Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, On Love
Earlier I suggested that de-specialization was a major step forward for humanity’s cultural evolution. With that genetic innovation, Homo sapiens was able to evolve its cultures in drastically shorter time frames than can be accomplished by biological evolution. Our consequent ability to expand into new niches soon outstripped that of our competitor species. And yet, as I also pointed out, the rate of early cultural evolution was strongly limited by the automatic passing down of cultures from generation to generation, with change minimized. This stabilizing aspect of early cultural evolution was suitable to early societies, where changes in basic circumstances occurred relatively rarely. Early societies were strongly conservative, and rightly so.
With the advent of civilization, the rate of our cultural evolution has been limited by elite-sponsored mythologies. These mythologies have been relatively rigid, changing only when elites needed to adjust their system of control – as when Henry VIII abandoned Catholicism, or capitalists adopted neoliberalism and the mythology of ‘free trade.’
In a democratic society, we need not be so conservative as our earliest societies, nor need we any longer be held back by elite-sponsored mythologies. A democratic community can transform its culture simply by dialoging and adopting changes. De-specialization moved our scale of cultural evolution from the realm of genetic changes into the realm of behavioral adaptation. Democracy accelerates the scale of cultural evolution further into the realm of conscious cognition. To door will be opened onto a global cultural renaissance.
Early societies needed rigid mythologies as an effective means of passing on successful cultural adaptations. Hierarchical societies need relatively rigid mythologies in order to subjugate the people. A democratic society has no need of mythology. People can believe in myths if they want to, that’s their sovereign right – but the maintenance of a democratic society does not depend on everyone subscribing to one particular mythology. This lack of enabling mythology is in fact the most revolutionary aspect of this particular cultural transformation. Not only are we going back to before hierarchy began, but we are abandoning something that humans have always had: a relatively rigid, inherited culture.
This is not to say that people in a democratic and sustainable society would not tend to adopt shared beliefs and a shared worldview. By operating in a culture of harmonization, and a society based on sustainability, people could be expected to adopt such beliefs as these: people have the right to govern themselves; we must respect nature; violence is never necessary; people can always work out their differences amicably; everyone’s opinion is equally important. The reason such beliefs are not an enabling mythology is that youth can be encouraged to question them – and adults can be encouraged to reconsider them – in each generation. These kinds of beliefs, or worldview, need not be programmed into the youth – such beliefs are likely to become widespread and survive only because of their inherent utility and ongoing demonstrated validity.
For the first time ever, humanity will be free to define its own destiny, unencumbered by systematically conditioned beliefs and superstitions. Defining our own destiny rationally was part of the original Enlightenment vision, but it was in that case betrayed. To the elites who ran the new ‘democracies,’ keeping the people under control was the most important priority. Desirable cultural evolution under elites has been systematically minimized, being forced only by effective grassroots activism, or occurring fortuitously as a result of elite agendas. Meanwhile undesirable cultural evolution, as we’ve seen under neoliberalism, has been initiated whenever such has been required to further enrich elites.
As we launch into transforming our societies, free at last from elites and conditioned myths, we will most likely experience an initial, explosive speciation of new cultures. This does not mean, however, that our democratic cultures will be plastic affairs, changing with every season and fashion. What it does mean is that our cultures will be free to co-evolve from the grassroots, along with the economic, infrastructure, life-style, and other decisions we make as we transform our societies. In fact, we can expect our cultures to tend to stabilize over time due to the constraints of sustainability.
Sustainability and stability go hand in hand. Sustainable agriculture, for example, tends to involve rotating through those crops that are most suitable for the local soil and climate. Hence one might expect regular cycles of agricultural activity to develop. Sustainable businesses would want to have markets and suppliers whose demands and productivity are relatively stable over time. Hence we might see a stabilization of business enterprises, perhaps somewhat akin to the medieval guild system, but guided by democratic principles.
We also have reason to expect that our cultures will become more holistic, as were early human cultures. When our cultures are free to evolve, instead of being constrained by relatively rigid myths, the various aspects of our cultures are likely to converge toward some kind of mutual coherence. As we universally adopt sustainable practices, for example, we are likely to regain respect for nature at a spiritual level, as was characteristic of early human cultures. And as we become accustomed to using harmonization in our political affairs, we are likely to develop a more cooperative and loving ethic toward our fellow humans generally.
As regards respect for nature in early cultures, it is true that exceptions can be found when tribes migrated to new territories. They often opportunistically exterminated vulnerable food species. But eventually equilibrium would be reached and respect for nature would become part of the culture. We can view industrialization as such a new territory, leading to the opportunistic decimation of nature. When we leave exploitive practices behind us, as did early societies when the vulnerable species disappeared, we too can expect our worldview to come into alignment with our new economic practices.
[T]he old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart away from Nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. So he kept his children close to its softening influence.
—Chief Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Lakota
If you must hold yourself up to your children as an object lesson... hold yourself up as a warning and not as an example.
—George Bernard Shaw, “Treatise on Parents and Children”
A father lectured his son on the real values of life. The father said, “We were put on Earth to help others.” The boy said, “What are the others here for?”
In our current societies, the primary role of ‘education’ is to fill the youth with disempowering myths and condition them to the practical requirements of a regimented society. Indeed, general public ‘education’ was not established until industrialism came along, requiring a literate work force that could understand and obey complex instructions. Before that, illiteracy had served as one more mechanism to subjugate the masses. In a democratic society, we can restore education to the original meaning of the word. The word comes from educe, which means to bring out or develop something latent or potential. Instead of force-feeding children myths and ‘useful facts,’ we can seek to bring out their innate wisdom and allow their learning to be guided by their innate curiosity. There have been educational pioneers who have applied such educational methods in today’s societies, and the results have been remarkable.
When children are programmed with myths, then as adults they are constrained by those myths. To the extent children are liberated from myths, they as adults will be that much closer to personal and psychological liberation. The full flowering of our new democratic societies will be realized by future generations, who have been freed in this way during their formative years of learning. We will envy them and we can only dimly imagine the personal and cultural renaissance that is likely to occur.
At the same time, we must respect the right of families to raise their children according to their own family values, even if some of us consider those values to be based on deceptive myths. For us to instill in children a belief in ‘atheistic humanism’ or the ‘Mother Goddess,’ for example, would be manipulative programming – just as much as if we instill in them the mythology of hierarchical religions. My own bias against religion has been clear from this material, but I would not impose that bias on others. I have faith that in a liberated, democratic society, a harmonious balance will be reached between those with religious beliefs and those who lack or even scorn them. This too was part of the original Enlightenment vision, and this too was betrayed by elites who found that in secular ‘democracies’ religion could be exploited as a tool to divide and subjugate the masses. We can take hope from the experience of the Michigan gathering where, by the process of harmonization, religious conservatives and outspoken leftists were able to find common ground and declare their solidarity as We the People.
The most remarkable aspect of the transition we are living through is not so much the passage from want to affluence as the passage from labor to leisure... Leisure contains the future, it is the new horizon... The prospect then is one of unremitting labor to bequeath to future generations a chance of founding a society of leisure that will overcome the demands and compulsions of productive labor so that time may be devoted to creative activities or simply to pleasure and happiness.
—Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern World
While representative democracy promises personal liberty, it is under genuine democracy that we will experience personal liberty for the first time in millennia. Actually participating in the decisions that affect our lives will be not only politically liberating, but psychologically liberating as well. We have been in a dark prison for millennia, and emerging into the daylight of freedom will liberate our spirits in more ways than we can imagine. Like the lion in Born Free, we will be able to re-discover our true natures as free beings.
One of the things we will discover, in a society that is governed for the benefit of the people, is that we have been working entirely too hard. It is not our needs that force us to work ten hours a day or more, but rather the needs of capitalism. The scarcity that we experience in our lives is an artificial scarcity, required so that elites can extract profits from our labor. Indeed, a major problem for capitalism has been the excess production enabled by industrial methods. If applied sensibly, modern technology can produce whatever artifacts we need with a small fraction of the effort currently devoted to work. In a democratic society based on local sovereignty and ownership, we will find that we have lots of free time on our hands.
Free time plus a liberated spirit is a formula for unleashing creativity. Not only will we experience a renaissance of creativity at the level of our societies, but art, poetry, music, science and all manner of personal creativity will be enabled as well. In our societies today, it is very difficult to be an artist. You must have a special talent and dedication in order to make a living by art in a society that does not assign much economic value to art. And if you want to pursue scientific inquiry, you are restricted to what will be funded by establishment institutions.
I believe the world is beautiful,
that poetry is like bread, for everyone.
—Roque Dalton, “Like You”
When we don’t need to spend most of our waking hours working to support a dysfunctional system, then we will find there are artists and poets all around us. Indeed, some indigenous societies today do not have a special word for artist or musician. These societies understand that everyone has such talents. And when scientific inquiry can be pursued free of elite agendas, who knows what breakthroughs might be possible? Instead of being constrained by the needs of corporate profit making, our only scientific constraints will be those imposed by our democratic will. Rather than most of our research going toward developing weaponry and frivolous consumer products, our research can be guided by the needs of society and the pursuit of understanding.
Many social visionaries today believe that personal transformation on a massive scale is necessary before social transformation can be attempted. I suggest that this is a disempowering myth, a means of subjugation just like our other myths. It inhibits us from pursuing social transformation and it blames us, the victims, for a society that has in fact been fashioned by elites for their own benefit.
This necessity of personal transformation myth can be seen as a vestige of the religious myth of original sin. The myth fails to recognize that the deficiencies in our current level of personal consciousness are due not to our inherent natures, but are largely the result of systematic conditioning. If the conditioning is removed, the path to personal transformation will be a far easier one.
The conditioning can be removed by appropriate social transformation. If we insist that personal transformation occur first, we are prevented from moving forward. The teachings of Buddha and Christ have been known for thousands of years, and yet massive personal transformation – of the kind they themselves personified – has never occurred. How can we expect that it will suddenly happen in our own time, unless we try a different approach?
In fact, we can expect personal and social transformation to proceed together, in a mutually reinforcing way. We have seen the empirical evidence: participants in harmonization sessions do frequently experience personal transformations of one kind or another. Humans have always been highly social animals. Our identities and beliefs have always been closely linked to the societies we live in and the people we choose to associate with. It should not be surprising that our personal transformation can most readily be brought about in the context of social transformation.
I see friends shakin’ hands, sayin’ “How do you do?”
They’re really saying “I love you”
I hear babies cryin’, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
—George Weiss & Bob Thiele, What a Wonderful World