Holding ecology in the center

Contemplating a sustainable future of the whole

By LAURIE STUART
Posted 4/14/20

The good news is that, with the human pause caused by the coronavirus, the earth is recovering.

Fossil fuel use is down. Air quality is up. People are seeing mountains that they haven’t seen …

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Holding ecology in the center

Contemplating a sustainable future of the whole

Posted

The good news is that, with the human pause caused by the coronavirus, the earth is recovering.

Fossil fuel use is down. Air quality is up. People are seeing mountains that they haven’t seen in years. Sea turtles are crawling out of the sea and laying their eggs on now-deserted beaches.

As we begin to contemplate restarting our economies, we’d do well to take a look at how our systems interact and how we might balance the positive effects of the pause to co-create a sustainable future.

One starting place is the work of Massachusetts Institute of Technology action researcher Otto Scharmer. In his book, “Leading from the Emerging Future,” Scharmer says that the future requires us “to tap into a deeper level of our humanity, of who we really are and what we want to be as a society.” What he advocates is a shift from an ego-system awareness that cares about the well-being of oneself to an eco-system awareness that cares about the well-being of all, including oneself.

More to the point, ego-system awareness is fueled by the concerns and intention of our small ego self. Eco-system awareness is driven by the concerns and intention of the well-being of the whole. Ego-systems are non-sustainable. Eco-systems reflect the whole.

The prefix eco goes back to the Greek oikos and the concerns of the whole house. The word economy can be traced back to this same root.

In examining the well-being of the whole, Scharmer finds three disconnects.

These fall into three great divides: the ecological divide, i.e., the disconnect between self and nature; the social divide, i.e., the disconnect between self and others; and the spiritual divide, i.e., the disconnect between self and self.

We are all well aware of the ecological divide: we are depleting and degrading our natural resources on a massive scale and using up more nonrenewable resources every year.

On a social level, we are just beginning to understand the disconnect between people. Not only are we becoming ideologically divided, we are also now realizing the wealth disparity that exists. Two and a half billion people on our planet subsist on less than $2 a day. With the closing of the economy due to the coronavirus, we can see the effect of wealth inequality where the top one percent has a greater collective worth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

While the ecological divide is based on a disconnect between self and nature, and the social divide on a disconnect between self and other, the spiritual-cultural divide reflects a disconnect between self and the emerging future “Self” that represents one’s greatest potential. We see this becoming more prevalent with our social distancing and economic perils presented by the virus.

In relation to these divides, Scharmer has two fundamental observations.

One, he says, is that the solutions to all our pressing problems are already prototyped, somewhere, on a small scale. The future is already here. It is here that we do well to examine.

And two, there are three powerful meta-trends that prevent us from scaling these innovations.

These fall into three main categories: post-truth, post-democracy and post-human.

Post-truth refers to the dynamics that create a world of confusion, which ultimately serves to keep us trapped inside our digital echo-chambers. Post-democracy is a world of societies breaking apart, of blaming others and exacerbating the disconnects that benefit a few and damages the whole. The post-human condition is a world in which the human being is under attack, (think technology, AI, culture based on social media).

So our questions become the following:

How do we transform the meta-trend of post-truth into a new culture of collaborative learning that integrates head, heart and hand?

How do we begin to rethink new democratic infrastructures that link rule makers and citizens through novel formats of direct and dialogic modes of participation, effectively transforming the meta-trend of post-democracy into a new distributed practice of the whole system co-sensing and dialogue?

How do we create new economic infrastructures that connect a diverse [network or] constellations of [people in their capacity as] economic actors working to create sustainable well-being for all, effectively transforming the post-human meta-trend into new economic and civilizational institutions and practices?

This is a tall order. This is a new world order. This is an opportunity to build a sustainable future.

For more about the Presencing Institute.

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