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CHANGE
by Hank Stone
hstone@rochester.rr.com

 


The Neo-con Bush Administration has been bad for the United States in many ways. Naturally, then, the presidential candidates are calling for "change."

In a sense they need not be concerned, since with rising oil prices and global warming, with calls for endless war and the economy in trouble, change is assured.

Of course, change for the better is not assured. The particular change we want is from national self-destruction back to the path of relative peace and prosperity. We want our country to be respected again, with a foreign policy that is thoughtful, ecologically sensitive, and generous-spirited. We would like continuing economic growth, good jobs, and our freedoms restored.

We want things back to normal, for a change.

However, growing numbers of us now know about climate change, with droughts, floods, fires, severe storms, and disruptions to agriculture. We know that rapid melting of Arctic ice may speed climate change, and create refugees from Bangladesh to New York City.

We know about the coming oil crunch, in which world oil production peaks ("peak oil") and heads down while India and China industrialize, and need more oil, potentially leading to soaring prices and disruptions of supply. We know it's high time for the U.S. to join the industrialized world's move toward independence from Middle East oil, through efficiency, wind turbines, solar, cellulosic ethanol, and plug-in hybrid cars.

A lot of us know we need to grow the number of good domestic jobs, save more, borrow less, reduce the control of corporations over government, and insulate the press from its corporate sponsors and from government.

In other words, we can't return to the "normal" of the past. We can't solve our problems by getting back to that "normal," because what was considered normal has been the source of the most critical problems facing humankind.

Changing our leaders is necessary but not sufficient. What has to change is our underlying paradigm-the cultural framework we were all born into-our cultural stories.

From earliest childhood we learned cultural stories about scarcity, competition, hierarchy, aggression, and progress. Unsustainability was not an issue; we would pollute, use resources, grow the population, and enjoy endlessly rising prosperity. That was what "normal" meant, and it was darned good to us for a very long time.

We must change our cultural stories about what is right, what is possible, what is sustainable, and how to get there. We must devise and adopt new cultural stories suited to a successful human future.

People say behavior is influenced by "nature" and "nurture." We can expect that the part of human nature that is coded in our DNA will lead us into behaviors that represented survival in the past, sometimes the ancient past. Our DNA-nature will take generations to change.

Fortunately our "nurture," the cultural stories we are taught as children and which can be updated by experience, can change quite fast. People alive today believe that human beings are capable of flying through the air, and traveling to the moon. Those relatively recent beliefs occurred quickly. In the Internet age, new cultural stories have the potential to change human thought practically overnight.

Change to our cultural stories might occur in three ways. First, we can simply make an adjustment to an existing conceptual frame. For example, once the first airplane was demonstrated, large numbers of design changes came quickly, continuing forward to the sophisticated jetliners and warplanes of today. Each incremental advancement was not different enough from the last to jar society into a whole new way of thinking.

Secondly, a whole new frame can be devised. The invention of the scientific method might be an example. Before scientific inquiry, things were seen to "just happen," or to be caused by divine action. Written language might be another example, or the discovery of metals.

Of course, whether a change is considered merely an adjustment or a great conceptual leap depends on your frame of reference. One could argue that the discovery that the Earth revolves around the Sun was a great leap, but the discovery that our solar system part of a galaxy, and there are very large numbers of galaxies, was merely an adjustment.

The third way cultural stories might change is through collapse. Easter Islanders had a complex culture, which built giant stone statues. But they cut down all the trees on the island, hunted the animals to extinction, and died themselves. They left behind artifacts, but their cultural stories are lost.

In the hundred or so years of cheap oil, we have doubled the world's population twice, to 6.7 billion human beings. We have invented and deployed doomsday weapons. We have mined and polluted in unsustainable ways. So we need basic change.

The change we need has to be more than an adjustment, but less than extinction. We will need to devise a whole new conceptual frame for society-reinvent society-as a way to carry forward what is most valuable in the human experience past the end of the oil age.

Fortunately, we know in broad outlines what this new society will have to look like. We will have to cooperate with the Earth, in a partnership rather than dominion. We will have to give up the war system of dispute settlement, not only to avoid become extinct, but because we can no longer afford its environmental costs. We will need non-coercive incentives and disincentives leading to smaller families, because after the oil age, the present world population will be unsustainable. We will need to create walkable and bikeable neighborhoods, on a human scale, with food grown locally and local jobs, to minimize our need for energy. We will have to find new ways to take care of each other, because getting from here to there may be difficult.

Unfortunately, knowing things about the way a post-carbon world will have to look does not guarantee that we can make the transition easily. Our American economy, our infrastructure, our institutions, our economic system, our government, our religions, and our secular cultural stories all strongly resist change. People depend on the services they are getting (or hope to get) from society, and determinedly resist as heresy any idea that threatens their personal survival or their prosperity, and threatens to plunge society into the chaos of the unknown.

So the new paradigm trying to be born is being ignored, denied and ridiculed. The profound change we need will be opposed, by wealthy and powerful people who cannot imagine they could be winners in a sustainable world, and have no intention of finding out. People who oppose change are not bad, or our enemies, just human.

It falls to you, to the thoughtful, to those who understand the problem, to make room in your own thinking for the change that the human family needs. Just think about what changes you are already convinced are necessary, and what they imply for the larger society. Think like a resident of your neighborhood, a citizen in your town, your country, and the world.

The changes we are talking about are so profound that no one who publicly declares them can be elected president (Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, Mike Gravel). But when the next president is elected, the scope of the change we need will have to be discussed and acted upon quickly.

It is up to us to lead, using the cooperative tools of the new paradigm. We must read, think, talk to people, listen to people, and help society create the change we need.