By Carl Golden, M.S., M.A.
August 28, 1997; revised February 6, 2010
As we begin to comprehend that the earth itself is a kind of manned spaceship hurtling through the infinity of space - it will seem increasingly absurd that we have not better organized the life of the human family. Hubert H. Humphrey
Biospheric degradation has become the rule, so much so that outcries about ozone holes, global decline in amphibian populations, greenhouse effects, global warming, human overpopulation, habitat loss, species extinction, etc., have been reduced to environmental clichés. This is very problematical because nothing is easier to forget than old news, especially in America where fascination with what is new has taken on pathological dimensions. Most people just do not want to think about the problems, and we do not want to really change our lifestyles. We are sick of hearing about the environment. News of various global crises meets with indifference, incredulity, denial, or despair. Who can blame them? Life, after all, must go on. There are mountains to climb, rivers to fish, and horses to ride. There are classes to attend, career responsibilities, mortgages to pay, children to raise, dinners to cook, lovers to love, weddings to plan, marriages to nurture (as well as marriages to dissolve). There are deadlines to meet and dead relations to bury. There are, in fact, ten thousand things to do - things to which one can relate, understand, and reasonably expect to effect some desired change within the lifetime of one's children if not within one's own lifetime.
Of course, many of us do recycle trash, monitor our energy usage, and make annual contributions to various environmental organizations, which is nice. Unfortunately, these behaviors are inadequate to the needs of the problem. In fact, they foster a false sense that leads one to think that the problems are being addressed, which encourages more consumption. Indeed, our various efforts to be "environmentally correct" have become general acts of contrition for us progressive-minded individuals living in the industrialized world, granting us pardon from the need to do the real work, which is to become deeply informed about the issues, to get radically involved in generating solutions, to dramatically reduce our consumption of resources, to simplify our lifestyles, to scale back the human population, to get politically active, to invest in the research and development of clean, appropriate technologies, etc. In short, the real work entails cultural revolution. Revolution . . . hmmm . . . that is scary.
The irony is that as we endeavor to meet our respective agendas for fulfilling the ten thousand things we invariably promote the "doom and gloom" that has sickened our souls and stopped our ears. So, the litany goes on. We are caught in a positive feedback loop that portends one certain end - system wide breakdown of the biosphere, as well as human societies, especially now that India and China are on the fast track of industrial development. The biosphere will not withstand the stress of another three billion people aspiring to materially consumptive lifestyles similar to Europe and North America. This is an end that is evident already in many countries and regions around the globe. Ethiopia and other regions of Africa, many of the south Pacific isles, Argentina, Brazil, the Four Corners region of the American Southwest (as with most ghettoized tribal populations the world over), and a host of other third world nations and regions are suffering the ravages of ecosystem breakdown and the concomitant disintegration of the social fabric. The fisheries of both the northern Pacific and Atlantic oceans have been terribly depleted by the fishing industries' enormous disregard for the recuperative capacities of fish populations; consequentially, the coastal fishing cultures are deteriorating. The rainforests of South and North America, Thailand, and the rest of the world are close to coming to an irretrievable end as are the indigenous cultures nestled within these rich arboreal havens. Even the remote Arctic and Antarctic have not escaped the effects of our overly consumptive, industrial activities as they are flooded with dangerously high levels of ultra-violate radiation passing through massive ozone holes located over these regions - holes caused by Chloro Flouro Carbon (CFC) production and use. The threat is ubiquitous. Those of us fortunate enough not to have suffered the rampant poverty of the Sudan surely have not escaped the insidious threats, presently or potentially, of climbing cancer rates, AIDS, Limes Disease, or various other wasting illnesses, such as Systemic Candidiasis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Environmental Illness. There is no place that has not been touched by the crippling effect of our pursuits for the ten thousand things.
The pursuits for the ten thousand things are trivial compared to the enormity of the crisis of biospheric degradation; nevertheless, we are engaged in them, because the rewards of security, family, love, community, as well as wealth, power, vainglory and pleasure play out on a human scale according to millennia of human design. The ten thousand things are meaningful, even the most vulgar and vain; whereas, global warming is a monstrous conundrum in the minds of the majority of humankind. The problem is too big for most of us to appreciate and effectively address. So, we choose to ignore it.
Of course, biospheric degradation is not the problem; rather, it is the consequence of human imagination, desires, and endeavors grown beyond both human and ecological scale and design. Unbridled and ignorant humanity is the problem. To save the whales, we must save ourselves, because to focus the bulk of our resources on saving specific species and ecosystems while ignoring the institutions and attitudes that give rise to the threat is like treating the symptoms of an ailing person while ignoring the causes of the illness - the patient will die anyway and the doctors will bill the next of kin. Addressing the problem is no small matter. Every sector of contemporary technological society needs reform along human and ecological parameters, and developing countries need to reorient along these same lines in order to avoid recapitulating the same mistakes that the industrialized North has made and continues to make.
Of the many institutions that shape our attitudes and enact our intents, there are seven that are seminal- science, technology, art, religion, education, politics, and economics. Although I am very interested in the role of each of these institutions in both the problem and it's solution, the scope of this paper is limited to the role politics can play in resolving biospheric degradation and creating societies worthy of our participation.
The way politics is done today is inflated beyond the ken of most people. Trends in political centralization, economic globalization, transnational corporatism, peak oil, sophisticated information and communication technologies, and a host of other trends are accessible to roughly 20% of the world's people, while the remainder is increasingly alienated by varying degrees. This is an extremely dangerous state of affairs for several reasons: first, when people are alienated from the means to effect control and change over their lives, they are disenfranchised and marginalized - a condition that fosters distrust, disillusionment, civil unrest, lawlessness, and violence. An example of such alienation is the recent popularity of militias throughout the United States and the associated Oklahoma City bombing. Second, insofar as political institutions are dependent upon the cooperation of the governed, they are liable to become unstable when the governed are significantly alienated. Third, when political institutions become unstable, they tend to resort to militant, often violent, policing of the governed. Fourth, when political institutions have to resort to extreme measures to ensure cooperation of the governed, then civil war is on the horizon. Fifth, and last, environmental and social degradation will only increase in such conditions. Social disintegration and disenfranchisement and environmental degradation are the inevitable results of trends grown beyond human and ecological scale and design. It's all just too damn big!
Empires, including the US empire, are the spoiled children of hubris, ignorance, and greed. They have an insatiable need to control and exploit everything in order to exist, because the overhead incurred in maintaining an imperial lifestyle is exhaustive, especially the resources required to maintain military offensive and defensive capacities. Case in point, consider the United States' military budget: approximately one half of the national budget is allocated to the military. Given that the US budget is approximately three trillion dollars annually, the military budget is approximately 1.5 trillion dollars annually! Then consider that we owe over ten trillion dollars of debt to various countries, especially China, which is our largest national creditor. We are consuming more than we can afford in every way, and there is no political will to turn this trend around.
This imperial design is fundamentally flawed. In order to exist, empires must forever grow because they are locked into a cycle of ever shrinking returns in real wealth, all the while subjugating both the human and non-human communities for their labor and resources. Obviously, such a condition is offensive and injurious to the subjugated, creating great disparities in the distribution of wealth. Furthermore, it is totally unrealistic in terms of natural limits - carrying capacities and the like. The imperial regime is unsustainable, as history has born out time and again.
Attitude, scale, and design are the three pillars upon which both the problem and the solution are founded. The world needs the disciplined children of humility and wisdom communities or what might be regarded as ecological regimes. These are born of politics (and economics) pursued on a human and ecological scale and according to sustainable designs.
The purpose of this paper is to explore what might characterize an ecological regime. As indicated above, I will look at political structures that would do at least two things: (1) transform the existing order in accordance with humane and ecological criteria, and (2) sustain humanity and the biosphere in a harmonious dance indefinitely.
To dream the impossible dream. . .
Properly speaking, global thinking is not possible. Those who have "thought globally" (and among them the most successful have been imperial governments and multinational corporations) have done so by means of simplifications too extreme and oppressive to merit the name of thought. Global thinkers have been and will be dangerous people. National thinkers tend to be dangerous also: we now have national thinkers in the northeastern United States who look on Kentucky as a garbage dump...If we could think locally, we would take far better care of things than we do now. The right local questions and answers will be the right global ones. Wendell Berry, 1992
[There] are such things as "natural units of inhabitation" which lend themselves to the political act of willing a common world. We are familiar with such units of inhabitation for non-human life; they are what we call "ecosystems." The root of ecosystem is the same Greek word, oikos, ("household') which stands at the root of the word economy. In fact, these two households may have more in common than we generally realize - a commonality which we may have to recognize in order actually to practice a politics of willing a common world. Daniel Kemmis, 1990
The Ecology of Sustainable Politics
Politics is the craft of deciding who gets what, where, when, and how. There are many ways to do this - imperialism, totalitarian and fascist regimes, monarchy and oligarchy (feudalism), communism, federalism, republicanism, democracy, consensus, anarchy, etceteras. Many historical expressions of these various political paths (and most that are practiced today) are hybridizations arranged to meet, at best, the perceived needs of a society (such as the democratic republics of most of the western and northern European nations), and at worst, the ideological and exclusive ambitions of an elite cadre (such as the imperial oligopolies of global cartels). All of these regimes have their strengths and weaknesses regarding power and resource allocation and distribution, some more than others. But which of these can best meet the allocation and distribution challenges spawned of the social and biospheric crises of today's world?
Imperial, totalitarian, fascist, monarchical, oligarchic, and federal regimes can effect tremendous systemic changes within a few years. Consider the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), which was imperialistic, totalitarian, fascist, communistic, and federal in its structure. The U.S.S.R. was able to effect revolutionary changes, virtually transforming a moderately industrial, feudal nation, namely Russia, which lacked considerable European political significance, into a modern technological dynasty of tremendous international import within a few decades. It educated a vast society, comprised of various disparate cultures, and produced some of the world's greatest literary, scientific, and athletic persons. But it paid for its temporal efficiency and social successes with, paradoxically, tremendous loss of life, liberty, and economic and ecological viability. As George Konrad, a Hungarian writer and politician, once said,Many people feel empty, a world that seemed so strong just collapsed. Forty years have been wasted on stupid strife for the sake of an unsuccessful experiment. The values gathered together have vanished, the strategies for survival have become ridiculous. And so forty years of our lives have become a story, a bad anecdote.
Where large centralized governments can fail miserably in respect to individual liberties, economic frugality, and ecologically sound resource management, the small decentralized governments of republics and democracies can succeed - eventually. Democratic republics usually require decades to effect large, even small, systemic changes where there is significant cultural diversity within the populous. France, for example, is home to six indigenous ethnic groups and at least a dozen enclaves of foreign ethnicity. Since 1800, France has undergone nine reformations due to either war (both external and internal) or political reorganization. They are beset with the problems of pluralism, as are most contemporary democracies. In the United States of America (perhaps not the best example of a democratic republic because of our federal structure), African-Americans are still stigmatized by slavery, even though they have been" free" since 1863.
Consensual regimes are the most egalitarian systems, and they are effective at allocating and distributing power and resources on a small scale. But the practice of consensus government in a community larger than a village would be hopelessly ineffective due to the enclaves of interests that would develop in a community of several thousand citizens. We might all agree on liberty and justice for all, except for those who do not agree with us. When it comes to the question of consensus, I tend to share the sentiments expressed by Lewis Lapham:Talk about the flag or drugs or crime (never about race or class or justice) and follow the yellow brick road to the wonderful land of "consensus." In place of honest argument among consenting adults the politicians substitute a lullaby for frightened children: the pretense that conflict doesn't really exist, that we have achieved the blessed state in which. . . we no longer need politics.
As for anarchy, it might do it all; then again, it may do nothing. Few people can live as an anarchist without becoming irresponsible and isolationist in character. The successful anarchist is a successful and fairly integrated person. Only such a person could live according to Emma Goldman's philosophy:Anarchism is tire only philosophy which brings to man the consciousness of himself, which maintains that God, the State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man's subordination. Anarchism is therefore tire teacher of the unity of life; not merely in nature, but in man.
And only such a person could embrace the level of responsibility called for in Noam Chomsky's comment about the consistent anarchist:The consistent anarchist. . . should be a socialist, but a socialist of a particular sort. He will not only oppose alienated and specialized labor and look forward to the appropriation of capital by tire whole body of workers, but he will also insist that this appropriation be direct, not exercised by some elite force acting in tire name of the proletariat. . . . Some sort of council communism is tire natural form of revolutionary socialism in an industrial society. It reflects the intuitive understanding that democracy is largely a sham when the industrial system is controlled by any form of autocratic elite, whether of owners, managers, and technocrats, a "vanguard" party, or a State bureaucracy.
The value of anarchy has never really been tested historically, save for a few art colonies, all of which have failed. So, it is difficult to offer any serious critique on anarchy's effectiveness as a political regime.
When I consider the gamut of these various political paths in view of most contemporary governments' failure to meet the environmental crisis, I wonder which form (or hybridization of forms) of government is most human and ecological in attitude, scale, and design? Only a government organized along human and ecological criteria can help meet the challenge of transforming our consumptive societies into sustainable havens. There are some obvious and not so obvious answers. Before we turn to these answers, it would be fruitful to reflect upon what is meant by human, ecological, attitude, scale, and design.
There is little gained in the appreciation of our humanity by defining us by our bipedal mode of locomotion and opposable thumbs. Such definitions may do in defining our species - Homo sapiens - but they shed very little light on the question of what is human. Strip me of my humanity, and the animal-Homo sapiens-remains. There is a difference. By human, I mean humane- a way of acting in the world that is characterized by dignity, compassion, and humor. Also, it is an appreciation for what is right and good and just. A nuclear power plant, with its byproduct of lethal radioactive waste, is not humane technology, because it is neither right nor good nor just to impose such poison on any creature. Rather, it is demonic. Furthermore, the human being is endowed with a sensibility of fitness that is bestowed by the animal - Homo sapiens. Edward Goldsmith speaks to this latter point:The perfection of Man's cognitive endowment for the purpose of assuring his adaptation to his biological and social environment is an essential principle...Philosophers since the days of Parmenides have insisted that the mind can understand reality only because they both have the same structure or logos.
Finally, wisdom is the consummate human quality, because it is the consummation of all these qualities.
The ecological is that which accords with the principles of ecology; of course, ecology is a very complex subject, far exceeding the parameters of this paper. And yet, some sense of the subject is required for this discussion. One of the most critical insights of ecology to understand in terms of this paper is the holarchical structure of the biosphere, which means that every system within, and including, the biosphere is nested as both a whole and a part. Arthur Koestler (1978) speaks to the point:Wholes and parts cannot exist by themselves either at a biological or social level. What we find are intermediary structures on a series of levels in ascending order of complexity, each of which has two faces looking in opposite directions; the face turned towards lower levels is that of an autonomous whole, the one turned upward that of a dependent part.
Within this holarchy, everything is connected so that the disruption of one level of an ecosystem, such as spraying insecticide to eradicate mosquitoes, will disrupt other levels of the ecosystem, such as the avian and aquatic populations that are dependent upon mosquitoes and mosquito larvae for food. If disruptions are greater than an ecosystem's capacity to absorb it, or if the species effected are keystone species, then the entire system will degrade. This brings us to a seminal tenet of ecology: carrying capacity. Every living system, including the biosphere, is able to function optimally within finite parameters. When these parameters are transgressed, the system will inevitably degrade. Suffice it to say that practice, structure, design, and/ or theory are ecological when they respect both the dynamic inter-relations of living systems within their nested biotic and abiotic environments, as well as the carrying capacity. Ecology is an understanding of how things work in the ecos, "household" - whether an ecosystem or social system. The health of the household depends upon us conducting ourselves according to this knowledge. When we do so, that is ecological.
Attitude is the interpretive lens through which one regards phenomena. It influences our every word and deed. If I see a forest as "board feet", then I would have little compunction in cutting it down, but if I see it as a living and splendid community of organisms, then I would seek to preserve its integrity. When I speak of a human and ecological attitude, I am indicating a perspective gained through human and ecological lenses.
Regarding scale, I intend two meanings. The first meaning has to do with appropriate proportions, such as the size of a house relative to its surround. The second meaning has to do with a system of values that are determined by their relationship to the base of the system, such as a musical score like Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in C minor. Both interpretations of the word, scale, connote a graceful sensibility of right relationship. Disregard either sense of the word, and one courts discord. So, then, something expressed according to both human and ecological scales should exhibit qualities that are congruent with both human sensibilities and ecological necessities.
By design, I mean a basic scheme or pattern that effects and controls function or development, such as the rhythmic scheme of an epic poem, or the complex pattern of chaotic attractors. By human and ecological design, I mean a scheme that is in accord with human and creaturely necessities, and that promotes human virtues and sustains biospheric viability.
Now, to reiterate the earlier question: which form of government is most human and ecological in attitude, scale, and design? It is obvious that any regime that is inherently insensitive and violent to the needs of both societies and ecosystems will not meet the criteria. So, we may disregard imperialism, totalitarianism, and fascism. Monarchy and oligarchy, as well as federalism and communism, although not necessarily malevolent, are historically prone to the abuse of power through unjust allocation and distribution of resources. This bias is endemic to highly centralized regimes.
Centralization, in general, fails to meet the human and ecological criteria in attitude, scale, and design. First of all, it fosters self-serving attitudes premised on the demonic values of greed and vainglory through concentrating too much power in too few hands. Leon Trotsky, one of the masterminds of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, understood this well:In inner-party politics, these methods lead, as we shall yet see, to this: the party organization substitutes itself for the party, tire central committee substitutes itself for the organization, and, finally, a "dictator" substitutes himself for the central committee.
Not all centralized regimes lead to dictatorships, but they do tend towards the universalization of selfish interests, which is blatantly obvious today in the globalization of self serving market interests manifested in the GATT treaties. Such attitudes undermine human virtues, as well as human and non-human communities, and disregard ecological necessities. Secondly, the scale of government engendered by centralization is far too big to be adequately responsive to the vicissitudes of human and non-human communities. These leviathans tend to overwhelm human sensibilities and ecosystem carrying capacities, promoting moral despair, political disillusionment, civil unrest, and ecosystem degradation. Finally, centralization is an unsustainable design, simply because it disregards the holarchical structure of all living systems, human and otherwise. In view of this critique, it is evident that the various centralized regimes are neither human nor ecological; hence, inadequate to the job of building a sustainable regime worthy of our participation.
So, what is worthy of our participation? We are left with four types of political regime: republicanism, democracy, "consensualism", and anarchy. In my opinion, there is a place for each of these types in a human and ecological regime, because each embodies practices and theories that facilitate freedom, communication, responsibility, cooperation, personal efficacy, and participation- qualities that are essential to health of any community. In ecological terms, these regimes facilitate feedback, which is indispensable if we are to govern ourselves as good neighbors to our fellow citizens - the red fox, the spade-foot toad, the spotted owl, the blue whale... These regimes are not equal in capabilities, and should not be universally applied at every level of society. Each offers distinctive tools for equitably and responsibly allocating and distributing power and resources. By applying the appropriate tools at the appropriate levels of the societal and biospheric holarchy, a synthesis of regimens could occur that might realistically meet the societal and biospheric challenges of the new millennium. Before we can do this with any wisdom, however, we need to understand the holarchical structure of human society and the biosphere. Obviously, such an undertaking could fill volumes (which is the important work that Ken Wilber is doing) and is beyond the scope of this paper; so, I will draw on the work of Ken Wilber, Eric Jantsch, and Alastair Taylor regarding holarchy for expediency.
Wilber, Jantsch, and Taylor have developed sophisticated models of holarchy that I have taken the liberty of abridging (Figure 1, pg. 12). They have determined six societal levels constituting the noosphere - the human sphere - emerging within the biosphere. These are family systems, kinship systems, village systems, town systems, nation/state systems, and planetary systems. A significant element of the noosphere - the individual - has been omitted, because individuals, per se, do not constitute social organizations; rather, they are agents of organization. Nevertheless, the individual certainly bears upon the discussion of holarchy and politics. (The anarchist would not have it otherwise.) All told then, there are six levels of society enacted by individuals, and all are embedded within the biosphere. Furthermore, there is an analogous relationship between the individual, these six societal levels, and levels comprising the biosphere:1. There is the human individual and the non-human individual, both of which are agents.
2. There is the human family and the non-human family, such as the parent/child associations within a troop of Chimpanzees. Even plants exhibit micro-associations spatially related to their "parent(s)", whether or not they are annuals or perennials.
3. There are human kinship systems (tribes) and non-human kinship systems, such as flocks of geese and herds of buffalo.
4. There are human village systems and non-human "village" systems, such as micro-ecosystems.
5. There are human town systems and non-human" town" systems, such as a watershed ecosystem or an Alpine ecosystem.
6. There are human nation/ state systems and non-human "nation/state" systems, such as a biome or a bioregion.
7. Finally, there is the human planetary system of national alliances and global markets, and there are the homeostatic processes of the biosphere that are maintained by the exchange of organic and inorganic currency among the Earth's vast biological communities.
This is not surprising since, as Gregory Bateson suggested, we are our natural history. Our human institutions are elaborate recapitulations of themes fashioned by Nature herself, as can be seen in Figure 1 below:
Now, to grow this ecological regime from the ground up. Earth first! This attitude of respect and gratitude toward the biosphere is the beginning and the end of any sustainable regime. It should inform every word and deed.Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing - instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below. Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.
The first socio-political structure is the family - the root. Without strong and nourishing families the whole will not hold. It is at our parents' knees that we learn the elemental principles of responsibility, compassion, and respect. It is with our brothers and sisters that we first learn the tenets of fair play, equality, and communication. It is through the home that we perceive the dimensions of security, which we intuitively know is built upon trust, and learn our most salient values. Values, such as those Chief Seattle urges in the following excerpt from his letter to President Franklin Pierce, lay the ground for citizenship in the ecological regime:You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.
In order for the family to be strong, there must be a clear order of power between the parents, between the parents and the children, and between the children. Different families will configure the power flow differently according to custom and culture, of course. However, it seems to me that if we are to optimize personal efficacy in preparation for an active citizenship, while at the same time cultivating respect for our elders (authority), then the form of family politics should utilize consensual processes within generations, while maintaining moderate deference between generations. (As the French novelist, Colette, wrote, "It is not a bad thing that children should occasionally, and politely, put parents in their place." ) Everybody is respected in this arrangement, and the basic skills for citizenship - communication (especially the art of conversation), participation, and responsibility - are acquired and maintained in an active environment rather than a passive one.
The next development is the kinship system - extended family - that would best be served by the same structure as that of the family. The affiliations strengthen the ties that bind us both to one another and the places where our roots are watered. Consensus cultivates kinship, because it requires that families stay in touch and spend time together for both mutual support and mutual enjoyment. It, also, disciplines kinship relations, which are often complicated by deep emotional conflicts, by honing skills in conflict resolution and diplomacy. The impact of strong, supportive, and disciplined ties to both people and land will engender seasoned faith in community and common cause for celebration.
Historically, common cause was not only reason for celebration; it was the foundation of a village. People built villages, because they shared occupations, needs, and values in common, such as agricultural villages that facilitated the operations of the predominant farming occupations, as well as supplying their needs for processed agricultural goods, such as milled flour and woven cotton. The village was a fairly homogenous cultural and political entity, comprised of a few different kinship lines of various families. Under such conditions, consensus could effectively serve to facilitate political processes amongst the politically responsible, such was the practice of Hopi villages and Jewish schtetels, and remains the practice of Amish communities.
Today, however, most villages, even small ones, are host to long established kinship lines, as well as various unrelated individuals and nuclear families with no local history. Such a condition would make consensus difficult at the village level, although not impossible. The modem village is relatively moderately challenged by pluralism and transience. Different religious, political, economic, sexual, and cultural views, as well as uncommitted residencies do not lend to a climate of trust nor to an ethic of land care. Many families in a New England village do not know their neighbors nor the land held in common by the village (nor, perhaps, their own backyard). This sad truth can only be remedied by active communication and a call to responsibility - a policy of neighborliness. Such a policy can be facilitated by consensual government tempered by democracy in times of stalemate. Even given the challenges of pluralism and transience, a village is not so big that its members could not become acquainted well enough to build trust and respect, and to act in mutual aid. Neighborliness would extend beyond the needs of the people to the needs of the land and its winged, finned, and four-footed inhabitants, as people and families become increasingly acquainted with them through the necessity of sustainable land management and the pleasure of recreation.
Democracy, as I mentioned, does have a part to play at the village level, but I think it should largely be kept in reserve as a last resort. There is great power in rule by majority vote. Citizens who would be unfavorably effected - the minority - by such power may resent it unless they were well apprised of the necessity of breaking a stalemate. Decisions, after all, must be made. Every adult knows this. But let us make these decisions out of profound respect for all who would be affected - our neighbors. Wendell Berry, as usual, puts it very well:If we are to correct our abuses of each other and of other races and of our land, and if our effort to correct these abuses is to be more than a political fad that will in the long run be only another form of abuse, then we are going to have to go far beyond public protest and political action. We are going to have to rebuild the substance and integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and we are going to have to put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods.
The results of open, honest discussion are often surprising. Dan Dagget, who was honored by the Sierra Club in 1992 as one of the top grassroots activists in America, writes about surprising resolutions to long term and complicated problems associated with cattle ranching out West in his book, Beyond the Rangeland Conflict. These resolutions came out of a decision by some beleaguered ranchers and environmental activists to stop yelling at each other from their respective ideological pulpits, and to start talking with each other over beers in ranchers' living rooms and out on the ranchlands in question. His story is an excellent testimony to the value of dealing with each other as neighbors:Spending time in such a diverse group, on the very landscape we were all so concerned about, we began to see that the problems on the western range aren't as simple as the media have been painting them. As time went along, it became more and more apparent that there were no villains here, nor heroes - just people. And the land is so much more complex when you're standing on it...After looking at hundreds of thousands of acres of rangeland and hearing of the work scores of people had done, not only to stop degrading the land but to restore and improve it, I found my perspective on how we can best live as a positive force on America's rangelands changing. I found myself beginning to believe that we have been focusing too much on what is wrong with one another and not enough on what each of us has to offer; too much on how one side or the other can win the fight and too little on how we can all make things better; too much on issues and too little on the land.
At the town level, however, consensus utterly fails. Towns, which usually are comprised of tens of thousands of people (in America), are beyond the capacity of effective consensual dialogue. The proper vehicle of political power at this level is democracy, especially what Benjamin Barber defines as "strong democracy":The future of democracy lies with strong democracy - with the revitalization of a form of community that is not collectivistic, a form of public reasoning that is not conformist, and a set of civic institutions that is compatible with modern society. Strong democracy is defined by politics in the participation mode: literally, it is self-government in the name of citizens rather than representative government in the name of citizens. Active citizens govern themselves directly here, not necessarily at every level and in every instance, but frequently enough and in particular when basic policies are being decided and when significant power is being deployed. Self-government is carried on through institutions designed to facilitate ongoing civic participation in agenda-setting, deliberation, legislation, and policy implementation (in the form of" common work"). Strong democracy does not place endless faith in tire capacity of individuals to govern themselves [well], but affirms with... Theodore Roosevelt that "the majority of the plain people will day in and day out make fewer mistakes in governing themselves than any smaller body of men will wake in trying to govern them."
A town comprised of individuals raised in families and kindred relations where consensualism was practiced will be eminently characterized by high levels of citizenry participation and intelligent policy. In such a context, democracy would effectively and efficiently facilitate public discussion of individual and corporate interests that would bear upon the public domain, which includes the land. In such a regime, property may remain private, but activities carried out on such property that effect public lands and water bodies become public domain. Even without the supportive context of a citizenry reared in consensual process, democracy would still be the most human and ecological political practice, because it requires face-to-face participation in the discussion and legislation of public interests, as is done today in town meetings and civil hearings.
Regarding the challenge of pluralism, democracy encourages intercourse between the disparate groups for the sake of understanding and the legislating of fair policy. Given the democratic premise of majority rule, minorities surely would find incentives to ensure their voice in the public arena.
Of course, once we have come to the level of the town, the criteria of scale and design come to bear in ways they do not on prior levels. Families, kinship systems, and villages are small and simple in scale and design, which makes them very comprehensible and accountable to human sensibilities; so, there is little or no need for representative government. When you need to discuss a matter with your neighbor, you simply knock on the door. There is no need to appoint a representative in the matter. Whereas, a town, although still comprehensible, begins to struggle with accountability due to the size of the population. This limitation requires the appointment of offices that are invested with responsibility by the people. Such a design assures, within reason, that the needs of the town are met. Local individuals are selected - elected - into these offices by a town populace and are accountable to that populace. This design ushers in republicanism (representative government).
Republican government is not a "top down" regime; rather, it is "bottom up". Any official is the individual agent of the public will, not the other way around. So, the responsibility for shaping the common will remains with the public at large, and the official is empowered to enact that will. Any resemblance to centralized federal government is incidental. There is a world of difference between, a republican hierarchy and a federal hierarchy. In the former, the people empower elected officials. In the latter, officials empower the people. Democratic republican government retains its connection to the Earth. Any kind of federalism does not.
The democratic republicanism that served the town will serve the state, the nation, and the world. Town (city) politics should set the stage all the way up. Of course, there would be adjustments to allow for the just representation of various public bodies and their interests, such as the creation of districts, counties, and the like, which are magnitudes of scale of the town model. Such a system remains comprehensible to human sensibilities, because at any level the basic rules of "bottom up" representation hold. In other words, no matter how high an office is, it is lower than (or equal to) the mother tending her children. This may seem to promote tyranny of the masses, but can there be tyranny when a multitude of opinions claim the floor? Who is being tyrannized anyway? The officials? The state? Everybody must join in the dialogue.
And yet, can everybody join in the dialogue when the public is as vast as the former Soviet Union, or China, or the United States? I do not believe so. Again, the criteria of scale must come to bear. In considering the countries of the world, I am always impressed with the public policies of the northern European nation/ states of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, as well as others, such as Switzerland, Costa Rica, and New Zealand. What do they have that we do not have? What they have is less, and they are able to do more with it. What they do not have is the responsibility of governing anywhere from 250 million to a billion people over tremendous land expanses. The bigger you are, the less you can do. The former Soviet Union is an excellent testament to this rule, and the United States is not far behind with its shrinking middle class, increasing numbers of alienated and disenfranchised individuals, soaring rates in crime and drug abuse, and the tell-tale presence of mushrooming militias.
The radical reformation that President Gorbachev initiated through Perestroika and Glasnost, which dismantled the Soviet empire and led to the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, was a move in the right direction. All the "great" nations of the world should follow suit, before they are forced by social, political, and economic necessity, as was the case with the USSR.
You cannot love what you do not know. A country should not be larger than its citizens' capacity to manage it well and to love it, which would entail first hand knowledge of both the people and the land - such knowledge as could be had by a "local". In the US, this could be realized if we subdivided the country into several nation/states defined by generally contiguous bioregional characteristics. The New England states could become the nation, New England. The southwestern states, including southern California, could become the nation, Saguaro. The northern Pacific states west of the Cascade mountain ranges could become the nation, Cascade. Etceteras. All of these nations could join in a confederacy to facilitate economic necessities, but without establishing an international body to govern the confederacy, because such a body would simply return us to the present state of affairs.
Throughout this paper, I have focused primarily upon changes that would promote and nurture both human and non-human communities. The agent of all this change, of course, is the individual embedded in community. (We are all invariably embedded in some kind of contextual community.) As I mentioned earlier, the individual is not a level of social organization; rather, s/he is the agent of social organizations, and as such s/he is free. This freedom is critical to the health of the whole, because it permits great flexibility in responding to the vicissitudes of life. This freedom is not license to do as one pleases without regard to the social and ecological obligations inherent in community; rather, it is the ground of personal efficacy and responsibility. If a person is not free, then can s/he be responsible to oneself, to one's community, to one's bioregion, to one's country, and to one's world? The freedom inherent in individuality is prerequisite for the mature political person, and is the seat of responsibility within every community. This law is founded in the soul of nature, as well as humanity.
It is upon this ground of freedom that anarchy stands. The notion that an anarchist is opposed to any form of government is immature. The mature anarchist is not opposed to government if that government is founded by communities of individuals freely willing to enter into a political contract for the benefit of all. Such an anarchist understands that s/he is embedded within a community as a responsible member of the community - responsible not by compulsion but rather by free and informed consent. So, in fact, every citizen of an ecological regime would be an anarchist. A citizenry characterized by such a perspective would be the best protection against political corruption and the ever-present threat of tyranny.
When considering the entire structure, we see that the whole of it is informed by an attitude of respect for humane and ecological values. We see that the scale is consistently appropriate in size and attunement to human sensibilities and ecological necessity. And we see that the design is integrated throughout to facilitate human participation, virtue, and gratitude towards the biosphere. When attitude, scale, and design agree, a graceful harmonics arises within the soul of the people. It is like a beautiful song that inspires people to sing. A humane regime that fosters ecological values will inspire the people to participate.
Such a regime, then, is fundamentally moral, but it is not moral in the legal sense - "Thou shall not..." Rather, it is moral by way of the heart- a natural morality that requires no injunction. Because the ecological regime fosters right relationships to our neighbors and to the land, every citizen knows what is good and just and the benefit of being so. The Buddha once said, "I am not moral because I ought to be moral; rather, I am moral because there is benefit in being so." In the same vein, one should not embrace a political regime because we are told to do so; rather, one should embrace a regime only because there is worthwhile benefit in doing so. In a humane and ecological regime there is benefit for all.
List of Political Regime Types:1. Imperialism: The policy of extending a nation's authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations.
2. Totalitarianism: A form of government in which the political authority exercises absolute and centralized control over all aspects of life, the individual is subordinated to the state, and opposing political and cultural expression is suppressed.
3. Fascism: A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.
4. Monarchy: Government by a monarch, which is often feudalistic in design.
5. Feudalism: A political and economic system of Europe from the 9th to about the 15th century, based on the holding of all land in fief or fee and the resulting relation of lord to vassal and characterized by homage, legal and military service of tenants, and forfeiture.
6. Oligarchy: Government by a few, especially by a small faction of persons or families.
7. Communism: A system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single, often authoritarian party holds power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people.
8. Federalism: A system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units.
9. Republicanism: A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them. Usually characterized by a hierarchy of representative government.
10. Democracy: Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives, wherein the common people are considered the primary source of political power. It is founded upon the principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community. Majority rules.
11. Consensus: Government by the people, wherein political decisions are wrought through common agreements by al; persons deemed politically responsible. Consensual government has never existed beyond small societies, such as certain aboriginal tribes, religious communities, and "hippie" communes.
12. Anarchy: Absence of any forms of political authority or cohesive principle, such as a common standard or purpose. Decisions are made according to the daily" give and take" of individual needs and desires.
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- George Konrad, Sunday Correspondent (London, 15 April 1990)
- Lewis H. Lapham, "Democracy in America?" in Harper's (New York, Nov. 1990)
- Emma Goldman, "Anarchism: What It Really Stands For", Anarchism and Other Essays, (1910)
- Noam Chomsky, "Notes on Anarchism," in New York Review of Books (21 May 1970)
- Edward Goldsmith, The Way: an Ecological World-View, Shambala, Boston (1993)
- Arthur Koestler, Janus-A Summing Up, Hutchinson, London, 1978. Pg.139
- Leon Trotsky, Our Political Tasks (1904) Quoted in: Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, (1963)
- Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, Shambala, Boston & London, 1995. Jantsch and Taylor's work are referenced therein. Eric Jantsch The Self-Organizing Universe, pg. 132; Alaister Taylor, "Sociocultural Nonequilibrium Systems Model"
- Ursula K. Le Guin, "A Left-Handed Commencement Address," to Mills College Class of 1983 (published in Dancing at the Edge of the World, 1989)
- Seattle, Chief of the Duwamish, Suquamish and allied Indian tribes. Letter, written in 1854, to President Franklin Pierce (published in Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message from Chief Seattle, 1990).
- Colette, "The Priest on the Wall", My Mother's House, (1922)
- Wendell Berry, Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural, 1972
- Dan Dagget, Beyond the Rangeland Conflict, The Grand Canyon Trust, Flagstaff, Arizona, 1995, pp. 7-8
- Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1984, pp. 150-151