Roundtable on 'The Problem of Action'
Paul has raised a tremendously important question—in fact, THE question of our times, and one with which I have been obsessed, sometimes mildly, sometimes all-consumingly, since 2004. My awakening that year came about as a result of spending a month alone in a small cottage in Ireland, reading, amongst many other things, Edgar Cayce’s predictions and the prophecies of the Hopi tribe. If only I could be sure this formula would work for everybody, I’d be proposing that we could hasten the global movement by enforcing a similar reading program.
More seriously, at its core, the experience I had in that lonely Irish cottage was a crucial shift in the story I believed to be true about the world—and my view is that this is key to how we catalyze a systemic global movement.
Pre-Cayce and Hopi, I had seen the world as fundamentally unchanging and predictable. Post-Cayce and Hopi, it now seemed fundamentally unstable and volatile, and that the future would to a large extent be a reflection of the state of human consciousness. It was almost overwhelming to newly perceive the responsibility as being so squarely ours—and by extension, mine, at least in part. The net impact of this was that, by the time I came back from Ireland, I had transformed from passenger to participant. To create an effective GCM, the easier part may be converting more individuals from passenger to participant; the harder part, creating alignment in how that participation is expressed.
To my mind, what we need is a new narrative to underpin and unite a global movement, a story that appeals enough to enough people that it can become a rallying cry for a new way of being. MLK’s “I have a dream” was such a story—a compelling vision of a possible future with the power to inspire and activate. We need an equivalent.
So, assuming that we need a new story, how best to create it? If the story is going to embody values of responsibility and collaboration, arguably these values should also underlie the process of creating it, i.e., a co-creative approach. But I remain to be convinced. Some point to the Arab Spring or the Occupy movement as essentially leaderless revolutions, but I would suggest that a successful revolution needs to lead to an evolution, a new order to replace the old. So I feel that we need a leader or leaders who can articulate their vision of that new order, or the revolutionary energy fizzles away without capitalizing on its moment of opportunity.
And then, how do we disseminate this new story? I agree with Howard Zinn, as quoted by Paul: “We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.” I agree that that change can be swift and radical rather than incremental—or, as I put it, a sudden outbreak of common sense across the world.
But how does this happen? Is it something like a one-hundredth-monkey phenomenon, a spontaneous shift in consciousness via metaphysical planes beyond our seeing? Or alternatively, it might be facilitated by technology, such as the Noomap. Could something like this have the ability to connect us to form a Global Citizens Movement, as neurons connect to form a brain?
But there still needs to be an incentive for people to change. Most people don’t like change, even when it is for the better. Our brains are wired to prefer the familiar to the new because—although we enjoy novelty, within limits—familiar is safe, while new might be dangerous. What will be an adequate incentive to overcome inertia and generate a Global Citizens Movement, when so many people would rather be comfortably numb?
Common Cause UK does some interesting workshops on values and frames, and warns of the dangers and difficulties of trying to use extrinsic incentives to generate intrinsic values. So if the motivation needs to come from within, what could be the spark? I envisage a time when gross financial inequality could galvanize a movement. Or maybe people will realize how we have all been duped by the advertising industry into doing jobs we don’t like to buy stuff we don’t need. Or workers will get tired of selling the irreplaceable commodity of their time to enrich the C-suite. Looking back through history, it seems that movements have most often been birthed by fury over injustice.
A fury-fueled movement may not be what we wish for. But anger does undeniably generate action—and transformation. We can see how the frustration over Trump’s election has united and galvanized women, environmentalists, and possibly many other groups.
It is possible that there could be a gentler way, and that would certainly be my preference. But maybe we do need the darkest hour before the dawn.