Also see: Sustainable Community Development | Prime Directive | What is Meant by Development? | Choice of Lifestyle | Institutionalized Resistance | Social Service | My History in Sustainable Community | Educating for Sustainability | Giving Children a Voice | In addition, visit "The Commons" in Essays
Our American culture is driven by impatience for the future and nostalgia for the past. In the process, people miss the present moment, which is all anyone ever has. This is it—the eternal moment. Anonymous
MY HISTORY IN SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
I was born into an abusive family and had no idea while growing up that there
was a model of behavior other than the one to which I was subjected. As far
as I knew, all children were treated as I was. After many years of struggle
to overcome my childhood trauma, I was fortunate enough to find a model of
behavior other than the one I grew up with and reenacted in my early adult
life. But I had to find that different model before I could learn there was
a viable alternative to my thinking and my behavior. I tell you this
only because I see the same scenario being played out today in society.
Today's social model is increasingly "survival of the fittest," which, like
the model of my childhood, is self-centered, abusive, and fosters destructive
competition. The abuse inherent in our current social model is aimed not
only at one another but also at our entire life-support system—the environment.
Although the abuse is usually hidden in the euphemism of economic competition,
it is shattering the lives of both adults and children emotionally, physically,
and environmentally all over the world: witness the open wars being waged
on every continent except North America; witness the thousands of Americans,
with families, being fired from their jobs in the name of automation and
downsizing in order that a few corporations can increase their profit margins
as they compete in the global market for dollars and the political power
dollars translate into. These shattered children will one day be adults and
political leaders who will continue the cycle of abuse if, like me when I
was younger, that is all they know how to do.
There is another model, however, which can be thought of as "conscious culture"
in which abusive competition that destroys both people and the environment
is replaced with other-centered, mutually beneficial cooperation and coordination
that not only nurtures people but also protects the environment for all
generations, beginning with the present one. To break an old, dysfunctional
cycle, however, one must rewrite the rules of the game. It is the various
facets of rewriting the rules to accommodate this conscious, social model
that books in the "Sustainable Community Development Series" explore Series Synopsis.
The "Sustainable Community Development Series," which I wrote, co-authored,
and edited, came about because, during the 25 years I was in scientific research,
I discovered the following disturbing patterns of human thought and behavior
that continually squelch the imagination and creativity needed for sustainable
1. While physicists have found a greater voice for the spiritual underpinnings
of physics, the biological sciences have all but lost their spiritual foundation,
casting us adrift on a sea of arrogance and increasing spiritual, emotional,
and intellectual isolation.
2. There is a continuing attempt to force specialization into ever-narrowing
mental boxes, thereby so fragmenting our view of the world that we are
continually disarticulating the very processes that produce and maintain
the viability of the ecosystems on which we, as individuals and societies,
depend for survival.
3. People point outside themselves to the cause of environmental problems
without understanding that all such problems arise within ourselves, with
our thinking. Therefore, before we can heal the environment, we must first learn to
heal ourselves emotionally and spiritually.
4. We are asking science to answer questions concerning social values, which
science is not designed to do. Social questions require social answers.
5. One who has the courage to ask questions outside the accepted norm of
scientific inquiry, is ostracized because, as English philosopher John Locke
said: "New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any
other reason … [than] they are not already common."
During my years in ecological research, I watched helplessly as the norm
for scientific inquiry became increasingly fragmented, specialized, and
cloistered in the proverbial ivory tower. One of the most difficult tasks
I had during those years was to find professional journals willing not only
to deal with questions and their study outside the accepted norm of scientific
inquiry but also to publish studies that integrated five, six, and seven
separate scientific disciplines. Over the years, I watched the biological
sciences become increasingly specialized and thus increasingly ineffective
in dealing truly with social-environmental sustainability.
One of the most painful decisions of my life was to leave active research
because I had been privileged to enjoy a consummate love affair with science
since I was four years old. Nevertheless, my inner voice told me it was time
to accept another task. I therefore left active research and have for more
than a decade now devoted my life to searching for means of integrating science
and social values in a way that can bring humanity closer to the prospect
of social-environmental sustainability.
As I mentioned above, the "Sustainable Community Development Series" Series Synopsis is my
attempt to accommodate a conscious model of social-environmental sustainability
by helping to rewrite the rules for a compassionate social order. The following seven
premises, on which the "Sustainable Community Development Series" is based, are
a part of rewriting the rules:
1. All ecological systems, including human societies, are governed by inviolate
biophysical principles. To the extent that societies align themselves with
these principles and live in accord with them, they shall prosper. Conversely,
the extent to which societies violate these principles will determine the
measure of their suffering.
2. A system, be it an ecosystem or a society, is defined by the interactions
of its components and how they function as a whole in creating the system,
not by components in isolation from one another.
3. Each ecosystem contains built-in back-up subsystems, which means it contains
more than one species that can perform similar functions. Such back-ups
give an ecosystem the resilience either to resist change and/or to bounce
back after disturbance. Back-ups in the biological function of various
species is an environmental insurance policy. To maintain this insurance
policy, an ecosystem requires diversity of at least three important kinds:
composition, structure, and function, where composition creates structure,
and structure allows function.
Back-up subsystems, strengthen the ability of a system to retain the integrity of
its basic relationships, which means that the loss of a species or two is
not likely to result in such severe functional disruptions of the ecosystem
so as to cause its collapse because other species can make up for the functional
loss. But there comes a point, a threshold, when the loss of one or two more
species (and their functions) may in fact tip the balance and cause the system
to begin an irreversible change. That change may signal a decline in quality
or productivity of the very things we humans valued the system for in the
We are today purging our society of its back-up subsystems in jobs and the functions
they represent in the name of economic efficiency, not understanding that
efficiency and effectiveness are two different things. Economic and political
centralization, at the cost of dispersed back-up subsystems, can and will at some
point cause large segments of society to collapse: witness the oil shock
of the 1970s, the collapse of the old Soviet Union, the Asian monetary crisis,
the Y2K threat to the world's integrated computer systems in the year 2000. Back-up
subsystems within the larger social system, as in any ecosystems, is the only effective
insurance policy against internal collapse, which is most often brought about by the
influence of external forces.
4. Everyone has choice and must choose. Not to choose is still to make a
choice. If, however, one does not know that a given choice exists, then,
in effect, it does not exist until one is educated to the fact of it existence.
Even then, if one makes a mistake, one can always choose to choose again
because choice is always available.
5. The level of consciousness (thinking) that creates a problem is not
the level of consciousness that can fix it. To resolve a problem, the level
of consciousness must be elevated, which means letting go of old ideas and,
with a beginner's mind, creating new concepts. To be socially effective,
the level of consciousness that is applied to any given issue must be mediated
through a meticulous practice of the democratic process based on sound education
instead of corporate-political coercion.
6. Society is asking questions of the biophysical sciences they are not designed to
answer. These sciences entertain the study of universal, biophysical relationships, not
social values, which is the realm of the social sciences. Questions of social value can
be addressed only through participation in the democratic process and the social
sciences, not through inquires within the domain of the biophysical sciences.
7. In the end, all we have to give our children are choices to be made and
some things of value from which to choose. What those choices are, the real
value of the things from which they have to choose, and how the choices and
things are presented to them will in large measure determine what kind of
society our children create for their children, and their children will create for their
children's children into the unknowable future.
IF YOU THINK I CAN HELP YOUR GROUP, AGENCY, OR COMMUNITY, PLEASE CONTACT ME
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