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The Gaian Paradigm
by Bill Ellis

 


For some 2000 years or more civilization has been ruled by a paradigm which was grounded in the Judeo-Christian creation myth. It was reinforced by Greek philosophy, Roman Power, Newton's Mechanics, Darwin's evolution, and Smith's economics. In the waning two decades of the 20th century a new scientific and social paradigm has been developing that could have the most, deep, fundamental impact on human civilization since man first moved out of the cave. The old paradigm placed humans in a purposeful universe created by some super normal power for the domination and use by man. The new paradigm suggests a self- organizing universe in which humanity is but one of the created interdependent webs of being.

The new paradigm, which I'll call the Gaian paradigm, not only has many roots but, can be, and is becoming, the underpinning of a new global network of cultures replacing the now dominant and domineering man-centered Industrial culture. The new cultures will, like all cultures, be a holistic unified coherence of interdependent components. They will result from a deep fundamental transition of our worldview, our social institutions and our lifestyles. The need for this transition is being made obvious by the growing numbers of critics of industrialism. And it is happening, and being made real, in the positive and creative and positive work of organizations like the E.F. Schumacher society.

The coming of the millennium is providing a unique opportunity for the full fruition of a new Gaian civilization. There may be a little more than an iota of truth in the original Biblical definition of Millennium as a catastrophic climax followed by a period of peace, harmony and beatitude on Earth. At least the millennium is being looked upon as a time of change. Minds are opening to new ideas. People are looking for new actions. It is in this spirit of a hopeful deep fundamental millennium transformation of society that I'd like to talk today.



The New Paradigm

Many basic scientific observations led to this new scientific/social paradigm. One was the observation that biological evolution did not progress as Darwin predicted by a series or minute changes which led over time to the emergence of new species. Rather, biological evolution happened in quantum leaps. Major biological changes and new species are created in relatively short periods of time after long periods of stability. This observation was designated by Stephen Jay Gould as "punctured equilibrium".

Two other observations were linked to become the "Gaia Hypothesis." James Lovelock, a scientist working for NASA, observed that the biosphere of the Earth was radically different from all other planets. It stayed amazingly constant, and within ranges which supported life. Lynn Margulis, a microbiologist, at the same time, was studying the evolution of micro organisms over the billions of years before animals appeared on the face of the earth. She found that life forms were interdependent.

Life was able exist on Earth because of a symbiosis among all life forms. Everything was interdependent with everthing else. Life created its own biome. Lovelock and Margulis proposed that the whole earth was a self-organized, self-supporting ecological system At the suggestion of a neighbor of Lovelock, William Golding, athor of Lord of the flies, they termed this living Earth system Gaia, after the Greek Earth goddess.
A theoretical understanding of how Gaia, or in fact any system, might self- organize came from other fields of science including mathematics, physics and particularly computer science. Chaos and Complexity theories made possible by computer modeling have moved science beyond the limits imposed by linear mathematics, algebra and calculus. Study of the transition of order into chaos, or chaos into order, and the formation of complex systems from simpler ones has opened a whole new area for science. Two particular breakthroughs in the field are relevant to the Gaia concepts.

"Self-organizing criticality" is an idea proposed by Brookhaven National Laboratory physicist, Per Bak. His first computer model representing self- organizing criticality was of a pile of sand. As you pour grains of sand on a spot it slowly builds into a stable inverted cone. As you continue pouring the cone becomes unstable until sand slides and avalanches restore a new larger stable cone. He showed that biological evolution occured in such bursts. Simple entities formed more complex systems, which remained stable until internal pressures built up and caused a rapid reorganization. There seems to be a law of nature, self-organizing criticality, by which new forms come into being.

'Autocatalysis,' developed by Stuart Kauffman at the Santa Fe Institute is another concept which provides a theoretical base for the evolution of Gaia. Autocatalysis holds that systems of biological entities may promote their own rapid transition into different forms. Kauffman uses the simple example of the slippery footed fly and sticky tongued frog. The mutation of slippery footedness gave no environmental advantage to the fly until the mutation of the sticky tongued frog. Only then did Darwin's survival-of-the-fittest come into play. Networks of potential mutations may develop and remain dormant until triggered by an environmental change or other phenomena that brings on the avalanche of transition. Autocatalysis, linked with survival of the fittest explains how complex organs like the eye, or new species emerge.

'Self-organizing criticality" and "autocatalysis" are among the scientific concepts that show how biological entities self-organize in quantum like leaps from simple cells to linked complex networks of cells, organs, plants and animals. More than that, physicists like Lee Smolin and Nobel Laureate Murray Gell-Mann have extended self-organizing back to the beginning of time at the Big Bang, suggesting that the same principle may apply to the self-organizing of fundamental particles into atoms, atoms into molecules and molecules into galaxies, solar systems, planets, and life. At the same time economists like Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow, Brian Arthur, and Jon Holland have extended the new paradigm in the other direction, to include economics, social organization, and human consciousness.

This new scientific/social paradigm suggests that people have no superior divine mandate within a universe created for them. They are not independent of, above or beyond the natural world in which they are imbedded. They do have the unique ability to understand, through science, the laws that govern them, to envision future worlds, and to co-create those future worlds within the laws of science. The comming millennium will evolve radically differently from anthropocentric paradigm which has dominated the past 2000 years.


Cyberspace and the Networked Universe

"Everything is connected to everthing else" is one way of stating the Gaian Paradigm. It is a fact of science, and is a social mindset. But it is more than those, it is a fact of technology. "Networking" was identified by John Naisbit in Megatrends, as one of the major new trends of the century. As he saw it, it was a social and political trend. It was made possible by the railroad, the automobile, the telegraph, and the telephone, each of these technologies made the Earth smaller and put people in more rapid and reliable touch with one another. The real quantum jump in networking is only now before us. Computers and the Internet are providing a challenge that has hardly been explored. Cyberspace is a global phenomenon providing humanity the oportunity to work globally in real time. This takes networking well beyond the concept about which Naisbitt wrote only a few years ago, or the concept of transnational networking which was the root of the formation of TRANET, the organizaion with which I've been working since, 1996.

The Gaia Hypothesis, the theories of chaos and complexity, the Gaian concepts, and the computer technologies which now face us grew independently of one another. But they form a unity. They in themselves, are an example of the self-organizing principle which shapes all of cosmic evolution. Together make up the Gaian Paradigm. They challenge us to prepare ourselves for an avalanche of social, political and economic change in the years ahead. The coming millennium will evolve radically differently from man-centered paradigm which has dominated the past 2000 years.


Part 2 The Implication of the Gaian Paradigm to Social Institutions

The new Paradigm is a scientific hypothesis which explains many phenomena in cosmic evolution. But it is more than that. It suggest a new worldview or mindset by which humans can examine current phenomena with respect to their long range future. Futurists are no longer dependent on examining history and technological trends. In fact, puncture evolution and self-organizing criticality suggests that new social, as well as physical and biological, phenomena arrive, like an avalanche unpredictably. We may not be able to foretell them with accuracy, but we can examine groups of related social phenomena that are close to chaos. And we can foresee possible future happenings of social importance. This is not unlike the mountaineer's warnings of avalanches, the meteorologist's prediction of weather, or the geologist's foresight of earthquakes. The mathematical accuracy of physics, the model science of the past, applies only to a very limited range of phenomena. Even those, as quantum theory says, are only very highly probable. Nature is nonlinear and unpredictable.

Punctuated equilibrium applies equally well to social and cultural evolution as as it does to biologicalevolution. As long as a society is adapted competently to the values and needs of the people it serves, it will tend to preserve those values and practices that have sustained it, and will resist change. But again, when things detriorate (economic downturns, street violence, family disintegration, warfare, religious uncertainty, famine, ecological collapse, or whatever) deeply rooted cultural premises are quickly abandoned. A pweriod of uncertainty and chaos sets in. If new knowledge reveals a profoundly different view of the world, a new cultural and social strucure replaces the old. Society today is in it most profound period of chaos and change.

In the coming years it is most probable that every social institutions that has been developing for the past 2000 years will be deeply, fundamentally, and radically reexamined in the light of the New Scientific/Social Paradigm. The new mindset gives humanity a new powerful tool to foresee and prepare for the uncertain future. There could be a flood of self-organizing social phenomena rplacing the old. In the following we look at three. The burgeoning Civil Society and the possibility that it could emerge into a new mode of global governance. The growth of homeschooling which could be the forerunner of a radically different, community based learning system. And the convergence of science and religion which portends a unified knowledge system.


A Global Civil Society Governance System

In 1982, in a European journal on communications I wrote an article on "Transnational Networks and World Order" John Briggs and F. David Peat in one of the early books popularizing "the new science of chaos" quoted it as an example of the application of the new science to social and political structure. It was pretty primitive thinking, but may perhaps suggest the direction that more thought should be applied as we move further under the new Gain paradigm. The quote suggested that:

"A future world government can be pictured as a multidimensional network of networks which provide each individual with many optional paths through which s/ he can provide for his or her own well-being and can particpate in controlling world affaire. ... [it will be] composed of links between nodes. [It] will have no center. Each member of the network [will be] autonomous. Unlike in a hierarchy no part or member will be controlled by any other. Various members may draw together for special projects or on differint issue, but there [will be] no bureaucarcy demanding action or conformity."5 This was not meant to be the prediction of a classical anachistic state, but rather to fruition of the participatory democracy made possible by new concepts, new technologies, and new worldviews.

That the current social/economic/political system is on the edge of chaos is made too obvious by daily newspaper headlines to require much confirmation here. Random killing of tourists in Florida and Egypt, depletion of the ozone layer, teen suicides, world hunger, global warming, Washington gridlock, the failure of global governance in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Ceylon, and the Middle East, the widening rich - poor gap, the inability to solve, or even confront global pollution problems, child labor, street crime, and sweatshops, racism and the glass ceiling, the wanton waste of natural resources, downsizing of industries, the break down of the family, are mere symptoms. The basic characteristics of civil society is lost in the current market/government orientation, which fosters competition, free trade, self- centeredness, profit-over-people, globalism, and widespread alienation. Deep systemic problems give a clear picture of a civilization on the edge of chaos. An alternative system is self-organizing.

In the past two decades there has been a rapid rise of citizen organized GrassRoots Organizaions (GROs, often called Nongovernmental Organizations or NGOs) in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It has been initiated by the failure and near chaos brought on by the Industrial Countries' intrusion into culture they did not understand. This subverion of other cultures to the Western way started with Columbus who, with the strength of the sword (technology), the flag (national organization), and the cross (religion) started the subjugation of all non-European cultures. The subjugation of people around the world during the periods of 'discovery' and colonizing that followed, are well known. It is enough, here, to say that indigenous cultures have been overwhelmed by the dominant and domineering EuroAmerican Industrial Culture.

Springing from the land, uninvited and often resisted by outside developers, and even their own governments, people are now recreating their own communities with new and indigenous technologies, and taking over where governments and industries have failed. Often stimulated by a special unique local need, these local Grassroots Organizations (GROs) grow to become more broadly socially and politically active, linking up with other GROs to form networks for participatory democracy and mutual aid. Outside aid to GROs is provided by Grassroots Support Organizations (GRSOs) formed most often by middle class professionals and technicians who recognize the inequities engendered by the current economic- political system. GRSOs reach out to give in-kind assistance and to legitimize the actions of the peasants and disenfranchised in their bids for empowerment and local self-reliance.6 Techniques, technologies, information, and service from the industrial countries are supplied through links created by International non- governmental organizations (INGOs)

Non-governmental organizations are also becoming a greater force and better recognize in the Industrial countries. The problems facing humankind cannot be solved by governments or markets alone. Nor can governments or corporations create a people center democracy. But we-the-people are solving our problems world wide by the third leg of governance, Civil Society. That is, by citizen participation on a local community scale. New citizen initiated social innovations are sweeping North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and to a lesser extent Japan. These social innovations are being borrowed and exchanged among nearly every country aroud the world.

From England came the cooperative movement, started in Rochdale England in 1844 by some disenfranchised weavers. It spread to the U.S. with producer co-ops during World War I, and with a plethora of consumer co-op during the 1960s. The Mondragon network of co-ops, in the Basque area of Spain, added the concept of crating secondary co-ops to serve the primary co-ops. Banks, Insurance Companies, Management Services, and other businesses owned by the primary co- op serve the member co-ops . The Seikatsu Club of some 10,000 Japanese housewives organized by "hans," local co-ops, create their own businesses when the market does not meet their social, ecological , or economic demands.

From Bangladesh came the Grameen Banks that introduced a new credit technique by lending money through groups of borrowers who guaranteed one another's loans. From Canada came Local Exchange and Trading Systems (LETS), a local citizen owned computerize exchange system. Local scrips, such as Ithaca Hours, help local businesses and individuals create local jobs and exchange goods and services regardless of the inflow of federal dollars. "Time Dollars," systems promote baby sitting pools, senior citizen services, and other forms of local service based on hours worked not dollars spent.

From Denmark has come co-Housing, in which families build their own homes but with common ground and common space including child care facilities and community dining rooms bringing a new sense of community solidarity. This, of course, adds to the array of communes, community land trusts, intentional communities, and ecovillages in which citizen provide the planning and development so lacking in government and corporate housing developments.

From Switzerland comes Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) bringing farmers and citizens together to produce local food with local resources. The consumers sometimes own the land, share the produce, and participate in the work, paying a professional gardener to manage the growing. Other innovations in the food and agriculture area include farmers' markets, homesteading, and the rapidly growing development of home gardening.

From India came the concept of Community Land Trusts (CLTs) and the Ghandian nonviolence that has already transformed social protest and citizen action.

Many other social innovations such as citizen patrols, homeschooling, community learning centers, community loan funds, peace brigades, homesteading, and community bulletin boards are building community solidarity, empowering citizens at the grassroots and promoting local community self-reliance without relying on governments or "the market."

It is all there. A living body of networking organizations has emerged to fill the niche produced by dysfunctional post-colonial governments. A plethora of unique interdependent social cells have developed organs assuming specialized functions that serve the whole. They have almost magically become the social/ poltical body that promises better life for the people in developing countries, and the whole Earth. The natural laws of self-organizing criticality and autocatalysis are working on the social level.
Through the revelations of science, an understanding of the cosmic process is slowly emerging. Perhaps with this new understanding, humanity can participate in the co-creation of a sustainable and lasting civilization based on citizen participation in local community organizations - a Gaian global governance.


The First Phase of Democracy

Like any step in cosmic evolution this would be a unique happening. But like any step in cosmic evolution it would be subject to the natural evolutionary laws. It was 250 years ago that the first phase of democratic governance was a unique happening introduced on the planet. The times then, like the times now were chaotic. The ruling powers, and the ruling system, had outlived its usefulness. Masses of people recognized that they were missing out on many to the benefits that their toil had created. "It was the best of times, and the worst of times." The American and the French revolutions happened.

The first phase of demcracy was a foolish idea to the leaders of the day. Monarchs held their power by the "divine right of kings." Neither the churches nor the governments were freindly to the idea that the people could rule themselves, nor even participate in government. The ideas of voting, representation, legislating, human rights, politics, constitutions, or social contracts were little more than hazy academic notions played with by abstruse philosphers. The Magna Charter had fiven large land owners a degree of power over their lands and its serfs, but these posers were subject to the Kings will. It took the Voltaires, the Frnaklinss, the Paines, and the Jeffersons to bring the ideas of everyman's rights to the public. And it took the Boston Tea Party, the Bread Riots, and the revolutionary wars, to bring down the old regimes and make possible the self-organization of the new.

Self-organization is the right word. The avalance of change hit an unprepared society. No one had predicted the rise of national democracy. There were no plans, no designs, or instruction books for the first phase of democracy. There were few constitutions, no concept of checks and balances, no rules for voting, no loyal opposition, no political parties, no civil society, no GROs.

The American colonies had assumed a degree of self-control under the British Crown. Direct democracy was practiced in the forerunners of the New England town meeting and in some colonies. Voting rights were usually denied women, blacks, Catholics and Jews. Suffrage was extended to only landholders of some substance often as much as 50£ (a goodly sum in those days). Probably no more than 1/3 of the adult free men could vote. Office holding was even more restricted. Often to hold elected office a man had to own at least 500 acres and 10 slaves, or thousands of pounds sterling in other property. Like with todays GROs, ideas and actions were separate and disparate. 7 No associations were ready to exercise political control of society. The task was daunting. But it did happen. In spite of the later failure in France and earlier failures in Athens and Rome, the first phase of democracy was born to last in America.8

I have used "the first phase of democracy" to describe the political innovation of 1776 because, as we know today, it was only partially successful. It was only partially successful for many reasons. Primarily because it arrived on the world stage without preparation. The technology of the times made participatory democracy impossible beyond the town meeting. Communication was measured in days or weeks, not as today in nanoseconds. Because of that, we-the-people could only be "represented" in the halls of power. Franklin and Jefferson, followng the Native Americvan model, advocated that all decision be made by concensus at the local level, and that represenatives be limited to arguing the case for their communities. But Madison and others, following the concept of British parliamentarian, Edmond Burke, argued that represntatives should be empowered to make decision in the name of the people. Burkian representation was accepted by most colonies and the Constituional Assembly. This has made the government dominant and limited the voice of the people.

In spite of extending suffrage, the voice of the people has been steadily erroded as government has grown in size and power. People's control of corporations was taken away in 1844 in the Supreme Court's decision that corporations had the same rights as flesh and blood citizens. Earlier, communties or states could revoke corporate charters if a corporation was deemed to not be in the public interest. The rise of corporate power over the people increased with the opening of Free Trade with no restrictions on the outflow of capital or jobs, and no global standards for safety, health, or protecting in environment. The high cost of getting elected and the free flow of money into politics from the wealthy elite, banks, and businesses, has made even the first phase of democracy far less a people's government than was envisioned by America's Founding Fathers. Emergence of the Second Phase of Democracy

The rise of Civil Society, modern technology, and the new scientific understanding of how evolution works has made possible the emergence of a second phase for democracy. We-the-people now have a voice in our civil society, we have the technology to communicate around the globe, and we have the new understanding of social evolution.

Complexity theory shows that ordered complexity is the natural state of the universe. Biological evolution is the most obvious example of the tendency toward the ordering of simple entities into more complex systems. Every step of cosmic evolution since the Big Bang has been a step toward increasing ordered complexity. Creation occurs on the borderline between rigid order and random chaos, "at the edge of chaos." If an entity is too rigidly ordered it can not change to meet the contingencies of a change in its environment. Flexibility is one of the cardinal biological principles of evolution. Without flexibility a life form is not sustainable, it cannot change to meet new conditions. Without flexibility progress is impossible.

But governments, like corporations, have been organized on the concept that good management means rigid order directed from the top. In the first phase of democracy the people elected their governmental repsentatives, but all power resided in the government. Humans have been locked into the worldview in which rigid order was highly respected. Rigid order was the goal of organization. Humans are taught to be afraid of chaos, and to avoid complexity. Yet, the new science/ social paradigm show us that the edge of chaos is where progress happens with the self-organizing of complexity. If society is to meet the challenges that face it, it needs to live closer to the edge of chaos. It must welcome a degree of disorder.

Democracy since its modern inception has suffered from its self-guilt of being inefficient. Critics and supporters alike have held that democracy is too chaotic. They have searched for ways to move democracy toward more controlled management without surrendering the human rights they saw as the great strenghth of this form of government. The Gaian Paradigm sees democracy in a very different light.

The seeming weaknesses of democracy are its strength. The theories of Gaia, Chaos and Complexity suggest that self-organizing on the edge of chaos is natural law. It requires the messy flexibility inherent in democracy, and absent in more efficient forms of government. Peope are only beginning to realize that no form of government, except democracy, provides the freedom and potential of complex ordering to meet the changing demands of modern times.

The rise of civil society, the burgeoning of GROs, the growth of social innovation, community involvement in meeting their own needs, are all parts of the progressive agenda provided by nature. We may not see clearly today the final organization which will emerge if we continue to build the decentralized autonomous communities linked together in worldwide mutual aid. But, that is the way of cosmic evolution as it is seen from the new worldview. It purports the emergence of a second phase of democracy. One in which people in community at the grassroots have a direct input to all decisions which affect their lives. A new form of global governance.

see part 1Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Bill_Ellis

Bill Ellis, of Rangely, ME retired early from his working life as a science policy consultant in agencies such as the National Science Foundation, Unesco and The World Bank. For the last 30 years he has work voluntarily to promote the broad range of social innovations that empower people at the grass roots and promote community self-reliance. One of these is as General Coordinator, of 'A Coalition for Self-Learning. With which he facilitated the drafting an online book, "Creating Learning Communities," and, the White Paper, "Life-Long Self-Learning," that promotes the recognition of the vast array of learning modalities in addition to public schooling - e.g. learning co-ops, public schools, private schools, unschooling, charter schools. His mantra is "everyone should have the right, the freedom, the resources and the opportunity to learn what they want, when they want and how they want.