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The Post-Corporate World

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1. The Sirens’ Song

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Chapter 1

The Sirens’ Song

Economic self-interest has always been central to the organization of societies and the advancement of individuals. But the defining characteristic of the postmodern political era is the absolute domination of money as the organizing principle of human and international relations. Some days there seems to be nothing else.

—JIM HOAGLAND1

The world of material mechanics, which still holds sway over most minds and is the official science “story” of the mass media, is a world of scarcity (because matter is finite, because it has a limited capacity to fulfill us). It spawns violence by telling us that we are separate: “I can hurt you without hurting the larger whole that includes myself—and since there isn’t enough for both of us, we have a reason to fight each other.”

—MICHAEL NAGLER2

in the epic greek poem The Odyssey, Circe warns Odysseus about the dangers that lie ahead on his journey home from Troy:

First thou shalt arrive where the enchanter Sirens dwell, they who seduce men. The imprudent man who draws near them never returns, for the Sirens, lying in the flower-strewn fields, will charm him with sweet song; but around them the bodies of their victims lie in heaps. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men’s ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you can listen yourself, for you may get the men to

 

2. The Naked Emperor

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Chapter 2

The Naked Emperor

For we are all capitalists now, are we not? These days the victory of the market over state is quite taken for granted.

—THE ECONOMIST1

Although members of other species trick one another, humans are the expert self-deceivers: as the best symbol users, the most intelligent species, and the only talkers, we are the only beings accomplished enough to fully fool ourselves.

— LY N N M A R G U L I S

AND

DORION SAGAN2

we are subjected to a constant refrain: the victory of capitalism is the triumph of the market and democracy. Capitalism is an engine of wealth creation. Freed from the oppressive hand of public regulation, market forces will cause the world’s great corporations to bring prosperity, democracy, a respect for human rights, and environmentally beneficial technologies to all the world. If some must suffer temporarily to make way for greater progress for all, it is only capitalism’s creative destruction at work on the path to a better tomorrow.

The mantra continually propagated by our most powerful institutions brings to mind the human capacity for self-deception immortalized in the story of the emperor’s new clothes. Many of us are like the emperor’s subjects. We see the truth, but lack the courage to speak. The time has come to speak the truth that so many of us know in our hearts.

 

3. The Midas Curse

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Chapter 3

The Midas Curse

In the history of capitalism’s long expansionary cycles, it is finance capital that usually rules in the final stage, displacing the inventors and industrialists who launched the era, eclipsing the power of governments to manage the course of economic events. . . . Since returns on capital are rising faster than the productive output that must pay them, the process imposes greater and greater burdens on commerce and societies.

—WILLIAM GREIDER1

We are seeing a worldwide pattern of decapitalization. Capital, whether it be natural capital in the form of resources, or human capital in the form of low-wage workers, or local capital in the form of functional and healthy local economies, is being extracted and converted to financial capital at an increasingly accelerated rate.

— PA U L H A W K E N 2

in greek mythology a king named Midas ruled over the people of

Phrygia, an ancient nation in Asia Minor. In return for a favor, the god

Dionysus offered to grant Midas a wish. Midas asked that all he touched might turn to gold. His wish was granted, but when his touch turned his food, drink, and even his beloved daughter to gold, he realized that his assumed blessing was in fact a curse. He now had gold without limit, but at the price of life—both his own and that of those he loved.

 

4. The Incredible Journey

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Chapter 4

The Incredible Journey

Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, is at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution. This central concept of modern biology is no longer one among other conceivable hypotheses. It is the sole conceivable hypothesis.

—JACQUES MONOD1

The evidence for the goal-directedness or purposefulness of life processes at every level of organization within the hierarchy of the ecosphere is so great that its denial to normal people seems quite inconceivable.

—EDWARD GOLDSMITH2

how did it happen that a planet barren of life became a living jewel in the vastness of space? A product of chance or of purposeful striving?

Dumb luck or a deep intelligence? These two widely differing interpretations of life’s story suggest sharply contrasting approaches to our future.

Do we trust our future to a role of the dice by global currency speculators and get on with pursuing the sources of our distraction? Or do we take responsibility for attuning ourselves to a deeper purpose and set a conscious course toward our future so informed?

 

5. Organism as Metaphor

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Chapter 5

Organism as Metaphor

The body is a complex thing with many constituent parts, and to understand its behavior you must apply the laws of physics to its parts, not to the whole. The behaviour of the body as a whole will then emerge as a consequence of interactions of the parts.

—RICHARD DAWKINS1

No organic being is a billiard ball, acted upon only by external forces. All are sentient. . . . Each is capable, to varying degrees, of acting on its own.

— LY N N M A R G U L I S

AND

DORION SAGAN2

as the prologue mentions, a chance encounter with microbiologist

Mae-Wan Ho on a flight from Santiago de Compostela, Spain to London provided the impetus for this book. I was especially taken by a paper she shared with me entitled “The New Age of the Organism,” in which she forecast an emerging shift in the basic paradigm of science from the metaphor of the machine to the metaphor of the self-organizing living organism. She also shared her thoughts on how such a shift in perspective might change the way we think about the design of our economic institutions. By the end of the conversation I was convinced that her insight into life’s incredible capacity to self-organize in ways that maintain the integrity of both the individual and the whole holds a critical key to resolving humanity’s deepening economic and social crises.

 

6. Embracing Life’s Wisdom

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Chapter 6

Embracing Life’s Wisdom

We must draw our standards from the natural world. We must honor with the humility of the wise the bonds of that natural world and the mystery which lies beyond them, admitting that there is something in the order of being which evidently exceeds all our competence.

—VÁCLAV HAVEL1

I sympathize, therefore, with those who would minimize, rather than with those who would maximize, economic entanglement between nations. Ideas, knowledge, art, hospitality, travel—these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible, and above all, let finance be primarily national.

— J O H N M AY N A R D K E Y N E S 2

in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial debacle, a New York

Times editorial on Vietnam’s economic policies chided those Vietnamese who “dream of some middle course that would allow them the benefits of capitalist development without increased foreign influence and a weakening of domestic political control.”3 In the view of the Times, “Such dreams are illusory, as other socialist countries trying to step halfway into the world market have discovered.”

 

7. Responsible Freedom

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Chapter 7

Responsible Freedom

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.

I awoke and saw that life was service.

I acted and behold, service was joy.

— R A B I N D R A N AT H TA G O R E 1

Living systems evolve in complexity, flexibility, and intelligence through interaction with each other. These interactions require openness and vulnerability in order to process the flow-through of energy and information. They bring into play new responses and new possibilities not previously present, increasing the capacity to effect change.

—JOANNA MACY2

we humans are the ultimate choice-making organisms, for far more than any other of life’s creatures we have the ability to create a future of our conscious choosing. This freedom is both our blessing and our curse, however, as it means we bear the burden of responsibility to make our choices wisely. Capitalism’s beguiling promise of freedom and prosperity without the commensurate burden of responsibility is perhaps the primary source of its deadly attraction. Hear this verse from its seductive song:

 

8. Mindful Markets

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Chapter 8

Mindful Markets

If we are prepared to make an unequivocal distinction between the market economy and capitalism, might this offer us a way of avoiding that “all or nothing” which politicians are constantly putting to us, as if it were impossible to retain the market economy without giving the monopolies a free hand, or impossible to get rid of monopolies without nationalizing everything in sight?

—FERNAND BRAUDEL1

We are learning very fast that the belief that a free market is all it takes to have a functioning society—or even a functioning economy—is pure delusion.

—PETER DRUCKER2

many of us have grown up with the idea that markets are the best way to organize economies. Yet our experience with the market’s often devastating failures leads us to be skeptical. In truth, our experience is with a market economy in the terminal stages of a deadly capitalist cancer. We have been deeply misled by claims that the market is a license to forgo personal responsibility in favor of the unrestrained pursuit of individual greed and the wanton destruction of the weak by the strong.

 

9. Economic Democracy

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Chapter 9

Economic Democracy

If one concedes that financial markets largely rule the world, then all that is left for governments and central banks is to try to please these markets by pursuing the policies the bond traders demand: low inflation enforced through monetarist policies of high real interest rates and high unemployment, and policies of fiscal austerity. . . . In essence, this means abandoning the most basic principles of democracy.

—JOHN DILLON1

As Americans moved off the farm, they became a nation of employees rather than proprietors, becoming wage earners and modernday sharecroppers rather than equity-empowered stakeowners.

That must change.

— J E F F G AT E S 2

ownership rights have long played a major role in defining power relationships in both political and economic affairs. Our present situation is no exception. The central problem of global capitalism may be described in terms of institutional relationships that concentrate the power of ownership in the hands of an economic aristocracy that is delinked from community interests and has no accountability.

 

10. The Rights of Living Persons

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Chapter 10

The Rights of Living Persons

The idea that a corporation is endowed with the rights and prerogatives of a free individual is as essential to the acceptance of corporate rule in temporal affairs as was the ideal of the divine right of kings in an earlier day.

—THURMAN ARNOLD1

Too many organizing campaigns accept the corporation’s rules, and wrangle on corporate turf. We lobby congress for limited laws. . . .

We plead with corporations to be socially responsible. . . . How much more strength, time, and hope will we invest in such dead ends?

—RICHARD GROSSMAN

AND

FRANK ADAMS2

human rights secure our freedom to live fully and responsibly within life’s community. We are finding, however, that as corporations have become increasingly successful in claiming these same rights for themselves, they have become increasingly assertive in denying them to living people. For example, as noted in Chapter 9, they use property rights as an instrument to deny the economically weak the most fundamental of all human rights—the right to live—by denying them the right of access to a means of living. The conflict between the person’s right to a means of living and the presumed right of the corporation to the security of its property and profit is perhaps the ultimate confrontation between the natural rights of living people and the rights that the institutions of capitalism have presumed for themselves, but it is only one of many.

 

11. Culture Shift

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Chapter 11

Culture Shift

Imagine yourself a historian looking back from some time in the next century. What do you judge the most important thing that happened for the world in the twentieth century? . . . My guess is it will be something . . . as quiet as a change of mind, a change of mind that is bubbling up out of the unconscious depths, spreading around the world, changing everything.

—WILLIS HARMAN1

We are now at the beginning of . . . a fundamental change of worldview in science and society, a change of paradigms as radical as the

Copernican revolution.

—FRITJOF CAPRA2

participating in the 1992 earth summit in Rio de Janeiro was one of the most profound experiences of my life—an encounter on a magnificent scale with the awakening of a global civil society. It was a celebration of life opening to new possibilities and it gave me hope that together, we, the world’s people, might yet reverse the trends of social and environmental breakdown that threaten our collective future.

The significance of this event, formally known as the United Nations

 

12. The New Storytellers

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Chapter 12

The New Storytellers

Women and men everywhere are behaving in an unprecedented way: audaciously taking responsibility for the whole human family and the future of life on the planet.

—HAZEL HENDERSON1

Small actions and choices can have major, although unpredictable, effects in determining what comes next. Among the possibilities is that the thousands of experiments and millions of choices to live more consciously will coalesce into a new civilization that fosters community, provides possibilities for meaning, and sustains life for the planet.

—SARAH

VANGELDER2

in the new story ordinary people are taking charge, assuming responsibility for themselves and their communities, and withholding their power from the institutions that have abandoned life for money. Each story involves its own heroes putting their modest means, and sometimes even their lives, on the line in service to the well-being of the whole.

What sets the more interesting of these stories apart from conventional stories of civic responsibility and acts of charity is the extent to which they involve people working together as communities to make conscious choices and take a stand against powerful establishment forces in order to create a future that places life ahead of money. Each story contributes to building a new consciousness of neglected possibilities that may extend far beyond the place of its origin.

 

13. Life Choices

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Chapter 13

Life Choices

Life and livelihood ought not to be separated but to flow from the same source, which is Spirit. . . . Spirit means life, and both life and livelihood are about living in depth, living with meaning, purpose, joy, and a sense of contributing to the greater community.

— M AT T H E W F O X 1

To you the earth yields her fruit, and you shall not want if you but know how to fill your hands. It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied. Yet unless the exchange be in love and kindly justice, it will but lead some to greed and others to hunger.

—KAHLIL GIBRAN2

we stand at a critical point of choice between two stories—two paths to contrasting futures. One is the story of a universe that begins and ends in death. The other is the story of a universe that begins in life and unfolds as an expression of life’s creative force.

Envisioning the path of life requires that we know what we truly value, that which in our more reflective moments we identify as the essential elements of good living. Alisa Gravitz, the executive director of Co-op

 

14. Engaging the Future

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Chapter 14

Engaging the Future

Suppose you had had the revolution you are talking and dreaming about. Suppose your side had won, and you had the kind of society you wanted. How would you live, you personally, in that society?

Start living that way now! Whatever you would do then, do it now.

When you run up against obstacles, people, or things that won’t let you live that way, then begin to think about how to get over or around or under that obstacle, or how to push it out of the way, and your politics will be concrete and practical.

— PA U L G O O D M A N 1

We encourage others to change only if we honor who they are now.

We ourselves engage in change only as we discover that we might be more of who we are by becoming something different.

— M A R G A R E T W H E AT L E Y

AND

MYRON KELLNER-ROGERS2

our task is no longer one of creating countercultures, engaging in political protest, and pursuing economic alternatives. To create a just, sustainable, and compassionate post-corporate world we must face up to the need to create a new core culture, a new political center, and a new economic mainstream. Such a bold agenda requires many kinds of expertise working at many levels of society—personal and household, community, national, and global. It requires breaking the bonds of individual isolation that leave us feeling marginalized when in fact we may already be part of a new majority. There are thousands of useful tasks to be undertaken.

 

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