The 10,000 year project of human civilisation or empire building is coming to an end. Human life as we knew it – shaped by the anthropocentric myths of meritocracy, technological progress, and growth – is less and less compatible with our daily experiences and with the needs of all the people and other living creatures that we care about.
A brief history of the end of the era of human empires
The discovery of Antarctica by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev in 1820 can serve as a useful working definition for the beginning of the end of the “civilised” human “conquest” of the planet. From that point onwards no significant territories remained to be discovered and claimed, and the competition between “civilised” empires increasingly focused on dominating the biggest chunks of the known finite planetary pie of territories, people, and “resources”.
The industrial revolution and the systematic discovery and exploitation of coal and oil reserves provided human societies with new and seemingly endless sources of energy for machine assisted human busyness and material infrastructure development and artefact creation. Like teenagers discovering the growing physical powers of their bodies, entire societies were enthralled by their new found physical powers, and started probing the limits of what is possible, often at the expense of neighbours who had not yet caught the bug of industrialised “progress”, which could very conveniently be quantified in terms of material “productivity” and “efficiency”.
The increasing reliance on energy hungry machines for maintaining and advancing material progress had a major influence on human cultural evolution, leading to the celebration of feats of human engineering and a growing belief in a causal link between mechanisation and “progress”, and an association of machines with “progress”.
The invention of the voltaic cell in 1800 by Alessandro Volta paved the path for the development of electric telegraphy in the 1830s, the telephone a few decades later, and wireless telegraphy and radio in the period of 1890 to 1920. These developments enabled new forms of communication and facilitated further cultural evolution via the quasi-instantaneous propagation of (mis)information to large numbers of people across arbitrary distances.
Enabled by machine power, radio technology, and the hierarchically organised cultural institutions of empires, the human “leaders” of the 20th century triggered the most deadly wars in human history, culminating in the development and deployment of nuclear weapons.
Most people don’t voluntarily sign up for a war with their neighbours, but the rise of mass communication and manipulation technologies proved to be highly effective for propagating superiority myths, and for dehumanising the people of “less advanced” cultures and those who don’t conform to the culturally prescribed template of “normality”.
Since the Cold War empires have increasingly shifted their focus from overt conventional war to economic warfare and psychological warfare. The growing economic power imbalance between the empires of the “developed” world and “less developed” nation states has significantly reduced the need for large scale direct military interventions to maintain imperial power structures. “Civilised” warfare in the 21st century consists of the following components:
- Global economic institutions are equipped with the ability to dictate the terms on which nation states with limited financial power are able to engage with the rest of the world (economic warfare).
- The reserve banks of states with significant financial power use the dial of interest rates and their ability to issue credit to shape the global economic “climate” (economic warfare).
- The financial power of largest transnational corporations exceeds the financial powers of the majority of nation states, and incrementally, the balance of power shifts further from governments towards transnational corporations (economic warfare).
- Individuals with significant financial wealth are empowered to wield significant influence over the transnational corporations that they have invested in, and as a result they also wield significant influence over the economic “climate” in many nation states (economic warfare).
- Transnational corporations use their financial power (often in combination with local or domain specific monopolistic powers) to bathe entire populations in a never ending stream of PR and marketing messages, assisted by profit oriented media organisations that depend on corporate advertising revenue (economic warfare and psychological warfare).
- Whilst the governments of financially powerful nation states are strongly influenced by the financial powers of transnational corporations, they remain the official operators of military power, and use these powers for “surgical” strikes as needed to prevent smaller nation states from ever ignoring the established imperial “rules of the game” (conventional warfare and psychological warfare).
The effects of economic warfare are conveniently indirect but very effective and brutal.
Around one in ten children are born with a low birth weight, and in South Asia, it is one in four, and approximately 45% of deaths among children under five are linked to undernutrition. These deaths often occur in low- and middle-income countries where childhood obesity levels are rising at the same time. Nutrition is the main cause of death and disease in the world. The developmental, economic, social and medical impacts of malnutrition are serious and lasting.
– World Health Organisation, 2019
Nine out of ten people breathe polluted air every day. In 2019, air pollution is considered by WHO as the greatest environmental risk to health. Microscopic pollutants in the air can penetrate respiratory and circulatory systems, damaging the lungs, heart and brain, killing 7 million people prematurely every year from diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart and lung disease. Around 90% of these deaths are in low- and middle-income countries, with high volumes of emissions from industry, transport and agriculture, as well as dirty cookstoves and fuels in homes.
Noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, are collectively responsible for over 70% of all deaths worldwide, or 41 million people. This includes 15 million people dying prematurely, aged between 30 and 69. Over 85% of these premature deaths are in low- and middle-income countries.
More than 1.6 billion people (22% of the global population) live in places where protracted crises (through a combination of challenges such as drought, famine, conflict, and population displacement) and weak health services leave them without access to basic care.
– World Health Organisation, 2019
The effects of psychological warfare can be seen in the dissonance between the narratives that transnational corporations tell about themselves and:
- their low contribution to the tax revenues and in some cases their ability to influence tax policies,
- the ecological externalities that they create,
- the extent to which their activities amount to amplification of economic inequalities via financial speculation that is disconnected from the production and recycling of life sustaining necessities,
- their ability to undercut local companies that offer superior services (with less ecological and economic externalities).
Economists estimate that financial speculation amounts to at least 50% of global economic activity.
Tax policies that provide favourable economic conditions for transnational corporations and financial investors have had the following effect:
Between 1990 and 2020, U.S. billionaire wealth soared 1,130 percent in 2020 dollars, an increase more than 200 times greater than the 5.37 percent growth of U.S. median wealth over this same period. Between 1980 and 2018, the tax obligations of America’s billionaires, measured as a percentage of their wealth, decreased 79 percent.
– Institute for Policy Studies, 2020
The very concept of economic value creation has been hijacked by the beneficiaries of increasing levels of financialisation in developed economies:
What we value and how we value it is one of the most contested, misunderstood and important ideas in economics. Economist Mariana Mazzucato’s comprehensive “The Value of Everything” explores how ideas about what value is, where it comes from and how it should be distributed have changed in the past 400 years, and why value matters now more than ever. Mazzucato emphasizes the need to reopen debate to make economies more productive, equitable and sustainable. The 2008 financial crisis was just a taste of looming problems — climate disruption, massive biodiversity and ecosystem-services decline, even the possible collapse of Western civilization — unless we learn to value what really matters.
The international System of National Accounts and gross domestic product (GDP) both value economic activity on the basis of market transactions — only goods and services sold in markets are counted. Much of that activity is beneficial, but some is best seen as a cost to be avoided. GDP conflates the two. For instance, growth of crime demands more police and security devices; these add to GDP, but more crime is not desirable. Increases in air and water pollution, serious illness and divorce are all counted as positive in GDP, whereas the distribution of income is ignored, as are the value of household and volunteer work, ecosystem services and community support. As economist and statistician Simon Kuznets, GDP’s main architect, warned, a country’s welfare cannot be inferred from GDP: “Goals for more growth should specify more growth of what and for what.”
Mazzucato argues persuasively that GDP is a “hodge-podge” that “invites lobbying rather than reasoning about value”. She notes that it “justifies excessive inequalities of income and wealth and turns value extraction into value creation”.
– How to retool our concept of value, Nature, 2018
The mainstream narrative of conventional, economic, and psychological warfare of course prefers framing of the same activities using the language of defending national interests, economic development, disruptive innovation, and achieving economies of scale.
Framing is the key tool for detracting from the many millions of human and non-human casualties.
The underlying common theme across all imperial cultures is the concept of cultural superiority, which results in a sense of entitlement and a perpetual drive to out-compete and over-power groups with different and “inferior” cultures.
The limits of the Western scientific worldview
The notion of life as a competitive game found its way into the science of biology by interpreting Darwin’s theory of evolution through the cultural lens of capitalism. The complementary perspective of life and evolution as a cooperative game as described by Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin in Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution in 1902 was largely ignored in “developed” capitalist societies throughout most of the 20th century.
In the capitalist narrative the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic success of China following Mao’s death are interpreted as evidence for the superiority of capitalism and market based competition over other forms of organising economic activity. In the Western “developed” world, capitalist ideology developed a symbiotic relationship with the science of evolutionary biology, culminating in books such as “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins in 1975 and in the hyper-competitive interpretations of human nature that are baked into Neoliberal ideology.
For many years evolutionary biologists such as E.O Wilson (sometimes referred to as “the father of sociobiology” and “the father of biodiversity”), Elisabet Sahtouris, and David Sloan Wilson, who where exploring alternative framings and complementary aspects of biological evolution (cooperation in the evolution of social species, multi-level selection theory, and gene-culture co-evolution), did not receive much attention.
Only in the last 20 years have the cooperative aspect of evolution and multi-level selection theory been more widely recognised as a valid theoretical framework for evolution in general, including in the context of gene-culture co-evolution.
In parallel with the growing awareness of the role of cooperation in evolution, critical views of capitalism have become part of the allowable sphere of academic and political discourse in Western “developed” societies, whilst in the “real” world of corporate business the competitive view of economic life still dominates.
Even though Western science likes to think of itself as ideology neutral it is not immune to ideological influence. The Western scientific worldview continues to be plagued by artificial discipline boundaries that significantly slow down the process of transdisciplinary knowledge transfer and the discovery of new insights that remain hidden in the deep chasms between established disciplines.
The ideological influence in Western science is visible in metrics of academic success such as the number of publications in journals and various journal ranking schemes. Academics have to conform to predetermined criteria of success and “productivity” if they want to climb the career ladder in universities and research institutions that are run as profit generating businesses, especially in countries that have fully embraced the Neoliberal ideology.
This (short) talk from 2011 and (longer) interview from 2020 with Elisabet Sahtouris provide a good introduction to a broader and more inclusive framing of evolutionary theory that also acknowledges the value of insights that are part of alternative non-Western frameworks of knowledge and reasoning.
There is a lot to be learned from traditions outside the Western monoculture of busyness. In New Zealand for example, Māori researchers are working towards an Economy of Mana that aims to better provide for Māori aspirations in all realms of life.
In this article I relate gene-culture co-evolution to the role of neurodiversity in human societies from an anthropological perspective, including references to relevant academic literature. Over the last 20 years Western societies have increasingly pathologised neurodiversity and in particular autistic people who do not readily and subconsciously absorb cultural norms from their social environment. I have severe concerns about the pathologisation of people that don’t fit a standardised (and hence fictional) human template. The notion of disability in Western societies is underscored by a bizarre conception of “independence”.
Understanding the superiority complex of empires
It is time to consider the possibility of a social disease and that manifests in sick cultural norms and sick institutions rather than in individual “inmates”. Pretending that there is nothing wrong with our cultural norms and institutions only generates disastrous mental health statistics that deflect from the deeper problems that need to be addressed.
At the level of small (human scale) groups, the NeurodiVenture model provides a set of first principles for creative collaboration that can be implemented in appropriate ways to accommodate local needs. The prosocial principles that are part of the NeurodiVenture model not only provide guidance for collaboration within the group, but also for collaboration with other groups, and thereby they pave the path for the development of collaborative bioregional networks of NeurodiVentures and other human scale groups.
Many scientists are blind to the limits of quantitative techniques. 30 years of working in the capacity of a “knowledge archaeologist” (surfacing tacit knowledge from domain expertise in all kinds of disciplines and making it explicit and validating/refining it in transdisciplinary groups in a form that catalyses shared understanding) have taught me to appreciate the value of visual conceptual models of human knowledge and motivations.
Biologists like David Sloan Wilson and Daniel Christian Wahl have recognised the need for a common language for reasoning about multi-level complex collaborative systems that are subject to evolutionary forces. We need a language to reason about the cultural superiority complex of imperial societies and potential therapies and cures.
Such a language is not only useful in biology, but also in all contexts that relate to human social behaviour and human activity within the context of biological ecosystems at all levels of scale. The formal visual conceptual languages of the MODA + MODE human lens and the living agent lens have been designed specifically for this purpose.
Visual diagrams in the notation of the human lens and the living agent lens (including less formal concept diagrams that people intuitively produce when collaborating around a whiteboard) for reasoning about multi-level complex collaborative systems work so well because they map directly to the networked and metaphor based structure of our mental models – much more so than the linear language which we speak and write.
The human lens provides thirteen categories that are invariant across cultures, space, and time – it provides an economic ideology independent reasoning framework for transdisciplinary collaboration.
The human lens allows us to make sense of the world and the natural environment from a human perspective, to evolve our value systems, and to structure and adapt human endeavours accordingly.
All 13 human lens concepts reflect foundational aspects of human cognition and the human capacity for symbolic thought within an ecological context, and are found in all cultures under various labels.
The human lens concepts are recognisable in all historic human cultures, and they will continue to be relevant in another 1,000 years – this is what is meant by “economic ideology independent”.
This is important because language is always a contentious topic in a transdisciplinary context, since each discipline uses a different language. The human lens can be used to model all aspects of the relationships between economic agents and all aspects of collaboration within economic agents. Expressed in the human lens, human life at human scale can be described in terms of feedback across levels of scale as follows:
Adding the fiction of homo economicus into the picture yields:
The textual labels I chose reflect my personal bias, but the depicted agents and the links between them simply represent undeniable resource and information flows. Enforcing the ideology of homo economicus has the following effects:
Colour coding the stressed agents and the primary and secondary economic “externalities” produces the following picture:
Using the same colour coding, zooming into capitalised busyness, the actors in the global economic theatre and their roles can be visualised as follows:
Zooming back out to the summary of life at human scale, and visualising the core symptoms of our sick cultures yields:
Humans have been aware of the growing ecological crisis triggered by industrialised societies for more than 60 years. We know and feel what is wrong, but without an adequate language we are not able to pinpoint the most promising leverage points for interventions at a systemic level.
Knowledge distillation, conservation, and transfer
The visual languages of the human lens and the living agent lens are useful for distilling and refining knowledge in a small group environment. Knowledge conservation over long time horizons and effective knowledge transfer to outsiders can be catalysed by the ongoing maintenance of five complementary representations of knowledge:
- Collective tacit domain knowledge within a group about a specific domain.
- Explicit visual models of tacit knowledge that reflect the results of a SECI knowledge creation spiral in the language of the human lens.
- Software tool support for data structures that correspond 1-to-1 to the formal visual models.
- Model validation via instantiation in terms of sample information model instances that are easily recognisable by those who contributed their tacit knowledge to the modelling effort.
- A document that contains one or more narratives that walks readers who may not have been involved in the modelling effort through the sample model instances. The number of narratives needed depend on the diversity of the sample model instances and the complexity of the domain.
This level of attention to knowledge validation and transfer is rarely achieved in industrialised societies that confuse busyness with productivity, persuasiveness with the “key to personal success”, and consumption with a “high standard of living”. The resulting over-emphasis on persuasive storytelling and the corresponding loss of appreciation of tacit knowledge and models with explanatory power is a major cause for concern.
A few years ago Alan Kay, a pioneer of object-oriented programming and windowing graphical user interface design observed:
It used to be the case that people were admonished to “not re-invent the wheel”. We now live in an age that spends a lot of time “reinventing the flat tire!”
The flat tires come from the reinventors often not being in the same league as the original inventors. This is a symptom of a “pop culture” where identity and participation are much more important than progress. … In the US we are now embedded in a pop culture that has progressed far enough to seriously hurt places that hold “developed cultures”.
My measure of success for S23M, our employee owned company, is tied to a 200+ year time horizon. We strive to create good company for all our team members. If all the pairwise relationships between team members and the relationships with our customers and partners are in good health, then the company is in good health. The company was founded in 2002 and will be successful if it is still healthy and alive in 200 years according to the same criteria.
A few statistics (Wikipedia list of oldest companies) that should provide food for thought for the disciples of Neoliberalism and “sustainable economic growth”:
- According to a report published by the Bank of Korea in 2008 that looked at 41 countries, there were 5,586 companies older than 200 years. Of these, 3,146 (56%) are in Japan.
- Of the companies with more than 100 years of history, most of them (89%) employ fewer than 300 people.
- A nationwide Japanese survey counted more than 21,000 companies older than 100 years as of September 30, 2009.
Last week I was thrilled to read about a company that operates on a 500 year time horizon:
While most companies might plan five years ahead at most, Māori company Kono is looking 500 years into the future. The company wants to be a good kaitiaki (caretaker) of the more than 1000 hectares of land and sea it farms at the top of the South Island. Kono chief executive Rachel Taulelei says the company works intergenerationally and has a “clear responsibility” to ensure its assets and resources will still be here in 500 years. Kono is the food and beverage arm of Wakatū Incorporation, a Nelson company that represents around 4000 owner families, all affiliated to at least one of four iwi at the top of the South Island – Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Koata, Te Ātiawa and Ngāti Tama.
Intentional bottom-up cultural innovation at human scale
Fast paced cultural innovation at human scale is the home turf of small software technology companies.
The core components in context of software companies have a one to one correspondence to the core components in biological systems:
- human organisations ➜ biological organisms
- platforms ➜ bioregions
- products ➜ species
- services/functions ➜ services/functions
The correspondence extends to core events and activities in software product line design and engineering and in evolutionary processes:
The above streams of activities and feedback loops map to:
The correspondence is no accident. Software companies that combine deep domain specific expertise with the capability to conduct experiments and a commitment to systematic commonality and variability analysis operate in a quality and productivity league that differs by one or more orders of magnitude from software companies that don’t apply a software product line approach (evolutionary principles) to their work.
What is the significance of the correspondence?
The practical significance of the correspondence is profound, as it provides us with a collaborative framing and terminology for evolutionary processes, including evolution guided by conscious human design, without any reference to the hyper-competitive cultural bias of Neoliberalism or the deeply misguided assumption that competitive markets are the best mechanism for “driving” cultural evolution.
Software product line engineering can be understood as a form of collaborative niche construction.
Human guided cultural evolution
No successful software company would ever organise in terms of competing teams to develop the best possible product. Quite the opposite is the case. Software companies that take a product line approach operate dedicated work-streams and teams for each of the four core activities within the evolutionary process:
- experimentation (with variations in implementation technology choices and operational environments to better meet customer needs),
- platform engineering (selection of common features that are useful for specific categories/species of customers that use the product line),
- product engineering (replication of best engineering practices in the assembly of concrete products for specific customers).
- product line operations (sustaining the provision of services to customers and processing feedback from customers).
The members within each team collaborate on a daily basis, whereas the collaboration between the four teams is based on weekly, monthly and quarterly feedback loops.
Open sharing of knowledge in precise notations, creative collaboration with customers, conscious experimental design, and parallel experiments replace information hoarding, deception, social competition, and the not-so-invisible hand of the market.
Successful software products that are used by many thousands or millions of customers are best thought of as a domain specific language system that complements human cognitive abilities and that facilitates and mediates collaboration and/or social competition between humans.
In a networked world with ubiquitous internet connectivity and pervasive use of Internet enabled personal devices software plays a significant role in guiding – or even forcing – human cultural evolution.
Externally, experienced software companies develop fast paced collaborative feedback loops with customers in order to minimise misunderstandings and to gain a deeper understanding of the commonalities and the variabilities of customer needs in specific niches and geographies, which is fed into the evolutionary process that shapes the future scope and functionality of the product line.
Software product design conducted in isolation, without giving customers the ability to shape the design, is a form of social engineering, whether intentional or not.
All users of the Internet are familiar with the social externalities: online social media platforms dictate the possible communication and collaboration patterns, and in doing so may decide to optimise for maximum
- “engagement” with their platforms,
- “advertising revenue”,
- “information extraction” about user preferences,
not in order to serve the needs of users (who may want to collaborate with peers in other locations on topics and problems that matters to their life), but ultimately to maximise the “return on investment” for the owners of the platform in the metrics of success prescribed by the sick Neoliberal paradigm.
The huge opportunities and dangers of mediating human communication and collaboration and/or social competition via software platforms can not be overstated.
The language systems that we create with the help of software can either amplify the unique human capacity for compassion and creative collaboration or they can amplify social competition and the brutal power politics that characterise primate dominance hierarchies.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest reminder of how dependent our societies have become on software as an extension of the language system we use on a daily basis. The words we type into our screens may look familiar, but the ways in which they are processed, and who gets to see them and interpret them, are increasingly beyond our control. Similarly the words and images we are fed via our screens have been pre-processed, filtered, arranged, and decorated in ways that are largely beyond our control.
There are huge differences between the software platforms at our disposal. Whilst many software platforms encourage toxic competitive social games other software platforms are the most amazing tools for catalysing specific kinds of collaboration.
As a software platform co-designer (i.e. language system co-designer) I am acutely aware of how the work of specific organisations and teams can be greatly improved for all participants, by finding ways
- to reduce misunderstandings,
- to catalyse knowledge flows and a greater level of shared understanding,
- and to reduce cognitive load by giving users the tools to automate repeating patterns of coordination tasks according to their individual preferences and according to dynamically evolving needs.
There is a fundamental qualitative difference between (a) software platforms that serve the Neoliberal paradigm and (b) software platforms that are operated by employee owned companies and have been co-designed with the communities and organisations that use the software, to catalyse adherence to communally agreed patterns of collaboration, and to automate administrative chores.
Coordinating collaboration at super-human scale
Humans are the local world champions of self delusion on this planet. In particular we are prone to overestimating our ability to understand each other. However, once we appreciate that even our “educated” Western scientific worldview is not free from ideological bias, we can develop a better conceptual model of how individual and collective human belief systems and related bodies of knowledge evolve.
It is helpful to distinguish the following categories of beliefs and related knowledge:
- Beliefs based on scientific theories backed by empirical evidence that we are intimately familiar with. Such beliefs may be affected by paradigmatic bias and the quality or bias inherent in the supporting evidence. We need to be cognisant of corresponding blind spots in our understanding of the world when applying such beliefs in our reasoning.
Only a small minority of our beliefs fall into this category.
- Beliefs based on scientific theories backed by empirical evidence that we are not intimately familiar with. Such beliefs may be affected by paradigmatic bias and the quality or bias inherent in the supporting evidence. We have no idea of the potential blind spots in our understanding of the world when applying such beliefs in our reasoning. In the few cases where the theories have been developed by trusted friends and colleagues within our personal competency network, we can decide to rely on their understanding of the limits of applicability and potential blind spots.
If we are “educated”, a sizeable minority of our beliefs fall into this category.
- Beliefs based on personal experiences and observations. We know that no human can maintain more than 150 relationships with other people, and that all our assumptions about the lives and needs of humans are based on the very small set of people that we relate to.
For those who identify as autistic, a significant number of beliefs held (possibly the majority) fall into this category.
By definition, we don’t understand all the people that we “don’t relate to”. Thus, making any decisions that potentially affect the lives of many hundred to several billion people without explicit consent of all those potentially affected (a daily occurrence in government institutions and corporations), must be considered the pinnacle of human ignorance.
- Beliefs that represent explicit social agreements between specific people regarding communication and collaboration. Such agreements can be verbal or in writing. Some agreements, such as laws issued by regional or national governments, apply to large groups of people and have been developed with limited input from those who are affected.
For those who identify as autistic, a significant number of beliefs held fall into this category, especially agreements with family members, friends, and colleagues.
- Beliefs based on what others have told us and what we have been encouraged to believe by parents, teachers, and friends, … and politicians and advertisers, including beliefs that we have absorbed from our social environment subconsciously, i.e. beliefs for which we can’t recall the origin.
For those who do not identify as autistic, the majority of beliefs held fall into this category.
All categories of human beliefs are associated with some level of uncertainty regarding the validity and applicability to a specific context at hand. A belief in the universally competitive nature of homo economicus falls into the fifth category. When beliefs related to Neoliberal ideology are reflected in laws (category 4. above), they are internalised as cultural norms by large parts of the population, and when the externalities of hyper-competitive profit maximising behaviour hit with full force, homo economicus has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Autistic people can be considered as the cultural immune system of human societies. They are less influenced by socially transmitted and subconsciously absorbed beliefs (category 5). Laws and rules that depathologise autism and protect the rights of neurominorities could go a long way towards re-establishing a healthy cultural immune system within society that is capable of containing and stamping out social diseases such as Neoliberal ideology.
Towards wise societies
Once we concede human human cognitive limits (Dunbar’s number) and the lack of “scientific” evidence based justification for most of our cultural norms, we can begin to grasp the possibilities that open up when we commit to developing a more appropriate set of explicit agreements for communication and collaboration that:
- encourage trusted collaboration at human scale (consistent with our scientific understanding of human cognitive limits);
- position the prosocial principles as the foundation for all collaboration between different groups (consistent with the available evidence from societies that are effective at managing shared resources in sustainable ways);
- encourage the use of creative collaboration and in particular Open Space Technology for co-designing and evolving agreements for communication and collaboration between groups at super-human scale;
- encourage the development and evolution of locally, regionally, and globally appropriate Open Source software platforms that serve as a language system for communication and collaboration at all levels of scale, in accordance with locally, regionally, and globally agreed rules and laws.
The Internet allows all scientific knowledge, including related evidence and analytical tools, as well as all explicit social agreements to be shared globally, for mutual learning. The future of “globalisation” is not one of energy intensive global busyness (trade of physical goods and resources) but one of a global knowledge commons that is maintained in perpetuity for the benefit of all current and future human societies.
At (local) human scale, global or national statistical averages about humans and human behaviour become meaningless.
In local and regional systems of knowledge explicit social agreements regarding codes of conduct and personal experiences with specific individuals in the local context are as important as globally applicable evidence based scientific knowledge.
Conversely, at global and national scales, elaborate explicit social agreements for codes of conduct inevitably gloss over locally relevant environmental conditions, and can easily do more harm than good, and the same applies to assumptions that are based on the personal experiences of individuals.
Global agreements for collaboration need to be grounded in evidence based science that relates to our understanding of planetary limits and ecosystem health.
Local cultures that strive to be inclusive and committed to providing for the needs of their neurominorities and other vulnerable minorities will discover that they enjoy a collaborative and creative advantage that optimally equips them to adapt to rapidly changing environmental conditions.
Inclusive cultures catalyse trusted collaboration at a bioregional scale and contribute valuable insights to the global knowledge commons.
It is fitting to conclude this article with a few observations from evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris:
In 1800 only 3% of the human population lived in cities; their exponential rate of growth shows well over half of us are now in urban areas, and predictions for 2050 have 70% of us living in cities worldwide—a percentage that holds already, and is even higher, in some developed countries. The overall trend is clear and if nation states fail under the burden of our perfect storm of crises, cities will have to play ever more important roles in all aspects of human civilization.
The internal problems cities face now are the same glaring ones facing their nations and their world—joblessness, homelessness, health crises, unequal educational and other opportunities, racial tensions, environmental degradation, energy grid failures, traffic congestion, political corruption and so on. Thirteen of our twenty largest cities globally, as well as far more smaller ones, are coastal. Their sealevel airports, piers and sewage systems, as well as other infrastructure and populations, are directly threatened by climate change, as is already evident.
Our hope lies in the resilience of humanity itself—in the vast array of opportunities for engaging the citizenry of cities in peaceful means of solving their problems and developing resilience in the face of oncoming disasters. Inspiring and building internal cooperation through truly democratic citizen engagement, each city can solve problems and become a healthy partner and role model for other cities.….
– A tale of cities and cells, Elisabet Sahtouris
To explain my intention for ‘ecosophy,’ let me go back a few decades to tell a personal story. During the first Clinton administration in the early ‘90s, I lived in Washington DC and attended the meetings of the President’s Commission on Sustainability with great interest and hope. At the end of one lengthy debate on whether the commission needed to include economics, when its mandate was only concern with environmental issues, I was fortunate to be given three minutes to address the commission.
As the debate had been heavily weighted against including economics and I had so very little time, I pointed out the etymology of the two words, economy and ecology. Both words come from the ancient Greek word for household: oikos (pronounced ee’ kos, at least in modern Greek). The word ‘economy’ (oikos + nomos = oikonomia) means the rule or governance of the household. The word ‘ecology’ (oikos + logos = oikologia) means the creative organization of the household.
I asked, “How can we talk about only one of the most important aspects of running our human household without the other? The problem is not whether to integrate economy with ecology, but that we have separated them.” I added my hope that they invite a child and a Native American grandmother to their future deliberations—the child to remind them for whom they were working; the grandmother to remind them of the need for wisdom, as well as consideration of future generations, preferably seven of them. That completed my three minutes.
It is in concert with these root meanings of ecology and economy that I give the word ‘ecosophy’ (oikos + sophia = oikosophia) the meaning it would have had in ancient Greece, had it come into use there:
Ecosophy: wisely run household of human affairs
or, even more simply:
The perfect storm of crises we now face may well prove to be the challenge that drives us into our greatest evolutionary leap. Economy must be made subservient to ecology if we want to continue our life on Earth as a healthy, embedded global human society. Economy based on principles of a conscious universe’s mature ecosystems, including that of our bodies, becomes Ecosophy. We know deep in our hearts and souls that this must be done; all we need is the courage to lead the way for all!
– Ecosophy : Nature’s guide to a better world, Elisabet Sahtouris