Visions of a Transformed Society

This is a breakout section from the article, “A Social Movement for the Great Turning,” and it can also be read on its own.

There have been many visions of what a healthy culture and society might look like, which are needed to inspire people. I have synthesized some of them below. This is just suggestive of what is possible. We will have to experiment to see what really works best. Some of these ideas may not be realistic. Others may be incomplete or replaced by better ones.

You might want to read Principles of a Regenerative Society first.

Now let’s explore visions of a regenerative society in various areas:

Ecology and Technology

In the modern era, our technological power has grown enormously. Even though this have helped us to live longer, healthier lives with less drudgery, we are now changing our climate in highly destructive ways, using up our water reserves, depleting our topsoil, driving many species to extinction, introducing dangerous genetically modified organisms into our food supply, and so on.

In a transformed society, we will align our technology, manufacturing, and resource extraction with natural processes. Technology will be decentralized and small scale as much as possible. It will minimize waste. In fact, products and machines will be designed from the outset so that when they have reached the end of their lifetimes, they can be broken down into their component parts and reused in other processes. In other words, each product’s wastes will be used as resources for other products. Technology will mostly follow biological principles, often using biomimicry, which is the design of industrial processes to mimic what works in the natural world.

Resources will be extracted only in a renewable fashion, especially energy resources. Fossil fuels and nuclear energy will be phased out in favor of wind, solar, and other renewables. These new energy sources will be decentralized, which means that energy will be produced at the location where it is used, rather than having enormous oil rigs, nuclear plants, coal plants, or even solar arrays that supply larger regions. Though wind and solar could be done in a centralized way, we will avoid that in the new transformed society. This will enable businesses to be small, reduce costs, and provide more jobs. Furthermore, other technologies will also be decentralized whenever possible, for the same reasons.

Agriculture, fishing, and forestry will be done in a regenerative fashion, eliminating clear cutting and over-fishing and instead husbanding existing resources in a sustainable way. Farming will be regenerative and biodiverse, benefiting the soil, the water cycle, and the lives of farmers. Many will use permaculture principles. This includes the use of sophisticated natural processes to control pests instead of damaging pesticides.

An example of this is Green Wave, developed by Bren Smith, which is a new method of ocean farming designed to restore ocean ecosystems, mitigate climate change, and create blue-green jobs for fishermen—while providing healthy, local food for communities.

City design and planning and architecture will be based on ecological principles. For example, buildings will be designed so that they use the sun for heating whenever possible. This will make our living spaces not only healthier for people and but also better for the environment.

There will be democratic governmental guardianship over the introduction of each new technology, based on sophisticated studies of its potential dangers and impact on society. Just because we can create something doesn’t necessarily mean that we should.

Business

Businesses will mostly be small and community oriented. This will be possible because of the decentralization of the new technologies. There will be governmental guardianship over corporations to make sure they are limited in size, unless there is a compelling reason for a business to have a global reach, and to make sure that they benefit their communities and the natural world.

Corporations were originally chartered (allowed to exist with limited liability) with the understanding that they would benefit society. Now they have taken over control of our government and are benefiting no one but their shareholders. This control must be reversed. Citizens will be made aware of the track records of businesses in terms of how they benefit their workers, the natural world, and their communities, and people will refuse to do business with ones that don’t uphold these standards. In some cases, their corporate charters will be revoked.

Businesses will be democratically run and often owned by their workers. Of course, there will still be a need for managers and leaders in businesses, but current power hierarchies will be replaced with decentralized control arrangements that empower workers. As much as possible, workers will also be the owners of their companies, and they will make democratic decisions about company policy.

Companies will be learning organizations which foster innovation, collaboration, self-determination, and creativity. Rather than workers being simply told to obey their bosses, they will be encouraged to be creative and come up with the best solutions to problems, on their own or in collaborative teams. This is already happening in many companies.

We will use ecologically sustainable energy, manufacturing, and transportation practices, as mentioned above. An example of this is the Interface company, which makes commercial carpets that are designed to be modular and sustainable, reducing their environmental footprint.

Businesses will still need to borrow money to expand, but they won’t do this through the stock market, because this gives away ownership of businesses to distant, uninvolved investors who only care about their monetary returns. This results in businesses being at the mercy of hostile takeovers if they don’t meet the quarterly bottom line, which prevents them from pursuing what is called the triple bottom line, which includes their workers, their local community, and the natural world.

There will be other mechanisms for borrowing that leave businesses in charge of their own fate. In this way, a business can focus on producing healthy, useful products, and enhancing the well-being of its workers and the environment. There won’t be investor pressure on businesses to keep expanding their size and markets, and so they can be small and oriented toward the communities that they serve and reside in.

Education

Education will be for the whole person, not just the intellect. Students will learn about their emotions, relationships, and intuition. They will study art, dance, music, athletics, spirituality (non-sectarian), society, evolution, social change, personal growth, and so on. They will learn through involvement with the community, nature, and their bodies.

Education will be largely student-led, with students choosing what they want to study. It will be based on students’ natural curiosity and desire to learn rather than having them regurgitate facts. The Process View reminds us if we can flow with people’s natural desire to learn, they will work hard with passion on what they care about. Teachers will also be freer to plan their teaching based on their own creativity rather than having to follow a fixed curriculum. There are many schools already operating based on these principles—democratic schools, free schools, Waldorf, Montessori.

Students will learn to hold and work with multiple perspectives on any given question rather than being taught the right answer. This doesn’t mean that all perspectives are equally valid, but it means that the wisdom needed doesn’t sit in only one location.

Education will also be more of a life-long affair for everyone, rather than being limited to young people and those preparing for jobs.

Courts and Criminal Justice

When I watch a TV show that involves a courtroom drama, it almost always involves clever lawyers trying to win at all costs, even if they are defending someone that they know is probably guilty. This comes from our adversarial court system. The goal is to win rather than to find truth or justice. The new era will have a different court system, where lawyers and judges come together to seek the truth and find a just outcome, not to manipulate a jury.

In our current society, when someone is convicted of a crime, they are punished, usually by jail time in a situation that is terribly damaging and often results in their becoming more deeply involved in future crime. In the new society, the focus will be on rehabilitating criminals whenever possible. We will only keep someone jailed for an extended period of time to protect society when their rehabilitation doesn’t seem possible.

The new society will also have an emphasis on restorative justice, which is an approach that focuses on the needs of both victims and offenders, as well as involving the community. Victims take an active role in the process, and offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, to repair the harm they’ve done—for example, by apologizing, returning stolen money, or engaging in community service.

The Arts, News, and Entertainment

The arts and entertainment industry will be more about creativity, quality, and culture, and less about ratings and money. But even more important, our entertainment will be much more personal and creative instead of watching performances by stars. For example, people will create their own music, engage in storytelling, participate in local theater or choruses, play on local sports teams, create their own art, and so on.

News shows will include positive, uplifting stories, not just tragedies and wars. An example of this is ourbetterworld.org. News shows will return to their original goal of being educational rather than primarily entertainment. Furthermore, news shows will return to being neutral or trans-partisan, rather than being biased toward a certain political agenda.

Through interactive television and the internet, people will come together to discuss and learn about the important issues that our species is dealing with. Rather than only being passive consumers of entertainment, part of our time with the mass media will be dedicated to thoughtful reflection and serious discussion of how to overcome our problems and move toward transforming our society. (Duane Elgin, The Living Earth, p. 179)

Social Life

In the modern era, community has largely been destroyed, because of increased mobility and the way we are less and less dependent on each other. This independence has come about because of technological advances that allow us to do more for ourselves without help from neighbors, and also the market system which encourages us to hire people to take care of many things that were previously done by family and community.

Pre-modern cultures often had robust community which unfortunately suppressed individuality in favor of conformity.  In the new era, we will return to community in a way that supports individuality. This will include local community—where you are connected to those people who live close to you—and chosen community, where you connect with people who share similar values and interests. There will be many eco-villages—small, ecologically-integrated villages, some of them nested within larger urban areas.

The transformed society will also emphasize extended families, as in the past, rather than the nuclear families (or single parent families) of the modern era. These extended families will provide for much better child-rearing as well as greater connection and support for everyone. Some extended families will primarily consist of blood relations, as in the past, and others will also include friends and other “chosen” family members.

Because of a shorter work week (see Economics below), people will have more time to get involved in family, community, and public life, whether that is political (e.g. town-hall meetings, social movements), social (e.g. teaching local sports teams), or cultural (e.g. having a book discussion at a local library). People will also shift their focus away from consumerism, which has meant buying products as a means to happiness. They will realize that a happy, contented life comes from relationships, creativity, community, and personal growth, so they will limit their consumption of goods and instead focus on what truly makes life satisfying. This voluntary simplicity will also help us to avoid over-running the carry capacity of the planet.

In the modern era, some of us have had more money than time, so we have hired helpers or experts to perform many of the necessities of life, such as caring for elders, gardening, cooking meals, creating or repairing products, and so on. In the new era, we will have more time to handle these tasks ourselves or within our extended families and communities. This will give us a greater sense of personal mastery, community connection, and creativity.

Culture, Race, and Ethnicity

In a transformed society, there will be no discrimination or violence toward people because of their race, religion, ethnic identity, sexual orientation, class, or gender identity. All people will have equal opportunity for freedom, advancement, and a happy life. And there will be a beautiful mixing of races.

Not only that, we will appreciate the positive aspects of many different subcultures within our midst. Some will identify with and celebrate the culture they were born into, and others will feel free to choose their own cultural values and live in their own way.

Gender

In the new era, there will be no discrimination or violence against women, and in fact, people will appreciate the positive qualities that the feminine have to offer because it is so needed in the new era. Women will have power and pay equal to men, and their leadership will help to bring forth many of the positive qualities of the new society.

Each person will have the right to choose how they understand their gender role, not being put into a box based on societal expectations. In addition, gender will be seen as something that is more fluid that just male and female, with transgender people being allowed to choose their gender and others choosing a gender identity goes beyond the binary choice of male and female.

Consciousness and Spirituality

In the new culture, there will be a revitalization of aspects of consciousness that have been suppressed–emotions, intuition, creativity, body awareness, and connection to nature. These qualities will be integrated with the best of cognitive understanding. People will appreciate what science has learned about the nature of reality without believing that science can comprehend everything. Other forms of knowing will be welcomed without disregarding the importance of intellectual understanding.

There is already widespread interest in personal growth, psychological healing, and spirituality, in the U.S. and other developed nations. Increasingly people are taking charge of their own growth and healing, as evidenced by the popularity of 12-step groups, Focusing, and my book Self-Therapy, which teaches people how to use Internal Family Systems Therapy to work on themselves. Experiential spirituality has become popular, where people engage in practices as part of a path to develop their connection to spirit and awaken to a higher consciousness.

In the new emerging culture, there will be more emphasis on collective spiritual awakening rather than only individual awakening. The Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “The next Buddha will be a sangha,” meaning that the entire spiritual community will be the next enlightened one.

Religions will be ecumenical and open to connection and cooperation with other religions. Each religion will recognize that it has one valid spiritual perspective among many.

Health Care

Health care and medicine will not be controlled by insurance companies, freeing health care practitioners to spend a reasonable amount of time with patients. We will live healthy lifestyles—including exercise, a healthy diet of organic, local food, adequate supplements, and so on. We will use acupuncture, chi gung, meditation, martial arts, dance, and other activities to foster health. This way of living will prevent many of the diseases that we struggle with now.

When people do need health care, they will use conventional medicine only for what it excels at—repairing the body after an accident, serious diseases, bacterial infections, and so on. Since conventional medicine, for the most part, handles symptoms and doesn’t address the causes of disease, alternatives are needed. People will use acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, integrative medicine, and so on. When a hospital stay is needed, instead of antiseptic surroundings, unhealthy food, and overworked nurses, hospitals will provide a congenial atmosphere, pleasing décor, and personal attention and caring, which promote healing,

Economics

We need an entirely new economic system that goes beyond capitalism and socialism. We will probably still need a market economy because of its many benefits, but there must be governmental guardianship over the economic system to make sure that it is democratic and aligned with ecological principles.  There will be appropriate tax incentives to encourage businesses to use their innovation for healthy ends. There will be limits on the extraction of non-renewable resources and limits on pollution and wastes.

The price of each manufactured product will reflect all the costs involved in creating it, including environmental costs and effects on local communities. This way, companies will naturally be encouraged to manufacture products in a way that minimizes waste and damage to the environment without the need for much regulation. Businesses will also be encouraged to benefit the communities in which they are located, or, at the least, not harm them.

Generally, trade and commerce will be done at as local a level as possible, especially buying local food. This will minimize transportation and energy use and strengthen local economies and the well-being of communities. National and international trade will only exist for products that cannot be made locally, not items that can be produced at a slightly cheaper cost in some distant location. This will foster economic self-sufficiency and stability for cities, regions, and nations. This means doing away with international trade pacts that mainly benefit corporations rather than communities or people.

In a transformed society, public banks, credit unions, and community development financial institutions will invest capital for the common good rather than for Wall Street’s bottom line. These institutions will replace the financialized, profit-seeking banking sector, helping to put our money to work for the benefit of everyone.

Our current currency system is set up to require inflation and continued economic growth, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Right now, new money is created when central banks make loans, but since these loans must be paid back with interest, this builds in inflation and therefore the need for constant economic growth. However, this is not the only way. Other currency systems that don’t require economic growth have been tried and found successful in some cities and regions. By using these innovative currency systems, and perhaps other economic structures, it will be possible to have a steady-state economy that is healthy. An example of such a currency system is LETS, which is a democratically organized, not-for-profit community enterprise that provides a locally created currency. It has been used in many communities over the years.

In the current society, it is just assumed that having a job (or being self-employed) is the only ticket to having access to the goods and services we need in our lives. And it is getting harder and harder for everyone to have a job, let alone a decent one. This will get somewhat easier in the new economy because renewable energy provides many more jobs than energy that comes from fossil fuels or nuclear. And decentralized technology, small-scale manufacturing, and regenerative farming will provide more jobs.

However, with the relentless advance of automation, it may not continue to be possible for everyone to have a job, unless we make drastic changes in the work week. One possibility is that the length of the work week will be continually shortened to ensure that there are enough jobs for everyone. Another is that society will find some means other than jobs of distributing income and wealth.

One extreme proposal is that we have a gift economy, which does away with the problems that come with money.

Governance

Just as our U.S. forefathers recognized the need for separation of church and state, the next era will require the separation of wealth and state. Money will be prohibited from influencing the democratic system the way it does now, where politicians are beholden to corporations and the rich who make massive donations to their re-elections campaigns, without which they couldn’t get re-elected, and, therefore, they essentially own the politicians, By having strict rules to keep money out of politics, we will have a chance to return to a real democracy.

For elections, the new society will have instant run-off or ranked choice voting, where voters rank the candidates in order of preference. This means that voters never have to choose between the lesser of evils. Most important, it allows for third parties to have true influence, making for a much more democratic process, as is already happening in some countries.

However, we will go much further than this. In a transformed society, political decisions will be made in the spirit of a cooperative effort to envision and enact the best policy, not primarily in adversarial terms, as we have it now. This adversarial approach has led to extreme left-right polarization in the U.S. People will learn to entertain multiple perspectives from different people and groups on political issues and not just assume that they are right and everyone else wrong.

Citizens will take an active interest in public issues, taking the time to educate themselves about the issues that are important to them and discussing them with others, including those of a different political persuasion in order to truly understand the issue and come to a good policy decision. Citizens will be more actively involved in decision making whenever possible, not just through electing representatives. For example, in many cases, decisions will be made and laws passed by a vote of all the people, not just congress. Participatory budgeting is an example of this that is already happening, which allows residents of a community to vote directly on how a portion of the public money will be spent.

Some decisions will be made by a Wisdom Council, which is a randomly selected group of citizens who meet, become educated about some thorny question, and are facilitated to come to a wise and often creative decision about how to proceed. This can happen because the people will be helped to entertain multiple perspectives in a creative process. They will not be influenced by money, ego, power-seeking, or any of the other processes that currently poison our democracy. This is just one example of citizens’ deliberative councils, which have been used in some local government situations. Tom Atlee (Empowering Public Wisdom: A Practical Vision of Citizen-Led Politics) has written extensively about this approach, including his vision of a wise democracy.

The new era will mean much greater involvement and influence of civil society on political decisions. Civil society includes non-governmental organizations, non-profits, social change organizations, community groups, religious organizations, and so on. These organizations have taken a back seat to corporations in power, and this will change in the transformed society.

The new era will involve a far-reaching extension of the United Nations, creating a system of (at least partial) global governance that is democratic and just. This governing body will eventually gain control over international military power, therefore ending war. Just as there never could be a war between New York and New Jersey, so this will end wars between nations. Of course, we must be careful of the danger that this world government could be taken over by a non-democratic or fascist power, so this must be assiduously guarded against.

Despite having this international governing body, most political decisions will be made at as local a level as possible. Only when a problem is truly international in scope—such as climate change, migration, or human rights—will the world government have a say in it.

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