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Taking Paradigm Shift To A Wider Audience Part 2

June 7, 2024

Greetings. This article is part of a series titled “A Primer For Paradigm Shift.” The Primer calls for a purposeful and widespread social movement for bringing about a society that lives within the boundaries of the natural world, places a high value on positive human potential and this society would be served by an honest and accountable economic system.

The core premise of the Primer is that capitalism and its socially engineered consumer culture, are not compatible with sustainability and social uplift. Capitalism is not broken, the environmental, automobile and social mayhem we experience every day are just what it does. Humans deserve better and humans are capable of better. The Primer is here to help.

Short review. The Primer starts with a deep deconstruction of the myths of capitalism. Many of the greatest economic, environmental, public health and social well being problems we are familiar with are completely avoidable. But they are very profitable. That’s why we have them. The Primer explains aspects of paradigm shift such as the need to reduce eco-footprints, prioritize time and money and build social cohesion. The Primer describes examples of paradigm shift in real life that point the way towards a sustainable society such as suburban permaculture, eco-villages, empowering young people, pushing back on cars, investing local and many more. The Primer explains the strategic combining of useful products from the present with the ideals and vision for  paradigm shift to bring about a society that is healthy for people and planet.

Sound bites. These are quick highlights from the four parts of the Primer – 1] Critique of Capitalism 2] Aspects of Paradigm Shift 3] Real Lifes Examples of Paradigm Shift 4] Taking Paradigm Shift To The Wider World.  Feel free to use them and expand on them.

Taking the ideas of paradigm shift out to a wider audience is another core part of the Primer. The previous Primer article in Resilience, Part 1, describes advocating paradigm shift in our own lives. It also explains how virtually all public interest organizations, large and small, social, environmental, public health, economic, social justice, spiritual are all on the same team because they almost all exist to address some problem or damage caused by capitalism and the consumer culture. All for one and one for all.  Because of that potent common denominator, we have an enormous horizontal [non-hierarchic] movement in waiting.

The Primer explains how these public interest groups can all play a far more ambitious and powerful role to galvanize this movement in waiting and boost paradigm shift. Part 2 puts its focus on organized labor and faith communities. The Primer explains their unique but unmanifested assets for taking a leading role to advance the cause of  sustainability and uplift.

Finally in Part 2, we take a look at why capitalism, given the heavy damage it continues to inflict of people and planet, deserves its own special truth and reconciliation process and what that process might look like.

You can find more content about A Primer For Paradigm Shift at Resilience Magazine, YouTube, Permaculture Design Magazine, Northern Spirit Radio and suburbanpermaculture.org.  Search “Jan Spencer, paradigm shift.”

Labor

Labor has been a part of many progressive changes in society. Unions have a core purpose to make life better for workers and their communities.

Historically, organized labor  has campaigned for safer working conditions, the end to child labor, limiting hours and days in the work week, striking for worker rights and justice. Workers acting in their best interests predate the American Revolution. Labor history includes the period of apprenticeships and artisans while the Industrial Revolution created the conditions for labor to organize at greater scale and complexity. Railroads and mining were early sectors to organize. Not to suggest a pristine record over the past 200 years, labor’s ideals and struggles on behalf of working people have played a powerful role in this nation’s history.  After all, organized labor came into being for a reason.

And now, labor has a unique and historical new opportunity.

Labor could transform itself from a participant in an economic and political system fraught with malpractice, to become a pioneer of paradigm shift. Pushing back on capitalism and its patrons in politics on behalf of sustainability and social uplift, is an enormous opportunity for labor. The ideals of worker solidarity, civic responsibility a history of social vision and experience dealing with big business provides labor with a unique capacity, one might even suggest a responsibility, to take on this immense, timely and challenging new purpose and identity.

Labor and paradigm shift have a lot in common. In the drama of history, our roles change with changing conditions. The pressing need, by choice or by default, for humans to downsize and live within the boundaries of the natural world will change the script for individuals, neighbors, communities, business, government, public interest organizations and labor.  Labor has many social ideals and organizational capacities that can serve its members and communities in moving towards sustainability and uplift.

The change in focus for labor would not be easy. Instead of its traditional struggle with business for a larger part of the oversized economic pie, labor would be confronted by the same challenges as the rest of society, to downsize its eco-footprint, redefine what is the goal of life and to gain the wisdom to say there is more to life than lots of stuff. Moving past capitalism and towards sustainability and uplift will mean a cut in pay for everyone, labor included, simply because high pay plus cheap prices, made possible by externalized costs, facilitates damaging levels of overconsumption that we clearly see are damaging to people and planet.

The need to reduce eco-footprints will have a profound effect on our lifestyles. The cost of everything will go up. Many non-essential products and services will no longer be affordable, plus many people in this emerging society will simply lose interest in many of the past times and products of the consumer culture. Labor can help its members and communities adjust to a future based more on social well being than material overconsumption.

Labor can ask itself, does our movement primarily exist to gain a larger share of a not sustainable and corrupt economic pie or do we exist to help our members and communities move towards health and well being in a changing world?

Labor could move towards this new advocacy either top down or even better, bottom up. Both leadership and rank and file, will all need to make a leap in consciousness like the rest of society but labor’s ideals and vision give it an added incentive and capacity to embrace paradigm shift.  With broad social and political reach already in hand, labor can encourage and influence millions of its members and the wider world, as well, for downsizing their eco-footprints and upsize their civic engagement. Many businesses can benefit from paradigm shift too.  Best case scenario would be business and labor working together on behalf of sustainability and uplift for everyone.

Imagine, as labor explains to its members the why and how to downsize and build community culture, a similar message is going out from hundreds of other public interest organizations to millions of their own members. A widespread similar message for downsizing means there is a broad social movement with common goals and that translates into solidarity and common cause.  People can feel energized meeting others who are also engaged in paradigm shift.

Sustainability will certainly offer new opportunities for labor. A sustainable society will call for new products and services to repair urban areas and restore the natural world. At the same time, many products and services that  will not make the cut to sustainability, depend on both white and blue collar experience that can transition to fit the needs of sustainability.  With a high level of social cohesion, diverse organizations and entities can use their skills and experience to help each other adjust to the needs of reducing eco-footprints. Sustainability and uplift can be a great opportunity for worker-owned business, cooperatives and democratic work places that are accountable to workers, communities and the environment.

The Primer series describes many examples of social and  economic initiatives that point the way towards a preferred present and future. Youth are being empowered to benefit their communities, run down apartment complexes are turned into thriving eco-villages, small-scale local agencies like Our 42 Av in Portland are already facilitating local economic development that serves healthy interests. Labor ideals, experience and skills can fit in everywhere.

Labor has the reach, history, core values, skills and experience that few other organizations have, to help move our society in an honest and sustainable direction.

Faith Organizations

Faith organizations have an enormous “tool box.” First, almost all faith groups share a set of social ideals and goals that can easily translate to sustainability and social uplift.  Recall the wisdom of the world’s great spiritual traditions. This wisdom is ready made for paradigm shift and it comes from virtually all faith traditions regardless of place in geography, time in history, culture or language. This wisdom is simple but comprehensive – care for the natural world, modesty of lifestyle, uplift of the spirit, service to the community and accountability. A society and economic system could be based on the wisdom of the world’s great spiritual traditions.

Faith organizations should be helping to lead the charge to sustainability and uplift.

The wisdom of the world’s great spiritual traditions are a perfect fit with permaculture, sustainability and social uplift.  This wisdom is consistent over thousands of years, from all points of the planet in many different languages. Faith organizations have networks, infrastructure and many millions of members. Faith organizations should be working closely with each other and leading the charge for paradigm shift.

Most faith groups have built infrastructure, such as fellowship halls and meeting rooms, that can  host progressive educational community events [many already do]. A faith group can invite speakers to address important issues to an existing audience and invited public. Faith groups have an outreach capacity and are usually part of larger networks and associations. One activist member of the network might catalyze others to do likewise. If the faith group has outdoor physical space, they can host a community garden and orchard. Faith groups usually have standing in the community that lends a stature for having access to places of influence in the community that other groups might not.

Many faith groups already engage in positive community affairs. One particular church in Eugene has been the go to location for progressive events for many years. The facility, with large social hall and classrooms, is perfect for medium sized public events. The cost to use those facilities has always been modest and the church has been welcoming for many events and organizations. The writer of this article has helped organize and host gatherings related to paradigm shift at that location.

Many faith groups have declining and aging memberships. A motivated clergy or member of the congregation could perhaps catalyze a big shift in the agenda of the church, mosque or temple by taking a more activist initiative. Many seniors would love to volunteer for a positive cause. A re-energized agenda just might lead to new members and public engagement.

The more or less pyramid structure of faith groups gives its leaders the position to help elevate and motivate the membership to take on progressive initiatives. The current pope is well known for his comparatively progressive statements and positions in regard to the environment, climate change, lifestyle and economics. That more progressive content  has an effect on millions of church members and the wider world. A local minister, rabbi or imam could do the same at smaller scale.

Many faith organizations have study groups. These would be great places for individuals to take initiative to propose  paradigm shift ideas within the context of the Koran, Bible, Torah. Many faith organizations even have social concerns committees that already discuss issues related to sustainability. They can share those discussions with the rest of the congregation.

Perhaps one of the most important potentials for this wisdom is for diverse cultures and belief systems to recognize their fundamental kinship and common cause so they can work with each other at both the organizational and personal level on behalf of sustainability and a healthy present and future.

The take home message, almost any faith organization has existing assets and ideals  that can be used for more ambitious discussion, action and leadership on behalf of sustainability and social uplift. Sharing a common cause for a healthy and uplifted society could bring faith groups together in common cause like never before.

Truth and Reconciliation

This T and R would be enormously controversial and that’s good. The process would be non-partisan, hard-hitting but measured and even-keeled.

Historically, the purpose of a truth and reconciliation process [TRP] is to acknowledge the long term systematic wrongdoing a powerful entity has imposed on a  much less powerful entity and reach some kind of explanation and accountability for that wrongdoing.

A truth and reconciliation commission or truth and justice commission, is an official body and its course of action

1] Investigates a pattern of events that took place over a period of time     

2] Engages directly and broadly with the affected population, gathering information on their experiences

3] Is a temporary body, with the aim of concluding with a final report

4] Is officially authorized or empowered by the will of the people

TRPs have taken place all over the world. Perhaps the best known was in South Africa established after the end of Apartheid, to address the many years of official repression and discrimination committed by the white minority  government on the black majority. Other countries have called on truth and reconciliation to account for historical  wrongdoing. Canada, Australia, Norway and Sweden have all made use of the TRP in regard to past government policy that purposefully discriminated and oppressed the lifestyles and culture of indigenous people. A TRP in Chile addressed the disappearances and human rights abuses committed by the regime of military dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Truth and reconciliation is a public process tasked with calling to account long term wrongdoing by a powerful entity, usually a government, against a particular grouping of people, often indigenous, or political opponents. The well documented environmental and social damage caused by capitalism over generations deserves a well mannered but thorough public examination of capitalism and its consumer culture. This T and R would be an enormous boost towards sustainability, civic uplift and paradigm shift.

America’s candidate has delivered a higher level of material abundance to a greater share of its population than any other country in history. Cars, suburbia, mini storage units and entertainment exist in super-sized amounts. At the same time, to many observers, it has severely and tragically degraded social, political, economic and ecological well being to such an extent it deserves a truth and reconciliation process.

America’s truth and reconciliation candidate is capitalism. Capitalism’s task is to create as much want and desire for its vast array of products as possible. Starting at a young age with clever and incessant commercial messaging, it shapes the values and lifestyles of hundreds of millions of people so they conform to their assigned roles as consumers. Important terms that describe the workings of capitalism are social engineering, credit, external cost and consumer culture.

The outcome of this social engineering and consumer culture is a society based on staggering overconsumption of resources and energy, a remarkable concentration of economic and political power, widespread damage to the natural world, climate change and lost human potential.

A truth and reconciliation commission for capitalism would produce its own questions about capitalism and consider questions submitted by the public. Important investigation could include how and why this consumer culture came into being, identify the damage it has caused to people and planet and determine who and what is responsible. A concurrent and related task of the TRP would be to generate sets of recommendations for individuals, communities and nation to move towards sustainability and social uplift.

A TRP for capitalism could be organized by responsible citizen initiative.

An important difference between capitalism’s TRP and those mentioned above, is that capitalism is not a government, its an economic system. Capitalism is not a singular entity yet its principles and methods result in a consistent set of behaviors by the world of business, particularly in the US. Capitalism has monolithic character and its singular work is to encourage as much overconsumption of products and resources as possible.

Extremely important to add, capitalism receives the full blessing and encouragement of government, both administrative and elected, from national to local. Government is an essential partner to capitalism and fully shares responsibility for the degraded condition of this society and the environment.

Another primary difference with capitalism’s behavior compared to the governments mentioned above is those governments  targeted  specific people and groups, such as indigenous populations and political opponents. Capitalism’s target is the entire population. Young, old, well- off, not well-off, in shape, out of shape, male, female, white, black, red, everyone.

Still, another difference with capitalism’s truth and reconciliation is that its process would not be limited to wrongdoing to people, it would also take great interest in capitalism’s damage to the natural world. A TRP would examine the cause and effect of social engineering, overconsumption, external costs and their damage to the natural world.

Another important task for capitalism’s TRP is to assess the harm it has caused to positive human potential. For example, what could have been accomplished if literally billions of hours of person time lost to passive and even violent entertainment – sports, concerts, TV, social media – were applied instead to personal uplift, community service and planet repair. Extreme social and economic disequity, well-known to this society, means reduced opportunity for millions of people to manifest their positive potential. Individuals miss out and so does society on the positive potentials of millions of people.

Capitalism is also catastrophically inefficient. Consider millions of jobs exist to repair the damage caused by millions of other jobs. For example, public health professionals deal with the widespread and largely avoidable damage caused by junk food, tobacco, cars and depression.

The critique part of the primer goes into more detail about capitalism’s remarkable inefficiency.

What might a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for capitalism actually look like?

This image show what Truth and Reconciliation can look like.  It is a public process.  T and R for capitalism and the consumer culture would combine aspects of trial, think tank, graduate level seminar and road show.  Experts would be called to testify along with all manner of groups and individuals who have suffered at the hands of capitalism.  The T and R would also be accounting for damage to the environment and human potential by way of capitalism and the consumer culture.

A T and R process for capitalism might combine the elements of a graduate school seminar, court of law, think tank and traveling road show.

The cost for a T and R process could be tens of millions of dollars. Who would organize it and raise that kind of money? There are many well-endowed foundations and individuals with an interest in these issues that could provide financial suppport. There are civic-minded organizations that could take the lead and/or participate including faith groups, labor, business, academic, institutions of all kinds. The organizational skills and funding exist to bring about a truth and reconciliation process for capitalism.

A commission, thoughtfully brought together, would map out a plan for the T and R process with wide-ranging input on a wide range of issues. The process could take many months, would certainly have twists and turns but there would be an awareness of the importance of the process and the need to be deliberate but timely and accountable.

The commission could visit places that help tell the story of this nation’s contrasting conditions at this point in history. Perhaps a clear-cut, industrial brownfield, wealthy neighborhood, crisis center, factories, country club, migrant workers, urban blight, a penthouse, confined livestock feeding operation, schools, worker-owned business, suburban permaculture, eco-village, homeless camp, Times Square, a reservation, a neighborhood bisected by an urban freeway and more.  Experts and every day people from those visits would be invited to testify. What places would you have the commission to visit?

The commissioners, people interviewed and submissions invited from the public could respond to a wide range of questions and statements relating to life as we know it. Content could range from strictly science and fact to personal anecdotes, philosophy and theory. The commission would produce a document of all writings and correspondence and make it available to the public. What questions and comments would you add for TRP?

Here are several basic questions for the TR process to consider.

1] What is the mission statement or purpose for capitalism and the consumer culture? 

2] Explain the term external cost and why it is important.

3] Can capitalism and the consumer culture exist without externalizing the cost of production, consumption and disposal?

4] Does capitalism  bring out the best in positive human potential?

5] What might a society look like if the price we paid for products and services covered the cost of the damage caused using that product or service?

6] Millions of jobs exist to repair the damage caused by millions of other jobs.

7] Is this statement accurate?  Almost every social, economic, political and environmental problem we have can be traced to capitalism and its consumer culture.

8] Does advertising as we know it qualify as propaganda and social engineering?

9] What are the implications that this economic system promotes and sells products known to kill people and damage the environment?

10] Is capitalism and democracy compatible?

11] Should profits be more important than affordable housing and healthy food?

The T and R Process can address many other questions and issues and also be creative in how the process evolves to fit the needs of bringing about truth and reconciliation for capitalism.

Labor and faith groups have an enormous capacity to assist the cause of sustainability and social uplift. If you are engaged with either or both groups, please bring this article to the attention of your colleagues.

You can find more content from A Primer For Paradigm Shift – search “Jan Spencer, paradigm shift.”  You can find video presentations on youtube with many photos and graphics that help make the points made very understandable. You can check the archives here at Resilience for previous articles. You can contact Jan by way of his website, suburbanpermaculture.org

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, www.suburbanpermaculture.org