PCDForum Article #21 Release Date May 20, 1997
by Willis W. Harman
Our best hope for the future lies in a global dialogue. As a society we’re
not serious enough about planning for the future. Either we tend to treat
matters at a superficial level and not go deeply enough, or we pursue a piece of
a problem when a holistic approach is really what is needed.
Three questions should be addressed. Where are we in history? Where do we
want to go as a society (what kind of world do we want to live in)? And is there
at least one pathway from here to there?
These questions are much more profound than they seem. They require people
to re-examine some cherished assumptions. They can and should be address by
everyone on the planet. And the resulting global dialogue will be the source of
the change that is going to bring the modern era to a close and bring us into
the new era.
At the Institute for Noetic Sciences we have been tracking the evidence that
this dialogue has already begun. Most people now believe that we’re in the
throes of a transformation so fundamental that it is changing our world view.
One force behind this change is a growing subculture of what Paul Ray calls the
"Cultural Creatives," people who emphasize spiritual, ecological, and
feminine values rather than the materialist, economic values that currently
Another transforming force is the growing awareness that the problems we
face are not like the problems of the past. Formerly, problems were of such a
nature that if you had a little better management or a better technology, you
could solve them. Today there seems to be an interlinkage of problems that get
progressively worse, and if you try to do something about one part, you push it
down and something else rises up.
To take a medical analogy, at one level you could say, "Well, I’ve got
a headache and a sore throat and a pain in my belly and I’m going to do
something about each one of those symptoms." Or you could say, "I have
a collection of symptoms of some more fundamental illness; let me try to find
out what it is and what has to be done to deal with it." That’s asking the
question at a different level and then you act at that different, deeper level."
Having decided where we are as a society, answering the second question of
where we want to go is fairly easy. People the world over have quite similar
responses to what the "there" is, what kind of world they want for
their children and grandchildren.
So the sticky question is the third one: How to get from here to there?
Continuing the medical analogy, you could say to your doctor: "I have these
symptoms, I’m not quite sure what the illness is, but I want you to take care of
it. But I do like certain foods and I want to be sure you don’t change my diet,
and I do like to smoke, and I don’t want any interference with my sexual habits,
and I don’t want to change the work I’m doing even though there’s a lot of
stress. Subject to the fact that you don’t change any of those things, please
deal with my illness." Though it’s a bit embarrassing, we must admit that
to a certain extent, every one of us is doing that sort of thing. We’re saying,
"Let’s do something about the environment, but I don’t want to change my
consumption habits or rear range my investment portfolio in any way that would
reduce my income.
We should not be looking for a perfect solutions, but rather look for at
least one set of things we can identify that would allow us to get from here to
there smoothly, without a lot of disruptions, without a lot of subcultures going
through misery. Not to say that’s the way we’ll go and that there aren’t other
paths as well, but just to indicate that there is at least one way in which, if
we really talked about this and got our minds together, we could do it. Just the
process of dialoguing this way would help raise global awareness so that we
would begin to make decisions on a totally different basis than we’re used to in
such things as the recent presidential campaign. I don’t want to overly berate
the political election process, but it seems so ludicrous for us to go through
something like that while everybody listening or participating understands that
there are much deeper issues that we ought to be dealing with, and we’re
pretending that we don’t have to.
Another key is not to assume the problem is so complicated that there is no
solution at all. Take the example of South Africa under apartheid. Many felt
that there was no way they were ever going to have a future without going
through a bloody revolution. At the same time there was a small group of people
talking, creating scenarios about the various alternative futures. It was a
quiet dialogue not visible to the media—and that’s very important. Until
finally what we saw happen in South Africa was made possible because the other
possibilities had lost any legitimacy.
Any viable path to the future must deal with the economy, reducing the
amount of economic product—particularly the nonrecylable portion,
achieving greater equity in meeting material needs of all people, and
addressing the problem of the numbers of people on the planet. The many needed
actions include strengthening women’s rights in various societies around the
world, businesses adopting new concepts such as those embodied in the Natural
Step program to bring economic production into long-term compatibility with the
natural systems that support human life, and shifting some of the tax burden
from income taxes to taxes on the use of energy and other resources.
Dr. Willis W. Harman, author, social scientist, president
of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and a contributing editor of the
People-Centered Development Forum died of brain cancer on January 30, 1997.
This article was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum based on one of his
last public presentations shortly before the diagnosis of his cancer.