Creative Activism and Joy

The world has big problems, including global warming, peak oil, genocide, war and poverty.
We can help solve them, in our spare time, and with joy! But there are three secrets.


I want to say four things. The first is that the world is facing some big problems. No surprise there. The other three things I'm calling "secrets," in the sense that how to address these problems is rarely mentioned in polite society.

Secret 1: ALL the problems must be addressed or none can be solved.

Secret 2: Resisting the problems won't work. We need "creative activism."

Secret 3: Creative activism requires, and produces, joy. There are ten rules for joyful activism.

There are big problems facing the United States and the world. These include global warming, looming oil shortages, genocide, the war system of dispute settlement, falling water tables, rising oceans, the nuclear threat, racism, economic injustice, poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDS, and environmental damage. Plus the war in Iraq.

These problems are serious and interlocking, but worth solving. Since they aren't currently being solved, citizen activism is required.

SECRET 1: Solving the problems has to be a package deal

Neither the U.S. nor any other community can be secure in a world of poverty and hunger, global warming, nuclear weapons, and desperate people. The world is interconnected so that long term success in any country requires success in every country.

But there's more. The world is now spending about $1 trillion every year on the war system of dispute settlement. People estimate that that money is enough to pay for a world peace system, plus universal education, universal health care, and food security for the whole world.

A worldwide plan for a peace dividend, however, is not enough. People are becoming aware of relatively immediate threats to world society, including global climate change and running low on oil. These are political, economic, economic justice, and national security questions, as well as ecological questions.

Because time is short to take action, it's too late for half-measures and jockeying for position. It's too late for patching up the present systems, and hoping for the best.

Whatever we attempt must be right spiritually, protecting both the Creation and our human progeny, or it won't earn the support needed.

Especially with the end of the age of oil, we will have to start thinking about non-coercive ways of getting to optimum population, everywhere in the world.

It could happen this way. Activists in the U.S. get changes in the government including
including honest elections, instant runoff voting, honest districting, and clean elections. The U.S. government cleans up its act, throws off corporate control, and makes corporations operate in the public interest. This restoration of democracy allows the creation of non-commercial media to present the realities to the public. The U.S., and the world discuss possible global get-well plans. Deliberations eventually result in a democratic world government. This allows a peace system to replace the war system, beginning a new era of sustainable peace and prosperity.

Of course, this is Utopian thinking. It contradicts the cultural story that says our present way of doing things is the best possible. But the cultural story always assumes the inevitability of what is. Ships couldn't run on steam. Humans couldn't fly. Mankind couldn't go to the moon.

Unprecedented things are happening already. The question is how to assure human success.

SECRET 2: Fixing the problems will require changing our cultural stories through "creative activism."

As children, we all learn our culture, including language, religion, how to behave, and the way the world works. That is, we learn cultural stories while we are too young to question what we're taught. For example, children in one culture may be taught Islam and sympathy for Palestinians, while others may be taught Judaism and sympathy for Israelis.

We learn culture from our parents, our family, our peers, TV, school, church, and our personal experiences. We grow up immersed in cultural stories that are likely to be shared by everyone we know, so our personal experiences tend to reinforce what we have been taught to believe.

Consider this chart:

Our social institutions, including schools, churches, jobs, government and businesses are built assuming the correctness of our shared cultural stories.

Members of society then take actions (Human Behavior) defined by their roles in these social institutions, as mothers, fathers, citizens, workers, soldiers, students, consumers, and friends.

Finally, actions taken by members of society result in benefits but also in problems.

Our American way of life has brought us benefits including economic well-being, comfort, privilege, personal freedom and military power. But our collective behaviors have also brought us the big problems listed above.

Our cultural stories urge us to "act locally", trying to solve problems directly, or to do charity (Benefits and Problems). Society assumes that its institutions are OK, so we merely have to tidy up any effects we don't like. The problem with that approach is that it leaves intact the unhelpful behaviors, and institutions that produced them.

Other activists try to solve problems by opposing individuals (e.g. Saddam Hussein) or their behavior (Human Behavior), but this leaves the Social Institutions unchanged.

Some activism tries to "fight city hall" by opposing Social Institutions. Targeting draft boards during the Vietnam War did this. The trouble is, there is a broad consensus in our society to support our institutions, and to fear anarchy if they are attacked.

Creative activism seeks to change the cultural stories from which social institutions, and human behaviors, and benefits and problems arise. In a sense, all the world problems are really symptoms on just one problem: The world doesn't yet have cultural stories for human success.

Examples of obsolete cultural stories:

  1. Consumption brings happiness, scarcity is normal, and competition is inevitable;
  2. Population growth and economic growth are good, and can continue forever;
  3. War is normal;
  4. Nuclear weapons are unavoidable;
  5. God / economics / science will protect us from the effects of our actions.
  6. Whatever cultural stories we believe in (patriotism, religious dogma, sexism, racism, capitalism) are right.

Creative activism does not "oppose" dysfunctional cultural stories, but "proposes" workable alternatives.

Creative activism consists of:

  1. Learning where our present direction is leading,
  2. Envisioning a future that works for everyone,
  3. Refining and communicating that vision through listening and dialogue,
  4. Inventing ways to transform problems into opportunities by providingdecision makers and teachers with positive alternatives, and
  5. Disseminating solutions that work.

SECRET 3: Creative activism requires, and produces, joy. But there are rules.

Our cultural stories tell us that only experts are qualified to find solutions to the big problems. Well, how well have they done so far?

We need activism! But we activists need tools that help us persist in the work without anger, fear, or burning out. If we gave the big problems the power to distress us, we would never have peace of mind.

Here are Ten Rules for Joyful Activism:

  1. Keep perspective. The Universe is a big place; don't feel you have to carry it on your shoulders.
  2. Live in the NOW. Don't worry about the future, regret the past, or take responsibility for things at a distance you can't affect NOW. Let go of the ideas of bravery and sacrifice.
  3. Preemptively accept what is. Decide beforehand not to deny, personalize or excessively mourn the negative.
  4. Think BIG! Look down on problems; observe as from the moon.
  5. Work backwards. Assume and envision future success; then find actions, create opportunities and attract support to get there.
  6. Keep no enemies. People are caught up in the old stories, but everyone is our potential ally. Our intent is a harmonious global future, shared by all.
    Join a group. We all need the support of like-minded people. But look and aspire beyond the group.
  7. Listen and speak. Wherever our beliefs differ, there is an opportunity to learn.
  8. Pace yourself. Hold to the big picture but don't require people to act on your timetable.
  9. Celebrate life! If what you're doing isn't fun, try something else. Saving the world is a part-time job. Do your part, and then party!

If you find yourself disappointed, discouraged, frustrated, overwhelmed, or angry, review these rules. Activism is satisfying and joyful when you follow the rules!


This is material from my book (not yet published) entitled TRANSFORMATION: Human Success through Joyful Activism. Comments?