The Search for a More Deeply Alive, Effective Activism
Activism and the New Science: Some Lessons
for Action in a Nonlinear World
Spiritual Activism/Politics websites
THE TAO OF ACTIVISM?
Some of us feel something is wrong or missing in activism based
on adversariality, power struggles, critiques, demonstrations and
endless meetings with no juice. Somehow we -- and those we are fighting
-- get lost as people. We sense there's something important -- something
about heart, humanness, spirit, wholeness, LIFE! -- upon which we
could base our activism, that would make our work more productive
and meaningful -- as well as putting us on the leading edge of cultural
and personal evolution.
There are a number of directions our inquiry into activism might
take. However, before we look at these, it might be useful to explore
(individually and/or together) our own
- questions, inquiries and issues about activism
- stories, examples, situations which illustrate what we want
or don't want in activism
- our feelings, intuitions, frustrations, etc., about activism
- the ideas and ideals with which we judge forms of activism,
both real and imagined
- what is important to us, or has juice for us, that might be
- anything else that will free our hearts and orient us (individually
and/or together) for an open inquiry into where we want to go
When we're ready, below are some new directions our activism could
take. This is in no way a conclusive list, but it does give a good
variety of paths, many of which could be combined with others. When
you read the list, how do you respond to each item? Do you resonate
with it? Object to it? Dismiss it as not relevant? Is there STILL
something important missing? What is it?
I) Activism that is more human, personal
and alive -- that has more art, community, story, friendship,
spirit, aliveness in it for the participants -- and perhaps even
for those affected by it or viewing it. For example: Art and Revolution;
talking circles; retreats; as many potlucks and celebrations and
parties as meetings; hearing each other's life stories; check-ins;
support networks for activists; etc. We feel like we're treated
as real people, and it's an "alive scene!" Two readings:
Fran Peavey's HEART POLITICS. Joanna Macy and MoIly Young Brown's
COMING BACK TO LIFE.
II) Activism that integrates all of who
we are - feelings, thoughts, bodies, spirits, citizens,
etc. Examples: Co-counseling; Interhelp. We share an inquiry here
about what it means to be a whole person engaged with the world.
Peavey's HEART POLITICS and Margo Adair's WORKING INSIDE OUT.
III) Activism that focuses on process,
dialogue, listening, relationship, questions, learning, weaving
- that has no agenda of its own, but which enables, frees,
links, enlightens, and empowers all energies towards a better world.
Examples: strategic questioning, the public conversation project,
listening projects. (This includes activism that empowers community:
future search, holistic management, citizen deliberative councils,
etc.) (Peavey has stuff to say on this, too.)
IV) Activism that focuses on the "life
energy band" in ourselves and others -- the values,
needs, visions, missions, purposes, things that matter or have juice
for us, etc., -- that evoke self-organizing, self-motivating energies
and help prevent/resolve conflict. Examples: Nonviolent communication.
Open space technology.
V) Activism AS a spiritual practice
that exercises compassion, service, mindfulness, acceptance, trust,
courage, faith, recognition of the sacred in everyone/everything,
connection to a higher power, participatory/co-creative awareness,
evolution of a sangha, or whatever our particular spiritual focus
may be. Examples: Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Network of Spiritual
VI) Activism that focuses on higher-order
(contextual) factors in society, such as co-intelligence,
democracy, story fields, cultural assumptions, etc., that give greater
leverage for deep change than the usual issue-oriented activism.
Citizen deliberative councils. Story Field Conference. Real Progress
Indicator. Tom Atlee's THE TAO OF DEMOCRACY.
VII) Activism that is more strategic and
long-term - that looks beyond the next demonstration.
Each action fits into a larger whole. There's a plan and a logic
to it that magnifies the relevance of each piece and adds up to
a particular vision of society. Example: Party politics (Democratic
& Republican, but also Communist, which is based on a whole
Marxist worldview). (The question "What would a holistic equivalent
to the socialist movement look like?" bridges over to the next
VIII) Activism that works with patterns
uncovered by "the new sciences." What would
activism look like if it took seriously the dynamics of wholeness,
complex adaptive systems, self-organization, evolution and non-linear
The sciences in question include: ecology, evolution, the Gaia
hypothesis, chaos and complexity theories, field theory, quantum
mechanics, relativity, cybernetics, systems theory and living systems
theory, the theory of dissipative structures, holism, holographics,
morphic resonance, etc.
The dominant issue is that most traditional/current activism is
based in the Newtonian model of separate entities and linear cause-and-effect
relationships -- a model which has limited application.
Readings might include: Fritjof Capra's THE WEB OF LIFE, Meg Wheatley's
LEADERSHIP AND THE NEW SCIENCE, John Briggs and F. David Peat's
TURBULENT MIRROR and SEVEN LIFE LESSONS OF CHAOS, Waldrop's COMPLEXITY.
Paul Krafel's SEEING NATURE. David Spangler's EVERYDAY MIRACLES.
Michael Dowd's THANK GOD FOR EVOLUTION! Robert Wright's NON-ZERO.
Inquires could include: In social change, activism, governance
and politics, what are the implications of the following (many of
which overlap each other):
- the edge of order and chaos, order in chaos, chaos in order;
[where life resides]
- self-organization and autopoesis (self-creation)
- self-referentiality, self-catalysis, self-replication, iteration
- feedback (positive, negative, etc.)
- perturbations, bifurcation points and sudden transformation
- balance far from equilibrium
- emergent order/properties
- closed and open systems
- The Butterfly Effect - unpredictability, the power of initial
conditions, "the few simple rules" (and cellular automata)
(incl. the power of vision, identity and values to orient self-organized
- the fractal nature of reality
- developmental models and the dynamics of cosmic, biological,
and cultural evolution
- control vs participation (the revolution in causality)
- holographics (and various other "whole-in-part" dynamics)
- relationship, interconnection, networks
- non-locality, field phenomena (including morphogenic fields),
- process structures (objects-as-patterns-of-process dynamics-in-relationship):
living systems as pattern + structure + life processes
- non-linear dynamics
- synergy (and holergy,
- power from patterns of wholeness
- The Gaia Hypothesis, deep ecology, we are the world
- attractors (point, periodic, strange) [and phase space?]
- the cognitive nature of living systems (which can include collective
- uncertainty and indeterminacy
A beginning to this inquiry is contained in the article below:
Activism and the New Science
Some Lessons for Action in a Nonlinear World
Many understandings from the new sciences could provide us
with new patterns for our activism, appropriate for a world that
is not as linear, predictable and controlled as it sometimes seems.
The list below is just a taste of the richness that exists there.
May it provoke useful thinking. -- Tom Atlee
Complexity theory -- Life dies in the presence of too much
order or too much chaos. Life thrives on the border between order
and chaos. There are many strategies for living well in that borderland,
and for experiments that extend in both directions.
Chaos theory -- Any event has a pattern of outcomes towards
which it is drawn, some more probable than others. At any point,
a small shift in conditions can have an inordinate influence on
the outcome, especially if it takes into account that intrinsic
pattern of outcome probabilities (its strange attractor) and has
iterative power. (Note: The wilder a system becomes, the less resistance
it has to change, but the harder it is to shape that change, because
more variables are at work.)
Ecology -- Living things exist in co-creative interactive
relationship with each other. If you want to impact an entity, address
the web of relationships that are its context. If you want a new
society, think at least as much about life-enhancing and sustaining
design criteria as about the state of individuals. If you want a
self-organizing, sustainable society, increase the quantity and
quality of dialogue (co-creative interaction) among its members.
(Also: Diversity is a resource for an adaptive system.)
Systems theory -- Feedback loops monitor conditions in a
system. Although physical feedback loops are powerful, cognitive
feedback loops have a particularly profound effect on the health
and intelligence of human systems. Institutionalized collective
cognitive feedback loops at the societal level can make or break
all our efforts to generate social change and cultural evolution.
Field theory -- Just as planets are governed by magnetic
fields, people are governed by psychocultural fields -- fields of
narrative, meaning, habit, etc. -- whose force you can experience
by moving counter to them. Change the field, and you influence the
behavior and consciousness of everything in it.
Living systems theory -- A system is a system because it
has an identity, a coherence which it tries to maintain. All changes
must be framed within that identity or the identity must change.
(Note: There are layers of identity. And purpose is closely related
Quantum physics -- Reality is basically participatory. None
of us is _only_ an observer. How we view something evokes certain
realities in our relationship with that thing and certain characteristics
in that thing itself -- and in us. Given that this is true for everyone
and everything, linear causality (prediction and control) is only
relatively real and functional -- and can seriously mislead us.
It is often more useful to ground ourselves in uncertainty, probability
fields, mutual causality and a sense of co-creativity.
Holism - There's more to a whole than an accumulation of
parts. There are many ways that this is true (synergy, holergy, ambiguity, etc.), and you can
get free resources by tapping into this reality.
Evolution - Evolution progresses through the interaction
of diverse entities in contexts that are challenging and nurturing.
And it generates more complex entities by ensuring that the component
entities' nature or self-interest is aligned with the well-being
and functionality of the whole. We can apply these principles consciously
to transform today's world, which amounts to conscious evolution.
Spiritual activism/politics sites:
The Co-Intelligence Institute's pages on Co-Intelligent
Activism and Conscious Evolutionary
of Spiritual Activism
Global New Thought's Principles for Spiritual Activism
Caroline Casey's Center
for Visionary Activism - a wild, politically conscious, extremely
alive and visionary mix of astrology and many forms of spirituality.
The Network of
Spiritual Progressives - spiritually oriented progressives organized
by Rabbi Michael Lerner's TIKKUN magazine
The Center for Visionary Leadership's interesting
site on spirituality and politics, features explorations of
how to apply spiritual principles to social problems and citizenship,
and includes a nascent effort to organize spiritually-oriented voters.
Rabbin's Circles of Light
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