Principles of a Regenerative Society

This article is based on my ideas about the Great Turning Movement. If you aren’t familiar with them, click here.

In this article, we look at the underlying principles that are informing the transition to a regenerative society. This is just a preliminary list; more will become apparent over time.

  1. Process Perspective. Discerning the natural trends that are operating and flowing with them.
  2. Decentralization. In governance, the market, energy sources, and other places, making sure than processes happen at as local and small a level as possible, unless something requires more size and reach.
  3. Cooperation. The essence of social structures is cooperation, with competition only occurring when useful.
  4. Multiple Perspectives. Recognizing that there are multiple valuable perspectives on most issues, and we must engage with all of them to arrive at a wise understanding.
  5. Whole-Person Orientation. Valuing and engaging with all aspects of each person, –their interests, passions, emotions, creativity, and more. Not just treating them as cogs in a wheel.
  6. The Systems View. Science is recognizing that almost all important things and processes are systems, where the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Systems have internal feedback loops and complex, non-linear dynamics.
  7. Regeneration. A process-oriented whole systems approach to restoration, renewal, and revitalization.  
  8. Evolution. Systems don’t stay static. They evolve over time in complex ways. and society as a whole is always evolving, especially as we are now between eras of social evolution.
  9. Personal Empowerment. People take power in their own hands, not only for their well-being, but also so their talents and passions can benefit the whole.
  10. The Sentience of Nature. All of the natural world is aware in some sense, and they are all our relations.

Now we will explore each of these principles in more detail.

The Process Perspective

From the Modern Era perspective, everything looks like an object or a machine, and we think that we can accomplish things by pushing around objects or making machines behave in a certain way. We believe that we can control everything with our intellect and will.

As the Regenerative Era approaches, we realize that most things are processes which are always in motion. This allows us to discern the natural trends that are already operating and choose to flow with them. These trends move toward healing, wholeness, learning, evolving, and connecting with spirit, nature, and people.

This also applies to the social movement for the Great Turning. We don’t have to create a new society by force of will or organizing power. We can align with the trends that are moving toward the Regenerative Era.

Decentralization

In the Modern Era, we think that bigger is better and power gets accumulated at the top. In the Regenerative Era, we realize that this is a recipe for failure. We saw that in the communist attempt to have a command and control economy, which failed miserably. The market, for all of its shortcomings, was an early decentralization strategy, spreading power to more people.

Of course, this has now been corrupted by giant corporations taking over the economy (and the government), which is the main reason it isn’t working well any more. This has produced enormous wealth discrepancies, which not only hurt most people, but aren’t economically sustainable. If the middle class become poor and can’t buy the way they used to, the economy will stagnate.

Decentralization means that action should happen at the most local level possible–as long as it can handle whatever situation we are facing. In the political realm, this is called federalism, which means that states, cities, and local communities should handle everything that they can, and the only power that nations and international bodies should have is for problems that are that vast, such as climate change. In the economic realm, decentralization is called subsidiarity, which means that economic transactions should happen at local levels whenever possible, except for products that are so rare or concentrated in a single location that they require international trade. In the area of power generation, decentralization of power sources means not using big arrays of solar panels or windmills but instead spreading them around so that the power for each local area is generated in that area whenever possible.

This also applies to the movement for the Great Turning. It will be decentralized except when large-scale projects are necessary.

Cooperation

This is well known. Everything in the Modern Era involves competition, which has its merits when used sparingly but involves serious problems when used for everything. Cooperation is much to be preferred and is the hallmark of the Regenerative Era. New understandings of the life sciences tell us that cooperation is much more prevalent in nature than previously believed. Even in biological evolution, the competition is between groups and species, not so much between individual organisms, and the more cooperative species are the most successful.

This also applies to the social movement for the Great Turning. It is crucial that all the different organizations and movements that make up this large movement cooperate with each other rather than competing for funding, attention, power, and so on. Even our thrust to change society should be largely cooperative. where we aim to connect with as many people as possible, understand their needs, concerns, and beliefs, and encourage them to come to their own conclusions about what to believe and how to act.

Multiple Perspectives

In the Modern Era, the emphasis has been on knowing the “right” answer, which has usually been the one promulgated by the experts, the scientists, the popular talk-show host, or other authorities. In the Regenerative Era, we recognize that there are multiple valuable perspectives on most issues, and engaging with many of them will help us to arrive at a wise understanding. This doesn’t mean that all perspectives are equally valid. Some perspectives are more true than others, but there isn’t one simple right answer.

It also means being humble about our beliefs–holding them lightly. If we are open to learning and growing, our beliefs will be modified over time, as we take in new perspectives and run into the limitations of our original ideas.

This means that we hold lightly our ideas about a regenerative society and how the movement should operate. There are many groups and organizations who are part of this movement, and engaging with their multiple perspectives will help us to be wiser in the long run.

Whole-Person Orientation

In the Modern Era, in business, government, education, and most other areas, people have been treated largely as cogs in a wheel. People are valued only for those abilities needed for their jobs. All of the rest of each person, especially their interests and passions, are ignored or suppressed. This actually leads to inefficiency, as many businesses are now realizing. And, of course, it makes a person’s work life boring.

In education, children as taught mainly at the intellectual level, their bodies, emotions, intuition, creativity, and artistic leanings are largely ignored. In conventional medicine, symptoms are treated, but the underlying causes of the symptoms are ignored, which often involves the whole body. In the Regenerative Era, education, work, and medicine will be for the whole person.

And in the social movement for the Great Turning, we will value the wholeness of each change agent, not just their strategic thinking or their ability to get things done. The Great Turning Groups are also oriented toward each person’s whole being.

The Systems View

In the Modern Era, science saw everything through the eyes of Newtonian physics, with forces operating on objects causing things to happen. All other scientific disciplines tried to model themselves after physics, often with poor results. In the Regenerative Era, science is beginning to realize that almost all of the important things to be studied are systems, especially in the life sciences and social sciences. You can’t understand a system by just looking at its components and the forces operating on it, which is known as reductionist thinking.

A system has its own internal dynamics; it is “more than the sum of its parts.” The behavior of a system cannot be predicted by the behavior of its subsystems. New kinds of behavior emerge at the higher system level. This is called “emergence.” For example, a water molecule consists of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, but the behavior and qualities of water can’t be predicted by knowing about hydrogen and oxygen.

Systems have internal feedback loops and complex, non-linear dynamics. Causation is circular and complex, not simple and linear. If you perturb a system from the outside, you can’t predict how it will react based on what you did to it. For example, it you knock a bee hive, the resulting behavior can’t be predicted by how hard you knocked it or in what direction. The bee hive has its own systems dynamics, which will have a much bigger role in determining what happens.

Systems tend to be nested within other systems, so that each system is both a constituent of a larger system and a super-system that contains subsystems within it. This nesting seems to be the way of nature. The science of the Regenerative Era will be informed by systems thinking. (Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows, The Systems View of Life, by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi)

Societies and cultures are even more complex systems. Any kind of social change involves interacting with complex social systems, and any kind of environmental work involves interacting with complex ecological and social systems. In order to really understand what is going on in society and therefore to transform it, we must use systems thinking. In fact, systems thinking is implicit in many of these principles of a regenerative society. As we strategize about the movement and its relationship to the current society and the regenerative society we are aiming for, we need to use system thinking to guide us in making wise choices.

Regeneration

In biology, regeneration is the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that makes genomes, cells, organisms, and ecosystems resilient. In design, regeneration is a process-oriented whole systems approach. It uses processes that restore, renew or revitalize their own sources of energy and materials. Regeneration uses whole systems thinking to create resilient and equitable systems that integrate the needs of society with nature. Regenerative agriculture is a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. It focuses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting biosequestration, increasing resilience to climate change, and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil.

“Regenerative” is increasingly being applied to cultures and societies. That’s why I frequently use the term “regenerative society” to refer to the new world we are moving toward in the Great Turning.

Evolution

Systems don’t just operate dynamically in the moment. They evolve over time, and in ways that go far beyond the natural selection of biological evolution. Ecosystems evolve over time; this is called succession. Social systems evolve, based on new technology, food sources, ideas, wars, changes in the climate, and the collapse of empires, among other things.

On a larger scale, social evolution proceeds by transforming from one era to the next as well as by evolutionary movement within each era. We are in the middle of a transition from the Modern Era in social evolution to the Regenerative Era, so this entire movement must be guided by the understanding that we are evolving. In addition, humanity now knows enough to be aware of evolution and to consciously choose some aspects of the Regenerative Era. This is a major shift in evolutionary dynamics because all of past evolution has been driven by forces that we didn’t understand and had no say in.

Personal Empowerment

In the Modern Era, power has resided with leaders, managers, and experts, and people have been expected to just follow. Bureaucracy has been seen as the best way. In the Next Era, people are taking power in their own hands–in health care, psychology, spirituality, business, and everywhere.

The new saying is: Experts are on tap, not on top. This is not only better for us as individuals, it also helps the overall system to function better because each person has detailed moment-to-moment information about themselves that isn’t always easy (or even possible) to convey to an expert or boss, and we have the incentive to act creatively in the moment to benefit ourselves or our team/business.

People in the movement feel empowered to bring their talents, concerns, passions, and their sense of calling to how they want to contribute to the Great Turning.

The Sentience of Nature

In the Modern Era, only human beings (and higher mammals) were considered to be sentient–to have a self. Everything else is seen as just a machine, and humans are seen as separate and above nature. In the Regenerative Era, we recognize that the earth, Gaia, is not only a living being but perhaps also a sentient being. And the same applies to forests, wetlands, rivers, mountains, birds, plants, and so on. (See Climate: A New Story by Charles Eisenstein.) They aren’t sentient in the same way that humans are, but in their own unique ways.

We are starting to take seriously the indigenous understanding that all of the natural world is aware in some sense and they are all our relations. Looked at the right way, this is consistent with a scientific approach to the natural world. (See Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer.) This strengthens our commitment to a mutually beneficial relationship with nature, and it also reminds us that we are nature.