Reframing Global Citizenship

Article Models

Reframing Global Citizenship


As the planet burns, authoritarian populists dominate politics, oil executives direct the COP process, and the wealthy elite pull further away from everyone else, it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that the movement for a beneficial future is failing. We clearly need to do something very different.

Is there a better way to organize the movement for positive change? Since, as Paul Raskin wisely observes, a Global Citizens Movement may be conceptualized as a “polycentric ecology,” perhaps we can take inspiration from how ecosystems themselves organize.

A key underlying principle of ecosystems, along with other complex adaptive systems, is reciprocal causality: all the disparate parts work together to form a coherent whole, while the system as a whole gives cohesion to the activities of each of the parts. In a natural ecology, systemic coherence emerges from a myriad of prior evolutionary adaptations. In human systems, the coherence arises in the form of an organizing idea or ideas. For example, as the Scientific Revolution emerged in early modern Europe, there were many different discoveries and theoretical breakthroughs, each of which reinforced each other’s impact through building on the cohering metaphor of “nature as a machine” and following Francis Bacon’s clarion call to “conquer nature.”

In more recent times, we can learn from the rise of what is arguably the most successful transformational movement in modern history: neoliberalism. When the Mont Pelerin Society formed in 1947, it laid the conditions for powerful reciprocal causality by encouraging diverse perspectives expressed through a shared manifold of meaning: the primacy of individual liberty. The society declared in its Statement of Aims that its objective was “solely, by facilitating the exchange of views among minds inspired by certain ideals and broad conceptions held in common, to contribute to the preservation and improvement of the free society.”

At that time, the ideas presented by neoliberal thinkers were utterly rejected by mainstream culture. Yet, as a result of a carefully orchestrated strategy, placing neoliberal opinion-shapers in the centers of powerful networks where they could seed conversations around their ideas, they succeeded over a few decades in shifting what became known as the Overton window: the set of ideas considered acceptable to mainstream political discourse.

Our only hope for a viable future is to shift the Overton window ourselves—not just back to where it was before neoliberalism, but into completely different terrain. The most important driver of that shift will be an alternative shared manifold of meaning: the idea of an Ecological Civilization (Eco Civ) built on life-affirming principles, setting the conditions for all people to flourish on a thriving, living Earth and leading to profoundly beneficial changes in virtually every aspect of society.

The vision of an ecological civilization invites an integrative conceptual architecture for diverse progressive groups worldwide. Giving a common name to a multiplicity of movements has the potential to unite people from around the world in a common undertaking.

In the broadest terms, an ecological civilization encompasses themes of multiple groups from around the world. It incorporates Indigenous concepts such as buen vivir and ubuntu, insights from ecological economics and commons theory, and principles from the permaculture, Transition Towns, degrowth, and agroecology movements. It reflects spiritual underpinnings of Deep Ecology, engaged Buddhism, and universalist Christian theology. It embraces ideas from the anti-globalization, eco-socialist, social justice, LGBTQ rights, and Rights of Nature movements, among others. Ultimately, it has the potential to catalyze globally dispersed “blessed unrest” into a coherent, benevolent force for societal transformation.

However, an idea by itself, no matter how powerful, is not enough. As the Mont Pelerin Society understood, an organizing principle must be manifested through a concerted long-term strategy—in their case, seeding new ideas throughout the academy, then converting them into policies through a series of think tanks, new media outlets, and alliances with the business community and broadcast media.

There are of, course, significant differences between their approach and what is needed now. The Eco Civ movement would need to be heterarchical rather than hierarchical and would need to incorporate widely diverse populations rather than mostly elite white males. Our source of power is not so much financial as in the hearts and minds of the billions of people around the world who desire a better future for themselves and their offspring. And while the Internet age can create dangerously separate silos, it also enhances the potential for stunningly rapid transmission of new ideas.

The systems thinker Ilya Prigogine once famously described how, when complex systems transition from one stable state to another, the character of the subsequent state is influenced by “small islands of coherence in a sea of chaos” which have “the capacity to lift the entire system to a higher order.” These “islands of coherence” already exist throughout the world—generated by distinct visionary ideas, grassroots movements, and community initiatives laying down pathways toward a life-affirming future. However, as suggested by the principle of reciprocal causality, while these “islands” may form autonomously at grassroots levels, their collective power is significantly enhanced by a cohesive framework that amplifies their energy and supports their trajectory—a “transformation catalyst” in the words of Sandra Waddock.

We need a life-affirming, up-to-date version of the Mont Pelerin Society: an Ecological Civilization Coalition. This could be conceived as a loosely organized alliance of prominent changemakers with connections to a more focused central hub. The hub could be organized on sociocracy principles to avoid hierarchical leadership. As a focused organization, it could source funds from donors seeking transformative change and funnel resources to identified “islands of coherence” in various domains of society. A team of dedicated professionals could work with these “islands” to identify and help disseminate best practices and principles for planetary-wide adoption in a process of “fractal scaling.” Finally, as a media hub, it could facilitate a coherent articulation of the Eco Civ concept in mainstream media outlets to help shift the Overton window.

Whether we can reweave the strands of our unraveling civilization into a flourishing future will only be known on the other side of the turmoil that lies ahead this century. But as each climate disaster brings our current system closer to collapse, we have an overriding obligation to future generations, and to life itself, to shine a directional beacon through the darkness of our times to a potentially brighter future—and to help lay down a trail toward it.

“The Eco-Civilization Framework,” is a contribution to GTI Forum “What’s Next for the Global Movement?,” Great Transition Initiative (January 2024), https://greattransition.org/gti-forum/global-movement-whats-next-lent.

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About Jeremy Lent

Jeremy Lent is author of The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, which investigates how different cultures have made sense of the universe and how their underlying values have changed the course of history. His new book, The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe, was published in Spring 2021 (New Society Press: North America | Profile Books: UK & Commonwealth). For more information visit jeremylent.com.

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Gaza on My Mind

Article Peacebuilding

Gaza on My Mind


featured image | Wikimedia Commons, Gaza October 2023

Talking about Gaza can be scary. I have expressed my horror about the savage Hamas attack on Israelis, and the heartbreaking plight of the hostages, but when I criticize Israeli policies and the bombing of Gaza, some of my Jewish friends have called me antisemitic. This is hurtful. To say this is a controversial subject is an understatement. I am not a scholar or historian. I am not Muslim or Jewish. So why do I feel compelled to discuss this?

Though I do not identify with any organized religion, I do identify as an American. Not the nationalistic “my country right or wrong” American, but rather a Langston Hughes style American who sees our country as “the land that never has been yet — and yet must be — a land where every man is free.” I am ashamed of American’s sordid history – the genocide of Native Americans, the slavery of Africans, the unjust treatment of African Americans since emancipation, and other ongoing violations of our principles. l am an American who, like the poet Hughes, has sworn that someday America will be the country where our ideals of liberty and justice for all people will be achieved. It is vital to me that US foreign policy confirms and reflects these ideals. As I once opposed the bombing of the Vietnamese and then the Iraqis, I now oppose the US financed bombing of Gaza and uphold the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

This article explains how I came to oppose US military support of Israel’s war on Gaza, as well as its occupation of the Palestinian territories. My story begins twenty years ago, in September 2003, when I traveled to Gaza to honor the life and death of a twenty-three-year-old American peace activist named Rachel Corrie. She was a volunteer human rights observer with the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian group founded by Israeli and Palestinian activists, who were committed to resisting the Israeli occupation by using Gandhian nonviolent practices and protest. When I learned that Rachel had been crushed to death on March 16, 2003, by an Israeli-owned bulldozer as she stood before the home of a Palestinian physician and his family to defend it from demolition, I felt compelled to go there and to understand why.

I called my activist friend Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink, to ask if she would come with me to Gaza. Though she had been avoiding involvement in the conflict in deference to her Jewish parents, Medea was now ready to go. I recruited a delegation of seven women, including two Jewish and one Muslim, and Global Exchange organized our itinerary to meet with Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.

The purpose of our 2003 trip was to gain insight into the conflict between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. My mission was also to establish relationships with a Jewish-owned restaurant in Israel and an Arab-owned restaurant in the occupied Palestinian territories as part of the White Dog Cafe’s International Sister Restaurant program, “Table for Five Billion.” Beginning in 1987 the program had brought delegations of our customers and staff to Nicaragua, Cuba, Vietnam, and the Soviet Union to experience the impact of US foreign policy and work toward a world where everyone (five billion then, and even more now) has a place at the table.

When we arrived in Gaza in September of 2003, our group of travelers sat sipping coffee in a busy outdoor café, much like any European café, in Gaza City. When we heard the hum of an airplane in the distance, I saw alarm on the faces of our Palestinian hosts. On the way to the café, we had seen the burned- out carcass of a car blocking a narrow street in a busy marketplace and been told that it had been hit by an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) missile, killing many innocent bystanders. Even in this peaceful café setting, I saw how people lived in fear in Gaza — called by many “an open-air prison,” from which there was little escape.

Twenty years later, fear has consumed all of Gaza night and day as Israeli fighters unleash the most destructive bombing campaign in modern history, already having used more than twice the firepower of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. As many as 27,000 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 12,000 children and 66,000 wounded. No hospitals are fully functional. There is no anesthesia for surgeries. No antibiotics to stave of deadly infections. Families and orphans of those killed are sleeping in tents and on the street. One toilet is available for every 500 people, according to the World Health Organization. Since October 7, over 400 doctors and medical staff have been killed. The UN has lost 142 personnel, the largest number lost in any conflict in history. More than one hundred and twenty journalists have been killed, and the International Federation of Journalists in NYC has accused the IDF of ‘deliberately targeting’ media professionals working in Gaza

One of the most moving experiences for me on our 2003 trip was meeting Rami Elhannan, an Israeli whose 14-year-old daughter had been killed by a Hamas suicide bomber on her way home from school in 1997. After a year of struggling with anger and despair, Rami joined Bereaved Families Supporting Reconciliation and Peace, a group of Israeli and Palestinian families who had each lost loved ones to the conflict. He told us that his life had taken on new meaning as he worked in partnership with Palestinians to stop violence and end the occupation.

Now twenty years later, Hamas has only gained in strength. Their murderous attack on October 7, killing 1200 Israelis and taking 250 hostages is the tragic result of what they have become. What gives me hope is that Rami, even after this outrage, continues his work to end the violence and co-exist peacefully with Palestinians. The reconciliation and peace organization, now called Parents Circle, is co-directed by Rami and his Palestinian counterpart, Bassam Aramin, whose 10-year-old daughter was killed in 2007 by an IDF soldier using a US issued M-16 rifle, as she stood outside of her school.

In a 2023 interview, Rami explained that twenty-five years ago, he had never seen a Palestinian as a human being. But through the Parents Circle he had learned the music, the culture, and the stories of the Palestinians, which he explained had been deliberately hidden from him by the Israeli education system. When asked how to end the conflict, Rami said that the most important word is “respect” and to see Palestinians as equal partners in building a peaceful future.

In 2003, when we arrived in Rafah, a Palestinian city in the southernmost part of Gaza, near the Israeli-controlled border with Egypt, we visited the home of a Palestinian school headmaster Khalil Bashir. We were horrified to find that Israeli soldiers had not only destroyed his groves of date and olive trees and two acres of greenhouses, but the soldiers had also taken over the upper floors of his three-story home as an army base to protect the newly erected homes of Israeli settlers nearby. Despite this unimaginable disrespect, Khalil continued to teach non-violence and peaceful coexistence to his children and students.

In a letter to her mother in February 2003, Rachel Corrie wrote about the people of Gaza:

“I am amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity – laughter, generosity, family-time – against the incredible horror occurring in their lives and against the constant presence of death. I am also discovering a degree of strength and of basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances. I think the word is dignity.”

 

Our delegation of seven American women with Khalil Bashir and his family in Rafah, Gaza, 2003.

We later learned that in 2004 Khalil’s 15-year-old son, Yousef Bashir, had been shot in the back by an IDF soldier. Because three UN officials witnessed this, he was sent to an Israeli hospital where he slowly recovered. Since then, Yousef moved to the US and wrote a book about his father’s dedication to non-violence. In a 2019 New York Times op-ed, he said this about the soldier who shot him: “I wish we could talk. I would tell him that I want to do my part to make peace between our peoples more possible, the way my father taught me. I would tell him that I have forgiven him.”In Rafah, our delegation next went to the place where Rachael Corrie was killed. We stood solemnly before the pile of rubble that marked where she had been crushed under an armored bulldozer driven by an IDF soldier. Prior to her death, over six hundred houses had been destroyed in Rafah, along with Palestinian businesses, including 25 greenhouses, the source of income for three hundred people. In her last email to her father written less than two weeks before her death, 23-year-old Rachel wrote:

Coming here is one of the better things I’ve ever done. So when I sound crazy, or if the Israeli military should break with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible.”

I understand that some readers who identify with Israel may not agree with Rachel’s analysis of the situation, but it’s important to know how she saw it and to admire her willingness to stand up to the powerful forces she viewed as oppressors, as we hope someone would do for us and our families if we were in such danger. Twenty years later, in 2023, I still picture the pile of rubble marking the spot where Rachel tragically lost her life amid the destruction of Palestinian homes and businesses. I am deeply saddened to know that today the rubble has grown to encompass much of Gaza, with over 70% of housing demolished by Israeli bombs, displacing 90% of the population. Untold thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, over a third children and infants, have been crushed to death in their own homes.

In 2003, we saw so many Palestinian children, often dressed in neat school uniforms, their eyes bright and faces curious to meet strangers. They pointed out the bullet holes in their houses and showed us shell casings they had collected during the IDF incursions, and they pointed to the place where Tom Hurtnell, a young English volunteer, was shot in the head as he ran to grab a child who was caught in gunfire. In Hebron, a Palestinian town in the West Bank where four hundred Jewish settlers from Russia had illegally taken residence, we met with Chris Brown from Christian Peacekeepers Team. He explained how his group escorted children to school through army barricades, where the IDF soldiers point guns at them, and past hostile settlers who hurl abuse, and sometimes spit on and physically attack the children. By 2003, over six hundred Palestinian children had died in the conflict at the hands of the IDF or the settlers. We visited a school where the children sang to welcome us, and as we looked at their promising young faces, it was hard not to despair over the sheer hopelessness of their future.

 

Palestinian school children passing through an IDF checkpoint on their way to school, Hebron, West Bank, 2003. 
Photos by J.Wicks

I never imagined that twenty years later, against international law, there would be over 700,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem occupying 40% of Palestinian land against international law. Just since October, 739 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 309 children, have been displaced, following the destruction of 115 homes. The IDF has armed settlers in the West Bank, giving them impunity to violently force Palestinians from their homes, increasing acts of violence from an average of three a day to seven. Recently, a Palestinian-American teenager visiting his cousins was shot in the head. He is one of 369 killed in the West Bank since October, including ninety-five children.As our 2003 delegation traveled through the West Bank, we saw how the yards of the settlers’ homes were lush and green with well-watered grass, in sharp contrast to the arid, brown, and lifeless Palestinian areas.  At a large Jewish settlement near Jerusalem, we even saw people enjoying an Olympic size swimming pool, while the Palestinians were forced to survive on 20% of the available water, even though their population is far greater, and did not have enough water to grow their crops to feed their people.

The green lawns of an illegal Israeli settlement on Palestinian land in the West Bank, 2003 Photo by J. Wicks

Though this seemed so unfair back in 2003, it would have been unimaginable to think that, in response to the Hamas attack on October 7, the Israelis would cut off ALL water supply to the entire population of Gaza, as well as all food, fuel and medical supplies, leaving Palestinians to die of starvation, dehydration, and disease. Over 70% of the population is drinking contaminated or salty water, according to the UN. Recently, the World Food Program reported, “In Gaza at this moment, literally the whole population is in crisis level of hunger or worse. And of those people, about 26%, meaning one-quarter of the population is literally starving – about 577,000 people.”  According to the UN, famine is now “inevitable” following the news that the US and some other Western countries have suspended funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) because Israel has accused 12 of its 13,000 employees to have been involved in the October 7 attack. Though nine of the accused have been fired, one has died, and two are under investigation, funding needed to combat the famine that endangers millions of Palestinians has been denied.While our delegation was in Tel Aviv, we told a group of Israeli youth that we were staying with a Palestinian family. Their eyes widened with fear and surprise, as they warned us that we would be raped and murdered because Palestinians were dangerous terrorists. Though I heard Israelis claim that Palestinian youth are taught to hate Jews, this experience made me wonder if Israeli youth had been taught that all Palestinians are terrorists.

When I watched the 2023 film Israelism, produced by courageous young Jewish filmmakers, I finally understood the racist remarks of the Israeli youth we had met 20 years before.  According to the documentary, Israeli students, as well as visiting American students, are subject to racist and militaristic indoctrination that teaches them to fear, loathe, and dehumanize Palestinians. On both sides, it is hatred of “the other” that underlies and inflames the conflict.

The Israeli policy of demolishing homes had led to Rachel’s death, and so in 2003 we met with Angela Godfrey-Goldstein from the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition, where we learned how the IDF was, in violation of international law, demolishing Palestinian homes, their means of income and their cultural institutions, and replacing them with Jewish settlements. One of the most surprising and horrifying parts of our 2023 trip was seeing the frequent IDF checkpoints on roadways where Palestinians were stopped, searched, delayed, and humiliated while waiting for hours in the hot sun or rain. As a result, travel that should take minutes takes hours and even days, separating people from their jobs, schools, friends, and family. An Israeli peace group, Bat Shalom, told us that over sixty Palestinian newborns, unable to get to the hospital, had died at checkpoints. In contrast, modern highways connecting Jewish settlements were “Jews Only,” which reminded me of the “Whites Only” drinking fountains I had been shocked to see as a young girl visiting the US South.

Lately, I have been hearing the term “settler colonialism” in relation to the war in Gaza. I was not exactly sure what it meant, so I checked back in with the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition and read an October 2023 article by its founder, American Israeli Jeff Halper. In reading this article, I came to understand why Rachel and many thousands of Palestinians have been tragically killed. As I write, the rightwing leadership in Israel is publicly advocating for the permanent displacement of Palestinians and the building of Jewish settlements in Gaza. For me, Halper’s description of “settler colonialism” rings true to what I have witnessed in Palestine, and to what happened in the founding of the US. I want to believe that, lost in our own shameful colonial past, there may have been non-violent settlers in the US who sought peaceful coexistence with the Native Americans, and stood up courageously as Rachel did. Halper wrote:

“Settler colonialism is a deliberate, structured, and prolonged process in which one people not only takes over the country of another – violently by necessity – but seeks to transform it from what it was at the time of invasion into an entirely new entity, a new country reflecting the settlers’ presence, entirely erasing the natives’ presence and history. It is not a “conflict”. There are no “sides”, no symmetry of “violence”. The settler project is a unilateral one which must deny the indigenous population’s existence as a people endowed with rights to their land and identities if it is to claim the country exclusively for itself. Following from that is the need to move the indigenous off their land, killing them, driving them out of the country or confining them to tiny enclaves, so as to settle the land with the settler population itself. Then comes the process of erasure: erasing the physical and cultural presence of the indigenous from the landscape and replacing it with the settlers’ own manufactured history, heritage, national narrative and national identity. After a prolonged process of violent displacement and the pacification of those amongst the indigenous who remain, the settler project concludes quietly. Now the world is presented with a normal, peace-loving, democratic country remade in the settler’s image, and the settler colony fosters a popular perception that it is the “real” country. (Try buying a plane ticket to Palestine.) The process of normalization is complete; any further resistance on the part of the native population is criminalized as “terrorism” and, as such, is effectively de-politicized and delegitimized.”

On February 15, 2003, a month before Rachel Corrie’s death, 25 million people in over 100 countries around the world took to the streets saying NO to George Bush’s war in Iraq. It was the largest peace demonstration in world history. On February 28, Rachel wrote:

“I look forward to more moments like February 15 when civil society wakes up en masse and issues massive and resonant evidence of its conscience, it’s unwillingness to be repressed, and it’s compassion for the suffering of others.”

Twenty years later, as Rachel Corrie hoped, global consciousness is growing. Millions of people around the world are holding massive demonstrations — in London, Tokyo, New York, Rome, Athens, Sydney, Jakarta, Istanbul, Bangkok, Sao Paulo, Bucharest, Paris, Berlin, and Johannesburg — calling for a ceasefire and the liberation of the long oppressed Palestinian people. Many of these protests are organized by Jewish organizations who stand squarely for peace and human rights for all. Israelis, in partnership with Palestinians, have formed groups such as A Land for All and Standing Together and are working on plans for a future of peaceful coexistence in two neighboring states. The current crisis makes them even more determined to achieve their vision.

Having gained the world’s attention, could the tragedy of Gaza possibly provide the opportunity for a turning point in human civilization when the people of the world give birth to a new world order built on the idea that we are all one, with no them and us, and that war is obsolete? On February 28, just a couple weeks before her death, Rachel wrote to her mother:

“I think I could see a Palestinian state or a democratic Israeli-Palestinian state within my lifetime. I think freedom for Palestine could be an incredible source of hope to people struggling all over the world. I think it could also be an incredible inspiration to Arab people in the Middle East, who are struggling under undemocratic regimes, which the US supports. I look forward to increasing numbers of middle-class privileged people like you and me becoming aware of these structures that support our privilege and beginning to support the work of those who aren’t privileged to dismantle those structures.”

In 1995, White Dog Café began holding a Freedom Seder, a celebration of the exodus of the Jewish people from bondage as slaves in Egypt, which we continued every Passover, until I retired and sold the business in 2009.  A rabbi would preside, and each year we created a booklet, a Haggadah, to accompany the service, tell the story, and share the ‘ten plagues’ of our time. Often a member of another community that was fighting oppression would also speak. Our purpose was to spread the Jewish message of freedom from oppression for all people — that all people are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

I can understand that for many Jews the actions of the Israeli government are at odds with what they believe are at the heart of Judaism and its wise teachings —hence the protest signs, “Not in My Name.” Young American Jews, who have organized to reclaim Judaism in the spirit of seeing God in all people, embody Rachel’s dream for peace and justice:

Jewish Voice for Peace says, “We imagine Jewish Israelis joining Palestinians to build a just society, rooted in equality rather than supremacy, dignity rather than domination, democracy rather than dispossession. A society where every life is precious.”

If Not Now, a movement led by young Jews, says, “We call on our community to imagine a future beyond “us or them” — where Israelis and Palestinians are both safe: A future of equality, where everyone from the river to the sea has individual and collective rights to safety, the resources they need to live, freedom of movement, and political representation.” 

My hope for peace in Israel and Palestine, and for a world where everyone has a place at the table, lies largely with these young people who stand as beacons of light in the darkness. As was Rachel, they are courageous to oppose racism and militarism and call for Israel to be a model of coexistence that the world so desperately needs.  If not now, when?

 

Judy and the delegation of American women joined 200 Palestinian women and 250 Israeli women on September 6, 2003, in Talkarem, West Bank, to protest the Apartheid Wall that separated the villagers from 7000 acres of their agricultural land and 26 wells. The Israeli women brought school supplies to the gate as a gift to the Palestinians. The IDF teargassed those of us on the Palestinian side of the wall. Photographer unknown.
Rafah, Gaza, 2003.  Photo by J.Wicks

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About Judy Wicks

Judy Wicks, Cofounder and Board Chair Emeritus of Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), is an international leader and speaker in the local-living-economies movement. She is former owner of the White Dog Café, acclaimed for its socially and environmentally responsible business practices. She is also the founder of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia and Fair Food, both incubated at the White Dog Café Foundation and supported by the restaurant’s profits. For more, visit www.judywicks.com.

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Building Unified Social Movements

Article Solidarity

Building Unified Social Movements


featured image | FAOAmericas, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED

“I began to realise that mobilising workers was not enough—there is a big difference between being mobilised and being organised.” – Moses Mayekiso, first Secretary General of the National Union of South Africa (NUMSA) and elected MP in the first South African democratic elections of 1994

Social movements and progressives worldwide today can learn a great deal from what Moses Mayekiso said in 1984 when, in a short period of time, 25,000 South African metalworkers had come out on strike during the apartheid period, which, together with others, he followed through by building the NUMSA as an enduring national organization.1 Organizing such a show of resistance landed him and four others in jail for treason under South Africa’s then draconian Internal Security Act. In the current polycrisis, we are seeing our democratic space increasingly narrowing, globally.

Unity is important because we know that we are weak. Many new movements in both the Global North and South rightly understand the need for equity and solidarity. However, many do not see that to achieve our desired outcomes, tilting the balance of forces in society on both national and global levels is essential. The resolution of conflicts will be greatly determined by wider power structures within the world economy and systems. For that, we need unity, and there is still a lot of work to be done. How do we address the global imperative of building a strong and enduring global resistance against very powerful forces that are wrecking our lives and the planet and at the same time constituting another world if we are divided?

On the positive side, climate change is the galvanizing issue of this generation and rightly so, as we have a generational and existential crisis. This is important, as we have had a very polarized atmosphere in recent years as a result of Trump’s presidency in the US and the Brexit referendum in the UK, which let incompetent, cruel, and racist people in and outside governments out of the woodwork. Russia’s occupation of Ukraine paralyzed and seriously divided the Left and progressive social movements globally to a certain extent, too, as many failed to respond to a complicated and nuanced situation wherein it is important to criticize Putin’s imperialist move and at the same time denounce the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

On the other hand, however, successive global conferences repeatedly ask the same questions, and the answers continue to elude us: Why is it very difficult to build global social movement unity and go beyond issue-based campaigns? We have a good analysis of the problems, so why can’t we simply go behind common positions to solve our problems? Is the NGOization of our movements to blame for this, with too many competing issues?

Building Unity and Going Beyond Campaigns

There is now a global consensus that climate change is a global problem requiring global solutions based on justice and solidarity. After battling climate change denialism funded by big corporate money for decades, many are now seeing climate change as the biggest challenge of our time and demanding that governments address the climate emergency. There is also an increasing sense of frustration that the UN and our governments are not getting us any closer to reducing climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

In all decision-making summits, wealthier nations are successful at producing inaction, obstructions, and delay tactics to avoid actions commensurate to the challenges we are facing. Transnational corporations and their lobbyists are increasingly writing the rules and are operating with impunity as all important needs for living (food, energy, transportation, health care and medicines, technology and information) are more and more controlled by monopolists, leading to speculation and inflation.2

We criticize “new forms of colonialism,” where countries in the Global South are forced to invest in fossil fuel projects to repay debts. There is a technology gap due to domination of the field by Global North countries, which needs to be addressed for technologies to be accessible to developing countries. We are facing nuclear annihilation with increasing possibility of a third world war. These easily overwhelm the victories won by social movements and campaigners.

To build unities strong enough to build alternatives, let us identify social movement strengths and areas for improvement:

1. Many movements and campaigners are good at analysis or at diagnosing problems and who benefits in the crises, but are losing sight of geopolitics and could not broaden beyond mobilizing around specific sectors or issues.

2. Some movements understand that there are conflicts, with two fundamental dimensions:

(a) The danger of inter-state conflicts and rising tensions: Rich countries that continue to dominate economically are also continuing to prevent the poor countries from meeting their aspirations to live well and prosper.

(b) Inter-class conflicts: In these conflicts, the interests and aspirations of the poor majority, the marginalized, women, etc., are not in the top priority.

Some see class without geopolitics while others see geopolitics without class tensions.

Broadening unity and outreach

At the time of this writing, the Yasunidos just won the referendum in Ecuador to stop oil extraction in the Yasuni National Park in the Amazon by 59% to 41%.3 The people of Ecuador also voted to stop mining in Choco Andino. These are two significant and historic votes to protect the environment not just for Ecuador but also for the planet. The indigenous communities in Ecuador have tirelessly campaigned for more than a decade, and that effort built the widespread support across the country that delivered the vote. It makes Ecuador a global trailblazer, (ed: in sharp contrast to the escalating violence currently plaguing the country). In recent history, South Africans also put, through a constitutional referendum that there is a right to say “no” to destructive extractivism and other big (mal)development projects.

The key elements from these experiences are tireless campaigning, educating, and organizing to build unity. Influencers from social movements and progressive groups may get thousands of likes and tweets, some with tens of thousands of followers even. However, this alone does not ensure the hard, daily demand of organizing. In the end, votes are still won by organized people and coalitions that go to polls despite threats to their lives to get good leaders or their issues in key policies. Let us remember that the UN and multilateralism are in a bad shape now because of the leaders that get elected in the North and South.

There is also a specific sector that remains invisible to many movements, especially in the Global North—migrants. Most conferences and peoples’ assemblies still exclude organized migrants by design, neglect, or simple lack of connection. We cannot talk about social justice without taking care that we go beyond “citizens” and include non-citizens, namely migrants. Migrants are not just concerned about migrant issues. After all, they were squeezed out from their place of origin by the current global economic order, war, persecutions, and increasingly climate change.


1. Terry Bell, Comrade Moss: A Political Journey (London: National Union of Journalist Book Branch, 1990).
2. Niall Glynn and Nick Dearden, Monopoly Capitalism: What Is It and How Do We Fight It? (London: Global Justice Now, 2023), https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/resource/monopoly-capitalism-what-is-it-and-how-do-we-fight-it/.
3. See the election results at https://elecciones2023.cne.gob.ec/Consultas/yasuni.

 

“Beyong Campaigns,” is a contribution to GTI Forum “What’s Next for the Global Movement?,” Great Transition Initiative (January 2024), https://greattransition.org/gti-forum/global-movement-whats-next-eisler.

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About Dorothy Guerrero

Dorothy Guerrero is Head of Policy and Advocacy at Global Justice Now, an organization that mobilizes people in the UK to act in solidarity with social justice groups in the Global South. Prior to Global Justice Now, she worked at the Transnational Institute, African Women Unite Against Destructive Resource Extraction, Focus on the Global South, Asienhaus, and the Institute for Popular Democracy in Manila, focusing on corporate accountability, climate justice, migration, and trade and investment. She holds an MA in Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.

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How Well Do 'Elites' Understand the Metacrisis?

Article Values

How Well Do ‘Elites’ Understand the Metacrisis?


featured image | by Ingo Joseph, pexels.com

Excerpted with permission from a presentation given as part of Sterling College’s Surviving the Future: The Deeper Dive with Shaun Chamberlin. And with appreciation for Nate Hagen’s The Great Simplification podcast and animation series.

How well do “elites” understand the metacrisis?

I have lots of feelings on that. I think it’s a mixed bag. I think if you’re an elite, you have access to very good information usually. And I think almost all of the elites expect some event is coming this decade and they’re preparing for it. Anyone right of center probably doesn’t care about climate change or ocean temperatures or biodiversity as much as many of us, but they’re looking at geopolitics, they’re looking at central banks and things like that.

That said, I’ve talked to a lot politicians and wealthy people, and a lot of them do get it. They don’t voice it out in public – the military, the US and the elite billionaires and power brokers of the world – maybe there’s a thousand or two thousand of them. I think we’re really in trouble unless we can change the consciousness of that group because that group is going to continue to funnel more and more money into the super organism. They’re going to own their own AIs. There’s going to be a hundred AIs around the world that are uber powerful and just (not so metaphorically) eat the Earth. 

And I’m all for building local resilience and having eco-Jedi all around the Earth and protecting other creatures and ecosystems and living more locally, but I think I do increasingly believe that there needs to be interventions and a change of consciousness and awareness. 

And it is true. I don’t know how hard it would be actually, other than a lot of those people are dark triad personality disorders. But I actually think there’s no saving yourself. We’re going to have to save the whole. I mean, living in a bunker, what kind of life is that? So, I’m actually going to try to spend more time intervening with those groups. I’m going to Utah in a few weeks with a big group of those people. And I’m going to say that trying to save yourself in a bunker is the wrong strategy. We need to bend and not break our society. Otherwise, it would be bad. Kind of like crossing the streams in the Ghostbuster movie.

I think we are approaching a period where speaking truth to power is going to become more dangerous in our spheres in the United States. I mean already here in India, in Ecuador, in China, in other places, environmental activists get assassinated. And especially with AI, we’re not going to know what’s true and what’s not. And I feel strongly that we have to speak the truth as we know it. But I also feel like there’s going to be a left-leaning and a right-leaning authoritarian bent. So, talking this way is going to be increasingly more risky than it has been. 

I’m in a town called Auroville in India, and Auroville was the OG of intentional communities. There’s 3,500 people here, and there’s locally grown restaurants and everyone bikes around. It’s not a utopia, but every morning you hear all the temples and people are singing and they get together and they chant, and then they cook, and it’s a really spiritual place. They do not use much energy at all. So it can be done. 

I have a small staff and one of the things I’m doing here in India is strategizing on how we could help the world in the best way, given a two to seven year timeframe. And I think community is the best answer and not for the reasons that I had thought. When you say, ‘Oh, we need more community,’ it’s like, okay, we’re going to grow food together and have local systems and share and you can use my lawnmower. And I think all those things are good. 

Being here, I’ve actually learned something quite different. In the morning at 6:00 AM we’re chanting. And I learned that these Indian chants were designed by ancient people of wisdom before the Hindu religion was even evolved to resonate in our bodies and create this feeling of wellbeing. And so, the community here, we cook together, we chant together, we have these conversations and my body feels healthy and so much better than the frenetic individualistic life that I have in the United States.

Auroville Bonfire, Wikimedia Commons

So to me, the importance of community is how it makes my physical being more aligned with my ancestors’ physical being  – and then all the sharing, like the lawnmower. And I’ll help you, you help me. That’s all an added benefit. But I actually think building community like that is super important. I would like to maybe create some sort of a video series that could be viewed in Brighton UK or Topeka, Kansas or somewhere in China that people could get a rough hologram of what we face. But then there would be a way that they could converse and interact and develop community all around the world. Those people that are ahead of the curve on that can act as rocks in the river as the water starts rushing, they’re big enough, solid enough rocks that they don’t tumble down.

And so, somehow to build a Great Simplification community, decentralized around the world, that every community would have different answers and different contexts, but there would be kind of a scout team that has the real human predicament in their mind and is working on all these issues.

So, long story short, start having conversations in your community, especially with people that you might not normally agree with. Because ultimately most of us care about the same things. And at the margins we’re disagreeing about everything. But in our towns we agree on healthy food and safe schools for our kids and all those things. And the world is about to become much bigger again. So I think community is the thing that I would promote the most.

I ultimately think society is not going to change en masse ahead of what’s coming, and we’re going to need pilots – as individuals and as communities. Some will fail and some will be pretty good and some will be amazing that other people want to follow. And so, one of the reasons I’m here in India is, we truly are in this carbon trap. And because we’re social primates, we look to others for confirmation on what to do. And we need more people being comfortable not wearing fancy clothes and not taking trips and doing things locally and singing and growing food instead of having some speedboat they bought. And I think some of that is happening naturally because young people don’t have as much money and don’t need as much. But can you imagine if what we consider for status changes from real estate, shopping centers, and bling to kindness and ecosystem protection and local community?

The social discourse is what I worry the most about. For a quarter of the people, climate change is a socialist hoax and it’s ridiculous. “The earth has warmed and it will again”.  And another quarter is like, “Oh my God, you’re so naive. It’s much worse than that. We’re all going to die by 2035”.

I think the carbon pulse has skewed our biological template towards being individualistic and competitive and that is not our destiny or our genome. I think a lot of the people who are CEOs and national politicians do have a preponderance of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. And so it’s not a human behavior thing, it’s the way that our culture has trained our human behavior. I’m most interested in the levers and how we might be able to shift them or at least shift them in certain pockets around the world.

Coping

How do we cope with this story? And I think the first things we have to expand in our quiver of arrows are really basic human things like music and love and laughter and hanging out with your dogs and walking in nature. Collapse is a movie that we’re kind of compelled to watch, but don’t watch it all the time and make sure and live your life in the best way that humans can experience things. Another is that this is a sad story for me. I grieved long ago for the gap between what culture is telling us in the media and the movies and the politicians, and what the reality that I perceive is. And being sad for that loss is perfectly normal.

You should not feel any guilt or shame about feeling grief about this. If you felt unconcerned or unmoved or this was funny or something, then I would be worried. So feeling a little grief is appropriate and I think reflecting on that as an individual and also talking about it with another person or a group of people is really helpful. Talking about this stuff with another human being, even if you don’t come up with answers, reduces your cortisol, which is a stress hormone. It boosts your helper T cells, which boosts your immune system. So I encourage that. Also, keep perspective – we’re near the top of the carbon pulse. If I told you that you would be left alone on an ice flow and it was negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit and windy outside, you would think that’s a death sentence. But to an Inuit, that’s like another normal day.

I look at these people in India who have virtually nothing and sleep on the floor in these tiny little mats and eat rice and there’s bugs everywhere and they’re still smiling and laughing. We have to keep perspective of where we are. I’m pretty sure that things in the world are going to be worse than the average person expects, but I’m also pretty confident that they’re going to be better than a lot of us fear. So keeping perspective is important. Also keep in mind gratitude every day, be thankful for the amazing things that we have access to- not take it for granted – and really appreciate it.

One skill that I’ve learned over time is to compartmentalize different aspects of this. I’m focused on climate change and learning about what’s going on. I’m uber focused for six hours or four hours on that, but then I don’t dwell on it for the rest of the week because if I did, it would disrupt living my life and other things. 

Another recommendation is to start being more comfortable carrying dissonance, carrying uncertainty. When the average human hears this story, they respond with polar extremes of “this guy’s an idiot – humans will find something we always have” or “man we’re screwed. It’s Mad Max, there’s nothing we can do.” And both of those extremes have one thing in common, which is that it obviates the need for any personal response or action. But the reality is, most likely the future will be in the middle. So we need to be more comfortable with uncertainty and navigate the pathway between fantasy and doom. There are two kinds of goals we can set. There’s conditional goals that depend on who’s president or how much money I make in my job. There’s also unconditional goals, which is something that only you have control over, like planting a garden or learning a skill. And when you accomplish an unconditional goal, you get very large psychic benefits from doing that.

Simplify

Simplify first and beat the rush. It’s a little bit hypocritical for me to include this when I have a 10 foot by 20 foot storage shed, which I pay $125 a month for the last seven years. And I haven’t gone through and jettisoned the items that were the ghost of dopamine past in my life. But I’m trying. And I think for many of us in the western world to have so many material things is not making us happy or healthy. Simplify and use less energy and resources – not to save the planet –  but to be more personally flexible and resilient as future events come is good advice. 

Forest bathing. There is the Japanese term, shirin-yoku, ‘absorbing the forest atmosphere’. Spending time in nature gives you huge physical and psychic benefits. And I do that in India and I do it back in Wisconsin as well. 

Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash

Purpose

A lot of people don’t have a feeling strongly of purpose. Just try In the next month or so, give yourself a 24-hour vacation from other people and your phone in a place you find meaningful and ask yourself, “who do I wish to be in this life and why do I have that wish and how might I make that real”? And the answers aren’t for anyone else but yourself. And you might be happy that you had that discussion with yourself. Try and avoid the consensus trance. We have so many confident and charismatic people saying “this is the answer, this is the way things are going to be”. Follow your own instinct.

Do research if you need to but be confident in your own inner judgment. An inner compass sharpens the sword over time. And the sword in this case is you. 

Finally, some suggestions for engaging with the broader challenges of our world. Finding a tribe of like-minded humans is really, really potent. And you could find different tribes that have different objectives. One might be those that share your values and your ethics. Or you might find a group of people that you really love and cook together and listen to music together. 

And I think if you’re confused or unclear of your direction, you don’t have to know everything now. Keep learning and assimilate the human predicament and just take a little step in a direction that feels right to you. I think we get a lot of advice and sometimes scolding, especially from the environmental movement, that we shouldn’t eat meat, we shouldn’t drive a car, we need to have solar panels. We should never fly. And all that is probably good personal hygiene for the times we’re alive. But I would instead encourage you all to maximize your impact instead of minimizing your impact. I would much rather have a larger impact on the world and our future than one 8-billionth of a smaller impact on my footprint.

We have many people in our society, architects and analysts and engineers that are planning the future. I actually think it’s backward. We’re going to need artists and poets and warriors and mystics to envision and move towards the future that we want and then get the architects and engineers involved to construct that. So don’t be afraid to be a warrior and a mystic in the spheres that you care about. 

I’ll leave with this quote by Ilya Prigogine:

“When a system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence have the capacity to shift the entire system.” 

Perhaps systems-aware, Surviving the Future students could be such islands of coherence. Thank you all. That’s all I have.

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About Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens is the Director of The Institute for the Study of Energy & Our Future (ISEOF) an organization focused on educating and preparing society for the coming cultural transition. Allied with leading ecologists, energy experts, politicians and systems thinkers ISEOF assembles road-maps and off-ramps for how human societies can adapt to lower throughput lifestyles.

Nate holds a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont.  He teaches an Honors course, Reality 101, at the University of Minnesota.

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Openness and Strength

Introduction Editorial

Openness and Strength


featured image | Thomas from Pixabay

This Editorial precedes Volume 24, Issue 1 of Kosmos Journal. Scroll down to access featured content

Dear Kosmos Reader,

Welcome to the Year of the Wood Dragon, the start of a new 20-year cycle according to Feng Shui principles, dominated by the element – fire. Who knows for certain what the world will be like in 2044? Many are preparing for profound change. Yet, change is not dictated by outside forces alone, acting upon us. We too have the capacity to be agents of transformation. The Wood Dragon symbolizes this powerful potential energy, tempered by balance and inner growth. Imagine a sacred oak tree that grounds itself, rooted firmly and growing tall, reaching for the sky. This is the invitation of the Wood Dragon.

When we are grounded in reality and understanding, we can be more open to the winds of change, outer and inner. Openness is a quality we are able to cultivate when we release fear. That the coming year is dominated by the element of fire underscores the need for courage. In this edition of Kosmos, Judy Wicks speaks openly of her feelings for Gaza and the acts of courage she has witnessed there; Riane Eisler talks about transcending inherited narratives of domination; and Robert Cobbold reminds us about our left-brain bias as a species, the side of the brain associated with rigid thinking, and how this bias is inhibiting our action to protect and restore our planetary home. 

In How Well Do ‘Elites’ Understand the Metacrisis? Nat Hagens warns, “we are approaching a period where speaking truth to power is going to become more dangerous.” He advocates for a spiritual intimacy that generates the energy of openness, harmony and love. Sole survival is not the answer. Soul survival is. How we treat ‘others’ through the coming storm mirrors the quality of our hearts. 

From the recent Great Transition Initiative Forum “What’s Next for the Global Movement?”, we present a trio of essays. Jeremy Lent’s call for a new Eco-Civilization Framework embodies the openness to change so needed in these times:

It incorporates Indigenous concepts such as buen vivir and ubuntu, insights from ecological economics and commons theory, and principles from the permaculture, Transition Towns, degrowth, and agroecology movements. It reflects spiritual underpinnings of Deep Ecology, engaged Buddhism, and universalist Christian theology. It embraces ideas from the anti-globalization, eco-socialist, social justice, LGBTQ rights, and Rights of Nature movements, among others. Ultimately, it has the potential to catalyze globally dispersed “blessed unrest” into a coherent, benevolent force for societal transformation.

If it is true that 2024 marks the beginning of an end, let it be the cycle of domination and greed that finally loosens its hold. In preparing for the next cycle, may we open our hearts and minds to the inflowing energy of awareness and compassion, standing like oak trees in sacred togetherness, courageous and strong.

R.Fabian, for Kosmos

About Kosmos

Kosmos is the leading global journal for transformation in harmony with all Life.

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Left-Brain Bias is Harming Our Planet

Article Living Earth

Left-Brain Bias is Harming Our Planet


featured image | Leon Di Benedetto, pexels 

 

A recent book called The Matter With Things by Dr. Ian McGilchrist points out the lateralisation of the human brain, and the ways in which left brain-bias is blinding and deluding our civilisation. It’s a staggering intellectual achievement, with an extraordinary breadth of knowledge and references which entirely justifies the 1500 or so pages across two enormous volumes.

He explores how this left-brain bias confuses our understanding of science, philosophy, and religion, and gets right to the root of why Western civilisation seems to be so confused about the nature of reality and our relationship to it. But I’d like to explore how this same bias seems to be clouding our thinking when it comes to climate action, and carbon markets in particular.

Although there’s no sharp distinction, and both hemispheres are involved to some degree in almost everything we do, the two hemispheres of the brain attend to reality in different ways. This split is found across the animal kingdom. He gives the example of a pigeon pecking corn on the ground, and the two very different kinds of awareness it needs to operate simultaneously in order to do so.

On the first hand it needs to be able to see the corn – it needs to be able to isolate it among the dust and pebbles, and then to pick it up with its beak. In other words it needs an awareness with a narrow beam of focus, capable of separating and classifying things, all in the service of operationalising its surroundings for its benefit. But at the same time it also needs to be on the lookout for predators. This kind of awareness needs to be global, general and capable of understanding and responding to something completely new and unforeseen.

Generally speaking the first kind of awareness is best carried out by the left brain, and the second kind of awareness is best carried out by the right brain – so much so that if you cover the pidgeon’s right eye (which connects to the left brain) it will still try and use its blind right eye to look at the corn.

Although the left brain is very good at breaking things into static parts and manipulating these parts for our own ends, it tends to jump to conclusions with unwarranted levels of certainty while being blithely unaware of its blindspots and limitations. The right brain on the other hand has a far better grip on reality as a whole, is much more capable of understanding flow and motion and is more comfortable with uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity. The two hemispheres work best when the left brain works in service of the right (hence the title of his first book The Master and His Emissary) – operating in the world and then feeding information to the right brain in order to complete the picture.

McGilchrist goes on to point out that Western civilisation seems to have a (potentially terminal) over-reliance on the left brain, i.e. linear rational thinking, while the gifts of the right brain (e.g. intuition, nuance, complexity) seem to be increasingly marginalized and under-appreciated. I believe this bias is showing up in climate action and inhibiting our ability to protect and restore our planet to health.

As anyone working within corporate climate action will attest, companies demand unreasonable levels of certainty and objectivity across a series of metrics before they will unleash their ESG or marketing budgets. Companies want to know the amount of plastic that has been gathered to the gram, the exact number of trees planted, and precisely how much CO2 this will absorb over time. Although I can understand why they want this certainty, all that time and energy spent gathering data is time and energy that could have been spent on direct impact.

The situation is much the same in the nonprofit world. With a few commendable exceptions, applying for a grant from a charitable foundation generally involves exhaustive form filling, data gathering and reporting. Is anyone calculating the amount of time being wasted by NGOs and charities in unsuccessful grant applications? If 500 non-profits spend a combined 5,000 hours (let’s say £100,000 in salaries for ease) applying for a £10,000 grant and only 10 of them win, then any positive effect of the grant itself has just been wiped out in wasted salaries – and that’s before any time has been spent actually delivering anything.

Left-brain bias also appears to be responsible for the malfunctioning of carbon markets. As I have written elsewhere, our binary (a feature of the left brain) approach to additionality (asserting that climate finance is the difference between a tonne of carbon remaining sequestered or not) appears to be the source of a great many perverse incentives, from exaggerating or even manufacturing deforestation threats, to disqualifying the communities who have managed their forests responsibly. But there’s simply no need to force something so complex into a binary straight jacket. When dealing with deforestation avoidance, additionality is not black or white, nor can it ever be entirely certain because we are being asked to predict deforestation levels in the future. That’s why Native assesses the additionality of each project on a sliding scale from 0% to 100%, and fully owns that these predictions are just that – predictions, and therefore will have a margin of error.

Even in trying to measure the amount of carbon stored in existing forests there will always be a degree of uncertainty, and our many attempts at eradicating uncertainty are fool’s gold. Instead of pretending that we can know for sure we could be far more effective if we simply embraced a degree of ambiguity – a feature of the right brain. As Albert Einstein wrote, “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

Taking a step back – the entire enterprise of reducing a rainforest or mangroves to so many tonnes of carbon is left brain bias par excellence. The complex web of symbiotic human and non-human life co-evolving from moment to moment in an unbroken chain which goes back hundreds of millions of years is reduced to a single metric – CO2. All so that companies can call themselves “carbon neutral” – another typically left-brain concept.

Behind all this is the assumption that CO2 is the most important part about a rainforest, and that if we can achieve carbon neutrality then all our climate woes will be solved. In reality the natural world, and planetary health – and it’s strange that this needs to be said – is far more complex than that.

(Editor’s note: The author is CEO of Native  – ‘the next evolution of carbon and biodiversity credits’. They provide a methodology, a map and a marketplace so that individuals and companies can protect and restore 3x3m squares of the world’s most precious and biodiverse ecosystems.)

Native uses three core principles on a sliding scale from 0% to 100% to assess and price ecosystems – Additionality, Biodiversity and Community. While this is an improvement, we are cognisant – and vocal – that no amount of metrics can capture the value of rainforests or mangroves or coral reefs. Metrics can be useful, but we must not confuse the metric for the thing we actually care about, the number for the value which it merely approximates.

As Jerry Muller writes in The Tyranny of Metrics, “Quantification is seductive, because it organizes and simplifies knowledge. It offers numerical information that allows for easy comparison among people and institutions. But that simplification may lead to distortion, since making things comparable often means that they are stripped of their context, history, and meaning.”

In the case of the 60,000 hectares of rainforest which Native is bringing to market in the Solomon Islands, there are 13 different language groups within the project, and each tribe has its own oral traditions and intact cultural practices. The forest is – so far – largely untouched. Local belief systems say that the forest is where their ancestors’ souls go when they die. The forest their afterlife. You can’t reduce that kind of sacredness to a number, and we should not try to.

I believe the hemisphere split is the root of the difference between a Western worldview and an Indigenous worldview. Because, evidence suggests that while the West seems to have a strong left-brain bias, indigenous cultures seem to have a more right-brain view of the world. A view which is sensitive to flow, intuition, and which sees the whole rather than the parts. All these things are blind to the left hemisphere.

As Marciely Ayap Tupari, secretary coordinator of Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) explains, “companies often end up coming to us with a proposal, wanting to finance, wanting to supposedly protect nature, but in their own way. When we explain our vision as indigenous peoples, many do not understand.”

This is the great challenge when trying to unleash private capital for the protection of natural assets under the stewardship of indigenous communities. Somehow we have to find a way of translating between an indigenous view of the forest as a living whole to a Western corporate view of the rainforest as a series of metrics in a spreadsheet, all of which serve the one metric which rules them all; companies’ bottom line.

We shouldn’t expect anything else. Companies are programmed to do one thing, and that’s maximize shareholder value. Rather than hoping for shareholder capitalism to change its stripes, we prefer to make use of this fact to unlock marketing budgets for the planet. Study after study shows that companies who are more sustainable and ethical can hire employees more cheaply, can raise investment more easily and can charge a higher price for their products and services. 

But in order to achieve this, companies need a way to signal the impact they are having, and for that companies need metrics. It’s important Native provides these metrics without either losing companies along the way – in which case we won’t achieve anything at scale – and yet also without doing violence to indigenous communities’ holistic view of nature.

Native bridges this gap so that forward thinking companies can be a force for good while meeting their objectives, and indigenous communities have the resources they need to continue protecting the world’s most precious and biodiverse ecosystems, in their own way. As the market for nature-based solutions matures to accommodate a right-brain perspective, those companies who are brave enough to try something different will be way ahead of the curve.

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About Robert Cobbold

Robert Cobbold is a philosopher, educator, and public speaker who has delivered transformative educational experiences to over 40,000 young people worldwide. He is founding editor of Conscious Evolution, an online publication and podcast aiming to disseminate the evolutionary worldview, and kindle an evolutionary transition, and CEO of Native.   

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Transcending Inherited Narratives

Article Nonduality

Transcending Inherited Narratives


We are all working for the same goal: a more equitable and peaceful world where caring for people and nature is a top social and economic priority. But we are doing this in separate silos and with thinking and institutions that cannot solve the problems they created. On top of this, we face a backward push worldwide to authoritarianism, inequality, violence, and unsustainability.

If we closely look at this backward push, we see that it extends well beyond issues like climate change, race, immigration, or politics that most progressive people and organizations spotlight. Regressives put enormous time and energy into “social issues” that focus on family, gender, and sexuality to promote domination. They use tactics ranging from the deregulation of harmful business activities to idealizing strongman political rule to inciting violence and abuse against racial and ethnic outgroups. But their long-term strategy is to push us back to a time when domination in our foundational family, gender, and sexual relations was the accepted norm.

To understand this unified regressive agenda, let us consider the following:

(1) Neuroscience shows that children’s early observations and experiences directly affect the structure of our brains, and with this, how we think, feel, and act—including how we vote.

(2) These observations and experiences are very different depending on the degree that our early environments orient to the partnership or domination end of the partnership-domination social scale.

For those not familiar with the partnership-domination scale, here is a quick summary of what decades of research reveal about the unified regressive frame—and how we can more effectively move forward together.

Foundational Dynamics

(1) By transcending inherited social categories like religious/secular, right/left, East/West, North/South, capitalist/socialist, we see that a common goal of the consolidated regressive agenda is to restore authoritarian, top-down, punitive, in-group versus out-group systems in both the family and the state or tribe.

We find this kind of family system in religious domination-oriented cultures like the Taliban and fundamentalist Iran as well as in secular and Western ones like Orban’s Hungary, the rightist Nazis, and the leftist USSR. Why? Because neuroscience shows that our politics and economics are largely a function of our worldview and values, which are largely the result of children’s genes’ interaction with their cultural environment. And all this is primarily transmitted through families during our most formative years.

I want to add that there are hierarchies in partnership systems, starting in families, but they are empowering hierarchies of actualization rather than disempowering hierarchies of domination. Research shows that children who experience fear, pain, and anger in punitive, authoritarian, male-dominated families tend to go into denial, deflecting these feelings to different races, gays/trans people, and other outgroups they are taught are inferior, dangerous, or malevolent. This denial becomes habitual, as in denial of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and election results.

Fortunately, not everyone raised in these kinds of families takes this route, but many people do—maintaining and even demanding punitive domination systems in times like ours of massive technological, economic, and environmental change.

(2) Regressives internalize rigid gender stereotypes, despite the evidence that both women and men are capable of caregiving (labeled “feminine” in domination thinking). They do not recognize that gender fluidity is part of human nature nor that there is massive evidence that prehistoric human cultures oriented more toward partnership than domination.

Again, we clearly see this focus on rigid gendered rankings in otherwise different domination regimes. Western secular regimes like Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s USSR, Trump’s MAGA movement, and Putin’s Russia all see men and “masculinity” as superior to women and “femininity.” This subjugation of women and the “feminine” is even more overt in religious Iran and the Taliban, where it is a top government priority, as are binary gender stereotypes and the arrest and killing of anyone who deviates, like women who refuse to wear the chador and people in the LGBTQ+ community.

All of us to varying degrees were taught to rank men and “masculinity” over women and “femininity.” Our religions teach that women are inferior and must be controlled by men, starting with Eve. The university canon has had little or nothing about girls and women, and even the new women’s, men’s, and gender studies are marginalized.

We have not been taught that the ranking of men over women, rigid gender stereotypes that allow no deviation, and ranking “masculinity” over “femininity” is a bulwark of domination systems. But how gender roles and relations are structured is not “just a women’s issue”: it is a central social and economic organizing principle.

(3) The economic operating systems we have inherited have been shaped by gendered values in which the economic contributions of the “women’s work” of caring for people from birth as well as caring for our natural life support systems are devalued.

Both Smith and Marx (fathers of capitalism and socialism) perpetuated these values. For them, the work of caring for children, the elderly, and the sick and keeping a clean and healthy home environment was to be performed for free by a woman in a male-controlled household. There is nothing in their theories about caring for our natural life support systems.

Even metrics like GDP and GNP perpetuate this distorted system of values. These metrics include activities in the market (once an exclusive male preserve) that harm and even take life, like selling cigarettes and fast foods and the medical and funeral costs they result in. But they do not include the “women’s” work of caring for people outside the market (a market where child care workers generally earn less than dog walkers). Nor do they include caring for our natural environment, so trees (which provide us oxygen) are only included when they are dead, as logs.

(4) To support domination systems, we also inherited false narratives, which are re-taught by regressives. Notable are those about an inherently flawed human nature like “original sin” and “selfish genes”—which argue with each other, but both justify top-down control. To support the old rankings based on fear and force, we inherited stories like Eve’s and Pandora’s that blame women for all our ills. We inherited “classic” fairy tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty that idealize royalty and promote women’s helplessness and dependence. As we see revived in parts of the US where pushback to domination systems is strongest, we also inherited narratives that promote racial, religious, and ethnic prejudices.

Conclusion

Diverse movements such as the environmental, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and women’s empowerment movements require a unifying framework: a comprehensive partnership approach, recognizing our interconnection with one another and the natural world. This new frame encompasses family, childhood, gender, economic, and political relations, and is key to a successful whole-systems transformation and a better world.

 

“A Unifying Framework,” is a contribution to GTI Forum “What’s Next for the Global Movement?,” Great Transition Initiative (January 2024), https://greattransition.org/gti-forum/global-movement-whats-next-eisler.

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About Riane Eisler

Riane Eisler, JD is President of the Center for Partnership Studies and internationally known as a systems scientist, attorney working for the human rights of women and children. She is the author of groundbreaking books including The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future, now in 27 foreign editions, and The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics. Dr. Eisler has received many honors, including honorary PhDs and peace and human rights awards. She lectures worldwide, with venues including the United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. Department of State, Congressional briefings, universities, corporations, conference keynotes, and events hosted by heads of State. For more, visit rianeeiesler.com.

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A Different Kind of Fast

Article Practice

A Different Kind of Fast


featured image | Becca Clark, Pixabay

Fasting can help us to remember our true hunger. At heart, the act of fasting is about growing in relationship to the sacred presence. Experiencing hunger gets us in touch with the desire for something we do not have. It is the longing for it and our deep need. But we can get overwhelmed by our hungers for things, especially in a culture that worships consumerism and in which the divide between rich and poor grows ever wider. Stepping back from this helps us to see what we are really yearning for in our lives.

I think of my habit of clearing off my desk and filing away old papers when I am starting on a new project. If I prolong this task it may slip into procrastination, but the impulse and desire is to remove some of the external clutter, which creates a sense of inner spaciousness as well.

The outer clutter and inner clutter are often reflections of each other. I have fewer distractions from the project I want to be working on, and it makes it a more satisfying process for me. I find this too when I rearrange the furniture in a room: I suddenly get a new perspective. Fasting can create breathing space for a new perspective on our lives. We have been so used to looking at things a certain way, we discover with small shifts there is so much more beneath the surface awaiting our attention.

Fasting from foods is only one kind of fast. There are many other kinds too. We can fast from acquiring more “things,” and excessive consumption, as the physical and material realm, as the materiality of food, and how we understand it, limit it, or explore it differently, becomes a portal to the spiritual. We may find that cleaning the house and preparing a beautiful meal lend themselves to celebratory occasions – different kinds of fasting – and help to lift us from the mundane moments to open us to a deeper connection with God.

In a world where the sacred is infused into the material world, what we release on the physical realm can also impact our interior life. Fasting is preparation, which means clearing out a space for something new to enter.

Fasting isn’t only connected to a physical level. We can also fast from thoughts and patterns in our lives that are life-denying. Fasting creates space in our lives for other- life-giving – thoughts to emerge. Rather than feeling jostled about by so many conflicting internal thoughts or tasks, when we fast, we make room internally for something else, and we are able to breathe more deeply.

image | 12019  Pixabay

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet Isaiah speaks about fasting as profoundly connected to transformation, both personal and cultural. When we release our life-denying habits and thoughts, we discover a new freedom to live differently. This is an internal freedom not dictated by circumstances. Ultimately this internal freedom leads us to desire for liberation for all beings and Isaiah makes this connection to justice:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isaiah 58:6-7 (NRSV)

As this wisdom text reveals, fasting helps reveal our true hunger and the hunger of others. And in the process of discovering this, we begin to see what is life-giving for us as intimately intertwined with the well-being of the entire Earth community. We don’t fast merely for personal transformation, although this is a step along the way. We fast to widen our vision on ourselves and ultimately to connect to our longings to bring conditions of freedom for all.

Not only does fasting connect us to our true hunger, it has a way of also attuning us to the greater mystery in which we, as the book of Acts says, “live and move and have our being” (17:28). Thomas Ryan deepens our understanding of how fasting functions, writing:

Fasting as a religious act increases our sensitivity to that mystery always and everywhere present to us. It is a passageway into the world of spirit to explore its territory and bring back a wisdom necessary for living a fulfilled life. It is an invitation to awareness, a call to compassion for the needy, a cry of distress and a song of joy. It is a discipline of self-restraint, a ritual of purification, and a sanctuary for offerings of atonement.

I love this litany of the fruits of fasting. When we fast, we make space to see the sacred thresholds shimmering everywhere we go. It brings us more fully present to the world and to those in need. It helps us to heal our wounds and creates room for joy. Atonement is a process of removing obstacles between ourselves and God. Fasting is an intentional removing those things that lead us further away.

I am sometimes asked how we know if we have an authentic encounter with the divine and my answer is always love. When our hearts are expanded and we start to see our fellow living beings as worthy of our care, then we know the sacred has been moving in our hearts.

One of the early teachings of the Christian church find helpful to understand fasting is from John Cassian. Cassian, an early theologian, writes about what he calls the three renunciations. Renunciations are an intentional giving up of certain patterns or ways of being in the world and one form fasting can take. For Cassian, the first renunciation is of our former way of life and shifting our focus to our heart’s deep desire. He assumes his listeners have perhaps become too invested in pleasing others, in achievements, or other externally focused motivations for how we live. By beginning to intentionally turn our attention inward, we listen for the way holy direction. the sacred pulses in our own hearts call us to live from this

The second renunciation, Cassian says, is giving up our mindless thoughts. Our minds are full of chatter all the time: judgments about ourselves and others, fears and anxieties over the future, overwhelm at world issues, the stress of illness, stories we tell about our lives, regrets over the past, imagined conversations with others, and more. It can be exhausting to follow all these trails of anxiousness. Intentional thought and meditative practice have always been about calming the mind so that the spirit can listen to another, deeper, truer voice. In the beginning we may need to start by focusing our thoughts on an object of attention, as in centering prayer where we choose a sacred word to bring our awareness back to the divine. As we continue this practice, however, we eventually may find ourselves not needing to focus thoughts anymore, but simply listening to the heart’s wisdom. We begin by mak- ing the conscious choice to listen by quieting and clearing out the babble and prattle of our minds so that the heart’s shimmering can become the focus.

The third renunciation I find the most powerful. We are called to renounce even our images of God so that we can meet God in the fullness of that divine reality beyond the boxes and limitations we create. So many of us have inherited harmful images of God taught by others that are not fruitful to our flourishing. Images of a judgmental God, a vending-machine God, a capricious God, a prosperity God, a God made in the image of whiteness. We project our human experiences onto the divine. This is a natural impulse, but our soul’s deepening depends upon our freeing ourselves from these limiting images so we might have an encounter with the face of the sacred in all of its expansiveness and possibility. We might feel called to fast from these life-denying images to open our hearts to something wider.

We do not have to retreat to the desert or join a monastery to find this path of deepened intimacy with God. We each have the opportunity to choose this inner work of discerning what we hold onto and what we release at every season of our lives. We each have the choice to make. Sometimes this kind of radical simplicity accompanies a move, for example, when downsizing from a family home to an apartment. Sometimes we are forced by circumstance to change our outer life, perhaps due to illness or taking care of a sick parent. This inner transformation we are all called to seek.

One of the beautiful aspects of the Christian liturgical cycle is that the call to reflection and intensified spiritual practice returns again and again each year and meets us wherever we are. The purpose of these acts of letting go is always in service of love. When we fast out of a misplaced sense of competition or a diet mentality, we lose this focus and it becomes something that distorts reality rather than clarifies it.

When we fast, we stand humbly in the presence of the sacred and admit our humanity. We allow ourselves to be fully vulnerable and ask for the support in transformation we all need. We do not fast by our own sheer will, but by seeking the ground of being that supports and nourishes us as we grow.

One of my favorite scripture passages is from the prophet Isaiah:

Now I am revealing new things to you, things hidden and unknown to you, created just now, this very moment. Of these things you have heard nothing until now. So that you cannot say, Oh yes, I knew this. (Isaiah 48:6-7)

Ultimately, we fast so as to clear space within our minds and hearts and souls to await what holy newness is being revealed to us and to recognize it at work, as Isaiah says, “Created just now, this very moment.” God is at work moment by moment, bringing new life to birth in places we did not expect. I love of that passage, the second part which reminds us that the cynical part of our minds, which wants to say that we’ve seen it all, that nothing can surprise us any longer, is too narrow to witness what is unfolding right now.

My hope is that this will be an invitation for you to expand your concept of what fasting might mean for you and the gifts it has to offer, a way to witness those things hidden and unknown. Not just to stop eating chocolate, but to fast from things like “ego-grasping” or control, so that, in yielding yourself, a greater wisdom than your own is revealed.

We become aware of and fast from destructive patterns in our lives and direct our attention and energy toward what is life-giving, toward our true hunger and the feast. We let go of something depleting so we have more space to embrace what is life-giving and to nourish our true hunger.

And then perhaps from these Lenten fasts, we will arrive at Easter and realize those things from which we have fasted we no longer need to take back on again. We will experience a different kind of rising.

Reprinted with permission from A Different Kind of Fast: Feeding Our True Hungers in Lent by Christine Valters Paintner copyright © 2024 Broadleaf Books. 

About Christine Valters Paintner

Christine Valters Paintner is the online abbess at Abbey of the Arts, a virtual global monastery without walls, offering retreats, classes, books, and resources to nurture contemplative practice and creative expression. A writer, artist, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, and teacher, she earned her PhD in Christian spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley and is a Registered Expressive Arts Consultant and Educator (REACE). Paintner is author of The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom. She and her husband, John, live on the west coast of Ireland, where together they shepherd Abbey of the Arts and lead pilgrimages. (Photo credit | Julia Monard)

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Sy-Zy-Gy | The Close Union

Article Gallery

Sy-Zy-Gy | The Close Union


In creative terms, it can be said that Sarla Chandra’s art is an inspired dive into Quantum physics – the study of matter and energy at the most fundamental level. Her paintings serve as a powerful visual metaphor for harmony, order and power – concepts that drive the stability and balance in an otherwise chaotic and unpredictable world.

In philosophy ‘Syzygy’ (pronounced si-zi-ji) derived from a Greek word, refers to ‘Close Union’. In astronomy, it is the concurrence and coming together of celestial bodies in a unique configuration, to create an extraordinary spectacle.

A full moon night, a new moon sky, lunar and solar eclipses are such occurrences when planets align – to bring magic to the universe. In many cultures, this astronomic alignment is seen as a sign of divine intervention. 

Artist Sarla Chandra invokes this magical phenomenon in her latest series Syzygy – that explores the cyclical movement of celestial bodies in the cosmic world. Her childhood desire to stargaze, while watching the night skies and her curiosity for astronomy only deepened with time, as she continued to draw insights into the mysterious relationship between Man and Universe. 

As a human, she says, “I could never reach the stars, so I would imagine taking the form of a bird, that can fly high, reach the skies and see these celestial bodies up and close.” What followed, was a voyage into eternity – a spectacular parade of ‘orbs’ that dissolves space, time and distance. 

In her new series Syzygy, Sarla has used metallic colors upon textured paper, often against black, to reflect the darkness, depth and vastness of our universe. 

In sharp contrast, she also uses her trademark medium of radiant silver and golden foil or ‘Varakh’ to highlight the paths planets travel.  Stars, planets and orbits dazzle with a luminescent golden light in Sarla’s paintings – taking us along a meditative path. 

The interplay of brilliant light, lines and textures, both upon forms and formless subjects, aglow with energy, becomes a tactile experience and therefore creates a powerful gravitational pull into her art.


The age-old practice of Vedic chanting, sound and cosmic vibrations that always inspired Sarla, also find a unique expression in her paintings. 

With her in-depth study of Indian scriptures, she began to see the ancient texts as a form of ‘asemic’ writing – a script that was perhaps once understood by the ancients but was now lost to the new, younger generation. 

In Syzygy, she uses the lyrical tool of asemic writing in the form of collages- an open form of abstract expressionism, and produces a body of work that can be considered wordless and subtextual. 

She also uses the meditative technique of ‘collage’ to make connections between isolated images and nature’s Five Elements, probing concepts like form and matter. This lends a layered narrative of subjects close to her heart – like science, spirituality, philosophy and astronomy. 


In Sarla’s own words, “There are times when one wants to be at peace, to be in perfect alignment with oneself, with others around us and with the universe. 

That is when I pick up my brush, paints and canvas. I walk into the Great Forest – the ‘Brihad Aranyaka’, to become lost in its vastness of thought, to become surrounded with multiple constellations of energy and ultimately achieve the singular, meditative state of Syzygy”.


ABOUT THE ARTIST

A thinking, bold and experimental artist, Sarla Chandra’s tryst with art and Indian culture has spanned over fifty years. With more than 50 solo exhibitions and 40 group shows to her credit, her signature paintings are treasured by connoisseurs of art all over the world. 

Born in 1943, Sarla is a post graduate in science from the prestigious St. John’s College, Agra. However, subjects that have always fascinated her like Indian philosophy, mythology and the scriptures – have slowly manifested themselves onto her canvas. She has experimented with a variety of mediums – oils, acrylics, watercolours, etchings, lithographs, but her unique use of ‘bhojpatra’-parchment, ‘repousse’-metal embossing and ‘varakh’-gold and silver foil are unorthodox techniques that recreate the aura of our ancient cultural heritage. MORE

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About Hansa Piparsania

An independent writer-photographer and art curator, Hansa is a visual artist deeply interested in art, culture and design. An avid traveler, she has explored and lived in many countries. With dual Master’s degrees in Business Administration (IMI Delhi) and Social Media Communications (Sophia Mumbai), her time in JWT Mumbai (in advertising), FM Radio Oman (as live anchor), Madras Craft Foundation (in media and marketing), always ran parallelly with her passion for art history, research and photography.

Hansa’s creative contributions have featured in travel and lifestyle journals whereas her work with National Museums in Bangkok, Thailand and Manila, Philippines, while spearheading the Museum Lecture Series, gave her the forum to make insightful presentations on Indian art, culture and history. 

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Eldering as 'Dismemberment'

Article Essay

Eldering as ‘Dismemberment’


December 15, 2023
Remembering…

We are in Thomas Berry’s Riverdale Center for Religious Research overlooking the Hudson. The rock cliffs of the Palisades across the river shine in the early morning sunlight. The Great Red Oak lifts its branches into the air drawing in the brilliant blue sky.  

This luminous light pours into the sunroom where an eight-foot Norfolk pine hovers over the table. We are pondering with Thomas over coffee how we can take apart the library here that he has gathered for decades. For some time now Thomas has been brooding over its weight, seeing it as a burden. This massive collection of ten thousand books has lived here for more than twenty years since 1972.  What to do with them?  How to take apart a lifetime of work and reflection that has been the basis of Thomas’ teaching, writing, and lecturing.  

As we sit reflecting together, the books call out to us as persons. The Church Fathers and medieval theologians in the conference room, the Chinese sages and Indian philosophers in the reception room. Jewish and Muslim scholars gathered near books of art on all these traditions. In the hallway live psychologists, like Carl Jung and scientists, such as Teilhard de Chardin. In the copy room there are shelves of entwined ecology books. Upstairs under the limbs of the great red oak is the room filled with Native American writings abiding in resilience. This great collection is “a communion of subjects”, related to one another across time and space. 

Thomas Berry at Riverdale | Photo by Gretchen McHugh

The poignancy of this moment is evident as the emotional ties of attachment, which are ebbing and flowing.  How to let go of this community? How to be in the moment of change? How to embrace this great transition? For it is not only the library that will be dispersed, but the unpublished Riverdale papers that Thomas has written will need to find a home. How to manage all of this? Where to send the books? How to publish the papers?  

We drink our coffee as the light passes across the estuary flow of the Hudson River – salt-water moving up from the Atlantic, fresh water moving down from the headwaters in the Adirondacks. The currents meet here and are visible as the tides change. So too the ebb and flow of gatherings of books and meetings, lectures and meals will diminish. As Thomas makes his way back home to be with his family in Greenboro, NC, this Riverdale Center will close. An era will come to an end. Thomas is eighty years old, and he wishes to let go of the responsibilities of keeping the Center going. It is time to return to a warmer climate and the embrace of family. Yet the challenge is how to manage this with grace and a modicum of ease.

We decide to send most of the books to universities where Thomas’ students are teaching. This is the beginning. A plan is forming. Now to carry it out. We begin one weekend a month driving in from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania where we are teaching. Then we have longer periods to work over spring break and Christmas holidays. This is a great turning for all of us – an eldering process for Thomas, a maturing process for us. 

Thomas embraces this eldering with grace, humor, and depth.  We work steadily during the day – together deciding where each box would go. Taping them shut and labeling them, then carting them to the post office for mailing. At the end of the day, we return to the sunroom, lay out a meal, and open a bottle of wine.  Thomas leans back to take it all in with a smile, saying, “Oh my!”. We raise our glasses to toast the moment, bringing in our companions – the River, the Palisades, the Great Red Oak. This is the larger “communion of subjects” in which we dwell here.

Thomas speaks:

“This process is a great dismemberment, like a shaman’s initiation into his healing arts. He goes on a journey where he is torn apart. His task is to come back together, to reassemble himself. His skill at doing this over time gives him his shamanic powers. That is what this process is here – a dismemberment of a lifetime, a rite-of-passage to prepare us for the next stage. The pain of loss is real; but the letting go brings grace and renewal. How we manage it is the key. Each step is a moving forward toward wholeness. The healing powers come in –  giving thanks for what has been and invoking fresh creative powers for what is yet to be.”

The Sun was setting over the Palisades, the wine was enlivening our spirits, the food was nourishing our bodies, and the silence of the evening enveloped us. This is Thomas’ dismemberment moment; this is his eldering teaching; this is his moment of grace.

THE SONG OF THE LIBRARY
These verses were written by John Grim on the occasion of the dispersal of Thomas Berry’s library from the Riverdale Center in New York on January 3, 1995.

The great work has always been
transmutation.
From the first movement of the
formative fireball
an inner silence has prepared us
for contemplation, 
an expansive abyss has challenged us
to engage 
the ten thousand things.
Reading flows across these realms of visual brooding
beyond the word to touch the soundless presence.

Now, the time of the ten thousand books
by the Hudson River
in the shadow of the Great Red Oak
transmutes with the Palisades’ sunset,
with the community gatherings,
with the glorious year,
with the joys and sorrows,
of the crucible of life.
Into another harmony, held by hands
in other places.

Ecclesiates wrote,
books involve endless hard work,
 and much study
wearies the body.
There is no end of books.
“Put that book on the shelf!”
the storyteller said.
Here, at the Center of immensities
these books have sat on the shelf
for over twenty years
working their magic with bodies
and minds eager to encounter
the generative tumult of the universe story.

The storyteller and his marvelous
collection of writings and books
interpenetrate narrative and event.
As the Avatamsaka Sutra says:
“For unreckonable vast eons
they travel constantly through the ten directions
infinitely.
Their knowledge of enlightening means is infinite,
Their knowledge of truth is infinite,
Their knowledge of spiritual power is infinite,
Their miracles in each mental instant
are infinite.”

Looking out from the sun porch
at the juncture of these volumes of time,
reading this many treed place,
hearing the ever-renewing song
of the trickster-transformer,
gravity pours into me.
Will wine ever hold bouquet again?
Can a margarita bring your sunset smile
after the books are packed,
the boxes mailed?

This great work has tipped,
tasted, and delighted us
ever lithesome as we walk the rooms.
Never empty, infinite in their fullness.
Echoing the beauty of a healing chant.
The door does not close,
the thoughtful laughter never ends,
just a light and shadow change
in the journey.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of its founding, the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology is releasing to the public a series of recordings by Thomas Berry, available for the first time in digital format. “The Collected Thoughts of Thomas Berry” is a work in eight parts. The Yale Forum will be releasing one portion each month,

Thomas Berry at the Great Wall in China, 1948 | Courtesy of Ann Berry Somers for the Berry family
Thomas Berry in Ecuador in 1993 (photo: Drew Dellinger)
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

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About Mary Evelyn Tucker

Mary Evelyn Tucker is co-director of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology with her husband, John Grim. They are affiliated faculty with the Yale Center for Environmental Justice at the Yale School of the Environment.

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About John Grim

John Grim is co-director of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology with his wife, Mary Evelyn Tucker. They are affiliated faculty with the Yale Center for Environmental Justice at the Yale School of the Environment. With Tucker, Grim directed a 10 conference series and book project at Harvard on “World Religions and Ecology.” They have created six online courses in “Religions and Ecology: Restoring the Earth Community.”

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