How Might We Choose Again?

A workmate recently recommended me The Dawn of Everything, a new book which looks at emerging archaeological evidence as well as a wide range of ethnographic studies on many indigenous cultures.

One of the big takeaways is that contrary to the popular wisdom that cultures proceeded through a sequence of technological revolutions, and that more advanced cultures necessarily lead to more inequality, all the features of our culture, and of every culture, are in fact choices. We have collectively chosen in Western Civilization, for instance, to create a system where wealth and power are concentrated into the hands of a few, and we have chosen to emphasise GDP growth, although this emphasis is starting to be questioned, in Aotearoa New Zealand where I live for example, we have a Well Being Budget which uses social and environmental indicators along with economic and fiscal ones.

Another intriguing message is that humans have had the capability to be quite flexible and creative about the choices that they make about how to organise themselves and what to value. There is an example of an Inuit people who, during hunt season, organise themselves in a highly heirarchical fashion, with a leader issuing orders. But, when the hunt season is over, they choose a much more egalitarian way of being with each other. But, the authors suggest, we have gotten quite stuck, and lost our ability to rechoose the way we organise ourselves.

It’s interesting to relate this to Tyson Yunkaporta’s discussion of the emergence of nation states in “Sand Talk”, and the role of education systems in their development. He pointed out how western education systems emerged as a way to domesticate and placate the populace, making obedient soldiers and civil servants, and people who were alike in word thought and deed.

Then when I think about the themes of “Design when Everybody Designs”, about more and more people engaging in social innovation to redesign their individual and communal existences, it occurs to me that maybe this signals the beginning of the greater part of people in society and communities waking up and shaking off the sedative of “human domestication” that Tyson Yunkaporta described.

This is what is so remarkable about the Participatory City Approach to me; that Tessy Britton has envisioned and implemented a new system to foster participatory, co-productive, community innovation which starts with ordinary people and everyday life in the streets of Barking and Dagenham, and activates such a large number of people in an ecosystem of innovation which has positive outcomes ranging across well being, shared learning, social cohesion, collaborative social enterprise, co-production capacity, and the environment. And this approach has been adapted as a vehicle for Truth and Reconciliation by an indigenous Mi’kmaq organisation in Halifax, as well as in two other Canadian cities; find out more here. I am currently doing a couple of pilot projects in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, New Zealand to test and develop the approach here.

Honestly, what I wonder though is if the rate of social change will be enough to avoid some catastrophic consequences, particularly due to the rate of environmental degradation that is happening. Many species are perishing as we speak, but actually I think that Papatuanuku (our Earth Mother) will recover, my intuition says she’s so much stronger than we know. But the consequences will be borne by many human communities. As we can already see, the ones who contributed least to environmental degradation are often the ones who will be the soonest and most severely impacted. But you could say this is nothing new, just a different form of colonial violence, a little more removed in time and space, and impersonal. However, the consequences won’t be limited to those least responsible for environmental degradation.

Perhaps we need really painful lessons in order to learn the consequences of our choices. And perhaps the wisdom gleaned from those painful lessons will help those of us that are left make better choices. If it really is up to us, what way of being in community and society do you, and I, and we, want to choose?

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