This essay has been excerpted as a chapter in WorldShift 2020: The New Vision – Exploring the Evolving Horizons; section ‘From Vision To Reality: Contributions From The Worldshifting Community’ forthcoming from Inner Traditions Publishing (Rochester, VT).
The multiple crises human societies experienced in the first decade of the 21st century must be acknowledged as results of our limited perceptions and occluded vision. Thus, these crises we experience are mirroring back to us the need to expand our awareness of the planet which hosts us, one among over 30 million other species that constitute its living biosphere. Stress is evolution’s tool, feedback to expand our consciousness which is now accelerating human learning processes far beyond traditional education and acculturation.
Thus we see the crises and breakdowns all around us as driving the necessary breakthroughs: in art, culture, science, technology, governance, politics, communications, production, services, awareness of ecological systems and the place humans occupy in the web of life. We have seen in the various financial crises the inadequacy of conventional economics and the tools of finance it spawned based on the most unattractive human traits. These faulty economic models of human behavior almost mirror the “seven deadly sins” described in many spiritual traditions: envy, gluttony, greed (selfishness), lust (acquisitiveness), pride (competition), sloth, wrath! No wonder our financial systems morphed into an unstable, error-prone global casino. Economics and its theories and models are rooted in the concept of scarcity, based on early human experiencing of the natural world as dangerous and unforgiving and life as “nasty, brutish and short.”
Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature presents massive historical evidence that in fact violence has declined within our human family over many centuries. Pinker points to six deep trends in our human evolution toward less violence: 1. the transition from nomadic hunting-gathering to settled agriculture; 2. the ten-to-fiftyfold reduction in homicide in Europe from the Middle Ages to the 20th century; 3. the Age of Reason of the 17th and 18th centuries; 4. the transition after World War II which historians refer to as the Long Peace; 5. since the end of the Cold War in 1989 organized conflicts have declined worldwide; and 6. since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, spearheaded by Eleanor Roosevelt, the growing social revulsion for violence against ethnic minorities, women, children, homosexuals and animals.
Pinker cautions that these historical trends could be reversed; we must be vigilant in consolidating progress achieved so far. We humans are learning why our efforts at human development often fail, as shown in Why Nations Fail (2012) by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, when competition and greed re-assert control by selfish elites. Mercifully, these kind of dictatorships are in decline as social media in our Information Age makes such control and secrecy less possible. Pinker sees our “better angels” fostered by five deeper macro-trends in our societies: feminization, “since violence is largely a male pastime”; cosmopolitization as all human communities are more deeply interconnected; the application of our widening knowledge and reason to human affairs; the growth of “gentle commerce” (rather than the depredations of uncontrolled markets) and the development of the state with judiciary branches and human rights.
The Earth Charter is another sign of humanity’s maturation. Its 16 Principles (www.earthcharter.org) take us beyond human rights to human responsibilities: toward each other, our communities, all species and for maintaining the Earth and its ecosystems. This Earth Charter, launched at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, has travelled the world and been ratified by NGOs, academies, city governments and businesses in most countries. I was honored to witness its presentation at the Peace Palace in The Hague in 2000. These Earth Charter Principles are in stark contrast to conventional economics and finance. This economic model based on scarcity produces fear, competition, hoarding, envy and the pathologies of gambling and risk-taking we see in traders and stock exchanges worldwide. All is based on maximizing a single metric: money, which is equated with the real wealth of human potential and ecological riches it was designed to merely measure. Money is a useful human invention – a good servant but a terrible master.
The promise of the 21st century is that many scales have now fallen from human eyes, along with the blinders of narrow perception and theorizing that psychologist Daniel Kahneman terms “theory-induced blindness.” The uprisings of ordinary people in 2011 and 2012 threw off the shackles of many such earlier belief systems. The mysteries of money and economics are revealed as politics in disguise, as we see money being printed by the billions on our TV screens. Financiers do not provide capital, but are intermediaries between real producers who save money and the investors or borrowers who hope to use it well. Financiers claim that they could not have known the fatal weaknesses in their complex “financial engineering” and illusory models. Yet those with more expansive awareness (including this author) had warned for decades about their inevitable failures. These were not “black swans” or “perfect storms.” They were the consequence of self-induced blindness and economic textbooks still taught in business schools. They teach that social and environmental costs can be “externalized” from financial and company balance sheets and passed on to taxpayers, future generations and the environment.