A Manifesto for Global Transformation
© 2001 Richard K. Moore
Published in New Dawn
magazine, March/April 2001.
Comments to: email@example.com
Online at the CDR website: http://cyberjournal.org
The Revolutionary Imperative
"Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed... whenever any Form
of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the
Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to
institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such
principles and organizing its power in such form, as to them
shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and
- U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776
The course of world events, for the first time in history, is now largely controlled by a centralized global regime. This regime has been consolidating its power ever since World War II and is now formalizing that power into a collection of centralized institutions and a new system of international "order". Top Western political leaders are participants in this global project, and the strong Western nation state is rapidly being dismantled and destabilized. The global regime serves elite corporate interests exclusively. It has no particular regard for human rights, representative government, human welfare, or the health of the environment. The only god of this regime is the god of wealth accumulation.
Our elite rulers did not lead us into tyranny and environmental collapse because they are evil people, but because they were forced to by the nature of capitalism. Capitalist economies must continually grow in order to survive. If investors have nowhere to increase their funds then they stop investing and the whole system collapses like a house of cards. Each phase in the development of capitalism - including imperialism and later globalization - has been required to enable successive cycles of capital growth.
Humanity can do better than this - much better - and there is reason to hope that the time is ripe for us to bring about fundamental changes. For the past two hundred years capitalism has employed an unbeatable formula to maintain its stranglehold over the world. That formula has been based on the relative contentment of Western populations, particularly the middle classes. Popular support maintained Western regimes and those regimes had the military might to dominate the rest of the world. That formula reached its culmination in the postwar years when Western prosperity reached unprecedented heights. With neoliberalism and globalization, this successful formula is being abandoned. Western populations are being sacrificed to market forces and WTO tyranny - and our elite leaders have bet their future on the success of their centralized WTO new-world-order regime. The political support base for capitalism has been fatally weakened, and that creates the conditions from which a mass movement for fundamental change is likely to emerge.
Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option for us - the nature of capitalism is forcing revolutionary changes. In a few years the global regime may be so thoroughly established that it will be invincible. The people of the world have a choice. On the one hand we can surrender to global tyranny so that capitalism can continue its insane and destructive growth. On the other hand, we can assert our rights as free peoples - we can oust the elites from power and reorganize our societies so that they serve the needs and wishes of people instead of facilitating the endless accumulation of wealth by a few.
This is our Revolutionary Imperative. Not an imperative to violent revolution, but an imperative to do something even more revolutionary - to set humanity on a sane course using peaceful means. The current regime is serving the interests of only a tiny elite, the rest of us have nothing to lose but our chains - and we have a livable world to gain.
Decentralization - a paradigm for self-rule
"The original Buddha-nature of all living beings is like the
bright moon in the sky - it is only because it is covered by
floating clouds that it cannot appear."
For the last ten thousand years, ever since the discovery of agriculture and herding, societies have been increasingly dominated by hierarchical power structures. Nations, empires, corporations - these are all hierarchical organizations, controlled from the top. In the past two centuries, elected governments have been adopted in the West, but control of government hierarchies continued largely in elite hands. Governments have gone under many names, but they have all amounted to one form or another of tyranny. Globalization represents the ultimate hierarchical tyranny: a centralized global government under firm control of one particular elite.
- Zen Master Fenyang
Humanity has been dominated by hierarchies for so long that we might assume hierarchy is inherent in human societies, perhaps part of human nature itself. But ten thousand years, though it seems like a long time, is less than one percent of the time homo sapiens has been living in societies. By evolutionary standards, civilization has been but the blink of an eye. For essentially all of our history as a species, we have lived in small hunter-gatherer societies. If we want to understand something about human nature, and about stable societal structures, we learn more by looking at hunter-gatherer societies than we do by investigating our behavior during our recent confinement in hierarchical cages. Today we may pace back and forth in our commuter routes, or run a treadmill all day at work, but that is not our nature, that is the nature of our cage.
We have an immense amount of information about hunter-gatherer societies, and some of the most useful is about the Native American societies, because they were studied extensively and documented while they were still functioning intact on a large scale. The Aztec and Inca empires are of no interest to us here, nor are any other societies based on agriculture. What we're interested in are the examples that match 99% of our hunter-gatherer history. Our interest is not in hunter-gatherer economies - there are far too many of us today to return to that. Rather we are interested in how these societies functioned politically, particularly those which were organized in a decentralized way.
There was a striking degree of diversity among these pre-agricultural societies, even among ones which interacted with one another regularly. There were warrior tribes, peaceful nomadic tribes, and even settled communities, when fish were plentiful enough. A considerable number of these tribes had egalitarian, non-hierarchical structures of non-trivial complexity. The one I've looked at most closely was the Oglala Sioux.
There were elders, and there were chiefs, but they had no authority to command. They were looked to for guidance, but they were only followed when their suggestions met with general approval. When a tribal decision was to be made, it was made by consensus, and the chief didn't have more weight than others, unless through persuasion or wisdom.
Perhaps more interesting - since we must deal today with the problem of scale and large populations - is the manner in which the Sioux Nation of tribes reached decisions for collective action. The invasion of the European colonists forced the Sioux to make frequent use of this collective mechanism, but it was already in place - the result of millennia of societal evolution.
A tribal council would be called by one of the tribes. Each tribe would then hold its own consensus session to decide its position regarding the issue at hand. A contingent from each tribe, led by the chief, would then go to the tribal council - where another consensus session would be held. A chief had no authority to agree to anything contrary to what had been established locally. If he exceeded that authority, his tribe would simply not back him up. On the other hand, if the tribe had agreed to pursue some venture, then the chief knew he could promise the tribe's cooperation and that they would follow through. Trustworthiness was a cardinal virtue in most Native American societies, and mutual trust is what permitted their decentralized systems to function reliably.
In this way, collective action could be effectively planned and coordinated, without there being any centralized authority. What was delegated to the chief was not decision-making power, but rather the authorization to say on our behalf that which we have agreed. This is an all-important distinction: it makes the difference between hierarchy and local control, between centralized and decentralized power - between tyranny and self rule.
The Sioux were not an isolated example, by the way. The pattern was a common one, and the interaction between unrelated tribes also exhibited the success of various kinds of consensual relationships. The Iroquois Nation was studied by the American 'Founding Fathers', and some historians believe this influenced the design of the U.S. Constitution.
These kinds of non-hierarchical, non-federated tribal nations persisted stably for long periods of time. They were able to function collectively as nations with considerable effectiveness and coherence when the need arose, without the need for hierarchical government of any kind. Rather than being contrary to human nature, I submit that self-rule may be at the very heart of human nature, and that it appears prominently on every page of human history, except for that most recent page which began only an evolutionary instant ago, and which is called civilization (and which might be better called domestication of the species).
Once stored surpluses came into existence, with agriculture and herding, then it became possible to maintain professional soldiers, and so the tools of conquest and empire building became available. It required only one society to pursue this path, and then all the rest were doomed - sooner or later - to either emulate or be dominated by their more aggressive neighbors. Once the infection of hierarchical domination begins, the dynamics of its spread are all too apparent and inevitable.
But people have not forgotten how to cooperate, despite every attempt of our culture to inculcate competitiveness and selfishness, both in education and in the societal reward system. There are all sorts of organizations and associations that are entirely voluntary and for mutual benefit. Some are hierarchical, and others are not. The recent (10,000 years) conditioning has not unlearned the lessons ingrained by millions of years of evolution. We may have forgotten the social structures we invented formerly, because those can only be passed on culturally, but our ability to function in freedom within decentralized structures remains intact.
What kind of world do we want to build?
"Moderation in all things."
It would be easy for me to write down a description of my
own personal utopia, or to wish for a world in which
everyone has magically become enlightened and public
spirited. It is much more difficult to come up with a
vision that can appeal to all segments of the world
population, and which accepts that people are unlikely to
change their basic natures or beliefs in the near future.
It is even more difficult to make that vision one which is
coherent and which lays the foundations for a system that
can work effectively in practice.
- classical Greek wisdom
"The future arrives of its own accord; progress does not."
- Poul Henningsen, Danish designer and social critic
Permit me to offer my humble proposal for such a unifying
vision. It is based on seven fundamental principles, and it
has been developed through dialog with hundreds of people
and groups, in person and on various email lists. The seven
- Personal liberty
- A voice for everyone in society's governance
- Harmonization instead of factionalism
- Economic vitality
- World peace
Within the limits of respecting the liberty and well-being of
others, every individual should be free to pursue their
lives more or less as they see fit. If they choose to submit
themselves to the dictates of a religion, to cultural
traditions, or whatever, then so be it - but such choices
should be voluntary.
No single principle, however, can be interpreted in
isolation - each must be kept in balance with the others.
'Personal liberty' does not mean that a community has no
right to prohibit anti-social behavior, according to local
customs. Nor does it mean that a healthy individual can
choose to do sit around all day and then demand that society
support them. Personal liberty must be balanced against
personal responsibility, and it must be kept in reasonable
harmony with the welfare of society.
At the same time, the principle of personal liberty serves
to counter-balance an excessive application of other
principles. In China for example, large numbers of people
have been forced against their will to work on agricultural
labor crews, so as to fulfill the central government's
economic objectives. And in the United States, men have
frequently been forced against their will to fight in
imperialist wars, on the pretext of 'defending national
interests'. The principle of personal freedom aims to
protect the individual against such excessive intrusions by
society-at-large, and from any tyranny of the majority. In a
livable world, society may protect itself from anti-social
individuals, but it does not seek to accomplish its
objectives through coercion. A livable society is for the
people, not over the people.
A voice for everyone in society's governance
A livable society is not only for the people, but also of
the people. Our current societies have a pretense of
representation, but that does not in practice provide a
voice for the people. We get candidates who sell themselves
on television, debating 'issues' which have little relevance
to essential matters - and then when they're in office they
generally ignore their constituencies and devote their
energies to promoting the corporate neoliberal agenda. This
may be less true in local elections, but it is very true at
the top levels of the major Western governments, where the
big decisions are made.
Our supposedly 'opposing' political parties go to great
lengths to convince us that they differ in their
philosophies, but in practice the 'bipartisan' corporate
program is what gets implemented, regardless of who gets
elected. When it comes down to it, what could we expect from
a system where the only input from the people is an 'X'
every four years, next to the name of one personality or the
other? How could that possibly convey the will of the
The word 'democracy' comes from the Greeks, who were the
first to study governmental structures in a systematic way.
Their basic categories of governance were 'aristocracy',
'tyranny', and 'democracy'. In fact, these three are all
forms of tyranny, as far as the the man in the street is
concerned. The only difference between them is who
administers the regime. With 'tyranny' it is a
self-appointed dictator; with 'aristocracy' it is a
property-owning class; with 'democracy' it is some party,
or candidate, which has convinced voters that it is
less-objectionable than the alternatives.
The literal translation of the Greek 'dêmokratia', rule
by the people, is basically a good idea. But the
implementations of 'democracy', starting with the Greeks,
have emphasized the 'rule' and left out the 'people'. In
fact, electoral politics always becomes a game of
power-brokers and demagogues, leading to a tyranny of the
majority - which really means tyranny by the party that best
succeeds in fooling the people.
For 10,000 years our lives have been increasingly dominated
by hierarchies. After such long-term subjugation it may be
scary to think of running society ourselves. But who else
should we trust instead? Even if your answer is "God", then
it is up to you to represent that wisdom in the body
politic. With the dawning of the 21st Century, it is time
for humanity to grow up and take responsibility for itself.
We are now 21.
There are many precedents, both historical and current,
which provide effective models for involving people in the
decisions that affect their lives - for putting
responsibility where it belongs. These models are based on
the harmonization of interests, rather than on competition
among political parties and societal factions. And they are
models which begin the problem-solving process at the local
level - not in the halls of some remote central government.
In a livable society, local communities should be free to
make the decisions that affect them directly. Why should
someone else tell them how to live their lives, how late
they can keep their pubs open, or what kind of schools they
can run for their children? Why should that be the business
of anyone outside the community? There have been cases, to
be sure, where local minorities have been suppressed, and
central governments have come to their rescue. But in a
livable society, where everyone has an effective voice in
their communities, and the liberty to express it, there
should be little need for that kind of central
And again, this principle needs to be balanced against
others. A community cannot pollute the water source of other
communities, nor can it be allowed to squander its resources
recklessly - forcing its people eventually to make demands
on the resources of others. And the community cannot be
allowed to violate the liberty of its citizens, to ignore
their political voice, nor to use its children as free labor
instead of giving them an education.
There are clearly problems that need to be dealt with on a
larger scale than a single community, and there are problems
that can only be dealt with on a global basis. But in a
livable society, decisions are made locally whenever
possible, and larger-scale decisions are made in
participation with those affected. In our societies today,
decisions by unaccountable centralized bureaucracies have
become the primary means by which society is run. In a
livable society the power-and-responsibility pyramid is
turned the other way around.
Consider how the international postal system operates. Each
nation has full sovereignty over how it delivers mail, and
what kind of post-office system it wants to set up. There
is no centralized global postal authority which has
jurisdiction over the internal operations of national postal
systems. All nations (except in time of conflict) have
always agreed to deliver the mail passed on to them by other
nations - based on mutual benefit and trust. The Internet
works the same way. Each Internet provider is like a local
post office, and the providers voluntarily collaborate in
the exchange of mail - based on mutual benefit and trust.
The international rail system is yet another familiar
These systems are not fully decentralized. Each national
post office is itself an hierarchical bureaucracy, and
international postal standards are set by a centralized
agency. Nonetheless, the overall system structure is a
decentralized one - national post offices are run
autonomously. They cooperate according to agreed
procedures, but they are not under any central management.
As these examples prove, a decentralized structure can be
very reliable, and it can evolve over time as new
circumstances arise. The administrative burden is
spread out, where it can be more efficiently optimized
for local conditions. The overall administration overhead
is less than in a centralized system; administration is
closer to its users; and different societies can choose to
have different qualities of local service, depending on what
they can afford and what their needs are. In a
decentralized system, unresponsive and inflexible
bureaucracies are minimized.
In addition to these many advantages, decentralized systems
provide something even more important - they facilitate
innovative evolution. Let's suppose that the Swedish Post
Office develops a mail sorter that is more efficient than
those used anywhere else. Very soon, other nations will
emulate Sweden, perhaps modifying or refining the design in
the process. In a centralized system, the research &
development function is also centralized, and innovation is
constrained through a narrow pipeline. In a decentralized
system, each party can take risks on their own with new
ideas, and if they fail, no one else need emulate them.
In a livable world, decentralized systems are to be
preferred, wherever they can be successfully employed.
Besides their advantages in terms of system performance and
evolution, such systems provide a political benefit: they
transfer responsibility and control to the lowest possible
level, in many cases to the local community itself. To the
extent that liberty and responsibility can be successfully
combined and concentrated at the community level, we can
hope to achieve a livable, humane, world - where everyone's
voice is expressed and listened to. Such a society would be
very well ordered, but that order would be a harmony of
individual voices, not the regimented order imposed by a
central government. There is every reason to believe that
individuals and societies would thrive under
decentralization - for that is how all humans have lived
during nearly all of our time on Earth.
Harmonization instead of factionalism
Our current political systems are based on competition among
societal factions. Different factions (workers, gun owners,
gays, ethnic minorities, etc.) each identify their own
interests, and then they compete in various ways to promote
their interests in preference to those of other groups.
Political parties seek to enlist the support of these
factions, and then the parties go on to repeat the factional
competition in our legislative bodies. In practice, the
societal factions are betrayed - the parties follow the
agenda of a tiny super-rich minority instead of listening to
their electoral constituencies. Politics in the Roman
Republic degenerated into 'bread and circuses', and that has
been the story of 'democracy' ever since. But even if the
competitive system worked as it is ideally supposed to work,
it would still be a very dysfunctional system.
Consider the decision-making process that is followed in our
legislatures - some call it Parliamentary Process and
other call it Robert's Rules of Order. Under this system,
discussion continues until some faction feels that it has
assembled a majority for its proposal. A vote is then
called, and if a majority assents, the matter is settled and
debate is ended. The focus is not on discussing problems,
listening to alternatives, and working out solutions.
Instead, the parliamentary process provides a forum where
deal-makers try to assemble support for prepackaged partisan
It is no surprise that such a system does a poor job at
solving societal problems. The problems of our society are
complex, and coming up with solutions requires that all
viewpoints be taken into account. Instead, each party
proposes narrowly conceived solutions, based on its own
partisan perspective, and designed to provide relative
advantage to its own constituency. This process is not
conducive to generating effective solutions. The relevant
information is simply not being taken into account.
Consider the story of the blind men and the elephant. None
could see the whole elephant, and each got a different
impression depending on which part of the elephant they
could touch. Our societal problems are like that elephant,
and our politicians are like those blind men. What the
blind men need to do, in the case of the elephant, is to
talk to one another, compare their observations, and figure
out that the Big Picture is about an elephant. What our
politicians need to do is to listen to one another, and come
up with solutions that work for society generally. But our
system is not set up that way - the politicians (with some
notable exceptions) perceive their role as promoting one set
of interests over another. Thus our societal problems, like
the elephant, are only partially understood and partially
addressed - even when the system works ideally and without
A livable society cannot afford to entrust its governance to
such a dysfunctional system. When people come together to
make decisions, whether locally or on a larger-scale,
society needs its problems to be addressed collaboratively,
with all relevant information taken into account, leading to
solutions which harmonize the interests and desires of the
There are proven processes which facilitate this kind of
collaborative harmonization, and they are not at all like
the parliamentary process. Instead of debate, they
emphasize listening. Instead of focusing on partisan
solutions, they focus on understanding the problems, and
identifying the kinds of outcomes different people would
like to achieve. These are creative, problem-solving
processes, where people learn from one another, and
solutions are developed which none of the participants
anticipated. Furthermore, the processes help build a sense
of community, and help develop a cooperative spirit
generally among those who participate.
Such processes, I suggest, are the appropriate political
processes for livable societies. Whereas factionalism works
effectively to manage top-down hierarchies, harmonization
works effectively in support of bottom-up decentralized
systems. Trust and mutual benefit are what enable
harmonization, as we noted before in the case of the
international postal system, the Internet, and the Sioux
Nation. By contrast, partisan conflict and exploitative
relationships are what enable hierarchical control.
In a decentralized world based on liberty and a voice for
all, interests are harmonized first at the community level,
and then delegates are selected to go on to regional
councils - empowered to express that which has been agreed
locally. This means that all fundamental issues
must be discussed at the local level, including matters of
overall societal policy. At regional councils, and on up to
global councils, the same process is followed. Delegates
speak with the voice of the constituency which sent them,
and they work together with their fellow delegates to
harmonize the interests of all. Delegates are ordinary
citizens - not professional politicians. Nowhere is there a
central government or bureaucracy that dictates the policies
of society. As with the Sioux Nation, large-scale
coordination can be effectively pursued without the creation
of power hierarchies at any level.
Certainly, for efficiency, we will still need to establish
agencies, and organizations, and give them responsibility
for building and operating transportation systems and other
infrastructures. A decentralized world does not mean every
citizen must participate in every minor operational
decision, nor does it mean that agencies cannot employ
hierarchical methods where appropriate. Certainly, when a
railroad is being built, some central engineering group will
orchestrate the activities, and others will lay the rails
according to the plan. What is central to a decentralized,
self-governed society is that policy issues be
decided in a way that all voices are listened to. When
people's voices are actually listened to, and when the
issues under discussion make a difference to their lives, I
believe we will find that people are far less apathetic than
they seem to be under our existing tyrannical 'democracies'.
In the next section, we will be talking about the movement.
In that section I will suggest that a decentralized model is
also appropriate for the movement itself. The means always
become the ends: if we want a self-rule world, we'll need to
get their by means of a self-rule movement. If we build a
hierarchical movement, then we'll have a hierarchical power
structure in place when victory is achieved. If instead we
build a decentralized movement, based on collaboration and
harmonization, then we will emerge into the new world with
solid experience using decentralized structures. We won't
be trying something new, we'll be continuing with a system
that has proven itself by accomplishing a momentous task:
overcoming the most powerful centralized regime in history.
A healthy society cannot exist without a healthy economy.
Under capitalism, we tend to think of 'the economy' as being
employment figures, stock market levels, and interest rates.
In fact, the 'economy' is everything you and I do, each day,
as we make a living, and acquire the things we need. The
economy is the sum total of the ways people interact, as
they carry out their business in life. An economy is
healthy - vital - when people's work is directed toward
things that are needed by society - when supply and demand
are allowed to interact naturally and directly. People, out
of their own self-interest, generally seek to maximize their
economic reward for the work they do. A 'vital' economy is
one where economic rewards are closely linked to societal
benefit. In that way, the economy naturally facilitates the
welfare of everyone, with little need for central
coordination. Such an economy, by the way, is precisely
what Adam Smith was talking about in "Wealth of Nations".
Under capitalism, most people maximize their economic reward
by taking a job in a corporation for wages. Their work then
serves whatever agenda the corporation might have in mind.
Instead of work being linked to societal benefit, work is
linked to corporate profitability. To the extent that
corporate prosperity benefits society, then the system works
well enough. It worked well enough, in fact, that most
Westerners were happy with the system up until neoliberalism
raised its ugly head. It has now become now abundantly
clear that a capitalist economy is ultimately an unhealthy
economy - it directs people toward work which pollutes our
environment, wastes our resources, and which fails to meet
the basic needs of most of the world's people. Under
capitalism, economic reward is separated from societal
benefit, and the pursuit of economic gain becomes ultimately
an anti-social force.
A livable society, given our finite resources, cannot afford
capitalism's wastefulness. We need economic arrangements
which take into account the fact that our children will need
to live after us, and which don't reward farmers for
poisoning our food and depleting our topsoil. We need a
fair-competition marketplace, with effective measures to
prevent speculation and the emergence of monopoly operators.
We need to structure our monetary and financial system so
that it facilitates market competition and encourages the
development of healthy businesses. Instead of giant private
banks, whose only objective is maximizing their returns, we
need something more like the credit-union model, where funds
are available locally at rates that enable businesses to
develop without a punitive debt burden. We need to remove
the artificial growth imperative by which capitalism has
infected our economies. Societies benefit from stable,
profitable businesses, rather than businesses which must
grow and exploit in order to survive at all.
Under such conditions, competitive markets can be a very
effective way to achieve a healthy, vital economy. There are
some cases, however, where other economic models have a role
to play as well. Highway systems, for example, are best
managed by public agencies, as they are in most of parts of
the world already. The actual work might be contracted out
to efficient private operators, but the infrastructure
should be managed so as to serve society generally, rather
than to line the pockets of a private owner. Co-ops are
another useful model, provided they are not allowed to grow
into exploitive monopolies. Competitive markets, societal
management, and co-ops are all available in our 'toolkit for
a healthy economy'. Which to apply in each case depends on
circumstances, and on the preferences of those affected.
Whatever definition of 'livable world' we might come up
with, I think it is safe to say that all of us want to build
a system that will last - a system that can be sustained
over time. Why would we squander our rare opportunity by
building something that will fall apart and cause a crisis
for our grandchildren? I suggest that sustainability is a
principle we can all agree must be observed a livable world.
This means that we need to move as rapidly as possible to
harvesting methods which don't take more trees or fish than
nature can replace. It means we need to adopt agricultural
methods and livestock practices which do not deplete the
water tables or the soil bank. Sustainable methods require
more labor than industrial methods, but labor is something
we have an abundance of in this over-populated and
under-employed world of ours. Labor-intensive, sustainable
agriculture can produce as much food as the industrial
alternative, and it can do so using organic practices. In
addition to providing increased employment, and using less
water and energy, such methods avoid the need for expensive
pesticides (which are made from non-renewable resources) and
the food is healthier for those who eat it.
Achieving sustainability will be a major societal project.
Under capitalism, our economies have become dependent on
excessive long-distance food transport, on extensive use of
automobiles, and on similar extravagances that are not
sustainable - but which cannot simply be abandoned
all-at-once. There needs to be a well-orchestrated
transition program, in which current systems are gradually
phased out, and new sustainable infrastructures are
developed and established. This transition program will in
fact be a major development project, and it may require the
use of a considerable portion of our remaining fossil fuels.
Obviously we want to keep green-house emissions to a
minimum, but what better use for fossil fuel, than to
establish energy-efficient systems that don't depend on
fossil fuels for their operation?
In the literature today, there is already a considerable
understanding of ecosystems, sustainable methods, and
energy-efficient technologies. Considerable work has been
done as well into sustainable economic systems, using a
different basis for issuing money and credit than under the
capitalist system. There is little doubt that adequate
solutions can be developed once they become high-priority
societal projects. After the victory of the movement, we
will still have our engineers, scientists, and economists.
"To the size of states there is a limit, as there is to
other things, plants, animals, implements; for none of these
retain their natural power when they are too large or too
small, but they either wholly lose their nature, or are
I doubt if anyone would disagree that a livable world must
be a world without war. But, we must admit, humanity has
been at war nearly continuously, in one part of the world or
another, for thousands of years: Is it possible to achieve
lasting peace? Is warfare perhaps inherent in human nature?
I'd like to suggest some reasons why the achievement of a
stable peace may not be nearly so difficult as it might
Let's consider the history of the major Western European
powers - Germany, France, Great Britain, and Italy. For
centuries, up until 1945, these powers were at war time and
time again, with all sorts of shifting alliances and
balance-of-power games. Competition for markets and
territories continued even during intervals of peace, and
the next war was always brewing on the horizon. World War I
was supposed to be the "War to end all wars", but nothing
had really changed, and World War II followed only twenty
years later with even greater ferocity.
But after World War II, something entirely new and different
happened. As Europe recovered from this particular war, it
began to build a cooperative framework instead of rushing to
rearm and enter a new cycle of conflict. After only a few
years the idea of war between these powers had become nearly
unthinkable, it is still unthinkable today, and there is
little reason to expect this to change in the near future.
This example proves rather conclusively that a cycle of
perpetual warfare can be broken, and that a successful
cooperative regime can come suddenly into existence. And in
this case, the reasons for the transformation are easy to
What European powers had been fighting about, for the last
few centuries at least, had been their empires - their
spheres of influence. After each war there were minor
adjustments of European borders, but the basic map of the
four major powers has remained recognizable. The wars were
wars of competition over empire, rather than wars of mutual
conquest per se. What brought peace to Western Europe after
Word War II was a shift in the nature of imperialism,
brought about under firm U.S. leadership.
Whether Europe liked it or not, Uncle Sam had decided to
claim and defend the exclusive right to manage global
geopolitical affairs. In this endeavor, America employed
both carrots and sticks. The Marshall Plan, NATO, the UN,
and the Bretton Woods institutions were carrots - they gave
Europe positive reasons to enter into collaborative
arrangements. America's willingness to deploy fleets
worldwide in support of imperialism (Pax Americana) was also
a carrot, in that it relieved Europe of that burden. But in
1956, when Britain and France bombed the Suez Canal, then
America made it clear that a heavy hand would be used if the
carrots didn't do the job. Europe was persuaded and coerced
into engaging in a cooperative system of imperialism, and to
leave competitive imperialism behind.
Once imperialism had become a cooperative venture, then
there was no particular reason for European powers to fight
one another. Instead, the advantages of cooperation came to
the fore - pooling their coal resources, reducing their
mutual tariffs, and evolving toward an integrated Europe.
Once the cooperative regime got a good start, it became
self-stabilizing, and in every year that passed, war became
less and less a possibility among these powers. And all
this happened before the formal European Union was
In a livable world, a community is made up of free
individuals collaborating in harmony for their mutual
benefit. Similarly, at the international level, a livable
world is a community of sovereign nations collaborating in
harmony for their mutual benefit. No central authority is
needed for the world, anymore than it is for a nation.
As the experience of Europe demonstrates - when people or
nations are cooperating in collaborative endeavors, they
tend to build bonds and community, rather than pursue
conflict and competition. And if a centralized world
government were established, then there would always be the
danger that some organized group might seize control of the
government apparatus, leading us once again back into
tyranny. A system based on cooperating, autonomous nations
would be better able to recover from a power-grab somewhere
by some aggressive faction.
There will of course need to be a very carefully managed
transition program, in which most weapon systems are
destroyed, and only balanced National Guard and Coast Guard
forces are retained to protect against any aberrant
aggressor or pirate force that might arise. And there would
need to be arrangements for collective action against
aggressors, and for humanitarian interventions in extreme
cases, with effective protections against misuse. Larger
nations will need to be split up (voluntarily) into smaller
chunks - the bigger the scale of a society, the more likely
are hierarchies and tyranny to arise.
What kind of movement can overcome the elite regime?
"How well we know all this! How often we have witnessed it
in our part of the world! The machine that worked for years
to apparent perfection, faultlessly, without a hitch, falls
apart overnight. The system that seemed likely to reign
unchanged, world without end, since nothing could call its
power in question amid all those unanimous votes and
elections, is shattered without warning. And, to our
amazement, we find that everything was quite otherwise than
we had thought"
When we consider how powerful the current regime is, with
all of its weapons and helmeted storm troopers, we might
think the biggest problem for the movement is achieving
sufficient strength to prevail. Clearly the struggle itself
will a formidable undertaking, but I suggest that is not the
best place to focus our attention when we think about what
kind of movement we want to build.
- Václav Havel, 1975
The fact is that the conditions are right for a global,
transformative movement. The current regime, in its
power-bred arrogance, is trampling on the welfare of nearly
everyone, in every nation, and every walk of life. Very few
people are happy with the way things are going in the world,
even those who are comparatively well off. People are
generally aware that our environment is being wasted, our
food poisoned, our communities destroyed, and our economies
undermined - and they would like to see something done about
it. I believe that if the 'right kind' of movement comes
along, with the right kind of organization and vision, then
it has the potential to spread like wildfire. The very
success of the current regime, as it implements its
globalization project, creates the conditions which give us
considerable hope for movement success.
Once, after I had bent several nails in frustration, a Zen
carpenter explained to me how to hammer a nail in straight.
It was simple. Instead of focusing on the head of the nail,
you think about the point of the nail, and getting that in
straight. After that, the task was easy. Similarly, when a
karate expert smashes through a brick, the strike is aimed
below the brick, not at the brick itself. In the same way,
if we want to help launch the 'right kind' of movement, I
suggest our attention should be on the post victory
activity of the movement, rather than the struggle against
the current regime. As the movement grows, it will either
evolve successful engagement strategies, or it will fail.
But if it succeeds, we want to be sure it leads to a livable
world, and not some new form of dysfunctional society.
In a socialist revolution, the 'worker class' supposedly
gains dominance over the 'owner class'. Such a revolution,
even if it stays true to its rhetoric, stays within the
'competing factions' paradigm, and usually leads to
centralized authoritarianism as well. A movement for a
livable world is not about one class or group dominating
others. It is about everyone participating in liberty and
harmony with their fellow citizens, using decentralized
processes to coordinate collective activities. If that is
the kind of society the movement is trying to achieve, then
I suggest that the movement itself needs to be structured
along identical lines. In that way, the struggle of the
movement will give us the experience we will need to build
the kind of societies we seek to achieve. The medium is the
message; the journey is the destination; the means are the
ends - these, I suggest, are wise maxims for our movement.
The 'target constituency' of the movement is everyone,
everywhere. The 'issue' that draws people to the movement
can be almost any issue - because all of our problems are
caused or worsened by capitalism and by the policies of the
global regime. It is not only the IMF protesters that are
part of the the current movement. Farming cooperatives in
India, Zapatistas in Mexico, environmentalists in Britain -
even those on the right who have been driven to embracing
narrow nationalism - each of these groups is struggling in
its own way, in its own backyard, according to its own
understanding, against the oppression of the global regime.
What is lacking is a 'sense' of a global movement, and a
suitable organizational process to bring these
constituencies - and others - into communication, so they
can work out their differences and achieve mutual synergy.
I suggest that what we need is not a new movement
organization, but rather a new organizing paradigm. We
need to find ways to get groups of people to listen to one
another, and to discover that they are - on all sides -
mostly sincere people trying to make life better for their
families. Once people, and groups, can communicate beyond
their differences, and begin to find what they have in
common, then they can begin to find consensus solutions to
the problems that face them in their lives, and as movement
activists. One person might be a bio-ethical vegetarian,
and another an avid hunter, yet they might both agree that
we want our environment to be free of pollution. We need to
embrace a paradigm of inclusiveness, and of systematic
consensus building. The paradigm is itself decentralized -
the harmonization process can begin anywhere and everywhere,
by diverse methods and with varying success - and without
any central organization.
The growth of the movement is simply the spread of this
harmonization paradigm throughout the global society. The
progress of the movement is the evolutionary process by
which harmonization techniques are refined, and
higher-levels of decentralized coordination become possible.
The victory of the movement will occur when the entire
global society has been mobilized, and when it is capable of
taking decisive and coordinated action everywhere at once,
without any central authority, and without allegiance being
sworn to any single ideology or religion. When that day
comes the old regime will stand down, and we can then welcome
the last few elite hold outs to join us in building a world
that we can all be proud to hand on to our descendants.
Maria Sandoz, Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas, 50th
Anniversary Edition, University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
An account taken from the recollections of a Sioux who lived in the time of Crazy Horse - provides an insider's view of Sioux society and its decision making process.
Peter Farb, Man's Rise to Civilization, E.P. Dutton, New York, 1968.
This book investigates several of the Native American societies, with detailed accounts of political structures and decision-making processes. Especially interesting are the adaptive changes these societies went through under the influence of European traders and the pressures of colonial invaders.
Dynamic Facilitation for Group Transformation.
This article describes 'dynamic facilitation', one of many processes which facilitate collaborative problem solving in non-homogeneous groups.
Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human
Societies, W.W. Norten & Company, 1992.
This masterful tour-de-force redefines our understanding of how societies and civilization developed. I am highly skeptical of reductionist historical theories, where all developments are explained in terms of some single principle. But in this case I am forced to make an exception. The scope of evidence presented is compelling, and the reasoning is detailed and irrefutable. Jared shows how environmental factors alone account for why cultures evolved at different rates in different places, and why some cultures never advanced beyond the neolithic era. The kind of book you can't put down, and which on finishing you immediately loan to a friend.