By Neale Donald Walsch.
A complete shift in the way we ‘do life’
My brothers, my sisters, my companions…
I have said since the outset of this conversation that there is nothing for us to be afraid of in the years ahead…save doing nothing. Then I have given all of us something to do, so we didn’t have to worry about doing nothing. Now we had something we can all do easily. We simply needed to engage people in conversation.
I have suggested the topics for these conversations. I have said they might revolve around Seven Simple Questions. And finally, I promised to offer some beginning ideas as the basis of opening discussions around the creation of humanity’s New Cultural Story.
Now to keep that last promise…
My wonderful fellow human beings, I am proposing here a complete shift in the way we live our lives, from a dyad to a triad reality.
This is not a new idea. Actually, it’s a rather old one. Nor am I the only one proposing it in these new times. Which is what tells me that it’s a very good idea.
Let us speak first about our Collective Life (the life we experience exterior to ourselves; our experience as a civilization), then, a bit later on, we’ll look at how shifting from a dyad experience to a triad experience would work in our Individual Life (the life that we experience interior to ourselves; our experience as an individual).
Innovating our society’s future
Others, far more credentialed that I will ever be, have been talking for a very long time about humanity’s global experience and how it could shift. I believe that now it is time for all of us to be talking about it, and so…these opening thoughts for our New Cultural Story…
I first heard of the idea of balancing spheres of our Collective Life when I became familiar nearly 20 years ago with the thinking of Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian who lived from the latter half of the 19th Century to the first quarter of the 20th, and who was variously described as a philosopher, social innovator, architect, and esotericist.
In recent times I have been brought back to the idea again, through an awareness of the work of Nicanor Perlas, III a social activist from the Philippines and the 2003 recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (often referred to as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”).
Let me go back to that first connection.
It was Rudolph Steiner who proposed that in an enlightened civil society there would be a natural experience and expression of three areas of endeavor: Economy, Politics, and Culture.
He also suggested that society could only function harmoniously when each was granted equal importance and sufficient independence to allow those three realms to “mutually correct each other in an ongoing process.”
This idea became known as “social threefolding.”
Prior to the end of World War I, an article in Wikipedia relates, Steiner spoke increasingly often of the dangerous tensions inherent in the contemporary societal structures and political entanglements.He suggested that a collapse of traditional social forms was imminent, and that every aspect of society would soon have to be built up consciously rather than relying on the inheritance of the past.
Anything here you can agree with?
Let me repeat that, because you may have glossed over it. Rudolph Steiner was predicting a hundred years ago that a collapse of traditional social forms (shall we call this our Old Cultural Story?) was imminent, and that every aspect of society would soon have to be built up consciously (shall we call this the Overhaul of Humanity?) rather than relying on the inheritance of the past (shall we call this the need to write a New Cultural Story?)
Now a hundred years, as we’ve just learned, is but the blink of an eye in cosmic terms. So Steiner’s prediction that the overhaul was “imminent” was not that far off. (And, of course, the stock market crash and the economic collapse of 1929, producing The Great Depression, came breaths after his writings appeared, and was a harbinger of things to come just 75 years later.)
Taken from the Wikipedia article virtually verbatim, here’s a rundown of Steiner’s main points about Social Threefolding, upon which he suggested modern society be based.
(I’m presenting this Wikipedia article here because I believe what Steiner offered deserves our particular attention in these days just ahead as we consider how we might write our own new story.)
See if you agree with Steiner’s contention that we should create:
* Separation between the state and the economy (stakeholder economics)…
Examples: A rich man should be prevented from buying politicians and laws. A politician shouldn’t be able to parlay his political position into riches earned by doing favors for businessmen. Slavery is unjust, because it takes something political, a person’s inalienable rights, and absorbs them into the economic process of buying and selling.
Steiner said, “In the old days, there were slaves. The entire man was sold as commodity… Today, capitalism is the power through which still a remnant of the human being—his labor power—is stamped with the character of a commodity.”
Steiner also advocated more cooperatively organized forms of capitalism (what might today be called stakeholder capitalism) precisely because conventional shareholder capitalism tends to absorb the State and human rights into the economic process and transform them into mere commodities.
* Separation between the state and cultural life…
Examples: A government should not be able to control culture; i.e., how people think, learn, or worship. A particular religion or ideology should not control the levers of the State. Steiner held that pluralism and freedom were the ideal for education and cultural life.
* Separation between the economy and cultural life…
Examples: The fact that churches, temples and mosques do not make the ability to enter and participate depend on the ability to pay, and that libraries and some museums are open to all free of charge, is in tune with Steiner’s notion of a separation between cultural and economic life.
In a similar spirit, Steiner held that all families, not just rich ones, should have freedom of choice in education and access to independent, non-government schools for their children.
Steiner’s view of education’s social position called for separation of the cultural sphere from the political and economic spheres, and meant that education should be available to all children regardless of the ability of families to pay for it and, on the elementary and secondary level, should be provided for by private and/or state scholarships that a family could direct to the school of its choice.
Steiner was a supporter of educational freedom, but was flexible, and understood that a few legal restrictions on schools (such as health and safety laws), provided they were kept to an absolute minimum, would be necessary and justified.
Looking to the French
Steiner held that the French Revolution’s slogan, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, expressed in an unconscious way the distinct needs of the three social spheres:
- Liberty in cultural life,
- Equality in a democratic political life, and
- Solidarity in economic life.
According to Steiner, these values, each one applied to its proper social realm, would tend to keep the cultural, economic and political realms from merging inappropriately, and allow these realms and their respective values to check, balance and correct one another. The result would be a society-wide separation of powers.
Steiner argued that increased autonomy for the three spheres would not eliminate their mutual influence, but would cause that influence to be exerted in a more healthy and legitimate manner, because the increased separation would prevent any one of the three spheres from dominating.
(Source for most of the writing above: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_threefolding . Re-use of material Licensing notice: This work is released under CC-BY-SA. Here is the URL to the text of the license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
Advice not taken, predictions come true
Because society never adopted Steiner’s model, each of those three spheres has, in one place or another on our planet during the ensuing years, not been prevented from dominating. His prediction of this was uncannily prescient.
Lack of autonomy had tended to make each sphere merge in a servile or domineering way with the others. Among the various kinds of macro-social imbalance Steiner predicted, all of which have come to pass, were three major types:
* Theocracy, in which the cultural sphere (in the form of a religious impulse) dominates the economic and political spheres. (Iran?)
* State communism and state socialism, in which the state (political sphere) dominates the other two spheres. (Russia and its satellite socialist states?)
* Corporate capitalism, in which the economic sphere dominates the other two spheres. (The United States of America?)
The game isn’t over yet
These developments notwithstanding, we have not come to the end of the game. During this time, as we experience the Overhaul of Humanity, we can—you and I—write a new story about how we want both Collective Life and Individual Life to be.
And now along comes a gentleman named Nicanor Perlas as one possible inspiration, essentially picking up 100 years later where Rudolph Steiner left off. Let me tell you a bit about this man, and then share with you some of the articulations of an organization he has created.
Nicanor Perlas is a modern-day social thinker of the first rank, consultant to many government and non-governmental organizations around the world, and was a candidate for president of the Philippines in the 2010 election (he lost to the Liberal Party’s Benigno C. Aquino III).
After the election he launched a new national/global project called MISSION, or the Movement of Imaginals for Sustainable Societies through Initiatives, Organizing and Networking.
The goal of MISSION (www.imaginalmission.net) is to create a new kind of civil society, where the quest for sustainability is grounded in social threefolding. He speaks constantly of societal transformation that is based on and emerges from socially-engaged spirituality and deep substantive inner change. (Italics mine)
This, of course, is exactly what Conversations with God and The Conversations Movement is all about. We are talking here about socially-engaged spirituality and deep substantive inner change.
Straying from first purpose
Mr. Perlas’ model for tomorrow calls for “an economics of solidarity or associative economics and not an economics of competition.”
I understand the words “economics of solidarity” to mean an economic system that serves the first purpose of economics.
Originally, the purpose of economics was not to make a profit. The original purpose was simply to establish a system under which people could trade with each other, exchanging their goods and sharing their abilities, so that the entire community could survive.
The thought was that mutual benefit would create solidarity within a community, thus facilitating the entire group in marching toward its survival goal. A little like ants in a colony—to use an admittedly rough and somewhat lacking analogy.
No one imagined at the outset that the simple rules for trading goods and services would evolve into a system producing wildly disproportionate benefit for one sector of the community over the other—much less at the expense or on the back of the other.
That would not have been an economics of solidarity, but an economics of disunity and separation—which is precisely the economics of today, producing its Haves and its Have Nots.
Nicanor Perlas’ call for an economics without competition could have come straight out of Conversations with God, which made the case in the mid-90s that competition was based on the concept that there is “not enough” of whatever it is we think we need to be happy—a concept that is almost bizarre in its degree of inaccuracy.
There is enough of everything we need for all of us to be truly happy, and all we have to do is find a way to share it. That’s the outcome that economics was originally intended to produce. Sadly, somewhere along the way we lost our way.
Mr. Perlas suggests that we can get back to the First Purpose of economic activity, adding that under his proposal “…the concept of an open market will be retained, but price and profits as signals for economic decision-making will be removed from their central position.
Instead, price and profits will be among the considerations for economic associations as they try to ensure that the human needs of all are adequately satisfied by the economic system.”
The foundational thought here is that when the concerns of humanity’s cultural sphere (what Nicanor Perlas refers to as “civil society”) are given equal weight with its economic and political concerns, our Collective Life works—not just for the few, but for the many.
Says Mr. Perlas: “Some may think that societal threefolding is just a wonderful idea, but that’s it, just a nice idea. In reality, aspects of it are already operational in the United Nations and other global institutions, as well as in the writings of prominent thinkers and leaders, including MIT Senior Lecturer Peter Senge, considered to be one of the top 5 business thought leaders of our time, as well as MIT’s Otto Scharmer, founder of Theory U.
“There, they call it either ‘‘tri-sectorial partnerships,’ or ‘global public policy network,’ or ‘societal learning.’ In the end the idea is the same: the importance of mobilizing civil society, government, and business to achieve broad based, comprehensive sustainable development.”
What do you think of this idea?
Okay, that’s what imminent social thinkers have had to say about this idea of “social threefolding.” I’d like to take a look at it just a little more closely now, in my own words, in so-called layman’s terms—because I believe it could form an important part of the beginning foundation for humanity’s New Cultural Story.
As I understand it in my regular-person way, “Threefolding” refers to a process by which society acknowledges, and acts on its acknowledgement, that everything people become engaged in or involved with during their daily Collective Lives falls into one of three main areas: the person’s and the society’s economics, politics, or culture.
To me, “economics” still means what we all do to survive—and the latter-day mechanisms that we’ve created (business, commerce, and industry) to allow us to do that. It is the process we have put into place by which we meet our needs and satisfy our desires.
“Politics” to me continues to mean all group or communal decision-making and governance that creates cooperation with, and assistance from, others. (“Cooperation with others” could mean laws that regulate communal and mutual behavior. “Assistance from others” could mean taxes that produce financial resources to then be used to assist those who need assistance; not just the poor, but anyone who requires assistance in the form of basic services—i.e. police and fire protection, water and sewer service, travelable roads and highways, etc.)
The word “culture” is a big one for me. I’m sure that’s why Mr. Perlas likes the term “civil society.” It is, perhaps, a term we can more easily get our hands around. I am going to wrap into this category all the things that people do besides (a) working for a living or (b) seeking cooperation or assistance from others. This could include activities related to spirituality, sports, entertainment, interactive social exchanges, meeting of basic human impulses (love, sexual expression, partnership, marriage, parenting, recreation, creative hobbies, etc.), and the ecology of our various planetary environments.
So now again, what Threefolding suggests is that life should be looked at as a three-fold experience—and that none of these experiences should be dominated by any of the others. They should be kept separate, as far as normal and natural interactive life will allow, but interactive. Separate but interactive. That’s the key.
I also understand proponents of Threefolding to be saying that because society has not embraced this model, single-sector domination continues to occur—and that this is the reason for many of the social ills and dysfunctions of today.
To me that appears to be an unassailable assertion.
Nobody could seriously argue the fact that corporate money and business influence dominates our politics. Nobody could deny that religion and religious views seriously impact our politics as well. Nor could anybody miss experiencing that business and the economy dominates our culture. All they’d have to do is watch 30 minutes of television on any given night. Or see if they could catch a good movie anymore without also catching product drop-ins in every other scene.
A thought that the content of these entertainments is not in any way affected by the economic platform on which they stand would be, to put it kindly, somewhat unsophisticated.
What I am joining Mr. Steiner, Mr. Perlas and others in suggesting here is that the New Cultural Story that you and I can collaborate in writing should include not only separation of Church and State, but elimination of the domination of one sphere of human Collective Life by another. We could get a start in doing that by:
* Creating laws making corporate donations to political campaigns illegal.
* Keeping business and corporate lobbyists out of the halls of our legislatures and, as I said earlier, stop treating corporations as if they were persons under the law, giving them the same rights as individuals.
* Regulating the amount and type of advertising allowed in all media, and granting at least 20% of all media to advertising-free public creation and public access
* Guaranteeing equal time for all points of view on all media outlets on major political, economic, and social issues of the day
* Providing sufficient public funding for non-business-sponsored and non-corporate-dominated mass communication, such as public television, etc.
This list could go on and on. In fact, I hope it will. I’ve deliberately limited specific ideas and suggestions here in order to allow you the opportunity to enlarge this list and expand on these proposals, free of further influence or content.
What must occur if Threefolding is to work
Now there is one thing that absolutely has to happen if a new balance is to be achieved between the three spheres of human Collective Life. The third sphere must be recognized. It must be equalized. It must be given its proper place in the triumvirate.
Right now our cultural, spiritual, social, ecological, and communal aspects of life are subordinated to the economic and political aspects. They are given short shrift by the media (which is economics dominated) and by the government (which is politics dominated).
These days the imperative of politics and business is to cut off the free flow of ideas from the cultural sector (public broadcasting, free access Internet, etc.).
“In fact,” says Nicanor Perlas, “global powers behind one-sided globalization are only too aware of its strategic importance and are trying to hijack or co-opt civil society as a third global power and harness this force for their own ends.”
Ideas from the cultural sphere, or what Mr. Perlas calls civil society, that do not coincide with the thoughts and goals of business or government are therefore systematically minimalized and marginalized—as will be, no doubt, the ideas in this book.
Even the call for ideas from outside of this book will probably be described by the Establishment as a jejune approach to the solving of humanity’s problems; a naïve and simplistic appeal at best.
Yet the appeal is neither naïve nor simplistic, but the most powerful tool ever put into the hands of humanity: conversation. For it is as Victor Hugo is said to have written in his diaries: Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.
I believe that humanity now is desperately calling for new ideas, and desperately needs to be stronger that all the armies. Those new ideas must emerge in particular (but by no means exclusively) from the cultural sphere.
They must come from spiritual teachers and artists, from poets and philosophers, from educators and ecologists, from journalists and athletes and postal clerks and miners and traffic cops and nurses and waiters and musicians and cooks and cleaners and clerks and salesmen and housewives and househusbands and from…Regular People Everywhere.
That is to say, from you.
For balance to be achieved between humanity’s three activity spheres there must also be not merely an acceptance of the cultural sphere, not only a recognition of it, but an honoring of its importance. Its various expressions should be funded by the other two sectors as a matter of law and policy and social obligation, not as a matter of largesse.
Right now we can’t even get the public to provide sufficient funds for elementary schools, for heaven sake. The concern of everybody is to lower their property tax, even if it means lowering the quality of education.
We’ve created secondary schools in which the teaching of Business Math has been judged more important than the offering of Drama or Music (so-called extracurricular activities which are now all-too-often budgeted out of education programs. But just try to eliminate another “extracurricular activity”—sports. Oh, no, never. Not in a country of Friday Nights.)
We’ve created television networks where crass cartoon shows replete with juvenile jokes about flatulence are given more prime time exposure than biography programs about people who have immeasurably enhanced the human experience, or discussion programs about current affairs, or enriching programs about the marvels of our planet and its countless life forms. In fact, as I have noted, many want to now cut off public funding for such programs altogether.
We have created a society in which an auto race is more important that the human race.
The U.S. Government, through the budget of the National Guard, is reportedly spending roughly $20 million to sponsor NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt Jr., while the Army spends $7.4 million to sponsor Ryan Newman, and the Air Force spends $1.6 million on AJ Allmendinger.
Apparently, according to press reports, the Army is spending another $8 million on NASCAR programs in general. All of this is, the military says, is for the purpose of attracting new recruits.
Not happy about this at all, U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum, D-Minn., proposed legislation that would ban the Pentagon from using taxpayer dollars to sponsor NASCAR race teams. Pretty wild idea, eh?
She issued a statement saying, in essence, that she found it beyond inappropriate for Congress to vote to spends multi-millions on race car teams while at the same time cutting funding for homeless veterans, community health centers, and family planning services.
I can’t even believe this is a discussion. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives not only discussed it, but voted down McCollum’s idea, 281-148.
Breaking the habit
As you can see, it’s not going to be a simple matter to create an appropriate balance between the three spheres of Collective Life. As Nicanor Perlas notes…“Existing business and government powers often have to be forced to yield the cultural space that they long to occupy.
“These political and economic powers often need to be awakened by a demonstration of cultural power in order to appreciate the reality of civil society and the cultural realm.
“Because institutions are inhabited by people, there are such things as institutional habits. And problematic institutional habits often die hard and need to be countered by the activism of civil society.”
The Conversations Movement is about just that. It is a manifestation of “the activism of civil society.” It has been created precisely to create “a demonstration of cultural power,” because “problematic institutional habits often die hard.”
Part of the difficulty is that many people don’t believe there really is a problem. Not a big one, anyway.
What about you? Do you believe that there’s a major problem of imbalance today between meeting the needs of the people within our culture, the needs of the economic engine that was designed to sustain them, and the needs of it political machinery that was created to serve them?
Who is serving and sustaining whom?
POINTS I HOPE YOU WILL REMEMBER…
* What would be extraordinarily beneficial would be a complete shift in the way we live our lives, from a dyad to a triad reality.
* Society should be divided into three activity areas: economics, politics, and culture.
* Activities in these three areas should be interrelated, but never intermingled.
Indeed, all efforts should be made to separate them, as they are intermingled now.
* What is needed in our world is societal transformation based on and emerging from socially-engaged spirituality and deep substantive inner change.
ACTION I HOPE YOU WILL TAKE…
* Learn all you can about the concept of what is called “social threefolding.”
* Bring this idea into your Seven Questions Discussion Group.
* Encourage the political, spiritual, and business leaders in your community to embrace threefolding as a construction concept in building tomorrow’s world.
* Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper, snippets for internet social networking sites, blogs, and articles to submit to everything from church bulletins to magazines about the benefits of moving from a dyad (economics and politics) to a triad (adding culture, or citizens’ lives) experience and reality in our collective and individual lives—then work for a balance between the three, rather than a domination by one.
10 Nov 2015.
© Neale Donald Walsch.
The Storm Before the Calm: Book 1 in the Conversations with Humanity Series – by Neale Donald Walsch. Paperback published 1 October 2011, Emnin Books, Oregon, USA; ISBN-13: 978-1401936921