Medium 9781626562905

Change the Story, Change the Future

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We humans live by stories, says David Korten, and the stories that now govern our society set us on a path to certain self-destruction. In this profound new book, Korten shares the results of his search for a story that reflects the fullness of human knowledge and understanding and provides a guide to action adequate to the needs of our time.

Korten calls our current story Sacred Money and Markets. Money, it tells us, is the measure of all worth and the source of all happiness. Earth is simply a source of raw materials. Inequality and environmental destruction are unfortunate but unavoidable. Although many recognize that this story promotes bad ethics, bad science, and bad economics, it will remain our guiding story until replaced by one that aligns with our deepest understanding of the universe and our relationship to it.

To guide our path to a viable human future, Korten offers a Sacred Life and Living Earth story grounded in a cosmology that affirms we are living beings born of a living Earth itself born of a living universe. Our health and well-being depend on an economy that works in partnership with the processes by which Earth's community of life maintains the conditions of its own existence—and ours. Offering a hopeful vision, Korten lays out the transformative impact adopting this story will have on every aspect of human life and society.

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10 Chapters

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1 Our Story Problem

ePub

Economists debate how to accelerate economic growth. Scientists debate how long the human species can withstand an economy that is destroying Earth’s capacity to support life. Social activists debate how to reduce an intolerable and growing gap between the profligate and the desperate.

Meanwhile, corporations compete for monopoly control of the information commons and what remains of Earth’s freshwater, fertile soils, minerals, and fossil fuel. The growing demand of energy-intensive economies for fossil fuel drives environmentally destructive extraction methods like fracking, deep-sea drilling, and mountaintop removal. Competition for food and freshwater increases in the face of population growth; extreme drought and flooding; the conversion, destruction, and depletion of farmland; and the contamination of freshwater sources.

Politicians dependent on big money to fund their campaigns advance policies that favor the interests of money over the interests of life. Economists ease the conscience of those politicians with assurances that such policies accelerate growth in the gross domestic product, which in turn will end poverty and fund technologies to eliminate our human dependence on nature.

 

2 Our Quest to Know

ePub

Generally, the shared sacred story of a people aligns with their underlying cosmology or creation story—their deepest shared beliefs about the origin and nature of the universe. That we lack such a shared and currently credible foundational cosmology goes a long way toward explaining why we have been so easily seduced by the Sacred Money and Markets story.

A brief look at three familiar cosmologies—the Distant Patriarch, the Grand Machine, and the Mystical Unity—illustrates a range of answers to our deepest questions about where we come from and why. Each has its own implications for how we live. Each has its distinctive committed and vocal following. Each is in seeming conflict with the others. For a great many people none of them rings true. Corporate interests slip the fabricated Sacred Money and Markets story into the resulting void.

This chapter outlines critical elements of each of the familiar cosmologies and highlights their implications for how we think about agency, relationships, and meaning. It shows how the corporate PR machine draws from each of the familiar cosmologies to lend credibility to the Sacred Money and Markets story. Each in itself is incomplete, but they all contribute essential insights to the emerging Living Universe cosmology synthesis outlined in chapter 4.

 

3 A Brief History of Story Politics

ePub

We humans have a deep need for meaning, for answers to the ultimate questions. In their pursuit of answers, prophets, sages, and wisdom keepers of all times and traditions have recognized a spiritual order and unity in creation that defies description. Necessarily, they communicate their insights through simple stories and familiar images within the context of their time and place. Such stories shape both individual and collective behavior.

Different stories prevail in wondrous variety at different times in different places in a continuously evolving process. As stories and images pass from generation to generation and travel from place to place, critical nuances may be lost or modified. Followers may forget that the original stories and images were metaphorical, not literal. Power holders favor and promote interpretations that serve their interests.

This chapter presents a big-picture overview of the politics of our human search for meaning. It puts into context the work at hand of replacing a fabricated Sacred Money and Markets story that legitimates rule by money-seeking corporate robots with an authentic Sacred Life and Living Earth story that reawakens us to our true nature as living beings born of a Living Earth and creates a context for a radical living democracy.

 

4 A Living Universe

ePub

Within little more than the life span of my generation, an explosive growth in human population and consumption has combined with breathtaking advances in human knowledge and technology to change the world almost beyond recognition. We look inward to observe the behavior of subatomic particles and the inner processes of individual living cells. We peer far into space to discern the workings of the universe and the dynamic processes of its unfolding. We look back on our own big history to describe in ever more magnificent detail the dynamic processes underlying the evolution of life on Earth.

With this extraordinary perspective, we can see Earth as a wondrous, resilient, adaptive living being to which we must adapt—or die.1

The most advanced observations of physical systems by quantum physics and of biological systems by the life sciences reveal extraordinary capacities for self-organization, even in seemingly solid matter. Mechanism and chance are clearly involved. It is increasingly evident that there is also a third element—intelligent self-organization—of which we have only the most elemental understanding. It may be the most important.

 

5 Children of a Living Earth

ePub

To paraphrase and expand on Carl Sagan: If you wish to make a human from scratch, you must first invent a Living Universe that in turn births a Living Earth. An ambitious undertaking, it took 13.8 billion years.

The Living Universe had to get a great many conditions right to create a home for humans. None of the three familiar cosmologies captures the true wonder of this miracle or the significance of our need to honor and maintain the conditions essential to our own existence.

The fabricated Sacred Money and Markets story misses, even denies, our dependence on Living Earth. The authentic Sacred Life and Living Earth story embraces this dependence and the implications for how we humans organize to make our living.

Scientists estimate that there may be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy.1 Carbon-based life has likely emerged on others. We are only certain, however, that it has emerged on one. We still have only the vaguest idea of how it happened.

 

6 Making a Living

ePub

Scientists debate whether Earth conforms to all the elements of the scientific definition of a living organism. I honor their intellectual rigor and their invaluable contribution to our ever deepening understanding of how life organizes. I am not inclined, however, to wait for science to come to terms with the need to update its definitions.

To participate as productive members of Earth’s community of life, we must understand and honor that community’s organizing principles and organize our economies accordingly. The principles are universal; the specifics are everywhere unique.

The biosphere self-organizes as a global system. The locus of intelligent agency, however, is everywhere local and involves trillions of individual choice makers—none of whom is in a position to dominate the rest. This makes possible life’s finely tuned micro adaptation to constantly changing local conditions through unimaginably complex processes.

The consequences of local choice making ripple outward and upward to create global dynamics that ripple back to shape local conditions to which the local community in turn adapts. Yet all the while, Earth as a living superorganism continuously seeks dynamic stability through self-regulating processes we have barely begun to identify, let alone understand—all without evidence of a central decision maker or control mechanism. The dynamics of climate are the most obvious example of this interaction.

 

7 Enslaved by Corporate Robots

ePub

The consolidation of the independent power of corporate robots beyond the control of their CEOs and governing boards is so recent that we are barely beginning to notice its true nature. It is an unintended outcome of a long historical process of increasing human separation from nature and the organization of human societies as hierarchies of imperial domination in which the few control and exploit the many. The nature and implications of the takeover are best understood in historical context.

Early humans lived in intimate relationship with one another and nature. Our numbers were few, and we fulfilled our essential needs directly from local lands and waters using simple, minimally intrusive technologies. We self-organized as communities to manage our living from local lands and waters, sharing as needed with members of our family and tribe. The earliest trade involved the barter of things that had immediate value, like furs, grain, and cattle.

Somewhere around 3000 BCE there began a turning to imperial rule by kings and priests, who controlled and expropriated the labor and resources of the common people to secure their own power and support extravagant lifestyles. Through the institutions of state and religion, the rulers established a monopoly on the use of armed force to control the means of living (land and water), the instruments of exchange (money and debt), and the cultural stories that legitimated their power.1

 

8 A New Economics for a New Economy

ePub

The only valid purpose of an economy is to serve life. To align the human economy with this purpose, we must learn to live as nature lives, organize as nature organizes, and learn as nature learns guided by a reality-based, life-centered, intellectually sound economics that embraces the values and insights of the Sacred Life and Living Earth story.

The quest for a new economics begins with a simple question for which the answer should be obvious: Is the purpose of the economy to maximize the profits of money-seeking corporate robots or the health and well-being of living households?

One of the most important single contributions to my understanding of where mainstream economics went wrong came from Sixto Roxas, an economist and former international bank executive. We became close friends and colleagues when I lived in the Philippines in the 1980s. I once asked him, “Why do economists so often come up with the wrong answers?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, he responded, “Because they chose the firm rather than the household as the basic unit of analysis. Economists view the economy as an aggregation of profit-seeking firms rather than an aggregation of living households.”1

 

9 A Living Economy for a Living Earth

ePub

If we get our story right, we can get our institutions right. If we get our institutions right, we get our future right.

Institutions based on the design principles of the Sacred Money and Markets story empower computer-driven financial markets and corporate robots to base society’s major resource-allocation decisions solely on the logic of short-term financial returns.

Institutions based on the design principles of a Sacred Life and Living Earth story empower living people to make these decisions as responsible members of living households and communities based on long-term living returns.

Here are some examples of critical institutional design choices.

When we organize by the Sacred Money and Markets story, we use growth in financial metrics like the gross domestic product (GDP), corporate profits, and stock prices as the basis for assessing economic performance and making policy decisions. We thus focus on optimizing the economy’s service to money.

GDP counts everything exchanged for money as an economic benefit, even if it results in the destruction of fisheries and forests, and the poisoning of rivers and aquifers. Expenditures related to divorce, toxics cleanup, and the treatment of cancer and mental illness—along with financial-sector income from activities that produce no real value and much else that may generate short-term profits for business at great cost to society—all count as a positive economic benefit.

 

10 Own the Story, Own the Future

ePub

We humans organize around stories. Whoever owns a society’s defining story owns its future. Corporate robots and their minions relentlessly promote the Sacred Money and Markets story as the defining frame for every policy debate in which they have an interest. They have made their story the defining story of what is now a global society.

Popular movements dedicated to advancing democracy, racial and gender equality, environmental health, and peace organize around discrete issues. They frame their arguments either in terms of values they hold to be self-evident or within the frame of the Sacred Money and Markets story. They thus concede the story frame and thereby the future.

For so long as the Sacred Money and Markets story remains the uncontested framing story of the public culture, we view the world through the lens of money. We see money, think money, and live in service to money. Money owns our future.

When we view the same reality through the lens of life, we see life, think life, and live in service to life. Our living future should not, need not, be lost for the lack of an authentic story that acknowledges the self-evident truth that we are living beings for whom life comes before money.

 

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