bottom and start the climb upward toward a new operating system; and to complete, inhabit, and flourish in the diversity of alternative social arrangements, each far superior to ones we will have left behind.

But if we are failing at modest, incremental reform, how can we hope to achieve deeper, transformative change? The decline now occurring will progressively delegitimize the current order. Who wants an operating system that is capable of generating and perpetuating such suffering and destruction? One good thing about the decline of today’s political economy is that it opens the door to something much better. People will eventually rise up, raise a loud shout, and demand major changes. This is already happening with some people in some places. It will grow to become a national and global movement for transformation, demanding a better world.

As the old system enters its death throes, we are already seeing the proliferation of innovative models of “local living” economies, sustainable communities, and transition towns, as well as innovative business models, including social enterprises and for-benefit and worker-owned businesses that prioritize community and environment over profit and growth. Initiatives that may seem small or local can be starter wedges that lead to larger changes. These initiatives provide inspirational models for how things might work in a new political economy devoted to sustaining human and natural communities. Such initiatives are growing rapidly in America.

While the struggle to build a new system goes forward, we must do everything we can to make the old system perform. For example, if we do not act now on climate change, both nationally and internationally, the consequences will become so severe that the dark visions of those predicting calamity will become all too real. The situation we face in regard to climate disruption is already very grave. Should we fail to act now on the climate front, the world will likely become so nasty and brutish that the possibility of rebirth, of achieving something new and beautiful, will simply vanish, and we will be left with nothing but the burden of climate chaos and societies’ endless responses to it. Coping with the wreckage of a planetary civilization run amok would be a full-time job. On this issue and others, then, reform and transform are not alternatives but complementary and mutually reinforcing strategies.

Important here is a “theory of change.” The theory adopts the view that people act out of both fear and love—to avoid disaster and to realize a dream or positive vision. The theory affirms the centrality of hope and hope’s victory over despair. It locates the plausibility of hope in knowledge—knowing that many people will eventually rise up and fight for the things that they love; knowing that history’s constant is change, including deep, systemic change; and knowing that we understand enough to begin the journey, to strike out in the right directions, even if the journey’s end is a place we have never been. The theory embraces the seminal role of crises in waking us from the slumber of routine and in shining the spotlight on the failings of the current order of things. It puts great stock in transformative leadership that can point beyond the crisis to something better. The theory adopts the view that systemic change must be both bottom-up and top-down—driven by communities, businesses, and citizens deciding on their own to build the future locally as well as to develop the political muscle to adopt system-changing policies at the national and international levels. And it sees a powerful citizens’ movement as a necessary spur to action at all levels.

So imagine: As conditions in our country continue to decline across a wide front, or at best fester as they are, ever-larger numbers of Americans lose faith in the current system and its ability to deliver on the values it proclaims. The system steadily loses support, leading to a crisis of legitimacy. Meanwhile, traditional crises, both in the economy and in the environment, grow more numerous and fearsome. In response, progressives of all stripes coalesce, find their voice and their strength, and pioneer the development of a powerful set of new ideas and policy proposals confirming that the path to a better world does indeed exist. Demonstrations and protests multiply, and a powerful movement for prodemocracy reform and transformative change is born. At the local level, people and groups plant the seeds of change through a host of innovative initiatives that provide inspirational models of how things might work in a new political economy devoted to sustaining human and natural communities. Sensing the direction in which things are moving, our wiser and more responsible leaders, political and otherwise, rise to the occasion, support the growing movement for change, and frame a compelling story or narrative that makes sense of it all and provides a positive vision of a better America. It is a moment of democratic possibility.

In the end it all comes down to the American people and the strong possibility that we still have it in us to use our freedom and our democracy in powerful ways to create something fine, a reborn America, for our children and grandchildren. We can realize a new American Dream if enough of us join together in the fight for it. This new dream envisions an America where the pursuit of happiness is sought not in more getting and spending, but in the growth of human solidarity, real democracy, and devotion to the public good; where the average American is empowered to achieve his or her human potential; where the benefits of economic activity are widely and equitably shared; where the environment is sustained for current and future generations; and where the virtues of simple living, community self-reliance, good fellowship, and respect for nature predominate. These American traditions may not prevail today, but they are not dead. They await us, and indeed they are today being awakened across this great land. New ways of living and working, sharing and caring are emerging across America. They beckon us with a new American Dream, one rebuilt from the best of the old, drawing on the best of who we were and are and can be.

Part two of this article can be found here.


  1. Part one about the mess we are in is pretty good, although how bad it really is does not really register on the author. This is reflected even more in his casual treatment of how we are to get out of this lethal karmic disaster, which he foreshadows in the sidebar. The kind of wishful expectations expressed there will not come close to stopping the juggernaut bearing down us. Underestimating the unswerving power of the forces we are up against, naturally leads to fantasies about how easily they can be dealt with. This is a recipe for ineffectual hopeism.

  2. Mike, I agree, but, personally if it were not for this type of ineffectual hopeism…I’d be in the ground full of chemicals in a box, waiting to decompose…

  3. Gus’s article IS a bit short on the effectual hopeism: for good sketches of just how good things could rapidly become, I recommend Hazel Henderson’s work, from the pollyanna-sounding, yet thoroughly documented _Politics of the Solar Age_ to her Ethical Markets TV:

  4. One thing that needs to change is our values. We need to redefine success. Wealth in terms of accruing money, capitol and stuff needs to be seen as shameful — a spiritual and societal obesity, which in the extreme leads to collapse, paralysis and death. We need to redefine wealth in terms of increasing capacity to fight entropy. Life is such a force and the biosphere offers effective models for alternatives approaches for human organization.

    we need to opt our and pull the plug on capitalism. Personally that has meant paying off all my debts, reducing the need for money and using what I have to invest in doing what is needed.

    I like to imagine what would happen if we said “No”. Our country was founded by people who did that. They called it a revolution.

  5. Christina — I wouldn’t want to take your hopeism away if you feel it is between you and the cold damp ground, but what if there was something that offered real hope rather than the ism? False hope is a diversion from real hope, and obscures one’s search for the real answers to our difficulties. Real hope resides in activities that work to change ourselves, in the company of others, into the kind of people who no longer generate these pernicious problems, but serve rather to help others extricate themselves from our mutual morass. Ways to do this have been developed from times and places everywhere people have seen the need for them. In recent times these methods have fallen into disuse and forgetfulness….but they still exist in modern forms, waiting to be to be rediscovered and put to use in our emergency.

  6. We can do better than Ineffectual Hopeism – there’s real hope. It’s not obvious, but for more on it, I recommend Hazel Henderson’s work.

  7. Johannah — Excellent insight. ‘capitalism’ is an albatross around all our necks. This pernicious idea has enslaved and destroyed billions of people. Part of birthing a new consciousness is to understand this deeply and cast off the spell it has woven over so many of us. There are several master myths that people are unconsciously living out that are destroying our world. Awakening is the essential step leading to freedom and a new way of being. To come out from belief in these lies is not an easy thing for those of us long encased in them. Hence the need for small groups of those beginning to awake to help each other through this passage, sort of like the consciousness raising groups focusing on women’s liberation. But with a broader, deeper focus. Why not start one with some kindred spirits? I am part of three such groups myself, and we would be glad to share the processes that are working for us with anyone interested. Only dedicated action will create the people and ideas to change our selves/world.

  8. Mike, my personal enactment of hope actually involves sleeping on the cold damp ground often and a lot:) I am at home there, but I think people like me need to actively get more connected and become aware of things like Brian posted. Thank you for the resource, I am so excited to learn more! I can provoke and facilitate the stewardship of the earth in young people all I want, but if I don’t know shit about the larger economic climate of my world and culture and how it can shift,then what hope is there of me being a voice and force behind that re-envisioning/shift?

  9. Mike – I too am part of/ work with several groups. Wasn’t it Margaret Mead who said something along the lines of “Don’t underestimate the ability of small groups to change the world. They are the only thing that ever has” ?

    I think it is interesting that we (Americans) suffer from obesity. After arriving here as settlers and transplanting patterns developed elsewhere, we went from over production during WWII to over consumption. We have yet to grow up and take any sustainable role in our planet.

    I also think it is important to understand that capitalism is an idea designed to increase our capacity to consume resources including human resources.

    I don’t think we are going to invent our way out of this one — I think it will take more than alternative energy technology and planning. I think it will take consuming less…
    and having less babies (which is already happening). if we continue along as we have, we have to look at sustainability in terms of 10 billion people on this planet and that simply means less things per person but that does not mean less quality of life.

    As was pointed out in part one of this series — more does not mean better. I think that is the strongest part of the piece. I want to read part 2 to see if I understand/agree with the ideas for solutions. I did not understand all the ideas in the list Gus sketched out.

  10. Interface CEO Anderson, in his TED talk, has some insights on earlier ways of calculating human impact. Earlier, people figured impact = population * affluence * technology. See his great talk for more.

  11. The Great American Square Dance Revival in Washington DC is one small piece of the puzzle. 200 strangers holding hands and dancing together to live old-time music. Reclaiming something positive that’s uniquely American. . . It’s a sight to behold!

  12. hahaha. I think I wrote a carbon copy of this essay as a sophomore in environmental science class. I am sure this essay will hit all the right buttons with the “how’s that hopey changey thing going for ya” crowd. Last election cycle, Obama was going to fix all the inequity. Now, we just have some minimalistic paradigm shifting talk to take up the charge. All I know is- the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Reading this now and thinking back to the college version of me, I say get a job you angry hippy. Things look and feel a lot different when you have more to worry about than global geopolitics, environmental catastrophes, and international economic structures. I happen to think life is pretty good this day in age. American life is too full of personal choice to see a grand paradigm shift. In this country, if you want to be a hippy, you can. If you want to work for Monsanto and make money as an engineer, you can. You will never get both people to see that they are on the same spaceship earth. Even BP oil spills and ice bergs and nuclear meltdowns have not and will not accomplish as much. I hope the followup article is more substantive.

  13. Justin — I find your comment intriguing. How does someone like you end up reading this article in Orion? Are you a professional troll, or just doing it for a hobby?

  14. I read Orion. It’s cute and free, online. some articles are interesting, this one seemed to be worth commenting on. I work in the environmental field.

    Cynicism- alive and well in America. Outlawed in 95 other nations. you want some revolution, head to Homs holmes.

    I just don’t see how you get blue collar and/or middle class and/or people with enough resources to make a difference- to make a difference about shifting their paradigm. I used to read about paradigm shifts at college, now I have a house that needs a new roof. A roof made of asphalt shingles. asphalt don’t grow on trees baby.

  15. Justin – Does environmental field mean working for a resource company in their environmental division? That’s what the asphalt crack seems to indicate.

    I have other roofing options if you are truly interested but they do require work beyond writing a check.

  16. This essay is more of the same: the overweening, self-infatuated big-think from our professional frauds.
    Now that’s not to say that there aren’t some genuine sociological points of interest from Mr. Spaeth. Yet, like with all Orion types, there is that fatal virus of exceptionalist faith at the end: there always seems to be some great, wondrous dimension to the individual’s life and intellectual musings.
    American higher education specializes in that kind of droning arrogance,which produces non-stop hortatory effluvia, as in Jensen, Occupy, the environmental non-movement, and women getting hugely expensive fertility treatments to get a Jesus child.
    Small acts by little nice folks are unimportant to large-scale crises, and in our supersystem, the forces of power are far, far too great to be moved to “new paradigms” and utopias of a “new American Dream.”
    Very few people seem to get the degree of fraud in “hope” and “change,” but the time is past to be condescending to these earnest sermons: social reality, where politics is dead and all work/play is shot through with corporate fossil fuel domination, should be the test for the veracity of communication.
    In our social reality, sorry, folk-dancing and study groups aren’t anything but comforts to those involved. Justin may be sophomoric in his approach to offering some counter-commentary, but he is right to object to the pie-in-the-sky message.
    Paul Kingsnorth offered the Orion faithful a counter-narrative to this type of manifesto – presumably he’s skeptical of this, too.

  17. There are those who enjoy starting their day by pissing in other’s Cheerios; meanwhile there’s nothing
    else to eat, and there’s only one bowl. Bon appetit to you all. 😉

  18. Speak it Martin. This piss cereal tastes pretty damn good. I say the fact that we are privileged enough to have this dialogue on such a public forum is a pretty damn good thing. A thing that we should be both grateful for and enraged about. That’s as much as I can confidently say. Well, that and that I am thoroughly enjoying reading all of your energetic words.

  19. Posted by Orion on behalf of Rob George:

    James Gustave Speth’s “America the Possible: A Manifesto, Part I” is yet another articulate, most welcome and necessary summarization of the current inconsistencies of and insights into reshaping the present American, and indeed global, scene. Part II of Speth’s work is eagerly anticipated.

    We wish to congratulate, encourage and support all fellow humans contributing to the success of the necessary Transformation of Planet Earth, including but by no means limited to the work of the essential global OCCUPY and 99% movements. Our primary suggestion for this necessary transformation is the serious consideration and thoughtful adoption of some form of Socioeconomic Democracy as a peaceful, just and democratic resolution of the myriad problems confronting humanity caused by the maldistribution of wealth intra- and internationally.

    Most certainly, numerous other fundamental changes are required, with some encompassing the many problems created by contemporary “money” and “banking” definitions and arrangements. The implementation of Socioeconomic Democracy will significantly help facilitate these and other necessary transformations, as all of humanity’s problems have a crucial economic component.

    Socioeconomic Democracy is a theoretically consistent and practically implementable socioeconomic system wherein there exist both some form and amount of locally appropriate Universally Guaranteed Personal Income and some form and amount of locally appropriate Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth, with both the lower bound on personal material poverty and the upper bound on personal material wealth set and adjusted democratically by all participants of a democratic society.

    As has been demonstrated elsewhere, Socioeconomic Democracy can eliminate or significantly reduce a multitude of serious-to-deadly, but utterly unnecessary, intimately intertwined societal problems including (but by no means limited to) those familiar ones associated with: automation, computerization and robotization; budget deficits and national debts; bureaucracy; maltreatment of children; crime and punishment; development, sustainable or otherwise; ecology, environment, resources and pollution; education; the elderly; farcical “free-market” fantasies; the feminine majority; inflation; international conflict; intranational conflict; involuntary employment; involuntary unemployment; labor strife and strikes; sick medical and health care; military metamorphosis; natural disasters; pay justice; planned obsolescence; political participation; poverty; racism; sexism; so-called “offshoring” of both jobs and personal/corporate profits; unconscionable empires; unconscious politicians; untamed technologies; and the General Welfare.

    A few, of many, relevant links:

    “A Democratic Socioeconomic Platform, in search of a Democratic Political Party”

    Socioeconomic Democracy: An Advanced Socioeconomic System (Praeger Studies on the 21st Century, 2002).

    “Bibliography of Socioeconomic Democracy”

    “Socioeconomic Democracy: A Nonkilling, Life-Affirming and Enhancing Psycho-Politico-Socio-Economic System”

    “Socioeconomic Democracy” forthcoming in International Journal of Science, February, 2012.

    We welcome and encourage feedback to this outreach, and look forward to working with all those interested in further peaceful development and implementation of these and other necessary changes aimed at the betterment of all humanity and the total planet.

    Robley E. George
    Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Societies
    Coordinador, Nonkilling Economics and Business Research Committee

  20. Scott, it would be helpful for Orion to provide the kind reader with a time travel machine (dialed to 1964), a warehouse full of bongsmoke, and a properly outiftted spaceship to properly appreciate the technical details of the truly capitalized “Transformation of Planet Earth” as set out in the links.
    Sam Pizzigati, my man, you endorsed this?

  21. Martin #16 — I really wonder why you take the time to read a rather lengthy article in a magazine fostering the ‘Orion types’ that you are so clearly contemptuous of. Lumping together “Jensen, Occupy, the environmental non-movement, and women getting hugely expensive fertility treatments to get a Jesus child” makes very little sense, but is somewhat revealing as to where you are coming from. You have not offered us a single positive idea, but only a mishmash of slapdash negatives.

  22. Answer me this fruit bats: Who generates the electricity for your iPads to write on here? Who mined the oil and metal that produced your iPad? Who grows your organic veggies and puts clothes on your back? If you can answer that you and your commune do all of the above, then I commend you. Because at the end of the day, good luck convincing 2 billion Chinese and Indians that what they really want is to live an agrarian lifestyle growing rice and using their own nightsoil for fertilizer. They have done that before, now they want to live like you. With computers and maybe even a car. They want to send their children to your Ivy League alma mater. I’m not trying to be a bigot, but you people have to understand that only because of this nation’s wealth do you have the time and freedom to write on comment boards.

    If you want paradigm shift, it will involve violence not peace. When was the last time someone from the “Occupy” movement picked up a weapon? Never. right. You’re not going to dismantle this system with flowers and messages of “you guys are bad”. Remember Tiananmen Square? I hope I have not gone too far, but I am entitled to my opinion and you people have blinders on. If people want to live like you and eat TVP from co-ops, then they will. Most people aren’t so inclined.

    Again, until peace and happiness are able to manufacture the iPads you use to type on here, you will not succeed. Go visit Shanghai if you don’t believe me. That’s what the future looks like.

  23. Mike K., these matters are very important, and I benefit from reading many kinds of approaches to it. Unfortunately, the debate seems mired in positivism from the fascist right and the alleged left,so I write in with a different, indeed, nihilistic side.
    Yet, to be clear, the terrible dilemmas of life amidst environmental collapse and economic oppression can be met with great pleasure. There are others out in the hinterlands who see the awful conundrums and brutal paradoxes, such as at
    Orion sets out a huge intellectual goal, that of understanding the social reality of the natural world, so it must expect some brave critical responses, such as from Christina and Lenora Saltzman in the Paul Kingsnorth place.
    Orion provides fascinating commentaries, such as Sy Montgomery’s piece, but “fascinating” can also mean “dead wrong” at times.
    Have some fun shooting back- that’s what comment pages are for.
    You don’t think there are any similarities in the short list I provided – but everything’s related, right?

  24. Martin — I am not interested in dialoging with a proclaimed nihilist who thinks this forum is primarily for ‘having fun’. What we are discussing here is far to serious to approach it in that spirit. Some people become trolls without any clear intention to play that role. Nevertheless one entering a serious conversation who only serves to sidetrack it and utter negative and self-contradictory conundrums, can only hinder the efforts of the adults trying to generate some real understanding of serious realities. What we are about, and Orion is about, is no joke. Therefore I do not intend to address your comments any more, in line with the web wisdom that says Don’t Feed The Trolls!

  25. Justin — I have wasted enough time on your anti-hippie nonsense. On my troll list you go! PS — I really hope you develop into a tolerant, caring, deeply informed person. Good luck. I am aware that Trolls are people too, with all the wonderful possibilities that involves. So, nothing personal, I just can’t waste time in unproductive conversation.

  26. Rob George — Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I am studying the links you provided. Thoughts such as you have provided further our serious quest for a better world.

  27. But Mike, do you not find some truth in what Justin and Martin were speaking to? Transparency and truth seems to be what is lacking in these corroded financial systems. However, it is also easy to say that my truth can be much different than your truth. Nonetheless, without negative criticism, or critical analysis of our own behaviors and lifestyles can we begin to come up positive solutions. Death must occur in order for much of new life to begin…you gotta have a conflict before you can have a solution…war birthed peace.

  28. The language you use is offensive, Mike K.
    You have no ownership of the word “serious” in what you write, and have no quitclaim to any “adult” status.
    You can fling the “troll” label at anybody who doesn’t share your dour, ascetic, head-in-the-sand approach, but that does not constitute truth.
    Nihilism constitutes an acceptance of social reality, not a retreat into specious hypocrisy.
    If you are not open to the possibility that there is more to thought than echoing pat speechifying, then there was never a possibility of “dialogue” in the first place.
    Give up this “troll” obsession – critics can teach you a lot.

  29. In fact, Alex Rosenberg’s “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality” is an excellent place to start, or more likely, finish.
    Rosenberg has all the academic qualifications you could venerate in your heroes, yet he does more to challenge the conventional worldview than any thousand eco-visionaries. Give it a shot if you dare.
    Now, the question you should ask yourself: why, after all this alleged education, after these trillions spent on higher education and think tanks and Amazon books and e-books and speeches and computer chat rooms, do you still feel the need to demand that someone who questions the “better world” fetishism of privileged be the savior of all humanity? Could it be that we are not getting out of this alive, that no matter what the happy thoughts and sage manifestos and advanced degrees you seem to want to worship, the social insitutions of our human world are shot through with profit/greed/corruption?
    Rather than chase some ignorant hopeism until you can longer smile and breathe, why not improve humanity’s conditions by seeing how advantaged you are and doomed others are – the dying species, the suffering poor, the petulant,awful rich.
    America is a dying empire – look outside your door, count the Dollar Left stores, the obscene tanning salons, the miserable aged, the repositories of psych meds, the cages for humans – so accept that any “improvement” has to start with the awful truths that no one, including you, wants to hear.
    One turth is that the environmental “movement” has presided over more environmental destruction than any empire has ever wrought, which is no credit to Spaeth, Orion, or any self-styled defender of green values.
    I’ll enjoy my green benefits as best I can, but I am under no illusion that this is anything but a lost cause.

  30. Mike, Martin, justin et all –
    Gus’ article was about how we Americans consume a lot and end up unhappy, unhealthy poor sots.

    Didn’t someone say doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome amounted to insanity?

    As I pointed out earlier, population trends indicate we will end up with about 10 billion humans on earth. There just isn’t enough planet for all of us to consume like Americans.

    Ethically that means we Americans need to find a way to consume less. There are those who find ways to live with less resource consumption without making an unhappy life and even some Industry leaders are reshaping their companies to do just that because it is good business to make things that work now and into the future.

    Hell- We Americans don’t have to invent much.. we could just imitate our European neighbors to consume less resources and improve our way of life,

    But the “doing” part is important. That is personal – very personal.

    Yes- my laptop, and material goods are consuming oil and gas. But I am not going to the no gas/oil level — just the less.

    What has that meant? A serious and personal look at my finances, some hard tough decisions… and work.

    FYI – I live in Alaska where we tend to have large carbon footprints because of our cold conditions and the fact that we are at the end of supply lines.

    I think that most decisions are not intellectual but more complicated and often driven by personal experience, culture and belief. I will never forget my day with a family on Ahe, an atoll in the Tuamoto archipelago, French Polynesia. Standing in their tiny one story home as they told me that the preceding winter they had stood there holding their children up for 6 hours because a storm had covered the atoll with five feet of water. That is not to mention my friends who live in villages that are eroding or sinking into the tundra here In Alaska.

    There ain’t nothing wrong with personal. It is as real as it gets.

  31. I’m not so sure its a complete lost cause Martin. Maybe yes a lost cause for the vast majority of our human population, but as for the earth…the natural world is a massively powerful entity that has spent a whole lot of time learning how to survive and regenerate itself and our short sighted human eyes have only witnessed a sliver of this survival. As far as causes that aren’t lost for me: Personally, I’d rather die in service and stewardship of earth and youth(because they are what sustains my existence), than live knowing I haven’t even tried to pay my dues to the future earth and all of its future living generations(even if I do so ignorantly and possibly hypocritically at times) because for me that is what makes this whole life business meaningful.

  32. Johannah — I admire your personal decisions and sacrifices, as I would anyone doing so. That dynamic must be a critical part of any larger solutions to our global problems. But we need to extend those healthy personal changes to larger numbers of people as well. My interest and participation in small groups shows me that this could be the missing link between isolated individuals awakening and the larger society. When I refer to small groups, my emphasis is on the plural of that methodology: a movement composed of many small groups who meet and grow together.

    People awakening to the huge dimensions of the ongoing global calamity we are involved in need to locate others of their mind, and get together regularly to explore our difficulties and the solutions we need to enact. There is a huge learning curve that involves a lot of creative thinking and honest sharing and acting to change what needs to be changed in our thinking and way of living. A big order but one we can handle if we choose to work together on it.

    Much of this work can be facilitated by the discovery of a reality based spirituality that would have little in common with the failed performance of traditional religion, or the wild imaginings of many new age cults. This transition is already taking place in the minds and lives of many awakening individuals. We need to enter a process of sharing in this new birth together as a truly democratic mutually supportive endeavor.

  33. Interesting comments, but it confirms why we have gridlock in our system. Everybody thinks that their ideas are intellectually superior and that people who have a different concept are trolls or idiots are whatever put down they want to use (kinda reminds me of high school). Liberals hate Fox News and never watch it. Conservatives hate the liberal media and never watch it–which leads us all to continue to only support our point of view, without a desire to understand others. College students are fed socialism in school and then fed capitalism once they get a job. People should listen to NPR and Rush Limbaugh. Watch Fox and msnbc. Read Orion and Reason. Perhaps folks should start learning to understand all points of view and not be so condescending to those who have the nerve to have a different point of view. Personally I feel that the government already controls our lives too much and many of the suggestions here would bring about even more control and I think everyone should have the opportunity to own a small business to see what that involves, BUT I am willing to listen to other opinions and not assume that the author of those opinions is an idiot.

  34. Christina #27 — Be assured I have no intention of censoring anyone. I have consistently opposed any such action when some have suggested it on this blog. However, I have the right, as all of us do, to restrict my interactions with other contributors. These are my own decisions based on my perceptions; they do not pretend to have any authority whatever. Not every conversation yields any useful growth. I have tried reasoning with fundamentalists and learned that this a futile and counterproductive activity both for myself and the other party. So, enough already… and btw not all fundamentalists are of the religious variety.

  35. Tim H — Not every deep disagreement can be characterized as unreasonable lack of openness. There are some bigoted and fascist ideas that I don’t care to waste my time trying to “be fair to.” As Olaf the conscientious objector said in e.e, cumming’s poem “There is some shit I will not eat!”

    I am a big believer in reasonable openness, but there are limits beyond which I will not go. The whole fairness charade on view in the mainstream media demonstrates how this equal time doctrine can be used to abuse the simple truth. Some material is just too wrong to deserve wasting a lot of time on it.

  36. Orion is in an interesting position in that it accepts no advertising money. The easiest way for those in power to control an information source that they deem harmful to their interests is to threaten to withhold funds if offended. What are they to do with all the irritating pro-environment stuff in Orion? Are you who are reading my words really aware that big business has spent literally billions of dollars to fund huge ‘think tanks’ to influence public opinion and pump out bogus ideas such as climate change denial? Do you realize that they have funded scientists to put out phoney evidence that climate change is a fraud. Do you think it is beneath them to sponsor probiz shills to disrupt our reader’s columns? Through their PR firms they spend millions to plant their self-serving lies in every possible media niche. What do you make of people who take the trouble to read this magazine for the sole purpose of disparaging it and ridiculing those who support it as a valid venue for constructive ideas to overcome the widespread corporate greed that is destroying our planet?

    Do you think that someone will jump up and brand my comments as irrational paranoia? Maybe not, since I have anticipated it. But it seems we are in for a period of right wing corporate propaganda, thinly disguised as innocent citizen input. Or maybe you think my accounting of the corporate war against environmentalism is just a wacko delusion of mike k?

  37. I sometimes wonder why more of Orion’s readers don’t sit down and comment on the inspiring articles that appear therein. The people that work to make this unique resource of support for our world need a few words of support from time to time. Let the authors and staff of Orion know if you value what they are doing. This whole operation is operating in an often hostile business environment. I for one am proud of the contribution they are making to the possibility of a better world.

  38. Hi anon — I was afraid you might have gone permanently off planet.

  39. While the problems that Gus addresses are endemic in the US, they are the same problems that are faced by the whole world – in greater or lesser extent. Obviously we need to redesign how we do most everything; fortunately however many of us have already figured out what needs to be done and how to do it.

    Now all we have to do is to develop a plan and begin to make the changes at an increasingly rapid pace.

    In 1992 all of the world’s governments agreed that every country and community should develop and implement a national and local strategies for sustainable development. This commitment was repeated in 1997, 2002, and 2006; but the US has still not done it – though the President’s Council on Sustainable Development went well done this road under the Clinton Administration due to the prodding by VP Al Gore.

    Just imagine what might be possible if we undertook to develop such a National and Local Strategies in communities all across America. We could restate the challenges addressed by Gus Speth and many others; and then identify the best solutions for dealing with them. We could seek out and promote the best practices and success stories.

    We could confront the lies that renewable energy is not affordable or that including environmental costs will hurt the economy, etc. We could demonstrate that include the externalities is far cheaper than trying to repair and restore the health of ecosystems after the damage has been done.

    We could move rapidly to a zero waste, circular economy where all processes nurture and sustain rather than destroy. And we could leave our children and their children with the future and abundance that they need to live bountiful lives and deserve.

    I challenge all of us to support the idea of developing a National and Local strategies for sustainability all across this once great nation of ours. For more info write to Rob Wheeler: robwheeler22 @

  40. Barring some technological innovation that allows huge numbers of people to leave Earth for another planet, there will have to be a massive reduction in the population of humans.

    It will involve war, famine and disease and poisoned water supplies.

    You bet that’s an ugly way to go!

    You could do a stealth sterilization program through GMO food that would solve the problem in a few generations by making it so almost no one could have children. There will be a chosen few ofcourse.

    This is also an ugly way to go.

    Don’t worry. I won’t make the cut either.

  41. James Dunet — In foreclosing all options to solve the population problem but the very unpleasant ones you mention,
    you qualify as a “we are all doomed” prophet. Is there some strange solace for you in pronouncing that?

  42. Took the words right out of my heart. But I am pessimistic about when people will come together to change the system. People don’t seem to be able to avoid pain before it happens; they seem to have to wait to feel the pain themselves and then they will try to escape it after it happens. In other words, things will unfortunately have to get worse before enough people want to make them better. We need an Arab Spring in this country, but most people are too complacent.

  43. Rob — Your ideas are fine, but the sad truth is that working within the current system gives such dreams zero chance of adoption. The first step in facing the immense problems we are facing involves understanding that the system you seek to change is totally resistant to your efforts to alter it, and has the means to defeat any measures introduced into it. The depth and breadth of revolutionary changes needed to really deal with our dysfunctional culture can only happen outside of its current configurations. Time is on the side of those who are pillaging and enslaving us. To play their game within their crooked rules is a tragic waste of time.

  44. Joseph R. — I think you are right — we can’t wait until things really get bad. Too many put there hope on some magical (undefined) turn-around happening as a result of major disaster. The results of such a scenario might turn out quite uglier than their hopes would anticipate. We need to act now to head off the worst of the oncoming collapse.

  45. Mike and all,

    I could discuss and share my beliefs with you and the others here, but after reading some of the comments, I am not sure it would do much good. Still, let me try for just a bit. First, I am well aware of the magnitude of the global challenges we face, many of an environmental nature. Second, it is pretty obvious that we need a major re-design revolution and to change how we do pretty much everything. Third, there are those in every field that are pioneering the way and have been doing so for decades against all odds. Fourth, while I am aware that many within the “system”, most of those that control our primary institutions, and even the systems themselves, are most resistant to change, there are also many within every institution that are already championing change.

    And in addition, I am personally aware of hundreds of efforts moving towards and focusing on paradigm shifts and re-evolutionary ways of confronting and responsibly addressing the problems.

    It may be necessary for some of us to be naysayers, for whatever reasons, but I believe that we pretty much create our future and our beliefs through our thought patterns. So I would encourage as many as possible to imagine the needed solutions being instituted, even with the challenges, rather than us failing.

    This is too beautiful and supportive of a planet and life is too precious to do it any other way. By the way, many of us believe that GAIA is actually rooting for us – and has plenty of ways to help us whether we are aware of it or not.

    And finally by the way, there are many CEOs and CSOs (Chief Sustainability Officers) who are now even going so far as to begin to embrace efforts to create a “Circular Economy” and to transform their corporate strategy with this in mind. See Ellen MacArthur Foundation for more details.

    Hope this helps,

    Rob Wheeler

  46. I’m a “Let’s cut to the f*cking chase!” kind of prophet.

    Yes, I get cold comfort out of it.

    It is my response to folks who want to ignore the vicious and greedy side of human nature and only talk about the good.

    That’s fine for a polite scene like a coctail party, but if any implementable solution is to occur in real time, the cold calculus of the human being must begin and harsh decisions must be made.

    Talking about the good in humans is looking at only half of the situation and produces a highly ineffective solution. (Assuming humans are 50% good 50% evil. That’s a big assumption. Good being defined as Altruistic and Evil being defined as Selfish behavior.)

    But by all means, keep believeing that human enlightenment is just around the corner (or decades away if you prefer a longer time horizon.)

    If you need lies to keep you going, then I won’t worry about what you will or won’t come up with to solve any problem.

    I’ll be looking towards the modern capatilist, fascist, socialist or communist to see where the people of the world are likely to go and what they will do.

    So far, humans are moving towards Fascist (read: corporate) control of society. Some reading of Benito Mussolini is in order if you want to take a peek at the play book for big corporations.

  47. I see, all the problems of the known world are due to the “thought pattens we create for ourselves.”
    How about you parachute into Afghanistan, or the Bronx, or Port Orchard, Wshington, and tell the first person you meet that nonsense.
    As for the “Circle Economy” CEOs and CSOs, do they, or you, know what the term “greenwashing” refers to?
    You are not slipping out of your repsonsibilities that easily. The corporate supersytem has created this insoluble crises, is governing them now, and gets absolutely no pass as it commandeers the next round of ecological devastation.
    If Orion folks could ever define what they mean by “spiritual,” it would also help – the word is meaningless to many.

  48. Thank you Rob for cutting to the chase — the real chase, which does require work… not just a talk and attitude.

  49. Now, Martin…there’s a guy who with his eyes wide open, no illusion has he about ol’ H. Sap., no siree…..bloody tooth and claw, and all that.

    “Nobody here is getting’ out alive!”, he solemnly pronounces, “But I’m going to take as many of them with me as I can.”

    He turns his narrowed and steely gaze downwards at the heaving and flimsy bodice of his latest conquest, sprawled languidly at the tips of his jungle boots.

    “Martin”, she intones, “Wouldn’t you at least give Socioeconomic Democracy a try, just once…?”

    He spits contemptuously past her upturned and pleading visage, as he growls…

    “You poor dumb kid. You’ll see some day that I did this to save all of us!”

  50. The needed revolution begins within—within each one of us. “As within, so without.” So, yes, it’s correct to say that it takes an act of imagination and a continual questioning of the status quo, “Aren’t we better than that?” to change. When it comes right down to it, I can only change me. I’m my own lifelong project. I have three choices: try to stay the same (stay stuck), change, off myself. I prefer the second choice. I have tried the first and it is not much fun, does not serve me, nor does it serve anyone else. As for the third, well, that would be sending the ultimate, “F*** you” to the Universe, wouldn’t it? And I’m just not that into telling the Universe to screw itself.

    To Martin: What is it about what Rob says that irks you so? What is it about “thought patterns” that so bugs you? If thought patterns are neuronal nets that are woven together by our continual reinforcement of whatever perceptions we have about ourselves, others, the world, the cosmos, then how can it not make sense that “thought patterns” can lead people to behave in either positive or destructive ways? Also, you speak about the “corporate supersystem” as if it’s somehow outside of us all. We ARE the corporate supersystem, even if we don’t desire to be, because somewhere along the way, we chose convenience, chose cheapness, chose the mass-produced over the handmade and the close-to-home. Others chose for us, too, when we were too little to have a choice (cloth diapers? Or “disposables”, anyone?) We can choose differently, though…though it will involve “sacrifice” as that word is understood within the current context of those things we have collectively valued for so long (convenience, cheapness).

    As for the word “spiritual,” a wise woman reminded me a couple of weeks ago that we need to bring together our disparate concepts—those that hold spirit separate from self, emotions separate from physicality, the intellect apart from sexuality. (Unfortunately, we don’t have a word—yet—that combines all of these, but give us time; we’ll create one.) In my view, we are all imbued with spirit—all parts of us as well as rocks, trees, birds, fish, snails, bacteria. All of life (and I’m not sure where life begins or ends) is imbued with spirit and that means everything is sacred. It is maybe part of our evolution as a species that we at one time separated all of these things—and that many of us continue to live, without reverence, as if all things were separate. This is perhaps why I don’t cling to any Abrahamic-lineage of beliefs: I don’t believe in any off-world deities. The deities—or spirits—are within, within each of us. They imbue the elements with an aliveness we can see and feel when we are receptive to them. Although Speth doesn’t delve deeply into this, the only way we’ll really turn things around is by weaving everything back together, instead of seeing ourselves as separate from all other things.

    And as for completely dismantling what we have now, I just don’t see it. I cannot think of any age in which human evolution—driving forward—did not retain something of the previous age. We have been living these last few millennia the shadow side, and to the extent we deny the shadow, we create it, give it appendages, give it voice. We may always have shadow and light; what we could use is more of an equilibrium between the two—and that is beginning to happen, even amid (and dare I say, maybe because of?) the destruction that is within and without.

  51. As usual, Gus Speth hits the nail on the head. before we can begin to see change we need to have these kinds of critiques and get them to all progressive political leaders. As for new ways of measuring progress, I suggest a combination of the Genuine Progress Indicator with the Happiness Initiative subjective survey ( Keep up the great work, Gus. —John de Graaf, co-author AFFLUENZA and WHAT’S THE ECONOMY FOR, ANYWAY?

  52. “Thought patterns” are certainly what govern us as individual humans, but they are socially constructed, and highly resistant to exhortations to change from extremely over-privileged rich Westerners. People are poor and suffering and doomed because of our corrupt and damaged social instituions, not because of their allegedly deleterious “thought patterns.” Blame the poor all you want, hector them to develop their minds, but you are simply perpetuating misery, now from a throne of “personal development.”

    Secondly, there is no hope of social change through “personal trasnformation” and “scarifice.” The self-abnegation of a few westerners is practically irrelevant in a world that runs on the collective actions of the many.
    I did not design the supersystem, but it is my social reality, as it yours -however much I may not like its particulars, it is the dominant order. How many Happy Meals I have bought is also irrelvant – only large scale actions are of consequence to its workings.
    As for the definition of “spirit,” you see “everything as sacred,” which is wide-eyed innocence to me – I still have no idea what that could mean. A rock is not “sacred” -it is a rock. A removed mountaintop is not sacred – it is a destroyed mountaintop. A crying baby cannot eat “sacred” to feed itself. The words are meaningless – and thus should not be used.

  53. To Martin: Really? Are the thought patterns only socially constructed? What if they are merely the first go-to once one has been wounded (e.g., that crying baby you mention, you know, begins in childhood)…and then it is up to the individual how he wants to structure his perceptions around the wound (or event or whatever)? Is it not a thought pattern that gives one the ability to think that his actions—as CEO of investment bank, a hauler operating a truck taking coal away from mountains, a doctor administering an antibiotic for a cold—however egregious, however disregarding of the sacredness of life, all life, don’t matter? Or provides a “who cares?” cover: “I’ve got mine and the hindmost be damned”? What if it’s both/and? Are our collective thought patterns NOT all centered around scarcity, and hence the “fight” for resources, because there’s not enough to go around—so we think? Or at least to go around, according to whatever standards we’re talking about?
    I don’t understand your words, Martin. I don’t do self-work to perpetuate anyone’s misery; I do it to alleviate my own. I do it because looking around me, I see a need to “hold space” for love. The love of the world for me—and for anyone else willing to pay attention—is there. What, exactly, am I blaming the “poor” for? What does “poor” mean to you? Is it an income classification? Or the lack of a chicken in the pot at least once a week? Does it mean being homeless? Does it mean being wealthy, or even middle class, but lacking community? Does it mean having no ready access to clean water? What?
    No hope of social change through personal transformation and sacrifice? This, in spite of the world running on the “collective actions of the many.” Just who are these many and where—and how—do their collective actions arise? All at once? Or do they take a collective vote and decide to switch on or turn off all their lights at once? To dynamite a mountain? Are you saying that personal actions don’t add up to collective actions?
    You DID design the supersystem, Martin. We all did. (When you deny your part in its creation, you also deny the “collective actions of the many” that you speak of.) It plays to what is, for the most part, base in all humans, including the idea that everything is scarce, so, please, don’t shirk your responsibilities as a designer now. “Tat Tvam Asi”: I am that, be it the head of Massey or James Hansen, whatever’s ugly or whatever’s beautiful…we are that.
    Wide-eye innocence? To you? So glad you qualified that, because it is not “wide-eyed innocence” to me. I wasn’t born yesterday, not in any sense of the word. And it did not come overnight to me to view—to feel—the world as sacred, the whole world, from a grain of sand to a tsunami-sized wave. Life is sacred, and if life is just using me to get to know itself, then so be it.
    Here’s the dealio, dear Martin: If we were all well, if we were all sane, then, arguably, we would not be in this predicament. But this is part of our evolution. And we can choose what to do with our awareness. What I choose to do with mine appears different from what you appear to do with yours. And that’s fine. This is why, as I read it, Speth strikes a hopeful note at the end of his article. Because he (many of us) see how much better we could be—as humans. But we have a few thousand years—at least—of history, personal and collective, to integrate and move on from. We can choose to move in that direction; I sense we are, collectively, heading that way, toward working on our highest potentials—personally AND collectively.

  54. If you were to read the great Ales Rosenberg’s “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality,” which you should only do if you are truly brave, you would find your pertinent questions about the self and self-deception given a truly remarkable going-over. There is a great deal of evidence from lab tests to indicate that this fiction of individual self-empowerment is a strong, persistent illusion.
    I still don’t understand how anyone looking at the misery of the world, the abiding and multivarious horrors, continues to use the greenwahsing term “the sacredness of life.” We as humans are enmeshed in a supersystem that destroys, kills, murders, inflicts wholly irrational pain, over and over – how is there one demonstration that “life” is somehow exalted?
    The concept of “poor”should need no detail – look around. We ahve horrific income inequality in this coutnry and across the world, and if you were to go to one toxic dump today being scavenged by fellow humans for the basis of their existence, you might not thinkthe word needing explication.

    Seeing one’s action as somehow controlling the universe is absurd – we are but bit players, no matter how much American exceptionalism tries to inculcate and award profound “meaning” in our daily actions. Speth can be as “hopeful” as he wants – where’s the necessary evidence?

  55. I do wonder about Speth’s timeframe and hope he’ll write more about that. Charles Eisenstein, in Sacred Economics and elsewhere, has written that he foresees a short period of “dark ages” (I think we are already there)—relative to the length of time the Dark Ages preceding the Renaissance lasted. Things like Transition Initiatives, I think, could fundamentally help shorten the time we’re talking about. I hope I live to see some of these changes.

  56. This is a great article as change only comes from honesty and awareness. People forget easily about trends that develop over time. It was interesting for me during some recent research to see that the loosening of regulations on the S&L industry in the US came about 5 years before the crash that cost taxpayers about $100B. Read the headlines and you will see a stark reflection on what was to come later in the banking / sub-prime crisis. The core problem seems to me that the US has so much vested interest and money creating an effective lobbying movement that the country is in fact no longer a democracy? The people in the US need some honest leadership supported by ALL interests looking for the greater good of the country and not just their own self interest. “What is good for GM is good for America” has clearly been proven wrong. The US has done so much right and so much good that the tragedy is that today this is being destroyed. Addressing this issue is perhaps a key strategy for also turning around some elements in the world that get violent in their dislike of the US?

  57. Martin….so dude…just curious, what keeps you amongst the living anyway? Seriously. You sound like a pretty joyless cat, but it might be that you just play one on the internet. So, do tell…?

  58. I have the solution: Get out there and vote!

    Seriously, this conversation has gotten way out of hand. Using big words about spirituality or economics isn’t going to make America great again. Mitt Romney is… haha.. Honestly, it ain’t even worth talking about this decrepit Roman Empire, except to discuss how it will decline and fall.

    If you really want to make a ‘global’ difference, you’d better get your butts on a carbon-neutral airplane to Shenzhen, Guangdong province. You’ll probably have better luck convincing the Chinese to change their billion strong race up the economic ladder than trying to convince Americans to sacrifice for your personal interpretation of the greater good. At least in China there is a 3,000 year history of subsuming individual rights for a common cause. With their lower carbon footprint starting point, you may actually make some progress. The problem is, their current vision of the greater good is GDP growth above 9%. And you probably don’t know Mandarin or Cantonese. Neither do I.

    Some of you really are near-sighted if you think your individual choices matter in the gloal scheme. Keep talking about your personal choice to bring a re-useable Chinese-made shopping bag to Whole Foods. The future of our planet is in the hands of Beijing, not Burlington VT. You people on this website are the least environmental concern of anyone, because you’ve already made your choices. So, ultimately you already don’t matter to marketers or corporations. Except as greenwash fodder.

    So get out there and vote! And can we please limit comments to 10,000 words? Please get to your point sooner for us simpleminded folk.

    PS. what is a troll anyhow? I don’t spend my days perusing messageboards like Mike K. Thus, I am unfamiliar with the term.

  59. @ Justin, so if I get the crux of your gist, yer saying that the yellow man is going to eat the planet…and the rest of us better either hold a leg, hold a light, help skin or get out of the way? Well, maybe. OTOH, I give them a lot more credit that you do. The collective memory of the Chinese holds on to pain a lot longer than your typical American does. Their famines of the mid 20th century are not something they’ve shrugged off. They also clearly want to show the West that their culture is much more capable, and their tradition of sustainable practices is thousands of years old. I’m betting that they are not going to chunk all that out the window for an I-Pod in every pot. Emulating what they do, and building on it, is probably as good a ticket to America surviving the 21st century as about any plan you could mention.

    Not that either country, or the world population in general, is going to have the energy resources to sustain even a small portion of the current standard of living. But, in the short run, we might all just get a little bit smarter before we hit that wall.

  60. Plowboy, I get the droll references, the refusal to think things through – but nihilism is all about good times, my man, – knowing a great deal about social limitations, but having a great and hearty time with the remaining and necessary parts of this here life.
    What does a plowboy know what does a plowboy do? Culd be you are miserable in your starry-eyed expectations for a Coca-Cola hilside world, could e you are a secret nihilist enjoying the beneifts of a lucky ride – don’t know, but who really cares about my experience of fun, or yours?

  61. I dunno Martin….you take your community wherever you can find it, you know? Here you’ll find some pretty sharp thinkers, and I’d count you in that number. Glad you have a sense of humor about it too.

    Nihilism, I’d just posit, is a sport best practiced by the childless. Once you cross that personal Rubicon, the rhetoric starts to ring sort of hollow. As someone who had his first child at almost the ½ century mark, I’ve seen it from both sides.

  62. Sure, plowman, you can have your view, but having a child doesn’t mean that rationality gets chucked out the door along with the parties and trips and good food.
    I’m glad you undestand some of what realism (if the term nihilism is too strong) can be, but you can’t make the world all sugar-sweet for your child hormonally driven as you might be to do so.
    All the Little League games and Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties may work for you and your nuclear unit, but that’s not how the larger world runs.
    Been through the teenage years yet?

  63. Time to get a little practical.

    1. start measuring the economy by various cuts at inflation adjusted median family and/or individual income instead of, or in addition to, GDP.

    2. When comparing our GDP growth to European economies take into account population numbers (e.g. many european economies have stagnant or very slowly increasing populations and are learning to deal with the resulting deflationary pressures

    3. Accept the fact that the US has always “lead” the world in social, political and economic “development”. Meaning that what is happening here will likely also happen elsewhere. What is happening here (among other things ) is that the rich and smart are able to leverage their skills and assets thanks to modern technology and communication in a way not possible in the past. As a result they and their children are becoming richer and smarter leaving more and more people behind. What we do about that is not clear and will take a lot of discussion if we continue to believe in the “one person/one vote” concept.

    4. Accept the fact that the only practical, affordable technology for dealing with global warming is controlling populaion growth. If you believe in humanity help save it from itself.

    konrad streuli

  64. Believe me, making my children comfortable is way down on my priority list. (Had a rather, ummm, “engaged” discourse with the spousal unit just this morning as to why I feel nitrous oxide is not indicated to drill a simple cavity in a 7 y.o.) Rather, I think what is required is to give them skills and the capacity to cope with whatever life throws at them, push them and give them lots of love. And yeah, it will hurt sometimes. My oldest is only 8. I’ve seen the teenage years up close and personal in a large family of nephews and nieces, enough to know that trying to shield your child from consequences is a recipe for a world of hurt. You?

    Closer to the subject at hand though, I wouldn’t take away the idea that most of those who post here are naive or blind to the just how miniscule a contribution one person can make. Most, like you, do it because the alternative is morally unacceptable. So is armed insurrection and violence, to most. Regularly we’ll have someone send out a blast of bombast about the LATENESS OF THE HOUR, and the need to take to the barricades NOW!!! It doesn’t ever get much traction, which I’m always gratified to see. As I’ve said before, my ancestors got the tongs put to them and were hammered out on the federal anvil, and not all that long ago. Those stories are not easily squared with a blithe call to insurrection.

  65. Yes, plow, I’ve seen the teenage years, but from a non-biological parent angle – and it’s a hard, hard economy for youth without great privileges. American society is an intensely difficult society to “raise” children – it sounds like you are incredibly level-headed about it, though.
    All the vainglory about LATENESS and “to the barricades” is bizarre – staying out of prison and government fine imposition is well worth the frustration of not being the rebel of youthful dreams.

  66. To Konrad Streuli:

    Please share some examples of your point #3. Thanks!

  67. Martin, Plowboy, and friends,

    Congratulations, I am glad that you have definitively figured out “how the larger world runs.” I am still figuring it out after having spent 25 years as a teacher, 40 years as a political activist and organizer at the local to global level, and 15 years actively representing various civil society organizations at the UN while also being deeply enmeshed in efforts to incubate transformative social, environmental, and economic societal change.

    Anyway, my observations are that 1 person, when they decide they want to and act on it, can have an enormous impact and make a tremendous difference. You can look at Ray Anderson, former CEO of Interface Flooring, or McDonough and Braungart. Or to be just a bit more ordinary, the list of some 29 Chief Sustainability Officers in Fortune 500 corporations, many of which started out to promote a sustainability drive in their companies at a much lower level of position and activity just a few years ago and are now coordinating it as a major strategic orientation within the business.

    And I can give you hundreds of more examples, from classroom teachers that have brought Education for Sustainable Development into their schools, to those that have been instrumental in creating sustainable community campaigns where they live like I did quite successfully in the 1990s, etc.

    As more and more of us get the bug, we will see that we can have even more of an impact in creating change…. and hopefully we will demonstrate to at least some of the sceptics that they were just plain wrong. At least it is worth a try. Nothing invested, nothing lost; nor gained. Reach for the stars rather than complain about what a lousy world it is and who knows what you will get.

    But please do not get me wrong. I am often talking about the 1 billion plus without access to clean water, sufficient food, and/or electricity, etc. And I had an 8 year old nephew who died from leukemia a year or so ago; so I know that we are not all just living in a bed of roses. But still my nephew brought a lot of joy and caring into the world even when we was dying because of the attitude he chose to have.

    Rob Wheeler

  68. Martin….getting back to the subject of the Red Chinese, and the growth and consumption projections. I agree, we really have no moral high ground to be all snitty about what they plan to do, or not do. Pretty much, they are, and are increasingly going to be, the proverbial 900lb. gorilla. Still, I hear reports of the Chinese population being less than cooperative with the whole “unlimited growth” program. For one thing, darn it, they refuse to accumulate debt and they have this quaint idea that saving for the future is maybe a good idea. Very annoying, that. I’d like to think that they’ve seen the shape the West has gotten into with short term revolving consumer credit, but I’m not sure. I’m thinking it is more of a cultural imperative, based on a long and often brutal history. If that holds, they will be in the position to show us a thing or two.

    The Americans learn lessons, but typically only the hard way. The “boomer” mentality is still very much with us, but more and more it is beginning to sink in that we only screw ourselves in the long run. (Maybe the over-hyped Marcellus shale gas play, its inevitable price implosion and trashing of the aquifer will kill this approach for once and for all) Case in point is a book I just finished about the 1930’s Dust Bowl on the Southern Plains. Now there was a good example of a cosmic kick in the ass, delivered with some authority. For the most part (yeah, I know….) we got the message and changed our ways.

  69. Rob:

    “Congratulations, I am glad that you have definitively figured out ‘how the larger world runs.’ ”

    Me? Not a chance.

  70. Ray Anderson is a joke. Whatever he did to try to atone for his corporate CEO maruading when he was younger, did not work, and will not work, nor will the hot air of any of the greenwashing sustainability fraudsters now getting more unearned big bucks for selling the newest snake oil.
    As for the “one-person” hypothesis of global social change, it is preposterous.
    Thanks for your deference implied in your realization that others have “figured out” the workings of the larger world” to a greater extent – it takes much hard intellectual work, real cognitive fortitude, expert instructors that are there if you look hard enough -and it does give the holder of such understanding the fun knwoledge of of when smoke, even green smoke, is being blown

  71. To Rob: Carry on!

    Change at the micro level will eventually result in change at the macro. It works in the other direction as well, of course, the two flowing back and forth continually. We need more Transition Initiatives in the States; those are communities acting together, not just individuals, but it seems like, at least in my own community, something needs to happen first to get such a thing off the ground. What that is, exactly, I’m not sure. But attitude is everything, and it’s evident that there’s a lot of defeatism. I feel “defeated” too, sometimes…and sad. Who can help but feel that way at times? Is there an antidote? Maybe. Check out: and

  72. @ Justin (22) – You are absolutely correct in your assessment. For those of who think the system (Western Civ) is vulnerable, well perhaps you’re right. But don’t believe for one moment you are going to take it down without a struggle. It will not come down by an act or even the collective acts of all the disgruntled middle class Americans and Europeans who have seen the light. There are centripetal forces holding it together as much as there are centrifugal forces pulling it apart. Aside from the controlling hands of the plutocracy, there is too much raw desire out there in the hinterlands of civilization, too many have-nots who have been living on the poverty stricken fringes of this beast just waiting their turn, and scratching for a piece of the elusive pie.
    The entire Soviet Bloc, for example, was systematically and forcibly excluded from all the “fun” for almost a century. But the forbidden fruits are now within their grasp. And now the Chinese have finally woken up from their slumber as well and are quickly focused on putting a car in every one of their citizens’ driveways. The Indians as well have decided they want to play in the game. In Mumbai they have made a good beginning by taking over all of the telephone customer service functions for most major American corporations. Not only that, but a majority of citizens in the West (the first world) have been living at or below the poverty line for generations. They too want a payday and a taste of the forbidden fruit.
    The only way you’re going to bring down Western civilization, its Curriculum and its Spectacle, is if you pry it from the dying hands of all these previously designated have-nots and the plutocrats who own and manage it. You can see it in the younger generation of Siberians here in Barnaul. They cannot live without their cell phones, their iPods, their recently financed cars and newly minted driver’s licenses. They are tasting the promise of the spectacle, and they are mesmerized by its elusive appeal. It is not just blue jeans they want… they want it all!

  73. Dear Leigh, Martin and friends,

    First Leigh, thanks for the links. HeartMath I know about because they worked with us on the development of our sustainable community campaign; it will be good to see what they are up to again. Noosphere ideas and the idea that consciously focusing our thoughts can effect our reality and the greater reality are very interesting ideas.


    Do you not see the hypocrisy in your statements? At least now I know there is little point in discussing things with you. You have already figured everything out and have come to your conclusions.

    If you think that Ray Anderson was a joke and what he did in his business cannot and did not work, then there is not much more I can say to you. What was accomplished has been widely documented and info on what the business continues to do is readily available.

    Sure Interface is still not perfect – show me one person that is living a fully sustainable life in this inter-related and inter-connected unsustainable world, and I would be very happy indeed. But for a multi-national corporation that is selling what has been a most unsustainable product for decades they are getting fairly close.

    And if you think a one person hypothesis for global social change is preposterous, then I think the joke is probably on you. O course all of our activities depend upon and are integrally connected with those around us, but it is not hard to see that there are many historical figures that have had a profound effect on the well-being and un-well-being of humanity.

  74. @ mike k (24) you still take yourself to seriously, my friend. Lighten up… you’ve been here for years… have you made no progress yet?

  75. Dear kulturCritic,

    Of course those in the “emerging world” want what many of us have and are likely to increase the demands on the planet quite significantly. But why shouldn’t they?

    But these people are not the problem. The problem is all of humanity’s unsustainable practices and lifestyles.

    And of course it is not easy to create and make change. That is why they call it the “status quo” that we have to shift. – status like in static ie lacking in movement, action, or change. If it was easy to make change it would have happened 40 years ago when so many of us wanted humanity to recycle, invest in renewables, create peace, grow our food sustainably, etc.

    But change it is indeed. I participated in a training program on organic agriculture for all state ministers of agriculture in India 4 years ago. UNEP now repeatedly states at the UN that organic agriculture is 2 -4 times as productive in the developing world as conventional. No one said that 4 years ago.

    While China is still building a coal plant a week, they are also leading the world, along with India, in wind power installations and manufacturing; and are driving a push towards electric vehicles.

    Many cities are being designing upon an ecological model there; and last year I spoke on ecovillage development in China and was received quite warmly. They love the idea. Same with India and all around the world.

    Yes humanity is going in both directions at once; but it is patently false that people do not want to create and live in a sustainable world. We just need to and are figuring out how we can all live prosperously together and in a sustainable manner without going beyond the biocapacity of the earth to support us.

    Given that tens of millions of people are now focusing on how we can do this, I think the odds are pretty good that we will make it. But it could be pretty rocky along the way – given that we have to redesign pretty much every social institution and way that we do things. And there are indeed a lot of negative institutional factors that continue to attempt to hold it back.

  76. OOps, sorry, I should have proof read my message; and there does not seem to be an edit mode once you have posted it.

    I meant to say: UNEP now repeatedly states at the UN that organic agriculture is 2 -4 times as productive in the developing world as conventional. No one said that at the UN 10 years ago; now it is common knowledge there.

    The same with renewables, ten years ago the developing countries said why should we invest in renewables – that is just an added cost. Now they almost all say, help us, we want to invest in renewables. It makes far more sense, both in cost and otherwise, over the long run.

  77. @ Rob – well call me a cynic along with Martin and Justin… but I prefer my life without “institutions” and without windmill farms in the oceans… call me old fashioned… about 10,000 years old fashioned. But the changes we have wrought since then are not just materially relevant, but have affected how we think and experience the world as well. I prefer to live less rationally, than more rationally. We have too much reason today, too many plans, and too many demands. And there nothing like hope… it is a word for those who don’t yet live.

  78. OK, my friend, I have no problem with this. If you are living low end and not making things worse – then that is just fine. Unfortunately, billions of us are not. And while I too might prefer some elements of an earlier time, we are no longer there now.

    Unfortunately, with 7 billion of us on the planet, and most people wanting a more modern lifestyle, we either have to create institutional change and plan to make the transition to a fully sustainable world or its all going down the drain – for all of us – before too awful long.

    Many reports have documented the global ecological challenges we’re fast running up against. Still, and again, if you are living a more ecologically responsible life, you are ahead of most of the rest of us. Congratulations. Rob

  79. Rob – I want to bring to your attention Alli, a friend who along with her partner has built an organic farm in the hungry country here in Alaska. For the past 7 years they have done what no other Alaskan I know of has done in many decades. They have eaten only what they have raised (during a short season), hunted, fished or gathered. They make money from selling the processed goods and raw product. They owe money to no one. It is a fulfilling life and they are building a community of like minded friends.

    I know this very small and local compared to where and how you work, but I think it is inspirational and has lessons to teach us all.

    Somewhere in the thread “Noosphere” was brought up. In the 90’s some other friends built BIosphere II in Oracle, Arizona. One of the goals was to explore closed systems and issues of sustainability. They consulted Russian scientists while developing the project and when those Russians visited, they pointed out that Biosphere II was the first Noosphere.

    You see, “Noosphere” is not only an internal thought form or structure. It needs to be manifested to build meaning.

    Elsewhere in the thread someone brought that it is interesting to speculate that you can change the world by having positive thoughts. I think it may be the opposite. That those positive thoughts could be an impediment. It is important to ACT positively.

    I am so tired of being the one who says “Words, words, words! It is important to act.”

    I would note that words from those who have acted have a deeper and richer resonance and more knowledge than words from those who just sit back criticizing. When one engages in the physical world, one learns things and has to make adjustments – a sort of progressive approximation (Bucky Fuller). That is how all good art is made and much else. I would argue that it is also an evolutionary process, which is written large in the Biosphere.

    Finally I want to think those who have shared websites on the thread.

  80. Johanna,

    Thank you for sharing about your friends. I knew a couple from Homer…did a permaculture design class with the wife…and from what they had said about living in Alaska, it sounds near-impossible to do what your friends are doing. Can you share more about what systems they have in place?

    As for the positive thoughts being an impediment, I don’t necessarily agree; I think it’s both. Most people work from positive and negative stimulation of various sorts and yes, it’s an evolution. I would consider negative stimulation to be that which inspires passionate anger that is incorporated into some form of action (e.g., writing a letter to the editor, campaigning for/against something, etc.). Positive stimulation is maybe imagining how much more attractive things could be and working off that imagination or vision of what you’d like the world to be.

    I recently started an herbal business and never realized that it may be the greatest tool to actually manifest things in the real world that I care about, things I want to change. Positive stimulation: I imagine people using the herbs to diminish the stress they feel. I hope they, in turn, will live better. Negative stimulation (but also positive): It’s giving them a tool so that they can take care of themselves and not rely on others as much (the medical cartel that influences health in this country). In fact, if they have space/energy, these are plants they can grow themselves with ease. I will do a foray into the “Gift economy” that Charles Eisenstein writes about. I have no illusions that I will need to not only educate people about what I’m doing, but also have to prepare myself for trying this with complete strangers for whom money as a medium of exchange is just what we’re all used to and so they may view what I’m doing with some suspicion, as in, “What’s the catch?” I will share only my costs, excluding time and labor. And if they want to give something back—once they’ve used the plants—fine; what they might give depends largely on the value they feel they’ve received and I cannot know or specify that in advance. Or, if they choose, they can pay it forward to someone else. The only thing I’m really hoping for is that they’ll return and share stories of how those plants affected them. I don’t how long I’ll be able to do this; I bought these herbs, do not have enough of the ones I grow to be able to do this, but I can’t think of a more appropriate thing to give people, especially when those plants themselves are gifts to all of us.

  81. Johanna,

    I should add that negative stimuli, at least for now, provides much more of an impetus to act than positive stimulation of the sort relating to how we’d like to envision the world. I don’t know that this will always be true. I’d like to think that somewhere in our evolution, we’ll really shift over to acting based on how we want things to be as opposed to reacting to things that are and that we do not want.

  82. Rob, you just seem unable to see the disconnect between your messianic tone and the state of the world.
    You say you were a teacher – and yet look at all the “educated” imbeciles our education system has turned out, from George W. to Mitt Romney to any other corproate stooge armed to devastate the natural world with a fake credential.
    You say you worked for the UN, yet it is a hollow insitution, presiding over the developed world’s militarism and economic inequality, raising mountains of speeches and papers that have reflected the power imbalance rather than done what the UN charter demands.
    So why are you bathing yourself in some golden hue of righteousness? Other commenters have raised basic concerns about the trends of injustice and corruption that permeate social reality, yet you cling to some delusion of “one person” change and making carpets out of retread tires.
    Did Interface truly change the world of carpet-making to one of purity and benevolence? Of course not, Yet you throw out terms of “cycnic” and “defeatism,” where it is actually a proud and defiant realism that others hold, not greenwashing boosterism that runs counter to all the available evidence that others have presented here, and in other venues. You’ve got to wake up.

  83. Martin – it looks like your attacks are getting a bit ad hominem and less than civil. I am disappointed that your keen mind is not being used more sharply. Maybe re-examin and reset?

  84. Johanna,

    Thank you for the link. I also noticed the Homer High Tunnelers…would think a lot of growers there would use high tunnels; it’s amazing what can be grown w/o heat, too. I wonder how many folks there use passive solar greenhouses. I know Rosemary – she’s a wonderful teacher and herbalist and all-around cool granny and person, so I hope your friend does well in her studies. Some misty-eyed idealism: I think plants can save the world; indeed, they already do!

  85. Martin, et al

    First, thanks everyone for your valuable and helpful thoughts and information.
    Now in response to Martin’s comments. I see no disconnect between the positive contributions that I and millions of others are trying to bring into the world and the challenges and tribulations nor the frustrating state of the world. I rub my nose in it every day. But I will be damned if I am going to be pessimistic or not focus as well on what is possible. It is hard enough to help make the changes even with a positive attitude.

    Also, I don’t believe I said I worked for the UN; but rather that I have represented civil society organizations at and been actively engaged with UN processes for 15 years. And yes, I find plenty to complain about and want to change about the UN; however on the other hand I know from personal experience that the UN has been instrumental in helping to focus hundreds of millions of people on the need to transition to a sustainable future. It is primarily a norm setting institution and it has done a pretty good job at that.

    I wish it was better with implementation; but that is something that will likely just have to come about in time.

    And yes, the UN has “presided over the developed world’s militarism and economic inequality, raising mountains of speeches and papers that have reflected the power imbalance rather than done what the UN charter demands;” but the same has occurred under and within well more than 2/3rds of the national governments in what are called developed countries in the world. And the US government is probably the worst in this regards. We spend half of what the world spends on the military; have a huge wealth differential; you should see the massive number of speeches and reams of paper put out by our congress and administration; and on and on.

    And in regards to doing what the Charter demands, the US Constitution says that any treaty the US government agrees to becomes the supreme law of the land – which would thus include the UN Charter and the other few treaties and conventions that we have agreed to (the US has the worst record of any in the world in regards to blocking, weakening and refusing to sign onto or ratify global treaties). So, every time the US attacks another country it is a violation of not only the UN Charter but also the US Constitution.

    Finally, I do believe in the ability of one person to make a change because I have witnessed and achieved it in my own life. You want to continue to piss in your own pants, go ahead. Who am I to stop you?

    And no, I don’t have to wake up. If I want to live in ignorant bliss, believing that sooner or later humanity is going to make the transition to a just, sustainable, and thriving world for all that is my right and privilege. And you my friend can go ahead and believe it is all turning to crap.

    In that regards, at least, it is a free world.


  86. Rob and Martin,

    Seeing as Johanna mentioned Rosemary Gladstar, I think it’s appropriate to point out that she is one person who has made a deep impact on many. Did she do it single-handedly? She would probably say she did not, but many of us view her as a key player in the revival of herbalism in the United States. In addition to helping people sustain and improve their health with whole plants, this has other benefits, including Earth care. Many herbalists who wildcraft responsibly are also some of the same folks who work to preserve habitat for endangered medicinals, which has the effect of preserving habitat, period. Rosemary herself helped to launch United Plant Savers ( Herbalists don’t advocate the use of biocides, don’t often see plants as “weeds”…or, if they need to take plants out of their gardens, make sure they use them (eat them, dry them for infusions or decoctions, or tincture them, or give them away…at the very least, add them to the compost pile). Herbalism could also help improve water quality. How many of us right now are drinking water, even filtered water, that is full of synthetic hormones, antidepressants or other forms of pharma because our water treatment facilities lack the ability to filter these things out or because contaminated effluent from CAFOs is sent directly into waterways? Plant metabolites also end up in the water, but at least Earth has a long relationship with those. Many herbalists help people through changes in diet and lifestyle and these, too, can also help us to become more balanced as a species. After all, if we cannot sustain ourselves, we will not be able to behave in a way that can support the ecological health of the planet. So, I, too, refuse to believe that one person cannot make a difference. This has often been proved otherwise.

  87. You’re fine and wonderful people, with real understanding of natural and political processes. You’ve read, you’ve changed your own lives, and you’ve even entertained notions of destruction and inevitability.
    Yet it’s very, very hard for you to live with the “pessimistic” nature of reality – that our supersystem is impervious to our good intents, that our lives are inconsequential to the large dimensions outside our solitary beings, that our human associations don’t reflect our best intentions. And so you recoil from the base truths, and become enraged when others seem to not be following your better instincts.
    Look at the good things going on! Follow your stars! Be uplifted! So much of civil society seems committed to that generous, lovely path. That is not, however, where the data lie – not in the rising CO2 emissions, not in the levels of toxicity already in the ground and air, not in the economic dysfunction.
    If you want to ignore the data and the trends and the sociology, then you’ve done a far better job than any warehouse full of anti-depressants have done, but then, counseling ignorance is going to strike some as bizarre.
    Take a good look around – read counterpunch’s selection this weekend, especially Michael Donnelly’s wonderful piece on pessimistic environmental activists. Therein, in that approach, lies our collective social future, but you are completely free to try to advance a rosy, sweet, herbalist view of matters – if you ignore the Happy Meal toys, the cracked asphalt.
    Sure, Rob, I’ve pissed in my pants before. I’m not ashamed of that – my body works generally quite well, but there are times when urine, from within my body, dribbles out.
    I them follow the course of washing my underwear. I could go on about my acceptance of my bodily functions, but I don’t think the august Orion board of directors is that appreciative of my line of information – and I am not trying to shock the bluebloods here, just to say that life is wonderfully complex, and inherently absurd. Our best efforts have been mighty and abject failures – but there’s still good times ahead.

  88. This promising article unfortunately misses the mark on many levels. As a ‘manifesto’ it has none of the call to decisive radical action that will affect substantive change. [For contrast, read the manifesto of Paul Kingsnorth (who spoke in a powerful webinar on Orion) in the Dark Mountain Project–

    In focusing on “America the Possible,” Speth also errs: In its history as a nation, America has never had a pervasive ethic of responsible land use. Our size and space kept us off the hook for decades. We spoil and move on, like a toddler with a broken toy. Our recent record of not signing international accords to limit carbon emissions, for example, does not speak well for our ability to lead on these issues. More importantly, the question at hand is much bigger than America. This is about the planet, the entire Earth. We can no longer afford to consider serious and threatening issues from such a self-centered perspective.

    One notes the absence of passion, of heart, of personal connection that inspire in so many other articles in Orion. Simply repeating hope and change as a kind of incantation denotes an impotence of thought and interferes with action. The author suggests, vaguely, that we work within existing systems when clearly that approach has not worked for years and grows more ineffectual as the confluence of government and business grows more strong. If we follow “business as usual” that is what we will get: “business as usual” with business winning us into oblivion. We cannot simply tweak the system. We cannot mouth the usual tropes of ‘green’ and ‘sustainability’. We need a new model that breaks out of the constraints of a market past and recognizes that humans are neither the center nor the apex of the universe.

    The rest of the issue continues what I expect of and need from Orion: original thinkers with vision, passion and voice that inspire. From Wade Davis to Jay Griffiths to Steven David Johnson’s fabulous real voice from Patagonia to the delightful images of Nature’s Math: These are the people and thinking that bring us to new places, that allow us ‘aha!’ moments so that we may see in new ways. This is what will lead us to the change we need.

  89. Martin – Michael Donnelly’s piece is about the role of professionalism in the environmental battles. You can call that pessimistic and I might agree with you on some level but it is not accurate.

  90. Really, Johanna, you read that piece and think the topic is “professionalism”? How can you deduce that from the following quote:

    “As a fellow activist recently noted; “That those who claim to care about fossil fuel abuse and climate will not give flying up, tells you all you need to know about why the other side doesn’t believe us and why we will never win. The right does what they want without shame; we do what we want with shame, and then kick dirt on it like a kitty that just went in its own backyard. It stinks and is destroying the world either way.”

    That’s not just pessimism, that’s up my alley of nihilism, and it is what needs to be said. The rest of the piece is just as withering about greenwashing and collaboration.

  91. Martin — I just reread it and you and I reading different pieces by Michael. Please send me net link to what you are reading/referring to.
    I could not find your quote in what I read.


    Also Am glad you are reading Counterpunch.

  92. I have definitely picked up on a real disagreement in our time as to what a “sustainable” future is, and what it means.

    If you ask your typical corporate CEO, I think you’ll get the idea that it means his/her company will be able to market the same products to a broader customer base, especially in the developing world. This won’t, necessarily, require any substantial alteration to said product, but mostly just re-branding and re-labeling. After all, the absence of growth is apotheosis to a corporate entity. “Green” and “growth” don’t play well together in American business. At the most basic level, “green” is only meaningful in the context of reduced consumption. Try selling THAT to your shareholders.

    If you ask the typical American consumer what a sustainable future or lifestyle looks like, in the answer you’ll probably detect an underlying assumption that, “The earth wins….AND we get to keep all our cool stuff.” The coolest of stuff in our culture is, of course, the automobile. Most of the so-called “Greens” you’ll meet have the entrenched idea that we’ll switch fuels for the internal combustion engine, make them smaller, and we’ll still get to drive whenever, and wherever, we want. In that regard, the American consumer is no more on board with reduced growth than your average corporation. Let’s not even talk about true contraction, shall we? Whether we like it or not though, the salvation of the species and the planet lies in that direction. Our acquiescence to this probable future reality is not required.

    On most days I find myself agreeing with Ed Abbey. We need to just acknowledge that things are not going to change until we use up every blessed drop of petroleum on the planet. To facilitate that, get yourself the biggest, gas-suckin’est behemoth you can find to drive, all the better to get it done all the quicker.

  93. Cheers for Ed Abbey. A true misanthropic nihilist. I tend to agree with the Mike Donnelly article. I think you could extend his insight to many other categories of environmental activity. I was at a “brownfields” conference in Philadelphia last spring and what a wretched bunch of a$$holes those people are. Yeah, we’ll clean up this superfund site, so long as the government give us the land for free, untaxed for 25 years, and let us put another awesome industrial site on the property. But, it’s all carried out in the guise of sustainable development to keep the Sierra folks happy. Tell you what I didn’t see at the conference, priuses. What I did see, lexus and BMW; white guys in nice suits. Public money directed to private enterprise. The same conference probably happens somewhere every weekend, for wind towers, solar, biomass, maritime law and fisheries, etc. etcs.

    I think it’s a shame that people consider realism to be pessimism. I think we should all be happy that we live in such an auspicious time that we get to see the hull on this Titanic start to crack up. And we have our personal choices of where we want to watch from. I am still going to enjoy my life regardless. It’s not all bad, I can still garden and hunt to assuage my guilt over driving a “CAR” to work every day.

    My final thought on nihilism. I watched a Nature show on PBS a few months ago. The topic was the wolf population which has moved back into the protected zone around Chernobyl. You people really want to save the earth? start nuking the place because the Chernobyl protected area is probably one of the most biodiverse sites in eastern Europe. Fukushima will be a nature preserve in 25 years.

    Yeah, you want humans to live in harmony with the earth, but the truth is you still want to drink your coffee and tea which don’t grow in Seattle (i.e. Koolaid). The earth is going to be here long after you Orion types think we are going to annihilate ourselves.

    We are not going to annihilate ourselves. The earth isn’t burning. No one and no thing is going to save the planet or save America from itself. Just do what makes you happy. If that involves eco-terrorism, I think that’s great. If it is gardening in Alaska, awesome. But don’t assume that 200 million Americans and 800 million Chinese are going to willingly follow your footsteps. Eco-people are not Christ.

    I think I broke my own 10,000 word limit.

  94. I’m on board with some of what you write Justin….but be careful holding up Chernobyl as an eco-topia. Yeah, there is lots of biodiversity coming back, but what is unknown is the health of the ecosystem at a molecular level, and lots of people who have defied the restrictions and who are squatting there while eating the fish and fruit are also playing (what else?) Russian roulette with their health. Yeah, I know they will tell you that cancer kills slower than hunger. I’d consider it to be the end of life as we know it if the conditions around Chernobyl were to become commonplace. I’m pretty sure that we won’t have to worry much about building new nuclear disasters in the 21st century as reactors are gigantic economic boondoggles that require heavy energy subsidies by oil and gas, not to mention gigantic public sector support.

    As for the so-called green-tech fiesta playing out now in some sectors….I think you are absolutely right. There is lots of money to be made by the cynical, as well as for the true believers. It is just the next bubble being blown, the absolute antithesis of what true sustainability is. The only reason the numbers pencil out at present is due to heavy government supports on both ends of the investment. Once we get over the delusion, and we will soon, the quicker we can get on with actually talking about reality.

    As for what an “Orion type” is… beats me. I don’t know anyone here personally, or well enough to gauge what it is that cranks everyone’s Allis Chalmers. Sure, I suppose you could find a few wannabe messiahs, but I think the driving motivation for reading and posting here is pretty basic, as it always is. Namely, the urge to be assured that: “It’s not me, it’s them, right?” Everyone needs that at some point, especially in these weird times.

  95. Plowboy — Its not me or them, its me and them = us. The State is the individual writ large, the individual is the State writ small. The same is true of the God/Human relationship/identity. There is no independently self-existing State, or independently self-existing individual. We are in this together. We need to work on both ends of our problems. Seems to me that many prefer to work only on the them end, as you pointed out. How to encourage us to work on ourselves, in the company of others similarly motivated, is what interests me. Because I don’t think there is a realistic way forward that does not involve making profound changes in ourselves. There are proven ways to do this. The only question now is if we are ready to engage them, in this dark hour of our greatest need. We are facing a final exam, after frittering away our time in self indulgence, wishful thinking, and a million forms of avoidance. The bill has come due: are we ready to make the efforts needed to pay it?

  96. The test I mentioned is not that mysterious or obscure. It is simply this — have we learned to live together in peace and harmony, sharing fairly the blessings of planetary life? A passing grade will be required for humankind’s continued existence.

  97. Justin — You perhaps forget that Christ rejected Satan’s offer to give him dominion over all the kingdoms of earth. So Eco-people are in good company in this respect. Also, your brief comments did not even come close to one thousand words. Your reassurance that the Earth will survive our depredations does nothing to reassure me; I am too focused on our solving our problems to find any consolation from such ideas. You are not alone in offering this supposed piece of folk wisdom, it as all too common on these pages and elsewhere. I guess it affords its believers a sense of comfort in being above the ugly details of a world of potentially intelligent beings murdering themselves and so many other sentient beings. At any rate, thanks for sharing. Sorry to be so critical. You did say some things that made a lot of sense. I do respect your willingness to share your thoughts.

  98. There’s some mighty fine stuff in there, Justin, but also a major flaw: Edward Abbey was a jackass crank.
    Nihilism in no way encourages people to be solitary, brutish cads. Nihilism is the understanding of the larger dimensions of social futility, but of the immediate dimensions of our lives, nihilism can get all Richard Dawkins misty-eyed: look at the wonders of the human life, the privileges of thought and expression and various human advancements, the Sklar brothers’ pdocast – you know, the Tom T. Hall treacle-song of all the beautiful things (do not look it up).
    Michael Donnelly has a counterpunch follow-up to his earlier piece, and it again is a joyous read, while being firmly in the nihilistic camp. Let Orion slough off the nonsense of the “sacred” and go into the liberatory meadows that Justin knows quite well by the sound of it.

  99. After we have irrefutably deconstructed every hopeful effort to save our world, what then? The environmental movement is hopelessly corrupt and in bed with corporate exploiters. Orion is foolishly idealistic and ineffectual. All is doomed. What then? Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die? Apres moi le deluge? Find a seat on some high place and admire the beauty of mankind descending the dark mountain into a hell of its own making? Must we accept a fatal cynicism as the final refuge for a mind that sees too clearly to sleep in illusions?

  100. Mike K., you say some truths very well, but of course you know that “all is doomed” is false. Wahtever privileges that are in your social world will be likely to continue, perhaps even get better, and you have every right to enjoy them.
    I don’t really know how to answer your last two sentences – they are eloquent, with only the word “fatal” out of place. We are always going to be in the grip of some illusions, and may need them to continue as functioning beings, while knowing that they are indeed illusions.
    If you want to challenge yourself on that score, try Alex Rosenberg’s “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality,” which I mentioned before.
    Try to stay away from drink – it’s really a bad solution to the conundrums you cited, full of looming adverse consequences for health.
    Brian speaks of some “hopeful efforts,” so there may be some marginal improvements in our collective dilemma, but you’ve got me as far as what they might be.

  101. Brian — Indeed. The cynical mind tends to refute hopeful experiments before they are performed, thus projecting on an unknown reality its own negative mind-set. One unfortunate result of this was stated by chess master Aaron Nimzovitch, “Criticism can do much; for instance it can embitter the existence of young talents.”

    Sometimes our cleverness at deconstructing proposed solutions forecloses the attempt to test daring hypotheses. Finding fault with every new proposal is also a handy way to discourage movements before they are born. Those with entrenched interests are quite aware of this tactic. For instance, one is advised to be suspicious of commenters on these pages who disparage the value of Orion and its mission. Some of these voices may be defending their own dubious positions by attacking other viewpoints.

  102. @mike k
    yes, accepting false limits weakens, yet accepting real limits strengthens. So, what’s real?

  103. Way to go, Mike K!
    Of course you are heroic in saying
    “one is advised to be suspicious of commenters on these pages who disparage the value of Orion and its mission. Some of these voices may be defending their own dubious positions by attacking other viewpoints.”
    There is nothing wrong with “suspicion” – it is how our brain works. You do use the word “may” in the next sentence, a qualifier, which suggests that these here “trolls,” these must-be undercover rat stooges, could also be freethinkers, dedicated to confronting dangerous truths.
    The “mission” of the almighty Orion may be the prime objective of the comments pages, where the sacred banner of Orion is flown without surcease to the betterment of all flora and fauna liek the banners of Nike, America, and Patagonia, but then why ask for comments/discussion? Are differing viewpoints deemed counter-mission?

  104. Martin — I am a defender of all critics and a policy of complete openness. But that does not automatically render me a fool. Caveat emptor is a wise caution in these times of spurious and misleading speech, and pretended friends who are in fact enemies. This does not mean that my own ideas are without flaws, and I welcome criticism as a useful corrective. It is also true that many who spout the lies and delusions they have imbibed from our dysfunctional and insane culture are somehow evil by intention. Such folks are victims of our ungenuine culture perhaps more than perpetrators and broadcasters of self-conceived falsehoods. May we all waken to a clearer vision of world and ourselves. Let’s gather in small groups dedicated to uncovering true solutions to our present debacle.

    Let the climate change deniers and evolution skeptics express their wacko version of things. Maybe in a strange way they will help us recover our sanity.

  105. Michael K – I think this comments section is a version of your “small groups” vision, but I do not expect any “true solutions” to come form here, or anywhere. We, as a species, are boxed in by our institutional forces, which do operate in very real, very catatastrophic dimensions.
    You are very charitable to the deniers and creationists – I find no value in ceding time or cultural space to them – they are utterly, and irredeemly, corrupt
    and enraging, but if they help you to focus better on truths, then you are doing well.

  106. Martin — The small group process I envision is very different from what goes on at this Orion blog. Those groups will be made up of flesh and blood onsite members who commit to being present for an hour and a half once a week for an extended period. The process they engage in is structured to facilitate the changes in themselves that will make them open, thinking, creative persons capable of promoting real meaningful changes in their community and world. We live in a world of unreal ideas we have unconsciously absorbed. To realize that the world we think is the only reality is in truth merely flickering images on the wall of a cave takes time and effective unlearning techniques. To think otherwise only condemns one to an endless round of futile and destructive games within rules that are only binding if unchallenged.

  107. Good luck, mike k. with such
    consciousness-raising groups.
    Ain’t my cup of tea – I’m not looking to change much about myself, sorry.

  108. Brian — Thanks for the link on J’s paradox. I was intrigued by the ideas of F.G. Bailey. He is very much in tune with my thinking. Your question about what is real (as opposed to what we think is real) is central to the quest for a better world. See my recent response to Martin’s question for my idea on how to explore this question.

  109. Martin — Being stuck in self-satisfaction is a difficult situation to be in. But there is always hope that something unforeseen could alter the equation. Good luck.

  110. Religions, and religious auhtorities, have specialized in getting victims to believe that the world’s ills are concentrated in their own individual selves and bodies, inducing a miasma of guilt, an obsessive self-abnegation, a revulsion at authentic understanding and enjoyment, which renders the victim enchained, compliant with authoritity’s fictitious command of greater morality, greater intellectual knowledge.
    Now some greens take up this enslavement of people, visiting the ills of an immovable, destructive supersystem upon individual people, who live short, circumscribed, fully limited lives, but end up blaming themselves for the inadequacies of the much, much larger system.
    The priests, the bishops, the gurus, the prayer spiritualists get the tax breaks, the shuffling devotion of conned marks, but others refuse to be drawn into this classic scheme.
    Whether “self-satisfied” or just defiant, every human must defend against this relentless on-slaught from so many sides.

  111. Martin — I am beginning to bring in better focus a right wing libertarian strain in your sharing. The greens are taking away our precious freedom to do as we damn well please. Reminds me of the tobacco industry funded propaganda urging smokers not to allow their God-given right to pollute other folks airspace with their toxic fumes to be taken away. Or, the governments unholy attempts to regulate our sacred right to own AK47’s. And we should prevent the cabal of evil scientists putting out the myth of global warming from making us all into slaves. May the poor beset individual take arms against everything that seeks to constrain his unlimited freedom to do as he wills!

  112. Mike K, you are projecting a whole lot with that last stab.
    “Right-wing libertarian”? Off by about a continent or two. Libertarians are simply fascists in a new guise, hoping that by letting corporations run even more wild, they can have their precious beer.
    We are not free, not even close, but we can try to think for ourselves and act in some dramatic attempt to be true to a better sense of rational living. The “right-wing libertarians” you are thinking of are the priests and the ministers, the CEOs and engineers, who think by exercising power in this empire they are somehow deserving of their spoils.
    I fully support social controls on individual actions, and I hope you do as well – tax the rich, regulate the carbon, melt the guns, stop the tax breaks for religions, get quack homeopathic medications off the shelves.
    Of course there is no chance of these necessary structures over-turning the dominant order of fascist accumulation, so greenwashing comes in to further degrade the process by keeping the target on the back of the lonely Orionistii.
    You really didn’t answer the charge about religious indoctrination’s horrific history, and its much smaller legacy in the ascetic green yurthold

  113. Martin — Think of my last post as an exploratory probe to see if I could make sense of where you are coming from. Your response does help me understand your position(s) a little better. But I don’t understand your conflating greens with religious obscurantism and persecution. Most greens seem to favor a better relationship with our environment. What’s so bad about that? I share your antipathy to religious dogmatism, but I also know that there are truer forms of spirituality that are extremely valuable. Glad to hear that you don’t fit the right wing zealot’s jacket I had tentatively picked out for you! Peace…

  114. Martin — Please realize that I am not opposed to all you share, I embrace many of the ideas you have shared. As to religion and spirituality, I once was a confirmed atheist. I never met anyone who was as deeply contemptuous of that whole affair as I was. Science and Reason were the backbone of my world view. Bertrand Russel’s book Why I Am Not A Christian was my Bible, so to speak.

    I still reject much of what passes as religion or spirituality. However, through circumstances I will not take the time to go into, I came to realize that I had never really tested the possibility of dimensions beyond the obvious. When I did so, I discovered that there were realities beyond the ordinary that were immensely meaningful and fulfilling. I had previously been like the Cardinals who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope because they knew that there were no moons around Jupiter, because their Holy Book told them so. Or like the physicists who initially rejected Einstein’s theories, and later quantum theory, because it did not fit with what they knew to be true.

    An encounter I had with D.T. Suzuki at the East West Philosopher’s Conference helped me to realize that there is no possible way to convince anyone of these higher dimensions who is unwilling to engage the procedures, such as meditation and other practices, which might give them direct experience of the realities in question. So, I am not engaging in the futile exercise of proving God exists, or converting anyone to an understanding that they alone can validate for themselves.

    As to the relevance of real spirituality in our world today, it is in my view the crucial element without which nothing we attempt will prosper. False spirituality of course is worse than useless. Accept nothing but the true coin, thoroughly tested.

  115. Fair enough, Mike – you are right to want to express what I am sure is taking a lot of effort.
    There are many popular breakthroughs in the study of the workings of the brain, particularly in how the brain engages in constant deception and self-deception, which would make your lines of inquiry very hard to approach, let alone duplicate.
    I know that social reality and the self are shaky constructs, but I am OK with them being the operating order, and I would wager that higher consciousness will be unverifiable.
    There are others who claim to be supreme political rationalists (Morris Berman) who adhere to transformative “spiritual” events having occurred in their own lives , so you are by no means alone in your quest, but false consciousness is as good a diagnosis as revelation. Tell the animal spirits they’ve got to come help us, pronto!

  116. Martin — The animal spirits are trying to help us, but we are not listening. Sometimes a person needs to spend extended time alone deep in nature in order to hear their voices. They are saying “please stop killing us.”

  117. Mike K… comment on the “us or them” binary was no more than an acknowledgement that every human, when confronted with momentous events, needs a sounding board to help reassure themselves that, yes, what they are seeing/hearing/reading/experiencing truly is as important to humanity as they might think. Consensus and understanding works that way, of course. You may consider that there is only “us”, and that is no doubt true under many, many categories we could name. But, when it comes to an appreciation of what has been lost , and what may still happen yet, I think we are a long way from a true “us.” Getting there. Made some substantial progress and gaining some ground. There yet? Ummm…?

  118. Plowboy — The ultimate “us” includes all that is, whether we cognize that, accept it, or deny it. It just is. In addition there are all kinds of possibilities of defining various sub-categories as “us” sets. With these sub-sets, all sorts of problems can arise in identifying them, seeing some as in opposition to others, etc. Jordan’s theorem in topology states that any closed curve in a plane divides the plane into two domains, one inside the curve and another outside the curve. As to what domain the curve inhabits is an interesting question, given that the curve itself is composed of points lacking dimensionality. As to the plane prior to the introduction of the curve, it has only one all inclusive infinite domain. Is this somewhat how this whole problematic reality was born: a singularity in an infinite suchness? Will this ultimately complex knot that is us and our universe ever be untied? Must give us pause…………….or not! J

  119. The Financial Times AND The New Yorker recently covered the World Economic Forum at Davos, and one of those two articles mentioned that there was some conversation about the need to reform capitalism. I think a possible way to do the top-down reform could be for some of the financial and corporate “elite” to address the obvious problems with it. They ARE aware of climate change.

  120. John — This would be like asking the slave owners to reform slavery.

  121. Mike – Good point, but I inferred (I guess) that they knew they had to change, and guessed they had the planet in mind. Back to your point, though, I see – they would try to “reform” it in a way to best fit their interests… 🙁

  122. Thanks for your comment John. The problem is that the “one percent” just don’t want to share with the rest of us. Considering that they have stolen their wealth from the rest of us, I can understand their reluctance to give any of it back. This has been going on for a long……time.

  123. However you define or name the “1 percent” (which is a convenient and meaningless moniker like “liberal” and “conservative”), anyone steals from all of us when allowed to take from and pollute the commons on which we all depend for our lives. The real question, as I see it, and as others (Henry McHenry on another Orion discussion thread) have brought up is how to reach “across the aisle” and get a conversation going with those others who, perhaps at bottom, actually do share similar ideas as those who are ecologically minded and hearted, but who, because of labels and such, appear to be polar opposites. I realize this is way easier said than done, because how many of us have actually had those kinds of conversations with ourselves — to find out what, at bottom, we hold most dear and what feelings those kinds of things elicit? And how we can best convey that to others — through our words and actions?

    If you asked my significant other ten years ago why leveling a mountain in West Virginia to get at the coal seams was acceptable, he’d probably have said because that’s what we need to do to maintain our “way of life.” What does that “way of life” entail? A certain amount of comfort, convenience…it’s about having more, more of whatever. But more that is never enough. Knowing that more stuff, more conveniences, more technologies will never fill a hole is maybe the first hint of an awareness of where things began to go wrong. I’m not laying this on his specific shoulders, but on all of ours going as far back as who knows.

    The real conundrum is not only how to unplug, decouple ourselves from “growth,” by which I mean converting the commons into money, but maybe more importantly from the idea that “growth is good”…all others economic ways of being (steady-state, negative-interest, etc.) is bad. I’ve been dealing with this in my own life as I transition from occupation (indeed!) to vocation. The former was squarely within the growth economy (read: my salary depended upon how well the company’s investments were doing; read further: how many abstract dollars, 0s/1s, the “market” could sieve out of the ether; read more deeply: how well the overall pyramid scheme was doing). Sometimes, I miss the money, the steady flow into a bank account, because all I thought I had to do was show up and write. Easy-peasy, right? No. Because my expectations for myself were so much higher and the inner conflicts felt, to me, wrenching even as the societal mind inside was saying, “What the heck are you worrying about? Take the money!” I know those days aren’t coming back. I don’t want them to. But they’re not just not coming back for me; they’re not coming back at all. And that doesn’t mean we can’t live well…but we need to redefine “well.”

    So, my question: What do we make the idea that growth is really not in our best interests more palatable? What kind of non-growth vision can we substitute for what we’ve had that is so much more beautiful, so much more alluring, that it will melt everyone into the ground?

  124. “So, my question: What do we make the idea that growth is really not in our best interests more palatable? What kind of non-growth vision can we substitute for what we’ve had that is so much more beautiful, so much more alluring, that it will melt everyone into the ground?”
    — What a great example of moving from a complaint about the current state of affairs to a statement of a practical problem to be solved. — I think the solution must be part artistic (vision of how such a future life will feel) and part technical (what will it look like and how will it work? How will I positively affect my and my family’s security in such a new world?

  125. Leigh, John — “What kind of non-growth vision can we substitute for what we’ve had that is so much more beautiful, so much more alluring, that it will melt everyone into the ground?”

    I am reading a book by Carolyn Baker, Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse. So far I have gotten two related understandings from her. (1) There is nothing we can do to avert this ongoing collapse. (2) This crisis can become for each of us an initiatory experience leading to a higher level of understanding and functioning.

    My long term association with Alcoholics Anonymous has prepared me to grasp what she is saying. The people of the industrial world are in the grip of a culture of deep addiction, with all the denial, rationalization, delusion, and suffering that this state entails. Sadly we find in AA that many addicts are just not ready to acknowledge their problem or do the work necessary to move beyond it. This is the state of the vast majority of our fellow citizens. There is little to be done for such folks. We are forced to stand back and wait for the really painful phase of their addictive process to lead them to hit bottom, which paradoxically represents their best chance for recovery. Thus it is for our culture of hubris and addiction.

    As a result of the above understandings, I am no longer going to imagine that a modified twelve step spiritual path can prevent the collapse we are currently moving deeper into. It is way too late for that. Nevertheless, I still believe that founding a culture based on spiritual principles is the only hope for a sustainable human presence on this planet. Unless we build it with that help, we build it in vain.

  126. And Leigh, specifically to the question you asked; painting a picture of how beautiful life without addiction could be generally has no effect on those in the grip of their illness. When someone first contacts AA, we follow an opposite option — we tell them how severe and almost impossible to recover from there condition is. It is only on there understanding this, and how much will be required from them, that hope can realistically enter the picture. Changing deep seated delusions is extremely unlikely without a ton of help and one’s own best efforts.

  127. What is bitter as gall at first becomes sweet as nectar later. Or, a thousand ways to kiss a frog and uncover your authentic self. Or, how to massage a lump of lead into living gold. Wouldn’t that be worth a daring adventure beyond the stale reality of ordinary life? Of course there can be no guarantees given to your old self…

  128. Hi, John and Mike.

    I’m familiar with Carolyn Baker through writings on, but I have not read the book you mentioned. I appreciate the metaphor of addiction, but what underlies that? Separation, I think, is the answer, and holes…internal holes that can never be filled with “things” or “experiences.” But I just wonder what, without a vision of how good we can be—and I have a feeling that we just cannot imagine how good we can be—how can we know what the next steps are? (I know, you might say there’s where a certain kind of faith comes into the picture.)

    I was born into “collapse” from a practical perspective. Access to the cheap and easy black stuff was peaking in the United States and I can recall paying $.89/gallon for gasoline when I started driving. Of course, this made most everything “cheap” from an outlay standpoint (but very expensive from an inlay standpoint!). The more you can afford to buy, the more you can have that as tempting distractions from the work you need to do. I see collapse as another stage in our evolution, so I agree, there’s no preventing it; there’s a lot of momentum behind it. From a metaphorical perspective, being born into this period can make it difficult to see what I’m in…kind of like the present becoming the past.

    What happens to addicts? Aren’t all the outcomes different, though falling within some generally similar sets of outcomes? I know some people won’t undertake the hefty amount of work or make the commitment needed to move beyond their addictions. I have experience with this in my own family. And there really is nothing I can do, no suggestions I can offer, help I can provide that will change the course, because I have no power to do so. Besides, I have my own addictions to deal with—not to any substance per se, but to habits of mind.

    So, when attempting to build a different culture based on spiritual principles, how do you determine which principles might serve as the foundation?

  129. Hi Leigh — The journey beyond addiction is the inner journey, the spiritual path/search by many names. It is the way out of Plato’s cave, the way of wisdom. Sound daunting, maybe pretentious? Our conditioned minds find a thousand ways to avoid it, refute it, but it remains the only way to real sanity and happiness. The particular name a path goes by should not confuse one. As Lao Tzu said, That which has a name is not the Eternal Way.

    So why are we and our world so screwed up? We have lost our way. Buddha said attachment was the problem. J.C. said we must lose our life if we would find it. We resist change. We are stuck.
    One way out is the 12 steps. The first step is to deeply and fully acknowledge the depth and hopelessness of our problematic selves/world. On the basis of this despair, we can build something real, and ultimately beautiful. Small groups intensively practicing the principles of authentic spiritual awakening can deliver their participants from much suffering, and enable them to become agents of valuable aid to our suffering society. I see this every day among the members of AA groups that I attend. Let me be clear that I am not proselytizing for AA. That is against our stated principles. We do not advertise or solicit anyone to come to AA. Nor am I saying AA is the sole valid spiritual path. I have been involved in a wide range of schools and systems, and found basic principles the same in all.

    A basic difficulty with an individual or society that has gone so far off the track into egoistic hubris and materialist addiction, is that such folk are deeply averse, allergic to any mention of “spirit”, immediately equating it to the most futile and obnoxious manifestations of those who have used that word to glamorize their deceptive beliefs and practices. To find a valid source of teaching is the seeker’s first major problem, and not an easy one in a world gone mad.

  130. Mike,

    I’d have to reread 12-step principles. But are you saying you see those specifically as the key—or something in that vein?

    Matters of the spirit are, to me, not pretentious, but certainly daunting, perhaps, because there’s a sustained level of commitment and focus required and I tend to be ADD. This is more personal than just a social bias against talking about such things.

    To continue the addiction metaphor, no one is “safe” until everyone is. It’s like I cannot say, “I’m healthy” if the ecosystem I live in is functioning at 70 percent of its former self. I’m pulling that percentage out of the ether. I don’t know the percentage of dysfunction beyond which we cannot tread; I’m not even sure climate scientists can answer that, outside of a range of ppm of CO2 that can be tolerated.

    Again, it’s hard to understand or comprehend such things (matters of spirit or the “daring adventure” you speak of) because they are so unfamiliar to us. And that’s why I raise the idea of vision, having a feeling sense of where I/we want to be. Still, even that may be beyond my and our imagination at this time. I simply don’t know.

    Also, it feels like this is another stalemate: All of our futures are linked, so if hard-core addicts do not awaken, that means part of us continues to slumber, don’t you think?

  131. Leigh and Mike…on that growth issue thing.

    At this point in human history, I think it is pretty darn certain that there is no way that the global human population will voluntarily impose limits on growth. At least not ones that will matter in any significant way.

    Growth will come to an end. Indeed, there are signs that it is slowing due to decreasing energy and other resources, and that is picking up steam. If that perception is accurate, then contraction will be next. As I’ve said numerous times here, my belief is: “The future reality does not require your consent.” The cleverer hominids amongst us, I believe, will either surf that wave (and probably prosper) or suffer while crashing into it headlong. The era of expansion, growth, cheap energy, abundance and the technological solutions, in the U.S. and other so-called modern countries, and all that comes with that is starting to give way. Some of us have gotten the word, some have not, but all will be participating in this reality if they wish to live.

  132. Friends,

    This idea of choosing between growth and no growth is crazy. It is like the old argument that investing in renewables, recycling, etc is too expensive and will reduce economic well-being which has over and over again been proven false.

    Instead of choosing between growth and no growth our focus should be on how can we design and make as rapid a transition to full sustainability as possible. Once we do this then we will finally begin to be able to figure out how much growth there can be or not, if any at all.

    And if we engage the people in developing a strategy and plan for making such a transition then everyone will be able to finally see the challenges we are up against and what the likelihood is that we can continue to have some growth or really none at all.

    Personally, I think that we can continue to have some economic growth if we adopt full life cycle processes and eliminate waste; transition to 100% renewable energy; and focus on restoring the natural environment, etc. But really it is probably too soon to tell.

    However, if we do not plan for and begin to do these things, then for sure we cannot continue to have economic growth – for any number of reasons. We have already exceeded in many ways the carrying capacity of the earth and have to get back to living in harmony with and restoring the natural environment.

    There is just no way around it. Anything else is just plumb crazy. We should thus all be encouraging our country to develop and implement both a national and local sustainability strategies.

    Anyone interested in this can contact me. Rob Wheeler robwheeler22 @

    Thanks, Rob

  133. Rob — “We should thus all be encouraging our country to develop and implement both a national and local sustainability strategies.”
    It is hard for me to imagine a more total waste of time and energy than what you are suggesting. Do you have any idea of the persons and forces that are driving us over the precipice? What kind of “encouragement” do you think will dissuade the military industrial complex to back off their insane world domination agenda? I will not name all the other juggernauts bearing down on our chances for survival. And you want us to just ask them to be nice??
    Whose side are you on? This is a policy way slower than any gradualism I can think of.

  134. Rob — On a lighter note, a New Yorker arrived today with a cartoon. Several well heeled types are standing around in an exclusive club, and one of them says, “I’ll start thinking outside the box, when the box is empty.” Exactly my point.

  135. Plowboy and Rob,

    I see it both of your ways! We will not and cannot have “growth” as presently configured and yes, it’s already changing. We won’t ever see “full employment” again of the type that economists speak of. But we may have full employment of people whose energies, talents and gifts are directed toward ends other than making a profit for themselves or their employers. That is, we’ll all be involved in doing the things that are meaningful and support life, from growing our food to helping raise others’ children, if I may be so bold as to suggest that that’s do-able.

    Growth, as Charles Eisenstein writes, comes about as we monetize the commons. What was freely given in our early history has more and more come under the heading of “property” to be bought and sold: land and all that’s on it and in it; the oceans; minerals under the ground; the products of the sun; more recently, water; increasingly, education; the products of human creativity, including books, music and art. The only thing we truly can “own” is our time and our labor. Is it any wonder that we’re so screwed up? We’ve got things backwards. And what for? Because we separate ourselves; we maintain the illusion that we are not connected to anything, just beings traipsing through the universe unattached to anything.

    So the race to grow is going to continue unless and until we make this very fundamental shift to knowing with every cell in our bodies that we are connected to everything else, that it is morally wrong and ecologically wrong to buy and sell ourselves and myriad others. (Actually, I believe our cells know this…but our minds deny it. We are therefore disconnected from ourselves and the key to healing the rest lies in healing this internal rift.)

    I agree with you, Rob, in part about transitioning. But this is why I think we need a vision of where…and as Mike has said, that vision probably can only be developed out of an exploration of spirit, which will mean different things to different people. Practically speaking, I like the way Transition Initiatives are working, with more and more springing up. Permaculture also holds a lot of promise for the changes we’re going through. These are, I guess, the things I look to. What about you? Specifically?

  136. I think you’re coming close to the realization of just how strong the current we are swimming in is Mike.

    Rob, you can’t help but love the ideal o 100% sustainability, but even if that is achievable, that world looks a whole lot different than anything humans have seen on a worldwide scale since, oh, about 1820. To transition to that is, by the strict economic definition, a contraction of immense proportions. I’m not saying that we wouldn’t be better off for it….you and I agree that we would be…but, to say that after this is achieved, we can then make the choice between growth, or not, well, by definition you have already chosen to contract.

    My view is that this cake-and-eat-it-to approach to alternative energy does nobody any good. Call the coming times what it will be, I say: A discontinuity in human history. Until we are honest with each other about that, we’ll continue to just blow green smoke up each others’ arses.

  137. Folks — All the emphasis on material concerns, survival, etc. gets to be rather depressing to me. What about immaterial concerns, subtle realities. Do I really want to live in a world that has lost its soul? The ultimate totalitarian states where people are little more than disposable machines is not that far away from us. When I hear people scoff, and regard beauty and love and deep truth as somehow irrelevant to the “real practical matters”, I wonder what kind of life, what kind of world they want to live in? Do they think that things like vision quests in nature, or silent meditation and communing with things beyond ourselves are a waste of time. My own feeling is that our best hope of a world worth working for will go nowhere unless we find ways to revalue these immaterial things. If we are to change the world, we better start with ourselves. What we have lost is not all to be found outside ourselves. Unless we can breath new life into our souls, having all the stuff in the world and living extended lives will really be the waste of time, and worse.

  138. To Plowboy:
    Is “discontinuity” really the word you want? When you look at a chart that correlates fossil energy production with population, the rise begins with coal and really kicks in with crude oil. So, I see those levels of unprecedented access to be the “discontinuity,” not the cessation of the same.

    To Mike:
    Although I completely agree with you about breathing “new life into our souls,” I believe I was born into a world that had mostly lost its soul (as said, it was already starting to fall apart within the easy-energy worldview). When I speak of the practical, what I’m saying/asking is that you…me, perhaps, we’re at least at “Q” in our thinking and a lot of folks haven’t even begun to recite the alphabet. And to borrow the addict metaphor, we really cannot teach them in any other way except by continuing to live the alternative so that when they hit bottom and below, if they choose to give life a chance, maybe they’ll at least have some visible, tangible alternatives. That said, there are days when trying to join the material and the immaterial—because, continuing THAT separation is also part of the overall problem—is just plain lonely. Please don’t knock material concerns. They are the things that keep us grounded. Speaking only for myself, the trick is to navigate both worlds—all worlds, for there are more than just the two—at the same time. Not easy and I don’t know what I’m doing, because I’ve been more concerned with the immaterial and the subtle (e.g., kindness, nonattachment, what the Golden Rule really means and how to manifest that in my life) than the material except as the material led me to seek beauty in handmade, useful things. (I will read the Baker story you sent later today…thank you for including it.)

  139. Leigh — Sounds to me that you are doing the Great Work — bringing Spirit and Matter into a sacred marriage. Truth is, matter and spirit are not really two. In a sense what we call matter is congealed Spirit. We don’t bring Spirit to matter. Matter is already Spirit in one of Spirit’s limited manifestations. What we can and need to do is to become conscious of the always already identity of these seemingly so different dimensions. Then perhaps we will hear sermons in stones, and books in running brooks as Jacques did in As You Like It. And the world will be revealed as a new heaven and a new earth. Or perhaps not. Perhaps we will continue to marginalize spiritual realities, and exalt the material vision that is leading us to destruction like some evil sorcery that we have succumbed to.

    There is one ultimate reality embracing everything in its loving presence. We tend to forget that in our infatuation with a world of separate entities. As Dogen Zenji put it, “To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.”

    Sound pretty far out? As Mohamed put it, “This Divine Reality is closer to you than your jugular vein.” Could it be that the solution to our current difficulties needs to come from a dimension greater than the one we have obsessively used to create them?

  140. Nah, not too far out, Mike. None of what you say lies prostrate in the “far out” field. Or maybe it does, but it’s here, too? Trouble is, the Spirit that animates my own matter desires other Spirit-animated matter to join in!!! Occasionally, this happens. As it did today, with a complete stranger, who must’ve seen something in me (I was with and talking about plants) that made it safe for him to say as much. It was, I feel, Spirit’s way of giving me a line, telling me, “I’m right here. You are not alone.” (Anyone who has a relationship with Spirit is never, ever alone.) And he expressed the same kind of difficulty that people who talk about Spirit run into, namely that they get their religious hackles up, though the two are very different. I was grateful for him, for what he said. He made my year!

    “Could it be that the solution to our current difficulties needs to come from a dimension greater than the one we have obsessively used to create them?”
    Let me put it this way: I think any “solution” that does not at the same time help mend the rifts and heal the schisms is no solution. Please think about what that really means. Put IT in the context of where we may go with energy, with food, with water, with minerals, with air…with one another. We might also consider gratitude when we think about these things: Who provides them? (And I mean not people-peoples, here, but WHO?) How do we express our gratitude? Anything that perpetuates disconnects is no solution, of course.

    Lastly, Gioconda Belli (quoted in the Carolyn Baker article you linked to) hits it: “…life has to be lived well or is not worth living.” Unfortunately for us, the images of the well-lived life are those broadcast by the folks looking to sell us this or that…what they earn in return keeps us all divided. To really see that kind of well-lived life, one must read widely. It’s to be found in people such as the poet William Stafford, who through his poems and interviews, you gather his dad was both father and nurturing parent, not one to compete with his son, William, and you can read and feel the reverberations of Stafford’s childhood in his poems and get a sense of how this pervaded his work as poet and teacher…as person. Stafford was a conscientious objector during the “best” of all wars, WWII, and he seemed to see sentience everywhere he turned his gaze. His life is just one example of what it means to live well. And, yes, it had little to do with material pursuits.

  141. It appears that we have many formidable challenges to address and overcome… Endless growth of the immense ‘artificial reality’ leaders of the human community have established on the surface of Earth will end either as a function of intelligent human thought, the best available science and morally courageous action or else the colossal artificial reality(aka economic colossus, aka global political economy) will somehow expand until it implodes because an endlessly growing, gigantic global economy in a finite world like the one we inhabit cannot be sustained much longer on a planet of the size, composition and frangible ecology of Earth. To put this situation in another way, if we keep up our reckless overconsuming, relentless overproducing and unbridled overpopulation activities, then there can be no functional global economy, no life as we know it, no future human well being, no planet as a fit place of human habitation because the human species is polluting Earth’s fragile environs and plundering its limited resources faster than the planet can restore itself for human benefit. Allow me to deploy words from A. Schweitzer. We need a new ethics based upon “reverence for life”. To revere an ethical system based upon idea that ‘greed is good’, the one we see dominating human activity on our watch, needs to be appropriately criminalized rather than ubiquitously legitimized, socially sanctioned and made lawful.

    If faith in the goodness of science — a great gift to humankind from God — is ever lost, then the future of children everywhere, life as we know it, and Earth as a fit place for habitation by coming generations, that we think we are preserving and protecting on our watch, will probably be ruined utterly. Somehow science must come to prevail over the pernicious silence of too many of ‘the brightest and the best’ on one hand and the specious, intellectually dishonest, willfully deceitful, cascading ideological chatter by clever ‘talking heads’, overly educated sycophants or other minions in the mainstream media who serve the selfish interests of the self-proclaimed masters of the universe among us on the other.

  142. People of the earth, and also the Orion commenters, there was this time, this epoch, perhaps you’ve heard of it, called the 60s.
    And during that time, the 60s, all the flower-power, hug the trees, love thy neighbor, a change is gonna come, fight the power, “spiritual” stuff got talked about, over and over, made headlines, was about to green the entire damn world – and 50 years have passed, with nothing but the corporate supersysem – for which many of the flower generation work for their tidy fortunes- in charge.
    What makes anyone think, let alone even point to, any remotely possible source, of some sort of systems-wide full 180 degrees in thnking/doing/buying/working? That has never happened, and can never happen – we are all creatures of habit and habitat.
    All humans kill animals -the vegans with the meadows that murder the voles, the nice little old ladies with the fossil fuel lifestyles, the bliss-seekers with the cobalt TVs. You could say that you kill less if you belong to one of these groups, but by what measure is the final tally made?
    You are part of species that must kill on a massive scale to survive. As much as we try to limit the personal killing to indirection and seven-steps removed, it is the dominant order, and we shall never see its end. Some us want to maximize the “peace” in our lives, but how much of that privileged quietude is earned through the horrible violence perpetuated towards others by our support staff?
    Living with social failure – that is our legacy, and it will only intensify.
    I don’t think, for a second, that Gus Spaeth is going to lead us all into some golden US path toward “sustainability” with his second part of his manifesto – yet he has not confronted this skepticism here, and is likely to begin the sermon anew.

  143. Martin — Thanks for the inspiring non-sermon. After reading your words of wisdom, does it really make any difference whether one simply commits suicide, or decides to eat drink and be merry?

  144. Plowboy — I understand that the karmic results of our bad behavior will inexorably lead to a collapse scenario for our so-called civilization that will outdo Hollywood’s wildest versions in real worldwide disaster and suffering. We cannot now avert that. How we deal with it as it unfolds is the real question now. Our unwillingness to own up and change course condemns us to realitie’s harsh medicine for those who violate it’s sacred principles.
    Anyone who thinks that is some kind of BS, is in for a rude awakening.

  145. Speaking of the flourishing of flora, and of the false line which we draw between spirit and matter, is not all of creation wrapped up together in a common pining to flourish (physically, spiritually, socially, etc)?. When these false lines disappear we see the wholeness and interconnected of life, and how realms once thought disparate have something to say to each other! As Spring can come only through the death and decay of Fall and Winter, so too our awakening can only come through the death of the ego (or the dismantling our mental constructs/perceptions which create the ego). Humanity lives in winter because of hubris, and in our hubris we think that our own strength and ingenuity can reverse the fall; rather, in humility when we pass through the winter solstice there is a Spring. As they save, the universe bends towards justice. As dark as our world may seem in this moment, love’s intention is running it’s course and ss we work towards restoration (the new economy) my hope is that we can do so with this understanding.

  146. Aaron– I agree. Our conscious reunion with Great Nature, our source, our present reality, and our future destiny, will be an essential ingredient in our possible salvation.

  147. When the words of “spiritual ” start flying, folks should realize that they need evidence when they make assertions of this or that Big Idea. To say “the universe bends towards justice” flies in the face of so much social reality as to be obscene – what “justice” could possibly lie in the species extinction we are witnessing? What “justice” explains the masssive money grab by the already engorged and entitled rich? How can people get away with so much patent nonsense that stands in absolute opposition to the observable world?
    Enjoy the world as it is, think of how it could be, but do not try to sell lies about how it most certainly is not. Try to have some consideration for others.

  148. Martin — We all have our own ideas about what the word spiritual refers to. Those ideas are all over the map. If they have one thing in common it is that no two people have exactly the same set of ideas, feelings, associations, or evaluations. So in order to approach understanding of what I mean by spiritual, I have to think deeply about it. In order to understand what you mean by that term, we need to dialog about it, so I can ask you questions to clarify for me what your viewpoints are. Otherwise (especially in a remote distance internet conversation) we may never be at all clear what we are saying or hearing.

    As a former atheist/skeptic/scientific materialist person I have probably a longer list than most folks of what I do not call spiritual than most. On that list are many varieties of main stream religion, and a whole slew of what I consider to be specious cultic beliefs and superstitious nonsense which exist in profusion in our ignorant society.

    On the other hand having looked into this problem at considerable depth for a lot of years, I find that there exist the good, true, and beautiful in spite of all the useless baggage often attached to the idea of the spiritual. I also discovered thru my own experience that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of by materialist philosophy. Some quite profound, beautiful, and meaningful realities exist beyond the usual limits we impose on our experience. None of this do I share in a spirit of trying to convince you or anyone of anything. I am only sharing the barest sketch of what spirit means to me, so that my use of that word might be a little clearer in our communications.

  149. Martin – I agree, there are clear yet unfathomable injustices occuring around us and by us, and it leads me to wonder about a few things: 1)how long the arc is and whether its turning will be seen by me, or my children, or our species 2) what it feels like to celebrate the re-birth of the sun in the ‘dead’ of winter, and 3) what evidence we let constitute our ‘observable world’. “We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage — almost as if history were nothing more than all the narratives of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is, often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance.” – Thomas Cahill

  150. Aaron, I do like the quote you shared, and agree with it, though I would not use the word “inexplicable” to describe what can happen to the good – nor do I find much trouble finding “evidence.”
    Science has penetrated the mysteries – I have a general trust that matters are fairly well understood, though the problem lies now with the conclusion of species extinction and climate catastrophe that is to be drawn out of the facts. As this social reality deepens, there will be variable outcomes for groups of people, and sweet wonderful sunsets and video cam shots of osprey nests will bathe the consciousness of the well-off, while others drown and starve.
    The reason I persist in writing this view down here is that this is going to be the major split in human consciousness – what used to be idealistic pie-in-the-sky about collective human progress was surely a lie, and if we do not realize the scope of our disastrous thought, we will perpetuate even greater miseries in arming the well-off with capacity for delusion.
    Spaeth will simply be piling one more heaping of bullshit upon the mountain of spurious fantasy of rebirth or reform of the supersystem, if he publishes Part II.
    Orion readers are well-intentioned, trying to do the hard work of understanding, but they need to hear differing views about “nature” and human social corruption. I appreciate that Mike K. is holding to an anti-materialism where the word “spiritual” has a genuine place, but I guess that makes me a materialist unable to use the term because of its woeful imprecision.
    Thanks for hanging in there – i liek seeing the email notices, and hav benefited from the well-considered remarks, especially the last two.

  151. Before it is too late for human action to change the course of unfolding ecological events on Earth, will ‘the brightest and the best’ ever choose to speak out loudly and clearly in ‘one voice’ about what they believe to be true (according to the knowledge and the lights they possess) regarding clear and present dangers to future human well being and environmental health that are visible on our watch?

  152. Martin — I am not an anti- materialist in the sense that you seem to imply. I am fully convinced of the reality of the material dimension of our Universe. I consider the findings of science to be among the most profound and inspiring flights of the human intelligence/imagination. Science shows on TV are my favorite watching. My book shelves are loaded with books on every kind of scientific subject. When I was younger I intended to enter the field of scientific research myself. So, I have no problem with the role of science in areas where it is competent and appropriate.

    My criticism is of scientism, which is a philosophical position held by many, that among other things holds that the science of material things is the sole and sufficient guide to truth. Real science has gone far beyond this naïve belief, indeed real scientific enquiry has been one of the most profoundly revolutionary areas of human knowledge expansion. Not only has the simplistic conception of matter been discarded, but the iron certainties of logic, causality, mathematical completeness and many common sense ideas have been overturned. We just aren’t in Kansas anymore.

    Because of the persistent echoes of the famous food fight between the Catholic Church and folks like Copernicus and Galileo, many people still believe we are stuck with either traditional religion or simplistic science, one and only one of which must hold the sole means of determining truth. The emerging syntheses of integral studies are largely unexplored territory for most intellectuals today, who are unknowingly operating with ideas and understandings that are long out of date. In this as so many related areas, if one wants to have a meaningful conversation about ‘science’ or “spirituality’ one must ask what depth of understanding of these categories are we talking about. So it becomes useless to argue with people who are not adequately informed as to what these categories really include. This is not to disrespect anyone’s right to their opinions, but it does indicate whether the conversation will show any real and useful insights.

  153. Really I think a simple definition of spirituality is all we need to spare ourselves from much suffering. Be willing to share equally with everyone. Do not seek to dominate or exalt yourself above others. Worship the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. See, how easy it is to state the goal. Let’s all get busy to make these things real!

  154. The network of small groups I am trying to foster has the educative project beautifully described by Dr, Giroux in the link below as one of its main projects. If our minds are in the dark, we will accomplish nothing worthwhile. Awakening to reality is not some idealistic fantasy, it is the solid foundation for a better world for all. The small independent group is the ideal situation for awakening to a new truer vision of our world and our possibilities of transforming it. If you wonder how the ideas in this article we are discussing might become realities, read this:

  155. I liked this article and agree that part one is very comprehensive and well states the breadth and depth of the crisis. Part two lacks the same punch for many reasons; mostly because there are no simple answers, quick fixes or clear solutions. Change is inevitable and moving towards that change will take skillful navigation, extensive mapping and a willingness to traverse difficult terrain..together. We must learn where we come from in order to chart a visionary direction. For example, consider the tangled nightmare of the corporate virus alone by reading about Tom Scott in The Gangs of America by Ted Nace, Ch. 6, The Genius The man who reinvented the corporation (1850-1880)

    Buckminster Fuller’s tenet that “we cannot change things by fighting the existing reality, but by building a new model that makes the old model obsolete”. Polly Higgins and her bold work to make Ecocide a crime against peace are a courageous move in that very direction.

  156. It appears to me as if it is incumbent upon all of us, especially the scientists, to speak out loudly, clearly and often, according to the lights we possess, about the need for change in words like the following ones from Lee Iaccoca.

    “Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where
    the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang
    of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got
    corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a
    hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone
    sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, ‘Stay the course’

    Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned ‘Titanic’.

    You might think I’m getting senile, that I’ve gone off my rocker, and maybe I
    have. But someone has to speak up.

    These are times that cry out for leadership. But when you look around, you’ve
    got to ask: ‘Where have all the leaders gone?’ Where are the curious, creative
    communicators? Where are the people of character, courage…… and common sense?…..

    The silence is deafening.

    Hey, I’m not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I’m trying to light
    a fire. I’m speaking out because I have hope……………… If I’ve learned one thing,
    it’s this:

    You don’t get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else
    to take action… It’s not too late, but it’s getting pretty close.”

  157. Nice quote Steve, I love it. There was a guy willing to call a spade a spade, no screwing around with a lot of false politeness or sterile “objectivity”.

  158. @Atlasphere: Right on…“we cannot change things by fighting the existing reality, but by building a new model that makes the old model obsolete”. Change will accelerate when the people who are unhappy with the current system can agree to stop feeding the beast! That alone takes a lot of guts and solidarity and you will all have to go through a time of radical simplicity because paradigm shifting disrupts the status quo. To prepare holistically, check out the e-book I put up at This is not flagrant self-promotion, but a sincere effort to get people to act, and to understand the forces arrayed against us.

  159. I am amazed at the level of cynicism in many of these responses. They remind me of a passage from one of Thomas Berry’s books:

    “When the absurdity of progress through exponential growth was indicated a few years ago in a work entitled The Limits to Growth, a general outcry could be heard across the country. That outcry was more than a justified criticism of the specific data or the time scale of future events. It was resentment against the indication that the dynamism of our consumer society was the supreme pathology of all history.” – Thomas Berry

  160. Manly — I am honestly puzzled by your comment. What is the cynicism in these comments that amazes you? Although I am an admirer of Thomas Berry’s work, I don’t quite get his drift in the comment you quoted. Could you explain a little more what you are seeking to express? Respectfully, mike k.

  161. interesting comment and long but it does help me thinking what is ahead of me in the future. tell you truth, i’m not prepared for it. Truth is brutal to handle! anyway, i thought that i suggest this website.

  162. I’m always amazed when people quote some supposed sage, who publicly professes to be an adherent of woo-woo religious irrationalism. Thomas Berry’s words about consumerism are rich,coming from someone who sees “divinity” in talking snakes and ancient scrolls and water-walkers.
    As for “consumerism,” it’s pretty much a human way of life, just taken to unfortunate extremes when unregulated.
    The pithy and scientific destruction of the nonsense term “sustainable” was – thanks for the link.

  163. Contempt for things one does not know is a symptom of an insecure ego hiding from the reality of its own ignorance.

  164. I am from LA…I guess I appreciate the greatness of America more than you gringos….Since Monroe’s Doctrin you have taught us the pride of our countries and our people…your American private corporations have brougth to our LA underdeveloped countries the expectations for a better life improving our EEO laws and policies, have shared the importance of human rigths and respect for the unions….. I guess that having it all make you want more…probably you are starting a generational change…and it is time to take individual actions to improve rather than expecting the government do all the work….

  165. Somehow human beings with feet of clay have got to find a way to do something more and do it somehow better than things are being done in our time. Inasmuch as humankind’s reckless per capita overconsumption, relentless large-scale overproduction and unregulated overpopulation activities worldwide can be seen threatening future human well being and environmental health, perhaps people who are so fortunate as to possess the scientific knowledge, ‘the lights’ and the wherewithall to realize and respond ably to what is happening on our watch, have a duty to warn the human community of the ‘ecological cliff’ toward which all of us are madly careening. As things appear now, the masters of the universe and their many minions are denying science and failing humanity. Are we witnessing the greatest failure of nerve in human history at the worst possible moment: when everything (i.e. life as we know it and Earth as a fit place for human habitation) is at stake?

  166. Steve — Those who have Carl Sagan for a guru, have scientific materialism for a religion.

  167. Perry? — Your remarks are not meaningful to me as you are using this site to promote your business.

  168. Economists and demographers are not scientists. Are they political hacks? Who exactly and what precisely are they representing? The 1%? Ideologues?

    The colossal global predicament facing the human community in our time is partly a result of widely shared preternatural demographic theories and consensually validated economic thought. Unscientific models have been presented and defended as science on our watch. Well-established scientific knowledge regarding biological evolution, human population dynamics and well known physical ‘rules of the house’ of Earth has been ignored. These experts consciously and deliberately fail to recognize a difference between the way the natural world works and the way they think. They assume resources of a finite and frangible planet can supply infinite products. At the behest of corporate benefactors and political powerbrokers, they bear some responsibility for directing the human community down a ‘primrose path’ that is marked by skyrocketing overpopulation, rampant overproduction, outrageous overconsumption, unconscionable hoarding as well as extraordinary resource depletion and widespread environmental degradation. Most experts of demography and economics hold onto outdated ideas that serve to confuse the public and deny what could be real. A paradigm shift and drastic action to redo demographic and economic thinking will be required so that researchers in these fields of study embrace relevant science rather than conveniently overlook it.

  169. Steve — Right on as usual. Science is for hire, like all the other institutions of our society. Worshiping money is destroying our world.

  170. Culture presents us with much that is real and also less that is illusory. From a psychological standpoint, because humans are shaped early and pervasively by cultural transmissions in our perception of reality, it is an evolutionary challenge for humankind to see the world as it is. When a psychologist thinks a patient is suffering from a mental illness, that is an evidence-based clinical judgment. However, general standards of normalcy are not clinical judgments, but matters of socio-cultural norms and conventions that are full of correctly perceived aspects of reality as well as some misperceptions of reality. Deeply disturbed mental patients distort reality drastically. “Normal” people pay no attention to them. Or if attention is paid to them, it is usually just long enough to put them away. After all, they are crazy; they cannot distinguish what is fantasy from what is real.

    By way of contrast, organizations like nation-states, as well as cultures, appear not to misperceive reality so sharply, yet distortions of what large aggregates of people perceive do remain. A term of art in psychology is useful here, “folie a deux.” The term means that two people share an identical distortion of reality. This understanding leads to other terms, “folie a deux cent million” for a social order or “folie a deux billion” for a culture. These terms refer to a misperception of reality commonly held by many people of an organization or culture. One way to define the highest standard of what is “normal” for the individual and for human aggregates could be looked at in terms of what is free of illusion, what is real, according to ‘the lights’ and best available science we possess.

    Even experts confuse ideology with science, contrived logic with reason, self-interested thinking with common sense….and fantasy with reality. Science regarding activities of the human population appears to be denied when ignorance of the world as it is serves to support greed-mongering, social order, religious dogma and culture. Self-interested thought leads to distortions of what could be real and to cultural bias in science. In such instances, fantasy is embraced everywhere; knowledge of what could be real is eschewed.

    Humanity is now confronted with formidable, human-driven global challenges. Some of them are already visible on the far horizon. We can also recognize how the blinding power of certain adamantly maintained and widely shared culturally transmitted fantasies regarding global consumption, production and propagation activities of the human species could have mesmerized many experts into thinking that the humankind is somehow not an integral part of the natural world we inhabit. They mistake the fantasy of human exceptionalism regarding population dynamics for reality. It is the fantasy of human exceptionalism that has been broadcast ubiquitously during my lifetime as if it was real.

    What is aiding the perpetuation of fantasy and the denial of reality? Why the stony silence among top-ranked experts regarding the soon to become, patently unsustainable growth of the human population worldwide, while the false hope of population stabilization and an end to population growth soon has been broadcast everywhere as if such an attractive idea had the support of sound science?

    Extant science indicates with remarkable simplicity and clarity that Demographic Transition Theory, for example, is a misleading, incomplete, ideologically-driven, logical contrivance that just so happens to be politically convenient, economically expedient, religiously tolerable, socially agreeable and culturally prescribed. Demographic Transition Theory is not adequately supported, indeed it is directly contradicted, by heretofore unchallenged scientific research referred to in this presentation.

    How did this collective, willful denial of what could be real occur on our watch? Rather than ‘what could be real’, we have been bombarded with broadcasts of false hopes and promises regarding a benign and somehow magically automatic end to human population growth soon. Bought-and-paid-for experts have been acting as gatekeepers of the status quo and censors of science. Powerful people inside and outside science have been colluding to deny scientific research of human population dynamics and the demographic transition.

    A new kind of leader and follower from within the family of humanity can do better, and I trust we will soon enough by awakening collectively to the need for behavior change rather than continue down the primrose path that Rachel Carson called a superhighway. The adamant advocacy and relentless pursuit by TPTB of a fantasy-driven, morally disengaged and patently unsustainable (superhigh)way of life — one of endless population growth and economic expansion — has to acknowledged, addressed and overcome.

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