Recent Shifts in Social Change: From the IONS Shift Report
Transformation is rapidly seeping into the global psyche in quantifiable ways. In the face of impending world-wide catastrophe, our ability as humans to work and think collectively is more important than ever. The Shift Reports published by the Institute of Noetic Sciences, look at the nature of transformation on both a personal and global level, looking at the roots of our current plight and investigating the ways that we can play a part in our own evolution. Running counter to the selfish view of humanity purveyed by Neo-Darwinists, the IONS Shift Reports offer a more encouraging view, maintaining that intention, choice and will can catalyze change. From the blending of Western and Eastern medicine to ideas about human evolution and social change, the Reports point to a strong paradigm shift that is taking place all over the world at this very moment. If they’re right, this could be an age of Re-Enlightenment.
Below is an excerpt--Part III: Social Change--from the 2008 IONS Shift Report. Although attributed to Matthew Gilbert, it was written by Charles Shaw and edited by Gilbert, who oversaw all four sections of the report.
One of the most significant recent shifts in worldwide consciousness is a growing awareness and alarm about global warming and planetary instability, along with a decline in trusting governments and other mainstream institutions to tell the truth and take effective action. At the same time, trust in NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and other groups actively working to bring about positive change is strong and steadily growing. As just one “tipping point” in a series of crucial shifts necessary for global transformation, ecological issues may be the most important. In evolving from unusual to common, eco-consciousness is rapidly integrating itself into our social, political, and economic realities. We may be entering the opening stages of what industrial designer Bruce Mau calls the “massive change”—the emergence of a new culture with a new economy and new industries based in a new political system. With a growing understanding that humanity may not have a generation of time left for more trial and error, work that previously languished in the realm of theory has suddenly taken on new urgency and meaning, while new connections are being made among pressing issues that long appeared to be unrelated or fragmented.
Most significantly, we have come to recognize that our ecological crises are a by-product of a flawed economic system and that the system itself is becoming increasingly impacted by—and dependent upon—global conflict and natural disasters. Such a system, addicted to continuous economic growth as tracked by a narrow set of indicators, is proving catastrophic for large numbers of people and their land base. Those who offer a different way of measuring health and prosperity have brought strong challenges against this pervasive economic model. They are working to build a “green” or “caring” or “partnership” economy based on the values of social justice and sustainability, and they are attracting new levels of support while generating tangible, in-the-field results.
This unprecedented and widespread response has translated into a renewed sense of purpose and action. The instant availability of vast amounts of new information has allowed greater numbers of people to educate themselves about a variety of issues and to plug into both on-the-ground and virtual networks of change. These efforts are emerging in a multitude of ways as a kind of “swarm intelligence” that is attacking the problems at innumerable inner and outer tension points, constituting what is being called the largest movement of change on Earth.
Social Change: Institutional and Grassroots Movements
Organized responses to social inequities and injustices have struggled in recent years to evolve alongside rapid changes in world dynamics and the new challenges those shifts present. Many organizations and causes within a fragmented network clamor for support, and true progress is often difficult to discern. The perceived failure of the peace and environmental movements, for example, to bring about lasting change has burned cynicism into many activists, at a time when nearly all assessments point to an intensification of the problems facing humanity. As a result, many social change movements have become stuck.
But this period of frustration is also catalyzing a much-sought-after evolution in philosophy and strategy. The acceleration of change and the greater imperative brought about by the growing awareness of what are being called the “convergent crises”—resource depletion, peak oil, climate change, systems collapse, and economic instability—are forcing adaptation on both the individual and institutional fronts. Once-moribund activist practices and daunting social change work are being creatively reinvigorated. Effective alternatives to such traditional social change strategies as marches, rallies, and regulated not-for-profits reflect a wealth of new thinking on organizing models that take advantage of the emerging dynamics of collaboration, decentralization, autonomy, flexibility, and technological nimbleness.
With many postmodern theorists advocating a unification of ancient tribal wisdom with conventional science and reason as the next phase of human evolution, it is no surprise that neotribalism, particularly as it applies to organizing people into ad hoc tribal councils or councils of elders, has experienced a revival. One interesting and effective example of this is the growing popularity of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers and its work with the largely science-and-action driven Bioneers organization, which has been sponsoring annual gatherings of scientists and social innovators since 1990. Another hopeful sign is the formation of The Elders, a group of thirteen global leaders—including Gro Brundtland, Jimmy Carter, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, and Arch-bishop Desmond Tutu—who are applying their collective experience and leadership to such troubled areas as Darfur, the Middle East, and Zimbabwe.
In Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities, “urban tribes” of artists, activists, healers, and eco-practitioners are preparing for an uncertain future by forming councils to identify key issues and plans of preparation and action. Many of these tribes were born out of the Burning Man subculture and other communities of cultural creatives. These intentional groupings tend to self-organize in an egalitarian, nonhierarchical manner. Many are united by a common spiritual practice and share an understanding that personal transformation is the first step toward global transformation. This subculture also produced Burners Without Borders (BWB), which started when a group of participants left the 2005 Burning Man Festival to help clear debris in the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina. Autonomous and decentralized BWB groups are now active in community service in more than a dozen U.S. cities, the United Kingdom, and Peru.
In cities across the world, the urban garden movement has exploded as communities harness the potential of vacant, unused property, while urban farms are developing in response to concerns about obesity, food quality, and sustainable economics. Many U.S. churches have gone green, eschewing their traditional conservative partisan affiliations, while renewing their commitment to biblical stewardship of the Earth. Community-based solutions for the disenfranchised homeless and ex-offender population inspired the state of Vermont to create a program that reintegrates ex-offenders into their communities through “surrogate families.” The program helps to ease the difficulties of transition and to dispel negative stereotypes of the so-called ex-convict.
Underscoring much of these positive shifts in action is a sense that a spiritual approach to the convergent crises will, in the end, be most effective. The concept of spiritually-based activism, or the pairing of inner work and outer work, is a theme found in the teachings of most major religions. What is different about such activism in the emergent paradigm is that it acknowledges the limitations of both the detached, self-serving nature of the bliss-seeking personality and the angry self-righteousness of the activist personality.
Mystical scholar Andrew Harvey describes this “sacred activism” as “the fusion of the deepest mystical knowledge, peace, strength, and stamina with calm, focused, and radical action.” The spiritual grounding of the mystical allows the activist to turn fear into compassion; the clear agenda-driven work of the activist half gives applied expression to innate wisdom. There has been perhaps no greater symbolic expression of this idea in current times than what the world recently witnessed in Burma/Myanmar, as lines of solemn, saffron-clad monks marched in peaceful protest against an oppressive military regime. As Jungian influenced writer Paul Levy described it: “The situation in Burma/Myanmar is an out-picturing on the world stage of a deeper, archetypal process that exists enfolded within the collective unconscious of our species. What is being played out in Burma is a living ‘symbol’ of a deeper, mythic process which is currently enacting itself in a variety of scenarios around the world.”
In sum, the evidence suggests that a legion of autonomous individuals and groups connecting through a shared system of values into one global network of change, along with concurrent trends toward focused inner work, foretell an upswelling of profound social change throughout the world. These activists are perhaps the greatest symbols of our collective potential.
(c) 2008 Institute of Noetic Sciences. This article is excerpted from "The 2008 Shift Report: Changing the Story of Our Future;" Matthew Gilbert, Executive Editor and Project Director; a publication of the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
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