A culture based on harmonization is the primary enabling factor for a transformed global society. Humanity’s yearnings for the ‘brotherhood of man,’ and ‘turning swords into ploughshares’ are as old as civilization. The new piece in our story is the knowledge that harmonization is achievable. We know for sure that harmonization is achievable in face-to-face groups, and by the time you are reading this I hope we are beginning to see it in a larger and ongoing context – in an awakening community. If we succeed in transforming our cultures, building a grassroots movement, and overcoming the elite regime, we have the foundation on which to build a democratic, equitable, and sensible society.
In such a culture, the standard way of resolving disputes and deciding social policy will be by harmonization – why would we use anything else, once we have experienced the benefits? Whatever political arrangements we might set up, the official deliberations and decision-making meetings will use harmonization as their process. The ‘good of all’ will not be just a hollow slogan, but will be the outcome everyone will seek, because they have learned from experience that they too get the best result that way.
With harmonization as our process, let us move on then to consider what kind of political arrangements would be supportive of a democratic society. I argued in the previous chapter that the empowered community is the appropriate focus for a harmonization-oriented movement. I now suggest that the community is the appropriate unit of primary sovereignty in a democratic society, within a culture of harmonization. The fundamental unit of the movement becomes the fundamental unit of the new society. There are four basic considerations that lead me to this perspective:
Scale and proximity. A community is the right size for democracy to function effectively. In a larger unit the day-to-day interactions, and the sense of face-to-face involvement, are lost. It becomes impossible for everyone to have their say, to feel part of the public conversation; decision-making becomes indirect and remote. At the same time a smaller unit makes little sense because a community has a natural coherence as an entity, otherwise we wouldn’t call it a ‘community.’ As Goldilocks would put it, a community is, ‘not too big, not too small, but just right.’ (In the case of a large city, the equivalent of community would be a neighborhood or borough, based on some kind of agreed boundary lines.)
Commonality of interests. The people in a community tend to have many concerns in common, concerns which are of little interest to people outside the community. Things like parking, traffic, parks, schools, crime, public services – indeed local quality of life generally – concern everyone in the community. This commonality of interests is recognized in most of our societies, where the township or village is typically an official unit of government jurisdiction.
Coherence and efficiency. Feedback loops in a community, if it is operating democratically, are immediate and transparent. If agreed policies are not leading to anticipated results, people can get together, take into account the new information, and develop a new harmonized response. A community is ‘just the right size’ not only for democracy, but also for the optimization of operations.
Primordial social heritage. We evolved over millions of years in cooperative social groups, where people interacted on a daily basis. We even adapted agriculture and animal husbandry, and established our first civilizations, while still retaining our essential social heritage in partnership societies. Only for the past six thousand years have we been subjected to dominator societies. I’m not sure how it is for those at the top, but most of us are being forced to live in a culture that is contrary to our natures. That is why we suffer so much stress, and that is what Freud was talking about in Civilization and its Discontents. In a community, with harmonization, it is possible for us to recreate something akin to the social milieu that is ‘home’ for us as a species. The community, I suggest, is where we can recreate our primordial Garden.
Genuine democracy (inclusive, direct, and participatory) is possible in a community. And it is possible without delegating decision-making power to any centralized mayor or elected council. The people themselves can decide fundamental policy issues; that is what their harmonizing is about. Agencies can be created to manage civic programs, but such agencies have no authority to set or change policy, and they can be disbanded or reorganized if they are not serving the purpose for which they were established. We the People can run our own communities ourselves. With the creative synergy of the whole community awakened, we can expect to handle our affairs wisely, and in the best long-term interest of our communities (i.e., ourselves and our children). Sustainability is simply a matter of common sense.
If the community is to be the unit of sovereignty, we are left then with the question of how larger-scale issues are to be handled. In discussing the movement, recall the suggestion I offered regarding its likely structure:
Again, I suggest that the structure of the movement becomes the structure of the new society: the means are the appropriate ends. The community is the unit of political sovereignty, and the larger affairs of society, and the world, are dealt with through dialog among communities, by means of appropriate council sessions, harmonizing the concerns of the communities.
That is the basic paradigm that I envision, as the basis of liberated, democratic society. I believe that this paradigm emerges naturally out of the dynamics of harmonization, and it is from considering those dynamics that I have been led to these ideas. The community has always been a natural unit of society, and empowered by harmonization the community has the ability to run its own affairs sensibly and democratically. Why should it not be allowed to do so? In a culture of harmonization, it seems to me that this is how people would naturally view the situation. And similarly, when larger issues arise in such a culture, the natural thing would be for each affected constituency to send off a delegation to harmonize its concerns with sister delegations.
I believe this paradigm makes sense. It makes sense in terms of ‘likely to be achieved’ because it arises naturally out of the dynamics of harmonization, in combination with our human habit of living in communities. It makes sense in terms of ‘is functional’ because it puts political responsibility at the local level, where feedback loops are shortest, where the welfare of the people involved can be under their own control, and where a direct democratic process is practically achievable.
But even if it makes sense, as a basic paradigm, there are still many questions to be addressed. How is peace to be maintained? How can the global commons be managed? Who controls globally scarce resources? How do we manage large infrastructures, such a transport and communications? How do we prevent the emergence of new hierarchies, which would be taken over eventually by new elites? The rest of this chapter will be looking into these kinds of questions. Our guiding principle will be to keep in mind what it would be like to live in a culture of harmonization, and to imagine how we would naturally deal with the various kinds of challenges that are likely to arise.
Let’s start with the simplest problem, extending organization beyond the community, but not too far. Let’s use ‘region’ to refer to the next level up from ‘community.’ A region might be the same as a county, province, or bioregion, depending on the local situation. It seems natural to expect that the communities in a region would regularly convene regional council sessions to harmonize regional affairs. Just as in a community, the citizens of a region have many concerns in common that are of lesser interest to people outside the region. A region is basically a community of communities, and by means of regular council sessions, regions will be able to manage their affairs harmoniously and sensibly. We could expect “We the People of our region” to be an element of our personal identities, along with “We the People of our community.”
In fact, a region is an important political unit in its own right. The region is the natural unit to develop transport systems, utilities, and other infrastructures, and to manage waterways and other shared resources. In terms of ‘optimization of operations,’ a region is perhaps more central than a community. We would expect there to be a coherence and continuity to regional affairs, just as there is in today’s counties and provinces. Presumably there would be various regional agencies with the responsibility of managing the various regional operations.
What I am describing here is very much the same as how our current societies are organized, and how societies have been organized throughout history: it’s basically just towns within counties. The dynamics of this familiar arrangement are transformed, however, in a culture of harmonization. In today’s hierarchical societies, centralized agencies are given the power to override local wishes, in the interest of ‘efficiency’ and the ‘larger public interest.’ Communities are often destroyed in the process. In a culture of harmonization, decisions will be made in quite a different way.
It seems to me that the natural role of an agency will be one of facilitation. Let me illustrate this with an example. Suppose an agency is charged with the responsibility of establishing a regional rail network. In a culture of harmonization, the first task of the agency would naturally be to meet with each of the communities, to find out their concerns as regards rail transport. Presumably a delegation from the agency would meet with a diverse gathering of local citizens, in an effort to harmonize the objectives of the agency with the concerns of the community. As the delegation visits each community in turn, listening respectfully to local concerns, it is acting as a kind of ‘roving facilitator.’
Each harmonization session would not only raise local concerns, but would also give people a chance to offer their ideas about how those concerns might be addressed. Creative breakthroughs could be expected. As the delegation makes its rounds, it will become gradually wiser about how rail can best fit into the region’s operations. By the time the delegation gets back to base it will be in a position to draft a regional plan that communities can then review and refine. Not only would such a process be likely to develop creative, appropriate-technology solutions, and fit in with community preferences, but also the planning process would probably go more quickly than it does with the bureaucratic, top-heavy agencies that our societies employ today.
Now let’s consider the actual building of the rail network. We all know the hierarchical approach: a crew is assembled, and they march through the region implementing a one-size-fits-all system, according to their own schedule, often disrupting local operations in the process. In a culture of harmonization and empowered communities we can expect more ongoing participation by the communities, acting perhaps through their own local agencies. In some cases it might make sense for each community to take responsibility for its own section of track, so to speak. This would enable construction to go on in parallel, expediting the project. It would also give communities an opportunity to blend their section of the project into the local environment and architectural style. The regional agency would continue to facilitate among the concerns of the communities, and would be responsible for checking that all parts of the project match up to agreed quality standards.
When responsibility begins in the grassroots, a tremendous amount of creative energy becomes available, in contrast to a hierarchical society. Centralized agencies are always bottlenecks. They have a certain budget, and they schedule their projects in some priority order. It seems to take forever from the time a project is conceived until anything really happens. When the tax money that goes to various levels of government is instead retained locally, the community or region has the resources to initiate its own local projects, and manage its part of larger projects, most likely on a more efficient basis. There will be more parallelism in the affairs of society generally, with different creative initiatives rising up in different localities. Democracy liberates popular energy and creativity.
I suggest that the regional scenario provides us with a democratic model that applies to larger-scale affairs as well.
Policy setting is always the province of harmonization sessions, involving councils of delegations from all constituencies that are stakeholders regarding the policies under question. The number of levels of councils depends on the scale involved. If there are many levels, as with global councils, the process may need to iterate, so as to enable harmonization across such a large number of communities. In this way every community participates in the decision-making process regarding society-wide policy, all the way up to global policies.
Once policy is decided, it is necessary to manage the mandated projects and operations, and such activities must be managed on a coherent basis. An agency can be established for that purpose, and it must be able to respond quickly and effectively to unexpected problems, without waiting for a general council to be assembled. The ‘agency as facilitator’ provides us with a mechanism that can provide that kind of management function without introducing centralized authority.
Because policies that come out of a harmonization process have received the support of all the involved constituencies, cooperation can be expected throughout the affected areas in the implementation of the policy. The agency will begin with this pre-existing consensus on policy, and will then work with the constituencies to maintain harmonization throughout the planning, implementation, and operational phases of a mandated project.
By roving among constituencies, meeting with stakeholder groups, and always using harmonization, the agency can maintain an overall sense of harmony regarding the project and ensure the necessary project coherence. If an unexpected problem arises, that is a shared problem for everyone involved. The role of the agency is then to facilitate a focused dialog among the affected constituencies, so that a harmonious solution can be found to the problem.
In a face-to-face session, the facilitator’s role is to ensure that sufficient attention is paid to what participants say. In a large-scale project, the agency’s role is to ensure that sufficient attention is paid to the needs of the project. Just as participants in a session may be distracted by their own internal mental chatter, so the constituencies involved in a project have other responsibilities on their minds. Both the facilitator and the agency strive to bring about the necessary focus of attention so as to enable a collective activity to proceed successfully. The facilitator brings no agenda to a session; the agency brings no agenda to a project. In the two cases the role of the facilitator and the agency is to help the participants discover their own collective agenda.
Issues like fishing on the high seas, global warming, and the exploitation of scarce resources concern everyone, and policies regarding such issues must be the province of global councils. Presumably localities affected most directly, such as those where mineral deposits are located, would be represented directly at such global councils, short-cutting the standard tiered process. The concerns of such localities would be central to the dialog, and the process of harmonization would be expedited by their direct participation. For commons on a smaller scale, such as regional resources, the solution is the same, only with smaller-scale councils.
In dealing with these kinds of issues, the people of the world will be learning how to make strategic decisions together regarding difficult tradeoffs. Petroleum offers a useful example. A policy regarding how much petroleum will be pumped from the ground, and what it will be used for, affects everyone. Such a policy affects global warming and pollution; it affects the operations of societies everywhere, and it has long-term consequences for future generations. Tradeoffs will be required between the desire to reduce burning of fossil fuels, and the need to keep society operating. In order to move toward sustainability, we will need to budget our usage of such finite resources, some for current operations, and some dedicated to the construction of sustainable replacement systems.
In today’s world, such global tradeoffs are determined by elites, based on their own self-interest, or else they are left to blind market forces, which amounts to the same thing. Elites have been competent, even astute, in their pursuit of their own self-interest, but wisdom has been absent from their process. No one could be called wise who pursues such destructive agendas. In a democratic society, based on a culture of harmonization, the affairs of the world will for the first time be managed both wisely and coherently. The difficult tradeoffs will not be guided by the simplistic metric of immediate profit, but rather by the harmonized collective wisdom of the world’s people, considering not only themselves but their children as well.
We can use harmonizing councils to help us make these kinds of tradeoffs, and we can take the necessary time to enable the harmonization process to converge. It is worth the investment; we will to a large extent be deciding the future of humanity. And when we’ve settled on our policies, we can establish agencies to facilitate the necessary projects. If we find our policies are flawed, as we try to implement them, we can assemble councils at appropriate levels to address the deficiencies. We can do all of this democratically, and without establishing any centralized authorities, governments, or bureaucracies.
In a culture of harmonization there is little reason to expect hostilities to arise between societies. That would be as unthinkable as Arizona invading California. People have never wanted war; war has always been arranged by elites, as they compete for territories and seek to expand their wealth and power. When people are in charge, in a culture of harmonization, war will be remembered as a regrettable part of humanity’s primitive history, like blood feuds among clans.
Nonetheless, one can never predict all eventualities. It is possible that some deranged, charismatic leader, someday in the future, might stir up some society to become aggressive. I doubt it, but I can’t deny the possibility. Just as people have antibodies, to protect against potential invasions by disease, societies will need to have defenses, to protect against potential invasions by aggressors. We might recall the case of Switzerland, which has avoided warfare, and which maintains a state of military readiness in case anyone should try to cross the Alps in anger.
Let us consider then some kind of ‘peace force,’ whose job would be to maintain peace in the face of any kind of aggression that might emerge. We must be very careful in these considerations however, lest the peace force itself become a source of tyranny or aggression. Military coups have been a common occurrence, particularly in our recent history. If a military organization exists, we always have to consider the danger that it might be used against us.
With a peace force, as with all social structures, the path of democracy requires that we avoid hierarchies. It is the existence of a central command structure that enables a coup. If there is no command center to seize, there is no opportunity for a coup. It seems to me that the natural form of a peace force, in a democratic society, is for each community to have its own locally controlled militia.
Suppose then, that every community has such a militia, and there are no other military forces. Presumably a global council would agree on a level of armaments, so that all militias would be comparable in their weaponry. Militia members would be residents of the community, and the community as a whole would need to agree before a militia could be mobilized for action. The purpose of the militias, as set down by the council establishing them, would be strictly to restore order in case aggression occurs.
There would be little danger of a coup scenario to arise with such an arrangement. The local militia is hardly likely to rise up against its own friends and neighbors, and there is no central command that can order a militia into action. Furthermore, a community is unlikely to use its militia to initiate aggression – even if we set aside the culture of harmonization – because all of its neighbors will have comparable militias, and they would surely join forces to resist such aggression.
The aggression scenario we need to guard against would be some larger social unit that goes astray. Perhaps some society begins developing weapons in excess of the agreed limits, or joins its militias together to form an invading force. In the face of such a scenario, the defending militias would need to join forces and coordinate their activities in order to respond effectively.
In a democratic society, I suggest that the appropriate model for defense can be taken from the human body’s immune system. Our antibodies normally circulate passively throughout our bloodstreams; when a pathogen invades, the antibodies swarm to surround and neutralize it. When the pathogen is eliminated, the antibodies spread out and resume their normal circulation. Similarly, if an aggressive force arises in the world, local militias – on whatever scale is required – can swarm to surround and neutralize it. When the danger is past, the militias can all go home. No centralized military force need be created, and we can avoid the risk of coups.
The hoopla about a new “Earth Day” or future “Sun Days” or “Wind Days,” like the pious rhetoric of fast-talking solar contractors and patent-hungry “ecological” inventors, conceal the all-important fact that solar energy, wind power, organic agriculture, holistic health, and “voluntary simplicity” will alter very little in our grotesque imbalance with nature if they leave the patriarchal family, the multinational corporation, the bureaucratic and centralized political structure, the property system, and the prevailing technocratic rationality untouched.
Centralization of power, in any form, is incompatible with democracy. Power can be turned into tyranny, and if power centers exist, someone will always come along and take advantage of that opportunity sooner or later. So far in this chapter, we have seen how harmonization can enable us to avoid power centers in the form of governments, administrative agencies, and military commands. We next need to understand how we can avoid the excessive concentration of economic power and wealth. This core of this problem comes down to finding a proper balance between democracy and property rights.
Different cultures throughout history have had widely varying attitudes regarding property ownership. In hunter-gatherer societies, people owned their own weapons and tools, their clothes and dwelling materials, and little else. The concept of owning land made no more sense to these societies than would the ownership of the atmosphere. Tribes might have their territories, but within a territory nature was to be shared, not owned.
As societies become more complex, with agriculture and fixed dwellings, private ownership naturally comes into existence. Each family owning its dwelling, and being responsible for its maintenance, makes economic sense. And it makes economic sense for a farming family to own its farmland, and to be responsible for managing it. But it also makes sense for a community to own agricultural land jointly, and to farm it communally. Both models of agricultural land ownership have been used throughout history, and are still being used today.
Under modern capitalism, we can see what happens when property rights are placed above all other rights. In the name of ‘property rights,’ corporations have more power than most governments. This has gotten even worse under neoliberal globalization, with its ‘free trade’ treaties. Nations are compelled to permit polluting additives in gasoline, because to ban them would violate the ‘property rights’ of some corporation.
In a democratic society, economic arrangements must be under the control of the democratic process. If a community wants an economic system based heavily on private property, so be it; if it wants a more communal system, so be it. And if a community finds that its chosen arrangements are not working satisfactorily, the community must have the right to modify them. Economic sovereignty is in fact part of political sovereignty. Economics affects every aspect of our lives; if we don’t control our economic system democratically, we don’t have a democratic society.
If a community is to have political and economic sovereignty, then all property in the community must be owned by the community residents, either individually or collectively. If absentee corporations, landlords, or governments can buy up the land and buildings in a community, then the community would not have the power to control its own affairs and determine its own destiny; its sovereignty would be meaningless.
If ownership of land and structures are localized in this way, then we can avoid the massive concentrations of wealth that we see in today’s societies. A giant corporation could not exist; a J.D. Rockefeller could not accumulate his fortune. We are left then only with the problem of excessive wealth accumulation within a community.
In this regard, permit me to share a story from my youth. One summer at church camp the game of ‘coin toss’ was all the rage among us boys. A group of us would line up some distance from a wall, and each toss a quarter (25-cent piece) up against the wall. Whoever got his coin closest to the wall won all the quarters that had been tossed. As you might imagine, it wasn’t too long before one boy had accumulated all the available quarters. The camp counselor found out about this, made the lucky boy return all the quarters, and told us not to play anymore. As soon as the counselor left, and with our wealth restored, we immediately resumed the game.
Free enterprise is like that. It’s a game that some do better at than others. Furthermore, when someone gains an edge, a bit of excess wealth, then it becomes easier for them to gain still more. And yet, most of us like to play the game. We each imagine we too can get lucky, that we too can be rich. One way or another, the game usually leads to the concentration of wealth in a few hands.
Karl Marx suggested that the answer to this problem of accumulation was to ban free enterprise. That would be a very undemocratic solution however, given that most of us like to play the game. In addition, Marx’s solution creates problems as regards economic efficiency. When someone owns their farm or business they have a strong incentive to manage it wisely, or at least to the best of their ability. Communal enterprises, unless a culture happens to be highly cooperative to begin with, can be very inefficient. So, as regards private enterprise, we seem to be damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
Marx was seeking a solution in terms of economic rules: thou shalt play the game this way, and thou shalt not play it that way. We could seek more flexible rules than Marx did, but we probably wouldn’t succeed. People are too good at playing games. No matter what the rules, someone will be clever enough to accumulate wealth anyway. And who can blame them? Most of us would do the same thing, if we were able. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with some inequality of wealth; that is the natural outcome of unequal productivity.
A workable solution to excess accumulation, I suggest, lies not in economic rules that attempt to prevent the problem, but rather in the ability to correct problems when they arise. In the ancient Hebrew culture there was something called the Year of Jubilee. Once every fifty years wealth would be redistributed, slaves freed, and the game begun again – much like at my summer camp. This was a political solution, a corrective solution, and it could work no matter how the economic game is played in between Jubilees.
In the case of a sovereign, democratic community, we don’t need a corrective rule as rigid as the Year of Jubilee. If someone’s wealth becomes oppressive to others, the problem can be addressed flexibly by the community’s democratic process. Perhaps some kind of direct redistribution would be appropriate, or perhaps some system of local taxation. Whatever solution might be adopted, everyone’s interests would be represented, including the one who will need to give up some of his quarters.
The only fixed rule we need is to keep ownership local, and that actually follows automatically if communities are to be sovereign. Within a community, economic problems can be settled democratically when the need arises. The redistribution scenario is a worst case; we need to consider it in order to ensure we aren’t creating a system with fatal loopholes. Most likely what would happen is that each community would evolve a way of handling economics that tended to work well for the local culture and residents. Democracy is an ongoing process, and problems would most likely be nipped in the bud before they become serious.
Under a representative form of government, we are rightly concerned about having a constitution and guaranteed rights of various kinds. This is because we know from history that centralized governments tend to be oppressive. And as political conservatives often point out, citizens themselves can be oppressive as well, through a tyranny of the majority. A constitution and its guarantees, in theory at least, are the people’s protection from tyranny, both from governments and from majorities. Guarantees regarding private property, for example, are supposed to protect us from arbitrary seizure of our property by either kind of tyranny.
The situation is much different, however, when people have sovereignty over their own communities, and when they use harmonization instead of majority rule. Under such a democratic system, there is no tyranny to protect ourselves against: each of us participates equally in the decision-making process, and our concerns are taken into account along with everyone else’s. Any set of pre-determined rules, or constitution, simply becomes a restriction on We the People – something set up in the past by people who couldn’t be familiar with current circumstances and problems. The only fixed guarantees needed in a democratic society are guarantees that communities have sovereignty, and that inclusive participatory democracy be used to decide issues within and among communities. And the best guarantee for these things is a culture based on harmonization.