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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 community development:

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 first place.

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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Chris Maser
www.chrismaser.com
Corvallis, OR 97330

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