This article is primarily directed towards people who either have experience volunteering in local sustainability projects or people who take an interest in doing so in the future. The most usual result, when a mixed group of friends and strangers convene to discuss the ramifications for a practical project which will make an impact upon the real world, is failure.
There are of course hundreds of successful local sustainability projects around the globe. But for each one of them, there are at least a hundred failed projects. Thousands of young idealists try to improve their communities, only to be frustrated by collapsing projects and friendships ended due to misunderstandings and conflicts.
From observing countless such attempts at creating sustainability projects, both in my own hometown of Umea, which – despite its remoteness – is a thriving university town with tens of thousands of students, and in other parts of the world, I have started to see patterns emerge in terms of why projects fail.
There are several behaviours which affect the outcome of projects, which we can see as emergent tendencies towards collapse. If we compare projects which fail with projects that succeed, we can see that the longer time a projects is planned to last, the higher the risk for failure – especially if the participants are between 20 and 30 years old. Most projects which fail at an early or middle stage simply wither away because half to two thirds of the original participants have moved to other cities or continents.
That particular characteristic of project failures is unfortunately difficult to amend, but it wouldn’t need to have such damning consequences if it wasn’t for other problems which tend to plague sustainability projects relying on volunteers.
These problems are, in no particular order:
- A division between well-motivated activists and semi-motivated hang-arounds, with somewhat blurred delineations between the groups.
- That participants switch behind both groups, with more moving from the first group to the second group during the course of a project’s lifetime.
- That some participants in enthusiasm over the project or a desire to make the rest of the group happy volunteer to take responsibility of tasks within the project, and then fail to deliver, either because of drug abuse issues, a low attention span or a failure to access their available time in relation with the time consumption of what they promised to achieve.
- A tendency of most participants to passively observe the project rather than to take an active part in it.
- Active and enthusiastic participants becoming increasingly disillusioned with the project due to influence from the more passive partakers.
- Many participants expect instantaneous success and quickly become disappointed and disassociate themselves from the project when it faces its first setbacks or when certain aspects of it drag out in time.
What does these six factors have in common? They are all mostly coming down to the human factor. None of these problems represent financial constraints, deadline challenges, structural or even organisational inadequacies. You can have the best organisation on paper in the world, but if these six factors are prevalent in your team, you will not be able to succeed with your objectives – because the participants will not be able to successfully keep themselves to their organisational structure.
Then, the natural question is why so many movements with idealistic goals are failing in establishing working teams. I would, in this article, argue that it is partially a consequence of contemporary western culture. I would also argue that it is one of the dominant characteristics of the transformative challenge which we are facing today.
- Humans are naturally cooperative and evolved to work together in small, collectivistic tribal-based units.
- Culture and civilisation arose as a way to cope with societies too complex to work organically.
- Following the Great Depression and the Second World War, Western Civilization transformed itself into a hyper-individualistic culture which – unlike any previous culture – preached the virtues of self-indulgement and hyper-individualism.
- This culture of super-consumerism is one of the engines of exponential economic growth, and thus bears a great deal of responsibility for the destruction of the planet’s biosphere.
- We need to move away from this destructive and unsustainable culture, and embrace a culture of enlightened collectivism, for the sake of the biosphere and of our own sanity.
Anatomically modern humans arose around 150 000 years ago on the African savannah. It took our ancestors roughly 135 000 years to spread out over most of the planet’s land surface (bar New Zealand, which was colonised by the Maoris around the time when Frederick Barbarossa fought his Italian wars). During most of this time, humanity lived as sedentary hunter-gatherers, moving around within limited areas. For thousands of years, generations lived, loved, ate and died in the same places. There are for example caves in Greece where the same lineages have been buried for thousands of years.
Often, we hear the argument – even from otherwise educated individuals sometimes – that contemporary capitalism is an ingrained aspect of “human nature”, and that the current western civilization is the natural result of the uninhibited self-expression of the human being. Thus, our current society is not seen as an anomaly, but rather as the predetermined end-result of human biology.
Most scholars agree that the basis of capitalism is founded on the advent of the Industrial Revolution, which began around two hundred years ago in North-western Europe. In short, for 99,87% of the time that human beings have existed on this planet have they not lived in a capitalistic society. Then the question that arises is, what is human nature?
The issue of what constitutes human being, is unsurprisingly not only a scientific but also unfortunately a political issue. While those who desire to conserve power hierarchies and inequalities have tended to favour biological determinism, many progressives have embraced not only their own particularist interpretations of research data, but also established political dogmas amongst themselves which seek to downplay if not reject any notion that there are biological foundations for human behaviour. I would argue that science should not be treated as a normative foundation for human society, and would wholeheartedly agree with the esteemed Darwinian Richard Dawkins that a society built around Darwinian principles would be quite horrible.
Nevertheless, knowledge of human behaviour in the natural condition is a valuable tool to better understand ourselves as a social species. The human being is an animal, equipped with the same instincts and motivators as other animals. We desire safety, food, sleep, sex and companionship. Humans also inhabit the same material world as all other organisms, and must act in accordance with the sustenance interests of their bodies.
However, it is impossible to state unequivocally that there is a human ‘nature’. We are not living on a “Planet of Hats”, and humans are evidently capable of a wide spectrum of possible behavioural patterns, judging by our knowledge of history and the observations we can make throughout the world. In some regions of the world, some behaviours are so ingrained that they almost have become a second nature to those espousing these cultures. In other areas of the world, the same behaviours would be unthinkable.
The same can apply between generations as well, even relatively recently. For example, in contemporary Sweden, pub fights between men are rarer than pub fights during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Also, amongst certain segments of the ethnic Swedish male population, violent expressions of homophobia were seen as natural and healthy, whereas today such behaviour is more or less relegated to the most extreme sub-groups. If we go further back in time, to the 970’s and 980’s, it was seen as completely natural for a Swedish man to abduct a woman in a foreign land, take her as a concubine and raise her children as second-class citizens. Instead of talking about nature, which is singular and unchangeable, we should instead talk about behaviour. I know it is not in the interest of those desiring to preserve the status quo, but we need to be truthful and see that while what we are has not changed for 150 000 years, who we are has undergone tremendous transformations in the past.
What, then, is the natural type of human behaviour?
In order to approach an answer for that question, we need to look at the entire period during which our species have existed. The challenge from that point of view is that we cannot possibly know what happened before written records started to appear, around 5000 years ago. For the 145 000 first years of the existence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, we do not have any certain methods to estimate what characterised human behaviour.
Luckily, there is a way to approximate primordial human behaviour – and that is through studying these societies which still exist in an undisturbed hunter-gatherer state. For the truth is that the Stone Age never ended, but rather still exists in remote and unforgivable areas of the planet. Millions of our kind are currently living in such communities, and many of them are oblivious to the fact that a Space Age Civilization has ascended around them. For them, aeroplane contrails, satellite launches and wasted products finding their way into their hands must surely be a sign of the divine…
For the societies which have been studied by anthropologists, a staggering diversity of beliefs, cultural traits, conflict-resolving behaviours and social codes have been observed. If we were to generalise however, we could say that these early human societies display a number of common denominators:
- They generally consist of smaller units than 50 individuals.
- They are either completely egalitarian or semi-egalitarian.
- They generally aspire to a communal lifestyle.
- They have not developed any concept of private property rights.
While I do not claim that human beings generally were happier or healthier in the primordial state, or that we should aspire to return to the period before we – allegorically – ate the fruit and developed civilization due to the fact that we for the longest time of our existence did not experience anything else, truth remains that life in the natural state neither can be said to be Hobbesian or Lockean. Thus, human nature – if there is one – is one of a communal species living in close-knit egalitarian communities without the concept of private property.
Far more damning for those who claim that the current social order corresponds to a mythical “human nature” is the fact that most of the proponents of that narrative not only have little clue on human history or anthropology, but also fail to properly understand what contemporary western society is.
Often, these proponents imagine that western society is characterised by enlightenment-era values of free trade, capitalism, rationalism, parliamentary democracy, a Judaeo-Christian heritage and Weberian protestant work ethics. While free trade, capitalism and parliamentary democracy are still espoused, the last two tenets have been increasingly substituted by new moral codes, which in some aspects are the polar opposites of the previous ideals. This substitution – though incomplete – has been so thorough that it could be argued that the Western Civilization which arose from the ashes of 1945 is as new a civilization in comparison to the 1789-1945 early industrial civilization, as the post-Iconoclasm Byzantine Empire was in relation to the Eastern Roman Empire prior to the Crisis of the Eight Century.
It can be argued that Western cultures have always – to some extent – been more individualistic than most other cultures. The first literary masterpieces from the precursor of western civilization, The Iliad and the Odyssey, focused to a great degree not only on individual characters, but also on their inner worlds and their aspirations. The Histories of Herodotus are painting the ancient world in a colourful and vivid tone, where the reader can be able to empathise with the historical figures from both sides of the Graeco-Persian Wars.
The same could be said of the cultures fostered by Germanic warrior societies, such as the Anglo-Saxons (Beowulf) and the Vikings (Njal’s Saga), which emphasised individual heroism, often with a tragic focus. The medieval age was imbued with Romances, from the fictionalised tales of King Arthur to the beautiful El Cid chronicle.
With this, I do not claim that other cultures have been incapable of producing great Epics. To a large extent, the medieval chivalry concept came to Europe from Sassanid Persia via the Byzantine Empire, as were the Romance novels which preceded modern European literature. Truth is, however, that – for better or worse – it was adventurers from Europe who finally connected the two hemispheres, and sparked the second phase of globalization which established trade routes and a global state system which still today is the foundation of the world (the first phase was the formation of the Silk Road, the original one – not the Bitcoin one).
The seeds of Western Civilization may have been born on the Pontic steppe, when Proto-Indo-European-speaking chariot-driving tribes first crossed the Dnieper, the Dniester and the Danube and established patriarchal kingdoms in Central Europe. True sedentary civilizations, like Ancient Egypt and Imperial China, glorified the careful, risk-aversive gradual accumulation of status and wealth throughout the generations, and idealised a static existence characterised by harmony and social cohesion. Steppe Warriors – or as called by the Assyrians, the “Umman Manda” – whether they were Scythian, Turkic or Mongolian, were forced by nature to attain and uphold other ideals, often centred around a celebration of individual skill and character. Traces of this heritage may have survived throughout generations of European aristocracy, and eventually inspired the population at large to attain certain individualistic ideals.
Enough written about that, for it has little bearing on the current Western Civilization (apart from vestigial traces like the concept of action films and fantasy literature)…
In 1914, Western civilization was at its peak. Most of the world was controlled either by European Empires or by western off-shoots of European Empires. Cities in Europe and North America bathed in electric glow. Radioactivity had been discovered, and peace had reigned in Western Europe for forty years. Thirty years later, everything was in ruins – a collapse as stunning as the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
The crisis had been political, financial and cultural. The system of a balance of power between European monarchies lied in tatters. The increased technological productivity had caused an over-production crisis which had led to the collapse of the global financial system in 1929. The “warrior individualism” espoused as one of several ethos of Western Culture had contributed to the subsequent rise of Fascism and the absolute denigration of the human being. While genocides were nothing new, they had not been perpetrated on such a scale on European soil, against Europeans. Thus, aristocracy, protestant work ethics and warrior individualism were all more or less seen as confuted as a new world order was being erected on the still smouldering ruins of the old world.
Traditionally, the economic ethos of westerners before the advent of the 1929 crash had been to eschew impulsive consumption. The ideal was to work hard and accumulate wealth which could be used as a safety net in old age and also help the children to support themselves before they too would build their own wealth. Thus, people in general balanced their consumption with considerable amounts of savings if they had income. It was not unusual that retirees – if they ceased to work – lived entirely on the capital a life-time of work had afforded them.
This kind of behaviour had its roots in the Reformation (which transmitted itself into the Catholic world through the Counter-reformation), which was built around a zeitgeist where material splendour and fanciness was seen not only as tasteless, but also borderline sinful. It is no coincidence that the first capitalists in Britain were connected to the Calvinist sect. This outlook was individualistic in terms that spirituality and responsibility was wholly a personal matter – and that the individual was responsible for her own well-being and the perception which others had on her. Others had no duty to look after an adult individual. People were responsible for their own welfare and the welfare of their children, and those who failed to accumulate their own buffer had themselves to blame, in accordance with the Calvinist ideal of the presupposed Elect (the secular variation of which is Social-Darwinism).
The kind of individualism which appeared after 1945 is however starkly different. To understand in what way it differs, we need to understand the lessons learned from the Interwar period.
In the 1920’s, when production costs had decreased, agriculture and industry was able to meet the demands, leading to overproduction which caused deflation. Common wisdom had been to answer to crises with austerity, but in 1929 it had backfired and led to even less consumption which wiped out a lot of businesses.
So, during the period of 1945-1955, the foundations of a new culture were laid, and it’s most clear-cut characteristics were:
- The increased reliance on debt, both in form of public investments (until the 1980’s), and later on cheap access to credit.
- Establishment of generous welfare states, with safety needs which would not only make life easier but also encourage people to spend rather than to save.
- The gradual transformation of the western consumption patterns away from “consumption as a means to improve life” and towards “consumption as a means to acquire and express identity”.
While subcultures had existed before, they became far more widespread during the 1950’s, and it became standard that youths should strive to own not only cars, but certain brands of them. Record player collections started to become average household items, and everyone should have the latest Elvis album as fast as possible. This was followed by more and more subcultures appearing, throughout the decades, and eventually diverging, in terms of adding more aspects than music taste, different subcultures forming in relationship to different socio-economic, academic and ethnic subsets and age brackets. Nowadays, there are for example subcultures for people in their 30’s and 40’s.
For the first time ever, the working class was included in the pursuit of trendiness, of showing that they mattered in terms of status by being able to purchase the latest fads. This behaviour, I argue, represent a novel type of human culture, which is vastly different from previous cultures. It could be called a culture of consumeristic individualism.
The foundation of this culture can be traced back into the 1920’s, with the blending of psycho-analysis and marketing undertaken by pioneers such as Eduard Bernays and Walter Lippmann. While the postulates of Economics derive from a theory-construction stating that the human being is a rational agent, the truth is that we to a large degree are socially irrational beings. The Bernaysian form of advertising is directed towards the subconscious, towards our desire to be attractive, well-liked and to acquire sexual intimacy. This is why for example cars during the 1980’s were photographed while being washed by scantily dressed models, even though there is no logical relationship between automobiles and prostitution.
In order to form a culture where this kind of constant subliminal messaging could be accepted, the values of ordinary citizens must be realigned. The process towards this particular realignment has partially been emergent/organic and partially planned. What the core of it means, is however to create human beings who have few inhibitors which would prevent them from fulfilling their desires. Human behaviour had to be transformed to a more impulsive and urge-driven state.
However, there are several kinds of urges, both those which are natural (needs for sleep, food, empathy and sex) and those which are learned by stimuli (substance abuse, paraphiliae, adulation, status, money, etc…). Many “needs” are not at all natural and are instead stimulating the centres in our brains which send out signals that feel rewarding. One such example is online games, such as World of Warcraft or Pokémon Go. To argue that such needs are equal to human needs in the natural state can be claimed to be demeaning towards human natural needs.
Modern-day capitalism is directed towards fulfilling these artificially constructed needs and stimulate them to the point where individuals start to engage in self-destructive abuse behaviour. Millions of people today are themselves knowing that their consumption patterns are hurting them, but are nevertheless unable to put a break on these behaviours. It is a testament to the strength of human will-power why not even more people have fallen into this trap, when the entire society engineered around them strives to stimulate them to engage in such activities.
What individualism means in the context of today’s western culture, is that it is something that you acquire through consumption. While profession and socio-economic status still is mattering much, character as a way to judge a person’s role in society has largely been replaced by consumption patterns. A pair of Adidas shoes are not only a pair of shoes, but a part of a lifestyle, and they are a discreet but substantive declaration of what lifestyle you intend to aspire towards and show towards your peers.
In this society, role models are no longer parents or professionals in the local community, but rather fictional characters in films and TV shows which signal what kind of lifestyle and behaviour that is appropriate to aspire to for a certain age. This has led to a sliding and gradual Americanisation of youth globally. At a certain age, you are expected to have a car – even if you can’t afford it. Credit is always so attainable. You are expected to travel abroad at another age. You are also expected to lose your virginity at lower and lower ages. When you reach adulthood, you are expected to own a house at a certain age as well. You are expected to take interest in physical exercise, in diet routines, in certain forms of cooking, in attaining fashionable furniture and to see to it that your pet eat the latest fads in terms of dog food and vitamins.
If you are working class, you are expected to take interest in tattoos, partying, sports and cheap travels to Thailand and the Canaries.
It is no wonder that the western population generally does not have the time to really understand what a serious situation we are in today, since we all for the sake of our social status and our relationships within our peer groups are driven to learn the valuable skills of celebrity gossip, what music is “in” and what kinds of dietary regime that your peer group are engaging in. Given that human beings tend to strive for homogeneity, both friend clusters and workplaces more and more tend to frequent people with identical experiences, interests, tastes and values – creating self-referring echo chambers. Some of these environments have the capability to produce sect-like outcomes, where the participants look for aberrations in relationship to one another to establish a pecking order.
Even though the current Western Civilization is a hyper-individualistic culture, it strives to create an individuality that is manufactured outside of the individual and then implemented through peer pressure and the need to fit into a group. The individual as a concept also tends to become atomised – becoming the sum of all their social, economic and sexual attributes rather than a unique human being with a personality. The individual is basically reduced to their urges and their need for social acceptance within a peer group.
Sometimes, cultures emerge very rapidly.
One example is the ascent of so-called “cargo cults” in the South Pacific, where the population largely – incidentally following the Second World War – started to worship household items like porcelain toilets, televisions, telephone sets, electric ovens and toothbrushes as divine magical artefacts known under the name “cargo”. If these applications are treated with worship, the theory goes, then the possession of them would be multiplied.
Even though these cargo cults appear as eccentric oddities which exist to amuse western readers of expensive magazines such as National Geographic, they share a peculiar similarity with our own culture in their reverence of consumer items, and provide a mirror image to the West, which might be a cause for continuing western fascination with them.
I would argue that the form of culture described under the preceding segment is inherently destructive, and hasn’t really done much to advance humanity. The values of the western world which have undoubtedly had a positive impact on the advancement of humanity – the Rule of Law, Parliamentary Democracy, the Scientific Method, Egalitarianism and Negative and Positive Rights – have all either been developed before or independent of Rabid Consumerism.
While superfluous, I would argue that these are the toxic components of Consumeristic Individualism:
- The tendency to manufacture needs and urges within human beings.
- The tendency to attempt to ensnare and make human beings dependent on these manufactured needs.
- The dishonest manner in which commercial propaganda invades our subconscious without our explicit consent.
- Reduced attention spans due to “information overload”.
- The tendency to seek out comfort and avoid emotionally sensitive topics.
- The accelerating aim to separate ourselves further and further away from nature.
- The reduction of the individual human being to an atomised creature of categories and fads.
- Self-objectification by the individual.
- A clear and evident role in the destruction of the planet’s biosphere.
For these reasons, we need to make a conscious agenda to move away from it, preferably now.
The problem, of course, is that not only most westerners, but most educated urban elites in the planet are either trapped in this Matrix or aspiring to be trapped by it. It is, unlike cultures built on honourable violence, quite desirable at first glance, especially as it grants unprecedented personal liberty. We also need to understand that we cannot move back towards patriarchal traditionalism, nor look at the failed alternative value systems of Fascism and Marxism-Leninism for guidance on how human cultures should work.
Moreover, a culture can – unlike for example a monetary mechanism, a sewage system or a software programme – not be designed. The reason why is that culture is not a matter only of clothes, cuisine, music, festivals and traditions, but much, much more. Foremost however, culture is about human interrelationships, how the family is structured, whether relations are hierarchical or egalitarian, and what we expect from our fellow human beings. Culture is in short the expectations we have of ourselves and of other individuals in a community. It also tend to emerge organically, and it can also collapse through a social meltdown which can freeze in a permanent state of anarchy – see Lebanon and Papua New Guinea as two examples of collapsed societies, one frozen in a perpetual stand-off, the other descended into the abyss of rage.
Nevertheless, we cannot hope to triumph and save the biosphere if the dominant culture on our planet is implicitly hostile to such an aim. Therefore, it is imperative that we form a new culture, or at least form the seeds of that new culture. Then the question is how that culture should be structured. If we are taking the broadest possible stroke with the brush, we must seek to emulate the following scheme:
- The Culture must not work against human nature, but with it.
- It should not disregard the progressive and enlightened features of western culture.
- It must underpin socially and ecologically sustainable attainments.
- It must be adapted to the challenges of the third millennium.
What are these challenges then?
The main challenge is the challenge of Transition. We need to transit from an emerging form of unsustainable global economy characterised by monocultures, linear relationships between resources, factories and consumers, dependency on non-renewable resources and über-urbanisation. Goods should be produced to be durable and replaceable in a modular manner. Every region should have as much capability to sustain itself as ecologically and effectively as possible. Monocultures need to be scaled back and the amount of trees on the planet should be increased with 75-100%. Meanwhile, we need to ensure that the peoples of Earth can feed themselves. While 9 billion people hardly are a sustainable number for a world population, their needs must be accommodated, and no human being deserves to starve or to live homeless.
In order to conduct a transition, humanity – or at least a significant portion of it – must be hyper-aware of the graveness of the current ecological situation. An aspect of the current consumeristic civilization which is destructive is the implied striving to separate the human being from nature. We acquire or food in supermarkets, and we release our waste into sewage systems. The entire process is structured so that most consumers would be totally separated from nature – which provides the goods.
A new culture must emphasise the deep material connection that we have with nature, and instigate a healthy respect for it and the food it provides. Our bodies are not isolated atolls, but are an integral part of nature since we are dependent on sunlight, water and food. This profound and self-evident truth should be a cornerstone of the new society. In practical terms, it can be expressed through a positive form of survivalism, where practical survival skills in nature would be ritualised as a part both of upbringing and of life itself.
There must also be an understanding that when we eat, it means that we either eat someone else, or that someone else is deprived of food because of our needs. This should not be interpreted as a call for breatharianism, but rather as a respectful and mature relationship with nature and with other species. As a society, we must learn to appreciate other species as individual beings, and understand that they too should be treated with dignity and respect. One practical example is that if a community allows hunting, animals should primarily be hunted for food – not for sport – and that a moment of silence should be held for killed wildlife following a successful hunt, to affirm that a life was taken.
In terms of survivalism, we should not strive towards a competitive culture where people are valued after their survival skills, but rather towards a cooperative culture, where those who are skilled at certain activities – be it survival skills in nature or within technical and theoretical fields – pride themselves on how well they manage to disseminate their knowledge through the community. Instead of tearing other people down, people should build each-other up and pride themselves on these skills.
In terms of social organisation, it is absolutely essential that the trend towards social atomism is broken. Managerial and therapeutic states, centralised utilities and supermarket systems as well as the culture of Consumeristic Individualism are creating individuals who feel more and more disempowered. Communities need to have the final say over their food production, their utilities, their heating, their power supply, their production capabilities and their natural resources, and decisions should be made on the lowest possible effective level regarding these things. For this to work, however, requires that communities exist.
A neighbourhood is not necessarily per definition a community, especially as the recent decades have seen humans transform from pack-living animals to colony-dwelling animals. In a society where utilities, power and food are managed far away from the local neighbourhood, the need for cooperation is reduced and even close neighbours turn into strangers.
If we are to regain our autonomy from centralised, linear systems, we must sacrifice the luxury of not knowing one another. What I am writing about here is the need to rediscover and strengthen the basic social collectivism of the human species – which means that if someone needs her apartment refurbished, if someone needs to build a house or to make a garden, it will become a communitarian undertaking, that people spontaneously gravitate towards aiding one another. Instead of linking up linearly with huge central structures through artificial umbilical cords, we need to realise that the age of super-consumerism is moving towards an end – must move towards an end – and we need to learn to build and cooperate locally.
We should not strive for this type of collectivism to deteriorate into xenophobic neo-tribalism, which we humans seem so apt to adopt. Instead, what we should move forwards to is a balanced, civic collectivism which sees the community as an extension of the individual. The individual human body and personality should however be considered beyond touch, and a person may only be forcefully constrained to the point of physical pain if the person has violated basic rights and then physically resisted attempts to stop that, or if the individual is assaulting another individual. Communities may not either inflict arbitrary rules or prevent people from seeking to move, seeking to attain knowledge or to enter a consensual relationship with another human being who has reached the age of majority.
In short, most individual rights which we today enjoy would still be enjoyed. It is not a matter of constricting us that we urge a move towards civic collectivism, but a desire to form a better and saner form of culture.
A third very important aspect of the future culture, above survivalism and collectivism, is enlightenment. The civilisation which we build around us must celebrate the scientific method and rational forms of argumentation. On the other hand, it must not fetishize science as some form of magic, or stimulate a kind of divergence between scientists and ordinary citizens (the ultimate stereotype being Dr Membrane from The Invader Zim series). Instead, we must realise that all of us have at least one time employed the scientific method, and be made aware that it is the least bad method which we got in order to reach solutions to problems.
From an early age, citizens should be made aware of the fundaments of logical reasoning, of detecting argumentative errors and identifying logical fallacies. The main emphasis of our self-understanding should be not to repress our urges, or satisfy them, but to understand them and what is happening inside of ourselves. In short, we must learn ourselves who we are, and why we experience emotions and needs inside ourselves. Most human beings are today semi-blind in relation to their inner workings, and therefore repeat the same mistakes over and over again, like repeat offenders being unable to break the cycle of criminality, like alcoholics struggling against their addiction, or like abuse victims who move into new relationships equally destructive like the older ones. In our culture, we must aspire to and celebrate mastery over ourselves, rather than to deny who we are, or give in to the currents of our whims.
This does not mean that we should strive towards ascetism or a monk-like lifestyle. It does not mean a call to frugality or self-denial, but on the contrary that we must move towards self-understanding.
The last aspect of the new culture is that it must be emergent – i.e., voluntarily and organically transmitted. It cannot be imposed through force or through the destruction of previous cultures. We do not either believe it is necessary to do anything like that, since what we should be doing is not to try to insert new, alien values onto the human species, but work to build traits which already are ingrained into basic human biology, to work with our basic sense of altruism, with our curiosity, with our need for companionship and camaraderie. It is not a matter about propaganda campaigns, it is not a matter about advertising, preaching or creating NewSpeak. It is a matter of a horizontal memetic impact, and of helping to build one another as EOS members.
A brief summarisation of what we should strive towards
- Survivalism – We need to focus on attaining basic survival skills, technical skills and the abilities to manage small-scale and medium-scale communities. Instead of possession, we should value knowledge.
- Civic Collectivism – We need to organise our society on a communitarian basis, built around reciprocal altruism. Everyone will help everyone with what they need if they need it within the community. The community will be an expanded family.
- Enlightenment values – we need to strengthen the foundation of these within the people as a whole. Rational dissemination, empiricism and self-awareness should be the fundament of the culture.
Conclusion – and a few practical tips
The reason why volunteer organisations aiming at complex tasks often fail is due to a lack of devotion, discipline, clear outlined visions and an inability of the participants to understand their own level of engagement and their own ability to engage. If you desire the success of your project, you should first and foremost ensure that you have a core of dedicated and serious activists around you.
Sadly, we live in an age when many people are engaged in such civic activities not because of the visions, but because of what they believe these activities will say about them as individuals, both for career reasons and – often more tragically – lifestylist issues. Careerists try to reach the goals, for the wrong reasons but nevertheless, while lifestylists couldn’t care less if the project succeeded or failed.
The first step for a successful project should be to ensure that those occupying key positions in the project are motivated to fulfil their aims, and able to do so as well.
What we should aim for, however, is not only to form good and durable teams, but also to cultivate the participants and create routines on how to build strong teams. And perhaps we have thought about local projects the wrong way around?
Instead of beginning with projects and forming groups around them, the best way would maybe be to form the groups first and then let them gradually evolve until they reach the state when they are more than capable of navigating projects to their conclusion?
In any way, launching projects is not only about fulfilling project goals, but to improve our skills and form new relationships. We are not static, and we are not isolated, we are creating ourselves, creating one another and being created by nature during every moment of breath – and we are an integral part of the living biosphere of our planet.
It is about time we realised that as a civilization.