A Critical Shift Away from an Extractive Downward Spiral
We can no longer maintain an opportunistic, ever-expanding extractive mindset toward planet Earth’s ecosystems and resources, toward human labor and creativity, toward the cooperative infrastructure of civil society, or in the “taking for granted” of life itself. Our extractive habits are unsustainable in economic terms, but more critically they are destroying everything around us at an accelerating pace. To fully appreciate both our extractivist habits and their consequences, please consult the following resources:
“Deep Adaptation: A Map for Avoiding Climate Tragedy” by Professor Jem Bendell (full paper available here; editorial article available here)
UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’ (Detailed report overview with many key statistics here; full “advanced unedited” IPBES report here)
“Capitalism is destroying the Earth. We need a new human right for future generations” — Guardian article by George Monbiot here.
“Extractivism and neoextractivism: two sides of the same curse” by Alberto Acosta (full essay available here)
The only solution is to shift as rapidly and all-inclusively as possible to regenerative solutions — and a regenerative state of mind. Collectively and individually, there is really no other choice. Why? Because hopes that global capitalism can be reigned in or civilized are naive and Pollyannish — as all such efforts are routinely undermined by enormously well-funded and fanatical neoliberal investment in the extractive status quo. Because trust that human innovation will address the most serious consequences of extractivism with new technologies is contradicted by the enormous complexities of natural ecosystems, the stunning scale and current momentum of the problems we must address, and the dismal track record of a majority previous technologies that created unanticipated negative externalities. Our only reasonable option is to implement regenerative systems and vigorously restrain and extinguish extractive systems.
And again, these changes are not restricted to how humanity views and utilizes natural resources — that is really just the tip of the iceberg. Equally important are how we view people — human creativity, labor, economic behavior, social behavior, spirituality, etc. — as well as how we view the institutions of civil society, and how we view both the wonder of Nature and the miracle of life itself. Does everything exist merely to be used up and exploited? Or does everything in this amazing reality have intrinsic value apart from any utilization by humanity? This is the fundamental question we must answer in order to guide effective transformations of our old, self-destructive habits into new, sustainable and thriving ones.
If These Concerns Are the Primary Drivers of Reform, How Can We Change?
What do “regenerative solutions” look like, then? Certainly there are many proposed frameworks for sustainability that have already proven themselves on various scales — many of which are described in proposals on my Level 7 website, or would easily dovetail with those proposals. Successful recycling programs and materials sourcing, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture have demonstrated genuine promise in their workability and scalability — even using capitalist metrics, they have increasingly been able to compete with traditional extractive models in terms of productivity and efficiency. As for human exploitation, worker-owned and managed cooperatives, Open Source production, P2P models, and commons-centric governance likewise have an established a meaningful track record of self-sustaining success — again even when using capitalist metrics to evaluate them, they often exceed the productivity and efficiency of traditional exploitative models.
Apart from the understandable resistance of established power and wealth to what will inevitably be a self-sacrificial change, what is the barrier, then, to transitioning away from extraction and exploitation? What is stopping us, and how can we overcome that barrier? Is there something more deeply rooted in our psyche that prevents us from moving forward. . .?
This is my intuition: that we need to fall in love again — with everything that our hectic, worried, materialistic, technological lifestyle has distanced us from. We need to re-invoke some of the mystery and wonder that once existed for us as we beheld the magnificence of Nature on a daily basis. We need to reconnect with each other in more personal ways — as neighbors, as community members, as citizens and fellow travelers of a rich cultural heritage. We need to cultivate more gratitude regarding the stunning gift our very existence. We must abandon a mechanistic, individualistic, reductionist and profit-centric view of ourselves and the world around us, and reacquaint ourselves with the felt experience of community and mystery. And we must not only grudgingly allow the possibility that life on Earth has intrinsic value, but actually celebrate it as we honor all species, all ecosystems, all habitats, all beings — including each other. In other words: we must return to more authentic, intimate and wonder-filled relationship with All That Is.
This is not a new concern, or a new remedy. Writers, activists, leaders, organizations and movements since capitalism first clawed its way to prominence have warned us of its dangers. However, this re-invocation of mystery has often been framed as an individual journey or choice — sometimes mystical, sometimes psychological, sometimes inviting methodological holism or integralism — but I would contend that this individualistic framing is itself destined to fail. A disproportionate emphasis on individual transformation and development is, in fact, just a new manifestation of the underlying error, confining the solution to the same atomistic, alienated, disconnected separateness that is causing the problem. The re-invocation of mystery must therefore be deeper, more encompassing, and more pervasive and participatory for any enduring, systemic transformation to take effect. It cannot be restricted to “me,” or “my tribe,” or “our community,” or even “our species” or “our planet,” for the egotism of individualism is too easily converted into the arrogance of anthropocentrism.
No, the smallest scope of this shift in relationship must, of necessity, be “All Life,” and then cascade through all other strata of being from there. To love all of life itself, to cherish it and commit ourselves to its thriving a a whole, is the beginning of cultivating kind, compassionate, caring relationships with everything else. And humanity must, as a whole, participate in this renewed relationship. We must all collectively revive a worshipful passion for the sacredness of life — certainly here on Earth, but really all of its forms wherever they may be found. And we must operationalize that passion within every system, every institution, every mutual agreement, every law, every collaboration and competition, every collective act. We must all live this truth together as if our lives depend on it — because, in light of the cataclysm we have created, our lives do in fact depend on it.
Yes, there will always be outliers, rebels, egoists and psychopaths, some of whom will continue to attain positions of power and influence. And there will be plutocratic pushback against all reforms challenge the supremacy of greed. But despite corporate capitalism’s endless efforts to reenforce, elevate and amplify such antisocial aberrations — through its heartless obsession with transactional relationships, commodification, externalized dependencies, self-indulgent hedonism, and the almighty dollar — that is not who we human beings are in our heart-of-hearts. Instead, we want to belong, we want to contribute, we want to care and be cared for, we want to love and be loved, and we long to have our intrinsic value and worth acknowledged. That is the basis of society itself — and family, friendship, and lasting romance — rather than the will-to-profit. So it follows that if we can, altogether, remember who we really are, then all the wonder and mystery of our relationship with life itself can be restored.
In many ways what we are aiming for here is recovering a long-abandoned faith. Not faith in the sense of a blindly adherent belief system — and not the faith of any particular religious tradition — but faith as an intentional quality of character that trusts in certain fundamental realities: realities like the interdependence of all living things; the true miracle of existence; the joy of connectedness and belonging available to all; the power of lovingkindness; and the awe that we can be conscious of any of this. A faith that leads us to conclude with gratitude that, because the Universe has conspired in favor of our consciousness, our consciousness can now conspire in favor of the Universe. A faith that inspires us to celebrate rather than exploit, to regenerate rather than extract, to create rather than destroy. A felt experience of trust in the triumph of love over fear. A faith in life itself.
If such an intuition is correct, it demands that any reformation or revolution begin with this shift in focus, however that can be accomplished. As a small first step in this direction, consider the following short exercise with one or more friends and loved ones, and — if it feels helpful and right to you — practice and share it with others. And if it doesn’t work for you, perhaps you can come up with your own participatory practice that inspires a similar result.
In a quiet space, free of technological interruptions, have everyone join hands, and describe the following steps:
1) With heads bowed and eyes closed, take three deep, slow and even breaths to calm and center the body and mind.
2) Then, take three more slow and even breaths, and silently say to yourselves “May our faith reawaken” as you exhale each time. Focus on the meaning of those words.
3) After three repetitions, open your eyes and look at each other.
4) Breathe in slowly together, and then, as you all exhale, speak aloud in unison: “May our faith reawaken.”
5) Listen to each other, see each other, and again feel the meaning of those words in that moment.
6) Repeat the slow intake of breath and speaking the phrase aloud together two more times ― as an affirmation and encouragement.
7) Afterwards, pause for a few moments to allow this experience to settle and sink in.
We can of course make this exercise more specific by adding to the phrase: “May our faith in each other reawaken,” or in humanity, or in the power of compassion, or in life itself, and so on. But if we were all to consecrate our day, our actions, our relationships, our intentions, and our purpose with this kind of mutual affirmation and opening up — with a clear understanding of what it invokes regarding a sacred relationship with all of life — could such a small spark make a difference? Could it ignite a unity of compassionate restoration, and energize a critical transformation? Could it reawaken a quality of relationship with ourselves and everything around us that will restore balance and harmony?
In my teaching and coaching, I am always amazed at the power that connectedness and shared intention can create in small groups. That observation is what inspires this exercise, and the entire framework of Community Coregroups that I discuss in much of my writing.