Imagining the Unimaginable

Tribe of the Whole (7 minute video)

Or, Toward a Better Learning Civilization

Imagine transforming into something very different, like a werewolf. That we can imagine. Now, imagine living very differently in a completely changed world. That’s more complex. Every detail of life changes. We can only imagine them from analogies to our past. The wildest sci-fi scenarios still need mental hooks to human experience.

Imagining businesses like the corporate world of today in Compression no simple projection. A no-growth world would be totally different. If bounded by walls, like a spaceship, pictures come to mind, but earth’s limits are fuzzily defined, and economic systems a tangle of detail, so imagining it all drastically transformed is mind-boggling. Heads busting, we give up. But if Spaceship Earth can’t survive without an overhaul, we have to imagineer some very different systems very soon.

However, Spaceship Earth is not our most stupendous stretch of imagination. Try to picture all humanity working together as a “tribe of the whole” – each accepting the others and their flaws as fully human; resolving conflicts, great and small, without violence. Unfortunately, conflict is normal. Violence and vengeance are oft celebrated. If peace actually broke out, we might not be able to handle it. We have to learn how. That’s tough to imagine.

But a few people have imagined this for years, if not millennia. Today it’s often called dialog, long practiced in many variations. There are even comprehensive handbooks about it. One variation is Structured Dialogic Design, which has been gestating for almost 50 years. So if dialog is so insightful, why hasn’t it changed human society? One reason is that it must loosen sticky old “tribal beliefs.”

Tribal heritages include beliefs learned by our upbringing. We may presume these beliefs to be truths as immutable as the constants of the universe, but they are human made. (To pump national pride, China recently embellished its history to claim that its civilization pre-dates all others.) Many beliefs promote tribal superiority. The beliefs of a tribe of the whole should counteract tribalism, while restraining biological instincts like anger – most of the time. No society is perfect. Each must deal with miscreants. They just have to be stable and benefit the whole earth.

Many of our most fundamental beliefs stem from a human economy. We take modern conveniences for granted. W can’t imagine living without them. We don’t know how. Perhaps we should start over and learn.

A world entering Compression squeezes the resources we can tap and limits the energy we can employ. To cope with this, we must re-examine our core values: our purpose in life, concepts of progress, and ideals of success. Our purpose in life shifts from “get more” toward “safeguard future life.” Progress is no longer pointless technical  “advance.” And money isn’t the primary measure of success. Imagine that!

Intellectually seeing why we should thus transform does not necessarily make it less emotional. We have high consumption habits to break; new “skill sets” to learn. Devising new systems is vigorous learning. But emotionally, we procrastinate. We hope that if we delay, a technical miracle will make it all go away.

Techniques to cope with Compression are known – to somebody – and we will invent more. However, we need strong motivation to use them, probably in little enclaves where we can try ideas collectively. Nobody can do this alone; we need social support. Nothing this drastic will spread until “society” is convinced that it is necessary.

Why So Big A Change?

Our environmental dangers are worsening. Climate change gets more media attention, but it merely exacerbates all our other abuses to earth. Here’s a short list: topsoil degradation, decreasing food nutrient concentration, proliferation of toxins – including endocrine disrupters, overdrawing fresh water and polluted disposal of it, declining return on energy needed to obtain fuels and minerals, non-biodegrading trash (including ocean plastics), loss of biodiversity, and natural disasters. That’s in addition to human threats like war: nuclear, cyber, and biological. And could “artificial intelligence” turn on us and run amok?

Topping all this, stir in social injustice, well protested and sorely felt, built into economic systems and usually approximated by income inequality. Human attention locks onto issues that we experience daily, while unless personally threatened, environmental dangers seem remote. Severe inequality of life sees some of us homeless, malnourished, and sick. Less severe inequality is smoldering resentment occasionally breaking into riot. But psychologically, we are drawn to personal stories: happy news, spats, corruption, and scandal. Commercial Media  emphasize whatever draws our attention. Abstract threats to all of us don’t have this appeal.

What Will I Die For?

At the gut level, what are our value priorities? What will I die for? What will I work for? Money? Property? Me first? Others? For generations yet unborn? For the quality of all life on earth?

Answering these questions defines core values. If honest, most of us must give wishy-washy responses. We don’t know what we will do until circumstances force us.

Although we damage the ecology, in a world of plenty we can all compete for more with win-win outcomes; everybody gets something. But if we must shrink our consumptive footprints, survival depends on “share-share” – a very different mindset. Tribes do this within their circle of trust. To do this as a tribe of the whole, we have to advance to a new stage of civility. Go where humanity has never gone before.

To become more civil, we have to cross a values divide. Abandon tribal conflict and wasteful consumption; embrace mutual existence. Although masked in double speak, this divide splits national politics today. One set of partisans urges everyone to take care of themselves; the opposing set wants us all to serve others.

But we need to move on. Most partisans across this divide assume that our money-centered human economy is separate from nature. Therefore earnings from the producing economy must subsidize all else, including saving the environment. If we erase that hidden assumption, making money is no longer an evil necessary for everything else. Preserving quality of life is the purpose of our economy.

“Transparency of purpose” civilizes us into a tribe of the whole. It’s the opposite of deception and treachery (how many soldiers die for a cause they never understand). Similar trust eroding murk pervades companies and communities. Rampant duplicity kills governance by dialog.

People have never behaved this way, you say. Agreed. Or if so, it’s rarely. Learning how is no small challenge, but needful. Trustful problem solving anchors circular economies and learning organizations. Imagine that!

Getting Our Act Together

Very few of us change what we do and how we behave merely by deep, reflective thought. We transform our beliefs by doing differently, by unlearning old habits and practicing new ones. We discover that other people are really human after all. For the new civility to become significant, a critical mass of people must build up momentum doing differently. To form a critical mass, some little groups just have to start, so become an example. Give up the old; begin a new 21stcentury civility.

But giving up anything old is emotional. Letting go may be a “grieving process.” From personal experience, abandoning profligate consumption is withdrawal from nearly all activities common in a modern world. For example, it’s easy to rationalize flying to an important environmental conference, and we don’t want to be hermits in caves.

Instead, organize in learning communities, exploratory incubators where we can deploy the R techniques (reuse, recycle, etc.), devise a local circular economy, grow much of our own food, minimize heating and cooling, share much in common, and resolve many of our own problems – maybe even gin up a local currency. To connect to the global world, use internet; it consumes energy, but not as much as hauling around our bodies as well as masses of stuff.

Here and there, real people have begun pioneering these kinds of communities. They struggle to communicate within themselves and between themselves. No single environment-promoting organization can do it all. Most of them concentrate on a few aspects of a big holistic muddle. Promoters of the environment, including the Compression Institute, must get our act together, become a tribe of the whole.

To save the environment, we must first save ourselves. Won’t you join us learning to civilize ourselves, edging toward becoming a tribe of the whole?

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