Seeking the pathway to a future that works for all.Ecological Civilization: The Vision

“Humans are Earth’s ultimate choice-making species. Our decisions have defining consequences for the whole of Earth’s community of life.” -David Korten

Grounded in a 21st Century Enlightenment

The Enlightenment of the 18th Century raised our human recognition and understanding of the role of physical mechanism, causality, and order in the universe and became the foundation of what academic philosophers call Modernism. It strengthened the authority of science, challenged traditional religious and political hierarchies, and unleashed dramatic advances in technology, democracy, and individual liberty.

By David Korten

This opened new human possibilities, including technological advances that with time virtually eliminated geographical barriers to human communication and exchange. It supported the spread of democracy and human liberty and medical advances that significantly increased human life expectancy and unleashed a dramatic growth in our human numbers.

Concurrently, in its denial of conscious intelligence and agency, it stripped life of meaning and absolved us individually and collectively of responsibility for the consequences of our human choices. Our new abilities supported a fragmentation and monetization of human relationships and eroded our sense of connection to family, community and living Earth.

We grew the power of our instruments of war and our ability to dominate and exploit one another and nature to support previously unprecedented levels of material extravagance by the few at the expense of the many. During the latter half of the 20th Century, our material consumption exceeded for the first time the limits of Earth’s capacity to sustain us. The institutions of democracy became subverted by global financial markets and corporations for which people and Earth were nothing more than a means to profit.

We lived an illusion of growing prosperity for all in the midst of a reality in which fewer and fewer control and consumer more of a shrinking pie of Earth’ real wealth. The disastrous consequences now threaten to drive a massive dieback, if not the extinction, of the human species.

The rapidly deepening human crisis cannot be resolved with the same mindset and institutions that created it. Hope lies in the new understanding of the now emerging New Enlightenment. Grounded in traditional understanding, the wisdom of the world’s great spiritual traditions, and dramatic breakthroughs in the findings of quantum physics and the biological and ecological sciences, the New Enlightenment recognizes conscious intelligence as the ground of all being.

Our primary sources of knowledge and understanding are converging to affirm that there is far more to what we experience as material reality than material mechanism and chance. Consciousness, intelligence, and agency are integral and pervasive.

Living Earth: A Superorganism

The wonder of organic (carbon-based) life is that every living organism, from the individual cell to living Earth, maintains itself in an internal state of active, adaptive, resilient, creative thermodynamic disequilibrium in seeming violation of the basic principle of entropy. It takes a community of organic life to create and maintain the conditions that carbon-based life requires. Earth itself exemplifies this principle.

What is Gaianism?
Put simply Gaianism is a religious philosophy that grants the living Earth (Gaia) its rightful place at the center. Humans are not the pinnacle of evolution but just a small (and not necessarily essential) part of the living Earth. Gaianism

According to evolutionary biologists the first living organisms appeared on Earth some 3.6 billion years ago. We still have little idea how it happened. We do know, however, that as their numbers, diversity, and complexity increased, they organized themselves into a planetary-scale living system comprised of trillions of trillions of individual choice-making living organisms. Together, they worked with Earth’s geological processes to filter excess carbon and a vast variety of toxins from Earth’s air, waters, and soils and sequester them deep underground—preparing the way for the emergence of more advanced species.

In a continuing process—and with no discernible source of central direction—Earth’s community of life continues to self-organize to renew Earth’s soils, rivers, aquifers, fisheries, forests, and grasslands while maintaining global climatic balance and the composition of Earth’s atmosphere .

Likewise, the human body is best understood as a self-organizing community of tens of trillions of individual, living, choice-making cells that together create and maintain the superorganism that serves as the vehicle of our agency and houses our individual consciousness. Each cell is making constant decisions that simultaneously balance its own needs and those of the larger whole on which it depends and which in turn depends on it. It all happens below the level of individual human awareness.

Science has only the sketchiest idea of how it works beyond a recognition that organic life organizes not as hierarchies of central control, but as holarchies of nested, communities that self-organize from the bottom up. We humans must now learn to do the same.

By the understanding of the New Enlightenment, we humans are living beings born of and nurtured by a living Earth, itself born of and nurtured by a living universe unfolding toward ever greater complexity, beauty, awareness, and possibility. Creation thus reveals its purpose—a quest to know itself and its possibilities through an epic journey of self-discovery thru a process of eternal learning and becoming.

This restores a sense of the purpose and meaning of life that the 18th Century Enlightenment stripped away. And it provides an essential frame for a Great Turning to a New Economy that meets the essential physical needs of all people within the regenerative capacities of a healthy, finite living Earth community of life.

An Epic Challenge and Opportunity

We humans are now a truly global species. Our common future depends on our successful transition to an Ecological Civilization that works in balanced and harmonious relationship with Earth’s living systems to provide every person with a means of living adequate to their health and happiness.  Yet we remain burdened by a 5,000 year cultural and institutional legacy of an Imperial Era that divides us by nationality, religion, class, race, and gender and pits us against one another in a violent competition for wealth and power.

The challenges of the transition are summed up in a paper by Chris Williams, “How will we get to an ecological civilization?” Williams concludes that:

It will not only be a question of constructing a new society, but deconstructing the old one. It is not enough to take over and reassemble the state,…; we will need to reassemble the whole world – every single aspect of humanity’s relationship with each other and the natural world. Just like the state, an infrastructure designed to dominate nature cannot simply be appropriated and used to good ends.

Ultimately, it is vital that fighters for social emancipation, human freedom and ecological sanity recognize that capitalism represents the annihilation of nature and a functioning and diverse biosphere and, thus, human civilization. A system based on cooperation, genuine bottom-up democracy, long-term planning and production for need, not profit,… represents the reconciliation of humanity with nature.

To achieve this future, we must navigate a successful transition from:

  1. Transnational corporations to national governments as our primary institutions of governance,
  2. Competition to cooperation as our dominant mode of relating, and
  3. Growing GDP to meeting the spiritual and material needs of all within the limits of what living Earth can sustain as the economy’s defining purpose.
The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries (2017)

Humanity’s 21st century challenge is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet. In other words, to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice), while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend – such as a stable climate, fertile soils, and a protective ozone layer. The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries is a playfully serious approach to framing that challenge, and it acts as a compass for human progress this century.

Doughnut Economics

Base on the deepening understanding of the New Enlightenment, the governing institutions of an Ecological Civilization will support national and bio-regional self-reliance, the free sharing of information and technology, and balanced trade in goods for which one nation has a natural surplus and another is unable reasonably to produce for itself.

An authentic economics for an Ecological Civilization will be grounded in the scientific understanding of how living communities of trillions of individual living organisms self-organize to create and maintains the conditions essential to life’s existence. It will measure economic performance by indicators of the healthy function of individuals, families, communities, local biosystems, and Earth’s global biosphere.

Consistent with these truths, the legal principles of an Ecological Civilization will recognize that:

  1. Individual persons possess both rights and corresponding responsibilities.
  2. Governments must be accountable to the people who form them.
  3. Corporations are created by government to fulfill a public purpose within that government’s jurisdiction and are accountable to that government for fulfilling that purpose.

Read More

“A profound personal meditation on human existence and a tour-de-force weaving together of historic and contemporary thought on the deepest question of all: why are we here?”
Gabor Mate M.D., author, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
As our civilization careens toward climate breakdown, ecological destruction, and gaping inequality, people are losing their existential moorings. The dominant worldview of disconnection, which tells us we are split between mind and body, separate from each other, and at odds with the natural world, has been invalidated by modern science.
Award-winning author, Jeremy Lent, investigates humanity’s age-old questions – Who am I? Why am I? How should I live? – from a fresh perspective, weaving together findings from modern systems thinking, evolutionary biology, and cognitive neuroscience with insights from Buddhism, Taoism, and Indigenous wisdom.
The result is a breathtaking accomplishment: a rich, coherent worldview based on a deep recognition of connectedness within ourselves, between each other, and with the entire natural world. It offers a compelling foundation for a new philosophical framework that could enable humanity to thrive sustainably on a flourishing Earth.
The Web of Meaning is for everyone looking for deep and coherent answers to the crisis of civilization.

The Web of Meaning

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