While much discussion is bland, leading nowhere, other conversations, frequently inspired by rare insights or even rarer questions, are joyously unanticipated epiphanies. Like an oasis emerging through the desert haze, the upshot of such uncommon dialogue can be inconceivable in its implications, especially in allowing us to perceive reality differently, with renewed hope and purpose.
Thus it has been for me during the past week while reflecting on human nature, the existing state of the world and the future of everything.
Most political economists and financial experts agree that we’re headed into the worst financial turbulence since the Wall Street crash of 1929. Many believe that it is not inevitable the crisis will develop into a full-blown 1930s-style depression while some are skeptical that such an event is even possible in today's economy.
I do not dispute any of that. We are in uncharted waters. It is impossible to say what will happen although much will depend on the actions of governments over the coming months.
Unsurprisingly the topic is on everyone’s lips. Markets are seriously rattled. Stocks are plunging. Fear has gripped investors and the arrogant banking cartel as the world they have fabricated dissolves before their eyes.
Even nation states in the developed world are not immune if Iceland, its currency in free fall, its three banks abruptly nationalized, and its foreign exchange markets effectively closed, is anything to go by. Yet if one heeds the advice of some of the West’s leading economists one might be forgiven for thinking that everything will right itself; that the calm after the storm is inevitable and that life will return to normal. I disagree.
The international financial system is like a massive dam springing leaks all over the place. Central bankers are trying to plug these leaks but they are like little Dutch boys poking their fingers in the dyke. Ultimately it is futile. The US system of capitalism, funded by debt, has been shown wanting. The world can never be the same again. Nor should it be.
Why? Because their bail-outs, are not systemic solutions – in truth they have no greater ambition than rescuing a clutch of banks and a few wealthy individuals. Furthermore they are based on the same discredited and reckless economic logic that triggered this crisis in the first place. A crisis many of us warned about years ago! A crisis that does not deserve to go away until we reinvent human purpose.
Suddenly climate change and global warming are on the back burner, along with the spiraling costs of food, the population explosion and the energy crisis. It is as though these issues have been gazumped by a bigger and more urgent crisis. And yet these are all part of the same toxic system.
Set against the eerie backdrop of a global economic meltdown and panic selling in markets from the US to Australia and everywhere in between my thoughts, nevertheless, have been not about money, market liquidity or the stock market but about the failure of leadership and design. The design of our global society.
First, in a prolonged international telephone conversation with Julie Birtles, a trusted colleague in Melbourne who helps individuals fulfill potential they had not realized was remotely possible, we lamented what we are coming to grasp as a failure of leadership in terms of the current economic meltdown. But that was it. We struggled to find any new answers, agreeing only to continue the dialogue.
Then, the following day, a profound question was posted by Sonny Navaratnam on the social networking site Linked-in. Sonny asked, What are your thoughts on the capacity and resilience of corporate, government and community leaders around the world to deal with the multi faceted issues confronting us all? Do you believe the current crop of leaders can cope let alone overcome these issues? If not what do you think we can do about it?
The last of these questions really began to get under my skin. The more I thought about it, the more I needed to have acceptable answers. Yet, frustrated to the point of exhaustion, I surfaced only more vexing questions. Why do we still seek out individual leaders rather than leading ideas? Why do we still blame individuals rather than trying to understand the real workings of a system we helped create and are now loathe to change? Why do we insist on doing what we’ve always done while expecting different outcomes? Even more pertinent, What do the current crises say about human intentions?
I would have thought it should be clear by now that the cascading failures in our society (and I am not simply referring to the current economic meltdown) are not the result of poor leadership by individuals but of greed coupled with our collective inability to see the world as complex, intimately entangled and ultimately unknowable and to find appropriate ways for being in that world.
So in answer to Sonny’s second question the obvious answer is a resounding NO! But then why should we expect individual leaders (elected or appointed) to be able to solve the more complex issues and cruel paradoxes that face us as a species?
Our situation is both precarious and unprecedented. No individual can be expected to shoulder such responsibilities. Nor can we expect risk-averse groups of inbred political leaders (mostly from the developed world) to do any better. For one thing they simply do not have the requisite variety (or the capability) to effect rapid, global change on the scale required. Equally, the devices upon which they rely for change and reform (such as government legislation, legal contracts, the global financial system and international trade, for example) are encumbered by their dual aims of protecting vested interests and maintaining the status quo.
As I have said many times before, the reality is we are now faced with the need to redesign the material and philosophical basis of our civilization. Even getting to a stage where we can express shared intentions will require collaboration and imagination on an unprecedented scale. Sadly our corporate, government and community leaders are not geared up for this. Leadership, as an essentially individual if not narcissistic quality, has never really been about this.
So, given that there is no single, simple solution to whole system change, what should we do? I am fast coming to the belief that several things need to happen though none of these, I am first to admit, stand much chance of success while we adhere to obsolete assumptions regarding leaders as individuals rather than leadership as a shared, communal phenomenon.
Firstly we need new levels of consciousness about what is happening, why it is happening and how best we can respond to ensure the advancement (or even survival) of our species. For the most part our current decisions are based on linear analysis and compartmentalized thinking. Consequently part of the new consciousness must be to appreciate the interfaces and interconnections between all critical whole systems within the context of global emergence and uncertainty.
We also have to admit that many of the old rules and assumptions on which we have relied no longer apply in today’s increasingly volatile conditions. In truth they stopped being effective years ago. Where faith, certainty and control were once pre-eminent it is now instinct, creativity and wisdom that inform decisions. Anything else is a delusion.
At the moment I can only envisage this new consciousness emerging from an inclusive worldwide movement – an association of children, women and men who are deeply conscious of the systemic longer-term issues facing us and who have an overwhelming desire to help humankind find ways to create better futures for all. They must already exist!
But ideally such a movement would explicitly and implicitly connect the most exceptional intellectuals and committed activists around the world, irrespective of ethnicity, age, gender or role, and in ways that would liberate new wisdom.
Secondly new wisdom generated from such a movement would need to be distilled and considered by a Global Systems Council - an intellectual fellowship of systems practitioners who could derive viable whole system options from dialogue being generated elsewhere.
This Global Systems Council would be comprised not of political and business leaders, and most certainly not the rich and powerful that engineered us into this mess, but rather an alliance of non-partisan thinkers, philosophers, artists and scientists. Constituted at the highest possible level relative to individual or even unions of nation states, the authority of the Council would arise from the power of imagination, innovation and invention inherent in their ideas for redesigning civilization.
Members of the Global Systems Council would need to be paid well for their work which would need to be undertaken urgently and openly. Those who sought membership would probably be barred automatically as lacking appropriate levels of self-awareness. Those who were appointed would need to be sensitive to their own prejudices and weaknesses and be capable of setting aside individual expertise (except when this was required) deferring judgment, transcending ego, history and ideology, and eschewing all vested interests in their task of working together towards rebooting global society.
They would also probably need to discover numerous new tools and processes with which to work in facilities that would need to be hosted and resourced in a manner expressing worldwide confidence in the outcomes of this endeavor.
Thirdly, this Global Systems Council would need to be accorded legitimacy from the global community. This could only be achieved by the leaders of all nation states coming together with business entrepreneurs and wealthy individuals to:
- guarantee immunity from workable ideas that happened to conflict with their own partisan views, vested interests or ideology
- extend bipartisan cooperation in helping fund and support an initiative that would necessitate huge injections of investment capital
- enable, facilitate and supervise the redesign all aspects of the global economy to run on alternative and renewable energy.
As far as the third point is concerned, there are probably two major ways a union of nation states would be critical to success:
- By keeping avoidable conflicts to a minimum in order that a prolonged period of relative international peace and stability ensued – at least sufficient to undertake trial solutions that might otherwise be halted for one reason or another
- By ensuring that the fossil-fuel industry, the banking cartel and the various bodies purporting to represent individual nations at an international level, assisted rather than interfered with progress.
The main reason for my own pessimism is that I do not believe our current leaders are ready to collaborate in that way or on that scale. Nor are they ready to admit that they cannot do it by themselves thereby relinquishing or delegating power to an alternative authority. They simply do not perceive themselves that way.
Perhaps, after all, society is not even ready to invite alternative voices, worldviews and belief systems into an integral dialogue for global change. But then I cannot envisage many viable alternatives. Can you?
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