Category Archives: Evolution

Toward a Living Economy: Cooperative Self-Organization

In the previous post I explored the inherent contradiction between the desire to protect and conserve the environment and the need for development within the current economic system based on a growth economy examining the current political situation in Bolivia as a microcosm of this tension on a macro level. At the end of that post I suggested that the solution was to find a way to transition to a new kind of economy and development. David Korten wrote an article in Yes! Magazine entitled “Living Economies: Learning from the Biosphere” in which he said,

In our species’ immaturity, however, our dominant cultures have forgotten that our individual and collective well-being depends on the well-being of the whole. We must now step to a new level of species maturity, redesign the culture and institutions of our economic system to mimic the structure and dynamics of the biosphere, and learn to live by life’s rules. 1

Korten lists three key ideas that he gleans from the natural world about how we should organize our economic life together: 1) Cooperative Self-Organization, 2) Self-Reliant Local Adaptation and 3) Managed Boundaries. First I want to look at his ideas, along with some others within the idea of a steady-state economy. Then we will have to talk about how to get from here to there.

Toward An Anarchist Economy?
The first rule of “Cooperative Self-Organization” has to do with the principles of biodiversity and cooperation. Korten explains,

Ecosystems have no central control structure. Their health and vitality depend on processes of cooperative self-organization in which each species learns to meet its own needs in ways that simultaneously serve the needs of others. The more diverse and cooperative the bio-community, the greater its capacity to innovate and the greater its resilience in the face of crisis.” 1

The idea of not having central control structures sounds very scary to humans accustomed to all the trappings of civilization with its institutions, organization and hierarchy, but this is an invention of the human intellect and not something inherent in the natural order or observable in natural ecosystems. While many libertarians and advocates of a completely free market profess to believe in such a decentralized state of affairs, I’m not sure they would allow it when the time came to really let go of the control. Most of the more moderate advocates of a free market turn that phrase into a misnomer, because there is incredible attempts to impose central control and regulation on the system. Usually the rules are rigged to the benefit of the rulemakers, which might fit some natural law, but is unsustainable and thus violates the most important natural law: that the system itself must survive.

All of this makes me wonder what an anarchist (which is the leftist version of the libertarian impulse) economy might look like. I don’t hear a lot of discussion about this among Christian Anarchists that I read. But if economy only means how we order our lives together, then in terms of how we exchange goods and services for our own survival, any community of people that is able to sustain itself has some kind of economy. If there is any possibility of a practical anarchism that can be lived out, then there must be some kind of anarchist economics that governs or guides the way that people live together.

Diversity and Cooperation
What creates stability, security and flourishing in ecosystems is diversity and cooperation. Of course there is competition within and among species for sources of food, but this assumes a scarcity that is not the case in stable ecosystems. If you out-compete all the other prey species in an ecosystem for food then your survival will mean that you are now the only target left for whatever predators there are above you on the sacred predator pyramid scheme. There is a delicate web of interdependence in healthy ecosystems that demands both diversity of species and cooperation.

Financial investors already understand this principal somewhat when they diversify stock portfolios to lower the risk and secure a steady rate of return, even if it’s lower than higher risk portfolios. On a broader scale, however, our economy does not support the broadest diversity in terms of the kinds of business and other economic actors that it supports and/or allows to exist. On the contrary the current system heavily favors large corporations. The larger and more multinational the corporation, the more advantages it has in the marketplace.

Everyone gives lip service to small businesses, but no one is serious about taking on the rules that allow Wal-Mart and others to easily put small companies out of business wherever they go. Therefore the rule in a living economy based on the rule of diversity and cooperation would be to give real incentives for small businesses and those that are active in creating a community in which other small businesses can thrive. Korten puts the tension between healthy ecosystems and the privileges of corporations in these terms,

“In a living economy, the rights and interests of living communities of living, breathing people engaged in a living exchange with the natural systems of their bioregion properly take priority over the presumed rights of artificial corporate entities that value life only as a marketable commodity and operate by the moral code of a malignant cancer.”

This puts a further clarification on the practical implications. It cannot simply promote any small business, but small businesses that understand, value and promote the values of diversity and cooperation. They should embody these principles within their own business structures by following worker-owned models in which there is the most possible transparency, openness and sharing of both the rights and responsibilities of honest work. They should encourage other business and the interaction, cooperation and interdependence of businesses of all sizes, from a single person selling produce from their garden to the largest local company in the area.

Monocultures of any kind, whether agricultural or business, are a direct contradiction to principles that govern natural systems. They will likely fail in the long term for the same reasons that natural systems cannot be supported where biodiversity is lacking. The answer is to learn from science and promote the interdependence of natural system that create flourishing, dynamic, vibrant and healthy systems of diversity and cooperation.

Our Changing Relationship With Mother Nature

I often go on and on about our relationship to nature, but Alain de Botton touches on something in a Treehugger article that struck me.

Nature doesn’t remind us that we are small, but rather provides chilling, awesome evidence of our size and strength. We glance up to the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro and think of how quickly our coal generators have heated the earth. We fly over the denuded stretches of the Amazon and see how easily we have gashed the planet. Nature used to terrify us, now we terrify ourselves. We are responsible for the early flowering of those Wordsworthian daffodils. Our fingerprints are all over the uncannily early return of the migratory birds.

This recognizes how we assume that we relate to nature based on our mythologies, in contrast to the reality of how we really perceive nature and our relationship to it based on how we work things out practically in the real world. If you want to know what people (or societies) believe about something, don’t listen to what they say. Look at what they do and how they spend their money.

I listened recently to a TED talk by Paul Root Wolpe on the ethics of bioengineering. He talks about three phases of evolution. The first phase involved what we have come to understand as Darwinian evolution in which nature does all the work of random mutation, adaptation and selection. When we settled down into agricultural communities we realized that we could speed up this process and manipulate it in order to get traits of plants and animals that we wanted. So, we domesticated animals and selected plants with features that helped us cultivate easier, like large-seeded grains that did not fall off the plant until we harvested them. This second phase of evolution speeded up evolution from something like millions of years to thousands. So, the process was still pretty slow for a long time. However, we have entered what he calls the third phase of evolution in which we are able to actually design lifeforms and manipulate them in ways that do not require the process of Darwinian evolution. Paul Root Wolpe spends most of his talk describing the myriad of ways that scientists now are able to manipulate and use the building blocks and components of organisms and life to create all kinds of technologies and organisms.

One that really blew my mind was taking neurons from a rat which then organized themselves on a microprocessor into a network which was then used to run a computer. One experiment used a computer to monitor and understand the signals in a primate brain that moved its arm. Then the computer mirrored the monkey’s brain pattern to move a prosthetic arm in another room. Finally, the monkey was shown the arm that the computer was moving. Eventually the monkey stopped moving its own arm and was moving the prosthetic arm with his mind, essentially having a third arm that it could control. Another was wiring electrodes into the brains of animals which then made it possible for scientists to control their movements, running rats through a maze basically with a joystick. Wolpe mentions that some students involved in that particular experiment asked whether what they were doing was ethical, overriding and controlling another organism, effectively taking away its autonomy.

Wolpe as an ethicist calls for ethical discussion and consideration of these technologies. The point is that we are now capable of technology and manipulation of our natural environment in ways with which we have not, as a society, fully grappled. When we consider, not what could happen in the future, but what is possible right now, it is clearly true that nature does not terrify us. I wonder, however, if we terrify ourselves. I have close friends who are very confident in both technology and science to basically “do the right thing”. They think that the systems in place and the nature of the scientific community and process will basically take care of these ethical problems that some worry about. As is obvious to any casual reader of this blog, I do not share their confidence.

Our relationship to nature is the most important issue facing human beings today. For the vast majority, the nature of this relationship is simply assumed and goes unquestioned. The idea that we should recycle, change our light bulbs and not throw trash all over the place does not even scratch the surface of our relationship to nature. Yet this is the extent of most people’s probing of our relationship to nature. Until we deal with basic assumptions about what it means to be human and what that has to do with the natural systems that make up our planet, we will continue on a trajectory destined for disaster. As Paul Root Wolpe describes there is a sense in which our relationship to nature has changed dramatically, and we must understand and wrestle with these changes. However, there is another sense in which our relationship to nature does not and cannot change. This final reality will eventually catch up to us if we do need deal with it.

It seems to me that the idea that we perhaps should terrify ourselves relates to the concept of sin, in which we recognize potentialities and possibilities within ourselves that we do not want to realize or which we regret acting on. Sin is often described as brokenness or, better yet, broken relationships with God, other people and the planet. This seems to describe the state of our current relationship to the planet in which we continue to simply ignore the relationship or pursue an unhealthy kind of codependence that necessarily involves mental gymnastics and denial to sustain it.

As with healthy relationships with God and other people, we must first recognize that we are already related to them in some way, even if negatively (e.g. atheists or oppressive systems). Our civilization is designed in many ways to obscure and deny our relationship to the planet. So, the first step is to acknowledge our relationship and dependence. Then we can begin to listen to what we know about how ecosystems work and change our lives and systems to live within these systems rather than exploit, deplete and destroy them.

Reconciling With Darwin

Stephen Jay Gould took on biological determinism, racism, scientific objectivity, scientific progress, science and religion and much more in his 1977 book Ever Since Darwin: Reflections on Natural History. The primary thrust of this book was to help us come to terms with Darwin and the implications of his ideas for our understanding of ourselves and our world.

The Western world has yet to make its peace with Darwin and the implications of evolutionary theory. The hippocampus debate merely illustrates, in light relief, the greatest impediment to this reconciliation–our unwillingness to accept continuity between ourselves and nature, our ardent search for a criterion to assert our uniqueness. (50)

I believe that though there has been progress, this continues to be the case in 2011. This book is primarily about science and conversations within science about Darwinian theory, but it touches on religious beliefs and views in a number of surprising ways. I’ve had an interesting ongoing conversation with a good friend of mine about the relationship and nature of both science and religion. I think this is one of the most important conversations that we need to have, particularly as we are facing the crises of climate change and stretching our natural systems beyond the breaking point. Gould believes that the answer lies in Darwin’s theory itself.

I suggest that the true Darwinian spirit might salvage our depleted world by denying a favorite theme of Western arrogance–that we are meant to have control and dominion over the earth and its life because we are the loftiest product of a preordained process. (13)

This is true for both religious and scientific-minded people, as well as capitalists, economists, Marxists, atheists and almost everyone, but the indigenous peoples of the world. It is a mind set which drives our experiment with civilization, agriculture and technology. Gould claims that this is why Darwin waited so long before publishing The Origin of Species. In that first book he only hints at the implications of his theory and waits until Descent of Man to begin to unpack what this means for our way of thinking about ourselves in relationship to nature. The real scandal of Darwin’s evolution was not that it dethroned the idea of creation. Other evolutionists of the time allowed room for God to simply use evolution instead of creation, as many continue to today.

The real scandal was that Darwin’s explanation of the mechanism by which evolution took place, random variation and natural selection, did away, not only with the need for a Creator, but with the special, exalted place of human beings in the great pyramid of creation. While Darwin does away with a particular notion of God, and I believe rightly so, I don’t see his concept of the human beings creatureliness in contradiction with how I read the Genesis story. Indeed, later on in the book Gould also states,

I return, then, to Linnaeus’s compromise–we are both ordinary and special. The central feature of our biological uniqueness also provides the major reason for doubting that our behaviors are directly coded by specific genes. That feature is, of course, our large brains. (257)

I have basically stated the same view at other times. We are no more than creatures, but we are certainly unique among creatures. Gould points out that Darwin intentionally refrained from using “higher” or “lower” terminology to describe lifeforms. Instead, it is clear that prokaryotic organisms are perfectly adapted to their own environment and we would not survive in their place because we are terribly suited to their environment. In another passage Gould puts it this way,

What we criticize in ourselves, we attribute to our animal past…What we prize and strive for, we consider as a unique overlay, conceived by our rationality and imposed upon an unwilling body…Little more than ancient prejudice supports this common belief…It has roots in an attitude that I attack in several of these essays: our desire to view the history of life as progressive and to place ourselves on top of the heap (with all the prerogatives of domination). We seek a criterion for our uniqueness, settle (naturally) upon our minds, and define the noble results of human consciousness as something intrinsically apart from biology. (261)

I have made this same argument many times, not from a scientific perspective, but a religious one, though thoroughly informed by what I know about ecology and agriculture. Now, Gould is an avowed atheist and arrives at his understanding about the world from his knowledge as a scientist. Yet, he refrains from the militant anti-religious zealotry of others by rigorously applying sound principles on both scientific theories and history. He even points out that religious people who held beliefs about the world, which we laugh at now, were sometimes dedicated scientists in their time applying what they knew of science. In his chapter called “The Reverend Thomas’ Dirty Little Planet” he describes the fantastic theories of Thomas Burnet which tried to explain the events described in the Bible, such as Noah’s flood, in rational scientific terms. Writing in 1681 “Burnet’s tale may be fanciful, but his actors are the ordinary physical forces of desiccation, evaporation, precipitation and combustion” (144).
The point here is to remember that our perspective on scientific truth and progress, particularly when reading history, is colored by our current beliefs. This doesn’t mean science has no basis. The reason Gould uses this example is precisely because this religious explanation insisted on rational explanation and was persecuted by the “dogmatists and antirationalists” of his time, not the theists.

But the actual relationship between religion and science is far more complex and varied. Often, religion has actively encouraged science. If there is any consistent enemy of science, it is not religion, but irrationalism. (141)

The book is full of interesting stories from the history of scientific thought and development that expound on this theme. Another example was the rationality of beliefs about geologic formation prior to the modern understanding of continental drift. Given the evidence at the time, continental drift was more fantastic than other beliefs held at the time which seem ridiculous now. This leads to one of my favorite lines of the book, that describes the stance that I think both religion and science should take.

Common sense is a very poor guide to scientific insight for it represents cultural prejudice more often than it reflects the native honesty of a small boy before the naked emperor. (109)

I have said often, though perhaps not on the blog, that I don’t believe in common sense. I don’t know what it is or where it comes from. Common sense is a nonsensical appeal to non-existent wisdom. Standing before the emperor and being willing to speak aloud the fact that he is naked is no small task for religion or science, because as social creatures we are bent towards conformity. However, we have reached a place where as a species we face the fate of lemmings if we do not speak up.

Throughout the book Gould makes claims about the world and evolutionary theory based on what science can tell us right now (or at least in 1977). Yet the last sentence of the book reveals the kind of stance he takes as a scientist, always willing to be swayed by evidence and never wishing to become an irrational dogmatist.

I will rejoice in the multifariousness of nature and leave the chimera of certainty to politicians and preachers. (271)

This, I believe, is the humble stance of the human being that is both “ordinary and special”, unique among creatures, but not apart or above in any way. This is the kind of thinking our world needs for its own salvation. Perhaps part of the reconciling work of Christ in our time (for the church) is redeeming Darwin by accepting his ideas as they are and then recognizing them in our own tradition, choosing to reject the ways of thinking and acting in our religions, societies and nations that have led and still lead to domination and violence in all its multiplicity.

The Dream

I have dreams when I am sleeping that I cannot understand and are not publishable for a family audience. I also have dreams for my life and the world, visions of the way things should be. In the poem “The Dream” from Openings (1968) by Wendell Berry the poet imagines the convergence of both kinds of dreams. There is the dream of the world as it was before all of our meddling. Then he tries to imagine the world as it should be, rebuilt anew with what we know now. Finally, he realizes the impossibility of his dream, because of the way that the world, including himself, is in reality.

Berry begins with a dream that removes “our flocks and herds, our droves of machines” from the landscape to imagine the world as it existed without all of our tinkering, as it did for millions of years when we were hunter-gatherers, not apart from our existence, only our domination.

Like the afterimage of a light that only by not
looking can be seen, I glimpse the country as it was.

It seems that this leap of the imagination, this dream, is a difficult one. As I look around me, even in rural Bolivia, where a Guarani village recently got electricity for the first time a matter of months ago, it is hard to imagine the landscape without the trappings of civilization and settled agriculture, the power lines, food wrappers, plastic bottles, buildings, cars, railroad tracks and street lights. Our imaginations are dominated by the world as it is, making near impossible the ability to imagine the world without what we see around us, the things that our lives and lifestyles depend on every day. The poet suggests that only by closing our eyes can we begin to imagine this other world.

This world exists in our mind, in the realm of dreams. This is not a memory that we have from experience, but one we must reconstruct with our imagination, even if we use the details and facts that sciences like anthropology and archaeology can tell us. There are those that choose to paint an idyllic scene of the perfect harmony and leisure of hunter-gatherer societies, while others paint the other historical (and racist) picture of an existence that is “nasty, brutish and short”. Somewhere between these two we must imagine that world of pre-history (which is to say, pre-agriculture) in more realistic detail. From this imaginative leap backwards, the poem then leaps forward to a future that might have been or perhaps could still be.

The poet then begins “putting back what I took away”.

to build all that we have built, but destroy nothing

This is the summation of the dream for which Berry yearns. This is the fulcrum of the poem on which the worlds of what was and what is hang in the balance. The question that haunts me is what it means “to build all that we have”? What do we have that can remain and “destroy nothing”? Is this dream of the world as it is except without the destruction even possible? As if waking up from this dream of the way the world was and then building it anew, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, his “hands weakening” and feeling “on all sides blindness” that permeates that fuzzy state between sleeping and waking, Berry is struck by the reality that always waits for us with the sunrise.

I see that my mind is not good enough.
I see that I am eager to own the earth and to own men.
I find in my mouth the bitter taste of money,
a gaping syllable I can neither swallow nor spit out.

The crushing insight of the reality of the world and our own culpability come rushing in to the dream world where we can see both the distant past and future. The things that we despise about the way the world is must be things that we are willing to recognize in ourselves. More and more I agree with Jared Diamond and others that the way forward involves moving beyond the blame that we love to pass on to corporations, governments, religion and other institutions and recognize that it is only our consent to this state of affairs that continues to make it possible. I am the one that desires domination of the earth, animals and my fellow humans. I am the one that “can neither swallow nor spit out” the money system at the root of our modern arrangement. and “of all kinds of evil”. We are the ones that fail to imagine a new world into being.

Where are the sleeps that escape such dreams?

Berry begins the poem by saying, “I dream an inescapable dream.” This reminds me of dreams I have had that I did not want to wake from, like the one where I could fly. There are dreams from our sleeping hours that grip us with some elusive feeling and/or glimpse of meaning to which we cling. There is a leap of our imagination that happens when we are not awake that occasionally perceives something imperceptible in our waking life. Yet our waking life is also full of dreams. For many these are simply consumer daydreams about a big house, nice car or other accessories of the consumer lifestyle (which may also include relationships with particular or imagined friends or lovers). For Berry and many others this is a dream of greener grass, not in suburban lawns, but in the vast prairies of the Midwest that have disappeared.

Berry plays with this dual meaning of the word dream. Indeed, as we have seen, these dreams are also related and intertwined as ways of seeing things that are not empirically available to our senses. If these dreams of the way the world was and is are “inescapable”, then how do we dream the dreams of the way the world should be? The building of this world that could or should be, the poet suggests, must involve the “pain of foreknowledge”. This is where these dreams converge. While the poem travels in a linear fashion from the dream of what was to what could be and then finally returning to the world as it is, there is a cyclical pattern embedded in this movement. Indeed, the dream of what was begins by an act of forgetting the reality of the world as it is, making an imaginative leap. In other words it begins in the same place that it ends.

Perhaps the poem leaves us, finally, with the idea that our dreams of other worlds, both that was and that should be, must be in ongoing conversation with the reality of the world as it is and particularly our place in that world as co-conspirators against nature in order to have any hope of these dreams becoming reality.

Small Is Beautiful: Resources

I ended the first post on E.F. Schumacher’s classic text Small is Beautiful considering his deconstruction of our dualistic ways of thinking. In his section “Resources” he continues this theme grounding his work in the idea that economics is a means that must be beholden to higher values and ideas which guide and shape it. His illustration of this idea is illuminating,

“the nature of our thinking is such that we cannot help thinking in opposites…The typical problems of life are insoluble on the level of being on which we normally find ourselves. How can one reconcile the demands of freedom and discipline in education? Countless mothers and teachers, in fact, do it, but no one can write down a solution. They do it by bringing into the situation a force that belongs to a higher level where opposites are transcended–the power of love.” (97)

The question is how to bring into the situation of our current context a higher level force that can bring reconciliation to what we typically experience as diametrically opposed. For the religious this sounds somewhat like the vague divine language favored by Alcoholics Anonymous, but for the non-religious it sounds equally foreign and exclusive. Some of my friends like to claim that religion is the problem. Other fundamentalists might see a coming one world religion as the problem. I think they are both right, but neither sees consumerism as the one-world religion at the heart of the problem. Our solutions must be able to incorporate the whole of humanity, while maintaining and honoring the diversity within that whole. I believe what Schumacher is describing is a basic reality of human existence, regardless of how it is formulated by either the religious or non-religious. Our discomfort with the modern world is a symptom of the absence of this higher level force at work in our lives, relationships and societies.

It seems that this first diatribe is a tangent from the topic of resources, but I think that it is actually these higher level resources of love and values that transcend our tendency to think in opposites that is most needed. If we view the world without these resources it becomes easier to exploit nature or human beings or to dehumanize those we see as the exploiters. In this way both conservatives and liberals, capitalists and environmentalists find themselves subject to the same problem of dualistic thinking. The problems faced in Appalachia are a perfect illustration of this problem.

Tobacco farming and mining are the two main industries in the region. On one side you have a system that has made tobacco farming and mining the most profitable things to do in this region. Infrastructure, subsidies and numerous other factors have made these industries embedded in Appalachia. On the other side you have the environmentalists who deplore both industries. They attempt to stop the destructive practice of mountain top mining and the production of a raw material which causes the deaths of millions of Americans every year. In the middle are the people whose lives are dependent on these industries, the farmers and miners. For the most part, the environmentalists and capitalists simply ignore the people in the middle and hash out their ideological battles on cable news without solutions that are actually beneficial and possible to implement.

Schumacher goes further in peeling back the layers of our perspective on natural resources. He poses a more basic question about the nature of agriculture and industry.

The question arises of whether agriculture is, in fact, an industry, or whether it might be something essentially different. Not surprisingly, as this is a metaphysical–or metaeconomic–question, it is never raised by economists…The ideal of industry is the elimination of living substances. Man-made materials are preferable to natural materials, because we can make them to measure and apply perfect quality control. Man-made machines work more reliably and more predictably than do such living substances as men…In other words, there can be no doubt that the fundamental ‘principles’ of agriculture and of industry, far from being compatible with each other, are in opposition. Real life consists of the tensions produced by the incompatibility of opposites, each of which is needed…It remains true, however, that agriculture is primary, whereas industry is secondary, which means that human life can continue without industry, whereas it cannot continue without agriculture. (110-11)

In the case of Appalachia, both tobacco farming and mining, though producers of primary raw commodities, must be considered industries, because they are in truth not necessary. Nobody needs to smoke or make things from minerals the way that we need to eat. Even as we have attempted to create an “industrial agriculture” built on the principles stated above, conforming lifeforms to rigid standards of appearance and size, and the increased mechanization and synthetic basis of growing food, Mother Nature continues to defy our attempts to impose an industrial way of thinking. It turns out that this industrialization of agriculture into monocultures creates problems by selectively breeding super-pests, super-weeds and, in CAFOs, super-diseases. The agribusiness industry then turns to these same methods and ways of thinking to try and simply produce new and better chemicals, genetically modified organisms and better antibiotics, instead of recognizing that the problem is that agriculture is “something essentially different” than industry. It must be understood on its own terms if there is any hope of finding ways to live on this planet that do not continue to point the loaded pistol of our own intellects at our proverbial feet.

While the picture often seems bleak, even in Schumacher’s 1975 tome, there are rays of hope that with shifts in our thinking we will be able to harness the powers of economics, industry and technology in ways that can benefit us.

I have no doubt that it is possible to give a new direction to technological development, a direction that shall lead it back to the real needs of man, and that also means: to the actual size of man. Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful. To go for giantism is to go for self-destruction…We might remind ourselves that to calculate the cost of survival is perverse. No doubt, a price has to be paid for anything worthwhile: to redirect technology so that it serves man instead of destroying him requires primarily an effort of the imagination and an abandonment of fear. (159)

Again, we need a reorientation of things around their proper order and relationship. This reminds me of Augustine’s concept of the proper ordering of everything in creation. William Cavanaugh draws on Augustine, as well, to deconstruct our consumer religion in his book Being Consumed. Augustine claimed that we could only properly relate to everything else in creation when our love was properly ordered in God. Then we could rightly see resources, property, possessions and people through the eyes of our first love, God. In Augustine’s logic, it also rightly places human beings as the small, insignificant creatures that we are. “What is man that you are mindful of him?” This serves to dethrone the idol of “giantism” that is what many theologians throughout Christian history considered the original and origin of sin, pride, the idea that we could become gods and transcend the limits of our creaturely nature. This right ordering then leads us to also recognize the role of technology and economics to serve humanity, as well as the planet. Only with this rightly ordered way of thinking can we create a future that is sustainable.

The key that Schumacher and others point to is “the imagination and an abandonment of fear”. I often hear the argument that capitalism and democracy are the “best that we’ve got.” I’m not saying we should tear up the “best we’ve got” tomorrow, throw it in the fire and start over, but this kind of argument belies how captive our imaginations are to the current system and the fear that holds the status quo in place. The greatest leaps forward in human history have been from people that went against prevailing ways of thinking and questioned our assumptions. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that the next leap forward will force us to return to some of the lessons we previously learned (and are continuing to learn) about things like nature, evolution and ecosystems. My hope is that this next leap forward is not one of a linear progression, in which technology like artificial intelligence just makes more of the same way of life possible, but a radical shift in the understanding of what life is and means.