The Great Turning

This article sets the stage for my ideas about a social movement for the Great Turning.

As most of you know, the world is in serious trouble, which may lead to breakdown or even collapse. These are happening because we are at the end of the Modern Era of social evolution, and this era no longer can handle the massive problems it has created. We need to undergo a major transformation of virtually everything about our society, so that we can progress into a new era that can solve these problems and also gain us a much more satisfying way of life.

The kind of whole-system social transformation that is needed, and is underway, has been called the Great Turning (by Joanna Macy, David Korten and others). It is the most important thing that is happening on the planet, though it is invisible to most people. That is the way it always happens with transformations; they aren’t apparent until they have progressed far enough to penetrate mass consciousness. So, even though you won’t hear about the Great Turning in the news, it is well underway, as has been documented by many of our thought leaders.

There have been five social transformations before in human history, as I explain in my book Transforming Human Culture. The most recent one was the transition from the Medieval to the Modern/Industrial Era, which included the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the scientific and industrial revolutions. Guy Dauncey has an interesting article comparing the steps that took us from the Medieval to the Modern Era with the steps we are now taking in going from the Modern to the Regenerative Era.

However, this transformation is even bigger than that. Not only are we moving toward a new era in social evolution, we are transitioning into a new kind of evolution. We are going from unconscious social evolution to conscious evolution (Barbara Marx Hubbard), where we are choosing the new world, to some extent, in line with this larger flow of evolution.

This means that evolutionary trends are in humanity’s favor right now, despite all appearances to the contrary. These trends are leading toward a new era, and the current rise of right-wing demagogues is just a backlash against this flow. We may face major breakdowns or even collapse before the transformation happens, but that is the direction of evolution.

In my research on social evolution and its relationship to today’s crisis, I realized that the Regenerative Era will involve the rise of what has been suppressed—aliveness, the feminine, community, and connection the natural world. However, these rising qualities won’t just take over. They will be integrated with the positive aspects of what we have now. We will have an integration of aliveness with rationality, the feminine with the masculine, community with individuality within a world society, and nature with technology.

It is also helpful to view our current crisis in an even larger context–as part of the great biological and cosmic evolution of the universe. (The Universe Story, Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry) This helps us to recognize that we are part of nature and the universe, not separate from it.

A New Political Axis

Otto Scharmer suggests that there is a shift in political reckoning away from left vs. right to open vs. closed, which means how much our hearts are open or closed. He sees this axis as a better way of understanding political dynamics. He puts the right-wing demagogues and their followers on the closed side and the Green Party (and therefore our social movement) on the open side. He believes that a transformation must be based on our culture developing curiosity, compassion, and courage–the opening of the mind, heart, and will, and that the heart is the least developed aspect of this, and therefore the most important for the movement.

While I appreciate Scharmer’s emphasis on heart, I see the new axis in politics differently. It revolves around this transition to a new Regenerative Era in social evolution. This axis is Regenerative Era vs. Modern Era. It has, on one side, Regenerative Era attitudes and, on the other side, Modern Era attitudes. 

I believe that most thinkers on the left and right are still in the Modern Era (or previous eras). To illustrate how Regenerative Era visionaries are different from left thinkers, consider the standard notion that what characterizes the left is being in favor of big government. This is not necessarily true of transformational thinkers. Here is a quote from Tom Atlee, a Regenerative Era theorist, where he is imagining what a regenerative society would look like in 2047: “There’s less need for top-down government as we return to doing more things for ourselves and each other, activating collaborative networks, and building mutually supportive communities.”

To explore what we can do to bring about the Great Turning, click A Social Movement for the Great Turning.