Sunday, September 14, 2008

We can get there, but not from here

By Steb Fisher

ABC Opinion Online, Posted 1 hour 29 minutes ago
Updated 1 hour 25 minutes ago

When Albert Einstein said "Problems cannot be solved by the level of awareness that created them," he meant it. Listening to much of the news it is clear we have problems to solve - and we need a new level of awareness.

Most assessments of the state of our planet, like the Millennium Assessment, Plan B 3.0, Climate Code Red, or Blue Covenant conclude that we face serious challenges.

The risks of:

  • shortages of oil and water and so food
  • rising global population and the persistent gap in well-being between rich and poor
  • pandemics in humans, livestock and crops
  • climate change
  • and degradation of natural systems which generously support our physical, social and spiritual well-being
could individually or collectively cause a global breakdown of the social and economic order - like the collapses which are already locally apparent in Darfur or Haiti - or here at home in some Indigenous communities.

At the same time society, in a logical drive for efficiency, has inadvertedly made itself more vulnerable to these threats by being tightly interconnected, so failure in one part of the system can easily cascade into others, like dominos. Increasingly, we and our environment lack resilience.
The danger is that we think we can just forge ahead and fix these problems from within our current systems of thought. But the problems are caused not because we have used representative democracy and market economics badly, but because we have used them well - they have flaws that can only be addressed from a different level of awareness.
At their root these flaws are caused by a disconnection between the political and economic systems of thought and the biological and physical realities of the earth. In other words our political and economic systems do not include fundamental rules, well known to science, which would keep our society, economy and ecosystems safe from damage. It's a bit like setting sail on a ship with instructions about the engine, the fridge and the beer, but none about navigation, weather or fuel.
While the disconnection remains, action to address these global threats is likely to make things worse - and we now need to move fast.
Until we question the fundamentals of the way we organise society - our governance - we may try to navigate our vessel through the stormy waters ahead, but would do so without the awareness and principles needed to guide us.

Asking questions

To start a process of re-examination we all need to ask questions, which will change our level of awareness. They are questions, not prescriptions, and so serve two purposes, to encourage both deep inquiry and respectful cooperation. Here are some:

Are we willing to root out those assumptions that have turned out to be destructive and find new principles that are needed to tackle the problems?

Will we explore new models of governance and, importantly, the processes to get us from here to there?

Will we accept the world as finite and so the need for cooperation rather than the conflict of adversarial systems of thought and their adversarial institutions?

Can centralised leaders in politics and business find the courage to acknowledge the paramount role that local communities have in determining what is best for their local governance and ecosystems, of which they are the natural stewards?

Will we codify the principles for cooperative lateral relationships between communities and between countries and will we design governance which interconnects and supports rather than rules and dominates?

Will we define the principles of our relationship with the air, the land and the sea and all the creatures of the earth?

Will we synchronise and align our systems of governance with the timescales of the great cycles of life of our planet and the physical and ecological principles which govern its existence?

Will we re-examine the fundamentals of economics on the basis of human needs rather than greed and desire?

Can we keep lifting our gaze to a new level of awareness that keeps the whole system, the earth, always in mind?

Will we include a regular process in every generation of complete examination and renewal of society and its organisation, and so inspire each new generation to engage deeply with its governance?

Unlike the tightly orchestrated 2020 Summit we must follow these questions wherever they may lead us.

Because if the social order is to break, let it not be broken by our ignorance and fear. Let us break it by choice, seeing and accepting our reality and being creative.

It is up to us - you and me.

Dr Steb Fisher is founder of the Pathfinder Network, an organisation that consults with business, government and the voluntary sector on issues of sustainability. This article follows on from Dr Fisher's We live in interesting times, first broadcast on Radio National's Perspective program on October 12, 2007.

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