How to Change the World

ghandiGandhi is credited with the inspirational quotation “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

No one would criticize me for not giving back to my community.  I have worked in not for profit community agencies, spanning from suicide prevention to health care to education. I have served on some board or another for 20 years.  I have fed the poor, donated closets of clothing, and countless dollars to charities.  I have supported campaigns to end violence against women, mental health, poverty, and particularly charities for children.  My heart is probably most aligned with helping kids.

But how can I really change the world? Each of those charities is worthwhile; I feel satisfied with every heart I touch.  I have been approached for a contract in Nigeria.  It will likely not work out as I cannot be away from my child for the length of time the contract requires. But it spoke to a key part of who I am.  The call for social justice is significant to me, and the idea of serving that agenda is a calling that has characterized a lot of my life.  From my days in university when I considered kibbutz, to today when I consider using my mediation skills with the Peace Corps, the calling to change the world has been with me for some time.

I have been around a few decades now, and even in my short life, I have watched the various sociopolitical causes for change emerge with each new generation.  In my lifetime alone, I have watched us rage against the machine, take on the conservative culture, build greener environments, challenge violence and bullying, occupy Wall Street, and change our definitions of success.

One such trend is permaculture.  It can range from radical socialism to caring eco-community. But is it a sustainable solution? Will it really change the world?

“Permaculture is predominantly based on three principles: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. However, As Looby Macnamara’s People & Permaculture emphasises, the vast majority of permaculture courses only deal with Earth Care, often excluding in one way or another, the other two principles. ” Permaculture  Today, we see a world where women are denied basic human rights.  Children live in poverty around the globe.  Significant change is required on all levels.

How viable is permaculture economically? “If the limits analysis is valid then a sustainable society would have to involve much less affluent lifestyles, highly self-sufficient local economies, little trade, little heavy industry, cooperative and participatory systems and a steady-state economy. This means much more than merely getting rid of a capitalist economy. It means developing an economy in which there is no economic growth, the GNP per capita is a small fraction of what it is (in Australia) today, no interest is earned on savings ( because if it is you have a growth economy), most economic activity takes place outside the cash economy and there are many free goods from the local commons, the “unemployment” rate might be 80% (because most work and production would not be for money), and in which much “tax” is paid via contributions of time to local working bees and committees. In addition a sustainable society requires fundamental changes in world view and values. Cooperation must become the dominant concern, not competition. A strong collective orientation must replace today’s rampant individualism. Affluence and consumption must become distasteful; frugality and self-sufficiency must become major sources of life satisfaction. Giving must become a more important source of satisfaction than getting.”  Would permaculture projects be able to effect this change?

“The important point here is that Permaculture can very easily be part of the problem. It is part of the problem if does not increase the realisation that affluent living standards and this economy are totally incompatible with sustainability and with global economic justice. Much Permaculture literature not only does not increase people’s understanding of these crucial themes, much of it reinforces the impression that fundamental change is not necessary because all we have to do is adopt things like organic food, composting, recycling and community supported agriculture. Permaculture is part of the problem if it is essentially enabling people to do some ecologically correct things in their gardens, such as growing some organic veggies, and then feel that they are making a significant contribution to saving the planet “. Why Bother?  Will small projects all over the world impact the value system that is at the root of sustainability issues?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead’s quotation has been one of my favorites for over 20 years.  It is not that I doubt that the social and economic systems can change.  I believe in grass roots movements as they are the ways in which our values have changed how we live through out history.  But I am not sure that permaculture is the solution. It is admirable, but the real viability of it is unproven. As a movement, it may itself be unsustainable.

“A cynic would say this lack of quantitative testing  (of permaculture principles and outputs) is not accidental, because it might reveal that many favourite notions are false, or at least not what they are cracked up to be. Most people attracted to Permaculture are young, dreamy idealists looking for some kind of system to structure their activities and impart meaning.” The Land. I am concerned that permaculture, like so many other movements in society, is trying to do the wrong thing for the right reasons.

Is it possible that the permaculture movement is a form of denial? A way to posit a new social order (which we have done for decades to no avail) instead of looking at the consciousness with which we create the world we live in?  I appreciate that most permaculture movements embrace principles of intentionality and true community responsibility.  That is not what I mean.  I mean we need a serious overhaul of our consciousness as a world community.  Inevitably, there are reasons why our world value systems (whether it be economic, social or political) evolved the way it did.  It was a reflection of the consciousness and of the journey of each of soul.  We could make the argument that what we suffer from today is rooted back to the domination of the Roman rule centuries ago. But that will not lead to true change. Tantra would tell us that the divine is as present in permaculture as it is in colonial rule; this is not a moral issue of what is more right than anything else.  For me, it is a question of the roots of the consciousness reflected in the thoughts and emotions that result in the world view that emerges.

So, the long and short of this is that if I am going to change the world, it is going to be with my own consciousness. It will be in how I raise my child, how I love my neighbor, how I treat each person with whom I come in contact.  It will be with how I feed the next hungry person – whether the hunger is physical, emotional or spiritual.  It will be in how I respond to calls for service, whether that is Nigeria, or youth recovering from sexual abuse in my own city.  It is how I embody values, not where I do it.  It is how I relate to money – money is not evil. It is when money means more than exchanging energy with others that we have a problem.

I will change the world, as Gandhi said, by embodying the change I want to see in the world.

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2 thoughts on “How to Change the World

  1. jackcollier7 says:

    I feel this is from your heart, raises some very important issues, and shows a mature acceptance of the real world. Some say that the only thing you can really change is yourself. Don’t know if that is absolutely true, but it’s a good place to start.
    I don’t think permaculture requires the abandonment of either capitalism or technological advancement. I firmly believe that permaculture only needs 2 things. A belief that the world exists for more than the benefit of oneself. A belief that when you do something you should do it so it lasts. For example, in Agriculture, monoculture is not a viable system in the long term. In Banking, a bank cannot profit unless its community also profits. Consumer goods should be durable and user repairable. Buildings should either be very temporary, or very, very permanent.
    But that’s just the way I do things, which I know doesn’t make it the right way.
    Always great to read your stuff.
    JC

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