An exchange on How Do We Get There? The Problem of Action
Having read Paul Raskin’s essay, and the many thoughtful, earnest, insightful, poetic, responses to “the problem of action,” I would like to add just one thing: a new idea of the act and task of a global citizens movement to motivate and inspire action, that I think can be the basis for developing an integrated praxis. I offer my idea of the act, and a possible integrated praxis based on it.
My proposed integrated praxis begins with a radically different perspective on what the problem of action is, and redefining the “task,” i.e., the action mandate. Raskin defines the problem of action and the task as the following: “For all the important work now underway, we have collectively fallen short of nurturing a systemic change agent matched to the task of planetary transformation. The search is still on for this critical actor missing from the global stage.”
“Planetary transformation” is not a definition of a task, an act, that most people believe they have the agency to do, individually and collectively. Planetary transformation is something that God, evolution, superheroes, and—maybe—Wonder Woman could do. I think the problem of action is failing to define the act of the Great Transition in terms that people believe they have the agency and power to do.
“Nurturing a systemic change agent” begins with offering an idea of an act that ordinary, real, living human beings believe they have the agency to do, and, the critical dimension, an act that people deeply desire to do. Nurturing a systemic change agent begins with motivation: Why would an ordinary, real, living human being want to attempt the daunting task of “planetary transformation”? In the language of the marketplace, what’s in it for me?
Nurturing motivation to act also requires following the rules for effective social movement rhetoric. According to sociologist and climate change communicator Robert Brulle, the language that works to activate and inspire social movements must be a rhetoric of “nightmare and dream,” with the nightmare a present nightmare—not a future one, as in the global scenarios; and the dream a viable, desirable, utopian vision that is a “great attractor,” to use Raskin’s language. The utopian dream must be bold and irresistible, have such force, power, and desirability, that activists are willing to lay their lives on the line to make this irresistible utopian vision become reality.
I find the beginning of an irresistible dream and new invitation and mission for a global citizens movement in a comment Raskin made in a personal conversation a few years ago. We were speaking about the theory of dramatic, transformational change developed in the Hellenistic Amphitheatre, and how it might apply to the Great Transition. I offered the theatrical metaphor of this dramatic theory developed in the Amphitheatre in the deep past as a “rehearsal” for now. He responded—I paraphrase—“I think it has all been a rehearsal. All human history, everything, has been a rehearsal for now.”
I find this idea stunning, inspiring, and uplifting. Hamlet, or rather Shakespeare, famously said, “The readiness is all.” The bold notion that all our human ancestors have been preparing all of us to be “ready” for our historical moment, the idea that all human history has been a “great rehearsal” for now, fills me with a sense of agency. I feel a wave of invisible ancestral support from all the humans who have lived on earth before me. Perhaps more important, this inspired idea that all human history has been preparing for right now, for this historical moment in the long epic drama of human life on earth when I happen to be alive, lifts me out of my despair over how tragically my culture, The West, has acted and is acting. The felt sense that all the human ancestors before us have prepared us all to meet this moment, that we have been prepared for the tragic planetary now we are in that demands and requires inspired, transformational, life-giving action, gives me a sense of hope and faith in my powers of agency. That is to say, I find agency here, in this idea of all our human ancestors preparing us for now.
Practicing modern shamans say that only those who honor their ancestors will survive these times. So I say, let us honor our ancestors by acting on, and acting with, all the knowledge, wisdom, and insight that all our human ancestors have developed about—and this, I think, is the key to it all—how humans thrive on earth. As I see it, “what” all our human ancestors have “rehearsed” in the “great rehearsal for now” is a vast body of eudaimonic wisdom about the qualities and attributes of "the human who thrives"; the rules for actors in cultural and living systems to generate human thriving; the rules for human actors in the great, Gaian, panoramic Commons, to secure and assure the thrivability of the Commons on which human thrivability entirely depends; practical wisdom about how to act to thrive through “tragic fates” and tragic states, wisdom about human resilience, and evolutionary wisdom about how to act to succeed at evolutionary process, and keep the human species thriving through and flourishing forward for many living human generations.
We would prove Shakespeare’s Puck right a thousand times over about what “fools mortals be” if we did not avail ourselves of all this eudaimonic, evolutionary wisdom developed by all our human ancestors who have lived before us. The amazing thing—at least, I am amazed by it—is that we can avail ourselves of all this pan-cultural, eudaimonic wisdom. We are living at a unique moment in human history when a variety of factors have led to us being able, for the first time in human history, to tap into this vast reservoir of pan-cultural, ancestral, eudaimonic wisdom about Thrivegenesis, to coin a word, the attributes, qualities, actions, rules for actors, and evolutionary creative adaptations, to generate and regenerate human thriving on earth.
I suggest that the new “invitation to action” for the global citizens movement is in this stunning idea that all human history has been preparing for this moment, right now. We have a once-in-humanity chance to create global thriving for everyone and everything, and all the humans who have lived before us have developed all the knowledge and wisdom we need to succeed at creating global thriving for all, and all the humans who will live after us will be grateful and glad we used all that wisdom and knowledge.
That is the beginning of an irresistible dream and invitation to act, and the foundation of a “carpe diem,” seize the moment, global activism of acting on, and with, all the pan-cultural eudaimonic knowledge and wisdom that is uniquely accessible to us all, now, for the first time in human history.
I suggest that the definition of the transitional act is acting on, and acting with, all the eudaimonic wisdom available to us, that is, the gift of all the human ancestors who have gone before us.
I suggest that the “ideological foundation” for an integrated praxis for the Great Transition be a fusion and synergy of relevant modern Western science that pertains to human thriving, and this vast body of pan-cultural, ancestral eudaimonic wisdom about the human who thrives and thrivegenic cultures. I suggest that the GTI play the role of the convener and “gatherer” of all this pan-cultural eudaimonic ancestral wisdom and relevant modern science.
Further, within this vast body of eudaimonic wisdom are a variety of strategies for overcoming despair and paralysis, that include ritual, art, spiritual practices, therapeutic, psychological interventions, and, within my own range of knowledge, two forms of political activism specifically designed to overcome despair. Naming all these strategies is beyond the reach of this post; the point is for GTI to gather them together as part of its integrated praxis of “the pragmatics of hope.”
I suggest a strategic use of the existing global scenarios in the form of a map, and possibly even an app, in which GTI tracks the acts in real time that are putting us on a tragic trajectory toward the nightmare scenarios, acts taken, and acts to take, that have the vital, salutary power to put us on the thrivegenic trajectory that all our human ancestors have prepared us for. A map/app that includes acts being done in real time, and uploads possible acts, “what if we do this” actions, catalytic, game-changing acts of reversing our tragic planetary now, and generating and regenerating global thriving for all, fulfilling the universal, common human dream and desire for joyful existence, and a felt sense of gratitude to live in this beautiful biosphere, this one place in the whole cosmic galaxy where, so far as we know, renewal, revival, and regeneration happens. Where spring happens.
I, for one, do not want to lose the joy and wonder of spring.
As a forum for collectively understanding and shaping the global future, GTI welcomes diverse ideas. Thus, the opinions expressed in our publications do not necessarily reflect the views of GTI or the Tellus Institute.
Journey to Earthland
The Great Transition to Planetary Civilization
GTI Director Paul Raskin charts a path from our dire global moment to a flourishing future.Read more and get a copy
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