Generous sharing and gift ecologies

–by Nipun Mehta (May 31, 2014)

Over the last 15 years, ServiceSpace has helped popularize the modern iteration of that idea. Smile Cards, Karma Kitchen, and more. The essence of gifting is to give with no strings attached. That kind of giving creates relationships that deep enough to facilitate a circle of giving — A gives to B, B gives to C, and C gives to A. It’s not just enough that A, B, and C are connected, but they have to be connected in a way that everyone trusts in the a pay-forward interconnectivity. Only generosity can create that kind of economy. So if this phrase goes the way of its predecessors, if the unchecked momentum of economy overrides the gift, we will have cheapened the idea of generosity.

As Viral recently pointed out, gift ecology is probably a more suitable word. Economy reduces value into a few focused dimensions, whereas ecology implies a more intricate interplay of relationships that generate diversified — sometimes immeasurable — value. When we give freely, we naturally build affinities with recipients and over time, create deep ties that form the basis of a gift ecology and a resilient society.

Of course, such an ecology is rooted in selfless action — which requires a significant inner transformation. In the deeper recesses of our mind, where the dominant pattern is to operate from a very narrow notion of self, we have to transition from me to we to us, with the understanding that the small self is best served when it can let go to the bigger ecology. A lot of research suggests that, for instance, we can’t teach compassion but we can create the conditions for it to arise naturally. In that sense, we can’t manufacture such a world or a culture. It has to emerge. We simply till the soil, sow the seeds, water the plants, and then trust the interconnections of the ecosystem to build its trees as the time ripens.

Then, instead of economy leading the sharing revolution, it might be led by generosity. Generous Sharing. With that kind of momentum, as time ripens, it naturally blooms into a gift ecology.

Nipun Mehta from his blog post From Sharing Economy to Gift Ecology.

The Story of Separation

— Charles Eisenstein

As we awaken to the interconnectedness of all our systems, we see that we cannot change, for example, our energy technologies without changing the economic system that supports them. We learn as well that all of our external institutions reflect our basic perceptions of the world, our invisible ideologies and belief systems. In that sense, we can say that the ecological crisis—like all our crises—is a spiritual crisis. By that I mean it goes all the way to the bottom, encompassing all aspects of our humanity.

And what, exactly, is at the bottom? What do I mean by a “transition between worlds”? At the bottom of our civilization lies a story, a mythology. I call it the Story of the World or the Story of the People—a matrix of narratives, agreements, and symbolic systems that comprises the answers our culture offers to life’s most basic questions:

Who am I?

Why do things happen?

What is the purpose of life?

What is human nature?

What is sacred?

Who are we as a people?

Where did we come from and where are we going?

Our culture answers them more or less as follows. I will present a pure articulation of these answers, this Story of the World, though in fact it has never dominated completely even as it reached its zenith in the last century. You might recognize some of these answers to be scientifically obsolete, but this obsolete nineteenth- and twentieth-century science still generates our view of what is real, possible, and practical. The new physics, the new biology, the new psychology have only barely begun to infiltrate our operating beliefs. So here are the old answers:

Who are you? You are a separate individual among other separate individuals in a universe that is separate from you as well. You are a Cartesian mote of consciousness looking out through the eyes of a flesh robot, programmed by its genes to maximize reproductive self-interest. You are a bubble of psychology, a mind (whether brain-based or not) separate from other minds and separate from matter. Or you are a soul encased in flesh, separate from the world and separate from other souls. Or you are a mass, a conglomeration of particles operating according to the impersonal forces of physics.

Why do things happen? Again, the impersonal forces of physics act upon a generic material substrate of fundamental particles. All phenomena are the result of these mathematically determined interactions. Intelligence, order, purpose, and design are illusions; underneath it all is merely a purposeless jumble of forces and masses. Any phenomenon, all of movement, all of life, is the result of the sum total of forces acting upon objects.

What is the purpose of life? There is no purpose, only cause. The universe is at bottom blind and dead. Thought is but an electrochemical impulse; love but a hormonal cascade that rewires our brains. The only purpose of life (other than what we manufacture ourselves) is simply to live, to survive and reproduce, to maximize rational self-interest. Since we are fundamentally separate from each other, my self-interest is very likely at the expense of your self-interest. Everything that is not-self is at best indifferent to our well-being, at worst hostile.

What is human nature? To protect ourselves against this hostile universe of competing individuals and impersonal forces, we must exercise as much control as possible. We seek out anything that furthers that aim; for example, money, status, security, information, and power—all those things we call “worldly.” At the very foundation of our nature, our motivations, and our desires, is what can only be called evil. That is what a ruthless maximizer of self-interest is.

What, therefore, is sacred? Since the blind, ruthless pursuit of self-interest is antisocial, it is important to overcome our biological programming and pursue “higher things.” A holy person doesn’t succumb to the desires of the flesh. He or she takes the path of self-denial, of discipline, ascending into the realm of spirit or, in the secular version of this quest, into the realm of reason and the mind, principles and ethics. For the religious, to be sacred is to be otherworldly; the soul is separate from the body, and God lives high above the earth. Despite their superficial opposition, science and religion have agreed: the sacred is not of this world.

Who are we as a people? We are a special kind of animal, the apex of evolution, possessing brains that allow the cultural as well as the genetic transfer of information. We are unique in having (in the religious view) a soul or (in the scientific view) a rational mind. In our mechanical universe we alone possess consciousness and the wherewithal to mold the world according to our design. The only limit to our ability to do so is that amount of force we can harness and the precision with which we can apply it. The more we are able to do so, the better off we are in this indifferent or hostile universe, the more comfortable and secure.

Where have we come from and where are we going? We started out as naked, ignorant animals, barely hanging on to survival, living lives that were nasty, brutish, and short. Fortunately, thanks to our big brains, science replaced superstition and technology replaced ritual. We ascended to become the lords and possessors of nature, domesticating plants and animals, harnessing natural forces, conquering diseases, laying bare the deepest secrets of the universe. Our destiny is to complete that conquest: to free ourselves from labor, from disease, from death itself, to ascend to the stars and leave nature behind altogether.

Throughout this book I will refer to this worldview as the Story of Separation, the old story, or sometimes outgrowths from it: the Story of Ascent, the program of control, and so forth.

The answers to these questions are culturally dependent, yet they immerse us so completely that we have seen them as reality itself. These answers are changing today, along with everything built atop them—which basically means our entire civilization. That is why we sometimes get the vertiginous feeling that the whole world is falling apart. Seeing the emptiness of what once seemed so real, practical, and enduring, we stand as if at an abyss. What’s next? Who am I? What’s important? What is the purpose of my life? How can I be an effective agent of healing? The old answers are fading as the Story of the People that once answered them crumbles around us.

Charles Eisenstein from his book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible

Leading from the emerging future

— by Otto Scharmer (Sep 2016)

We live in an age of profound disruption where something is ending and dying, and something else is wanting to be born. What’s ending and dying is a civilization that’s built on the mindset of maximum me, of bigger is better, and of special interest group driven decision making that has led us into a state of organized irresponsibility.

What’s being born is less clear. It’s a future that requires us to connect with the deeper level of our humanity, to discover who we really are and who we want to be as a society. How can we build the capacity to sense and actualize a future that we feel is possible, we know is possible, but that isn’t quite there yet?

Otto Scharmer. Transcribed from this YouTube video introducing u lab.

If You Want to Be a Rebel, Be Kind

–by Nipun Mehta (12/05/2011)

Raised in Mexico, Pancho was fascinated by the stars, planets, and galaxies. He would always look up in outer space and admire the border-less cosmos that we inhabit; and he’d imagine looking down at Planet Earth from outer space — and not seeing any lines across countries. He envisioned a world of oneness and unity, and when he got a full scholarship to study the cosmos at University of California at Berkeley, his vision got a huge boost. He moved to Berkeley to pursue his PhD in Astrophysics.

On campus one day, he serendipitously engaged in a profound hallway conversation with a janitor. It opened his eyes to the janitor’s incredibly difficult life. Something awakened in him, as he actively started looking for solutions. “I saw that instead of PhD’s, what the world needs more are PhDo’s,” Pancho recalls.

As time went on, Pancho realized that his research supports an institution that actively proliferates nuclear weapons. That tipped him over the edge. Not only did he stop cooperating with the university system, he starts raising a dissenting voice.

When his complains fell on deaf ears, he partook in a nine-day fast with other students and professors across California to request an open dialogue with the UC Regents — the governing body of the University of California. The fast cultimated at a public hearing of the Regents. When the student request was denied, they locked arms in nonviolent protest and sat peacefully. To disengage them, the police were ordered to make an example of one of them. They lifted up this man, slammed him to the ground, put a knee on his neck, twisted his arms behind his back and handcuffed him ruthlessly. Supporters started shouting at the overt show of inhumane behavior towards a fragile student who hadn’t eaten a single morsel of food for nine days. That man was none other than Pancho.

The story would end there, except that Pancho’s strength resided beyond his body. “It was excruciating pain,” Pancho recalls. Perhaps the police officer picked on Pancho because of his small and skinny frame, but the outer force is no match for Pancho’s inner might. The injustice is obvious, but Pancho knew that the officer is not to blame. In a completely unrehearsed move of raw compassion, Pancho, with all the love in his heart, looks directly into the police officer’s eyes, and says, “Brother, I forgive you. I am not doing this for me, I am not doing this for you. I am doing it for your children and the children of your children.” The overflowing love coming from the heart of this man on a nine-day fast is unmistakable. This is not the kind of encounter that police are trained in. Seeing his confusion, Pancho steps up his empathy and changes the topic. Looking at the last name on his badge, he asks for the officer’s first name. And addressing him as a family member, he says, “Brother, let me guess, you must like Mexican food.” [Awkward pause.] “Yes.” “Well, I know this place in San Francisco that has the best carnitas and fajitas and quesadillas, and I tell you what, when I get done with this and you get done with this, I’d like to break my fast with you. What do you say?”

The police officer is completely flabbergasted, his humanity irrevocably invoked. He accepts the invitation! Dropping eye contact gently, he then walks around Pancho and voluntarily loosens his handcuffs. In silence. By now, all of Pancho’s comrades — twelve of them — are also in handcuffs, so the officer then goes around to loosen everyone else’s handcuffs too.

There are those who use anger, sarcasm and parody to confront unjust action. Pancho does it with just the simple — and radical — power of love. If he had a superpower, that would be it. He is a fearless soldier of compassion, unconditionally willing to hold up a fierce mirror of love.

–Nipun Mehta. Excerpt from his blog post: If You Want to Be a Rebel, Be Kind.

Inventing the Future

–by Tim O’Reilly (04/09/2002)

“The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” I recently came across that quote from science-fiction writer William Gibson, and I’ve been repeating it ever since.

So often, signs of the future are all around us, but it isn’t until much later that most of the world realizes their significance. Meanwhile, the innovators who are busy inventing that future live in a world of their own. They see and act on premises not yet apparent to others. In the computer industry, these are the folks I affectionately call “the alpha geeks,” the hackers who have such mastery of their tools that they “roll their own” when existing products don’t give them what they need.

The alpha geeks are often a few years ahead of their time. They see the potential in existing technology, and push the envelope to get a little (or a lot) more out of it than its original creators intended. They are comfortable with new tools, and good at combining them to get unexpected results.

–Tim O’Reilly. Excerpt from his blog post: Inventing the Future.

Doughnut Economics

— Kate Raworth

Humanity’s 21st century challenge is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet. In other words, to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice), while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend – such as a stable climate, fertile soils, and a protective ozone layer. The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries is a playfully serious approach to framing that challenge, and it acts as a compass for human progress this century.

The environmental ceiling consists of nine planetary boundaries, as set out by Rockstrom et al, beyond which lie unacceptable environmental degradation and potential tipping points in Earth systems. The twelve dimensions of the social foundation are derived from internationally agreed minimum social standards, as identified by the world’s governments in the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. Between social and planetary boundaries lies an environmentally safe and socially just space in which humanity can thrive.

Kate Raworth on Doughnut Economics