Consciousness and the New World Order

In the previous post on Chaos, Havoc, and the American Abyss, we began a discussion about the work of Peter Pogany, and how it relates to the situation we now find ourselves in with the pending Trump administration here in the U.S.

A recent post in The Guardian by George Monbiot starkly outlines the seriousness of some of the crises we’re currently facing: The 13 Impossible Crises that Humanity Now Faces (hat tip to The Chrysalis). “One of the peculiarities of this complex, multiheaded crisis,” Monbiot writes,  “is that there appears to be no “other side” on to which we might emerge.”

Recall that in our previous post we discussed how deep infrastructure issues such as resource depletion and climate change impose eventual limits to growth, which then disrupt economies built upon heavy environmental resource extraction and financed by debt. And remember Pogany’s statement that “a stagnating economy is civil discontent waiting to happen – especially at a time when government spending must be curbed.” And also that the coming chaos might eventually, as a chaotic transition, lead to a much healthier organization of society.

What will it take? “It will take nothing less than a mutation in consciousness, as outlined by the Swiss thinker, Jean Gebser (1905-1973).”

And what does that mean?  To unpack this, let’s survey chapter 5 of his book, Havoc, Thy Name is 21st Century!

A concise dictionary definition of ‘consciousness’ is “the fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world.” Consciousness, according to Pogany, is made up of active and passive components, that together contain the information necessary to deal with the issues that the “physical-social-cultural-economic-environment presents for the individual.”

“Consciousness,” Pogany says, “is best visualized as a continuous spectrum that stretches from intensely active components, engaged when dealing with a crisis in the family, at the workplace, or in the environs otherwise dilineated; to the body’s biological processes, which remain passive unless attention is explicitly drawn to them (e.g., in the doctor’s office).”

A point that Pogany is eager to emphasize is that “individual consciousness is inseparable from its socieeconomic substratum.”  This means that we come to common understandings about the “rules of the game” – cultural ideas about ways of living that we tend to take as given, real, and true. “What people living under a stable global system consider ‘true assertions’ about history, society, and the economy presupposes a scaffolding of the conceptual universe  that the mind tends to conflate with the laws and regularities of the natural world.”

“We are complex products of a world order.” Philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Husserl have all spent a lot of time making this clear, not to mention “the psycholinguists, the existentialists, the structuralists and the postmoderns.” And yet mainstream economics does not recognize this fact.

The stable global system, or world order, that we currently live in takes as a given that growth dependent economics is the only possible way forward. Everything is built around this arrangement, and the shared expectation is that we must find ways to keep it going. Margaret Thatcher’s TINA principle is invoked – “There Is No Alternative!” Never mind the fact that numerous heterodox economists have proposed alternatives, and never mind the fact that there are system feedback signals everywhere telling us that the growth dependent economy is exacerbating so many of  the world’s most intractable problems. The feedback signals are not yet strong enough to overcome the current global system’s self-defense mechanisms. In his 2006 book Rethinking the World, Pogany called these signals “A siren that shrieks too late, then causes a brawl at the fire station” (p. 187).

In my 2015 paper, Patterns for Navigating the World in Energy Descent (available here and here), I wrote:

“[Our growth oriented economic arrangement] is one more “myth of the given” that should not be taken for granted. Edgar Morin referred to “development” as:

The master word…upon which all the popular ideologies of the second half of this [20th] 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 (Homeland Earth: A Manifesto for the New Millenium, Morin, 1999, pp. 59-63).

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

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).”

The problem is, this “economic growth theory” has become something our entire society is built upon and is dependent upon, and has become ingrained into our collective structure of consciousness.  Pogany believed that the challenge to develop a sustainable world system is so great that it will require a major transformation of individual consciousness structures; and yet, the average individual would be incapable of becoming so transformed as long as current socioeconomic conditions prevail. So, the current system is holding up our personal transformation, and our lack of personal transformation is holding up the transformation of the system. “Ay, there’s the rub.”

Pogany introduces the reader to the work of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser, and his outline of five “patterns, structures, or mutations” of consciousness. According to Gebser, we’re currently at the tail end (the deficient stage) of the fourth structure, the mental-rational structure, and are facing the chaotic transition that we hope will lead us to the fifth “integral” structure of consciousness.

We will take a closer look at Gebser’s five structures of consciousness in our next post.  And for a preview of some of the other points we’ll eventually get to, check out The Trump Agenda is a Dead End over at The Chrysalis.

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Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent

Integral Leadership ReviewIntegral Leadership Review (ILR) has published the paper I presented to the recent Integral Theory Conference 2015, “Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent” in their August-November 2015 issue.

Also in this issue is Tim Winton’s reflections on the conference that is worth reading: “A Note on the Field: Thoughts on Integral Leadership Post ITC 2015.”

Jeremy Johnson also did a great job as the official conference blogger. Some of you might be able to identify me in the first photo on this page (Jeremy and Tim were two of my five suite-mates, which also included Chris Dierkes, Gaby McDonald, and Trevor Malkinson).

 

ILR headingILR Patterns for Navigating Intro

Abstract

This paper considers current concerns about resource depletion (“energy descent”) and the unsustainability of current economic structures, which may indicate we are entering a new era signaled by the end of growth. Using the systems thinking tool of PatternDynamics™, developed by Tim Winton, this paper seeks to integrate multiple natural patterns in order to effectively impact these pressing challenges. Some of the Patterns considered include Energy, Transformity, Power, Pulse, Growth, and the polarities of Expansion/Contraction and Order/Chaos.

We tend to have horrible visions associated with downturns and “collapse.” Can we even entertain the possibility that we might be entering a period of decline in energy and standard of living?  Can we re-examine our assumptions about “growth” and “development”? Jean Gebser’s emphasis that every mutation of structure is preceded by a crisis is considered and Howard T. Odum’s ideas about energy as the basis of man and nature informs the discussion. Edgar Morin’s dialogic Method of active inquiry in regards to the interplay of polarities assists in our understanding and response to the complex challenges we face.

Read the paper here.

About ILR, from their website:

Integral Leadership Review – the world’s premier publication of integrated approaches to leading and leadership.

Integral Leadership Review is a bridging publication that links authors and readers across cultures around the world. It serves leaders, professionals and academics engaged in the practice, development and theory of leadership. It bridges multiple perspectives by drawing on integral, transdisciplinary, complexity and developmental frameworks. These bridges are intended to assist all who read the Integral Leadership Review to develop and implement comprehensive shifts in strategies by providing lessons from experience, insights, and tools all can use in addressing the challenges facing the world.

Fossil Fueled Republicanism and the Six Myths About Climate Change that Liberals Rarely Question

In my final post in the Holiday Smorgasbord series, I want to share two articles that are each directed at (and finding fault with) different ends of the political spectrum. I don’t think the point of either of these articles is to demonize individuals who embrace either conservatism or liberalism, but rather to point out that in general we are not being served by the mainstream political discourse from either perspective. I find these articles by Michael Klare and Erik Lindberg to bring an appropriate balance to one another. I close with the alternative offered by Peter Pogany.

Fossil-Fueled Republicanism

Michael Klare’s latest post offers his take what the latest U.S. election results portends for the immediate future:

Pop the champagne corks in Washington!  It’s party time for Big Energy.  In the wake of the midterm elections, Republican energy hawks are ascendant, having taken the Senate and House by storm.  They are preparing to put pressure on a president already presiding over a largely drill-baby-drill administration to take the last constraints off the development of North American fossil fuel reserves.
The new Republican majority is certain to push their agenda on a variety of key issues, including tax reform and immigration.  None of their initiatives, however, will have as catastrophic an impact as their coming drive to ensure that fossil fuels will dominate the nation’s energy landscape into the distant future, long after climate change has wrecked the planet and ruined the lives of millions of Americans.
Six Myths About Climate Change that Liberals Rarely Question
This post by Erik Lindberg is, as of this writing, showing 551 comments on the Resilience.org site – by far the largest number of comments I have ever seen on a single post at that site. Some liberals are taking offense, but I think are missing the point, as I stated at the top of this post.

Myth #1:  Liberals Are Not In Denial 

“We will not apologize for our way of life” –Barack Obama

The conservative denial of the very fact of climate change looms large in the minds of many liberals.  How, we ask, could people ignore so much solid and unrefuted evidence?   Will they deny the existence of fire as Rome burns once again?  With so much at stake, this denial is maddening, indeed.  But almost never discussed is an unfortunate side-effect of this denial: it has all but insured that any national debate in America will occur in a place where most liberals are not required to challenge any of their own beliefs.  The question has been reduced to a two-sided affair—is it happening or is it not—and liberals are obviously on the right side of that.

If we broadened the debate just a little bit, however, we would see that most liberals have just moved a giant boat-load of denial down-stream, and that this denial is as harmful as that of conservatives.  While the various aspects of liberal denial are my main overall topic, here, and will be addressed in our following five sections, they add up to the belief that we can avoid the most catastrophic levels of climate disruption without changing our fundamental way of life.  This is myth is based on errors that are as profound and basic as the conservative denial of climate change itself.

Read more here.

Rethinking the World

Rethinking the WorldNow, if this is the situation we find ourselves in with mainstream political discourse, with its unwillingness to consider options other than continued growth (about which see yesterday’s post here) – is there hope for meaningful action?  If folks want to explore this further, consider the work of Peter Pogany, whom I’ve been reading lately. Pogany has pointed out that we currently live in a “world order” or “global system” (since approximately 1945) that is basically not capable of voluntarily moving beyond the paradigm of economic growth; therefore a chaotic transition to a new global system will be required :

“The current world order cannot deliver long-term sustainability on a planetary scale. By design, it is incapable of recognizing humanity’s thermodynamic reality. A new form of global self-organization is needed and it is probably waiting in the wings.” (http://blog.gebser.net/)

Pogany doesn’t mean there’s something all set up that we can easily and seamlessly transition to. On the contrary, he sees world history as a “thermodynamic process of self-organization,” which “precludes smooth transition from one relative, globally valid steady state to the next.” (quoted from his 2006 book Rethinking the World).
But he does see, based on his own work, as well as that of Jean Gebser (The Ever Present Origin) that after a period of chaotic transition, we will move “toward a new form of self-organization that would recognize limits to demographic-economic expansion. 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).

This is no fairy tale, and yes, human agency is definitely involved. Pogany’s approach is a systems thinking approach with a the laws of thermodynamics as a foundation, and built around his own expertise as an economist; he calls his approach new historical materialism.

“Only Cassandra may know whether the “best” (a quick global transformation), the “historically conditioned expectation,” or the worst (no global transformation, not even in the wake of an ecological disaster) is in the womb of time.”

Too woo-woo? Only if you consider previous transformations to be woo-woo. Pogany sees the French revolution as a chaotic transition to Global System 1, characterized as “laissez faire/metal money,” and two world wars and the Great Depression as the transition to the current Global System 2, characterized as “mixed economy/weak multilateralism.” What will it take to transform into a radically new Global System 3, which he expects to be characterized as  “two-level economy/strong multilateralism,” and which, he says “will favor cooperation over competition; acquiescence over indifference; responsible sociability over isolation; integrative open-mindedness over stubborn, perspectival dogmatism, altruism over extrasomatic hedonism.”

Sadly, Peter Pogany passed away in May of this year. May he rest in peace.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

Review, in case you missed the previous posts in this series: A Holiday Smorgasbord of Recommended Reading, Listening, and Watching by David MacLeod

The primary deliverable from the IEA is the massive World Energy Outlook (WEO) report that is released annually in November. Concerned about peak oil, I began reading the Executive Summary to this report 10 years ago.
Here’s a story from KUOW’s Ashley Ahearn that aired on NPR on how climate change is affecting the glaciers in Washington State – focused on the Easton glacier on Mt. Baker, and the Skagit River it drains into.  Since 1900 we’ve lost about 50 percent of our glacier area, and this makes the Northwest “uniquely vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”
Yves Cochet’s Preface to the French edition of Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.
There’s a lot of confusion going on right now – as the price of gasoline in the U.S. is declining, we are becoming ever more complacent….

Two voices that I have been following off and on for the last decade, and who have both been warning about limits to growth, and more importantly what we as individuals can do about it: Nate Hagens and John Michael Greer.

The Wave/Pulse of Human History

What I am aiming to explore in this post is the pattern of the pulse – a pattern that seems to occur in all natural systems. I want to look at how it has flowed through human history in the form of energy production and consumption, and how it relates to a number of my interests.

What I want to do is to look at how different forms of available energy have been used in different periods of human history, how they relate to the structure of those periods, and how they can be seen as pulses or waves.  I also want to share a favorite chart from a favorite systems thinker, Howard T. Odum, and how I think this chart can represent an integration of a number of my different interests in different ways, but all in this context of wave/pulses of energy through human history.

But first, let’s back up a bit. I thought it might be helpful to tell the story of how and why I became interested in the Pattern of the Pulse.

Draw a line five miles long to represent the millions of years during which solar energy has been captured and laid down in the earth’s crust in the form of coal, gas and oil. Then put a blip in it. That blip represents the time we have taken to extract and use this embodied energy.  We are halfway through that blip.

– James Bruges (The Little Earth Book, 2004)

Back in late 2004, I saw a movie called The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream. It was a wake up call to the idea that we are about halfway through that blip of oil, and that the first half we used was the cheap, easy, high quality oil, and that the second half would be increasingly difficult to extract, expensive, and of lower quality.  I came to understand that timing wise, the important point wasn’t when we “run out,” but when we reach the peak – the all time high of production.  The peak is the important thing, because our whole society is built around the idea of continual growth. Continual growth is dependent upon reasonably cheap energy resources, and we tend to just take for granted that they’ll always be there, and growth (with a few inconvenient ups and downs here and there) will always continue.  After all, it’s all we’ve known…that is, until we get a bigger perspective than just the industrial/informational ages of the past 200 years.

Which brings us to this principle:

The principle of peaks: the enduring health of any system depends on the appropriate balance and integration of the rate of increase in resource flows and exchanges pre-peak and the rate of decline in those flows and exchanges after the peak, for a given context.

– Tim Winton, Pattern Dynamics

The above is an important principle, because I gradually became more and more aware that there is actually a lot more that is peaking than just oil supplies. I found out that some believed seafood may have peaked in 1994. In 2007 I wrote an article titled “Peak Everything“:  “I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories as well about the dramatic decline of bees, and the slower but long term decline of many birds. Washington state alone has at least 39 endangered plant and animal species. …It becomes a bit overwhelming to think about and comprehend all of these problems at once and together, but it is quite important to do so. As long as we keep thinking about the problems we’re seeing with the world’s “resources” as isolated problems to be dealt with individually, the more likely we are to turn to technological band-aid solutions.”  When I googled the phrase “Peak Everything,” I found that Richard Heinberg was working on a book with that exact title: Peak Everything: Waking Up To a Century of Declines. Another way to say it is that we are now in ecological overshoot and have reached the limits to growth.

As part of my own preparations for making a transition to this century of declines, I enrolled in a Permaculture Design Course in 2009.  One of our instructors, David Zhang, led a session on common patterns observed in nature. One of these was the Pattern of the Pulse.  Pulse, he said, is a pattern observed in time. It is a burst of stored up energy. Some examples include salmon runs, seasonal floods, the heartbeat, monsoons, lightning, forest fires, earthquakes, volcanic activity, and even plagues.  When he started showing graphics and pictures of some of these pulses, suddenly I made the connection in my mind – peak oil is a pulse! Of course, this seemed so obvious in retrospect, but at the time when I made the connection, it seemed to clarify so many things, put so many things in perspective, and help me to realize this is a very natural process.

We tend to think of our human systems as being some how outside of nature and its processes, but when we realize that we are nature, then that kind of implies that our systems are in a very real sense natural as well.  Where we really get in trouble is when we don’t acknowledge this and let our hubris gain the upper hand.  When we think that things like the 2nd law of thermodynamics don’t necessarily apply to us, and that infinite economic growth is a real possibility. As one of Nixon’s advisers once said so succinctly, “things that can’t go on forever, don’t.”

Things that can’t go on forever, don’t

– Herb Stein, adviser to President Richard M. Nixon

All of this brings us up to the present interest in the pattern of the pulse, and how it has flowed through human history in the form of energy production and consumption, and how it relates to a number of my interests.

Tim Winton has spent a lot of time developing a new integral sustainability pattern language he calls PatternDynamics™, which will come up again later in this piece as one of my interests. Hundreds of patterns have been observed in nature, and it’s probably not a good idea to look at any one of them in total isolation, so let’s take a quick look at several patterns that Winton has identified that are relevant to this post.

We’ve already mentioned our main theme, the pattern of the pulse, which “signifies  the repeated rhythmic surges of activity related to resource flows and exchanges.” Systems ecologist Howard Odum was of the opinion that all systems on all scales pulse.  Storages gradually accumulate, consumers consume and develop, and eventually decline, and then dispersing materials that will be used in the next pulse.  Winton wisely comments, “The capacity to maximize the rate of growth of flow exchanges needs to be balanced with minimizing the adaption required after the peak when decline sets in. The role of Pulse is to maximize exchange flows sustainably.”  The pattern of the pulse demonstrates the principle of peaks, which is where the quote from Winton nearer to the top of this article comes in.

Other patterns that are important to our discussion are patterns of Energy (provides the ability to do work in dynamic change and transformation processes), Cycle (“rhythmic, repeated sequence of actions”), Flows/Stores (energy resources can be stored for future use, or they flow out in dynamic exchange processes), and Transformity (“the process whereby matter/energy resources are transformed through systemic processes into lesser amounts of matter/energy but higher qualitative complexity within the system”).

With all of that as background, we are almost ready to look at one of my favorite graphs.  If you’re anything like me, you might not usually get very excited by graphs.  And I don’t want to over sell this – it’s not that I find the graph exciting, I just think it’s very interesting, and encapsulates a lot of ideas. I’ll begin explaining in a minute why I find this particular graph so interesting, but first a word about the creator of the graph.

I came to Howard T. Odum by way of Rob Hopkins, by way of David Holmgren.  Because I was active in community organizing around preparedness for energy depletion, I had been following the work of Rob Hopkins and the Transition Culture he was writing about.  I found out he was a permaculture teacher and was heavily influenced by David Holmgren (read Hopkins’ review of Holmgren’s book here).  So I began studying the work of David Holmgren, which I found to be utterly compelling – some of the best ideas about sustainability I’d seen anywhere.  And I found out Holmgren was heavily influenced by Howard T. Odum, who had pioneered the field of systems ecology (Excellent short summaries of Odum’s work can be found here and here). So from there, I began looking at his more accessible books,  Energy Basis for Man and Nature, and A Prosperous Way Down.

We should now be ready to look at one of my favorite graphs from Howard and Elizabeth Odum’s 2001 book, A Prosperous Way Down.  I can see in this image elements of a number of my interests.  Energy Descent, Permaculture, Integral Theory, Spiral Dynamics, Gebser’s “Ever Present Origin,” Pattern Dynamics, and  the Transition Towns movement.

H.T. Odum’s Zonal Empower chart of the history of human development

The Odums write, “The development in the last two centuries has been a wave of ascendancy moving up the energy hierarchy. We can represent the wave by showing the relative empower in each stage. First there was a predominance of agrarian agriculture, then use of fuels and minerals for the industrial revolution, next a population explosion, then a concentration of emergy [embedded energy] in the cities, and finally  highest emergy in the worldwide sharing of information. The wave may be expected to generate more population and information than it can support. As the emergy flows of the fuels and their matching resources falter, we expect the climax to turn down, either crashing or descending prosperously depending on how well the world shares common purpose. How do we go from the pattern in graph (f) to a new kind of future consistent with the limitations of graph (c)?”

How all of this relates to my above list:

1) Energy Descent: The chart shows inputs of 2 energy sources – “Local Energy Sources,”which are the renewable energies available and then, beginning in the era of Industry, the additional “Fuels and Minerals” (Fossil Fuels and the additional minerals we’ve been able to extract due to fossil fuels).  Progress has not resulted simply as the result of human ingenuity. The waves of development are made possible by increasing availability and use of energy. Fossil fuel energy is finite in terms of the scale we are concerned with, and at some point soon we can expect the wave to climax and then descend, likely back to the agrarian level (c).

2) Permaculture: David Holmgren, co-initiator of Permaculture has closely followed H.T. Odum’s work throughout his career; hence Holmgren’s Permaculture is built on the foundation laid by Odum, especially in regards to Energy Descent and the Pulsing paradigm.  Holmgren, writing about the large scale pulse of fossil fuels:

The rebuilding of social and cultural capital must occur within a context of declining net energy availability… While global capitalism has been like a fire converting green forests to ashes, it has likewise released potential and information from the constraints of cultural norms and institutions that were hopelessly inappropriate for dealing with a world of declining energy. The ashes of the consumed forest provide opportunities for the seeds of pioneering species to reform the forest in a way that better reflects large-scale realities, such as fertility or climate change. Similarly, globalisation provides the opportunities for social seeding to create new bioregional cultures adapted to energetic realities…

Thus the permaculture aphorism ‘the problem is the solution’ is not some naive optimism in the face of terrible prospects, or the delusion of those with all the opportunities, but a simple idea with powerful relevance to our time. If we view global capitalism as releasing the earth’s accumulation of renewable and non-renewable resources according to Holling’s Four-Phase Cycle, then permaculture is the new potential of the Reorganisation phase.

3.  Integral Theory: First, the Integral Theory of Ken Wilber’s AQAL model, of which one important part is the Quadrants. The Lower Right Quadrant is where we see the Exterior of the Collective, which includes the Techno-Economic base of civilization as it developed from foraging to horticulture to agrarian to industrial to informational – matching Odum’s chart.

The important thing to note here is that when we keep in mind that the Techno-Economic base is fully dependent upon the Ecological/Energetic base – again, that available energy determines what is possible – that provides a solid foundation for the Integral framework.  Without this acknowledgement, we can get lost in a world of technological fantasy and ideas about infinite growth.  If we root ourselves in  what the ecological base can support in the LR quadrant, we will rest on a realistic foundation.

4. Spiral Dynamics: Spiral Dynamics was first formulated by Clare Graves, and later refined and popularized by Don Beck and Dave Cowan, and has also been incorporated into Wilber’s Integral Theory.  SDi (Spiral Dynamics integral) sees the stages of social development corresponding with levels of cultural development.  Some within the integral movement question “whether notions like development and in particular progress make sense when applied to culture.”

5. Jean Gebser’s Ever Present Origin:   I’m new to Gebser’s thinking, but if I understand correctly, he looked at human history in terms of Epochs with wave like movements, very much like Odum’s model.  In mythic, oceanic reasoning, there was always a return, never a progression.  More like cycles and less like development.  Gebser saw Epochs developing through four stages from Defficient to Latent to Efficient back to Defficient.  Perhaps there are parallels to Holling’s Four Phase Model of Ecosystems, from Pioneer to Conservation to Collapse/Release to Reorganization.  Odum, following Holling,  spoke of Four Stages of the Growth Cycle: 1) Growth; 2) Climax and Transition; 3) Descent; and 4) Low Energy Restoration.

Pulses of ecological systems

Howard Odum, in A Prosperous Way Down:

What is appropriate during one stage may be poor policy in another stage,” he wrote. “For example, for a system in a stage of descent, it will not be good policy to foster growth that is no longer possible.

…Although history and ecosystems give us clues, we really don’t know what the policies should be for the period of turndown from our complex, intensive, locally affluent, urban civilization…

In some systems, the mature stage is abruptly terminated by catastrophic removal due to pulses on a larger scale…In some other ecosytems such as a temperate forest approaching a winter season, decline is more orderly…

After repeated cycles of growth and decline, ecosystems develop means for carrying forward information, in seeds, eggs, and spores, for the next growth cycle. Something similar is needed in downsizing of civilization.

Jeremy Johnson wrote a Beams and Struts post on The Integral Philosopher – Jean Gebser and Time, and shared the following insight:

Gebser foresaw a Western crisis that we’re experiencing now (and probably more so in the coming years). Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, he was deeply optimistic about what could emerge from humanity. He foreshadowed the ecological-oriented worldview, as well as the complexity sciences of the 70’s. Although such ideas are now over 40 years old, they aren’t yet actualized. The world is still rushing forward in technological and industrial growth—a growth that’s not going to be sustainable forever. In some sense, we are captured by our own ironic limitation of progress–unable to switch gears until the train is at the edge of the cliff. Gebser’s book studies past civilizations and their worldviews, noting how each particular “structure” of consciousness (he called them “mutations”) both helped and eventually limited a human society. Only through transforming our relationship to reality (time and space, inner and outer, etc) do we have a chance to rise above our own limitations. With all this in mind, it’s a wonder why Gebser’s work is not spoken about more today. In an age where human civilization seems to be bursting at the seams, Gebser’s work is ever-more relevant.

6. PatternDynamics: Tim Winton, steeped in both Permaculture and Integral Theory, has deveolped a new Integral Sustainability Pattern Language to communicate principles of sustainability.

According to Winton,

PatternDynamics™ is a simple tool that can be learned by anyone to overcome the challenges posed by complex systems–at any scale. Here’s how it works:

  • The key to complexity is systems thinking;
  • The key to systems thinking is Patterns; and,
  • The key to using Patterns is to form them into a language.

Winton’s language of visual patterns to teach systems thinking is similar to Odum’s realization that he needed a way to get people to see the big picture (he called it the Macroscope) of how energy flows in systems.  Odum developed his own pattern language he called an energy circuit language.

Similar to my thinking that an Integral Permaculture will be rooted first in Ecological/Energy understanding, Winton’s Pattern Dynamics is rooted in the enduring patterns found in nature, but with the idea of effectively making these ideas meaningful to culture.  Rather than pushing ‘the arrow of progress,’ Winton argues for “a shift to a more second person orientation, to build meaning, values and the culture that support effective embodiment and application.”

So, we’re back to a similar train of thought that we observed when discussing Gebser. As Chris Dierkes relates, “the conscious choice to incorporate these patterns, leading to a fully integrated sphere of mind (noosphere) and sphere of life (biosphere). That, to me, would be a more developed culture but that had developed by going deeper (not higher).”

More specifically, Pulse is one of the 56 common patterns that Winton has identified.

The Pulse Pattern signifies  the repeated rhythmic surges of activity related to resource flows and exchanges. Pulse is one aspect of the more foundational First Order Pattern, Rhythm. Pulse demonstrates the increase, peak and decline in the rate of resource recovery and exchanges within systems. The capacity to maximize the rate of growth of flow exchanges needs to be balanced with minimizing the adaption required after the peak when decline sets in. The role of Pulse is to maximize exchange flows sustainably.

7. Transition Culture: The Transition Initiative movement is a worldwide grassroots effort to rebuild community resilience in response to concerns about energy depletion, climate change, and economic instability. Rob Hopkins writes in the Transition Handbook:

The amount of energy needed to maintain the average US citizen is the equivalent of 50 people on bicycles pedalling furiously in our back gardens day and night. We have become dependent on these pedallers – what some people refer to as ‘energy slaves’. But we are, it should also be acknowledged, extremely fortunate to live at a time in history with access to amounts of energy and a range of materials, products and possibilities that our ancestors couldn’t even have imagined…

Oil has allowed us to create extraordinary technologies, cultures and discoveries, to set foot on the Moon and to perfect the Pop Tart. But can it go on forever? Of course not. Like any finite material, the faster we consume it, the faster it will be gone. We are like Asterix and Obelix realising, with a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach, that the cauldron of potion they have in front of them is the last one. We can see the possibility of life without potion looming before us.

The key point is that it is not the point when we use the last drop that matters. The moment that really matters is the peak, the moment when you realise that from that point onward there will always be less magic potion year-on-year, and that because of its increasing scarcity, it will become an increasingly expensive commodity.

What the Transtion movement acknowledges is that we have come to a point where we need to begin making other arrangements; as Odum asked,  How do we begin the transition away from the high energy arrangements of our industrial/information society and toward levels of energy use that are sustainable on the back end of the energy pulse?

Transition connects the dots between fossil fuel energy use and it’s affect on the climate, as well as it’s relationship to a ‘peak economy’, ‘peak debt’ and the over-arching conclusion that we may have reached The End of Growth.  Hopkins wrote about the relationship to the economy in 2009:

Chris Martenson again put it well in the Crash Course: “Our economy must grow to support a money system that requires growth, but is challenged by an energy system that can’t grow, and both of these are linked to a natural world that is rapidly being depleted.”

The Transition model assumes a re-localisation of life and work due to the end of cheap fuels for food production, transport and energy generation, but today almost everyone is part of a globalised economic system highly dependent on imports. Politicians and business leaders have recently distanced themselves from the worst extremes of the weakly regulated financial activities, but whether it’s credit crunch, energy crunch or climate crunch the biggest employment crisis ever seen is already unfolding across international boundaries.

As I write this post, Rob Hopkins has just published another well argued piece on the validity of engaging the transition (by whatever name):

The important question for me is where are we now? Where do we go from here? The idea that our only option if we want to avoid a rapid collapse is an orgy of extracting unconventional oils by any means necessary is a logical idea when viewed from the perspective of the industrial growth system. This is the same myopic mania that has redefined sustainable development as ‘sustainable growth’ and is hell-bent on a return to growth at all costs. It is rather like an abusive husband who cannot see any option for his partner other than himself, while psychologically denying to himself the damage he’s doing.

…Embracing the hydrocarbons that will define the second half of the oil age will, as Monbiot puts it, “fry us all”. Climate change is hardly the only impact though. …one consequence of our moving into the “second half” of the age of fossil fuel extraction is that, in our desperation, we create even more difficult challenges for us and for our descendants.

…Transition has stated from the outset, “if we wait for governments it will be too late”. I believe more than ever that the drive for change will need to come from communities, from citizens, from ordinary people coming together and getting on with it. I am thinking about calling the next book I do “The Thrill of Just Doing Stuff” because I think that is ultimately what it’s about.

Fracking, shale oils, heavy oils, are the path to a world where power, resources and control continue to be taken out of the hands of ordinary people and into the hands of those that would ruin the world.  Transition offers a different story, one that is about living more within our means, connecting to place, returning power to people and communities, building resilience at the local level.

Hopkins' Transition Culture logoAn aspect of the Transition movement that circles back to point number 5 above on Jean Gebser’s worldview, is the idea that descent needn’t be a bad thing.  Vanessa Fischer in a comment at Beams and Struts:

I love Gebser because his notion of the Integral “stage” is not a linear development. He actually never used the word evolution because he thought it was too bound into rational thinking and linear views of time and progress. Gebser argued that time radically changed at the integral level, and past and present all became transparent and available in the now.

This is why the constant emphasis on transcendence and needing to push people to integral never really resonated with me. Energetically, I feel much more of a falling quality~ falling into transparency and beauty with all that is and being able to access multiple-streams of intelligence and knowing all at once.

Chuckanut Transition’s “Energy Descent” logo

Transition found it’s initial inspiration in Permaculture, and David Holmgren’s book, where Holmgren writes:

“Having been on the mountain so long, we can barely remember the home in a far-off valley that we fled as it was PROGRESSIVELY destroyed by forces we did not understand. But we know that each step brings us closer to a sheltered valley where we can make a new home.”
– David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

And now back to Rob Hopkins, closing this post with last thoughts from the Transition Handbook:

Central to this book is the proposition that the future with less oil could be preferable to the present, if we are able to engage with enough imagination and creativity sufficiently in advance of the peak…Emerging at the other end, we will not be the same as we were; we will have become more humble, more connected to the natural world, fitter, leaner, more skilled and, ultimately, wiser.

We will emerge blinking into a new way of living, yet it will feel more comfortable and familiar than what we left behind. If we are to trade mobility, growth and affluence for something else, we need to be able to articulate something preferable and more nourishing to put in its place.

And more recently from Richard Heinberg:

Is economic growth ending? Yes. Is it the end of the world? No. It’s just the beginning of the end for a utopian project that started as the dream of miners, manufacturers, bankers, advertisers, salesmen, investors, and inventors, and that has turned to a nightmare for just about everyone else. Trends reach their culmination and wane, and new trends arise. Nature adapts, sometimes with slow and incremental change, sometimes in fury and destruction, and life goes on.