Building a Scaffold for Social Change
This piece originally appeared in Conscious Choice.
For the most part, the mainstream media and federal government still treat the economic collapse as something that can be fixed, so that economic growth can resume in a few years. But some commentators are beginning to realize that our meltdown represents a deeper and more permanent paradigm shift. The physical environment can no longer withstand the assaults of our industrial culture. We are experiencing a termination of capitalism as we have known it, a shutdown recently dubbed "The Great Disruption" by Thomas Friedman, in The New York Times. Until recently a leading cheerleader for Neoliberal globalization, Friedman has come to the late realization "that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall." The longer the general population is allowed to remain in denial about what is happening, the more dire the probable consequences, such as widespread famine, civil unrest and a disintegration of basic services.
The truth is that we need to make a deep and rapid change in our current social systems and in the underlying models and ideals of our society. It is highly unlikely that those who have been part of the power structure, whether within government or the mainstream media, possess the necessary will, vision or inspiration to make this happen. Also, when we consider their self-serving support for a delusional model of infinite growth on a finite planet, ignoring all evidence to the contrary, our mainstream pundits and politicos have clearly forfeited any claim to authority, and should never be trusted again.
Many elements of an alternative paradigm, a participatory model in which power is restored to local communities, have been developed over the last decades. In previous columns, I have discussed the "Transition Town" model from the UK as a foundation to help communities move toward resilience and self-reliance. Extraordinary initiatives are presented annually at the Bioneers Conference, and their website maintains an archive of these projects, from bioremediation to complementary currencies, that could be rapidly scaled up if the collective will is mobilized. The nonprofit organization Pro Natura has developed an alfalfa leaf extract that can fulfill a person's annual nutritive needs for a negligible sum - and many other innovators and activists are holding crucial pieces of the new puzzle we need to assemble quickly.
What blocks real efforts at social transformation is the current level of human consciousness. The Italian political philosopher Antonio Negri has noted that the most important form of production in our post-industrial culture is the "production of subjectivity" -- our media and education systems have mechanically imprinted a certain level of awareness onto the masses, a passive, consumer consciousness. People have not been encouraged to think or to act for themselves. Now, their very survival may depend upon learning these unfamiliar skills.
Since I comprehended the full depth of the crisis heading our way, I have been working with friends and collaborators to envision and enact solutions. We saw the need for an alternative social network and media that could integrate many aspects of the new paradigm while providing a scaffold for a large-scale process of social transformation. Facebook and MySpace have shown the extraordinary power of social networks to reach an enormous audience, but they have mainly provided a place for people to display and distract themselves in new ways. Most popular social networks are designed to support what media critic Thomas de Zengotita has called the "flattered self," constantly craving attention. The main purpose of these networks is to make a profit for large corporations.
We have just launched Evolver.net, an independent social network, built on open-source software that is designed to support collaboration between individuals and groups and to engage people in the process of transforming their own consciousness and their local communities. While we still use many of the standard social networking tools, we have shifted the focus to members' mission and projects. We have also created an internal rating system for members to vote on the initiatives presented by other members, so that the best ideas in every area will rise to the top and gain more attention. Our plan is to facilitate a network of local groups, across the U.S. and eventually globally, that meet in person and engage in immediate actions to change their world.
Years ago, Barbara Marx Hubbard wrote, "If the positive innovations connect exponentially before the massive breakdowns reinforce one another, the system can repattern itself to a higher order of consciousness and freedom without the predicted economic, environmental, or social collapse." We are quickly approaching the critical threshold where breakdown or breakthrough becomes inevitable. I don't know if Evolver will reach mass popularity as a tool to bring about this repatterning. Of course, I hope this is the case. In the guise of a for-profit company, we have sought to create something akin to a social utility. At a turbulent time when nobody knows what is going to happen next, it feels good, at least, to have launched something into the world that can help the process of transformation.
Image by filmmaker in japan, courtesy of Creative Commons license.