Society featured

Primer for Paradigm Shift

October 31, 2023

Prologue To The Primer

Welcome to “A Primer For Paradigm Shift.” This is a series of articles with the goal of encouraging citizen initiative to replace capitalism, as we know it and its consumer culture, with a sensible, uplifted and sustainable economy and society.

The Primer’s contention is that growth dependent capitalism and the political system that serves it are simply not capable of sustainability.

These articles will describe why paradigm shift is called for, how to help make it happen, how to pay for it and how this shift can mitigate a broad range of familiar and deepening social, economic, environmental and even spiritual problems.

The goal of this paradigm shift is to move towards a condition where human activity fits within the boundaries of the natural world, bringing out the best in positive human potential is a primary goal of society and that society is served by an honest and accountable economic system. Social and cultural well being is equally important for paradigm shift as ecological well being.

Paradigm shift can manifest in scale from personal to community to nation wide. The focus in these articles is citizen action. The series will describe many inspiring examples of paradigm shift from coast to coast by individuals and groups that ALREADY exist and provide a preview of what paradigm shift can look like. These examples can be adapted widely.

As used in this series, a “paradigm” refers to a well-established set of beliefs and behaviors shared by large numbers of people. The consumer culture is a paradigm. It is a well-established and widespread set of beliefs and behaviors that elevates vanity and excess consumption of energy and resources as primary goals and meaning of life. The consumer culture is one of history’s most remarkable and effective examples of mass social engineering.

Paradigm shift is not some future utopia. Paradigm shift benefits are accessible to people and planet as soon as they consciously prioritize their time and money and take purposeful initiative. The more people taking action on behalf of paradigm shift the better. Intersecting projects can support each other. No permission required.

This is Jan Spencer, in Eugene, Oregon. I have been transforming my quarter acre suburban property for 23 years to reduce my eco footprint and produce more basic needs closer to home. The place is a permaculture landmark in the PNW, and thousands of people have visited over the years to see what suburbia can look like.

The benefits of my property transformation are many in the here and now. Every day. I have had a keen interest in social, economic, environmental and personal transformation for decades. During the course of this series, I will share the best I have on behalf of paradigm shift, with a good deal coming from suburbia. [See Resilience Oct. 9 article “Transforming Suburbia”] My website is Here is a link to a recent youtube video of my place.

Overview Of The Series

All the articles in this series fit together. Primary topics and key words and concepts
include –

Why paradigm shift – Social engineering, deconstructing the myths of capitalism, external costs, not negotiating = hostage, growth and de-growth

Aspects and principles of paradigm shift – We are too adaptable, missing the cut, wisdom of the world’s great spiritual traditions, eco footprints, civic culture, permaculture, technology, allies and assets, priorities of time and money

Paradigm shift in the here and now – Real life examples – urban, rural, suburban, permaculture, eco-villages, block planning, de-paving, pushing back on cars, youth empowerment, Barcelona Super Blocks, Vauban, Paris and Houten

To a wider audience – Common denominator = all on the same team, nonprofits sharing positive stories with their members, truth and reconciliation, many benefits, take home – no permission needed

Some comments and assessments in these articles may be be upsetting. Good.

For more about paradigm shift, what’s next in this series, November zoom presentations and links to an earlier version of the Primer on youtube – [with photos and graphics] go to

Article 1, A Primer For Paradigm Shift – Why Paradigm Shift?

Paradigm shift is a sensible ideal and action for individuals, neighborhoods, communities and the nation. Capitalism as we know it and its most remarkable product, the consumer culture, is the common denominator of practically every social, economic, political, environmental and even spiritual problem of our time. The interests of capitalism and its servants are simply at odds with a sustainable and healthy world.

Paradigm Shift offers a very different set of values and goals from individual scale to society.

Our media is full of stories such as climate change and damage to the natural world. We read about the homeless, immense public and private debt. There is political dysfunction and a wide range of public health issues from junk food, pollution and for millions, distress from daily life. We have growing numbers of people dependent on drugs, both illegal and prescription. A remarkably small number of people own a remarkably high percentage of the nation’s wealth and ditto with political power.

These and many other problems are all related. We can blame the economic system but we also need to credit the many millions who continue to buy the products and services that do not fit a healthy present and future. Some people might say the System is broken. The System isn’t broken, damage to people and planet is just what it does.

Paradigm shift is a tall order. We have all grown up in the consumer culture which can be considered one of history’s most effective examples of mass social engineering. Saturation advertising, pop culture and its trends, fashions and celebrities; class disequity and much more have distracted and disempowered untold numbers of people from taking action to address the downward trends in ways that could benefit their own lives, their families, neighborhoods, communities and the natural world.

The mainstream economy does provide shelter, transportation, food, health care, recreation and much more more. But those products and services are purposefully bigger, fancier and more resource intensive then needed, simply because oversize and excess deliver bigger profits. We have cars instead of transit and sensible urban planning. We have miracle cures for many diseases and conditions that are avoidable in the first place. A big reason we have homeless people is because affordable housing doesn’t make as much money as oversized houses.

Capitalism makes more money from sprawl and cars creating an enormous eco footprint.  Atlanta’s urban footprint is about 25 times Barcelona with similar regional populations.

We have auto dependent suburbia with homes that are often far larger than necessary to provide comfort and security. We have junk food because it makes more money than healthy food. This economic system prefers profits to the well being of people and planet.

Nonetheless, capitalism, even with its excess and malpractice, still offers many products and services that can boost paradigm shift. We’ll take a closer look in upcoming articles at how the economic system can assist in its own replacement.

The cause of paradigm shift can benefit from a sensible critique of capitalism. The myths of capitalism are all remarkably shallow. The dishonesty of capitalism begs the question, how and why has this economic system been allowed to last for so long? Paradigm shift can put common sense into forward motion.

The myths

Efficiency – Capitalism claims to be efficient, making best use of inputs to accomplish a given task with the lease amount of waste. This economic system is the opposite of efficient – its ideal is to use as much energy and resources to perform legitimate tasks as possible. Transportation, food and shelter are core human needs but this economic system prefers to supersize those needs for the greatest profit possible, not the greatest good for people and planet.

Social engineering shapes peoples’ lifestyles and world views.

In the world of common sense and thermodynamics, cars, junk food and suburbia are extremely inefficient. An average car weighs 10 to 20 times its human cargo. They require extensive expensive infrastructure. 10 to 20 pounds of grain and thousands of gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of meat and common amounts of animal products consumed cause a wide range of expensive and avoidable medical problems. Factory farms abuse animals and the land. Most suburban houses are oversized and require far more furnishings than needed while they require far more resources, heating and cooling, etc., than necessary for safe and comfortable living. Excess translates directly into inefficiency.

Imagine, millions of jobs in the US exist to repair the damage caused by millions of other jobs. That condition is extremely inefficient. Billions are spent each year on avoidable health care costs from junk food, car wrecks, stress and anxiety. Billions are spent repairing interstate highways, money that could be invested in sensible public transportation. Insurance and so many of those employed by the industry exists to a large degree, to protect its customers and clients from the excess, damage and uncertainty caused by the consumer culture.

Informed choice – Capitalism claims the virtue of providing the customer accurate information about a product or service and then let them choose what’s best. Instead, informed choice is a fiction. The reality is, the price we pay for the product or service does not cover the social, public health or ecological damage that product is responsible for.

An important term to know in relation to informed choice is external cost. An external cost is the consequence of using a product or service that affects others not involved with the purchase or use of the product. Aerial spraying on forest lands pollutes water and nearby properties. Factory farms degrade the quality of life for those living nearby. Thousands of people watching sporting events, tractor pulls or pop concerts adds up to millions of person hours of lost time, talent and human potential that could have been used doing good works in the community.

External costs do not show up in the price of products and services.  Buyers do not have the information to make an informed choice.  External costs amount to trillions of dollars in subsidies to this dishonest economic system and consumer culture. Public health and the environment pay.

The price for gasoline does not tell the honest cost of looking for oil, its production, transportation, use, accidents, the effects on the environment, effects on people where the oil comes from, pedestrians and bike riders hit by cars, the lost time in traffic jams, the noise, road rage, the dispiriting strip malls, the air pollution, etc. A more honest cost for a gallon of gasoline could well be $25 per gallon if not more.

This economic system and the affluent lifestyles are subsidized by damage to public well-being and the planet. Our lives would be radically different, in many ways much better, if the economic system was honest. Everything would cost much more with informed choice. Unhealthy choices would be so expenseive, few people could afford them. Then, we wouldn’t have to pay for expensive cures and clean up and could use that money in productive ways. More on this “double benefit” later.

The magic hand – Capitalism claims the magic hand is the best way to allocate resources for the greatest good of society. Instead, the greatest good goes to those who can afford it. The well off have better living conditions, schools, food choices, health care, life expectancy, test scores and more simply because they can pay for it. People live in luxury and not far away people are living in cardboard boxes by the railroad tracks. The well off have far more economic and political power than those with less money. The magic hand works best for people who can pay for what it can deliver.

What can be said about an economic system, the people who control it and the people who patronize it when that economic system values money, excess and vanity above people and planet? Junk food, tobacco, cars; many home, farm and garden products; guns, violent entertainment and much more are known to damage public health and the environment but are still advertised, easy to buy and profitable.

Capitalism and democracy? Voting does not equate with democracy. With a few individual exceptions, both political parties serve capitalism and the consumer culture. Big business and the well off can afford to shape and influence public policy and government budgets for their own benefit.

Our car-centric way of life is a product of big business and its influence on government transportation and housing policy over the the past 100 years. Business interests with damaging products contribute many millions to political candidates and would not do so if they didn’t expect to see results in their favor. Capitalism and democracy do not go together.

Many cities and regions had extensive city and regional rail networks in the 1930’s to 50’s. The magic hand of the market place facilitated the demise of far more efficient, healthy, economical and planet friendly rail transport.  None of these networks exist any more although many cities are rebuilding trolleys and light rail but only at a fraction of the former scale.

Our schools teach history with the false glow of American Exceptionalism. We are taught our national wealth and power are the righteous and deserved rewards of exceptional people – their vision, creativity and hard work. From this perspective, Americans, mostly of European descent, have been exceptional because they took over a continent that was like winning the lottery – a continent loaded with forests, virgin soil, lakes, rivers, water and mineral resources. Yes, American are exceptional. Exceptional at turning vast amounts of beauty and nature into money.

Much is in the news about technology, especially artificial intelligence. Tech and AI can serve both the good and not good but as many have observed and written, technology in the service of profits with little to restrain it, is a deep threat to both people and planet.

The economic system compels its actors to market questionable new technologies because if one company shows caution, another will push forward and take the profits. In paradigm shift, there would be a far greater public oversight of technology.

Most of us recognize the term Gross National Product. The GNP is an economic indicator that estimates the total value of all the final products and services produced by the means of production. GNP tells us basically, how much MORE stuff was produced and consumed over previous figures. For this economic system, the more growth the better. GNP was and still is a part of “traditional” social engineering, telling us, the well being of our society is based on how much more energy and resources are used. Excess is rewarded.

For GNP, a car is better than transit and a bike. Junk food is better than whole food. A traffic wreck is better than walkable neighborhoods. A day shopping at the mall is better than a day at a neighborhood work party to put in a front yard garden.

After generations of accumulating social and environmental problems, more recent voices call for indicators of well being that tell us a more nuanced story of the nation’s condition. These metrics can measure health, education, life expectancy, crime, community participation, ecological footprints and more.

Calls for these new social, public health and environmental metrics to assess our nation’s condition indicates a growing consciousness in values and goals that can evolve into paradigm shift. Ideals for quality of life rather than quantity of stuff consumed is gaining traction.

Closely related to the GNP issue, there is a growing interest in no-growth and de-growth economics. The ideal is to find a sweet spot for a steady state where humans can co-exist with the natural world and still live comfortable and healthy lives.

The big question to resolve is, what level of human economic activity is sustainable at a steady state and who decides? Steady state ideals are a strong and sensible challenge to the mantra that calls for perpetual economic growth and consumption. These are valuable and timely discussions for paradigm shift.

Paradigm shift is an essential and timely concept but leaves much to figure out in the early going. That said, anyone or groups can consciously prioritize their time and money and create their own version of paradigm shift. The more the better. We learn from and are inspired by each others’ experience. This Primer is here to encourage people taking action in positive ways.

Final thoughts for article one. We should not expect the economic system that profits by creating so many familiar and deepening problems to be a partner in repairing the damage it causes and helping to build a healthy society. The myths of capitalism clearly reveal its dishonesty and self-interest at the expense of people and planet.

At the same time, along with the immense damage caused by capitalism and its consumer culture, the System has also produced a wide range of products and opportunities that can be used on behalf of paradigm shift. Capitalism has provided much of value for its own replacement. We will learn more about allies, assets and opportunities in upcoming articles in this series.

Modern times offer many tools and assets for supporting paradigm shift.

Paradigm shift means creating uplifting alternatives to capitalism and the consumer culture in every way possible. Those individuals and groups who are leading the charge are called upon to share what they are learning. This is not a time to be shy. The Primer will show and tell many of their stories.

Preview Article Two – Aspects of Paradigm Shift
Article Two in the Primer Series will move into the realm of how can we pariticpate in paradigm shift. We will also identify products and behavior of the consumer culture that will not likely make the cut to a sustainable future. That means a look at eco footprints and our own personal lifestyles. Article Two will explain prioritizing time and money, resensitizing, permaculture, common cause and some thoughts about what might a sustainable lifestyle actually look like, civic culture and why a preferred future will not need heroes.

You can learn more about the Primer and what topics are coming up at Feel free to contact me via my website.

You can find previous editions of the Primer on youtube, search “Jan Spencer primer”

Jan Spencer

Jan Spencer is an advocate of suburban permaculture and paradigm shift in Eugene, Oregon. His focus of interest is care for the natural world, economics, urban land use and eudaimonia.  His background is thoroughly middle class having lived in suburban locations much of his life in New York, Texas and currently in Eugene, Oregon.  Jan earned a BA in Geography in 1974, has Permaculture Design Certificate from 1991 and has travelled out of the country for about 6 years to nearly 40 different countries. In recent years, visits to Europe have included a keen interest in urban public places, pushing back on cars and exploration by bicycle.  Find links to "A Primer For Paradigm Shift" on his website. Jan is vegetarian and does not own a vehicle other than a muscle powered bike. He welcomes opportunities to speak with classes, events and organizations. You can contact Jan through his website,