From Participatory Society to One World Consciouness

The participatory society (parsoc) vision is outlined here. For those wondering what I mean by one world consciousness and why we need it, I’ll let astronomer Carl Sagan explain:

“As the ancient myth makers knew we’re children equally of the earth and the sky. In our tenure on this planet we’ve accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage, propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders, all of which puts our survival in some doubt. But we’ve also acquired compassion for others, love for our children, a desire to learn from history and experience and a great soaring passionate intelligence, the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet Earth.

But up there in the Cosmos an inescapable perspective awaits. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national identifications are a little difficult to support when we see our Earth as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and the citadel of the stars. There are not yet obvious signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and this makes us wonder whether civilisations like ours rush inevitably headlong into self-destruction.”

The parsoc vision has focused in on the question “What might a society which does not structurally exploit people be like?”. The International Organisation for a Participatory Society (IOPS) incorporates aspects of parsoc’s “four-spheres” framework shown below:

I think IOPS needs to incorporate more than the above. I see IOPS as a broader “anti-authoritarian” movement. “Anti-authoritarian” to me denotes three related stances. It denotes opposition to domestic exploitation, in the form of a state-capitalist system (an “anti-capitalist” stance). It denotes opposition to the exploitation of foreign nations, in the form of wars of aggression over the planet’s finite and diminishing resources (an “anti-imperialist” stance). Lastly, it denotes opposition to the exploitation of the totality of human and non-human life on Earth (an “anti-ecocide” stance).

To extend parsoc’s “four-spheres” framework to incorporate these vital international and ecological aspects, I propose something like the following picture, to illustrate the commitment to furthering revolutionary one world consciousness I feel IOPS should embody:

Please note: the fact that some spheres of IOPS are drawn inside other spheres does not denote the outermost spheres as being “more important” than the innermost ones. It denotes the outermost spheres as being “more fundamental” than the innermost ones. For example, the low entropy (“organised”) energy from the sun is “more fundamental” to my life than my family are. I would immediately die without the sun. I would not immediately die without my family. The sun is therefore “more fundamental”. Which is “more important” though? I find this question meaningless.

If I say “international relations are more fundamental than parsoc” what might that mean? It means that a participatory society might well be impossible in a world torn apart by wars over resources, a world where nations become threats to be defended against, rather than our fellow human beings. As Martin Buber put it:

“One cannot in the nature of things expect a little tree that has been turned into a club to put forth leaves.”

If I say “ecology is more fundamental than international relations” what might that mean? It means that peaceful relations between nations might well be impossible if ecosystems have collapsed and human beings are fighting for survival in a world that cannot any longer sustain them. As Yann Martel put it in Life of Pi:

“When your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish hunger for survival.”

Such fears lend a sense of urgency to the radical ecology movement (a.k.a. “dark green” environmentalism). Human societies (and especially peaceful, participatory ones!) fundamentally depend upon a well-functioning biosphere. The biosphere, however, can manage perfectly well without human beings (as it has done for billions of years). If we take many more liberties with Earth’s ecosystems, we may discover too late that the preconditions for humane existence are no longer in place. As Paul Street has recently commented:

“When I cite data on environmental collapse and argue that ecology is the top issue of our time, I sometimes get accused of advocating a politics of triage – a politics of putting forward only what I think is the single most urgent problem and thereby unduly neglecting other issues that rightly concern us on the left. But if livable ecology is a save-able triage patient – and I think it is – than it’s a triage patient of a very odd sort in that if it dies so do all other patients in the emergency room. There’s more that could be said on this analogy.”

So ecology is “more fundamental” than international relations, which in turn are “more fundamental” than parsoc’s “four spheres” of economy, polity, community and kinship. But none of these is “more important” than any of the others.

Perhaps theoretical physicist Richard Feynman can help clarify this further:

We have a way of discussing the world, when we talk of it at various hierarchies, or levels. Now I do not mean to be very precise, dividing the world into definite levels, but I will indicate, by describing a set of ideas, what I mean by hierarchies of ideas.

For example, at one end we have the fundamental laws of physics. Then we invent other terms for concepts which are approximate, which have, we believe, their ultimate explanation in terms of the fundamental laws. For instance, “heat”. Heat is supposed to be jiggling, and the word for a hot thing is just the word for a mass of atoms which are jiggling. But for a while, if we are talking about heat, we sometimes forget about the atoms jiggling- just as when we talk about the glacier we do not always think of the hexagonal ice and the snowflakes which originally fell. Another example of the same thing is a salt crystal. Looked at fundamentally it is a lot of protons, neutrons, and electrons; but we have this concept of “salt crystal”, which carries a whole pattern already of fundamental interactions. An idea like pressure is the same.

Now if we go higher up from this, in another level we have properties of substances- like “refractive index”, how light is bent when it goes through something; or “surface tension”, the fact that water tends to pull itself together, both of which are described by numbers. I remind you that we have to go through several laws down to find out that it is the pull of the atoms, and so on. But we still say “surface tension”, and do not always worry, when discussing surface tension, about the inner workings.

On, up in the hierarchy. With the water we have waves, and we have a thing like a storm, the word “storm” which represents an enormous mass of phenomena, or a “sun spot”, or “star”, which is an accumulation of things. And it is not worthwhile always to think of it way back. In fact we cannot, because the higher up we go the more steps we have in between, each one of which is a little weak. We have not thought them all through yet.

As we go up in this hierarchy of complexity, we get to things like muscle twitch, or nerve impulse, which is an enormously complicated thing in the physical world, involving an organization of matter in a very elaborate complexity. Then come things like “frog”. And then we go on, and we come to words and concepts like “man”, and “history”, or “political expediency”, and so forth, a series of concepts which we use to understand things at an ever higher level. And going on, we come to things like evil, and beauty, and hope…

Which end is nearer to God, if I may use a religious metaphor, beauty and hope, or the fundamental laws? I think that the right way, of course, is to say that what we have to look at is the whole structural interconnection of the thing; and that all the sciences, and not just the sciences but all the efforts of intellectual kinds, are an endeavor to see the connections of the hierarchies, to connect beauty to history, to connect history to man’s psychology, man’s psychology to the working of the brain, the brain to the neural impulse, the neural impulse to the chemistry, and so forth, up and down, both ways. And today we cannot, and it is no use making believe that we can, draw carefully a line all the way from one end of this thing to the other, because we have only just begun to see that there is this relative hierarchy.

And I do not think either end is nearer to God. To stand at either end, and to walk off that end of the pier only, hoping that out in that direction is the complete understanding, is a mistake. And to stand with evil and beauty and hope, or to stand with the fundamental laws, hoping that way to get a deep understanding of the whole world, with that aspect alone, is a mistake. It is not sensible for the ones who specialize at the other end, to have such disregard for each other. (They don’t actually, but people say they do.) The great mass of workers in between, connecting one step to another, are improving all the time our understanding of the world, both from working at the ends and working in the middle, and in that way we are gradually understanding this tremendous world of interconnecting hierarchies.

Ecology is the most fundamental element in the realisation of the IOPS vision, as I would have it. But it is no “nearer to God” than internationalism, economy, polity, community or kinship are. They are all equally important.

I’d love to hear what you think of my picture 🙂


~ by freedomthistime on June 24, 2012.

One Response to “From Participatory Society to One World Consciouness”

  1. Great idea to distinguish ‘fundamental’ from ‘important’, David, and love the graphic that summarises that. More at EARTH/IOPS. Peter

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