This article has been adapted and abridged by Pan Vera From David Korten’s book The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community
Imperial societies maintain their dominance structures by consolidating control over three areas of public life: economic, political, and cultural — thus limiting people’s families and communities to whatever options the institutions of empire find it in their interest to offer. Having little control over their lives and struggle to make ends meet. People withdraw from active engagement in civic life, causing the creative problem-solving capacity intrinsic to vital community life to atrophy from neglect.
The basic framework for the work of birthing Earth community is simple: make the life-affirming values of Earth community the values of the prevailing culture; renew the democratic experience to restore to people, families, and communities the power to give expression to those values; and do it all on a global scale. An immodest agenda, this requires, in the words of Francis Moore Lope, that we take democracy where it has never been before.
True democracy is a living practice centered on active community and engagement through which we both discover and give a direct expression for the vision of the world we want such engagement might involve participating in a community play or a church choir, operating a local business, testifying at a public hearing, teaching at a local school, serving on the local commission, running for public office, establishing a local eldercare facility, volunteering at the library, organizing the cleanup of a part, are promoting the first-class campaign in support of local independent businesses.
Democracy, however, is more about a way of community life than it is about elections a living democracy finds expressions and living economies and living politics, and living cultures.
Economic Democracy—Democracy is strongest when people own the homes in which they live and have a direct ownership stake in the assets on which their livelihood depends. When workers are owners, the conflict between workers and owners disappears. When income and ownership are at little equitably distributed, the market allocates efficiently in response to the needs of the many rather than the wants of the few. Local owners who have a long-term stake in the enterprises they own are patient investors to stay the course rather than seek quick profits from short-term market swings.
Local Preferences—Communities are most economically secure than most in control of their own economic priorities when most of their basic needs are met by local businesses that employ local labor and use local resources to meet the needs of local residents for employment, goods, and services. Such communities are most likely to manage their environmental resources responsibly and sustainably when they depend on the yield of those resources for their continued well-being. Business decisions are most likely to take into account the health of the community and its natural environment when those who make the decisions live in the community and share in any social and economic burdens those decisions create.
Human Scale—Human scale Enterprises and markets foster face-to-face economic relationships of mutual trust and accountability, which are an essential foundation of strong communities. Markets are more efficient and responsive when served by several small local firms rather than one or very few large firms with absent absentee owners.
Living Indicators—Communities that evaluate their economic performance against indicators of social and environmental health are likely to manage their resources in ways consistent with the long-term well-being of children, families, and communities.
Fair Share Taxation—It is just and proper that those who enjoyed the greatest economic gains from public service and facilities paid a greater share of the cost of providing and maintaining those public services.
Responsive Market—The economy functions most efficiently and democratically when businesses respond to the self-defined needs of people rather than spending large sums on advertising to generate demand for unneeded products. Advertising aimed at creating artificial desires distort the market, waste resources, serve no public purpose is and is properly discouraged by treating advertisers as an after-tax expense.
Responsibility for Harms Caused—Markets allocate fairly and efficiently only when the full cost of each good and service is internalized in its price. Because unregulated markets lead to extensive practice of shifting the cost of private decisions onto the public, public interventions or regulation and the assessment of compensatory fees are essential to ensure that market prices reflect the full cost — including social and environmental costs — of a good or service. Similarly, it is proper for those who make private decisions and reap the benefits thereby to bear liability for harm to others resulting from intention or neglect. Limiting the liability of owners and managers of corporations violates this principle and invites reckless and responsible behavior.
Patient Capital— public policy properly favors patient investment over speculative trading that distorts and destabilizes markets and creates perverse incentives for managers to focus on short-term results and engage in fraudulent accounting practices.
Generational Jubilee—in the spirit of the biblical Jubilee, it is proper to restore a condition of equity at the end of each lifetime by equitably distributing the assets of large estates upon the death of their owners.
Information and Technology Sharing—inventors and artists have a right to fair compensation for their original contributions. There is, however, overriding public interest in the free sharing of essential information and beneficial technology, and no individual or enterprise has a right to monopolize such information, and technology was unduly restricted its use by others.
Economic Self-Determination — it is the right and responsibility of the citizens of every nation to control their own economic resources and to determine their own economic and social priorities, terms of trade, and the rules for foreign investors consistent with their needs and values so long as they internalize the cost of their decisions and do not shift costs onto others.
Fair and Balanced Trade —trade relationships should be fair and balanced. Fairness means that the price of exports must reflect full production costs — including the cost of providing workers with living wages and benefits and practicing sound environmental stewardship. Balance means each nation’s exports and imports must be maintained in balance, so there is no buildup of long-term international debt.
The economic principles of Earth community have a bias in favor of life and inequitable distribution of wealth and ownership.
The work of the economy turning centers on developing local living economies that anybody these characteristics while resisting the encroachment of global corporations on the rights and well-being of people and communities. The work includes promoting community investment and policy reforms that strengthen local ownership and create a persistent bias in favor of enterprises human scale and owned by those whose livelihoods depend on them.
Most discussions of democracy focus on institutions of political democracy and electoral politics. Without economic and cultural democracy, however, political democracy is more illusions than reality because those who control the process of economic and cultural choice ultimately control political choice.
Right to Vote—all adult citizens must be guaranteed the right to vote in a convenient, adequately equipped, and secure polling place and to have their votes counted according to voter intentions.
Public Financing—public elections must be publicly financed under clear and open standards to reduce opportunities for corruption and to focus the attention of the elected officials and aspirations on issues and their accountability to the electorate.
Voting Integrity—voting machines must use open-source software subject to independent citizen audit, and they must produce a verified record of every vote to support manual recounts in the event of machine malfunction or suspected rigging.
Nonpartisan Election Administration—election administration should be the responsibility of nonpartisan officials required to avoid any appearance of partiality. This seems so obvious as not to require mention, yet in the United States, elections are of ministers by partisan state-level officials who are elected by party affiliation and sometimes even serve as campaign managers for contesting candidates, creating a blatant but curdled please hold the legal conflict of interest that undermines the credibility of the system.
Direct Election Based on One Person, One Vote—replace the electoral college system, which gives some votes several times the weight of others in presidential races which can produce a president who receives decidedly fewer votes than his opponent, with a system of direct selection based on the fundamental principles of one person, one vote.
Media Access—requires radio and television stations licensed to use the public airwaves to provide three air time for ballot-qualified candidates and the discussion of public issues by persons of diverse views. Allowing the corporations granted control of this limited and extremely valuable public resource to grant access only to those politicians who can pay whatever advertising fees the stations choose to charge is a major contributor to political corruption.
Open Debates—Place the administration of political debates in the hands of the groups of unscrupulous nonpartisan organizations and open them to participation by all credible candidates to give voice to a wider range of points of view.
Equal Representation—open the political process to more voices and create an opening for minority representation by instituting instant runoff voting and proportional representation.
Political Rights for People—Limit political rights and participation to natural persons and to organizations composed of natural person members informed for this specific and exclusive purpose of political action corporations organized for the purpose of making money for their owners are artificial legal entities granted a public charter to full fill a public purpose. It is their responsibility to obey the law, not to write it, and they are properly barred from any effort to influence elections or legislation.
One of the great turning host important challenges is to convert, through an incremental bottom-up process, primary institutions of imperial culture — family, education, media, and religion — into institutions of living culture supportive of authentic cultural expression and the development of the higher orders of consciousness. The goal is to make the cultural formation of the participatory and intentional process through which we each discover our own distinctive cultural identity and simultaneously expand our awareness of the creative value of the cultural diversity of the species, thus building mutual trust and facilitating cooperation and sharing and exchange.
In modern times and higher has decimated family relationships, first of the extended family and then of the nuclear family. Like any other human institution, extended and nuclear families can be violent centers of oppression, loving centers of creative expression, or anything in between. The basic institution, however, is crucial as a source of the enduring relationships essential to our helpful individual development — and particularly to the helpful development of our children; the challenge is to make those relationships carrying and nurturing. These changes come one family at a time but are far easier to achieve when supported by family-friendly living economies and public policies — both arenas for constructive citizen action, as discussed previously. Fractured though it has become, the nuclear family is still common. The extended family has become less common, and we easily forget its benefits.
The extended families of more traditional society served as the basic unit of social organization and provided an intergenerational support system. Children have multiple stable caretakers to whom they could turn for help and with whom they could bond. Parents could count on sharing resources and the burdens of childcare with those who shared the bonds of kinship. Elders remained active and valued and knew they would have held near a hand in the event of infirmity. Family celebrations also commonly featured singing, dancing, and other forms of artistic expression.
In modern societies in which even the standard two-parent nuclear family is at risk, it may be neither possible nor appropriate to return to the often insular and oppressive model of the extended biological family. It is possible, however, to create virtual families within the content of the intentional communities — such as cohousing compounds and echo villages — that offer many of the benefits of the extended biological family with fewer disabilities. Such communities readily accommodate a variety of nuclear family arrangements within virtual extended family groupings that offer the benefits of age and gender diversity and provide provisions of child and elder care, but being relatively more open and less confining than the biological extended family.
It is essential to the social health of their families, and extended family communities are supposedly supported by economic and social policies that encourage the creation of family-wage jobs and the flexible integration of family, work, and community life; both the family clobbered of housing arrangements; and the legalization of stable, caring civil unions and domestic partnerships.
Education—the capacity and desire to learn our inherent in our human nature. We are born to learn from the day of our birth to the day of our death. Empire, however, has given no schools that too often serve as institutions for the confinement and test-driven regimentation of children isolated from the life of the community. Such schools are well suited to preparing children for a deviant service to the institutions of empire, but not for life and leadership and vibrant human communities nor for wolves as social architects of a new human era. It’s little wonder that so many youth rebels drop out and turn to sex, drugs, and violence in a desperate effort—to establish any kind of relationship that affirms their existence, even if in fleeting and ultimately self-destructive ways. It will fall to today’s children to reinvent practically everything supporting them in developing both the basic skills and qualities of mind required is an essential responsibility of the current adult generation.
With heroic effort, the best schools and teachers were organizing their classrooms as learning communities that reach beyond the physical walls of the school. Through their involvement in collaborative research and community service activities, students develop basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics along with skills and learning, teamwork, citizenship, and artistic expression as they discover the interlinking patterns of their community’s history, ecology, and function.
At its best, the school may become a true community learning center that facilitates the lifelong learning of both children and adults through active engagement in community life. Professional and volunteer coaches can help both children and adults draw on all the learning tools their community offers — including opportunities for voluntary community service and internships. Teenagers may receive instruction in the arts of supportive parenting by acting as tutors and caretakers for younger children under the mentoring I have Elders who in turn receive coaching from their peers in the art of the elders’ mentoring role.
The local artist may share their skills and drama, music, visual arts, poetry, and literature with both children and adults through programs of community beautification and cultural enrichment. Local, national, and international cross-cultural dialogue and exchange programs they act of Lee facilitate the awakening of cultural consciousness. The political and religious inquiry may be encouraged and supported by inviting those of differing political and religious traditions to explicate and reflect on their views within the settings of respectful dialogue and debate.
Religion—many people look to a religious institution as a source of moral guidance. Religion in the service of empire has often seriously distorted moral teaching and actively suppressed serious moral inquiry area individual churches, however, generally have considered freedom to take a different course, to become centers of community building and ethical inquiry and expression — if their members and leadership are so inclined. People of faith who argue that schools should engage students in the examination of alternative theories of creation might well start by demonstrating within their own churches how such instruction might work. In the course of doing so, they would introduce their members to a process of moral and ethical inquiry rarely seen within the faith community outside of special cloisters and theological seminaries.
Through interfaith councils, they can reach out to explore moral questions with persons of different faiths, thereby learning from others while building cultural awareness and respect for the diversity of religious traditions. Through community service, church numbers can develop a consciousness of class and explore the conflicting interpretations of what’s sacred teaching councils with regard to proper human relationships. Our churches also have a natural role in facilitating interracial exchanges and dialogue, an essential part of the awakening and deepening of cultural consciousness. Again, such reforms come one church, synagogue, temple, and mosque at a time. Each such initiative becomes additive to the larger process of democratizing the institutions of religion and, more broadly, the institutions of culture and of the larger society.
The language of these passages is not always in line with NVC, especially the heavy use of “should.” Please read with giraffe tears. The general principles of life-supporting social change seem to me to be very much in harmony with the principles of Nonviolent Communication. In a workshop in 2007, Joanna Macy told me that she and Marshall Rosenberg participated with David Korten in the creation of The great turning: from Empire to Earth Community, copyright 2006 by People-centered Development Forum. This material comes from pages 341 to 352.