Losing our religion? Or growing a new global one?

In an article in this week’s New Scientist, “Losing our religion” by Graham Lawton takes a rather narrow, but quite common, view of religion as mainly determined by active membership in a traditional religion and a belief in a God, especially one that judges and punishes. (But what about Bhuddism or Taoism?)

I was very interested to learn that, on this definition, the late 20th century resurgence of religion, and especially fundamentalism, seems to have reversed in the past two decades, even in places like the US and Ireland, known for their religiosity. Is this true for Islam as well as Christianity?

We now separate religion from the rest of culture, while in earlier societies, particularly before civilisations, but also until the rise of industrial society, there was no little or no such distinction. Within each culture, there were a range of customs and beliefs that gave people a sense of identity and connection to each other and the wider world, and told them what behaviour was appropriate and inappropriate. In Lawton’s telling of it, these were arbitrary superstitions. While this might be true of some parts (human sacrifice?), overall, religions were the glue that held societies together and were highly functional, at least within if not between cultures.
Now, the dominant so-called ‘rationality’ often includes a belief that the best economic system is the market in which all are fiercely competing against each other, that the best political system is one with political parties competing against each other, that evolution is a random process of survival of the fittest. There is no sense of connection or suitable behaviour in this. The result is a global culture rife with wars, corruption, crime and destruction of the environment.

It is no wonder that many people look at the world and say “this is wrong!”. Many turn to the only alternatives they know, which are traditional religions and/or fundamentalism.

But there may be another explanation for the decline in ‘religion’ in the past two decades: a new rationality that embraces the social strengths of traditional religions, that provides a sense of connection, identity and a guide to appropriate behaviour. This can live alongside traditional religions that will come to be understood as metaphorical rather than literal.

Our communication technologies are linking us as never before, and globalism has reduced the differences between cultures. Thus we empathise with people around the world in their tragedies and oppressions. It is harder to believe that the traditional religion of your own culture applies to everyone. As our destruction of the natural world is now hitting home, a strong sense that we are all in this together is growing. More and more people are coming to see that the financial system that underpins our economy, and our political systems are dysfunctional.

Through thousands of projects and groups worldwide, it is becoming clear that appropriate behaviour includes re-inventing community for bottom-up governance, creating new enterprises for providing food, transport, energy, etc. that are based upon providing well-being for people and planet, not making money.

For many people, the hazy outlines of a new global culture is growing under the radar: locally based but globally co-ordinated, co-operative but locally autonomous, with central emphasis on the health of the natural world.

This can perhaps be summarised as the growth of a global family that looks after people and planet.

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You’ve heard of Slow Food, now there’s Slow Money!

I was intrigued by an event I saw listed in the Transition US newsletter, Essential Knowledge for Transition: Financial System and Local Investing which was “the first in a 3-part series of teleseminars on economic transformation by Marco Vangelisti”.

I downloaded Marco’s slide show to accompany the seminar, and was very impressed, so I signed up for the teleseminar and participated in it yesterday evening. It described itself as:

Financial system and local investing

How can the stock market reach new record highs when the economy is still sputtering and the middle class is fading away? What role do our investments play in shaping our world? We will look at how financial capital has been transformed from a tool fostering economic growth to a self-perpetuating pool growing through trading activities progressively divorced from productive economic activities. We will talk about the importance of divesting form the old economy and the emergence of four powerful trends that will transform the world of investing. We will look at ways communities at the forefront of this transformation are democratizing and relocalizing investments and building a world that is more equitable and sustainable.

Much of this was familiar to me: how limited and destructive it is to see the world though a financial prism that excludes social and environmental effects, his “What you Need to Know About Money and Banking in 3 Minutes”

  • All money is created as debt
  • No money is created to repay the interests on the debt
  • The private banking sector has the monopoly on money creation
  • Money is an agreed upon fiction

An amusing cartoon:

cartoon for Slow Money

But I was particularly struck by the innovations in new approaches to money that have been growing in the USA in recent years. There was only a little on new currencies, but a lot of emphasis on ways for people to pool what money they have to invest in community enterprises and other socially and environmentally positive initiatives.

It was ‘Slow Money‘ that really appealed to me, probably because I had been very active in the Slow Food movement a few years ago. From Wikipedia

Slow Money is a movement to organize investors and donors to steer new sources of capital to small food enterprises, organic farms, and local food systems. Slow Money takes its name from the Slow Food movement. Slow Money aims to develop the relationship between capital markets and place, including social and soil fertility. Slow Money is supporting the grass-roots mobilization through network building, convening, publishing, and incubating intermediary strategies and structures of funding.”

It has only been going since 2009 but “more than $30 million has been invested in 221 small food enterprises around the United States since mid-2010. Seventeen local Slow Money chapters and six investment clubs have formed. Slow Money events have attracted thousands of people from 36 states and 9 countries.”

Great stuff!

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Building a Global Family that looks after people and the Earth

To my friends and family:

I’ve just written this as a ‘Farewell Essay” for my last meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Transition Network, but I would like to send it to a much wider audience too. You can download it below.

What do you think of it? Is the vision clear? Do you agree with it? Any serious reservations?

The  ‘global family’ metaphor is relatively new to me. It was enthusiastically adopted at the Transition National Hubs meeting (that is, people representing different countries around the world) at the Transition Network conference in 2012. It featured strongly in the 2013 National Hubs meeting, and is now well embedded in the Transition community. In this essay, I put it together with my visions of a co-operative local and global economy from my book eGaia, where I used a ‘global nervous system’ metaphor in much the same way.

Here’s the first real section as a taster.

Essence of the vision

We are a global movement of people who are coming to see ourselves as part of ‘the family of humankind’, who are learning to collaborate to look after each other and the natural world. Moreover, it is only now that this is becoming possible, as we have the communications technology, the ideas and the need.

This is in contrast to mainstream views, where the market is king, where we are all against each other in every way: nations and firms competing economically, national, religious and ethnic groups opposing each other politically.

For me, this is the key innovation of the Transition Movement and like-minded people although it is rarely the ‘one sentence summary’ of what we are doing. (From here on, when I refer to the Transition Movement, I will use it as a shorthand for the vast number of groups and projects with an overlapping world view and purpose.)

Often, when I meet people at Transition or like-minded events I feel this immediately. These people are my ‘family’ in a new sense.  We are those who care about  the Earth and all its peoples. It is a change in our sense of who we are, such that those who join this see themselves firstly as ‘people of the Earth’, with our nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, sense of sexual or gender identity, as important but secondary.  This is truly a practical, non-mystical ‘change of consciousness’.

This is essentially a positive image as in the title of Charles Eisenstein’s  new book,  “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible”. I will sketch my version of it below and there is much more detail in my book eGaia, Growing a peaceful, sustainable Earth through communications,

This vision is not a defensive or frightened reaction to climate change, peak oil, or possible economic collapse. It isn’t just that we must change because we are destroying the world or that our current ways of living can’t continue much longer (although that is true). It really is that we are building a world that will work much better and make all of us happier, that actually would be much better even for those who are now ‘privileged’ and ‘wealthy’ although they might not see it that way at present. So, yes, we can criticise the current economic system for its destruction of the environment and for what it is doing to people, but we are also developing and presenting an alternative that is better on its own terms.

My hope and dream is that this could be the ‘killer meme’, that once this vision is established to some critical level it could catch the imagination of humanity, and take the Transition Movement to the next level and beyond.

…[later sections describe my best guess at how a cooperative economy might work, and some big next steps towards it.]

What do you think? Could this be the killer meme?

Download as 8 page pdf:   GlobalFamilyEssay.pdf  or as ePub format for an ebook reader: GlobalFamilyEssay.epub

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Critical readers wanted for eGaia, 2nd edition

eGaia coverI’ve been working hard on the 2nd edition of my book, eGaia. I have now completed a draft, which you can download.

I’m looking for critical readers whose comments will help me move towards the final version.

Could you help?

I think eGaia is more relevant than ever, as we are hitting the limits of the Earth in ways that people can see, with the melting of the Arctic, extreme weather events becoming common, huge pressure on food supplies, and more. The money system and the economy are on the edge of meltdown, with a collapse possible at any time. Public trust in the banks and the money system are so low that the radical ideas about money in this book might seem more acceptable.

At the same time, people are far more closely linked electronically, through social networks and mobile phones. Many of the ingredients of a collaborative culture are here, just waiting to be put together.

And there is an alternative vision growing, as many movements, like the Transition Network show. eGaia contributes to an emerging positive vision of the future that is sustainable, collaborative and community-based: a human family looking after each other and the Earth.

I think it adds some new ideas to what is emerging and pulls together various existing threads:

  • a global collaborative economy that is locally-based but globally coordinated, bottom up, not top down
  • using information systems to take over some of the functions of money so that the economy is driven by wellbeing of people and planet, not profit
  • a range of exchange systems mixing gift economy approaches and complementary currencies
  • a social system with constructive conflict resolution built in, not power based.
  • a description of the natural world that shows that conflict is not the dominant process: symbiosis and cooperation are as important, and that humans evolved as the cooperative ape.

Before it is published properly I want to gather people’s views of it widely, so I am clearly reflecting the views of the community, and also  to help me catch what is missing or mistaken. This will probably be my last big push on these ideas, and I want them to make a significant difference!

I know people are busy, so I am not asking people to read it all (although I would be very pleased if you did!) The book is in 4 parts, and I hope readers will read and comment on one or more.  My primary questions are: Does this overall vision of the future make sense to you? Is it what you would like to see? What is in it that you don’t like, that grates on you? How should I change it? And how would you suggest that I promote the book? And of course, tell me about any errors you spot, whether conceptual or just typos or grammar/spelling.

I am planning to start serious work on the final version in the middle of November, so please send me your comments by 15th Nov. at the latest, and much sooner if possible.

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Transition Movement moves on a step: becoming a global family

Lyon venueI’m just back from a wonderful 4 day international meeting of the Transition National Hubs, in and around Lyon, France. There were about 35 of us, a few coming and going over the days, from 17 countries around the world. To sum it all up, there were great discussions (moving the Transition movement forward, in my view) but also silliness, great people, fun social events, lovely food and beautiful venues. I will report mostly on the parts with which I was most involved.

good discussionTo start with the substance, the ‘national hubs’ are groups of people that support the local transition town groups (‘transition initiatives’) in their countries. Last year in London, as an extension to the Transition conference, there was a two day meeting of the national hubs, but this was the first time they met by themselves. Last year we came up with the metaphor that we are a family, supporting each other and the planet. To be clear, this means that local initiatives would no longer be isolated, simply working on their own projects, but would part of an active network, where they were in regular contact with each other, helping each other in whatever ways were appropriate. This year we did a lot of work on that idea, with lots of plans to make it practical.

eating lunchMost of us came from Europe, but a few were from farther away. We had people from: Belgium, Brazil(!), Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Israel, Latvia, Luxembourg, Norway, Philippines(!), Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. Some of the hubs were large and well-established, like Sweden which has 172 initiatives and has funding, while others were small and just starting, like Latvia with only 1 initiative.

serving lunchAs we talked about how we could work together, it was clear that there were lots of possibilities. We planned some regional gatherings, like one for the Baltic countries, where the stronger Scandinavian nations could support the newer ones like Latvia. There might be an Eastern European meeting, a German-speaking one (Germany, Austria, and the German part of Switzerland), and possibly others. We talked about a ‘buddy’ system or ‘twinning’ or ‘mentoring’ where two hubs were paired, and would keep in regular contact. (“Have you called your family this month?”) We want to have a few smaller conferences each year, probably regional, and one bigger one for everyone.  The hot favourite for 2014 is Copenhagen. And then, we want to have a much larger number of smaller, informal connections, through Skype or similar, or telephone, some on a regular basis and some informally.

park where we picnicedThe easiest and most obvious ways we can help each other would be organisational support. There are the beginnings of a ‘Transition Initiative Health Check’, that could be developed further, and could identify and help with difficulties. One particular area would be to develop a system of handling the conflicts that so often arise, and sometimes cause initiatives to fail. There could be help with trainings, or with translations of materials, with sharing of materials, and joint funding proposals. (In fact, the funding group set up last year was very successful, with a contribution to the costs of the event. Several of us had our traveling costs paid.)

meeting French transitionersAnother dimension to this, perhaps later, would be practical and economic support. The first example was couch surfing, when people are traveling. In fact, all of us stayed with local couch surfers. We speculated on a future Transition exchange system, where we tried to patronise each others’ ‘Transition businesses’, extending some of the REconomy ideas.

Sun morning workshopThe Transition Network (the Totnes organisation), took this meeting very seriously, sending Pete Lipman (Chair of the Trustees), Sarah McAdam (the new Delivery Director), Ben Brangwyn (International Development), Naresh Giangrande (training and education), Fiona Ward (REconomy) and me (Trustee), all of whom presented their work with a view to engaging the national hubs in the changes of organisation and strategy that have been happening recently. We will try to include a representative of the Hubs on the Board from next year.  We speculated on the possibility of setting up a UK hub that is separate from the Transition Network.

There were some exciting discussions with Fiona, which means that at least 3 hubs will be participating in the REconomy project this year, with small funding.

Saturday night partyThe first two days of the event, Thursday and Friday, were held in Lyon itself, meeting at the ‘Maison Associations’. Wonderful food was provided by people from the Lyon initiative, first for lunch, and then a picnic in a local park, after a long walk.

On Saturday morning we took a coach to Charette, a small country town, where we met on an organic farm that was simultaneously hosting a French regional transition meeting. That meant that we met with and worked with the local French transitioners in a few activities. These were bilingual, with everything translated from French to English or vice-versa. It was all very lively, with a party on Saturday evening with a local folk band and lots of ‘crazy French dancing’. Again, there was great food prepared for us by the locals.

Sunday there were more workshops in the morning. In the afternoon we concentrated of becoming clear about the next steps that would be taken during the coming year.

meeting French transitionersOne of the roles that the Transition Network is becoming clearer about is ‘keeper of the DNA’ of the movement, the core ideas, values, and identity, such as the statement, “Transition Network supports community-led responses 
to climate change and shrinking supplies of cheap energy, building resilience and happiness.” As the international work is progressing, perhaps that DNA will be extended to include “Transition Network is building a ‘family’ of people around the world that are at the same time separate and autonomous but also are looking after each other and the planet.”

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What does Egypt tell us about democracy?

All the media comments about the Egyptian army’s ‘coup’ take for granted that the model of ‘democracy’ in the West is obviously right and the best.  We assume that a party with a parliamentary majority, no matter how slim, and regardless of whether it reflects a majority of the voters, can impose it’s will on the country.  This approach is actually an elected dictatorship, that legitimises ignoring the will and desires of minorities.

As we explore new forms of social contract, with more autonomy towards communities, one dimension must also be a new approach to democracy, that is much more oriented to consensus, and to autonomy within connection at all levels.  So the new vision is one where all are respected and given as much control over their own lives as possible, not one where an elected group can run roughshod over the rest.

 

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Rob Hopkins at Downham Market

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I had a lovely afternoon when Rob Hopkins came to Downham Market for one of the ‘Transition Thursdays’. It was a delightful little event, with about 20 people, in the garden of John and Carol’s eco-house in Stoke Ferry. After the usual wonderful Transition shared lunch we talked about what it is about Transition that adds to the usual projects that people undertake.

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