One World Arising: Reflections by Mike Seymour

One World Arising

Reflections by Mike Seymour

 Looking at history it would be hard not to conclude that humans are innately fearful and violent, and that peace and unity in the human family were a far-off dream. After all, we have just witnessed a very bloody century in the past 100 years. In the 20th century alone about 36 million soldiers were killed in some twenty wars, and an even higher 45-60 million were killed or died of conflict-related diseases or malnutrition in genocides and ethic conflicts like the Nazi Holocaust, the Turkish purge of Christian Armenians, Stalin’s purge in Russia and countless other internal conflicts in the Phillipines, East Timor, Palestine and Israel, Somalia, Boznia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Burundi, Cambodia and the Chinese occupation of Tibet, to name a few.

 One might therefore assume that human nature will forever require us to be prepared for aggression, division as well as ethnic and religious intolerance. Most governments approach their foreign relations with this assumption in mind–flowers of friendship in one hand and a gun in the other.

 And yet, if we were only riveted by the fear and violence we see in the world, we would miss a significant counter-movement that is happening. And that is the slow, but steady movement toward unity, equity and peace.

 Audacious as it may seem, John Horgan, Director, the Center for Science Writings, Stevens Institute of Technology, wrote in a recent article  titled War Will End” that humanity is on a path toward less conflict in comparison with far more brutal times in our earlier history. Horgan says anthropoligists Steven LeBlanc (Constant Battles) and Lawrence Keeley (War Before Civilization) suggest pre-state societies had a much higher mortality rate from violence than we do today.  Keely asserts that the 100 or so million people who died from war-related causes in the 20th century would have been an astounding 2 billion had the rate of violence been as high as in the average primitive society. 

 What we see is what we get. If most people and governments think the world is a fearful place where peace is not likely, then war at some level will continue. Desiring and believing that a world of unity and peace is possible is the first step toward achieving it.

 Divided Self  & Divided World

 The movement toward peace and unity is not assured. If it is realized, unity will not come easily or quickly. From our beginnings, humans have inherited a legacy of  inner dividedness—our light and dark sides, you might say. Our more fearful, envious and aggressive tendencies too often seem to win out in family, organizational and national and international spheres.

 Within humans is a separation between mind and body, spirit and matter, who we are and what we do, our ideals and reality, and “talk” versus “walk.” Many would say the heart of our dividedness is a separation from God, or the purity inherent in our deepest nature. All fissures and chaos in society stem from these fractures within ourselves. This is the illness of our times—of all times. Happily, our suffering is also the grist mill from which we find a deeper sense of human connection and meaning. As the saying goes, “no pain, no gain.”

Separation or disconnection from our deeper selves is at the core of our world problems. Cut off from our true compassionate nature, we become disconnected from others, and tend to fall into fear, suspicion or judgment. We also become disconnected from the natural world around us, and no longer feel a kinship with nature. However pure the core of our religions might be, when they are practiced by a divided people, our religious views become permeated with our fears and judgements; and so our anger and fear toward others not like us who we feel are a threat get played out in ethnic, ideological and religious battles.

 Psychology shines its  own light on this kind of disconnection. What we reject, fear or repress in ourselves we project onto others.  Judgement, anger, envy, hatred or violence toward others stems from the unwanted impurities in our mind which we are ignorant of and avoid dealing with. Our behavior can become reactive, not proactive—meaning we are not in healthy, conscious control of ourselves. It is this failure to see ourselves clearly and control our negative reactions that causes personal and world suffering. Unhappiness in the world fundamentally stems from not living enough in the center of our own inherent good nature.

 The Great Awakening:  Life of the Spirit

 Although most of us live with some degree of dividedness, there is nonetheless a powerful movement of the spirit in which millions of people searching for true heart and purpose have begun to heal the divisions within themselves, and live lives of greater harmony.  Humanity has experienced a great spiritual awakening since the latter half of the 1800’s, both within and outside religious traditions. The fruits of this spiritual renaissance have had a profound impact on individuals and social movements in the last century.

Authentic spiritual awakening brings life-changing connection to some larger meaning and an encounter with one’s own truth.  It is precisely this ability to see oneself clearly—both our higher and lower natures–that is making the way possible for greater inner and outer peace. Happiness and peace begin as a person becomes more whole on the inside and connected to who they are—their hopes, wishes and calling, and by taking responsibility for their darker energies causing pain to self and others. Commitment to a life of reflection and mindful living is the key to happiness and peace. It is only by looking in the mirror that we can see our greatness and our pitfalls–the potential for a noble calling vs. the envy, anger, lust, boredom, greed and mental confusion that would bring us and the world down.

The spiritual revival toward inner and outer unity came as a response to the deadness many have felt in modern life.  By the mid-1800’s, expanding modernity, materialism, scientific world views and mass education in the new industrial world began to impact people’s time-honored religious beliefs and practices. Eighteenth century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous line “God is Dead,” in his work Thus Spake Zarathustra, captured this huge shift in showing that traditional ideas of God were no longer capable of acting for growing numbers as a moral code or source of understanding the purpose of life. Along with many people no longer associating with the religion of their ancestors was both the growth of secularism as well as the response of a significant spiritual revival both within an outside formal religions.

The contemporary spiritual revival is widespread and has touched all religions.  Some of its roots date back to the late 1800’s with the birth of the Theosophical Society under the inspiration of a Russian woman Madame Blavatsky who was  a pioneer of spiritual knowledge and teachings. Studying all the worlds religions—from Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Zoroastrianism—her great gift was to perceive their common heart  and the ancient wisdom which underlies them.

Buddhism experienced a revival in the last century in the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka. India, the birthplace of the Buddha’s teaching which had almost lost Buddhism altogether, saw the return of larger Buddhist congregations starting in the late 1800’s, and then expanding from the 1950’s onward with the conversion of Hindu leader B.R. Ambedkar to Buddhism.  Forgotten practices of mediation reserved mostly for monks began to be taught and practiced widely by lay people, offering a path for spiritual depth and connectedness.

Contemporary Hindu reform movements have spread to many parts of the world outside of India, inspired by the appearance of a great number of  highly realized spiritual teachers such as Ramana Maharshi, Paramhansa Yogananda and Sai Baba;  poets like Rabindranath Tagore;  musicians such as Sri Ravi Shankar, and the great social reformer Mohandas Gandhi.  The revival of yogic teachings including meditation, visualizations, mantras, breath exercises and sacred chanting gave people tools for connecting with a sacred ground of being and calming their mental impurities, liberating them from hollow rituals which had no power to relieve their suffering.

The new fire in Eastern religions drew interest from Westerners who brought Buddhist and Hindu practices back home often without the religious structures of their native countries.  Richard Alpert, more famously known as Ram Dass, came to symbolize a counter culture hero of the 1960’s and 70’s. Having been transformed by his experiences in India, Ram Dass returned to the USA with a message “be here now”  of the need for spiritual aliveness. Countless others also traveling India went as well to the Buddhist countries of Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka. They brought back Vipassana, or insight meditation under the guidance of now famous teachers like Sayagi U Ba Khin , S.N. Goenka, Mahashi Sayadaw, Ajahn Chah, Dipa Ma and Anagarika Munindra, and many others.

The conquest of Tibet by China and the spread of Tibetan Buddhism under the great spiritual leader His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama—religious and political head of the Tibetan community in exile—has likewise had a tremendous impact in the spiritual aspirations of many westerners whose hunger for spiritual depth was not being met in Christianity. Buddhist teachings by the Dalai Lama and hundreds of Tibetan Lamas have spoken strongly to many and have given rise to the formation of many Tibetan Buddhist Centers worldwide.

Christianity saw parallel revivals, perhaps the most important of which is the Pentecostal movement of the early 1900’s that influenced the current Christian evangelical movement-the fastest growing part of Christianity, especially in Africa and South America. The Pentecostal experience of spiritual empowerment through the “in-filling of the Holy Spirit” gave newborn Christians a transformative level of connection to God, Christ and truth in ways unseen before in Christendom, mirroring similar break-throughs in other religions. The revival spread from Pentecostal churches to main-line denominations–like the Anglican, Roman Catholic—that began to practice the “charisms,” or gifts of the Spirit—like speaking in tongues—becoming known as the Charismatic movement.

Another offshoot was the birth of the Christian contemplative movement inspired by the life, writings and teachings of the great Trappist Monk Thomas Merton.  Merton no doubt figures into the life and work of another monk, Father Thomas Keating, who began in the Trappist order, but then became abbot of a large Cistercian monastery, St Joseph’s Abbey.  Keating was disturbed at the level of apathy of many Christian congregations.  Seeing how many were drawn to contemplative practices of the East, Keating did years of intensive study and rediscovered the roots of contemplative practice in Christianity, which had been all but lost.  Today, his Centering Prayer movement has touched the lives of many Roman Catholics and Protestants who at last had found a new depth of spirit in their religious experience.

Two Worlds Today: Integral Culture Arises

In my opinion, the world spiritual revival is the seed at the center of the movement toward unity and peace which I call integral culture—meaning a culture of inner and outer connectedness. Life-changing connection to the largeness in life also deepens relationships to other people and the whole Earth community. This revival of the spirit perhaps is the underground river powering many other movements in personal wellness, multi-cultural understanding and tolerance, inter-religious dialogue, gender and racial equity, balance with nature and solidarity across national and political boundaries to form a global civil society wanting freedom from corporate domination and materialistic values.

A sign of the move toward a culture of unity is reflected in the work of sociologist Dr. Paul Ray whose book The Cultural Creatives explores the changing demographics within the US, and by implication, other parts of the world.  He describes the emergence of a significant segment of our society—more than 27% of adults—who share values, attitudes, lifestyles and political views that collectively are quite different from the prevailing culture.  Compared to the Traditionals and the Moderns, the Cultural Creative person tends to have more of the following: 1. Love nature and are disturbed about its destruction 2. Are strongly aware of the problems of the whole planet, and want to see action 3. Would pay more taxes or more for consumer goods if these helped the planet 4. Place emphasis on maintaining strong relationships 5. Value helping others  6. Volunteer for one or more causes 7.  Care intensely about psychological and spiritual growth 8. See spirituality or religion as important in life, but are concerned about the role of the religious right in politics 9. Want more equality for women at work and more women leaders 10. Are concerned about violence and the abuse of women and children 11. Want our government spending to emphasize children, education, community well-being and a sustainable future 12. Tend to be optimistic about our future 13. Are unhappy with the Left and Right politics 14. Want to be involved in creating a new and better way of life 15. Are concerned about what big corporations are doing in the name of making more profits, downsizing, putting people out of work and harming the environment 16. Prefer  thrift and to have their finances under control 17. Dislike modern society’s emphasis on success, “making it” and spending on luxury goods 18. Like places and people that are foreign and exotic, and like to experience other culture and people. A survey of these eighteen attributes indicates that you are probably a cultural creative if you feel 10 or more apply to you. 

Despite their numerical significance, the cultural creative segment is nonetheless not fully reflected in the money-driven power structures that run the world. While 50 million or more Americans are cultural creatives ( and higher numbers in Europe as well as other regions) their values have not significantly changed politics, our hierarchical institutions, education, religion and other aspects of life.  Nor does the Cultural Creative agenda get much attention in the media which is largely dominated by the Modern, pro-business agenda. While Europe and other places have stronger pro-unity agendas, these too are still under control of Modernist thinking.

However, this is in the process of changing, as is witnessed by the spectacular success of the Barak Obama campaign. Dr. Ray has recently teamed up with Jim Garrison (who cofounded the State of the World Forum in 1995 with Mikhail Gorbachev) to launch a global survey initiative and linking of Cultural Creatives similar to Paul Hawken’s work (Blessed Unrest). An interview with Garrison about his and Ray’s work is worth listening to on the What Is Enlightenment? web site, where Garrison addresses the Obama success as a cultural creative movement–for the first time, this important segment is finding a voice in American politics. Read the brief interview and then listen to the 2-minute audi clip. 

What we are witnessing today is the struggle between two kinds of mindsets or world views along with their attending values, attitudes, lifestyles, government policies and so forth.  One I’ll call mechanistic, and the other integral. Each worldview is a way or making sense of life and comes with assumptions that guide our actions.  Each are powerful movers of human events.

The dominant mechanistic civilization we all grew up in is dualistic, scientific, and looking at the world in terms of separate objects. The mechanistic mind divides, categorizes, and analyzes, believing this will lead to greater truths—which in a way it does—but  at the expense of seeing the whole.  This techno-scientific culture is an attempt to control the course of human  events and everything else, like other people and nature, which that depends on. Cultural anthropologist and writer Riane Eisler describes this kind of civilization as a “dominator” culture, citing the historical role of domination through hierarchical control that is felt necessary for social order at the individual, family, community and nation-state level. Hierarchy informs most organizational structures today in government, commerce, religion, education and the scientific world. It also ensures that those lower in the hierarchy—such as women, youth and people of color—tend to be excluded from power, which for about nine thousand years, has mostly been given to men.  In fact, we would have to go back to the pre-patriarchal (male-oriented) cultures to find a time when women’s wisdom and role was equal to or greater that that of men.

Counter to the mechanistic, dominator culture is the emerging culture of unity and partnership which Icall the integral culture.  What has always amazed me is the innate wisdom of life itself: that just when humanity is capable of destroying itself, the integral mind is being birthed as a potential salvation for humankind.

Integral culture is more horizontal as opposed to vertical, inclusive vs. exclusive, and welcomes both the presence and wisdom of  those who were excluded in the dominator culture—such as the feminine, multi-cultural and youth points of view. Integral culture tends to look at reality systemically—not piece by piece—seeing how all the individual parts interact to form a network or whole living system. The integral mind by nature intuitively “feels” part of a larger whole, including other people, nature and even extending out to the cosmos at large.  As such, the integral person is inherently oriented toward peace and cooperation, sensing that one’s own fate and well-being are linked to all other beings.  In many respects, the integral culture is more like that of indigenous peoples, in which human community, earth and spirit were felt to co-exist in one perfect whole.

 The birth of integral culture at its core is a spiritual phenomenon.  Think of this as a whole bunch of people all over the world having an awakening to the inter-connectedness in life.  With that connection comes empathy, understanding, compassion and the will to talk and listen, as opposed to going to judgement, fear and suspicion.  If we look back over the last 100+ years, we’ll see that spiritual awakening is one key cornerstone of an integral culture that has influenced social attitudes, science, organizational structure, technology, our views of nature and the emergence today of a global civil society.

The concept of human inter-connectedness with all of life is not new. In Africa, the birthplace of humanity there is a concept of Ubuntu which has many meanings, one of which might be “I am because you are.” Zulu healer and elder Credo Mutwa speaks well about this on a video segment shown from the Global Oneness Project. 


We’ll take a brief look at the many aspects of the emerging integral cultural. Some of these are so common to us today that we fail to appreciate their historical significance—for example the suffrage movement giving women the right to vote, which is barely 100 years old. 


The Interfaith & Ecumenical Movement

 The desire to talk with and learn from people of different religious backgrounds and beliefs reflects people’s innate curiosity and appreciation of friendship with others different from themselves. This seed was watered by the great spiritual revivals of the last 150 years to become a world-wide movement for interfaith dialogue and mutual discovery. Interfaith dialogue does not aim at a mixing of religions or blurring of their distinctions, but seeks to promote mutual understanding, greater peace and a lessening of the chance for conflict based on religious differences.  The first such gathering was the World Parliament of Religions convened in 1893 in Chicago, taking opportunity from the World Columbian Exposition (an early world’s fair) that brought thousands around the world to that city.  Recent subsequent parliaments took place in Chicago again in 1993, Cape Town South Africa in 1999, and as part of the Universal Forum of Cultures in 2004 in Barcelona, Spain.

Other organizations and initiatives too numerous to mention here were formed in the same spirit, including the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue, the Rumi forum and a variety of East-West initiatives. Most, but not all of these include Christianity which also has its own version of interfaith dialogue called the ecumenical movement. Criticized by religious conservatives, the ecumenical movement is nonetheless an authentic attempt to explore points of unity among the varying churches, with the World Council of Churhces the largest worldwide organization with an ecumenical mission.

Science of an Interconnected World

The twentieth century saw the shattering in science of a mechanical view of the world from classical physics to one that is deeply mysterious, interconnected and unpredictable. Based on observations of large objects, classical physics described a world of certainty and determination like a clock and mechanistic as when a stick hits a ball.  If you knew things like the weight of the ball, velocity and size of the stick, and the amount friction or interference, it was felt one could accurately predict the ball’s trajectory. 


But all of that fell apart when quantum physics came on the scene, through the ideas of scientists like  Max Planck, Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. Compared to the mechanistic world of visible objects, the microscopic world of tiny particles—or quanta—were found to be incredibly inter-connected and acted in strange ways. Physicist and writer Fritjof Capra in his highly popular work the Tao of Physics drew a parallel between the world as seen in quantum theory and that of Eastern mysticism seeing unity in the world. No longer could we count on true scientific objectivity nor on the exclusivity or separation of things which were relied on in the world of classical physics.  For example, the duality that something is EITHER this OR  that went out the window with Bohr’s principle of complementarity. Complementarity means items could be found to have several contradictory properties. Physicists currently conclude that light is both a particle and wave (or a stream of particles) — two apparently mutually exclusive properties — on the basis of this principle. This does away with notion of duality and separation which lies at the heart of the mechanistic world view, and has philosophical implications for a unified view of reality.

Mirroring the ground-breaking of quantum physics was the development of general systems theory established by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Anatol Rapoport, Kenneth E. Boulding, William Ross Ashby, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and others in the 1950s. As in physics, too many phenomena in humans and nature were not well explained by mechanistic theories.  So the transdisciplinary and multi-view theory of general systems was developed to describe the properties, interdependencies and relationships of organizations—both human and natural. The focus went from looking at the parts—the mechanistic focus—to looking at whole and how parts interrelated with one another under changing conditions. Systems theory was so successful it found useful applications in geography, sociology, political science, organization theory, business management and family (systems) therapy, just to name a few.

A startling and ground-breaking application of systems theory came from Dr. James Lovelock who was working for NASA to develop a model for how to know if there 

was life on other planets.  Observing the system of mutually supportive properties and processes that make life possible on Earth, Lovelock concluded that the biomass of Earth self-regulates the conditions on the planet to make the physical environment (temperature and chemistry of the atmosphere) more hospitable to the species which constitute its “life.” Lovelock used the term the Gaia Hypothesis to describe this curious form of hospitality—the Word Gaia coming from the Greek, meaning earth.  Earth, he said, is itself a living organism, and not just a ball of inert, dead matter.  The ethical and spiritual implications of this theory are obvious.  Earth is a being, and worthy of respect as such.

A collaborator with Lovelock, Dr. Lynn Margulis took his Gaia Hypothesis further in exploring and suggesting that the micro-organisms at the center of life processes on Earth did not evolve based on competition—as in the sense Charles Darwin implied—but on mutual cooperation. Rather than “survival of the fittest,” a notion of the mechanistic world, it is survival of the “fittingest,” or those that best cooperate with others. 

These revelations from science have had earth-shaking significance to philosophy, religions, the social sciences and our general world views. In a short fifty years, the new science dispelled the mechanistic notions of machine-like universe of separate objects sanctioning the role of humans as the boss of Earth with the right to do as they see fit. It was now clear that life on Earth survives by getting along with everything else we live with.

Technology & Trade

 It’s easiest for us to see the interconnectedness of the world when we look at the technological revolution that has put other people and cultures on our living room TV’s, in our imported foods and clothing from around the globe. A trip that would have taken months is now a matter of hours. Telephone as well as Internet has us  sharing and finding solidarity with peoples from far parts of the globe  for the first time in human history.  In prior times, it was only the soldiers or tradespeople who brought back tales and goods from far-away exotic places. But now a westerner traveling to Asia or Africa—and vice versa—are a common occurrence. Global commerce today is astronomical, as is the web of international finance and lending between countries. This is to the point that an economic meltdown in some parts of the world could easily set off a domino effect of world-wide recession.

 An Inclusive World of Greater Fairness

 Not long ago, slavery was legal in the US and much of he world, horrific exploitation of non-white peoples the norm, women relegated to inferior status, indigenous societies seen as base savages and children regarded as little beings better “seen and not heard”  and forced to work long hours in factories under unhealthy conditions that assured an early death for many. In the short period of 150 years from when all these were realities, the face of human society and norms of fairness and dignity have radically changed in much of the world. And though certain societies still condone the repression of women, unhealthy child labor and work conditions we would regard as slavery, there has been a sea change toward greater fairness and equity.

 In developed countries women’s equality with men is unquestioned, even if it doesn’t equate today with equal pay and position in institutional hierarchies compared to men.  The popular understanding of human development from sociology and psychology have liberated children from neglectful and harmful societal attitudes, creating a more healthy understanding of the conditions we need to raise whole children. The battle for human rights and self-determination among people of color has spread throughout the world as India, Africa and Asia  revolted against imperial domination and gained their freedoms. The non-violent revolution against British imperial control led by the great reformer Mahatma Gandhi also inspired Dr. Martin Luther King’s triumphant fight during the 1950’s and 60’s in the USA against segregation and the inhuman treatment of African Americans. And, of course, now, we have come to a point in history when an African-American will become President, as I write about in my post titled The Obama Phenmoenon.

Few would contest that the fight for fairness is over. But viewed through the lens of history, today humankind has far more diversity and justice at its table than it did in prior centuries.  We are  moving away from the predominantly, white, masculine dominator-oriented culture which has informed human history since before the ancient empires of Persia , Greece and Rome. For instance, demographers say that by the year 2050 in the United States  almost 50% of the population will, in fact, be what we formerly called minorty. The minority is becoming the majority.

Partnership With Nature

A contribution of indigenous societies—like the First Peoples of America—is their view of nature as a sacred gift and their sense of mutual responsibility to preserve the bounty of nature for future generations. Living close to the Earth, native peoples learned how to hunt, grow food and harvest natural materials without upsetting the fragile balance of nature. 

Moving away from forests and into cities, humans became less intimate with the natural world, either fearing it as a place of dangerous spirits, romanticizing it or utilizing it for their own benefit without regard to future consequences. Human arrogant separation from and domination of nature, combined with e huge population explosion in the last 150 years, has brought us to our current environmental crisis. 

As part of the movement toward greater unity, the reconnection of people with nature has evolved slowlyover the last century, taking on its most recent form of a world-wide environmental movement that is providing a strong voice for the natural world and for a human future. Through this we are regaining the wisdom of the Earth.

 Some of the roots of our current environmental attitudes and practices come from pioneering conservationists like Aldo Leopold and John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club.  Breath-taking photos of nature, like Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park, taken by renounced photographer Ansel Adams helped millions who never went there to experience the awe and beauty of the natural world.

 Earlier sources to modern environmentalism grew from the 18th century Transcendental Movement which held that God was within each person and in nature and that individual intuition is the highest source of knowledge, leading to an emphasis on individualism, self-reliance, and rejection of traditional authority. Writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau became widely read. Thoreau’s retreat to Walden Pond, which he wrote about in his book by the same name, became the bible for the environmental movement and, later the movement toward a simpler, uncluttered life.  Famous quotes from Thoreau’s work ring as true today as when they were written: “Men have become tools of their tools,”  reflecting on the meaningless drudgery of the modern life. His determination to wrestle meaning from life by reducing it to its barest essentials we see here. “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” This well-known passage also captures the relationship between human meaning and a direct experience of the natural world and life: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

 Nature here is a teacher, healer and the context in which human lives in their natural simplicity regain meaning.  We see this also echoed in the deep ecology movement of the last thirty years that recognizes the spiritual dimension of the natural world, and that the Earth, as a living being (as Lovelock says) has a soul from which humans draw their own spiritual sustenance. 

This is a long way away from the mechanistic view of nature as a resource for human consumption and use, or even as nature as a source of beauty for humans to enjoy.  In this watershed period, humanity is once again rediscovering the truths known to our indigenous ancestors of our deep connectedness with a sacred world.  

Global Civil Society

 Many say the “Battle in Seattle” is the public debut of what is known the contemporary global civil society movement.  Over the course of three days beginning November 30, 1999, a civil protest was mounted to speak out against the erosion of human rights, environmental health, democratic governance, media freedoms, economic security and a host of ills brought on by globalization—the consolidation of power in corporate hands, aided by the policies of international organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Farmers, union laborers, native tribal members, students, church leaders, environmentalists and social activists from such far away places as France, India, Australia, Japan, South America—as well as from all over the USA—converged on Seattle at the occasion of the WTO ministerial conference, which was to launch a new round of trade negations. The people who came represented one of the most diverse assemblies of interests seen in modern times, all with one mind and purpose. That was to fight against the inhuman aspects of global trade and corporate irresponsibility which had been causing havoc around the world, and which was being empowered by organizations like the WTO whose international agreements overturned national laws that benefit people and the environment.

 Global civil society is a social expression of the awakening of an authentic planetary culture grounded in the common spiritual aspirations and social experience of hundreds of millions of people.. The downside of unbridled corporate power affecting communities and people in similar ways gave millions from radically different cultures, languages and backgrounds a common enemy and cause.  From the newsworthy disruption of the WTO conference in Seattle, other protests were staged at future WTO meetings as well as related gatherings like the G8, or the international forum of leading governments including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

 This show of solidarity strengthened the spread of other global gatherings, leading among which are the World Social Forums, giving birth to many regional social forums around the globe. The dream of “another world is possible” became the slogan of a movement which, in spite of its small size, remembers that all the biggest changes in history came from the small seeds of ordinary people doing great things together. 

 First appearing in Porto Allegre, Brazil (2001), the World Social Forum (WSF) is not just located in one place, but was always conceived of as a world movement. It has taken place in Mumbai, India (2004), where the attendance grew to 100,000 people. Decentralized events then happened in Venezuela, Mali and Pakistan in 2006, with the 2007 event occurring in Nairobi, Kenya. The first of fourteen points in the WSF Charter read much like the Earth Charter, which is covered next: “The World Social Forum is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth.”

Social and environmental activist Paul Hawken speaks in  moving terms about the movement towards a global civil society he has seen over the last 15 years of making a thousand or more speeches all over the world when people would come up to him after his talks and given him their business cards.  Hawken started to collect these cards from social and environmental activists. When they began to number in the thousands, he had a sudden realization that there were a whole lot of these kinds of organizations in all parts of the world. At that point he decided to make an official count and got initially to about 140,000 organizations. But as he did more research, the numbers grew exponentially, until they were over 1 million and climbing. By this time, Hawken had started the Wiser Commons Network which brought people from many parts of the world together to identify all the organizations in the world working toward a new kind of world society.  The idea was to create an Internet database which would foster greater networking among the many parts of this global civil society.

A New Moral Manifesto:  The Earth Charter

 The Earth Charter

Perhaps nothing expresses the heart and mind of the emerging integral culture better than the Earth Charter, the most significant, global declaration of social, environmental and economic rights devised in modern times. The Earth Charter Initiative is the collective name for the extraordinarily diverse, global network of people, organizations, and institutions which participate in promoting the Earth Charter, and in implementing its principles in practice.

The Initiative is a broad-based, voluntary, civil society effort, but participants include leading international institutions, national government agencies, university associations, NGOs, cities, faith groups, and many well-known leaders in sustainable development. Most of the nations of the world, including many indigenous peoples without nation status, were represented in formulating or endorsing The Earth Charter. 

I suggest to read slowly and carefully this preamble. It comes as close as anything I know to being a new “dream of earth,” defining the principles upon which will be built a sustainable world that works for all


We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future.  As the  world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great  promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny.  We must  join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.  Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.  

Earth, Our Home

Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of  life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life’s evolution.  The resilience of the community of life and the well-being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air. The global environment with its finite resources is a common concern of all peoples. The protection of Earth’s  vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.

The Global Situation

The dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species.  Communities are being undermined.  The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict are widespread and the cause  of great suffering.  An unprecedented rise in human population has overburdened ecological and social systems. The foundations of global security are threatened. These trends are perilous—but not inevitable. 

The Challenges Ahead

The choice is ours: form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life.  Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living.  We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more.  We have the knowledge and technology to provide for all and to reduce our impacts on the environment.  The emergence of a global civil society is creating new opportunities to build a democratic and humane world.  Our environmental, economic, political, social, and spiritual challenges are interconnected, and together we can forge inclusive solutions. 

Universal Responsibility

To realize these aspirations, we must decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as our local communities.  We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked.  Everyone shares responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world.  The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life, and humility regarding the human place in nature.  

We urgently need a shared vision of basic values to provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community.  Therefore, together in hope we affirm the following interdependent principles for a sustainable way of life as a common standard by which the conduct of all individuals, organizations,  businesses, governments, and transnational institutions is to be guided and assessed.

 A New Story of Humanity

The sum total of all this activity (and much more) I just spoke of is the seed potential of a new global civilization based on trust and respect for oneself and other, compassion, fairness and relationship with the whole community of life on Earth. A cornerstone not fully in place is its story. And without a new story, we are left to struggle with the old one which is not working well, and which is based on fear, greed, domination and exploitation which—if left unchecked—will lead to societal collapse on a global scale.

Humans are by nature a story-telling species. Psychologists, like the Swiss Carl G. Jung  found that the deeper mind—which is called psyche—functions through image making. It’s like the mind feels the emotions and energies of the body and makes sense out of them by creating pictures.  So fear, for example, might get pictured as a monster or scary figure chasing the dreamer. This is why our dreams tell us so much about the part of ourselves we’re usually not conscious of. Dreams are a reading of our unconscious mind put into pictures.

Humans then are made to be image-makers and story-tellers which is how we make sense of the world. For hundreds of thousands of years since before written history, human communities would gather together to tell and hear stories—most many times over. But the stories our recent ancestors told themselves about

how and why the world came into being, and where it and we are going, no longer seem real to lots of people today, given our advances in modern science. That led noted scholar, teacher, writer and cultural anthropologist Joseph Campbell to describe our times as one in which we are in-between one story and in search of a new one.

We feel lost without a bigger narrative to make sense of the world. Apart from the religions which do provide a story, the only story we have is left to us by the money-oriented power structures of the modern world:  success and achievement and the so-called “good life” through economic progress, bringing more things into our lives.  It is a poor and deflated story. There is no heart in this narrative that speaks to things beyond the material world.  It is devoid of love, vulnerable to fear and greed, and has no replenishing spirit to bring people life.

 While humanity waits for a new story, there are some inklings of an integral narrative beginning to gather. One of these is the universe story as explained by people like Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry. These scholars see the birth of a new sense of ourselves in the context of the vast cosmos  which we know a lot more about than our ancestors due to recent discoveries from astrophysics about the origins of the universe.  A new cosmology is emerging, or a study of the universe with reflections on the role of humans in that universe.  This is captured in the writings of a book Berry and Swimme co-authored  titled The Universe Story: From the Primoridal Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic era. Science, they say, explains the universe as intelligent and self-organizing, which means that built right into the tiniest parts and processes of the universe is a kind of perfection and order.  The implications of this are profound.  Because that intelligent order guides the whole, it ought also to guide our human choices and destiny. Physicist Brian Swimme writes:

 “In 1543 Copernicus announced to a startled Europe that the Earth was not stationary, but was sailing rapidly through space as it spun around the Sun. This was difficult news to take in all at once, but over time the Europeans reinvented their entire civilization in light of this strange new fact about the Universe. The fundamental institutions of the medieval world, including the monarchies, the church, the feudal economic system, and the medieval sense of self, melted away as a radically different civilization was constructed.

 We live in a similar moment of breakdown and creativity. The cosmological discovery that shatters nearly everything upon which the modern age was built is the discovery that the Universe came into existence 13.7 billion years ago and is so biased toward complexification that life and intelligence are now seen to be a nearly inevitable construction of evolutionary dynamics. Our new challenge is to reinvent our civilization. The major institutions of the modern period, including that of agriculture and religion and education and economics, need to be re-imagined within an intelligent, self-organizing, living Universe, so that instead of degrading the Earth’s life systems, humanity might learn to join the enveloping community of living beings in a mutually enhancing manner. This great work will surely draw upon the talents and energies of many millions of humans from every culture of our planet and throughout the rest of the 21st century.”

An excellent web site which features the heart of Brian Swimme’s work is Global MindShift.  It Is well worth visiting and viewing. Below is a sample of his presentation.