Flattening the Pyramids (Part 2)

Note: It is probably helpful to read Part 1 first, for context and continuity. But I’m not gonna tell you what to do!

An objection that often arises when one engages in discussions about culture change is this: “Well, fine. I may change the way I live but I can’t make anyone else change, so what’s the point? The corporations aren’t going to stop exploiting labor & natural resources and poisoning the planet. The wealthy aren’t going to give up their riches and play fair. I might as well keep trying to get as much as I can for myself, right?”

It’s true that none of us can force anyone else to adopt a different way of life. We can, however, set examples for others by pursuing alternatives that demonstrate the effectiveness of tribal organization. The dominant model of civilization is currently being imposed upon, and enacted by, the vast majority of human beings on Earth, which is accelerating negative impacts and outcomes. As individuals and in groups, we can raise attention about these impacts and outcomes and actively engage in alternative options, while building connections and community with others who share our interest in living differently. We don’t have to convince everyone to join us, merely opting out of the culture of maximum harm and engaging in practices that demonstrate restorative and regenerative philosophies demonstrates that alternatives exist and frees those involved from contributing to ongoing devastation. Given that most people are currently suffering economically, socially, and emotionally from the impacts of the dominant systems, I believe many will choose alternatives once they are made visible and viable by those on the leading edge of this movement.

In Beyond Civilization, Daniel Quinn discusses the need for new ideas- a vision for humanity that is rooted in our collective responsibility to each other and the world. It is not a Utopian civilization Quinn advocates, but a return for most of us to a way of life that has proven successful for tens of thousands of years. Tribal people are no more specific in the practices of this way of life than those living within various models of civilization. The Inuit, the Yanomami, the Zulu, the Mohawk, the Navajo, and the thousands of other tribes anthropology has documented are all different in manner of dress, food sources, styles of worship, recreational activities, etc. The similarity is in their basic organization- one in which every member of each tribe is valued as equally important and having a stake in the decisions made by their leaders.

In a number of conversations I’ve had on this subject, people have said, “tribes have chiefs- they are hierarchical, too!” Quinn addresses this question in his writing, as well. A chief or leader in a tribal structure is not “the boss” and their role is no more valued or prized than any other member’s. Every organization requires some management but managing is a role, like any other role, not a de facto status upgrade in tribal cultures. The current trend of “servant leadership” in corporate and political settings reflects that people are seeking leaders who take into account the feedback and ideas of all stakeholders within organizations when deciding a course of action. It is virtually impossible within our civilizational model, however, for leaders to truly serve the people when there are such clearly defined strata of status within our organizations. The compensation paid to CEOs, alone, is so outsized to their actual value within companies and society that there is little chance they are able to see the contributions of workers as truly significant. They generally reign on high like feudal lords and treat their underlings as peons. The solutions to structural inequality must address the design. It is the design that leads to excessive wealth inequality and abuse of workers. It is the design that leads to social ills such as addiction, homelessness, entrenched poverty, failing schools, mental illness, lack of access to quality healthcare, pollution, mass violence, and premature death. It is the DESIGN.

It is January 1, 2020, and I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed. The posts are largely reflective of the optimism that generally accompanies New Year’s greetings but there are other trending topics that the algorithm has seen fit to show me; massive bush fires continuing (for more than 2 months!) in Australia, Vladimir Putin is having a bad week, #PresidentSanders is trending on Twitter, several ads for diet programs, lots of my ‘friends’ cute kids, and arguments in a comment thread about how alcohol is an acceptable and socially promoted vice that kills more people than opioids but how sugar and fat (obesity) are the real killers… It’s kind of a shit show. If social media is reflective of where our society really stands, then there’s not much hope, right? And social media is where the majority of people are getting their news in America and other ‘civilized’ countries. We are inundated by inanity, horror, judgment, and advertising for all manner of goods and services that will, purportedly, provide us with a respite from our personal and collective pain. It has recently come to light that Facebook and other social media networks have been selling users’ personal data for profit (shocking!) and many of my activist friends are deleting the app and moving to new platforms that are supposedly operating in more ethical ways.

This may be true but with over 2 Billion users, Facebook is, and will likely remain, the dominant social network for a while yet. The influence of social media on politics, commerce, and human interaction cannot be overstated. Our last US presidential election was significantly impacted by targeted “fake news” on Facebook and other platforms. There is ample evidence that foreign governments, especially Russia, played a major role in originating and propagating misinformation and disinformation in the 2016 race and they are already at it again for the 2020 contest. We have a wide-spread lack of faith in our government, made worse by the ascension of a reality TV personality to the highest office in the land and his subsequent policy decisions, which have disproportionately impacted the already most vulnerable people in our society. If, as many pundits have proposed, the underlying intention of Russian efforts to undermine our elections is to exploit a sinking sense in the American electorate that the entire system is corrupt and our efforts as individual citizens don’t matter, they have succeeded beyond Putin’s wildest dreams! But, again, the fundamental issue lies in the design of the system, itself.

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