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Background books and articles—looking deeper into the places visited during the Quest.

The cover

The cover design is by Theis Eljas, a well-known Swedish artist who does traditional painting as well as computer art. You can find more of his striking work here:   http://eljas.com/index.html.

The quest

Our Quest story follows in the tradition of Sufi teaching stories, many of which have been collected and published by Idres Shah. These stories tend to be distilled down to their essence, offering very little in terms of characters or drama. Each story typically deals with a single theme, or step, on the path. Quest stories—but as dramatic heroic adventures—have a long tradition in Western literature. One of the earliest is Homer’s Odyssey, and Joseph Campbell explores the tradition in his delightful Hero with a thousand faces.

Dynamic Facilitation & collaborative consensus

An excellent overview of Dyanamic Facilitation, including traning opportunities, is presented on the website of Tom Atlee’s Co-Intelligence Institute. Rosa Zubizarreta, who we visited on the Quest, will be teaching DF classes this the Fall in Northern California. Jim Rough created the DF process, and his website is www.tobe.net.

Agreement - but what kind?

In seeking ways bring about social change, people generally try to reach agreement on three central questions:   (1) What is the main problem with society?   (2) What kind of society to we want instead?   (3) What can we do to bring about that new society?

These are very tough questions, and they are questions that everyone thinks about from time to time. They are questions we need some kind of answers to... even as children we wonder about the problems we see around us, and we ask our parents Why? and Why don’t you do something about it? There are no simple answers to our three general questions, but there are lots of people offering simple answers nonetheless. Religions, cults, movements, and ideological camps all compete in spreading their particular answers. It seems that the more energy we put into answering our questions, the more society becomes divided into those who believe one way, and those who believe another. Our adversarial paradigm operates so as to prevent any kind of society-wide agreement on these issues.

Despite the fact that agreement on these big general questions has little chance of happening, there are two books that I would like to bring to your attention. David Korten’s The Post-Corporate World offers a very refreshing analysis of capitalism and weaves that into a compelling vision of a more sensible economic future. In Earth at a Crossroads, Hartmut Bossel takes a deep systems approach to understanding where society is heading, and what alternatives might be available. He shows that any new path must live within various kinds of hard constraints—there aren’t really that many future paths available to us. It comes down to this: either we continue down the exploitive path to disaster, or we find the path to sustainability. Bossel shows us where that path lies by taking us on a quest into the realm of system dynamics.

Modern societies

Economic globalization represents the leading-edge of competitive hierarchy in today’s world. There are many good books on this topic, including David Korten’s When Corporations Rule the World, Richard Douthwaite’s The Growth Illusion, Martin & Schumann’s The Global Trap, Mander & Goldsmith’s The Case Against the Global Economy, and Michel Chossudovsky’s The Globalisation of Poverty.

In Killing Hope, William Blum takes a look at the military side of globalization, as carried out overtly and covertly by the cops of globalization—the U.S. military and the CIA. Michael Parenti looks at the same topic in a more historical context in The Sword and the Dollar. Buckminster Fuller’s classic Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth offers an elegant perspective on the whole earth as a system, and tells the story of the Great Pirates—those European entrepreneurs and traders who first built global trading networks and set the stage for globalization.

Holly Sklar investigates the operation of the elite community in her Trilateralism, The Trilateral Commission and Elite Planning for World Management. Samuel Huntington writes from the elite side of the fence, and he reveals much about current elite designs in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Most people have never heard of the elite community, and Michael Parenti helps us understand how elite propaganda keeps us in the dark in his three books, Inventing Reality, Make-Believe Media, and History as Mystery. Richard Moore attempts to cut through the whole matrix of elite deception in his fast-paced article, Escaping the Matrix.

Movements and revolutions

There is a vast literature on movements, revolutions, and popular struggles in general. In A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn devotes special attention to popular struggles, giving an historical perspective quite different that the one American’s learn in school. Examples are given of different kinds of movements, and we can see how each movement succumbed to one or another of the pitfalls identified in the Quest story. In Toward an American Revolution, Jerry Fresia carefully documents the betrayal of the American Revolution. He shows exactly how elites managed to hold on to their power and establish a new hierarchical regime—despite all their rhetoric about democracy and freedom.

Community vs. Hierarchy—an age-old struggle

If there is one single thinker that did the most to help Nasrudin along on his quest, that was surely Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael and The Story of B. Quinn shows us that societies went through a fundamental shift of mythology when they adopted agriculture some 10,000 years ago. That shift is expressed in the Garden of Eden story, where humanity is instructed to go forth and have dominion over all the plants and creatures of the Earth. This new mythology was about exploitation, and it was the origin of the adversarial hierarchic paradigms that have plagued civilization ever since.

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond presents a remarkable investigation into the history of civilization. His thesis is that geography and available resources determined where civilization sprang up and where it didn’t. He does a good job of establishing his thesis, but the real value of the book is in the fascinating wealth of details he brings forth in the pursuit of his thesis. A must read for anyone interested at all in the history of humanity.

In The Breakdown of Nations, Leopold Kohr looks at the world through the lens of scale. He shows us that size matters, and he explores the implications of that for society, politics, and governments. His observations are brilliant and original, and they offer valuable insights and hope in our search for non-hierarchical paradigms of organization. E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful was a more popular book, but had perhaps less to say, and Schumacher credited Kohr as the source of many of his ideas.

In his Crazy Horse, the strange man of the Oglalas, Mari Sandoz examines the life of the Oglala Sioux as they responded to the European invasion. The Sioux were still hunther-gatherers, of the nomadic variety, and in them we get a glimpse of what life must have been like for all of us before the advent of hierarchy. Rather than “savages”, we find people with high standards of honor, a love of freedom, and considerable wisdom. The tribes had chiefs, but those chiefs did not excercise authority. Decisions were made on a consensus basis. The Chief's role was to provide leadership, and the benefit of his experience, in carrying out those decsions. On wider-scale issues, delegations from each tribe would meet in council, where again a consensus process was used to make decisions for the Oglala nation of tribes.

Zen—achieving without trying

The metaphor of practice vs. goal arises time and again in the Quest story. The goal of agreement leads to the practice of building commmunity, which then becomes a new goal. That goal in turn leads to the practice of consensus sessions. Similarly, the goal of overcoming elite rule leads to the practice of building community, merging with the same line of thinking that agreement led us to. The story is not about Zen itself, but the metaphor serves us well.

In Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh explores the relationship between personal transformation and social transformation. His writing exemplifies the internal peace that characterizes those who follow the Zen path. The subtitle of his book is The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, and his words may help many to move away from adversarial paradigms. Thomas Cleary presents a delightful survey of the writings of Zen masters through the ages in Zen Esssence, The Science of Freedom.

Collaborative consensus and personal transformation

Jim Rough has a new book out on this topic, called Society’s Breakthrough! : Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People. In The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace,   Scott Peck discusses the transformative effects of a similar kind of community-building process.

Collaborative consensus and community empowerment

Unfortunately, in this adversarial world, there are few examples of empowered communities for us to look at. One of those few is Porto Alegre, Brazil. Porto Alegre is in fact a city, and its annual budget is determined by a bottom-up, city-wide consensus process. The people themselves decide how the city’s money shall be spent, and the elected officials simply rubber-stamp that decision. This process is very successful. Not only are the people satisfied with the result, but even by conservative standards the budgets are sound—and they are balanced.

Porto Alegre’s consensus process is limited to the budget, but this serves nonetheless as an example of how collaborative consensus can enable the awakening of we the people. In his article, Participatory Democracy In Porto Alegre, David Lewit documents exactly how the participatory process works, and attempts to draw lessons from that experience which can be applied elsewhere.

Empowered community and the transformation of society

Curitiba, another Brazilian city, is a local society which has achieved a high degree of transformation. Its politics is not based on a bottom-up consensus process, but rather on an enlightened partnership between government and various elements of civil society. Curitiba serves as an example of what can be accomplished when a community somehow achieves a sense of purpose and direction. Donella Meadows, in her article The Best City In The World?, describes how decisions are made and the social advances that have resulted.

Due to intense anti-Castro propaganda in the mainstream media, most of us believe that Cuba is a dictatorship—and that the Cuban people yearn for American-style democracy. The truth is quite the opposite. The Cuban political system turns out to be admirably democratic, and the system is enthusiastically supported by the overwhelming majority of the citizens. A rough consensus is achieved at the local level, regarding public policies and priorities. Local citizens step forward as candidates to represent this consensus, and elections are held to select delegates, who then participate in the official governmental process.

Barry Sheppard visited Cuba in 1998, under the auspices of Pastors for Peace, and he gives us a detailed and enthusiastic report in his article, Democracy in Cuba. Charles McKelvey, a professor at Presbyterian College, has visited Cuba several times for extended periods, and he tells of his experiences in his article, The Myth of Cuban Dictatorship. Additional background information on Cuba can be found on the angelfire website.

Surprising as it may be, Cuba turns out to be the one example in the world of an empowered, transformed society on a national scale. Its politics is based on community consensus, and the remarkable accomplishments of the Cuban people dramatically demonstrate what becomes possible for a transformed society. Cuba has been able to withstand unrelenting interference and harassment by its super-power neighbor, while at the same time achieving levels of literacy, education, and public health that rival those of the so-called advanced nations.

Global transformation as a Zen practice

The Quest story ends with the call, May the practice begin. For some people this might mean becoming a Dynamic Facilitator, and references were given above regarding available training courses. Some folks might want to get involved in a network of people who seek to promote consensus sessions, and those same references might be able to offer appropriate leads. Some might want to get involved with people who are promoting community empowerment more generally, and for that I can offer a few additional references.

The Community Information Resource Center is “a networking hub and information source dedicated to building a better world. We work at all levels from local to global, sharing important information, connecting people, and catalyzing the development of healthy communities.” Laurence Cox, a professor at Maynooth University, Ireland, provides us with some additional sources:

There is a long history of community organising processes which you might find worth reading - Michael Kaufman and Haroldo Della Alfonso's book Community power and grassroots democracy: the transformation of social life. London: Zed (1997) covers contemporary Latin American experiences. Hope, A., Timmel, S., & Hodzi, C., Training for Transformation: A Handbook for Community Workers. Gweru: Mambo Press. (1984, 3 vols.) is a standard "how-to" which you can probably get by inter-library loan.
Nancy Naples' book Grassroots warriors (London: Routledge, 1997) is an excellent oral history of the experience of community organisers in the States.

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