This weekend I attended the State Convocation of the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice, and was privileged to hear an inspiring keynote address delivered by David Korten
: "The Great Turning", based on his new book of the same title.
I assay below a summary of his talk, with apologies to David Korten if my poor memory or some of my own ideas skew this summary in a direction he didn't intend!
David presented a well researched summary of human sociocultural history over the past 10,000 or so years. Before about 3000 BC, he argues, human society was organized on the basis of relationships in a form of social organization he terms the "Earth Community". Human needs and values were paramount, as small, localized groups foraged, hunted, and planted, cooperatio was the basic principal of interaction, the earth was respected, and the needs of the individual were humanely balanced with the needs of the group.
Spiritually, gods were generally female, representing the givers of life and sustenance. In human society women enjoyed a fully participating status, with a voice in all family and village affairs.
Korten maintains that"Earth Community . . . organizes by partnership, unleashes the human potential for creative cooperation, and shares resources and surpluses for the good of all."
Then, in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, a new basis of organization arose, the Empire state, hierarchical and controlled by a relatively small elite and their entourages. The great majority of individuals were impoverished, with their needs being subordinated to the needs of the ruling elite. In Korten's words
"Empire organizes by domination at all levels, from relations among nations to relations among family members. Empire brings fortune to the few, condemns the majority to misery and servitude, suppresses the creative potential of all, and appropriates much of the wealth of human societies to maintain the institutions of domination."
Spiritually gods were more often male, as rulers and controllers, and most earthly rulers were male. The role and the powers of women were diminished.
As empires rose and fell, and technology became more complex, economic power eventually became concentrated in the corporations of the Western World, and human values were subordinated to the bottom line profits of corporations. Over the past century or two technology has helped corporations create vast wealth unimaginable by earlier human standards.
Especially in the past century the production of vast wealth, and the power that accompanied it, has been based peculiarly on the availability of cheap energy, chiefly from petroleum. Americans have benefited so much from inexpensive petroleum that it has helped the US become the dominant world power, the center of a new world empire based on the corporate state.
Now, in the early years of the 21st Century, the world system based on the American corporate state faces a devastating collapse. Three events, occurring more or less simultaneously, will cause this collapse:
. . . . petroleum production will peak, its prices will rise, then it will decline
. . . . global warming and climate change, already evident, will ravage much of the earth
. . . and the world economic system will implode as loss of confidence in the US dollar calls up the trillions of dollars of debt the US has incurred to China and other countries in its pursuit of a profligate lifestyle.
While no one can predict with accuracy when each of these events will occur, most analysts agree it will happen within the next few decades. And there are other potentially destructive processes at work. The entire world is marked by gross and growing inequitous between rich and poor nations, and between rich and poor people within the nations. Poverty promises massive unrest and civil strife.
Further, the world empire is based on a corporate system that has no role for the satisfaction of human needs and the nurturing of human values. The bottom line rules. Employees, even at the top of corporate structures, are required to perform amorally, and they are unaccountable to an alarming degree. Governments, now controlled by corporate interests, are allowed to cater to human needs up to a point, keeping the myth of democratic control alive, but that point stops well short of the corporate bottom line of profit for stockholders.
Korten's dire analysis is based on careful research, and its main conclusions echo those of other perceptive analysts. A catastrophic collapse of the American empire, and consequently the world socioeconomic system, seems certain within the next few decades.
Yet Korten offers an inspiring vista of hope. He argues that there is a healthy alternative to collapse and ruin as the world begin to build a new Earth Community, marked by close interpersonal relationships, adherence to such human values as mutual caring and cooperation, respect for the earth, and commitment to peaceful living. This he calls The Great Turning,
and he believes it is already underway, on a limited scale, in the civil rights, womens, environmental, peace, and other social movements.
Individuals active in these movements can be buoyed by the knowledge that recent polls reveal a profound consensust among Americans - - rich, poor, liberal, conservative - - on basic principles. 83% believe the US is focused on the wrong priorities. Huge majorities want ". . . greater priority given to children, family, community, and a healthy environment, as well as a world that puts people ahead of profits, spiritual values ahead of financial values, and international cooperation ahead of international domination."
Korten ends his appeal by urging that all activists who share these values, whatever their political persuasion, work harder to mobilize the people of the world to work together to build a new Earth Community. And he points out that the new revolution in communication and transportation will facilitate this cooperative endeavor which offers the only hope for averting disastrous collapse.