Nourishing a Qualitative Orientation

“We need a philosophy we can smell, a pheromonal philosophy that draws us into the liminal and gives us the tools to navigate it. And it will not be the intellectuals who get us there. It will not be the autistic machinations of Silicon Valley, or the frothy mouthed proclamations of activists. It will be the artists, the shamans, those who go deeply within through embodied practices, the makers and doers and dancers. It will be those who are not talking about entering the liminal, but those who live there and know it like a second skin. ” – Alexander Beiner

Jean Gebser was a 20th century cultural philosopher who deeply valued the arts and what we could learn from them, and pointed the way towards a future integral consciousness that lives into the liminal spaces. His magnum opus, The Ever-Present Origin demonstrates the importance of moving from a Quantitative orientation to the Qualitative. Jeremy Johnson has written an excellent introduction to Gebser’s thought, covering the major themes of The Ever-Present Origin, and making clear its continued, and in fact increasing relevance to the culture of today, and of tomorrow. Check out Seeing Through the World: Jean Gebser and Integral Consciousness, by Jeremy Johnson.

Near the end of his life (1973), Gebser wrote another book, Decline and Participation (to me a fascinating title), which has not yet been translated into English. Johnson offers a short excerpt that has been translated (via Georg Feurstein). In this exceprt, Gebser discusses the qualities of the integral human being (homo integer). 

“Haste is replaced by silence and the capacity for silence;
Goal oriented, purposive thought is replaced by unintentionalness;
The pursuit of power is replaced by the genuine capacity for love;
Quantitative idle motion (Leerlauf) is replaced by the qualitative spiritual process;
Manipulation is replaced by the patient acceptance of the providential powers;
Mechanistic classification and organization is replaced by the “being-in-order” (In-der-Ordnung-sein);
Prejudice is replaced by the renunciation of value judgements, that is to say, the emotional short-circuit (Kurzschluss) is replaced by unsentimental tolerance;
Action is replaced by poise (Haltung);
Homo faber is replaced by homo integer;
The divided human being is replaced by the whole human being;
The emptiness of the limited world is replaced by the open expanse of the open world.”
(Gebser, Decline and Participation)

Now read that again, slowly, with long deep breaths between each statement, as I’m going to do right now…

When I do this, my whole nervous system slows down and relaxes into this quiet, calm, less hurried liminal space.

I was inspired to put this post together this morning after listening last night to a favorite podcast – Naked Conversations, with Helen Lowe and Lisa Fitzhugh.  In the latest episode, “Investing in What Nourishes,” they discuss (among other things) the value of investing energy into quiet inner reflection, and better resourcing ourselves so that we can more creatively be able to offer something more nourishing back into the world, instead of just reflecting back the trauma that we’re all surrounded with.  And cultivating the qualitative over the quantitative. The conversation reminded me of the Gebser quote above, as well as the quote from Alexander Beiner at the top of this post. Do check it out.

Peter Pogany’s Thermodynamic/Economic Analysis of Recent World History

Here I’ll attempt to outline Peter Pogany‘s thermodynamic/economic analysis of recent world history, which entails two and potentially three global systems. There are some parallels, I believe to Jordan Hall’s Blue Church/Red Religion analysis, where the Blue Church represents the current status quo (Pogany’s GS2) that is falling apart, and the Red Religion represents the desire to correct the problems not by progressing forward, but rather by regressing backward to Pogany’s GS1 stage. What is needed, however, is a “Phase Shift” – an evolution of consciousness (Jean Gebser’s integral consciousness) that will support a P2P/Commons approach (Bauwens), with non-rivalrous dynamics (Schmachtenberger), which Pogany calls GS3.

Pogany calls classical capitalism GS1 – Global System 1, stemming from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in 1776 to the beginning of WWI in 1914. “Laissez faire/metal money/zero multilateralism” – a free market system with little if any regulation, based on the gold standard, and zero collaboration between different nation-states.

“An ideological conviction took root that blossomed into the following general view: Scientific progress and the magic power of the market are destined to make man (the subject) the master of nature (the object). The free market credo effectively locked the repertoire of socioeconomic behavior into the narrow closet of calculative, money-metric self-interest and turned the past into the prehistory of a rationally assessable, eternally valid, equilibrium-centric order.”

Much like the idea of the earth itself as a self-organizing system (Lovelock and Margulis’ “Gaia hypothesis), Pogany sees the development at this time of world socio-economic systems that come to be self-organizing, hence “GS1”).  What did it take for GS1 to emerge? A chaotic transition, otherwise known as the French revolution.

Much success ensued. The free market was right for its time and improvement compared to what came before. By the early 20th century, however, GS1 came into what would in Gebserian terms be called its “deficient” stage (Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin). Every stage concludes with a deficient stage, and we do not see smooth transitions that evolve to the next stage. For this reason Gebser did not like the term “evolution,” but rather spoke of mutation. Each period of mutation was accomplished by breakdown and crisis before the new system would emerge. GS1 lasted until the outbreak of WWI in 1914 (Pogany, 2009).

And so we see the chaotic transition of 1914 to 1945, between which were experienced two world wars and the great depression.

Emerging from that crisis was what Pogany called GS2 – Global System 2, where Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Keynesian economic model was predominant. Pogany characterizes GS2 as “mixed economy/minimum bank reserve money/weak multilateralism.” Until the fall of the communist governments in the 1980s, socialism remained an unsuccessful alternative to GS2. Both GS1 (unfettered market capitalism) and socialism influenced GS2, as it navigated its way between these two polarities.

GS2 performed very admirably for about 60 years, and an improvement on what came before. Some of the signs of deficiency, however, have been around a long time now, evident at least since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the Meadows, et al Limits to Growth books, and the first American oil crisis. Real deficiency came with policies that were put in place with Reagan and Thatcher (a regressive move reaching back to the ideas of GS1).  And the global crisis of mutation/transition began with 9/11 and marked again with the collapsing economies of 2008.

It is often asked, “how do we make this move when a dialectic has been set up that says one is being a marxist or left wing socialist, etc., when one posits these new realities?”

This is the same question Pogany asks: “What will it take to go from the current hostile disgust with the dystopia of tightened modes of multilateral governance to people around the world on their knees begging for a planetary guild? It will take nothing less than a mutation in consciousness, as outlined in the oeuvre of Jean Gebser (1905-1973).” (quoted from his 2013 paper on Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order). And that mutation in consciousness, he believes, will only take place after a chaotic transition – likely more chaotic than the great depression and two world wars. “The current world order,” he said, “cannot deliver long-term sustainability on a planetary scale. By design, it is incapable of recognizing humanity’s thermodynamic reality.” The new world order, GS3, will likely be characterized as “two-level economy/maximum bank reserve money/strong multilateralism.” Micro-activities would be subject to globally-determined and nationally allocated macro-constraints; money creation would be curbed and disciplined.” [Perhaps parallel to Rifkin’s 3rd revolution, or Edgar Morin’s dictum that “we must globalize and deglobalize.”]

Thus “The grand and painful path of consciousness emergence” (Gebser’s EPO, p. 542).

For more on Peter Pogany, please see our Peter Pogany page.  And stay tuned for a post that provides more focus on what Global System 3 might entail.

Understanding the patterns and processes of interdependency in complexity

Nora Bateson writes, “If humanity can’t approach the complexity of our world with greater collective effort, we can’t meet the challenges we face now.

This is NOT an abstraction. I maintain that developing an understanding the patterns and processes of interdependency in complexity is the single most practical capacity that we can support in ourselves and each other.”

via Digging into Warm Data, The Warm Data Lab, and Certified Training.

The Cognitive Prison Habits of Economic Growth and Development

This post grew out of a recent facebook discussion. Hat Tip to Bruce Kunkel for the title phrase “Cognitive Prison Habits.”

George Monbiot recently made some important points and asked questions we all should be giving some thought to.
“Green consumerism, material decoupling, sustainable growth: all are illusions, designed to justify an economic model that is driving us to catastrophe.”
“The promise of economic growth is that the poor can live like the rich and the rich can live like the oligarchs. But already we are bursting through the physical limits of the planet that sustains us.”
I would add the aphorism that “When you find yourself in a hole, rule #1 is to stop digging.”

The International Energy Agency has just released their yearly World Energy Outlook report, which tells us that current policies put us in a scenario that would add the equivalent of another China and India to today’s global demand for energy by 2040, and greenhouse gas reduction polices currently in play or being considered are “far from enough to avoid severe impacts of climate change.”

While the title of Monbiot’s post mentions consumerism trashing the planet, consumerism is not the fundamental problem (us) that he is addressing, nor is it unrestrained corporate power (them). More fundamental, giving rise to both of the above polarities, is the almost unquestioned commitment to growth that is built in to most of our systems. In Monbiot’s words:
” The promise of private luxury for everyone cannot be met: neither the physical nor the ecological space exists.
But growth must go on: this is everywhere the political imperative. And we must adjust our tastes accordingly…
A global growth rate of 3% means that the size of the world economy doubles every 24 years. This is why environmental crises are accelerating at such a rate. Yet the plan is to ensure that it doubles and doubles again, and keeps doubling in perpetuity. In seeking to defend the living world from the maelstrom of destruction, we might believe we are fighting corporations and governments and the general foolishness of humankind. But they are all proxies for the real issue: perpetual growth on a planet that is not growing.”

One of the most important presentations that I think should be mandatory basic education for everyone is Albert Bartlett’s “Arithmetic, Population, and Energy.”
Bartlett claims that “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” He talks about the arithmetic and the impacts of unending steady economic and population growth, including an explanation of the concept of doubling time.

Fortunately there is a transcript as well!

Consider these questions (hat tip to Penelope Whitworth) – “Where does that commitment [to growth] come from? Is it programmed into our genes, or our consciousness, or inherent to biological life forms? Part of the “genetic code” of the cosmos? Is it a sociocultural thing? Could we have a humanity whose value system isn’t around growth?”

I addressed these isssues in my 2015 ITC paper, Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent.   Growth is a natural pattern that exists in all natural systems. However, some tend to fetishize and reify this pattern as a primary imperative. For many it has become something of a “myth of the given” – we don’t even question it. The first step is to recognize and respect this as a natural pattern, but to realize it needs to be balanced and integrated for optimal health with all other natural patterns (see my brief intro to PatternDynamics: Following the Way Nature Organizes Itself to Deal with Complexity.

In natural systems, growth tends to expand exponentially in the early phase when resources are abundant; then comes a phase of climax, where things can settle down into a more cooperative mode, somewhat approximating (comparatively, and for a period of time) a steady state. The best example is to look at a barren landscape, where fast growing weeds compete with one another for dominance. After a long period of time, this landscape could, under the right set of conditions, eventually evolve into a mature old-growth forest ecosystem, which is a perfect example of interconnected mutual support and reciprocity. This in contrast to the competitive growth pattern exhibited by the “adolescent” patch of weeds.

The question becomes, are humans smarter than yeast, which grows rapidly until all available resources are consumed, followed by a collapse? Can we successfully transition to a climax stage which mirrors the steady-state of an old-growth forest, or are we now near our final climax, to be followed by an unrecoverable collapse?

Even those who question unfettered growth are enmeshed in the system that tends to keep driving it forward.
Integral Economist Peter Pogany saw this commitment to growth as part of the “source code” of the self-organizing world system that emerged in recent history. As systems tend to reinforce and sustain themselves and their dominant patterns, it can be very difficult to try to manipulate and change the system’s direction (see Donella Meadows’ “Thinking in Systems: A Primer”). In Pogany’s view, it will take a (brutal) chaotic transition (which has already begun) to get the system to change course to a new, Gebserian, integral world system that is not wedded to the Growth pattern as a prime directive. Pogany saw this chaotic transition “as a necessity to precipitate a crisis of consciousness that would eventually lead to the wide-spread “integral a-rational” consciousness structure, as based on the thinking of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser” (see my articles Chaos, Havoc, and the American Abyss, and Consciousness and the New World Order.

In my 2015 paper for the Integral Theory Conference (cited above, but also posted here), I quoted from Edgar Morin and Peter Pogany to describe what  Bruce Kunkel has called the “cognitive prison habits” that keep us locked in to pursuing endless growth and development at all costs. To requote the quotes quoted in that paper:

Edgar Morin referred to “development” as:

“The master word, adopted by the United Nations, upon which all the popular ideologies of the second half of this century converged…development is a reductionistic conception which holds that economic growth is the necessary and sufficient condition for all social, psychological, and moral developments. This techno-economic conception ignores the human problems of identity, community, solidarity, and culture… In any case, we must reject the underdeveloped concept of development that made techno-industrial growth the panacea of all anthroposocial development and renounce the mythological idea of an irresistible progress extending to infinity” (Morin, Homeland Earth: A Manifesto for the New Millenium, 1999, pp. 59-63).

Addressing this “myth of the given,” Peter Pogany pokes fun at his own profession (of economists):

“Historically, geocapital [matter ready to be used to feed cultural evolution] has registered a net increase; additions and expansions more than offset exhaustions and reductions. This long-lasting successful experience led to the culturally ingrained confidence in the possibility of its eternal continuation. Economic growth theory keeps “deriving” the same conclusion over and over again: Optimally maintained economic expansion can continue forever. Translated from evolutionary scales to our own, this is analogous to “Since I wake up every morning I must be immortal” (Rethinking the World, 2006, p. 118).”

I suggest we join Morin and Pogany in renouncing  the irrational exuberance that expects irresistible progress and economic growth extending to infinity. To break out of this cognitive prison habit may be very challenging indeed. However, at some point there will be no choice.  It’s time to stop digging that hole that we think is taking us up the mountain.

Our Sunday Scythe Social

Last month we realized the back third of our 1/2 acre yard was getting a bit out of control.  Upon the encouragement of local scythe master Brian Kerkvliet of Inspiration Farm, we decided to host a “Sunday Scythe Social” to get it cleaned up. Angela and I give a hearty thanks to Brian, Kevin, and Josh!

The team is assembled: myself, Josh, Kevin, and Brian, and Angela (taking the photo, not pictured)


Brian provides a brief demo on proper technique


We didn’t get photos of all of us working…we were too busy getting the job done. The discussion continues during the “Social,” as Brian shows “the finer points of this sharp tool.”


Brian demonstrates how to properly peen a scythe blade


Here is Angela, the photographer of the other photos. This was taken later, where you can see the piles of cut grass


Another photo of Angela scything…just because


In the weeks that have followed, I’ve continued to scythe as a Sunday morning practice. It’s very nice to be outside on a quiet Sunday morning. No sound of power tools, just the quiet “swish” of the scythe blade doing its work.


This is the back corner I worked on this morning.


I even scythed the front yard today.


It’s been pretty dry, so the grass is staying low, but there were some tall weeds to bring down.


Your reward for reading this post is this photo by Angela of a majestic deer that recently visited the neighborhood. Fortunately our fences are keeping the deer out of our garden.


John B. Cobb, Jr: What Keeps Us Trying?

John B. Cobb, Jr. , born in 1925, graduated from the University of Chicago Divinity School with a PhD in 1952. I believe Cobb entered the University shortly after the departure of Henry Nelson Wieman, who had infused the school with the thinking of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead.
John B. Cobb, Jr.
John B. Cobb, Jr.jpg
In 1958, Cobb began teaching at Claremont School of Theology, and Claremont Graduate University in California. In 1971, he and Lewis Ford established the Process Studies Journal, and soon thereafter co-founded with David Ray Griffin the Center for Process Studies, which became “the center of Whiteheadian process thought” according to Wikipedia. Wikipedia also states that Cobb has been characterized as “one of the two most important North American theologians of the twentieth century (the other being Rosemary Radford Ruether).[1] Cobb is often regarded as the preeminent scholar in the field of process philosophy and process theology—the school of thought associated with the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.[2] Cobb is the author of more than fifty books.[3] In 2014, Cobb was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[4]
Another distinction of John B. Cobb Jr. is that he published, in 1971, again, according to Wikipedia, “the first single-author book in environmental ethicsIs It Too Late? A Theology of Ecology—which argued for the relevance of religious thought in approaching the ecological crisis.[7] In 1989, he co-authored with Herman Daly the book For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, Environment, and a Sustainable Future, which critiqued current global economic practice and advocated for a sustainable, ecology-based economics. He has written extensively on religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue, particularly between Buddhism and Christianity, as well as the need to reconcile religion and science.”
Indeed, ecological interdependence has been an important theme throughout his long career. I read “Is It Too Late?” a number of years ago, and it made a great impact on me (I posted an excerpt on my blog here: )
Why am I writing now about John Cobb? Because at the age of 92, Cobb is still actively engaged – still writing, still working to make the world a better place.  In recent years he founded the organization Pando Populous, with an aim to create an ecological civilization.
Just a few days ago, after Trump’s announcement about pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, he posted an article in which he shares from his years of experience in the ecological movement within the academic community. He speaks honestly about the roles of hope and optimism in the face of the “manifold disasters” the world is heading toward.
“For those of us fortunate enough to have an optimistic temperament, distinguishing optimism from hopefulness is not always easy. But it is important because optimism may fade while hope remains. What I am calling “hopefulness” is grounded in faith and faithfulness. It is because the Cosmic Spirit’s aim can be our aim, that we are never alone. The Cosmic Spirit seeks through us to save this little planet. It has no hands but our hands, as I sang as a boy, but it can direct those hands beyond simply our personal wisdom. That I cannot know what good consequences may follow from some act to which I feel called does not mean that none do. Hope is a kind of trust that we can be partners of a Spirit that guides us, and that can sometimes transform even our sins and failures into stepping stones to something positive.”

Perhaps you’ll take the time to read the entire article, “What Keeps Us Trying?” by John B. Cobb, Jr.