Where Do We Go From Here?

Just as communism fell in Russia, capitalism and Western-style democracy are not immune to the same fate. In fact, the US election, the global rise of nationalism and the worldwide persistence of poverty, social unrest and environmental degradation are all signals that capitalism may be about to hit a wall.

The difference is that the communists had capitalism to turn to. But what do we turn to next?

To answer that question, we have to understand the worldviews that underlie communism and capitalism and that render both unsustainable.

In simplified terms, communism values the collective more than the individual, whereas capitalism values the individual over the collective. As practiced, each in their own way, the two systems see the world and its institutions as machines to be managed and engineered. With these limited lenses, neither has been able to create the conditions for widespread personal and societal thrivability.

What’s needed instead is a worldview – an overarching narrative – that is elegantly able to integrate individual and collective needs. Only a narrative grounded in the self-organizing, self-integrating processes of life meets that requirement. After all, nature never settles for the false dichotomy of part versus whole.

The good news is: paradigm pioneers around the world are blazing an enticing trail, with innovative approaches like social entrepreneurship and impact investing. Grounded in the language and logic of living systems, these new options invite each of us to find our greatest personal reward by making our best contributions to the collective good. The early results are extremely promising.

The bad news is: the individualist, mechanistic worldview won’t hand over sole control without a fight. Donald Trump is the most extreme product of this worldview and its duly appointed spokesperson. Indeed, the entire US election process can be understood as the individualist worldview having a massive temper tantrum.

So, how do we put this unruly brat of a worldview (and a president-elect) to bed?

Certainly, we must resist and block the unreasonable demands and abuses of the tantrum.

Equally, though, we need to tell the emerging story, recognizing the values of individualism and also weaving them into a more complete view. We have to imagine together a society in which individuals can be honored even as they honor all life.

If we look beyond the dogma of communism and capitalism, beyond the dichotomy of individual versus collective, or of republican versus democrat, we can see that the expanded story is all around us, in everything that is alive and in the most vibrant parts of our communities. “You don’t start with the corporation and ask how to redesign it,” advised author Marjorie Kelly in a recent essay. “You start with life, with human life and the life of the planet, and ask, how do we generate the conditions for life’s flourishing?” The same is true of our societies and their governing structures.

“To change something,” said Buckminster Fuller, “build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” That is our most urgent task.


Also published on Medium.

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