> Essays > Change > Octopus | Tomorrow | Arts | Governance | America's Futures | Borders
>> Catalog of Tomorrow Rough Drafts: Deep Sea | SETI | Deep Space

Intimate Governance:
Face to Face with Future Generations

Dr. Wendy L. Schultz
University of Houston-Clear Lake
Fall 1996


The only way I can think to find [the communities of the future], the only archaeology that might be practical, is as follows: You take your child or grandchild in your arms, or borrow a young baby, not a year old yet, and go down into the wild oats in the field below the barn. Stand under the oak on the last slope of the hill, facing the creek. Stand quietly. Perhaps the baby will see something, or hear a voice, or speak to somebody there, somebody from home.
-- U.K. LeGuin

We come from many cultures. Not all our biomes have oaks and oats; not all our cultivations require farms and barns. We grew from widespread roots, branched, and will continue branching. But whether we hold the baby beneath a palm facing the lagoon, or beneath bamboo facing the lake, we can all embrace living bridges to future generations. How do we carry that embrace with us into systems for negotiating our relationships with each other and with the earth? Such tender concepts translate badly into the corridors of power, where tough-minded types are coming to grips with the hard questions, damning the torpedoes, making it or breaking it.

Hindsight, of course, suggests that for the past hundred years they have primarily been breaking it.

What would a system of governance look like if designed to sustain future generations in harmony with the web of life on the planet? What system would give them the greatest flexibility forward into the future? What would allow them the greatest creativity in expanding human potential? What does governance look like that enhances creativity and cherishes life?

Answering such questions is problematic. In orchestrating our relationships within communities and nation-states we have devised political technics arising from differing cultural, religious, and philosophical traditions; it is perhaps over-optimistic to think we can discuss "a" system of governance for future generations worldwide. Over-optimistic as well to presume we can tease the single thread of governance away from the tangle of economic structures, educational systems, and religious institutions. Yet in broadening our discussion we may lose our focus and succumb to the superficial.

This essay is only an initial exploration, and may display all those flaws. It sketches potential attributes of future systems of governance focussed on the long-term well-being of life on Earth. To do so, it draws on glimpses of alternative futures relayed by visionary writers. Novellists were chosen rather than political commentators because merely rehashing the pros and cons of extent systems limits the discussion. To paraphrase Churchill, "Democracy is the worst form of government in the world -- except for all the others," so why not start fresh with the imaginary? In conclusion, the essay highlights constraints and opportunities affecting efforts to future-focus current governance, and suggests some trailheads to transition.

When? Who? What?
Before exploring the future of governance and the well-being of future generations, let me bound the explorations with initial answers to the following questions: 1) when is the future? 2) what do I mean by "future generations"? and 3) what might constitute their "welfare," and what obligations do present generations owe to that?

When is the future? With respect to political leaders, people often answer that question with another: "Well, when is the next election?" And yet nations, states and provinces, even local communities often initiate large-scale public projects which will take the greater part of a decade to build [the Honolulu airport by-pass springs uncontrollably to mind], and several decades to pay off [the Channel Tunnel ditto]. Furthermore, our systems of governance attempt to coordinate community action with regard to other large, complex systems -- whole societies, the global economy, the planetary biosphere -- characterized by massive inertia. These systems can be difficult to change, and once change begins, it can be difficult to stop on a temporal dime -- like the next election. Clearly, between the institutional culture of governance and the realities it must address gapes a temporal chasm.

Futures facilitators often ask workshop participants to build scenarios or visions for the future thirty years out. This target carries change ahead one generation; it requires people to link their own present with the adult present of their children, and the childhood of their grandchildren. Environmentalists in the U.S. are often heard borrowing a page from Native Americans, and thinking ahead "seven generations." Considering impacts "unto the seventh generation" is a Biblical concept as well. But perhaps that stretch is also insufficient. Political leaders are even now mulling over reports from committees assembled to suggest labels for nuclear waste sites such that the sophonts who inhabit or visit our planet in millenia to come will understand which hot spots to avoid.

With that in mind, I wish to second Danny Hillis of Thinking Machines when he suggests that we symbolize our notion of what the future really means with a "millenium clock:" "I want to build a clock that ticks once a year. The century hand advances once every 100 years, and the cuckoo comes out on the millenium. I want the cuckoo to come out every millenium for the next 10,000 years." This seems to bridge the gap nicely between Braudel's long duree and the comparatively short span of most human life projects. With two qualifiers: the millenium clock really needs to be composed of living systems rather than just mechanical [or electrical!] components, and it needs to be translated or adapted to a variety of cultures, e.g., the "kalpa [time namer/marker]." I would certainly be pleased if his design somehow included non-human organisms -- like that millenially old lichen living up in Oregon, or several agave plants, or redwoods -- but it would be even better if we could imagine it as a technology of social links, contained within ourselves, and existing materially only as art, as symbolic representation. We could create time capsules of activities, of celebrations, to be passed on reverently from one generation to the next, and benchmark those goals against the timeframe of the cosmos: the next ice age, the cooling of the sun, the heat death of the universe. Imagine your own list, suitable to your own beliefs and mythologies.

With the when of the future benchmarked, we can then consider who, or what, are the future generations we wish to respect. In discussing this in Honolulu in January 1996, we first acknowledged that what we currently call "democracy" represents only adults living NOW, in the best of systems. It fails adequately to either represent or address the concerns of minorities, socially or economically marginalized people, unborn generations, other species and their unborn generations, or current and future mana [spiritual energy fields].

In this essay, then, "future generations" will refer to the potential descendants of all humans, of all flora and fauna, of all geological formations, as well as the spiritual energy [either embodied or free floating] developing on the planet. [We are going for The Big Picture here, folks. Deal with it.] This definition presents us with the immediate challenge of conflicting group interests, both across these meta-categories and within them: as potential "interest groups," none of these categories are homogeneous in their potential future needs, nor in the obligations we will consequently have to them in our role as present stewards of what will be their founding past.

The Honolulu discussions also wrestled with the difficulties of defining "welfare" for groups whose possible goals, value systems, and Weltanschauungen we cannot presently assess or accurately forecast [this rather goes without saying in the case of geological formations]. The best formulation we could offer for "the welfare of future generations" had two components. Borrowing from the Hippocratic oath, the first constrains: above all, do no harm. The second exhorts: all our efforts at whatever scale of governance or other human endeavour should create more possibilities for future generations.

We would thus be obliged to assess our systems and technologies currently in place, and those we develop as time expands, via measurable benchmarks linked to our goal of "creating more possibilities" for each of the generations listed above. Just as countries are presently evaluated on quality of life, pollution, and human rights, we must think in terms of a "future generations audit" measuring to what extent current generations are maximizing choice for future generations. It would, of course, also applaud communities or bioregions or continents which begin well: "first, stop extinguishing possibilities." Clearly, this will provide us with an interesting challenge in terms of optimizing competing norms. Sort of an ethical Apollo project.

Envisioning Intimate Governance
To envision systems of governance that could maximize possibilities for future generations, let us first consider the context. The Earth and all her systems are unbalanced. At least, she is wobbling badly wherever influenced by the global capitalist world-system and the Western industrial worldview from which it sprang. The natural environment is showing stress in changing climate, eroded soil, aquifer depletion, and continual extinctions. Global economic systems are showing stress in inflation, stagflation, and recessions. Geopolitical stresses are erupting as bitter civil wars, terrorism, and government dissolutions. Social stresses are emerging as crime, homelessness, loss of community cohesion, and the dissolution of families. Arguably, these systems were once in equilibrium [although perhaps not always simultaneously.]

However, in the past fifty years people have greatly extended their reach -- out to the birth of the universe, and down to the possibilities that hold the particles that make atoms. With this extension of reach, people have accelerated the rate at which they can distribute change, and increased the magnitude of systems whose change they can encompass. Earth's various systems had achieved their own equilibria at one level of input; our extended reach has resulted in the dramatic expansion of that input -- whether physical resources or energy [both terms used loosely] -- to those systems, resulting in disequilibrium. Here at the turn of a Western millenium we are riding a phase shift, a system bifurcation.

To focus on the political, social, and psychological, we have lost our balance along several dimensions:

  • with regard to the balance between individual rights and needs, and the rights and needs of communty, we are skewed far to the side of the individual [as neo-Confucian leaders in Asia point out];
  • with regard to the balance between the logical-rational and the intuitive-ecstatic, we are skewed far to the side of the logical-rational [as Roszak and Mumford, among others, point out];
  • with regard to the balance between the instrumental-physical and the potential-spiritual, we are skewed far to the side of the instrumental;
  • with regard to the balance between leadership-responsibility and followership-passivity, we are skewed far to the side of followership and passivity;
  • with regard to the balance between cherishing traditions and encouraging innovations, we are skewed so far towards the latter that it constitutes an addiction [most true of the U.S.A.; less true of Europe; Japan, Korea, and China may actually represent balance here; much of the world still struggles with the trade-offs involved].

The lack of dynamic balance along each of these axes in itself closes down options for the future, and so any system of governance which aims to maximize choice for future generations must find new equilibria, and be flexible enough to adapt to new balances once they have been achieved. If we have reached a bifurcation point, however, we may have an unusual opportunity to create new social systems in the fluid conditions accompanying the transition.

The following sections describe possibilities for flexible governance. The first, "organic leadership," may be considered the least probable, as it would require massive change along several social, political, and economic dimensions. I offer it first because it might represent the longest-range goal -- and because the subsequent possibilities could serve as building blocks to create this system. The second, "servant leadership," is an idea at least two decades old that business leaders are adopting with increasing frequency to "govern" their communities. The third possibility, "accountable leadership," has some traditional precursors, some modern theoretical adherents, and would, in this age of political disillusionment, garner a great deal of public support. The final two sections briefly address potential changes required in economics and education to buttress these changes in governance.

Organic Leadership
In many countries around the world, systems of governance specify political leaders chosen for fixed terms representing geographically defined populations. Some of those systems limit the length of terms of office; some of them limit the number of terms of office a leader may serve. Some leaders abide by those restrictions; others, while leaving the system of governance on the books, so to speak, ignore or "temporarily suspend" the restrictions. Given the intensity of desire and assertiveness required to attain high government office, it probably makes very little difference whether candidates are assembling arms and soldiers for a military takeover or assembling campaign funds and votes for a "legitimate" attainment of office: in both cases the result are aggressive, ambitious officeholders with major ego investment in consolidating their positions.

Some few of these officeholders may actually consider the future of fellow citizens, the future of "the other," or the future of the planet. They are rare. Most focus on their own immediate future, or the future of their government. Their concerns are hobbled externally by the interest groups who supported their entry to office, and internally by their own ambitions. How, then might we expand the dialogue that achieves governance and represent many different interests, without engendering interest groups?

Mihailo Markovic once suggested that rather than specifying political leadership for fixed terms representing geographically defined populations, that leaders be seconded from their regular work specifically to solve a problem, and that upon its solution, they return to their usual work within the community. That is, that a systemic interrelationship among individuals, expertise, and community ought to exist such that the emergence of a problem "called" the appropriate problem solvers to office. Let us call this "organic leadership." What would it look like?

The two selections, inset, from Voyage to Yesteryear depict the mutual confusion when representatives of a traditional Earth government meet the "organic" government style of the colony planet Chiron. The colonists live in something of a subsistence-abundance anarchy. The first generation was raised from embryos by "machines of loving grace" whose idea of education included critical thinking via Socratic questioning. With few material constraints on their political-economic system, governance becomes simply a matter of the community getting things done as effectively as possible, which suggests ensuring that the most appropriately skilled and trained person addresses each problem or goal as it arises.

What is useful about this system? First, the immediacy of expertise with regard to the problem at hand. Two decades ago, Peter Berger made the point with regard to development planning that local residents are the experts as far as local conditions affecting local problems. They are the people who define what "problems" are locally. Where a problem might need additional, focussed expertise, organic leadership systems assume people will call in outside assistance as they need it. In the case of Chiron, the planetary database quickly lets them locate the expertise required, from which they assemble a "virtual task force," which solves the problem -- and then dissolves. A trick no government bureaucracy has ever learned.

Second, with people able to invoke "virtual governance" at whatever scale works, whenever and wherever necessary, this system addresses the problem of "disembodied representation." That is, in any governance system larger than a single community, people will feel that someone, somewhere else, is making the decisions, and often making decisions unsuited to local conditions. More generally, disembodied representation also sums up the externalizing of civic responsibility: we don't have to take the initiative, because those people in government -- wherever they are, exactly -- will take care of it. Despite people's irritation with decisions made in a distant center affecting their local periphery, this disengagement from civic responsibility, this political malaise, is becoming more prevalent in post-industrial society. Gibbon sums it rather well in describing Athens: "In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life...When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them; when the freedom they wished for most was the freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free."

Organic leadership embodies governance within every individual in the polity. It discards all notions of Great Man/charismatic leadership and simply assumes that everyone has the capacity for leadership in some arena. It dispenses with a political center for decision-making, and creates instead nomadic decision-making: simultaneous, free-floating, multiple "centers." On Chiron, leaders emerge as they are needed; in Markovic's model, leaders are called to the situation by the people who identify the problem; Dator has updated the lottery system of the Greeks with "quantum politics," a model that includes randomly sampling the population to fulfill whatever governance needs arise. But people raised to organic leadership would simply feel enough responsibility towards their community to initiate problem-solving with others where needed.

Why does this approach, as Hogan depicts it, appear to work? First, because leadership is a matter of team-building rather than power, ego, and control: everyone knows her self-worth, which is invested in skills and expertise rather than status -- everyone is equal in status, so no economy of power develops. Second, everyone assumes responsibility and everyone calculates potential consequences. In a social system characterized by mutual respect and a moving balance among its many parts, leadership flows along the web of relationships among those parts, impelled by an intuitive understanding of who would serve the community most appropriately in the given circumstance and compelled only by individual responsibility. It is micro-governance, intimate in its relationship to context, community, and the problem at hand.

Organic leadership does have one obvious flaw with regard to the welfare of future generations, however. It appears to focus entirely on solving the problems of the moment, with no concrete mechanism for explicitly incorporating the future into decision-making. The mechanism is, in fact, embedded in the values of responsibility and of consequence: Chironians have problematized their present actions with regard to impacts on the colony's range of future options.

While Le Guin has chosen a similar model for Anarres in The Dispossessed, she initiated her model run, so to speak, with participants already psychologically formed in a more hierarchical, less communitarian political economy. Thus her scenario illustrates the intransigence of the ego's need to control, and the efforts this society must make to remain truly status-free and egalitarian in its approach to organic leadership. Diane Duane's Vulcan scenario [inset right] illustrates the cultural and linguistic outcomes of such a model working successfully for millenia. In doing so, it suggests two benchmarks for humanity: one, attaining a lifespan of two hundred years[!], and two, that ninety-eight percent of us should have held some sort of public office by that age. Although a more feasible near-term benchmark might simply be that ninety-eight percent of us are paying attention, and participating. [Then again, research on aging seems to be producing more practical results lately than research on political participation.]

Servant Leadership
More than twenty years ago, Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term, "servant leadership." Over the past decade, a growing number of management and leadership texts have incorporated it. Management texts first, because Greenleaf's studies of leadership occurred on the job in management at AT&T, rather than academically in observation of political systems. He wanted to identify the characteristics of the best leaders he knew, in order to reduce the levels of incompetence he observed. Arrogance and abuse of power were among his main concerns, as they hamper building networks among people. A chance reading of Hesse's Journey to the East finally provided him with the metaphor that organized his observations, in a character whose role throughout much of the story is a servant, but who in fact is discovered to be a great spiritual leader. "Greenleaf concluded that the central meaning of this story is that great leaders must first serve others, and that this simple fact is central to his or her greatness. True leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a desire to help others."

Servant leadership "...attempts to simultaneously enhance the personal growth of workers and improve the quality and caring of our many institutions through a combination of teamwork and community, personal involvement in decision-making, and ethical and caring behavior." This leadership model, if any, is the precursor to the organic leadership described above. Servant leadership focusses on the long-term welfare of the community through emphasis on the continual personal growth of the individuals within it, creating new possibilities for the community by creating new options for its members. This is governance for the welfare of future generations expressed one-on-one: this is the seed of intimate governance.

Greenleaf suggests that ten characteristics distinguish a servant-leader. One, they listen well and sympathetically: they pay attention to what others say and are trying to mean. Two, they are empathetic: they try to perceive and feel other people's perspectives, to experience as the Other. Three, they are adept at social healing, making an effort to mediate and resolve conflicts among people. Four, they are both self-aware and externally aware: not in a serene sense, but open to insights which might disturb and unbalance, but which might also awaken. Five, they organize via persuasion rather than brute authority. Six, they are skilled at conceptualization: they "nurture their abilities to 'dream great dreams.'" Seven, servant leaders use foresight: they look ahead in an attempt to gauge potentials, possibilities, and consequences. Eight, servant leaders are stewards, often holding something cherished in trust for others. Nine, they are committed to the personal growth of those with whom they work and interact. Ten, they work to build community.

Greenleaf has perhaps articulated the most specific vision of servant leadership, but the idea is not in itself new. Juana Bordas reminds us, "Servant-leadership has very old roots in many of the indigenous cultures. Cultures that were holistic, cooperative, communal, intuitive, and spiritual. These cultures centered on being guardians of the future and respecting the ancestors who walked before." Thus they were stewards of the bridges across generations, a function which Sasaki suggests the ideology of progress destroyed. "[S]ocial solidarity across generations in time came to be replaced by political solidarity on the basis of ideological interests across groups in the present." Those interest groups demand immediate political response to the problems of the present, resulting in a victory of responsive politics over responsible politics.

P.R. Sarkar's model of governance presents us with a similar view of servant leadership. Inayatullah explains that Sarkar's model has two foci. One is "compassionate service to all, the transcendence of individual ego to the social good." The second is foresight. It is interesting that Sarkar so valued foresight within his model that he gave it equal pride of place to service. These two components together create constructive social, political, and economic action.

One view of servant leadership in a highly technological future is offered by Walter Jon Williams in his novel Aristoi [inset preceding page]. Where the colonists on Chiron created material abundance with advanced technologies but flattened their political hierarchies to the ground, citizens in the galaxy-spanning culture depicted in Aristoi create material abundance via nanotechnology, but manage it via a neo-mandarin, meritocratic approach to servant leadership. This meritocracy tests self-nominated candidates in every conceivable human skill -- scientific and artistic, instrumental and spiritual. As candidates obtain ever higher ranks, they have greater responsibilities to tutor and mentor new candidates -- to increase the human potential within the community, and the ability locally to address problems and create new possibilities for everyone. Given human nature [no matter how self-actualized], such a system has vulnerabilities, and the plot explores two obvious ones: corruption in testing, and cultural stagnation from surfeit. Within the compass of his plot, the author offers solutions to both, indicating, perhaps, a galaxy-spanning optimism. The scale of self-realization he portrays as possible for single individuals is certainly breath-taking.

However, institutionalize and codify servant-leadership with a system of exams and it could reify. Greenleaf himself supports evolutionary change: recognition of servant-leadership as a useful concept building to informal and formal training and practice in its skills and its subsequent widespread application. From an evolutionary perspective, it is a necessary but perhaps not sufficient precursor to organic leadership. It does not dismantle centralized, hierarchical government, it simply attempts to improve leadership whatever the size or structure of the community making decisions.

Accountable Leadership
The two preceding sections have explored governance models which could maximize possibilities for future generations. This section will address the constraint: above all, do no harm. A good start would be to implement disincentives for doing harm. To be effective, these disincentives would need to be levied on specific individuals. It is a wonder and, yes, a shame that the politicians at the center of scandals in the U.S., in Japan, in the U.K. and France and Italy and Germany and... well, practically everywhere, evade serious penalties. Many such scandals epitomize self-centered short-termism: what's in it for me, and how can I get my hands on it before I leave office?

Yet while such blatantly self-serving behavior may shock us [although publics around the world seem less shocked, more resigned, and more and more irritated in the face of political corruption], it in fact probably does less harm to the welfare of future generations than does simple incompetence. But neither elected public officials nor career civil servants are regularly evaluated as to their progress in meeting civic goals. Of course, we could also ask how many governments set themselves quality of life or environmental goals expressed as measurable benchmarks, e.g., by the year 2000, 0% illiteracy; water usage cut by 25% with conservation measures; fossil fuel use ditto; etc. The Republicans' recent "Contract with America," set measurable objectives and suggested ouster of officeholders if those objectives were not met. But the objectives specified only Congressional actions, not achieved social results. You can argue that Congress only designs; the executive implements. But career bureaucrats are rarely demoted for any reason, much less because they fail to solve publically identified problems. Nor do citizens escape culpability, as constituents do not often present their representatives and civil servants with measurable community objectives which include explicit identification and acknowledgement of trade-offs. Perhaps these disseminated faults indicate the degree to which we all shunt responsibility elsewhere.

What are the possible mechanisms for evaluating government work? The example from The Copper Crown suggests first defining the basic needs the community must meet for all members, then levying fines when responsible agents within the community's system of governance fail to assure those needs are met for all. This allows leaders some leeway to innovate -- and potentially fail -- with non-critical social programs, while ensuring attention to critical social needs. Fines are not levied for issues subject to sudden interests or for crises, only for laxity in maintaining community foundations. For this to work, then, the community must have agreed upon a limited number of clearly defined goals.

P.R. Sarkar also believes politicians should put their money where their mouths are. He "recommends that politicians should be legally liable for their election promises. Citizens should be allowed to sue if various election promises are not kept." He also suggests creating an "audit branch" of government, independent of, and as powerful as, the other three branches.

In the United States -- and in other countries -- mistrust of government and government officials grows with each new headline announcing more malfeasance. So much so, that one group of public servants engaged in scenario-building in Hawaii selected that growing mistrust as a driving trend. In the resulting scenario, government officials must justify their existence once a year in order to keep their jobs. "Used to be easy, working in the state government. 'The iron rice bowl,' they called it. No more. It started with a few minor trends in the 80's and 80's: local and national governments doing less and less in-house, more often contracting consultants and private firms to complete reports, design programs -- eventually even implement them. ... The watershed came in the late '90s, with the state procurement scandals. Public outrage splintered party loyalties, and upset the patronage apple cart. Demand for government accountability exploded in the '04 gubernatorial race, when a statewide referendum required all state and county employees to re-bid for their jobs every year, based on the past year's performance and next year's goals. ... [It] put the 'servant' back in public service..." Perhaps it is time to stop tinkering and try a radical approach to accountability in governance.

Economics: Distributing Imperishable Wealth
In illustrating "organic leadership," the example of Chironian society rests on two foundation stones: 1) absolute equality of access to material goods; and 2) mobility of power linked to recognition of authority. The latter concern permeates this essay; the former I will address now. Poverty on Earth shames us because we know that our production systems are currently capable of feeding, clothing, and sheltering everyone on Earth. But our cultures, ideologies, and psychologies hobble any distribution system. The only system boundaries market economics seems to respect are those of market saturation. The economic weltanschauung of the industrial era, and the world capitalist system it supports, careens between two opposing poles: the desire for the finite, indeed, the limited and the rare, which define material wealth -- the gold standard and its concomitant psychology of hoarding; and the need for infinity -- for infinitely expanding markets, infinite pools of consumers, infinite ability to substitute and externalize where resource systems reach limits, and an infinite space for landfills. With regard to the production of material goods, starting anywhere but with an explicit acknowledgement of the finite, closed system within which production occurs threatens the viability of all future generations -- people, flora, fauna, or geological strata.

A governance system which not only acknowledged, but also contributed to, the welfare of future generations, will only work in the context of an economic system which does the same. Perhaps we need to think about moving beyond the material in what we value and wish most to exchange and collect. Yet the material needs exist and must be met. After acknowledging the finite nature of our environment, a more viable economic system might take the following question as its design parameter: what is materially necessary and sufficient for each individual to lead a good life? What are the basic physical needs whose satisfaction should be the right of anyone born on Earth? Creating a "post-material" economics means answering these questions at both the planetary and individual scales.

Guaranteeing basic needs requires not only a major cultural and theoretical shift within the structure of the world capitalist economy but also a major shift in psychology for the world's consumers. Kennealy's Kelts have made it a priority in their worlds' community to define basic needs for individuals, and assure that they are met; we have not, for our world's community -- our economy of hoarding implies that people who do not "earn" their daily bread are somehow stealing from the rest of us when they demand it as a right.

But as individuals, we must also learn to modify our demands on our community. The world-class consumers of this era [exemplified best by the American middle-class] regularly expect the Earth from their markets -- and have, unfortunately, been getting it for the last several decades: at a recent xenoanthropology conference, one space scientist suggested that perhaps our problem as a species has been denial of our true nature -- human beings aren't just predators and omnivores, we are planet eaters. And the post-industrial consumer is the apotheosis of the planet-eating species. Various New Age, environmentalist authors have suggested that an economic aesthetic of austerity is our best path to viability. That is summed up rather vividly by this passage from Islandia. Too often, people want, get what they want, and move to other wants before fully exploring what satisfactionmight mean; we exhaust ourselves chasing moving and ultimately arid material goals.

On the other hand, Islandia also skirts close to illustrating what we might call a totalitarianism of austerity -- those within this society who wish a life other than that of caring for their lands are doomed to frustration. While expecting the world community to provide you with two cars, a motorboat, bubble-packed snack foods, and electrically warmed toilet seats is presumption, expecting it to provide you with the tools to pursue high-energy physics is not, if that is where your best skills lie. This is the debate we must all have with our neighbors: not as nations, not as provinces, but as individuals, every individual on the planet in discussion with as many others as each can contact. These competing issues involve decisions in daily life, and thus cannot be left to theorists, academicians and policy analysts to sort out.

So that's the first step to a post-material age: defining basic needs and meeting them. Step two is a little more radical. Author Iain M. Banks has written a series of speculative fiction novels about a galaxy-spanning society in the far future referred to simply as "the Culture." It is also an abundance anarchy, loosely managed by immense and peripatetic artificial intelligences, usually embodied as starships. "Money is a sign of poverty," is an old saying within the Culture. Step two: abolish money.

Education: Creating Cultures of Consequences

from industrial immediacy to spirituality?


Suspending Living Bridges

Current Constraints

Transitions: Envisioning Possible Phase Shifts

Given this clean psychological and ideological break from the traditions of old Earth, Chironian society did not have to worry about enlightening those with "false consciousness:" their system grew organically through the consensual dialogue of all members overseen by mediator/facilitators with no stake in any particular outcome [the artificially intelligent robot caretakers]. Their society was economically homogeneous from the start as well as secular humanist in its spirituality

"...think of what our farms are to us. They are not retreats from the world. They are the greater part of our world. Nor are they nests built specially for one person -- one little unit of a man and woman and their children. They are the world of a family past, present, and to come, a growing place, many years old, the concern of all of us."
"I come here for hours," she said. "I must come here, for here I feel our farm as a whole. Do you understand?"
"I'm not sure," I answered.
"I don't think anyone could understand who has not lived on a place for hundreds of years as we have. I feel our farm as a whole, as it is, as it was, as it will be -- ours -- our land; and I feel ourselves and its past and future as one thing -- not me, not us, but one thing by itself..."
-- Austin Tappan Wright
, Islandia

.We are the Earth's, and we must learn to feel ourselves and its past and future as one thing -- for the welfare of future generations, and for the welfare of all the generations who have been, and who are.



> Essays > Change > Octopus | Tomorrow | Arts | Governance | America's Futures | Borders
>> Catalog of Tomorrow Rough Drafts: Deep Sea | SETI | Deep Space

15 February 2003. Email IF.
Copyright © 2003, Wendy L. Schultz
All rights reserved.
Since 1/15/2003, over [an error occurred while processing this directive]
people have explored our infinite futures.

(in addition to the 17,500+ visitors from 10/1/2001-12/15/2002).