“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” ― Arundhati Roy
As the systems of our current civilization crumble before our very eyes, there has never been a more critical and prudent time to orient the full scope of our human creativity, generativity, and collaboration towards the complete and systematic redesign of our civilization. Quick fixes, half-measures, reforms, and temporary solutions have proven insufficient in the face of ecological collapse, skyrocketing mental and physical illness, and the seemingly unstoppable rise of hyper-consumerism and resource extraction.
Those who have accepted the necessity and inevitability of systemic change are beginning to gather and grow in numbers. Combining a generalist attitude of interdisciplinary integration with specific sector expertise and a proclivity for whole systemic thinking, this new vocation of civilization redesign is dedicated to an entirely new paradigm (often called GameB or the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible), abandoning the presumptions of the existing civilization model for one that nourishes all life on earth. Many of these big thinkers and community practitioners have worked tirelessly within the current system before realizing that the inextricable links between interpenetrating, self-terminating systems requires stepping back, taking a broader view, and getting to the root of things. Endless industrial / economic growth without regard for the natural carrying capacity of Earth systems, extreme alienation and community collapse that fuels epidemics of suicide and addiction, endemic political corruption that has undermined hope in democratic process and institutions — these current conditions of our civilization are themselves only symptoms of an even greater societal failure.
So, what is the root of our present crisis? To generalize, the crisis is the result of a cultural story that has defined human behaviour since the dawn of agriculture: the story of separation.
While many of us have benefited immensely from the knowledge generated by dividing and conquering the material world (digital communications, industrial agriculture, international travel and trade), our cancerous proclivity for constant expansion has also created famine, war, disconnection, poverty and violence. This pattern of endless growth, consumption, and commodification of life itself is the result of a story, one that outcompeted other cultural narratives (particularly in the last century) and has now colonized the minds of the majority of humanity. This is the cultural story of separation, a worldview whose impact on the world has been massively transformational and now threatens the continuation of life itself. Charles Eisenstein describes it best, “The Story of Separation essentially says that you are a separate individual among other separate individuals in this objective reality that has fundamentally nothing to do with you. [We are] in competition, fundamentally, with other individuals because if I am separate from you, then, more for you is less for me…. So the history of civilization has been a history of an increasing power to dominate and control the Other, the cultural Other and also the natural Other. And this was supposed to bring us into utopia. We were supposed to live in paradise by now.” Clearly, the promise of this story has not been achieved and those who continue to work to refine, optimize, and expand the structures this story has created are operating from the belief that the only path forward must be to salvage, save, or redeem them. Indeed, it has been said by Slavoj Žižek that “it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism.”
Yet a new kind of story is rising from the ‘end of history’ — a relational and interdependent worldview, that recognizes the inherent connection or ‘interbeing’ of the world. We are realizing that there are no ‘externalities’ in nature. There is no where we can dump our waste or deport a migrant that isn’t intimately connected to our own here and now. When we recognize this interconnectedness, we realize that our ability to thrive in the world depends on the thriving of all life. In order to understand the vast perspectives of what thriving means to all the subjective selves that we are connected to, the story of ‘interbeing’ requires us to evolve our ontological frame to explore an intersubjective space that emerges from a multiperspectival subjective reality. It’s in the space between perspectives that we can touch the fabric of reality and create something real and meaningful together that doesn’t require collapsing our perception into a single authoritative point of awareness in order to take coordinated action. Deep ecology argues that the natural world is a subtle balance of complex inter-relationships in which the existence of organisms is dependent on the existence of others within ecosystems. Our evolution is guiding us to a conscious or self-aware stage in our development that enables us to think and act with this awareness and intentionally mirror the patterns of nature’s interdependent co-creation in our own embodied experience of making sense of the world.
This new story could be called the story of interbeing, interdependence, or the living earth. Rooted in this new story, the civilizational models that systems thinkers around the world are beginning to feel emerge are ones of interrelatedness. Outside of the siloed vacuums of traditional academia, thinkers and practitioners from all sectors and scales of society are piecing together new systems and cultures that are rooted in mutuality, reciprocity, responsibility, and holistic thriving. This community is currently fractured across social media groups, WhatsApp threads, podcasts, and small conferences, but they are ripe for a rallying cry and a social movement that supports their vital work. While holistic systems change agents are incredibly diverse, their unifying characteristic is a commitment to the thriving of all life.
Until now, these groups have been largely disconnected: permaculturists, civic technologists, non-speculative blockchain evangelists, alternative educators, facilitators of cooperative community projects, artists, indigenous activists and elders, urban farmers, anarchist neighborhood gift economies, outsider academics. These visionary practitioners have been exploring ideas and systems on the fringes of society whose mainstream adoption is now absolutely essential to lift humanity out of its disastrous self-terminating trajectory.
The rally cry of a large scale civilization redesign project is the missing ingredient to integrate these groups into a shared mission for holistic systemic redesign. Our current crisis holds the potential to activate the first truly unified effort of humanity to create new cilizational models for universal thriving that can be adapted culturally, ecologically, and locally at all scales of human life.
When organized, humanity is capable of truly extraordinary things. Some of our greatest accomplishments and greatest tragedies have been the result of highly coordinated groups of human beings working towards a common goal. In the past, these goals have usually been war efforts or large technological achievements and rarely have they involved coordination across national borders. As we realize a shared humanity that extends beyond imaginary physical and cultural borders that the story of separation encouraged us to fortify and hide behind, we can begin to cooperate and coordinate human genius at a truly planetary scale. What works in India to restore ecosystems or a healthy democracy may not be what works in Oklahoma, but through open source templates for civilization redesign, we can take the best of what works in all sectors and in all parts of the world to combine the genius of all of humanity on a shared mission to build the most thriving world we can imagine.
We won’t know exactly what this will look like, but we can begin to run experiments at local levels and scale / share what works as we refine our assumptions and build the tools we will need to reboot our democracies and economies, heal our biosphere, and restore community connections.
Nature operates through patterns. Our own DNA sequence is a self-replicating pattern that can be adapted through epigenetic processes to perpetually fine tune the complex living system of our body to be in greater harmony with its surroundings. Open source public policy templates work the same way. Policies are essentially pattern instructions, a series of conditional processes that transform one form of energy / information into another form. We’ve been so conditioned by our existing governmental systems and structures that we may not recognize the immense possibility within novel forms of public policy. In the context of the story of interbeing and mutual thriving, public policy could include: templates for soil regeneration projects with no-interest small business loans for those who implement them, modular open-source educational curriculum that can be adapted by homeschoolers to best serve the unique needs of their children, templates for self-sustaining regenerative land trusts and ecovillages that can support a massive reorganization of human life and capital. These templates for holistic thriving can become the new currency of our collective future. The ‘tragedy of the commons’ (the collective misuse of a shared resource due to competitive advantages for those who take excessively) is a direct result of the story of separation and can be transformed into the ‘nobility of the commons,’ a cultural shift that values contributions that serve the entire world as much or more than our contributions designed to serve only a select few. Nature shows us that when we use competition to explore novel ways of innovating and genuine cooperation to fill in the gaps, the natural outcome is abundance and thriving. As humanity sits at the most existentially threatened choice point in our entire evolution, a renaissance of civic engagement through open source public policy is absolutely essential to rehabilitate the commons and incentivize cooperation and holistic thriving. By expanding the notion of public policy to include regenerative forms of business, technology, community, and ecological innovation, we hold the keys we need to unlock a rapid shift from self-destruction to exponential evolutionary growth.
Systems rely upon underlying incentive structures, and even the most entrenched systems can be radically transformed when the right changes are made to their foundations. When we change our cultural narrative, coordinate our visionary leadership and creativity, and reclaim the public commons of our governments, environments, and communities, massive changes become possible in a very short period of time. Despite the potential for fear as existing systems collapse into chaos, system change agents around the world are beginning to see the potential for rebirth embedded in the death of the old system. If we leverage the death of the existing system with precision, strength, coordination, and faith in our ability to create a new world, we can hospice the death of what isn’t working, maintain what matters most, and midwife the birth of an entirely new civilization.