Consciousness takes us beyond
avoidable force, waste, and risk
by Tom Atlee
A basic question that can be asked in two ways is:
"What can I get from this land, or person?" or
"What does this person, or land, have to give if I cooperate
Of these two approaches,
the former leads to war and waste,
the latter to peace and plenty.
-- Bill Mollison, co-founder of permaculture
Let us put our minds together and see what life
we can make for our children.
-- Sitting Bull
For the last year Peggy
Holman and I have been researching evolutionary dynamics that
can be used to guide the conscious evolution of social systems.
In the process we noticed an evolutionary dynamic through which
-- in all its forms -- provides opportunities to mitigate or replace
force, waste and risk.
This has been going on for millions of years -- since the time of
early bacteria -- and is accelerating. Today humanity needs to make
another giant leap in this direction.
Here's how it works.
To the extent that we are aware of things -- of people, objects,
resources, dynamics, nature, situations, opportunities, etc. --
and understand them well enough, we don't have to use as much force
to deal with them, we don't waste them, and we can better predict,
influence, or trust how they will act or turn out.
If, in addition, we have empathy with them -- if we know about
and care deeply for the experience, needs and wishes of people and
living things around us, or the innate tendencies and dynamics in
the circumstances we face -- we can relate to them and move with
them in ways that achieve what is natural and desirable.
As consciousness increases, we become more able to reach beyond
what is immediately present into what is far away in space, time,
causation, or meaning; to reach beyond comfort to welcome uncertainty
and dissonance and relate well with strange people and situations;
to reach beyond specific outcomes to notice and work with the unfolding
of life-affirming patterns and processes. We begin to flow with
what some call the Tao -- with what is and what wants to be.
Evolution favors entities that use energy, matter, and information
well -- elegantly, with minimal demand and waste. The more our consciousness
-- our intelligence, understanding, sensing, caring, compassion,
conversation, appreciation, awareness -- and the integration of
all these into wisdom -- can reduce the amount of force, waste,
and risk in our dealings with life, the more likely we'll do well
with evolutionary challenges. This applies both individually and
-- especially in this crisis-ridden century -- collectively.
From an evolutionary perspective, force is related
to energy. Force involves energy exerted against resistance. The
more force we use, the more energy we use. The less resistance there
is, the less energy we need. Beyond these mechanical considerations,
if we can relate to life collaboratively, in such a way that it
not only doesn't resist, but actually joins with us in advancing
our mutual survival and vitality, we enhance our evolutionary prospects.
Synergy like that is a real evolutionary plus, since
efficient use of energy is a major selective factor in evolution.
From an evolutionary perspective, waste weakens
us. Technically, Life as a whole has little if any waste. What is
waste for one organism or process is food or input for another.
At the physical level, we can observe a certain amount of entropy
or energy dissipation. However, one of the remarkable characteristics
of Life is that it slows down entropy: For example, a healthy forest
will recycle a molecule of water perhaps a dozen times between its
falling as rain and its return to the ocean, compared to water that
falls on granite or concrete and flows immediately to the sea. For
Life, waste equals food. For conscious life, waste is something
we reduce (by exercising wise choice or increasing efficiency) or
reuse or recycle (as a resource, and to counter entropy). Even wasted
opportunities can be avoided (by vigilance and initiative) or recycled
(by learning from them). The less we actually waste, the more we
have to work with, with little additional energy. Permaculture co-founder
Bill Mollison says: "Everything is a positive resource; it
is just up to us to work out how we [can] use it as such."
From an evolutionary perspective, risk increases
our chance of failure, death, or extinction. Various forms of consciousness
help minimize risk. Intelligence and learning -- combined with attentiveness
and diligence -- enable us to avoid many past errors.
Foresight, deliberation, dialogue, intuition, and systems thinking
can all help overcome our parochial blind spots so we can more readily
recognize problems that may arise from outside of our experience.
Empathy can turn enemies to allies. Expanded consciousness can reduce
our anxiety and increase our flexibility and tolerance for uncertainty,
so that our attention is free to deal with whatever comes our way.
So there are evolutionary advantages -- and thus an evolutionary
tendency, challenge, and mandate -- to expand consciousness to reduce
force, waste, and risk.
Interestingly, most of the movements that currently give us hope
embody this evolutionary dynamic. They are the emerging edge of
evolution underway, transforming our complex civilization and biosphere
into a new, whole global organism capable of nurturing us as we
Consider how each of the following engages our individual or collective
consciousness to reduce risk and increase our elegant use of energy,
matter, information, and opportunity -- requiring minimal force
and generating minimal resistance, while engaging our own and each
- Sustainability, Organics, Recycling, Permaculture, and Biomimicry
(compared to domination of nature)
- Cooperatives, Collaboration, Sharing, Openness, and Collective
Intelligence (compared with competition and possessiveness)
- Dialogue, Deliberation, Conflict Resolution, Peace, and Democracy
(compared with domination, concentrated power, and war)
- Compassion, Justice, Freedom, and Human Rights (compared with
- Psychospiritual Development, Learning, Creativity, Beauty,
and Play (compared with materialist consumerism)
- Community, Networking, Support Groups, Mutual Aid, and Co-Creativity
(compared with isolated individualism)
Our individualistic, consumerist, nature-dominating society --
and the wild expansion of our ancient capacities for competition,
war and oppression -- have all been subsidized by the world-degrading
cheap energy of fossil fuels. As that free-wheeling era comes to
a close, two trends are emerging, both of which demand new forms
and applications of consciousness. One is towards more efficient
technologies and less toxic cheap energy sources. The other is towards
more collaborative, synergistic, open, non-material ways of relating
to each other and nature, which reduce the need for energy that
is not already in us and which avoid or creatively use everything
we previously thought of as waste.
As we move ahead on these developments, we know that consciousness
and force are not mutually exclusive. We can dominate
and manipulate the behavior and/or consciousness of other entities
with minimal force by using our understanding of their motivations,
feelings, beliefs, etc. -- or, in the case of physical objects and
forces, understanding the laws and patterns that govern them --
to get what we want. That's pretty standard.
There's practically always a mix. In human affairs and systems
we find both consciousness and force at work. There is a strong
trend in human evolution, however, towards increasing the amount
and role of consciousness in any interaction or system, and its
capacity to resonate and work with what is, minimizing the use of
force and other imported energy.
But we are in a transition time, and we will see and use combinations
of force and consciousness that include:
- CONTROL - the design of institutions, infrastructures, cultures,
structures, and technologies that constrain channel, or facilitate
- MANAGEMENT - directive leadership, motivation (rewards and
penalties), laws and regulations
- MANIPULATION - of consciousness and information, propaganda,
public relations, and indoctrination
- EVOCATION - inspirational and visionary leadership, support
systems, providing contexts for people or organisms to do that
part of what we want them to do which they already wish to do
anyway (in contrast to supporting whatever they want to do or
forcing them to do what they don't want to do).
Also in the midst of this transition we will stumble in our well-intentioned
efforts to increase our consciousness and collaboration, grappling
with egos, limitations, and old patterns. One friend joked that
collaboration is a lot like teenage sex: Everyone's talking about
it, not many are actually doing it, and those who are, are finding
that it's a lot more complicated than they thought. Welcome to evolution
Further up the line, as our individual and collective consciousness
develops, we enter more into collective resourcefulness and awareness
of BEING the systems we are part of. We become less grounded
in our separate self-interest and more connected to those deep parts
of ourselves whose energies arise from what's universal and whole.
Moved by our own passion and sense of calling, we bring our unique
gifts and perspectives, connect with others, and move in service
to the whole, as the whole moves. We recognize dissonance and crises
as evolutionary resources and ground ourselves less in certainties
-- in old patterns and givens -- and more in tendencies, possibilities,
and life energies -- and in the evocative processes that call them
forth. The unknown then becomes a pregnant presence, and we become
midwives for what wants to emerge, and protectors and nurturers
of its new life.
This is an amazing evolutionary journey we are all on together.
With this perspective in mind, here are three provocative articulations
of who we are and who we can become.
The first is
the Dalai Lama's vision of our current evolution from force
and violence to compassion, freedom, dialogue, democracy, co-operation,
and truly informed minds -- "a fundamental shift in our attitudes
and our consciousness -- a wider, more holistic outlook".
The second is a short
video lecture by emotional intelligence pioneer Daniel Goleman
about what makes us less than Good Samaritans.
The last, an
article by professor of sociology and criminology Randall Collins,
reveals research showing that we ARE NOT naturally violent and that
we have to go through a lot to get ourselves to be violent. (Go
down to the paragraph that starts "We need to dismiss the myth...")
Conscious Evolutionary Agentry
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