Sunday, September 4, 2011

Old Dysfunctional Myths and Positive Alternative Realities

Sunrise through Seaweed: Cathedral of the Future  J.Stimmell ©2011
Part II: Myths to Live by 
Published by the Concord Monitor 8/27/11


Every stage of human history needs myths to live by, but they outlive their usefulness over time and become dysfunctional.  We see this in NH, a rich state, which is shunning our needy, stiffing our hospitals, shuttering our state parks and taxing working families at 3 times the rate as it does the well-to-do. And we see this in Washington D.C. where a cult of “no” is causing gridlock and paralysis.
This dysfunctional pattern extends on to the global scene where none of the world leaders in politics or in business anticipated the economic meltdown in 2008. Even now, three years later, no one has created a plan of recovery. Worse yet, world leaders have been unable to come up with a plan for addressing climate change which the scientific community warns, “poses the greatest threat to our species in history.”
As I wrote in my last piece for the Concord Monitor, we are running out of time and may be facing the prospect of our own extinction. But hope will always exist as long as we have visionaries like Jeremy Rifkin. He challenges our old, ingrained assumptions about reality while suggesting a promising, new paradigm for our future in his recent book:The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis
Rifkin starts by examining how our underlying societal assumptions change over time. With the dawning of the Enlightenment in the 18th century, the old religious worldview dominated by the church began to breakdown to be replaced by our modern worldview: a secular paradigm where the individual is all-powerful, the measure of all things.
This modern worldview of “me” is now so entrenched within our psyche that it has become a fact of life like the air we breathe. It has become our unquestioned reality: defining each of us as an independent actor, separate from others, self-centered and materialistic, each of us responsible for pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps in pursuit of the American dream.
At this deep level of unspoken assumptions, Democrats are no different than Republicans: each of us is acting out our part in a Darwinian competition rewarding consumerism and regulated by the hidden hand of the marketplace, our new god who determines who will rise and who will fall.
Like it or not, with no alternative in sight, we find ourselves immersed in this sink or swim world of work where our highest responsibility is making more money so we can spend more, living beyond our means while exploiting the natural world to the point of imminent collapse.
Even Paul Farrell, mainstream financial commentator for MarketWatch agrees, writing in a recent column that we are in “massive denial of global catastrophe dead ahead.” He sees a “systemic collapse of the global economy and capitalism” which will be replaced by the only solution that will work: a sustainable, no-growth economy.
But what steps do we take to break through our denial?
Rifkin says the key ingredient necessary to move forward is to understand the significance of new scientific breakthroughs which challenge our most basic assumptions about the nature of reality. On the one hand, evolutionary biologists and anthropologists have turned old Darwinian truisms on their heads, determining beyond doubt that cooperation, not competition is the real “master architect of evolution.” They now agree that at every level of complexity, individual creatures join forces and collaborate.
At the same time, biologists and cognitive scientists have discovered the existence of mirror neurons–also called empathy neurons– perhaps the most exciting neurological breakthrough of the last twenty years. Mirror neurons allow humans and other animals to feel and experience another’s situation as if it were one’s own. Empathy is central to what it is to be human and what, in the long run, has allowed us to survive as a species.
The inescapable conclusion of these scientific discoveries is that humans are “exquisitely social creatures.” Rifkin then outlines a plan to “harness our empathic sensibility to establish a new global ethic that recognizes and acts to harmonize the many relationships that make up the life-sustaining forces of the planet.”
In essence, under Rifkin’s new paradigm: Empathy becomes the invisible hand, the driving force that guides and unites the world – not the hidden hand of the market place.
Rifkin is not just talking the talk, he is walking the walk: As an advisor to the European Union, he is the principle architect of the Third Industrial Revolution economic sustainability plan which has been formally endorsed by the European Parliament and is now being implemented in 27 member-states.
Jeremy Rifkin has a captivating video, encapsulating his vision, on UTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g. He offers an inspirational alternative to  the politics-as-usual stalemate between Republicans and Democrats.
xxx (784 words)

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