World 2: A Critical Assessment of the Current Human PredicamentThis is the 4th and final Module of World 2 in which you will focus on The Impact of Dominant Worldviews on Global Diversity, Social Structures and Systems
This Module invites you toconsider our times and your role in them at an individual, local and global level. You will have the opportunity to address the following 3 questions: • Is there a level of continued material growth that is sustainable at the planetary level – and if so, for whom would such growth be justifiable?• What makes world peace and collaboration difficult to implement at this time in the history of our species? • What needs to change at the individual, local, and global levels for our emerging planetary civilization tobecome first sustainable and eventually thrivable?
To answer these questions, you will embark on a learning journeythat leads you to explore the consequencesof the quantitative growth model of economic development.You will be given the opportunity to uncover andexplore the roots of economic, political and religious obstacles to global peace and collaboration.With this in mind, you will be invited to put ourcurrent civilization on trial from a holistic perspective. Through this assessment, you will be able to identify potentialtransformations that appear necessary at the global, local, and individual levels.
The intended outcome of this first Learning Unit is for you to identify the consequences of using a quantitative economic growth model of human progressand to inquire into whether any kind of sustained economic growth is justifiable at the planetary level
The Resumption of Economic Growth is considered Indispensable by Many Contemporary Western Leaders, as the following quotes illustrate: “Get down to Disney World in Florida… Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed” —President George W. Bush, September 2001 “A failure of either Europe or the US to return to robust growth would be bad for the global economy” — Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate, July 2011 “We need to jumpstart economic growth” — President Barack Obama, October 2011 “Growth is a priority to get us out of the crisis” — Germany’sChancellor Angela Merkel, January 2012
How much is enough? asksAlan Durning in a book published already in 1992. He notes that “measured in constant dollars, the world’s people have consumed as many goods and services since 1950 as all the previous generations put together.” Consumption has, of course, increased considerably in the 20 years since the publication of his book, due in large part to increases in world population, and also to increases in per capita consumption, at least among with those with purchasing power.At this cartoon suggests, consumerism, profits, wealth of just the few, as well as economic growth and denial of its consequences do not prevent some leaders from continuing to express sentiments such as — ”What is wrong with you people? Row! Row! You want us to all drown?!”But is ongoing material growth still possible?Source of the quote:Alan Durning, How Much Is Enough? – The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth, 1992. Source of the cartoon: www.Polyp.org.uk
As it turns out, we can’t reconcile the three “E” Megatrends currently unfolding at the global level. The first “E” is the Economy which political and corporate leaders say we must grow. They want us to believe the future can hold an exponentially larger economy. The second “E” is Energy production and consumption which we can’t grow by using up more non-renewable sources since we are facing the limits of peak oil and peak uranium. The third “E” is the Environment which is being depleted and is rapidly outstripping the carrying capacity of our planet to sustain the impact of our extractive and polluting activities. This is a message that is finding its way into mainstream media thanks to the efforts of courageous leaders like Al Gore and a number of forward thinking research institutes, such as the Center for Advanced Study of the Giordano Bruno GlobalShiftUniversity.
For example, from an Energy and Economic perspective, we are approaching “an energy cliff”. In the case of oil, researcher Chris Martenson has shown that the energy surplus available to society has been steadily decreasing by a factor of 33 since 1930. This means that to produce three barrels of oil we must now spend the equivalent of one barrel of oil, and the trend is leading rapidly down to zero surplus energy, where it will take just as much energy to produce a barrel of oil as can be obtained from that barrel.Producing gasoline from corn or other energy and water intensive crop sources follows the same trend — only such approaches also decrease food availability and contribute to rising prices of food.
We are currently witnessing a hypertrophy of the economic sphere at the expense of the geosphere, the biosphere, the political sphere and the cultural sphere, which includeseducation, arts, media,family, and civil society in general. Rudolf Steiner – founder of Anthroposophy at the beginning of the 20th century – was the first author to talk about the Threefolding of Society, making a distinction between the economic sphere, the political sphere and the cultural or spiritual sphere. Were he alive today, he would probably add the geosphere and the biosphere, as well.In his book Understanding the Human Being, he writes: “The modern industrial system has brought the means of production into the power of individuals or groups of persons. The technical achievements could best be exploited by a concentration of economic power. So long as this power is employed only in the production of goods, its social effect is essentially different from when it trespasses on the fields of civil rights or spiritual culture. And it is this trespassing which in the course of the last few centuries has led to those social ills for whose abolition the modern social movement is pressing. He who is in possession of the means of production acquires economic domination over others. This has resulted in his allying himself with the forces helpful to him in administration and parliaments, through which he was able to procure positions of social advantage over those who were economically dependent on him; and which even in a democratic state bear in practice the character of rights. Similarly this economic domination has led to a monopolizing of the life of spiritual culture by those who held economic power.”Rudolf Steiner warned us already a century ago that an increasing imbalance among the three social spheres would threaten the very fabric of society.As we have seen in the previous module, human impact on the natural environment has resulted in depleting the non-renewable resources of the geosphere and polluting the renewable resources of the biosphere. The hypertrophy of the economy, or its dominion over the other spheres, now threatens human survival.Source of the quote: Understanding the Human Being, selected writings ofRudolf Steiner, Chapter 7 - Reordering of Society; Edited by RichardSeddon, Rudolf Steiner Press, Bristol, 1993, ISBN: 1 85584 005 7.
In the book Managing Without Growth, authors Peter Victor and Gideon Rosenbluth develop three main arguments regarding why more developed countries should consider managing without incurring additional growth:continued economic growth worldwide is not an option owing to environmental and resource constraints, and so more developed countries should leave room for growth in developing countries where the benefits of growth are evident; in developed countries growth has become uneconomic in the sense that it detracts more from well-being than it adds to it; and economic growth in developed countries is neither necessary nor sufficient to meet specific policy objectives such as full employment, eradication of poverty and protection of the environment.Will leaders of developed countries find the courage to challenge their compatriots social beliefs in the necessity of continued material growth? What do you think?
Growth should not to be confused with development or evolution. In their articleGrowth, Development and Evolution – the parameters of change in a dynamic world, Alexander Laszlo and StefanBlachfellner make the following distinctions between growth, development, and evolution:• Growth isan increase in size or quantity•Development is an amelioration of conditions or quality•Evolution isa tendency toward greater structural complexity and organizational simplicity, more efficient modes of operation, and greater dynamic harmonyHuman beings aspire to qualitative development, once their basic materials needs are met. A growing number of people also sense in and around themselves an evolutionary impulse that calls them to question the social structures, systems, and institutions that are the ossified remnants of the industrial age and the Logos paradigm.
The intended outcome of Learning Unit 2 is for you to be able to identify the roots and dynamics of the current economic, political, and religious obstacles that tend to prevent the global community from attaining world peace and collaboration.
The Global Peace Index was created in 2007 by the the Institute For Economics & Peace. In its 2011 discussion paper entitled New Dimensions of Peace – Society, Economy, and the Media, the Institute concludes: “We live in an age that is different to any other epoch in human history. We are more interconnected than ever before, yet finding finite constraints on many of the basic resources needed to sustain life. These challenges are occurring globally and are multi-faceted; encompassing economic management, environmental sustainability and a wide variety of social ills. Global challenges do call for global actions but compounding these challenges is the inability of our institutions to adequately address their causes and to then create the remedies. This has been demonstrated by the inability to find global solutions to many pressing problems as is exemplified by the breakdown of the Copenhagen Climate Change talks, burgeoning government and private sector debt, lack of regulation of the speculative aspects of the financial system or indeed our inability to even articulate good capitalist models that aren’t totally based on consumption.”The report then continues … “The discussion paper highlights the importance of social sustainability which is about recognizing the value of informal institutions and societal attitudes and the roles they play in creating a culture. A socially sustainable society could be characterized by having well-informed citizens who are engaged in community life, trust and treat other citizens with respect, and who are tolerant towards people from other ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds. The attitudes of citizens are important in creating a peaceful society. One of the key attributes of peaceful nations is that they tend to be more resilient and tolerant societies which are able to adapt and transform to forms of economic, social, political and environmental stress or shock.”
Fundamentalism can take many forms that stand as obstacles to peace and collaboration.For instance, religious intolerance is recognized by the Global Peace Index as an obstacle to peace. This form of intolerance has been identified as a source of many wars, both in past and current times. But it is important to realize that religious fundamentalism can be exacerbated by free-market economic ideology–which is another form of fundamentalism–when that ideology is perceived to threaten the traditional core beliefs of a culture. At a time where many people may feel overwhelmed by complexity, uncertainty, and fear, it is not surprising that they would seek safety and security in simple – or even simplistic – answers to the challenges they face. Often religious, economic or political institutions offer such ways of making meaning, and the paradigms they embody offer comfort and solace through their paternalism. However, in so doing, they further contribute to the fragmentation of society and limit the worldview and creative options of those who follow them.
In this last unit of Module 4 and of the World 2 course, you are invited to put the current civilization on trial from an holistic perspective and to point to potential transformationsat global, local and individual levels. This will give you an opportunity to consider what changes in yourself could affect the local community in which you live as well as the larger whole of which your community is a part.
The poly-crises – or multiple crises – that humanity is confronted with are simultaneous and interrelated facets of a deeper, systemic crisis of development. This crisis of development is due to the persistence of the Logos paradigm in mainstream economic, social, cultural, and environmental thinking and practices. This diagram depicts only some of the connecting arrows in order to keep it legible. The interconnections included here are, for example, the impact of educational ill-adaptation on meaninglessness and addictions as well as on the widening gap between rich and poor; the impact of rising financial and hyper-debt on meaningless and addictions on economic disparity and instability as well as on political corruption and discredit; and the impact of political corruption and discredit on ethnic or religious conflicts as well as on the widening gap between rich and poor, which itself feeds ethnic and religious conflict. From this systemic perspective, it appears more clearly how dealing with only one crisis at a time — without challenging the growth-focused development paradigm — simply cannot produce sustainable solutions.
Applying the Three Principles of Holism simultaneously at the global, local, and individual levels means: revisiting the three principles of holism that you began to explore in World 1 and further studied in Module 1 of this course. These include — systemic thinking, systemic sensing, and systemic being; the integration of rational and intuitive thinking; and embodying the patterns of nature.2) keeping in mind your own set of criteria that you developed in Module 1 for critiquing our contemporary crises and challenges.integrating the insights, findings, and questions you developed when working through —Module 1 – at the individual level, Module 2 – at the group or local level, and Modules 3 and 4 – at the global level.This framing will give you an opportunity to assess the breadth and depth of the human predicament and begin to reflect on the type of changes – global, local, and individual – that would be needed to build a truly sustainable society.
As proposed by Alexander Laszlo and Kathia Castro Laszlo in their article Systemic Sustainability in OD Practice, a broader set of nine sustainability criteria is best used when applying an holistic lens at the individual, local, and global levels. They assert that this concept of sustainability is in service to the organization, society, the planet, and future generations—all at once—when both the products and the processes of change satisfy these nine sustainability criteria: socially desirable, culturally acceptable,psychologically nurturing,economically sustainable,technologically feasible,operationally viable,environmentally robust,generationally sensitive, and capable of continuous learning. Business as usual strategies tend to focus exclusively on the three sustainability criteria indicated within the red rectangle. But by monitoring all of these nine aspects simultaneously, a process of sustainable stewardship can be supported and maintained as the very essence of systemic sustainability.The nine criteria correspond to four co-equal components for true sustainability in the following way: social—acting as if other people mattered; cultural—protecting and valuing cultural diversity; financial or economic—operating profitably; and environmental—protecting, restoring, and cultivating ecosystems. The social and cultural dimensions of sustainability are often confused and conflated, but they are separate domains of human experience and ought to be treated as such. Social issues pertain to the external indicators of interpersonal well-being and collective cohesion, such as can be measured through conventional indicators of standards of living, socio-economic conditions, and other manifest aspects of society. Cultural issues pertain to the internal indicators of interpersonal well-being and collective cohesion, such as tend to be expressed in terms of qualityof life concerns, issues of identity and inclusion in a larger collective, and other intrinsic aspects of culture. As such, both social and cultural issues are essential to environmental concerns. So long as there are people living in poverty there will be ongoing eco-systemic decline. Poverty is not only lack of economic opportunities, but also lack of educational, meaning-making, and culturally-enriching opportunities. For example, a forest used by an indigenous community to obtain firewood for their survival cannot be protected unless alternative ways of supporting the human community are found. How can we create rich lives – which are simple but with abundant well-being – without exceeding the regenerative capacity of the planet? A forest can besustainably managed. The wood gathered could be transformed by the community into valuable products that celebrate the culture and identity of the people rather than being sold as firewood for export, and there are many herbs and mushrooms that can also be sustainably harvested. Such permaculture projects can be initiated to increase local food production by and for the community. Through responsible eco-tourism programs, visitors seeking opportunities to be immersed in nature can participate in hikes and other outdoor activities while contributing to the resilience of the milieu.Source: Laszlo and Laszlo, Systemic Sustainability in OD Practice, 2011.
Now it is time for you to consider what needs to change at the global, local, and individual levels, at this crucial moment in time.A number of authors have offered their views of what is likely to happen or needs to happen. Among these are Ervin Laszlo in his book Chaos Point – 2012 and beyond; Paul Gilding in book We are slow, but we're not Stupid on the coming Great Disruption; and Lester Brown in his book Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. Others, such as Sarah van Gelder of Yes Magazine have come up with lists of the most hopeful trends to build on in 2012. By the time you conclude this Module, you will have forged you own view on what needs to change at each of the levels – on the global scene, in the group or community you most identify with, and within yourself – so that in the upcoming World 3 course, you will be well prepared to explore creative ways to contribute to the emergence of a new and sustainable civilization.