America the Possible: A Manifesto, Part II

Photograph | Peter Bedhnorz | Corbis
Photograph | Peter Bedhnorz | Corbis

Part one of this article.

WE NEED A COMPELLING VISION for a new future, a vision of a better country — America the Possible — that is still within our power to reach. The deep, transformative changes sketched in the first half of this manifesto provide a path to America the Possible. But that path is only brought to life when we can combine this vision with the conviction that we will pull together to build the necessary political muscle for real change. This article addresses both the envisioning of an attractive future for America and the politics needed to realize it. A future worth having awaits us, if we are willing to struggle and sacrifice for it. It won’t come easy, but little that is worth having ever does.

By 2050, America the Possible will have marshaled the economic and political resources to successfully address the long list of challenges, including basic social justice, real global security, environmental sustainability, true popular sovereignty, and economic democracy. As a result, family incomes in America will be far more equal, similar to the situation in the Nordic countries and Japan today. Large-scale poverty and income insecurity will be things of the past. Good jobs will be guaranteed to all those who want to work. Our health-care and educational systems will be among the best in the world, as will our standing in child welfare and equality of women. Racial and ethnic disparities will be largely eliminated. Social bonds will be strong. The overlapping webs of encounter and participation that were once hallmarks of America, “a nation of joiners,” will have been rebuilt, community life will be vibrant, and community development efforts plentiful. Trust in each other, and even in government, will be high.

Today’s big social problems — guns and homicides, drugs and incarceration, white-collar crime and Wall Street hijinks — will have come down to acceptable levels. Big national challenges like the national debt, illegal immigration, the future of social security, oil imports and the shift to sustainable energy, and environmental and consumer protection will have been successfully addressed. U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will have been reduced to a tiny fraction compared to today.

Internationally, the United States will assume the role of a normal nation. Military spending will be reduced to a level close to Europe’s today; military interventions will be rare and arms sales small. The resources thus freed up will be deployed to join with other nations in addressing climate change and other global environmental threats, nuclear proliferation, world poverty and underdevelopment, and other global challenges. The U.S. will be a leader in strengthening the institutions of global governance and international regulation, and we will be a member in good standing of the long list of treaties and other international agreements in which we do not now participate.

Politically, implementation of prodemocracy reforms will have saved our politics from corporate control and the power of money, and these reforms will have brought us to an unprecedented level of true popular sovereignty. Moreover, government in America will again be respected for its competence and efficiency. And, yes, taxes will be higher, especially for those with resources.

Overall, the economy will be governed to ensure broadly shared prosperity and to preserve the integrity and biological richness of the natural world. It will simply be assumed that the priority of economic activity is to sustain human and natural communities. Investment will concentrate in areas with high social and environmental returns even where not justified by financial returns, and it will be guided by democratically determined priorities at the national and local levels. Corporations will be under effective public control, and new patterns of business ownership and management — involving workers, communities, and other stakeholders — will be the norm. Consumerism will be replaced by the search for meaning and fulfillment in nonmaterial ways, and progress will be measured by new indicators of well-being other than GDP.

This recitation seems idealistic today, but the truth is we know how to do these things. Our libraries are full of plausible, affordable policy options, budget proposals, and institutional innovations that could realize these and other important objectives. And today’s world is full of useful models we can adapt to our circumstances.

NEW VALUES
Many thoughtful Americans have concluded that addressing our many challenges will require the rise of a new consciousness, with different values becoming dominant in American culture. For some, it is a spiritual awakening — a transformation of the human heart. For others it is a more intellectual process of coming to see the world anew and deeply embracing the emerging ethic of the environment and the old ethic of what it means to love thy neighbor as thyself. But for all, the possibility of a sustainable and just future will require major cultural change and a reorientation regarding what society values and prizes most highly.

In America the Possible, our dominant culture will have shifted, from today to tomorrow, in the following ways:

• from seeing humanity as something apart from nature, transcending and dominating it, to seeing ourselves as part of nature, offspring of its evolutionary process, close kin to wild things, and wholly dependent on its vitality and the finite services it provides;
• from seeing nature in strictly utilitarian terms — humanity’s resource to exploit as it sees fit for economic and other purposes — to seeing the natural world as having intrinsic value independent of people and having rights that create the duty of ecological stewardship;
• from discounting the future, focusing severely on the near term, to taking the long view and recognizing duties to future generations;
• from today’s hyperindividualism and narcissism, and the resulting social isolation, to a powerful sense of community and social solidarity reaching from the local to the cosmopolitan;
• from the glorification of violence, the acceptance of war, and the spreading of hate and invidious divisions to the total abhorrence of these things;
• from materialism and consumerism to the prioritization of personal and family relationships, learning, experiencing nature, spirituality, service, and living within limits;
• from tolerating gross economic, social, and political inequality to demanding a high measure of equality in all these spheres.

We actually know important things about how values and culture can be changed. One sure path to cultural change is, unfortunately, the cataclysmic event — the crisis — that profoundly challenges prevailing values and delegitimizes the status quo. The Great Depression is the classic example. I think we can be confident that we haven’t seen the end of major crises.

Two other key factors in cultural change are leadership and social narrative. Leaders have enormous potential to change minds, and in the process they can change the course of history. And there is some evidence that Americans are ready for another story. Large majorities of Americans, when polled, express disenchantment with today’s lifestyles and offer support for values similar to those urged here.

Another way in which values are changed is through social movements. Social movements are about consciousness raising, and, if successful, they can help usher in a new consciousness — perhaps we are seeing its birth today. When it comes to issues of social justice, peace, and environment, the potential of faith communities is vast as well. Spiritual awakening to new values and new consciousness can also derive from literature, philosophy, and science. Consider, for example, the long tradition of “reverence for life” stretching back over twenty-two hundred years to Emperor Ashoka of India and carried forward by Albert Schweitzer, Aldo Leopold, Thomas Berry, E. O. Wilson, Terry Tempest Williams, and others.

Education, of course, can also contribute enormously to cultural change. Here one should include education in the largest sense, embracing not only formal education but also day-to-day and experiential education as well as the fast-developing field of social marketing. Social marketing has had notable successes in moving people away from bad behaviors such as smoking and drunk driving, and its approaches could be applied to larger cultural change as well.

A major and very hopeful path lies in seeding the landscape with innovative, instructive models. In the United States today, there is a proliferation of innovative models of community revitalization and business enterprise. Local currencies, slow money, state Genuine Progress Indicators, locavorism — these are bringing the future into the present in very concrete ways. These actual models will grow in importance as communities search for visions of how the future should look, and they can change minds — seeing is believing. Cultural transformation won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible either.

AVERTING DISASTER
High on any list of our duties to future generations must be the imperative to keep open for them as many options and choices as possible. That is our generation’s gift of freedom. Here, the first order of business is to preserve the possibility of a bright future by preventing any of today’s looming disasters from spinning out of control or otherwise becoming so overwhelming that they monopolize resources of time, energy, and money, thus foreclosing other options. My list of biggest threats includes the following:

• severe disruption of global climate
• widespread exhaustion, erosion, and toxification of the planet’s natural resources and life-support systems
• militarism and permanent war
• nuclear disaster
• major economic or financial collapse, possibly linked to failing energy supply and soaring prices
• runaway terrorism and resulting loss of civil liberties
• pandemics and antibiotic resistance
• social and cultural decay, including the rise of criminality
• hollowing out of democracy and the dominance of corporatocracy and plutocracy
• something weird from the lab (nanotech? robotics? genetic engineering? a new weapon system? indefinite life extension?)

Much ink has been spilled warning us about these threats, and we must take them very seriously. In America the Possible, these warnings have been taken seriously and the threats avoided. We can already see the problems leading to all of the threats listed, but we are not yet fated to experience their worst.

THE VIRTUES OF NECESSITY
Even with disaster averted, there are still powerful constraints and limits on future options. And there are the lessons from positive psychology about what contributes to happy, fulfilling lives. In fact, three sets of developments are coming together and are pushing us to nothing less than a new way of living: the imperative to protect the climate and the earth’s living systems; the need to adjust to the rise of scarcities in energy and other resources; and the desire to shift national priorities to things that truly improve social well-being and happiness.

If we manage these factors well, the result could be a blessing in disguise, leading us to a new and better place — and a higher quality of life both individually and socially. Life in America the Possible will tend strongly in these directions:

RELOCALIZATION. Economic and social life will be rooted in the community and the region. More production will be local and regional, with shorter, less complex supply chains, especially for food. Business enterprises will be more rooted and committed to the long-term well-being of employees and their communities, and they will be supported by local currencies and local financial institutions. People will live closer to work, walk more, and travel less. Energy production will be distributed and decentralized, and predominantly renewable. Socially, community bonds will be strong; relationships with neighbors will be unpretentious and important; civic associations and community service groups plentiful; levels of trust and support for teachers and caregivers high. Personal security, tolerance of difference, and empathy will be high, and violence, fear, and hate low. Politically, local governance will stress participatory, direct, and deliberative democracy. Citizens will be seized with the responsibility to sustainably manage and extend the commons — the valuable assets that belong to everyone — through community land trusts at the local level, for example, and an atmospheric trust at the national level.

NEW BUSINESS MODELS. Locally-owned businesses, including worker-owned, customer-owned, and community-owned firms will be prominent, as will hybrid business models such as profit-nonprofit and public-private hybrids. Cooperation will replace or moderate competition. Business incubators will help entrepreneurs with arranging finance, technical assistance, and other support. Enterprises of all types will stress environmental and social responsibility.

PLENITUDE. Consumerism, where people find meaning and acceptance through what they consume, will be supplanted by the search for abundance in things that truly matter and that bring happiness and joy — family, friends, the natural world, meaningful work. Status and recognition will go to those who earn trust and provide needed services. Individuals and communities will enjoy a strong rebirth of reskilling, crafts, and self-provisioning. Overconsumption will be replaced by new investment in civic culture, natural amenities, ecological restoration, education, and community development.

MORE TIME; SLOWER LIVES. Formal work hours will be cut back, freeing up time for family, friends, hobbies, continuing education, skills development, caregiving, volunteering, sports, outdoor recreation, exploring nature, and participating in the arts. Life will be slower, less frenetic; frugality and thrift prized and wastefulness shunned; ostentatious displays of conspicuous consumption avoided; mindfulness and living simply prized.

NEW GOODS AND SERVICES. Products will be more durable and versatile and easy to repair, with components that can be reused or recycled. Production systems will be designed to mimic biological ones, with waste eliminated or turned into useful inputs elsewhere. The provision of services will replace the purchase of many goods; sharing, collaborative consumption, lending, and leasing will be commonplace.

RESONANCE WITH NATURE. Environmental protection regulations will be tough and demanding, and energy used with maximum efficiency. Zero discharge of traditional pollutants, toxics, and greenhouse gases will be the norm. Directly or indirectly, prices will reflect the true environmental costs. Schools will stress environmental education and pursue “no child left inside” programs. Natural areas and zones of high ecological significance will be protected. Green chemistry will replace the use of toxics and hazardous substances. Organic farming will eliminate pesticide and herbicide use. Environmental restoration and cleanup programs will be major focuses of community concern. There will be a palpable sense that economic and social activity is nested in the natural world and that we are close kin to wild things.

MORE EQUALITY. Because large inequalities are at the root of so many social and environmental problems, measures to ensure greater equality — not only of opportunity but also of outcomes — will be in place. Because life is simpler, more frugal, more caring, and less grasping, and people will be less status conscious and possessive, there will be more to go around and a high degree of economic equality. Special programs will ensure that seniors have income protections and opportunities to pursue their passions in second and third careers.

CHILDREN CENTERED, NOT GROWTH CENTERED. Overall economic growth will not be seen as a priority, and GDP will be seen as a misleading measure of well-being and progress. Instead, indicators of community wealth creation — including measures of social and natural capital — will be closely watched, and special attention will be given to children and young people — their education and their right to loving care, shelter, good nutrition, health care, a toxic-free environment, and freedom from violence.

HUMAN SCALE AND RESILIENT. The economy and the enterprises within it will not be too big to understand, appreciate, and manage successfully. A key motivation will be to maintain resilience — the capacity to absorb disturbance and outside shocks without disastrous consequences. We can think of today’s American economy as a giant, unitary system — highly complex and thoroughly integrated and interdependent, so that the failure of one component such as banking causes a cascade of failures throughout the system. The economy in America the Possible is, by contrast, diverse and decentralized, a collection of more self-reliant but interacting units that provide redundancy and resilience.

GLOCALISM. Despite the many ways life will be more local, and the resulting temptation toward parochialism and provincialism, Americans will feel a sense of belonging and citizenship at larger levels of social and political organization, and will support global-level governance in the numerous areas where it is needed, such as environmental issues.

DEMOCRACY REBORN
It is simply unimaginable that American politics as we know it today will deliver the transformative changes needed. Political reform and building a new and powerful progressive movement in America must be priority number one. Above all else, we must build a new democratic reality — a government truly of, by, and for the people.

A foundation of democracy is the principle that all citizens should have a right to participate as equals in the actual process of governing. All should have a right to vote, to have access to relevant information, to speak up, associate with others, and participate. Votes should count equally, the majority should prevail, subject to respect for basic rights, and the issues taken up should be the important ones society faces. These are ideals by which America’s current situation as well as our political reform agenda should be judged. Viewed this way, we are coming up far short on democracy and political equality. What we are seeing instead is the steady emergence of plutocracy and corporatocracy.

That the list of most-needed reforms to our political system is so long is testimony to how flawed the current system actually is.

• We need to both expand and protect the process of voting. Voter registration should be the default position: upon reaching the age of eighteen, citizens would be automatically registered, as is common in advanced democracies. Once registered, voting can be made easier in a number of ways: early voting should be extended; election day should be made a national holiday; ballots should be made simpler and voting less confusing; and campaigns to discourage and suppress voting through intimidating and deceptive practices should be prohibited and penalized. A national elections commission should be charged with providing for election administration and monitoring by impartial and well-trained election officials; for certification and testing of voting machines; for voter-verified paper trails to serve as the official ballots for recounts and audits; and generally for the integrity and accuracy of the voting process.

• We need a constitutional amendment to provide for direct popular election of the president. As long as that remains a bridge too far, state legislatures should agree to assign all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate winning the national popular vote for president, but only if and when enough states make the commitment to total at least 270 electoral votes (the number needed to win in the Electoral College). Thus far nine states — including California, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, and Massachusetts — with half the electoral votes needed to win, have made such pledges. Another way to bring more democracy to presidential elections would be to increase House membership by 50 percent, a good idea in its own right.

• Reform of our current system of primary elections is also in order. There are many possibilities here, but a key goal is to broaden participation in primaries beyond each party’s core. One way to do that is to have structured open primaries — where registered independents can vote in either party’s primary.

• The partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts should be stopped. District lines should be drawn by independent, nonpartisan commissions.

• We need to break the two-party duopoly. To do that, we need a process for voting that will encourage third parties without making them spoilers, will ensure that every vote counts in the end result and is not wasted, and will ensure that winners have the support of the majority of voters. This would be accomplished by instant-runoff voting (IRV), the process by which voters rank the candidates in order of preference. Low-scoring candidates — often third-party ones — are eliminated in the vote counting, and their voters’ second choices are added to those that remain until one candidate has a majority. Even more attractive, fusion voting allows a minority party to list as its candidate on the ballot the candidate of another party. Fusion thus allows third parties to bargain with the two major parties for the best representation they can get.

• The Senate needs a host of reforms, including abolishing the current practice of filibusters. Given the way filibusters are now managed, senators representing a mere 11 percent of the U.S. population can exercise effective control over legislation, at least in theory. And there is another, but difficult, way to bring more democracy to the Senate: with congressional approval, large states could decide to subdivide into two or more smaller ones.

• The most important prodemocracy reform is to undermine the power of money in our elections and in lobbying. The emphasis of campaign finance reform should be on encouraging small donor contributions and public funding of elections — the democratization of campaign finance itself. The Fair Elections Now Act, introduced in Congress in April 2011, embodies this approach for congressional elections and has many supporters in the House and Senate. Several states have already pursued the approach with success. Candidates who participated in “clean” or “fair” state election programs similar to Fair Elections Now hold about 85 percent of the legislative seats in Maine and around 75 percent in Connecticut.

• Major efforts should be pursued to address the many problems created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which opened the floodgates to unrestricted campaign spending by corporations and unions. Amending the Constitution should be a priority, in the process depriving corporations of constitutional personhood. Or Congress could regulate the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision, as Democrats tried unsuccessfully to do in 2010 with the Disclose Act proposal. At least it would have required disclosure of the source of campaign spending. There are two other attractive ideas for regulation. One would require that corporate boards, or even the shareholders themselves, approve all campaign spending initiatives. A second regulation would greatly strengthen the requirement that these corporate contributions be truly independent — that is, not coordinated in any way with the candidate being supported. And, of course, the court could simply reverse itself, for example, if a new justice were appointed to replace one of the five in the majority.

• Candidate access to the media should be enhanced, and the power of money reduced, by ensuring that all carriers and service providers offer full access to political speech at rates offered to the most favored commercial customers and by requiring that broadcasters provide candidates with a minimum amount of free airtime as a condition of receiving their federal licenses.

• Much needs to be done to tighten regulation of lobbying. There should be a ban on registered lobbyists engaging in campaign fundraising — no contributions to campaigns from lobbyists, no lobbyist bundling of multiple contributions, and no other form of lobbyist fundraising for federal candidates. Connecticut enacted such a ban on “pay to play” in 2005. “Strategic consulting” for congressional offices should be classified as lobbying. Congressional staff should be further professionalized, enlarged, and better paid in order to reduce the current dependence on lobbyists’ information and analysis. The offices serving Congress, such as the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office, should be strengthened for these same reasons. Appropriate restrictions should be placed on the lobbying activities of large government contractors, and stricter revolving door provisions should be adopted. As an extension of federal laws regulating lobbying and requiring disclosure of lobbying expenditures, organizations should be required to disclose expenditures pursuant to major-issue campaigns aimed at affecting federal legislation, just as narrowly defined “lobbying” expenses are now disclosed. Also, all sponsors and direct or indirect funders of public-issue ads should be required to be identified in those ads along with an announcement like those in today’s campaign ads approving and taking responsibility for the contents.

Beyond these changes in the rules of American politics, other changes are needed to strengthen both journalism and government transparency, to restore disinterest to the courts, to rebuild large membership institutions like labor unions that can magnify the strength of the otherwise isolated voter, and to rebuild competency in our oft-maligned and now depleted civil services.

We won’t get far in addressing the challenges we now face unless we are a competent nation with a competent government. And this competence in turn requires, above all, education and public integrity. Education is essential not just for building the skills needed in today’s high-tech economy, but also for building a capacious understanding of the world in which we live. Public integrity includes not just integrity at the personal level, but also the capacity to elevate the public good over private gain.

A UNIFIED MOVEMENT
When one considers all the ways in which our politics begs for change and reform, it is easy to see why so little of what is needed is actually accomplished. A prodemocracy agenda like the one described here must move to top priority. Such an agenda should be a priority for all progressive communities, and should draw support from Americans across the political spectrum.

Let us never forget that faith in democracy and fighting for it are acts of affirmation. In democracy, we affirm that we trust our fellow citizens — that we count on each other. Whether we win or lose the coming struggle for democracy in America, we claim that high ground.

But to drive real change in politics and in public policy, we need to build a powerful, unified progressive movement. Few of the measures our country needs are likely to get very far without a vigorous social and political movement that we don’t now have. In today’s America, progressive ideas are unlikely to be turned into action unless they are promoted by powerful citizen demand.

Successful movements for serious change are launched in protest against key features of the established order. They are nurtured on outrage at the severe injustices being perpetrated, the core values being threatened, or the undesirable future that is unfolding. And they demand real change. Here one is reminded of Frederick Douglass’s famous 1857 statement about the challenge to slavery: “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” If progressives hope to succeed, then the movement must capture the spirit of Frederick Douglass.

What must now be built with urgency is a unified progressive community. The silos separating the various progressive communities must be breached. To succeed, there must be a fusion of progressive causes, the forging of a common agenda, and the building of a mighty force on the ground, at the grass roots. Progressives of all stripes must come together to build a true community of outlook, interest, and engagement, as well as the organizational infrastructure to strengthen the progressive movement on an ongoing basis.

Our best hope for real change is a movement created by a fusion of people concerned about environment, social justice, true democracy, and peace into one powerful progressive force. We have to recognize that we are all communities of a shared fate. In particular, progressives must focus on electoral politics far, far more than they have in the past. The 2008 Obama campaign shows what can be done. For the progressive movement to secure a powerful place in American politics, it will require major efforts at grassroots organizing, strengthening groups working at the state and community levels, reaching out to broaden membership and participation, and developing motivational messages and moral appeals. It will also require building partylike organizations, creating political action committees (PACs), and fielding candidates.

Regarding the language we use and the messages we seek to convey, I can see clearly now that we environmentalists have been too wonkish and too focused on technical fixes. We have not developed well the capacity to speak in a language that goes straight to the American heart, resonates with both core moral values and common aspirations, and projects a positive and compelling vision. Throughout my forty-odd years in the environmental community, public discourse on environment has been dominated by lawyers, scientists, and economists — people like me. Now we need to hear a lot more from the preachers, the poets, the psychologists, and the philosophers. And our message must be one that is founded on hope and honest possibility.

Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local,” and a progressive movement must stress building locally, from the bottom up. We all live local lives, and if more and more people are to become engaged politically, engaging them locally is imperative. When we add that most of the promising things happening in America today are happening at the community level, the case is compelling for linking progressive initiatives at the local level to building a national progressive movement — community action melded to a national strategy.

Movements gather strength when people realize that they are being victimized and that there are many others in the same boat, and it helps when they are able to identify and point to those responsible — the villains of the story. Many on the right work hard and with consummate cynicism to raise the specter of “class warfare” when, for example, efforts are launched to tax the rich a bit more. With admirable candor, businessman Warren Buffett, an advocate for fairer taxes and one of the wealthiest men in America, has said, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” In 1936, Harold Lasswell wrote Politics: Who Gets What, When, and How. He declared that “the study of politics is the study of influence and the influential . . . the influential are those who get the most of what there is to get. . . . Those who get the most are elite; the rest are mass.” Today, the elite have gotten about all there is to get, and the great mass of people have gotten the shaft.

An invigorated American progressive movement must also embrace the accumulated knowledge that generations of thoughtful scholars have made possible. With the right seemingly disavowing good science at every turn, it is doubly important that progressives draw heavily on the contributions of our impressive scientific community. Nothing against faith, but the scientific content of public policy issues is increasing steadily, and progressives won’t be leading in the right directions without such an embrace. And while progressives should both appeal to moral values and kick up a ruckus, it remains important to ground appeals and campaigns on solid analysis, accurate history, and facts. They go together well. As Stephen Colbert has quipped, “The facts have a well-known liberal bias.”

In the end, the most meaningful changes will almost certainly require a large-scale rebirth of marches, protests, demonstrations, direct action, and nonviolent civil disobedience. Protests are important to dramatize issues, show the depth of concern, attract public and media attention, build sympathetic support, raise public consciousness, and put issues on the agenda. No one who followed events in Egypt or the Wisconsin State House, or who remembers the civil rights and anti-war protests of the 1960s and 1970s, can doubt their importance. Author and social critic Chris Hedges urges that “civil disobedience, which will entail hardship and suffering, which will be long and difficult, which at its core means self-sacrifice, is the only mechanism left.” Those words ring true to those who have worked for decades to elicit a meaningful response to the existential threat of climate change and who find, after all the effort, only ashes.

There are ongoing historical trends that require the development of the progressive movement sought here. The widespread persistence of relative poverty at home and absolute poverty abroad; the growth of economic inequality now matching that of 1928; the rapid exhaustion of the planet’s renewable and nonrenewable resources; the impossibility of continuous exponential growth on a finite planet; the destruction of the climate regime that has existed throughout human civilization; the drift to militarism and endless war — these warn us that business as usual is not an option.

America the Possible awaits us, if we are prepared to struggle — to put it all on the line. If the future is to be one we wish for our grandchildren, we had better get started building this progressive movement without delay. Given the deplorable conditions on so many fronts, the day will surely come when large numbers of Americans will conclude, with Howard Beale’s character in Network, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” The progressive movement must not only be ready for that day, it must also hasten its arrival.

James Gustave Speth is a professor at Vermont Law School and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan public policy research and advocacy organization. A former dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, he also co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council, was founder and president of the World Resources Institute, and served as administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. He is the author of six books, including the award-winning The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability and Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment.

Comments

  1. There is just much poppycock in this second part to even being a discussion.
    The environmental movement has become a greenwash, and no amount of wishful, instition-based thinking, which Orion represents vividly, is going to alter this terrible state.
    Big Green, and Bill McKibben in particular, have gotten slammed in a damning series of insider exposes written pseudonomously at Counterpunch.
    This kind of fantastical “vision” document, such as this one by Spaeth, has been done over and over, since Earth Day, since the 60s, and yet we have the worst electoral politics in the country’s history, a toothless higher education credentialing system spweing out dreamers without skills, and corporate corruption ruling all channels of social reality.
    Beware of gurus of optimism – they usually have a vested, personal, msot often academic stake in doing well off a rotten supersystem.

  2. Martin is clearly not part of the solution – so let’s move on.

  3. 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 here 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.

    Part two unfortunately only expands this erroneous thinking on part of the author. Speth simply does not grasp the depth of the hole we have dug for ourselves over the centuries. It is not a matter of some mistakes to be patched up. The fundamental errors of social organization and individual development that are the keys to our present world crisis began millennia ago with the birth of “civilization”. The depth of changes we need to make in our way of life on this planet are of a truly profound nature. And the tragic truth is that we are in no way willing our capable of making those changes and the necessary sacrifices they would entail. We are going to experience the full impact of our bad karma in the times to come. Indeed those tragic consequences are happening now for millions of people and other species on our planet. The failure of civilization will dwarf all other possible disasters. Whether anything good will survive it is unknowable from here.

  4. Richard Sumpter must be smoking the same denial that Spaeth is smoking. What a meaningless fantasy. There is no accounting for the trends and trajectories of our environmental, economic and social collapse that is more likely every day this sort of nonsense is spread. Martin, Mike and KulturCritic have eyes wide open where Richard and Spaeth are obviously looking with eyes closed through rose colored glasses. Why does an intelligent publication like Orion publish such self-serving and ignorant analysis just because someone has letters after their name? I expect more.

  5. I agree with Richard Sumpter re. Martin clearly being no part of the solution. mike k and Craig Patterson apparently are friends/supporters/admirers of Martin. kulturCritic is an academic focused on ivory tower philosophical debate…perhaps interesting background stage-setting for the matter at hand, but not instrumental in the solutions development department; and he possibly shares the psychology of the others besides Sumpter. Sumpter doesnÊ»t positively state his view, though the nature of his comment indicates that he does not experience the othersÊ» pessimism that may be symptomatic of hysterical response to unrecognized, pervasive internalized fear. Spaeth does us a valuable service: “mapping out the territory” based on his long practical experience in the trenches. Independently I have arrived at similar conclusions, not nearly so well or thoroughly articulated. A well-described vision is essential for any social movement to acquire supporters and have any prospect of success. “Without vision, the people perish.” Spaeth devotes most of the two-part article to describing conditions that must be created and made to prevail to have any hope of manifesting the needed mass progressive uprising leading to crucial economic, political, social and cultural transformations: he DOES say that the entire existing architecture must ultimately go…prominently in his piece, central to his argument, so I wonder how kulturCritic missed that! I do believe our grassroots situation has already turned desperate and share SpaethÊ»s reality-based view that the forces now controlling the situation may be so entrenched that no amount of progressive organizing will in the end succeed. So it boils down to the question: What’s the best attitude with which to conduct the rest of our life? Pessimistic negativity and fault-finding, mired in quicksand? Or rolling up one’s sleeves and getting to work in collaboration with others, exercising hopeful determination to do all possible to divert the tsunami and put in place systemic structures that will make impossible such damage in the future? My aloha to all commenters.

  6. Kaleopono– Be assured that those of us who ask that people acknowledge the terrible state of affairs on Earth are used to folks brushing aside our concerns as delusional, pessimistic, unproductive, untrue…on and on. We understand people’s reluctance to face the truth, and the many defensive means they employ to justify their unwillingness to face the crisis we are in. Only, we feel that this head in the sand and false optimism is a totally flawed approach that will only guarantee our being flat footed and unprepared when the tsunami that we have been warned about hits with its full devastating impact. Thanks for your thoughts, they are typical of the denial and non-responsiveness of millions of your fellow humans.

  7. Mike K. and kulturkritik are indeed brilliant in one they say, and brave, to stand up for the awful truth instead of the baleful lies of the system propagandists and self-styled “reformers.”
    There is no real choice in this matter – but how we live with these terrible realizations, of injustice and hypocrisy and hard systemic corruption is the next stage of human existence – without the usual claptrap and specious aphorisms about “solutions” and “sustainability.”

  8. Kaleopono, you speak of a well-described vision.

    In forestry that vision was described 102 years ago when Gifford Pinchot said the mission of the Forest service is to provide, “the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time”. However reading his autobiography, Breaking new Ground, he clearly points to the Taft administration as essentially turning over the gold mine to Industry. That trend has grown geometrically since WW2 and yet no one suggests we return to the wisdom of Gifford Pinchot. Particularly the managers and Forestry Scientists who know their bread is buttered maximizing short term profits. Thus the illusion continues, environments get trashed, economies experience a short boom then long and protracted bust and society teeters on the brink of social collapse.

    Gandhi said long ago, there is enough for every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed.

    The millennium ecosystem assessment of 2005 reports that 60% of ecosystem function is now in decline.

    The weather patterns become more radical with every passing year and yet we live/act as if nothing is wrong.

    Soon our bubble will pop and those like Spaeth and Sumpter will follow their denial right off the edge. This is not a time for Pollyanna views but for hard assessments of how our professed words of love for our children and grandchildren are often undermined by our self-serving selfish actions today.

    It’s time for a wake up…. if it’s not too late.

  9. Pogo man — That was one smart possum. It would have been better for us if we had listened to him, instead of snake oil conmen like Barak Obama. Out of the mouth of simple forest creatures….
    I still remember a conversation I had with a dragonfly deep in the forest in Hawaii that had more insight and truth than an army of talking heads.

  10. It’s a longish article, and I see how people may have got tired and missed things. Speth’s assessment of our present political system seems pretty bleak to me. (Pollyannish, rose colored glasses, head in the sand…?) His proposed solutions amount to “rolling up one’s sleeves and getting to work in collaboration with others”, as Kaleopono says. And I agree with that.
    Mike, no one’s calling you delusional but, after a couple years seeing your posts here I feel that the solutions you generally point to are more appropriate for setting up a monastery than for affecting the political/economic climate of greed that’s destroying human life on this planet. I think I see the process from the opposite end from you. Enlightenment will come to the many after the stables have been cleaned up. It’s not that we’re all going to become enlightened and then clean up the mess. And if you don’t think the mess can be cleaned up at all why even talk?
    I agree, it’s a big mess and a certain small percentage of very energetic people seem determined to make it much worse. It’s not that we don’t see where the problems are. It’s like the Buddha’s image of the small man wrestling with the very large man – you get him down once, you’re probably going to have to do it again and again and….. So be it.

  11. Ed T., you seem on the level, and the phrase “and if you don’t think the mess can be cleaned up at all why even talk” makes a good point, though a familiar one.
    And it is not that easy to answer. The truths of our social reality, though, should be our reference point, and are ones that are missed by the uplift section of “America the Possible.”
    Why talk, then? Because we are alive, we will strive to better our own positions in the world, because it is fun to try to understand the complexities of life.
    Still, I prefer your Buddhist aprhorisms (though in general I would like to Occupy Aphorisms) to the usual greenwash bromides of how small groups of ascetic savants are going to reverse engineer the Industrial Revolution.

  12. Prof. Speth, Mr. McKibben and others extend (in the modest space afforded by ORION) an antidote to the individuals and organizations some here and elsewhere who what Martin acidly calls “a greenwash,” i.e. they are part of what he terms “a rotten supersystem.” I understand his cynicism, for I know what a bleak or horrific future teeters toward the USA and the other societies on this planet GAIA! Few today assume they are just a “hoax.”

    Yet, at this late hour when the vibrant pink of cherry blossoms is lost for a few hours in the damp darkness of this night after May Day, I choose to offer support to those who, in their own way, at least accept if not applaud those who seem like “gurus of optimism.”

    Dismal cynics are as numerous as the former and, frankly, just as intelligently articulate. I choose a cautiously brighter arena in which to challenge them. Each word or sentence disseminates (seeds) some measure of willingness to open a flower or extend a new green leaf/life even as persons or organizations pluck greenish twenty dollar bills from the nearest twig! LIFE has been, always will be fertile, abundant despite threats. If I, at 75+, did not believe that, you’d not detect a sound from Frederick here in Portland, Oregon as dawn begins over the Atlantic Ocean. PEACE: make room for it in your minds.

  13. I offer this passage from (wiki on cynicism) to counter the frequent distortion people impose on a word with a more noble meaning:

    Cynicism (Greek: κυνισμός), in its original form, refers to the beliefs of an ancient school of Greek philosophers known as the Cynics (Greek: Κυνικοί, Latin: Cynici). Their philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health, and fame, and by living a simple life free from all possessions. As reasoning creatures, people could gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which was natural for humans. They believed that the world belonged equally to everyone, and that suffering was caused by false judgments of what was valuable and by the worthless customs and conventions which surrounded society. Many of these thoughts were later absorbed into Stoicism.

    The above passage could be an example of returning words to their true meanings; something George Orwell was deeply concerned with, for example in his book 1984. Let’s ease up a bit in imputing some dark negative intent to people who are justly critical of present trends and their rationales, and often criticize current society with the sole intention to point the way to something far better.

  14. Hi Ed — Good to hear from you again. At our age, you never know when the last dispatch is the last ever. Its true that we think differently on some of these issues, but that is not a problem. In fact I think it is a good thing that people are seeking a great diversity of approaches; gives a better chance that one of these ways may really catch on, or alternatively that the cumulative impact of many approaches may prove sufficient.

    I do not think that my approach is the best way. I don’t know what the best way is, but that does not deter me from pursuing the best way I know of right now. If I become convinced there is a better way than mine, I will drop my way like a hot potato, and follow that new way. I would encourage others, like yourself, to follow their chosen way to reverse or at least slow our headlong plunge towards a fascist dystopia or extinction, whichever may come first….

  15. BTW — My sense of enlightenment is that it involves a growth in awareness, clarity, and an ongoing increase of wisdom that never ends.
    And that is the reason and the goal of our being here. That purpose supercedes and transcends every other consideration, even our own physical survival. Loving each other is an essential part of that, without which nothing will work. Second Corinthians, or “Unless you build the house with My help, you build it in vain.” And BTW I am not a “Christian” any more than JC was.

  16. Where is the discussion of the elephant in the room — human population growth? Let’s get real: the article articulates laudable goals, but without population and consumption reduction, there is no hope of a sustainable future. Where is the goal of universal access to free family planning services. Let’s at least give ourselves (human civilization) a chance.

  17. Pop! — Right on. Behind the unwillingness to look at the population elephant is the myth of unlimited progress and entitlement. This tragic hubris of human egos guarantees that none of the totally inadequate measures suggested will even get off the ground. This kind of optimistic reassurance is only useful to keep people in a childlike state of unrealistic fantasies. It serves up the same empty promises as corporate advertising. It is a handmaiden of green washers. Grow up! Only radical changes in our whole adjustment to the real world will avail to pull us out of the nightmare we have created.

  18. a good pair of articles…and it is so true that to achieve the future you desire you have to build it today…and it can best be done by working with and for people and communities to foster relationships, networks and build interactive social capital.

  19. What utter virtually unreadable silliness! Martin said it well so I don’t have to. Orion, tell the pencil pusher professor to stop building air castles and go cultivate his garden.

  20. This man is not describing the real world we live in. He seem utterly ignorant of the fact of global crisis and the crashing of our ecological systems. What’s he smoking? I could sure use some of that!

  21. Yalie lawyerfish Speth is selling pie-in-the-sky mentalism.
    Speth has “visions” & revelations where creative law professors deliver paradigm shifts with their MINDS!
    Speth is writing fiction, as in legal fiction, where all is imagination.
    It is hard to believe that he is that stupid.

  22. A lawyer, huh? Suppose he could tell us how to make sure the world of 2050 is no longer infested by lawyers?!

    The professor could also tell us how he came to believe in the value of back casting? Why not astrology? At least it has more venerable roots…

    I dare, you, prof: show up and talk to us. Show some … uh, you know.

  23. Vera, Gerald, and all,

    Thanks for your impassioned thoughts. Please 1/ try to keep to substance and avoid ad hominem commentary, and 2/ know that Mr. Speth will indeed “show up and talk to us” as you suggest – we’ve been planning a live webinar/phone discussion with him for some time, which you could attend:

    https://cc.readytalk.com/cc/s/showReg?udc=7ehxs8bcx88p

    That happens Tuesday, May 15th. All are welcome to join us and share views and questions with him.

    It’s a free event/call but you need to preregister. Do so at the link above.

    Thanks,

    Erik

  24. OK – let’s drop the word ad hominem and just cut to the chase. Mr Spaeth’s authenticity is just about a hollow as Mr. Hoffner’s request for civility. Both gentlemen are paid hucksters. That is not an ad hominem statement, it is merely a fact. They get paid to spread BS. How insulting is it for Mr. Hoffner to invite us to his webinar. As if we needed training, or an invitation for “free” training. If you look simply at Mr. Spaeth’s credentials, you can see quite clearly a man who has a profound faith in the very systems that brought us here. And, he has everything on the line, seeing to it that those systems are up and running in the condition he believes is most advantageous. Mr Spaeth, there is nothing great about America with the exception of the American ego. What we have done to ourselves and the world, beginning with the first explorers to the New World is beyond the pale. And for you to sit there and lecture us on saving this thing is either incredible arrogance or delusion, or a misture of both, I would venture. Good luck, sandy krolick, kulturCritic.

  25. Erik, how can an intelligent observer “keep to substance;” when there just isn’t any genuine substance in what Speth’s word salad?

    If a professed theoretician makes preposterous new age predictions about the future filled with countless “will be” this & “will be” that; he had better be prepared for personal attacks.

    Speth has no claim to social science – he is writing imaginative literature that insults the intelligence of your readers. His cavalier pronouncements do a serious dis-service to the gravity of the planetary perils staring us in the face.

    Both Speth & David Korten are establishment double agent hacks & any sharp observer can’t miss it.

    Their work is designed from above to DE-POLITICIZE THE YOUNG & NAIVE NEW AGE FLOCK.

  26. KK and Mr. Spezio;
    If Lauren van der Post is right, and I believe he is: “Human beings are never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right,” – then the two of you are indeed even more frightening than you purport Mr. Spaeth to be. Have the wisdom to doubt just a bit your own infallibility. Your screed becomes as tiresome as the ones you skewer.

  27. While I too am extremely shallow ‘projections’ based in fantasy while devoid of reality, this is where academia is today.E.O. Wilson talks about being able to understand the difference between data and wisdom, yet little substantial discourse follows. The ruts of higher education are obvious to all who see the web of interconnectedness. Yet this webinar is an opportunity to create dialogue and maybe even synthesis. It is to that end I will challenge Mr. Spaeth to identify the examples and trends that support his hypotheses?

    Ask him to account for the degradation and restoration needs as direct consequence of a parasitic, short term profiteering corporations effecting us all with liabilities without end?

    Ask him to account for the clashing trends of consumption, population, degradation and our interdependent as Fukushima Daiichi’s cooling pond #4 so ominously reminds us?

    Ask him to reflect on cause (choice) and effect (consequence) our our ‘management’ over the last 50 years? What lessons does he see?

    And if he cannot speak directly and coherently to these issues, then it’s up to us who see the bigger ‘web’ to speak up and share our wisdom.

    Throwing stones only breaks things.

  28. Excuse my first sentence, it should have read;

    While I too am extremely disappointed at the shallow ‘projections’ based in fantasy of Mr Speath’s piece, it was essentially devoid of reality, which is common in academia today.

  29. People resort to ad hominem attacks from a variety of motivations, including having a generally resentful and belligerent temperament, lacking either the ability or desire to make specific reasoned criticisms, a general tendency to dramatize and exaggerate situations, black and white thinking, unwillingness to listen to anything contrary to their pet theories, etc. etc. I have been guilty of all of these fallacious approaches at one time or another in these very pages. It has been a great benefit to me to become painfully aware of these personal shortcomings (sometimes!) as a result of the free form debating that goes on here at Orion. On occasion, I have actually managed to rewrite some choice inconsiderate comments before they saw print, but alas not always, as our former blog monitor Scott had to recently remind me. We are all human. But that excuse wears thin if too often invoked.

    Mr. Speth is an honorable, informed, intelligent, and compassionate friend and defender of the Earth and all it’s inhabitants. His record of dedicated service to the World far exceeds anything I could ever hope to accomplish. I am grateful that men such as he are among us. I have differences with some aspects of his approach, but this in no way lessens my respect for him and his accomplishments.

    We are all contributing to this blog hopefully to share ideas of how to make a better world. Let’s try to keep our discussion on a level of seriousness and mutual respect that reflects the kind of community we long for.

  30. Those of us who have looked into the deep roots of our escalating problems are all too aware that no one person or group or theory has a comprehensive answer to our multiple dilemmas. This should not become an excuse for us to declare a free fire zone, and proceed to ruthlessly shoot down and trash every proposal, partial, imperfect, and uncertain as it may be. Remember, it is incumbent upon us to put our own ideas out there for criticism and rebuttal. Failure to do so puts one in the category of a naysayer without anything else to offer.

  31. I find the attack thread that runs throught some of these comments disheartening. Do those commenters offer alternative visions? Well, no. Do they inspire others to contribute to a forming a vision or path forward to bring humanity back from the precipice we now face? No again. Do they enjoy the kill? Apparently yes. Do they kill the joy of participating in urgently needed dialogues? For me, yes.

  32. Cyd — One of the features of an open, anonymous forum like what Orion offers us is that people can choose to read it or contribute to it as they see fit. We can usually count on hearing views that we profoundly disagree with or find negative or depressing. It’s kinda like a town hall meeting. If we wish there were more positive comments, then maybe it is up to us to provide them. After all, free speech is a precious right; only sometimes it challenges us to be able to participate and learn from it. And in our world today, negative feelings and predictions are not always inappropriate. Thanks for your comment.

  33. This has been an exciting talk-back from stout folks here – Vera, kulturkritik, etc. The line of thinking represents true promise.
    The cliche is that the emperor has no clothes, but it certainly applies here. Big Green is as much the establishment as Monsanto-Halliburton, and though it can viewed much more sympathetically, it must be criticized.
    Others, such as Kingsnorth, a Canadian legal academic, social critics, DOTE, are sounding notes of resistance to the dominant narrative of hope/change. Yet people who have been allegedly “educated,” who live with the spoils of privilege and empire, refuse this strong alternative, persisting in delusions of “visions” and hubristic proclamations.
    Any one of us can make more pie-in-the-sky. You just continue being a dutiful student, a member of the naive audience. You can deride “Ad hominem” talk, which is wrong if appleid to people’s anatomy, but is absolutely essential when connecting actual people to actual power. This might strike some credulous employees as “incivil,” but it actually is the opposite, an invitation to speakers and writers to come join the human race.

  34. Here is just one paragraph by Speth making preposterous predictions about the future of Supernation.
    Could James Speth be this stupid in broad daylight?

    “By 2050, America the Possible WIlL HAVE marshaled the economic and political resources to successfully address the long list of challenges, including basic social justice, real global security, environmental sustainability, true popular sovereignty, and economic democracy. As a result, family incomes in America WILL BE far more equal, similar to the situation in the Nordic countries and Japan today. Large-scale poverty and income insecurity WILL BE things of the past. Good jobs WILL BE guaranteed to all those who want to work. Our health-care and educational systems WILL BE among the best in the world, as WILL our standing in child welfare and equality of women. Racial and ethnic disparities WILL BE largely eliminated. Social bonds WILL BE strong. The overlapping webs of encounter and participation that were once hallmarks of America, “a nation of joiners,” WILL HAVE BEEN rebuilt, community life WILL BE vibrant, and community development efforts plentiful. Trust in each other, and even in government, WILL BE high.”

    Phew!

    All WILL BE TRANSFORMED!

    SHAZAM, FREE SHOES FOR ALL!

    James Speth WILL HAVE the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge, & he WILL build an elite law school in the middle of his bridge.
    New Agers WILL BE educated in the law & social transformations.

    Our MINDS WILL BE TRANSFORMED!

  35. Gerald — I got a good laugh out of your send-up of Mr. Speth. Well done! However, on the serious side, he is not really stupid; he is deluded. There is an important difference there. If his essay was merely a stupid mistake, he might at some future point prove to be educable. However if he is in a state of delusional denial of reality, a much deeper therapy would be needed to restore him to sanity.

    It is our great misfortune that a very large segment of the American population is in a similar mental state as Mr. Speth. This large majority of our citizens would probably nod their heads in agreement with Speth’s rosy scenarios. His words are so reassuring, so comforting. Everything is really OK, it will all turn out well without our having to trouble our minds about it. The American Zombie continues to love her/his trance and fear awakening above all else. Please don’t tell us any bad news. If you only believe hard enough good things will inevitably happen. Criticizing the present and being concerned about the future only shows a lack of trust in our leaders. To do that would serve to strengthen our enemies — the terrorists!

  36. Until we overcome our fear of the truth, all our efforts will be forms of avoidance.

  37. Pogo said: “And if he cannot speak directly and coherently to these issues”

    Hasn’t he already proven that he cannot? Why would I want to do a webinar with someone without a clue?

    And btw, Orion, look up “ad hominem”. We are abusing Spaeth’s ideas, not his person. I am sure he is, in person, quite smart and accomplished. But anyone who steps into the public limelight opens themselves to criticism. And rightly so. Would you prefer yes men here? :-)

    As for ideas of what would work, they are starting to be out there for those who have eyes to look. They will not be found in Yes! magazine and other hopey-changey venues (and no, this is not an insult to Orion, I actually like Orion… obviously).

    Down with pie-in-the-skyism!

  38. Sorry for the name mis-spell, it is Speth. :-)

  39. Cyd wrote: “I find the attack thread that runs through some of these comments disheartening.”

    Dumb ideas deserve the pillory. Join the fun!

  40. An Alternative to Capitalism (if the people knew about it, they would demand it)

    Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: “There is no alternative”. She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

    I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: “Home of the Brave?” which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

    http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/steinsvold.htm

    John Steinsvold

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”~ Albert Einstein

  41. this should not become an excuse for us to declare a free fire zone, and proceed to ruthlessly shoot down and trash every proposal, partial, imperfect, and uncertain as it may be. Remember, it is incumbent upon us to put our own ideas out there for criticism and rebuttal. Failure to do so puts one in the category of a naysayer without anything else to offer.

  42. John Steins old — Thanks for the provocative link to alternative economic ideas. Capitalism is a totally failed system that needs a radically different approach to the problem of how to share our lives on Earth. The all-out fight to acquire individual wealth at the expense of others inevitably results in the tragically failed world we live in. This enthronement of selfishness as the goal of life has resulted only in universal suffering; portrayed by it’s promoters as “progress”.

  43. Michael, where the heck is there any actual “proposal” in Speth’s gibberish? Please show us.

    Flights of fancy do not constitute proposals in my world. Anybody can come up with endless pies-in-the-sky. If they want serious feedback, they gotta show some respect for their readers first.

  44. Mike K,

    Yes, most important to humans are his well being and the welfare of his family and society in general. The reward that people inherently seek is image; it is respect and reverence from their community.

    Today, we live in a materialistic society. Material wealth is a status symbol. Currently in the USA, wealth directly symbolizes competence, power, and intelligence. In a way of life without money, we will all be economically equal (or nearly so; at least poverty will be eliminated). You will not be able to tell a CEO from a janitor by the clothes they wear or by the cars they drive or by the homes they live in. The aristocracy in a way of life without money will be those who contribute the most to society in the way of achievement, leadership & ideas. They will be held in our esteem.

    Perhaps for the first time in history, we, as a nation and as a people, have the ability to conduct our internal economic affairs without the need to use money. We have the necessary democratic government, we have the abundant resources, we have the educational facilities and also the technical knowledge to do so. In light of what is happening in our economy today, should we not, at least, explore this possibility?

    John Steinsvold

    The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.
    ~Elizabeth Barlow

  45. O.K. John, it’s a slow day. What, exactly, do you propose as a medium of exchange for goods and services outside of the immediate vicinity of the consumer?

    Your alternate system might work (and has worked) on a micro-local level in a community that has all the required commodities at hand, but widen the scope of that to the scale of a country this large, and I predict all you are going to have is a system of money by another name if you want to get anything done. So, enlighten me if you can.

    (As for Speth, yeah: I WILL not waste my time)

  46. Plowboy,

    In many respects, our economy will be the same. Our free enterprise system will remain in place as it is today; but no money will be exchanged. Profit will no longer be a factor and cooperation will replace competition. Government, industry and the people will work together as a team toward common goals.

    The best way to motivate people is to allow them to do the work they love to do. One of the goals of a way of life without money is to provide everyone with the opportunity to find a match between their abilities and the opportunity to serve society. If training is necessary, a free education is provided. Every effort will be made for each individual to find the work they love doing. There will be no pressure. I believe everyone has an ability or talent they want to use for the benefit of society.

    Yes, if everyone is free to do their “thing”, how can we satisfy the labor needs of our country particularly if shortages exist in various occupations? However, it takes only a small percentage of our work force to provide the necessities and luxuries for the now over 300 million Americans and that percentage is constantly decreasing due to automation and advances in technology.

    There are people who love to farm. There are people who love manufacturing products. There are people who love being storekeepers and being behind a counter to serve people. There are people who love to bake. There are people who love being carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, farmers and yes, even janitors. There will be people who love bringing the necessities and luxuries to your local store so you can help yourself.

    John Steinsvold

  47. John,
    Nice vision but so far away from present day reality.

    How do we get from here to there? What integrated equations might offer insight into a path without unintended consequences?

    What analysis might move us beyond ‘data’ to synthesis, integration and wisdom? Where are the shoulders upon which our solutions can be based? What have we learned from history and past management that can instruct us what not to do while projecting forward toward real solutions?

    Never before has Einstein’s statement, ‘you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it’ ring true as it does today.

    We have yet to value basic Eco-system services we take for granted and trash in equal measure, thinking about restoration as a disconnected consequence of past management.

    If we could learn anything from Biosphere 2 we might act entirely different than we presently do. The fact Universities perpetuate the myths is commensurate with the amenities. Culture trumps environmentalism.

    Transitions ahead with be difficult and arduous. Capturing cheap ‘energy slaves’ in the forms of petroleum products have transformed the earth into it’s tome.

    Had we understood heaven isn’t in the clouds but right here on this once garden planet; we might have found reverence.

  48. Pogowasright,
    The transition from our present economic system to a way of life without money is far beyond my feeble mind; but I do know the first step is to bring the literally fantastic advantages of a way of life to the attention of the American people.

    Yes, the administration of a way of life without money is a huge problem. As proposed in my essay, a web of “economic bodies” would be created; one for the federal, one for each state and one for each local level. These economic bodies will coordinate the economic traffic in our nation. They will interact with each other as much as modern technology will allow. A balance of supply and demand will be achieved taking every conceivable factor into consideration including CONSERVATION and our ENVIRONMENT as well as the needs of the people and their craving for luxuries.

    In short, these economic bodies will be coordinating what is now our free enterprise system to fulfill the economic needs of our nation.

    John Steinsvold

  49. John,
    I am reminded of a quote by Lloyd Irland of Yale when he said, ‘ The free market is indeed free. Its free of responsibility and accountability. Owners are free to ignore the future, free to act in ways that generate short term gains for themselves and push long term costs onto other people, the environment and the future.

    Capitalistic Economics is a con game.

  50. John, I’ve just got one question for you:

    What if nobody “loves” to maintain sanitary sewers? (Taking a leap here, but I’m predicting that there is a large contingency of folks who are doing things ONLY because it pays the bills)Hey, I “love” to sit and whittle sticks. Can I expect to have all my other material needs met while doing that? (o.k….two questions)

    If this is your grand design for reengineering the capitalist paradigm, I think the banksters can sleep safely. Seriously dude, my 7 y.o. can stretch further than this.

  51. Plowboy,

    Yes, there is very likely to be a shortage of people volunteering to do the more menial tasks. One option is to offer “perks”. A perk can be of various forms such as front row season tickets to the opera or to his or her favorite sports team. Can you imagine an NBA basketball game where the celebrities are sitting in the back rows while the dishwashers and janitors are at courtside? (My apologies to Spike Lee & Jack Nicholson!) Or the perk could be the latest model boat or sports car which would not be immediately available to the public. Another option is to draft everyone once in their lifetime, to do a half year or so stint at a menial task. Perhaps a humbling experience is in order for all of us. It might serve us well in the area of character building.

    John Steinsvold

  52. Friends — Current discussants might be interested in Charles Eisenstein’s ideas on sacred economics: http://charleseisenstein.net/ Also out of the box but more grounded, search for Riane Eisler and her book The Real Wealth of Nations.

    My own ideas about a new economics do not find the use of money to be the real problem. Where trouble arises is how we use money.
    Some new rules would include:

    All persons are guaranteed an equal basic income that covers all basic living expenses.

    No person would be allowed to earn a yearly income greater than twice the basic income.

    All basic resources such as oil, forests, minerals would be owned and administered by the state.

    No person could accumulate or cause to be accumulated capital in money beyond a small amount.

    Upon dying, a person’s remaining money would go into the general state funds.

    Now all of this goes so much against the current understandings and practices of most people, that a large problem arises as to how such a vast change could be implemented and managed by people such as we are now in our motivations and conditionings. That’s the crux of our problems: For any proposed radical change to be adopted and properly carried forward, people have to evolve into agents capable of understanding and implementing new ways of thinking and behaving. Pogo was right! Only better people can make a better world. There exist proven ways to birth these transformed people; what is lacking now is the understanding of our situation, and the will to do what is necessary to transform ourselves into the people who can transform our world. This is a critical juncture that all intelligent life forms reaching a relatively advanced level need to solve in order to progress to further levels.
    We are at a place in our evolutionary history where either we pass this initiatory challenge, or we will destroy ourselves, and cut off this promising line on Earth of possible participation in the ongoing cosmic process of higher consciousness evolution. Those who fail to meet the basic requirements for sharing in the higher stages of this adventure should understand that their continued presence at these advanced levels of knowledge and power would constitute a threat and hindrance to those who have demonstrated trustworthiness to go further. Thus, if intelligent life of some complexity were to terminate on Earth it would serve the higher good of the whole. As tragic as that would be, it would be an even greater cosmic tragedy if beings such as we are demonstrating ourselves to be should continue on to infect and potentially derail the development of millions of qualified worlds.

  53. All I can say to that John is, well, nothing. I’m speechless. Thanks for explaining your idea to me.

  54. Don’t listen to anyone who uses “genus” as a verb, would be my advice. What the..?

  55. Thanks for our ever vigilant Orion moderators for deleting those previous entries….spammed no more!

  56. My surmise with regard to the three previous posts is that some young souls find it amusing to concoct word soup, and post it here as a prank. Freedom sometimes gives birth to strange progeny….
    Nuff said. Better to avoid troll feeding.

  57. Hm… some are sales trolls… the brief ones. The other person seems to be some sort of a primitive hacker. Hacking via clutter? Seems like Orion needs to update its anti-spam efforts.

  58. Pogowasright — You ask: “How do we get from here to there? What integrated equations might offer insight into a path without unintended consequences?
    What analysis might move us beyond ‘data’ to synthesis, integration and wisdom?”

    Equations and analysis will never give us what we need to solve the world’s severe problems. Indeed, the overuse and misuse of these limited tools is part of our difficulties. As Ouspensky said on coming out from a nitrous experience, “Think in other categories!”
    Wisdom fortunately is not limited to our narrow categories. We are in a position now where only higher forms of knowing will avail. To seriously ask for and become attuned to sources of guidance beyond our present level of intelligence is now imperative. The means to accomplish this exist. However, in this age of almost universal ignorance and uninformed skepticism regarding such endeavors, it is likely we will proceed to our doom wrapped tightly in our hubris and ignorant of the real sources of help that might save us. To begin to grasp that it is the very nature of our present level of consciousness that is at the heart of all our suffering, is to turn in the direction of real solutions. The Delphic inscription: Know Thyself was an ancient pointer in that direction. In an age obsessed with outward things and perspectives, however, that hint seems empty and meaningless. Those who the gods would destroy they first render mad — with the blindness of hubris.

  59. That reminds me.
    Those who the gods would destroy they first render hopping mad. 😀

  60. Rowland — Thanks for the link. A very good analysis of the stages of awakening. In Greek tragedy the hero sleepwalks to his doom, unaware that the cause of his downfall is within himself. No wonder Freud used these plays to explain the power of the unconscious to determine our fate. Those things of which we are conscious, we may be able to control. The things we are unconscious of control us.

  61. This situation is no longer deniable. Sleepwalking to catastrophe is no longer an option. During my lifetime, many have understood the Global Predicament we are having to confront now, but only a few ‘voices in the wilderness’ were willing to speak out loudly and clearly about what everyone can see. It is not a pretty sight. The human community has precipitated a planetary emergency that only humankind is capable of undoing. The present ‘Unsustainable Path’ has to be abandoned in favor of a “road less travelled by”. It is late; there is no time left to waste. Perhaps now we will gather our remarkably abundant, distinctly human resources and respond ably to the daunting, human-induced, global challenges before us, the ones that threaten life as we know it and the integrity of Earth as a fit place for human habitation. Many voices, many more voices are needed for making necessary changes.

  62. We don’t need to get into complicated thinking or develop some difficult arcane philosophy. We just need a simple measurement that tells us when things are getting steadily better.

    That measurement would be:

    MORE TREES, LESS PEOPLE!

  63. David — It is an interesting index, perhaps a bit redundant — if there are less people there will inevitably be more trees. However the problem remains how to persuade people to reproduce less. Because the vast majority are victims of a cultural spell, it will be very difficult to awaken them to the rapidly unfolding doom bearing down on us all, in order to motivate them to alter course. Remember the inhabitants of Easter Island ritually destroying the last Tree. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

  64. “Cultural spell” is an interesting expression, a sort of Merlinesque view of social obsessions. Another way of looking at things is social addictions. I’ve noticed how certain thinking patterns tend to mirror chemical addictions right down to hysterical withdrawal symptoms. Cults and conspiracy theories are built on them. The addictive crossover moment used to have a term for it – snapping. We’ve got a lot of snap victims. I was one and believe me breaking out of that can be very painful.

    Maybe that’s why I like to keep things bumper sticker simple. From that position it’s hard to be diverted and mentally messed with.

    As far as trees being redundant, I don’t think so. Some folks want more space to control and build bigger power, luxury, status, religious, security symbols to satisfy their unquenchable egos. Think pyramids. I’d say more trees is a vital counter weight to that.

    As far as influencing people in good ways, what can you do but put tools out there for them to grab on to when crisis faces them. How do you change folks otherwise?

    MORE TREES, LESS PEOPLE!

    MORE TREES, LESS PEOPLE!

  65. Sorry, didn’t mean to double up at the end of my last post.

  66. “If we agree to “think globally” about climate destabillization and at least one of its consensually validated principal agencies, it becomes evident that riveting attention on more and more seemingly perpetual GROWTH could be a grave mistake because we are denying how economic and population growth in the communities in which we live cannot continue as it has until now. Each village’s resources are being dissipated, each town’s environment degraded and every city’s fitness as place for our children to inhabit is being threatened. To proclaim something like, ‘the meat of any community plan for the future is, of course, growth’ fails to acknowledge that many villages, towns and cities are already ‘built out’, and also ‘filled in’ with people and pollutants. If the quality of life we enjoy now is to be maintained for the children, then limits on economic and population growth will have to be set. By so doing, we choose to “act locally” and sustainably.

    More economic and population growth are soon to become no longer sustainable in many too many places on the surface of Earth because biological constraints and physical limitations are immutably imposed upon ever increasing human consumption, production and population activities of people in many communities where most of us reside. Inasmuch as the Earth is finite with frangible environs, there comes a point at which GROWTH is unsustainable. There is much work to done locally. But that effort cannot reasonably begin without sensibly limiting economic and population growth.

    Problems worldwide that are derived from conspicuous overconsumption and rapacious plundering of limited resources, rampant overproduction of unnecessary stuff, and rapid human overpopulation of the Earth can be solved by human thought, judgment and action. After all, the things we have done can be undone. Think of it as ‘the great unwinding of human folly’. Like deconstructing the Tower of Babel. Any species that gives itself the moniker, Homo sapiens sapiens, can do that much, can it not?

    “We face a wide-open opportunity to break with the old ways of doing the town’s business…..” That is a true statement. But the necessary “break with the old ways” of continous economic and population growth is not what is occurring. There is a call for a break with the old ways, but the required changes in behavior are not what is being proposed as we plan for the future. What is being proposed and continues to occur is more of the same, old business-as-usual overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities, the very activities that appear to be growing unsustainbly. More business-as-usual could soon become patently unsustainable, both locally and globally. A finite planet with the size, composition and environs of the Earth and a community with the boundaries, limited resources and wondrous climate of villages, towns and cities where we live may not be able to sustain much longer the economic and population growth that is occurring on our watch. Perhaps necessary changes away from UNSUSTAINABLE GROWTH and toward sustainable lifestyles and right-sized corporate enterprises are in the offing.

    Think globally while there is still time and act locally before it is too late for human action to make any difference in the clear and presently dangerous course of unfolding human-induced ecological events, both in our planetary home and in our villages, towns and cities. If we choose to review the perspective of a ‘marketwatcher’ who can see what is actually before our eyes, perhaps all of us can get a little more reality-oriented to the world we inhabit and a less deceived by an attractive, flawed ideology that is highly touted and widely shared but evidently illusory and patently unsustainable.

    http://www.marketwatch.com/Story/story/print?guid=5690DE5A-B033-11E1-AB8D-002128049AD6

  67. Thinking globally, acting locally and defining sustainability

    http://normantranscript.com/opinion/x1915499482/Seek-true-sustainability-over-growth Â

    The Norman Transcript

    June 24, 2012

    NORMAN – Editor, The Transcript:

    My opinion is that the current global recession will not end until human societies change. Very difficult, given the nature of political systems and the human condition.

    Global human population tripled during the 20th century and is currently near 7 billion. Human population diminishes the planetary resource base, increases demand and prices, and is a cause of the present global recession. Nevertheless, global human population is presently increasing by about 80 million annually. Norman and the United States as a whole have contributed. The U.S. human population quadrupled during the 20th century and continues to increase today. Norman’s population was about 27,000 in 1950, 52,000 in 1970, 97,000 in 2000, and was 111,000 in 2010.

    None of this population increase seems enough for Chambers of Commerce in Norman, in Oklahoma, and across our land. In The Norman Transcript on June 19th, John Woods, current chair of the Norman C of C, called for us to “build a community of economic success, strong quality of life amenities that attract the next generation of young professionals and families to help fund the critical components of our city that we all care about. We need to begin a dialogue…” This letter is an effort to contribute to that dialogue. My view is that we already have the above listed attributes in Norman and that CofCs call for more growth is detrimental.

    One of our City Councilors recently said to me, “If you don’t grow, you rot.” This reminds of another local issue, NEDA, which is treated here only by implication. In my opinion, the City Councilor’s opinion is true only for cultural growth. Human numbers and society are past the point that physical growth becomes detrimental. Furthermore, all forms of physical growth are not sustainable, though often so-called. Malthus spoke more than a century ago to an imbalance between population growth and food supply, an imbalance detrimental to human welfare. Forty-five years ago, Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb, and Hardin published a collection of numerous papers with dire predictions. These authors were not mistaken, but they were premature because they did not and could not anticipate effects of burgeoning technology, which has greatly facilitated extraction of resources.

    Technology does not contradict science; technology is science in application. The increased rate of resource extraction and still rising human populations are grave threats to future human welfare. But, what can we do? What should we do?

    One action that should be helpful would be for CofCs to renounce population growth as an appropriate objective and to devote their intelligence and efforts to formulation of a healthful alternate paradigm of true sustainability.

    Edwin Kessler

    Norman, Oklahoma

  68. Grandstanding by Salmony, unchecked.
    Whatever’s happened to once vibrant,energizing Orion discussions? And Jensen’s essays no longer available… sad.

  69. Vera, Derrick’s essay is in the May/June issue as usual. Steve S. has some good ideas. There are those of us who enjoy hearing them. As to folks staying out of the reader’s comments — I dunno. I hope the swallows will come back when their inner guidance calls them to do so. Like so many things, one can keep praying and wait, or just wait, or quit waiting and do something else…

  70. Mike, I meant that the Jensen essays are no longer available online, and up for discussion. Am I missing something?

    Salmony goes on and on with his interminable prepared speeches, and clogs up the forum. I think it turns people away. I did not say that he never has anything useful to say.

    Dunno also. My sense has been that something had changed; that feisty energy that used to draw me here is not in the evidence any more, more or less…

  71. Vera — Derrick’s latest is up on Orion, along with my #1 comment. Wade in, the water’s fine!

  72. What we know about evolution would lead sensible people to conclude that there is nothing or precious little that can be done to change the human ‘trajectory’. So powerful is the force of evolution that we will “do what comes naturally” by continuing to overpopulate the planet and await the next phase of the evolutionary process. Even so, still hope resides within that somehow humankind will make use of its singular intelligence and other unique attributes so as to escape the fate that appears ‘as if through a glass darkly’ in the offing, the seemingly certain fate evolution appears to have in store for us. Come what may. In the face of all that we can see now and here, I continue to believe and to hope that we find adequate ways of consciously, deliberately and effectively doing the right things, according the lights and knowledge we possess, the things which serve to confront and overcome the ‘evolutionary trend’ which seems so irresistible.

  73. Steve — I agree, hope is possible because none among us can know the future with certainty. And hope is a more productive energy to move with if one is seeking positive solutions. Hope is not certainty, but it is an optimistic attitude toward unknown possibilities. If we lose hope, we shut the door to unexpected intuitions and new blessings.

  74. Dear Mike,

    Just want to express my appreciation for your perspective and presence.

    Always,

    Steve

  75. Thanks Steve — I always learn from your sharings, and admire your persistence in trying to get the truth out about our population problems.

  76. You wish for an all-powerful central government that controls every human activity with perfect alignment to your values.

    What you will inevitably get is an all-powerful central government whose power is matched by its corruption and self-interest. The proof exists today — do you really believe that giving them more power will improve anything?

  77. Hi Gus, congratulations on taking this visionary and optimistic perspective… follows on to several vibrant discusssions in various UN fora… and in line with the new Global Monitoring UNESCO report on Education for All just out …
    thanks for intellectual leadership here,
    best wishes, John

  78. Let’s please get our semantics correct.
    There is no such country as “America”.
    The term America refers to continents, not to a country. Using the term America in place of the proper term, The United States of America, devalues all other people in both North & South America.
    if we fail to get our language and semantics correct, we have virtually no hope at any sort of enlightened change. Psychological foundations come first.

  79. You readers realize, of course, that Speth is peddling socialism, but is using smooth language so as not to upset the naive and uninitiated.

    The problem is not markets or even corporations. It is government screwing up the place. Through government we all get a “say” in things, but then government forces those of us who don’t agree with the majority to behave with way the majority wants.

    Freedom from government and coercion is better. Corporations may not be the best invention ever, but when did Apple ever throw anyone in jail? When did IBM start a war?

    My wife grew up in the USSR. She hated socialism. Speth is just trying to sell an updated version of socialism/fascism, which are two sides of the same coin.

  80. There is nothing that resonates better in the brainwashed heads of our zombie populace than: SOCIALISM BAD CAPITALISM GOOD!

  81. Since we shave already reached the end of economic growth for anyone except the 1% I like what Speth has written, but it does not go far enough in exploring how radically the economy must change

  82. Having only just read this piece, I am struck by the extent to which it’s congruent with may of the themes in Obama’s second Inaugural – especially the paragraph on climate change.

    It seems to me we have a real opportunity to enact key features of Speth’s vision now simply by actively supporting the progressive aspirations signalled by Obama in his second term. What better time and way than to just get busy, and maintain the pressure for reform?

  83. I agree whole heartedly with what you have to say, and yes we did drop the ball on these issues in the 60’s & 70’s.
    Another issue might be is a theory of mine. That of the earths engine. What are the consequences of removing the fuel from the ground that keeps the earth heated. I have an idea of what if, do you?

  84. two edges to a sword. gilda radner of SNL famously said, “it’s always something”.
    any perceived change, progress, or regression reflects choice, yes, but is trumped in the end by the over-riding joker that is life itself.
    ennui, entropy, compression, depression, degradation will always likely be mirrored and shadowed by beginings, enlightenment, birth, and above all the abiding king and queen of life itself, move manifest.
    we gotta die and as michael crichton said, “life finds a way” so we are all in this literally together whether it is liked or not.
    is the poor person really sad? is the rich person really happy? what say you?
    i say life is perfect each and every second in and with the so-called imperfections. life itself and the entire infinite and eternal space beyond our known universe stands perfectly balanced at the juxtaposition of these two pillars, life and death, proton and electron, good bacteria bad bacteria. get a flu shot and preach on brother.

  85. Plant trees! Was the comment where I finally felt reality. Join and support organizations planting trees all over our planet. One I like is Treesisters.org
    Also, plant milkweed for the Monarchs, you can do it in your backyard or patio or windowsill. Every green plant, a breath, an inspiration!

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