If fifteen years ago, when the USSR was collapsing,
I had noticed a book on the shelves about ìchanging the world,î I imagine I would have passed it by. Such topics, I
would have assumed, were for philosophers, mystics, or ideological fanatics. Such a slogan had no real political relevance,
either as a desired goal or as a likely possibility. Our Western societies
certainly needed reforming, but few people thought in terms of whole new systems,
or questioning the wisdom of such basic things as progress and capitalism.
A lot has changed in the last fifteen years. In that time weíve
seen the rise of globalization, as the dominant economic force in the world,
and along with that have come the destabilization of our national economies and
a general decline in our quality of life. With holes in the ozone layer, global
warming, and disappearing rainforests, topsoil, water tables, and oil reserves,
there is a growing recognition that our modern societies are headed for some
kind of major collapse, sooner or later. Meanwhile, in the sphere of
geopolitics, weíve seen a dramatic rise in civil wars and armed interventions,
and a growing fear that conflict may develop among nuclear powers. By
comparison, the Cold War era is beginning to seem like ëthe good old days.í
Without exaggeration, I can say that our modern civilization is
facing a major crisis, indeed a crisis of survival. The full scope of the
crisis has become increasingly apparent to more and more people over these past
fifteen years. There were some, however, who were able to see the signs of this
crisis long ago. Fortunately for the rest of us, there have been scientists,
economists, journalists, and others, who have devoted their talents to
investigating the roots of our current crisis, exploring how humanity might be
able to avoid falling over the precipice – and publishing their results
as part of a new genre of transformational literature. (See: Bibliography
and online resources.)
One of the common themes that emerges in this genre is interconnectedness. Our economic and political systems, our environmental
and social problems, and our unstable international situation – these are all interconnected
with one another. They can only be understood from a whole systems perspective. We donít have a list of individual problems
to solve – rather we have a dysfunctional system that needs to be somehow reconfigured, i.e., transformed.
We – the people of the world – are like the owner of an
old automobile that has been repaired many times, and which can no longer be
repaired: we must begin thinking seriously about a new vehicle – a
transformed basis for society. And indeed, the new transformational genre has
moved quite a bit beyond critique of the ëold automobile.í Serious thought and
research have been devoted to understanding how our global food supply can be
produced sustainably and without harmful pesticides, how we can reduce our
energy usage, and how we can develop sustainable and non-polluting sources of
energy and modes of transport.
Similarly, new models of currencies and economic exchange have been
developed, which can enable a more functional kind of economics, based on
useful productivity, as measured by benefit to people – rather than being
based on the accumulation of wealth by a few. From considerations of both
sustainability and economics has emerged a systems perspective oriented around
decentralization, and moving decision-making toward the local: local control
makes for efficient economic operations and facilitates effective stewardship
of natural resources.
The technical problems involved in making our world more sensible
are not insurmountable. If the societal will existed, we could create functional and sustainable systems,
put an end to war and poverty, live peacefully and happily ever after –
and we could fund the conversion project with a small fraction of the resources now devoted to military budgets.
It would be an immense project, but none of it is rocket science. The major
obstacles to social transformation are not technical but political; they are bound
up in the question: What is our societal will?
In fact, our societal will is the will of our political and economic
elites. If they decide to invade Iraq, for example, then the media propaganda,
the resources of our society, and our men and women in uniform are devoted to
that objective – regardless of public sentiment regarding the adventure.
And when it comes to transformation of the systems of our societies, these established
elites are dead set against any such notion. They are irrevocably committed to
holding on to the reigns of power, and maintaining the current system –
regardless of the environmental and social consequences. The response of our
governments to the emerging transformational paradigm has been dramatically
symbolized by their brutal suppression of the various anti-globalization
Of all of our societal systems, the most resistant to transformation
are our political systems. So long as our political systems are controlled by
wealthy elites, none of our other systems can be transformed. Revitalization of
democracy turns out to be the critical factor in social transformation. And
yet, revitalization of democracy is the least developed part of the emerging
transformational paradigm. We can find complete treatments of sustainable economics,
healthy agriculture, and appropriate technologies, but when it comes to the
nature of genuine democracy – or how to achieve it – we find only partial solutions.
My purpose in writing this book is to weave together the various
emerging ideas into a comprehensive tapestry of social transformation –
with special emphasis on the problem of achieving democratic societies. The
book is self-contained and it begins from first principles. I refer to the
existing literature, and I have built on the work of others, but the synthesis
is my own.
The first four chapters present an analysis of our current systems,
their historical origins, and the various attempts of people throughout history
to reform those systems by means of social movements and revolutions. The next
two chapters describe a non-violent process by which I believe lasting social
transformation can be achieved on a global scale. The final three chapters
describe how that process can lead to a transformed world culture based on
local empowerment, human liberation, participatory democracy, sensible
economics, and cooperation for mutual benefit. At the end there is an annotated
bibliography and online resources section where I offer a selection of sources
that Iíve personally found to be useful in my quest to understand these complex
At one level, in terms of the substance of its analysis, this book
is intended for global audiences: it is about global transformation, not just
the transformation of a single society. At another level, in terms of the style
of its presentation, the book is aimed primarily at Western audiences, and in
particular the reader will detect a distinctly American perspective in the material.
Partly this is a result of my own background, having grown up in California.
More importantly however, the Western and American orientation is intentional.
It is Western governments, in particular the American government, which have
the preponderance of military and economic power in the world. Unless
transformation occurs in America and the rest of the West, it is unlikely to be
achieved anywhere – at least not in a way that can last.
There are certain terms that are used differently in America,
Britain, and continental Europe, which I should probably clarify in advance. In
America, the term liberal refers to a
person who in Europe would probably be known as a Social Democrat or perhaps a
Green, and who in Britain might be a Labour or Lib-Dem voter. The term neoliberalism, used commonly in Europe but less so in America,
refers to free-trade economics and the globalization agenda. The term neocon, short for neoconservative, refers to the extremist
ideological clique, which at the time of writing dominates Washington politics,
as personified by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.
As a final note of introduction, Iíd like to say something about my
own ideological prejudices, and what ëkind of personí this book is intended
for. For most of my life I would have put myself squarely in the liberal camp,
in the American sense. I hated racists and bigots, thought guns and capital
punishment should be outlawed, that abortion should be freely available, and
that religion was a particularly dangerous form of mental illness. When I first
started writing, about ten years ago, I was hoping to ëeducateí those on the
right, and convert them to my enlightened, rational, liberal thinking.
As it turns out, my prejudices have not really changed much, but my
attitude toward ëthose on the rightí has changed considerably. In my attempts
to debate conservative thinkers on the Internet and in person, I found that I
was learning as much from them as they were learning from me. Their views on
the evils of big government, their emphasis on self-reliance and local solidarity,
and their skepticism regarding the mainstream media impressed me as being very
sensible perspectives. I began to see that we liberals had blind spots and
prejudices every bit as objectionable as those we criticized in our right-wing
brothers and sisters. I began to see that ideological labels are divisive, and
that underneath the skin we are all real people with sincere contributions to
make to our societies.
I will not be able to hide my liberal biases in this material; they
come out in the language that I use and in my choice of examples. But I hope
this will not deter those of you who are of a conservative persuasion from
giving consideration to what I have to say. Ultimately, social transformation
depends on our ability, as human beings, members of an allegedly intelligent
species, to get beyond our superficial differences and realize that we are all
in this together. A better world for all of us is a better world for each of
us! I invite you to join me in the quest to find a path to such a world.