Apr. 10, 2020

Awareness-based Collective Action

I couldn’t say it better so I am cutting and pasting from Otto Scharmer:


Big Government: Even though many pundits are claiming that the corona crisis proves that big, centralized government is the key to success, I disagree. Cases in point: look at Russia, at India, or at China during the first two months, and at the US federal government over the past three months. You see a landscape of massive institutional failure. A picture of politicians at the center who are by and large out of touch. But what about South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Germany, and what about US state governors whose response has been honest, timely, and proactive? Yes, these are excellent examples of competent governance. But none of those countries or states has a super-centralized government. They have either an agile national government in a smaller country or a decentralized, devolved government in the case of the individual German and US states. So, a centralized government can help in a pandemic IF — and only if — there is competent leadership at the core. If you have a Trump-style administration, a centralized government becomes your major weakness. Conversely, the German case demonstrates that if you build coherent alliances of semi-public research institutes, states, hospitals, and citizens, these interdependent eco-systems of regional health players can work together surprisingly well. So, yes, agile and effective government is crucial. But that does not mean that more centralization is always better. We need to engage in new democratic infrastructures that make our governance processes more direct, more distributed, more diverse, and more dialogic.

When you face disruption, you need to stop “downloading” the patterns of the past and wake up. According to the Guardian and the South China Morning Post, the first Covid-19 case on record in China was identified on November 17, 2019. Even though 266 people were infected in 2019, it took the Chinese government until January 21, 2020, to acknowledge the human-to-human transmission of the virus. Precious time was lost. Roughly three days after that January announcement, the governments of Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea responded with their own task-force-guided plan of action, including screening, testing, tracing, and isolating. In the United States, even though it had the same information and the same quality of experts on board, it took the government six additional weeks to even begin responding. Again, precious time wasted. The impact of that delay? Look at the death toll in the US: 15,000 and rising. This is already five times the death toll of 9–11, arguably the most devastating event on US soil in recent memory.

Big Business: When you double click on why a powerful country like the United States can’t respond effectively to a pandemic like this one, one root issue quickly becomes obvious: competition. The basic idea of competition is to fight it out in the marketplace. States compete with each other for protective gear and ventilators. Add to that the complicated bureaucracy of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which prevented states from developing their own tests. The national stockpile of ventilators falls short because the medium-sized provider that was contracted to mass-produce simple and inexpensive ventilators many years back was acquired by a giant medical equipment company not interested in producing these devices because doing so would eat into the company’s other revenue streams. The root issue here is that health and healthcare are not commodities; they are not just another market. This begs the question: “Should health and healthcare — or core parts of it — be organized by a different type of enterprise, one that is driven by a social mission instead of profit?”

As our economy has come to a standstill, many of us have started wondering about a few more things: Why are the people we are now calling “systemically relevant” or “essential workers” often the least well-paid — nurses, farm workers, truck drivers, grocery store checkers — while those with jobs that either add no value or subtract value from the whole — e.g., those who run the destabilizing mechanisms of financialized casino capitalism — go home with obscene levels of compensation? Again, how did that happen? How could we hold a public conversation on rethinking and reshaping the fundamentals of our economy? We need to engage in new economic infrastructures that shift the main focus of economic activity from ego-system awareness to eco-system awareness — from me to we. 

Big Data: For years Silicon Valley titans like Mark Zuckerberg have presented themselves as saviors, superheroes who could solve global problems more effectively than any government or other institution. OK, now that we have a real problem on our hands, where is the Silicon Valley response? The silence and lack of imagination from Silicon Valley since the world was locked down is growing louder every day. Yes, we do use some of their technologies — such as the wonderful services of Zoom — to organize and connect. But it’s people — people in education, people in business, people in government, people in civil society — that make those technologies work. Yet we also know from East Asia that Big Data can be a big part of the solution. That knowledge leads to an obvious question: “How can we make Big Data serve all of us, the well-being of every community, local and global?” That would mean democratizing the ownership and use of data.

The failure of Big Government, Big Business, and Big Tech is connected to the same underlying issue: when they are operated with a mindset of disconnect and ego-system awareness (competition and empire-building) rather than a mindset of interconnectivity and eco-system awareness, then you end up with a government that takes six weeks to respond to a pandemic, rather than three days; you end up with a medical equipment provider that puts profits ahead of public health; you end up with Big Data companies that put profits and the power to manipulate collective behavior ahead of empowering societies and citizens to democratize the use of their own data. Three forms of institutional failure. One root issue. We need to stop reacting with the same habitual patterns. Our unsustainable ways cannot work in the long-term.

Being human means operating between two social fields: the field of absencing in which we enact a cycle of disconnect, disembodied presence, and self-destruction; and the field of presencing in which we enact a cycle of deepened connection, embodied presence, and co-creation — which enables something new to come into being through us. How can we nourish and strengthen the manifold seed initiatives that are part of the cycle of presencing? 

Although it’s an important means of connection for many of us, Facebook and other social media operate according to a business model that maximizes advertising revenues, which in turn requires maximizing user engagement, which is best accomplished through algorithms that activate the emotions of hate, anger, and fear on the part of its users. We need to disengage with the negativity. And then reimagine the entrenched systems and policies that no longer serve the collective good.

· Learning: The spaces for deep learning have never been more in demand. We need to engage in new learning infrastructures that link head, heart, and hand (whole-person learning). 

· Health: Strengthening the sources of health for people and planet is precisely what the current situation calls for.

· Food and Agriculture: food as the medium for healing the planet and its people. That’s the idea of regenerative agriculture, which has been boosted by local community-supported agriculture (CSA) related farms.

· Corporate Sustainability: Mission-driven enterprises are what everyone is looking for — but they are still a small and ‘endangered’ species.

· Finance: Regenerative, blended finance that provides resources for evolving and transforming the system. The entire financial sector seems to be at a profound inflection point, moving from impact-blind to impact-aware modes of operating.

What can we do now? The most important leverage point for profound change lies in seeding and cultivating these fields of deepened connection with each other, with nature, and with ourselves. The emerging superpower of this century is linked to our capacity to bend the beam of observation back onto ourselves. This shift of our attention allows us to see ourselves through each other’s eyes, to keep our gaze focused on our behavior as a collective, and to become aware of our own blind spots — in order to bend the curve, to reimagine and reshape civilization to bridge the ecological, social, and spiritual divides.

That, in a nutshell, is the intention of the GAIA journey: to help cultivate the soil; to seed, support, and further activate this movement of awakening, now.

You are invited to join at gaiajourney.org.