Reasons for resolve

  • One of the best ways to see our society for what it is, is to step outside it
  • The cultural stories we are told have a profound and often unrecognised effect on our behaviour; yet they are not necessarily based on reality. Some examples of unhelpful stories: humans naturally form hierarchical, dominator-based social structures; we are under threat from those out to destroy our way of life; we don’t need any creation ‘myths’ because we have science; we are intrinsically evil (from Christianity); economic growth is essential; and we can (and should) justify and explain our behaviour in terms of its economic effects, regardless of its effects on people and other living things. These stories can be corrected.
  • Other cultures can have better stories; it is insightful to explore them and seek inspiration for fresh stories, appropriate to creating a modern culture based on harmony and sustainability
  • There are well-researched, positive alternatives to every negative structure in our industrial growth society, whether economic, technical, social or educational; many are well documented and are already being implemented at ground level as a countermeasure to the dominant culture. If global investments can be redirected their way, these represent a huge opportunity for positive change.
  • Our culture has many good things that we should hold on to and celebrate: our music, literature and art, the many thousands of positive movements for change, our traditions of decency and family values, our scientific and engineering skills and the associated achievements that have benefited the public good, and our individual drive and ambition, without which much of the sophistication within our artistic, scientific and engineering endeavours would not have transpired. Such things should be acknowledged and recognised.
  • Compassion, community, innovation and adaptation are natural human traits and can be harnessed for positive change. Many investment activities can be repurposed easily so that they genuinely provide for a long-term return and leave a rich legacy for future generations. The conditions for the switch can be as simple as the insight to see what’s possible and the courage to break the mould.

9 comments

  1. Hi Jodie; yes I have come across the Venus Project in the past sometime. I liked their philosophy and motivations but am a bit wary of anything that looks like a techno-utopia, partly because I doubt it’s achievable given our looming energy crises but also because it always gives the impression of (and surely would depend on) some sort of centralised command, which means power hierarchies (including over nature) and all that goes with them. But I will look more closely again, as without reading the plan properly I am undoubtedly doing it an injustice. Thanks for the pointer! (To everyone: click on Jodie’s name, above, to go to the Venus Project.)

  2. Hi Vanessa. I know this is an old article, but I thought I’d ask my question just the same. What is the argument for “needing creation myths?”

  3. Hi Garrett. I admit that what I was reading and thinking when I wrote this is now a somewhat distant memory! But the echo that I am left with is that creation myths enable people to believe they are actively participating in something bigger than themselves, something that is of significance and perhaps sacred. Many of them – I guess the “good” ones, in terms of their effects – encourage respect for the life-death-life cycle, which can result in a mutually beneficial relationship between the culture and its people and the natural world; it can also minimise cultural fear of death, which (I gather) underpins much of the self-elevating, insecure and outwardly destructive behaviour seen in modern society.

    Creation myths can encourage the understanding that creation is happening all the time, in the moment, and so help people to live in the present. By contrast, reductionist science encourages us to believe that the universe came about purely as a chance occurrence, as a result of a single moment of creation, which resulted in a combination of components and forces that happened subsequently to work together like a machine and, inevitably, to produce the world around us and ourselves, to which we are largely irrelevant. This encourages a sense of separation and fatalism and, perhaps, makes us less accountable for (or even aware of) the way in which we take part in the ongoing process of creation.

    The above is no doubt rather flawed; it’s written off-the-cuff and would certainly benefit from more careful consideration and research. I’m glad of your question as it’s provided a useful reminder to revisit this theme! Joseph Campbell’s writings are always a good place to start, in case you’re interested.

  4. My 2 cents:

    One of the most fundamental of all existential questions is: where did I/we come from? Even if it is not conscious (as most existential questions/dilemmas are not, especially for most in this culture), this generates an existential demand for creation myths (or, to rephrase, stories about where I/we/life/the universe/reality as we experience it came from). In other words, put simply, we need such myths because we are human beings.

    To make this point: look at every human culture, society, or civilization about which we know anything, and you will not find a single one that lacks a creation myth (or myths). That’s not to say that every individual in those societies walks around believing consciously in the dominant myth, of course, but it is to say that, like it or not, such myths are a part of their psyche. We are products of our culture, and even if our response to such things is a negative one, we’re still largely governed by them at levels that are not easy to access. Social psychology can be a harsh mistress.

    BTW, this includes so-called ‘atheists’ and ‘rationalists’ who tend to be among the most religious people around, all too often of the fundamentalist persuasion.

    Vanessa, I just discovered your blog, as well as ReStory, and am enjoying exploring these offerings a great deal, thank you so much for engaging in this endeavor! And BTW, been a long time since I saw someone blogging on these issues cite Murray Bookchin (which strikes me as part of the problem!) – so congrats and thanks for that in and of itself!

    The only thing I would question is this reason for resolve:

    “There are well-researched, positive alternatives to every negative structure in our industrial growth society, whether economic, technical, social or educational…”

    True – but this leaves out the most important aspect: the systemic. That is, this ‘reason’ offers a reductionist view – we can individually ‘solve’ each of these negative structures – but there are system level forces that oppose such resolution. It’s not a matter of redirecting investments – it’s the deep structures in the pattern language of this culture that must change, and rapidly, since obviously our situation is time sensitive. In a complex system, it’s not sufficient to talk about how we can address the forcings without also noting the feedbacks. It’s not enough to look at the structural components contributing to the degradation of the system without examining how to deal with the relationships that keep them going.

    The mere fact, then, then we know how to, for example, ‘do’ agriculture in a non-industrial, non-extractive way, building soil via organic, agroecological or permaculture technologies perhaps, is not in itself a reason for resolve if we note that the relationships within the higher level political, economic and social systems in which such a sub-system is embedded will not allow it.

    In fact, this only serves as a pointer to a larger cause for concern, and thus becomes a reason for a rather hollow form of resolve, or so it seems to me.

    This is where I see stories (aka cultural myths and narratives) coming in – as Donella Meadows, of LTG fame, pointed out:

    http://donellameadows.org/archives/leverage-points-places-to-intervene-in-a-system/

    The top 3 places to intervene in a complex system if the goal is to change its behaviors and outcomes are all story-related:

    3. The goals of the system.
    2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises.
    1. The power to transcend paradigms.

    While the least effective approaches involve focusing on the structural components:

    12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards).
    11. The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows.
    10. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport networks, population age structures).

    – Oz

  5. Hello Oz, and many thanks for your thoughtful and valuable comment. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to approve it. It came in while I was offline over summer, and somehow evaded my notice when I came back on. I’m grateful for your appreciative comments about my writing endeavours — and especially for your wise observations about the systemic nature of the challenges we face. They ring absolutely true, and I find your perspective on the situation, and suggestions for where might be most effective to intervene, refreshing and insightful. (I’d read some Donella Meadows, but a long time ago, and the reminder is timely.) It’s especially good to have such a clear expression of the interconnected nature of the problem; I sense and know it on many levels (to the extent that it gets in the way of my conviction and commitment to writing – I guess I do know about that hollowness!) but have not taken the trouble to spell it out. However it can’t be properly confronted until it’s been overtly articulated. You’ve done me a real favour by bringing this to my conscious awareness — thank you.

  6. Hi Vanessa – glad to hear you spend time offline! So necessary to unplug for a while! 🙂

    You’re welcome and thank you back! I agree that having a well articulated conceptual and terminological framework is a requirement prior to having an effective ‘so, what do I/we do about it’ conversation – and in fact we all just got a huge boost in that department, compliments, posthumously, of David Fleming. I picked up his ‘Surviving the Future’ (basically, a ‘story-fied’ excerpt of his monumental Lean Logic dictionary) and began reading this past week and already it’s having an impact on terms of connecting the conceptual to the practical for me. Highly recommended.

    I think this is one everybody in the – what do we call it now? – sustainability? resilience? regenerativity? – anyway, whatever this ‘movement’ is, people in it should be and I think will be buzzing about Fleming’s notions once they’ve had time to digest them. I’m something of a cynic, and yet even I feel a fresh sort of excitement coming off of these ideas, and even though he makes clear that he’s describing a scenario, and not making predictions, still I think some of what he lays out could qualify, or at least point us to, solid reasons for resolve.

    Mix two parts of Lean Logic with two parts Green Wizardry and well, that’s my kinda cocktail!

  7. Hi again Oz :-). My offline time was partly unplugging, partly enforced due to a back problem, which although on the mend now is still resulting in slow response times. So, again belatedly, thanks for your last. And that’s a great recommendation, which coincided happily with my receiving a galley copy of Lean Logic, being lucky enough to have been invited to write something about it by Shaun Chamberlin. I’ve only now started dipping in and weaving around it. It’s really quite some work – monumental is just the term. It’s great to know that Surviving the Future is providing succour; I may try that route in too. Either way (and especially combined with Green Wizardry), a tonic indeed! All best, V.

  8. Hey Oz, as the editor of Surviving the Future (and a big fan of Vivid!) I just wanted to say how good it was to read your thoughts!

    Also that if you were willing to copy and paste them into an Amazon review, that’d be a great help in spreading the word about the books. I don’t recommend buying books through Amazon, but reviews posted there travel a surprisingly long way, and yours is great.

    Best,
    Shaun

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