A life-affirming culture: the new revolution

By CCC19 participant and guest blogger, Andrew Gaines.

Adapting a phrase from eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, I suggest that the task of our time is to transition to a life-affirming global culture, rather than continuing on our present course of ecological self-destruction.

What is a life life-affirming culture?

Real ecological sustainability – operate within planetary boundaries

In terms of the environment, we intentionally operate within the Earth’s capacity to support us, and we don’t destroy or poison the ecosystems. Spiritually, we love and caring for the web of life.

There are many groups working in this area. Very likely you know about permaculture and organic farming. In addition, vegan’s point out that if we stopped raising billions of cattle, and therefor didn’t need to feed them, we would free massive amounts of land for rewilding. This would allow nature to draw down excess CO2. And we wouldn’t be so cruel.

Rocky Mountain Institute pioneers industrial design that uses far less energy and raw materials. Reducing energy demand, and indeed as a culture choosing to live materially modest lifestyles, is essential if we are to pull out of our ecological nosedive.

CASSE (Centre for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy) folks point out that economic growth serves the rich, and destroys both social cohesion and the biosphere (by increasing the demand for industrial raw materials). And of course, population growth increases the demand as well.

So, a life life-affirming culture will aim to steadily reduce both population and manufacturing until we reach the point where we are no longer devouring the Earth.

Putting this together, the first operating principles of a life affirming culture is that it ecologically sustainable.

Partnership-respect relating

The second operating principle is that a life-affirming culture will operate on good-willed partnership-respect valuesrather than on self-serving (and at times intentionally cruel) domination-control values. In other words, we actively care for people and the planet.

World War II ended with the invention of the atomic bomb. The last 6,000 years have been characterised by recurrent wars, and now the US, Russia, and China invest heavily in the military. The new generation of missile delivery systems are so fast and mobile that there is no defence against atomic attack, and yet the leaders of these countries, to a great extent supported by their populations, continue their military jockeying. Collectively we are sleepwalking towards Armageddon. Domination-control relating is taken for granted.

Therefore, evolving so that partnership-respect becomes our predominant mode is not just idealistic; it is an existential necessity. The continuation of domination-control as our primary cultural style will destroy us.

Domination-control relating is about power over others for personal or group aggrandizement, or to impose your will or ideology on others. It occurs at every level from childrearing to global governance. It is often, although not always, a manifestation of mental disturbance – a reaction to one’s own experience of physical or emotional abuse in childhood.

And sometimes it is merely a matter of habit. If we live in a dominator system, that may be all we know. It simply part of ‘the way things are done around here’.

For example, when babies are born doctors routinely slap them on the bum to stimulate their breathing. This is meant to be helpful. It was a breakthrough when obstetrician Frederick Leboyer realised that this was (unwittingly) child abuse, and worked out a form of a gentle birthing.

Training to get better at partnership-respect relating

There are ways to train to get better at partnership-respect relating. Ones I have done include improvisational acting, Aikido, and professional training in the Feldenkrais method of body education. They cultivate the skills and attitudes of ‘going with’ and collaborating with other people.

Inner work

Importantly, there are ways to resolve past traumas, reduce or eliminate the emotional triggers that cause rage self-depreciation, and thereby become more loving. Various forms of psychotherapy and insight meditation have proven useful for this.

In addition, there is a new discipline of ‘energy medicine’ that is often far faster than traditional psychotherapy.

Energy medicine reorganises the energy flow in the body by stimulating acupressure points. Changing the energy flows can resolve trauma and shock. It produces positive physical and emotional changes. EFT and CCC19 conference convener Stephanie Mines’ TARA approach are two examples. They are straightforward to teach, and they can be safely used as self-help techniques. Indeed, we can introduce them to family and friends. In doing so, we are not acting as therapists, but as trainers. We give people tools they can use for themselves if they are so motivated.

Whole system change

If we are to actively resolve climate change (or any of our mounting existential threats), as a culture we need to change all the drivers that make them worse. Some call this a whole system change, because we are looking at economic drivers, industrial design, institutional styles, child-rearing practices, and cultivating emotional maturity and well-being.

The idea of a whole system change to a life-affirming culture can seem overwhelming to people at first. There are so many elements, and the power structure is so entrenched!

However, there is a surprisingly simple way to map out the main elements. We can do this by asking:

What elements in the way our society operates tend to increase the amount of stuff we produce?

These elements drive the industrial and agricultural expansion that is undermining our life-support system. The cartoon above was indicative; here is a more analytical expression:

No one individual or group can have much influence on this whole system.

Recognising this, people are calling for a ‘movement of movements’– a way for the different networks to work together. We can become vastly more effective if we align to inspire thoughtful mainstream commitment to change this whole system for our mutual well-being and survival. If people understand why we need systemic change – including slowing the economy – they will more readily support responsible leaders when they arise.

Our task, therefore, for those of us who care, is to somehow engage the unengaged – people do not seek out information about existential threats and what to do about them.

Evolutionary Activism

The new revolution is evolutionary. It’s about helping people think better, combined with cultivating inner well-being and caring for the well-being of the whole. This is the role of ‘Evolutionary Activists’.

My vision is that in addition to paying dues and signing petitions, the members of the millions of groups that care about environmental and social well-being can act as Evolutionary Activists.

The simplest activity is to use some variant of the phrase ‘the task of our time is to transition to a life-affirming culture, rather than continuing on our path of ecological self-destruction.’ This is Marketing 101: get your brand/meme/goal seen everywhere.

Going deeper, we can also talk with friends, neighbours and business colleagues about what’s involved in successfully transitioning to a life-affirming culture. I have developed a tool for this called Kitchen Table Conversations, and there is a Kitchen Table Conversations Kit. A complete set of tools to get started with is at www.GreatTransition.net.

In addition, we can introduce people to self-help tools they can use for themselves to sort out emotional issues.

And, if we are in positions of influence, we can change organisations to operate on partnership-respect values, and minimise ecological footprints.

Our chief task

In addition to whatever else we may be doing, in my view our chief task to communicate to inspire mainstream commitment to transitioning to a life-affirming culture. Otherwise, like a boat headed for the falls, the continuation of business as usual will take us to our doom.

Young people will have hope for the future when they see that mainstream society as a whole (not just isolated pockets) is committed to turning the ship around. Let’s inspire that commitment!

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