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School for Applied Cultural Evolution

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This is a project outline for the creation of a School for Applied Cultural Evolution that works with the growing network of territorial hubs for bioregional regeneration being launched right now in Costa Rica. It’s purpose is to cultivate and continually improve learning ecosystems spanning across communities that organize their efforts around geographically defined locations where people strive to increase the functional capacities for their landscapes while simultaneously increasing the wellbeing of people living in harmony with them.

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School for Applied Cultural Evolution

  1. 1. School for Applied Cultural Evolution Joe Brewer Director of the Center for Applied Cultural Evolution July 21, 2018 ——— This is a project outline for the creation of a School for Applied Cultural Evolution that works with the growing network of territorial hubs for bioregional regeneration being launched right now in Costa Rica. It’s purpose is to cultivate and continually improve learning ecosystems spanning across communities that organize their efforts around geographically defined locations where people strive to increase the functional capacities for their landscapes while simultaneously increasing the wellbeing of people living in harmony with them. ——— The first Regenerative Hub has been launched in Costa Rica through a collaborative partnership orchestrated by the Universidad para la Cooperación Internacional (UCI). As an educational institution, we recognize the need to develop research programs and learning curricula for the diverse array of practitioners associated with each hub. This will require a multi-tiered educational approach ranging from offering new PhD programs that engage in integrative research to offering practical skills and frameworks for community members as learnings are passed from one bioregional hub to another. Among the curricular themes will be regenerative economics, holistic management, entrepreneurship and systemic change, sustainability education, and a variety of topical areas that emerge as practices evolve in the communities themselves. This will of necessity be transdisciplinary with a strong applied focus. Foundations in the study of complexity, processes of social change, and the management of coupled human-environment systems will require that we establish strong ties with research labs around the world where these kinds of inquiry are actively pursued. Why call it a school for applied cultural evolution? Our core strategy is to treat the territory as a platform for integration of knowledge and the enhancement of management practice. This is because territories defined around bioregional functions (e.g. watersheds, mountain ranges, semi-arid grasslands and so forth) are whole systems. They cannot be broken apart into disciplinary silos the way most universities are structured today. The only way to grapple adequately with their numerous interdependencies is to take a fully systemic approach to their study and management. We have identified four foundational pillars for this whole-system approach that is comprised of several hundred existing research domains that must be integrated for regenerative outcomes to be achieved. ✦ The Social Sciences :: Currently there is no fully integrated social science—with the many separate disciplines of anthropology, archaeology, sociology, psychology, history, political science, economics, and so forth all fragmented and often at odds with each other. A whole-systems approach to social change will require that the social sciences find a conciliatory framework on which to integrate across all of these fields.
  2. 2. ✦ Evolutionary Studies :: The study of living systems has achieved the greatest sophistication in the biological and ecological sciences, both of which are grounded in the study of evolution. There are now several thousand social science researchers (in addition to biologists and ecologists) from every field mentioned above who take a Darwinian approach to the study of culture. This suggests that the conciliatory framework of evolutionary science is the most advanced domain through which to integrate biology with the social sciences. ✦ Complexity Science :: There is now a great variety of tools and approaches to the study of dynamical systemic change in the field known as complexity science. These include the use of agent-based models, network science, differential equations, and computer modeling to explore how patterns form through the interactions of functional components within any kind of interconnected system. This body of knowledge is vital for the work of learning how bioregional systems—where human and more-than-human dynamics can be described as complex adaptive systems—evolve and change in various scenarios that must be explored to inform the holistic management of these vastly complicated systems. ✦ Earth Systems Science :: The territorial hubs are meant to help bring the Earth back within the safe operating boundaries for humanity to maintain its social infrastructure. This requires us to incorporate the vast knowledge that now exists about biodiversity, geochemical flows, climate change, land-use changes, ocean acidification and so forth. Each territorial hub can contribute to the healthy functioning of the entire planet by upscaling and downscaling between local and global processes. Many of these global changes will threaten individual territories regardless of what they can achieve locally. There will be continual need to exchange knowledge about threats and vulnerabilities that cascade across geographies at multiple spatial and temporal scales. It may give you pause to realize how ambitious this educational initiative truly is. We see this scale of ambition and integration as essential to address the scope and urgency of our planetary crisis that was created by human activities. Our intention here is to treat bioregions as universities for learning how to regenerate the health of people and planet. Nothing like this has ever been fully attempted before. In the last several decades, many people have gathered together to talk about how to achieve global sustainability with the primary outputs being the publication of beautiful, well-written reports. All the while, the global crisis continues to intensify in the absence of effective action. What we are creating here is the process for regenerating health of people and planet that requires a tremendous amount of social learning every step of the way. The educational paradigm for this work requires that theory and practice be brought together within the participatory design of community and ecological change. Only by embracing the complexity of the real world will it be possible (even if unlikely and difficult to achieve) to manage this complexity with wisdom and efficacy. The School for Applied Cultural Evolution will integrate the biological, ecological, and social sciences within a theory-to-practice-and-back-again approach that is grounded in the meshwork of activities in each territory. We already have three provincial territories in Costa Rica that have expressed a desire to establish territorial hubs. Our partners at the Capital Institute have seven other locations ready to begin. The WE Alliance brings people ready to establish hubs in Scotland and Slovenia in addition to Costa Rica. And there are more than seventy project-based efforts of varying sophistication around the world that seek to increase bioregional health and resilience.
  3. 3. This tells us that the launch of regenerative hubs with full research and educational supports can quickly grow to planetary scales—rapidly spreading to include more than 100 locations if done right initially. We are striving to create the educational paradigm for these places as they set up governance structures, engage in regenerative entrepreneurial activities, and continually learn how to be more empowered as change agents in their own territories. The home base for this School will be UCI in San José, Costa Rica (with prospects for establishing a learning center at Rancho Margot, an ecological retreat center in the northern mountains of Costa Rica). Our educational offerings will range from tutorials and databases of practical tools to workshops, online courses, and in-depth research collaborations managed as graduate programs at UCI. There is much to be done and time is short. We will take concrete actions to establish this School in the next six months to a year. Right now we are looking for seed money in the form of donations and philanthropic investment to enable us to have continuous workflow for a 3-5 year period in order to prototype, test, and continually improve the educational offerings of the School as we go about the work of creating functioning territorial hubs for regenerative practices in Costa Rica and beyond. Ideally, we will need to receive one to two million dollars so that we can hire core staff and convene a series of transdisciplinary meetings about how to achieve such a grand synthesis of knowledge and practice. This funding would give us the capacity to design educational programs and begin field-testing them in the hubs that are being set up now. It will also enable us to build collaborative partnerships with researchers and educators around the world with whom we will need to cooperate in order to achieve such an ambitious global capacity for social learning. A seed fund of $100,000 would be sufficient to cover my salary as the founder of this School for one year while having funds to convene an inaugural meeting of scholars—20-30 of the best and brightest in relevant fields—in order to create initial curricular content for offering workshops and online courses. Thus the launch of this important endeavor can be thought of as having Stage 1 (incubation and early prototyping) in the first year, followed by Stage 2 (create core team and design-to-launch a graduate program at UCI that serves the territorial hubs). By the end of this 3-5 year period, we anticipate having graduated our first cohort of students at the graduate level (masters degrees with prospects for continuation towards doctorate) while serving the educational needs of practitioners on the ground in the territories themselves. We see this as the best way to “learn the how” of large-scale social change as many territories engage in holistic management of regenerative practices across a great diversity of cultural and ecological settings over the next 30-50 years. Onward, fellow humans.

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