“Well, Mister Rico,
natural limits to growth
is a consciousness very
familiar to all islanders.”
When I debuted my little songlet to Lua that evening, she remarked,
“You know, Mister Rico, the key to a happy life, a good life, is a life with sustained, supportive relationships; challenging work; and strong connections to community and to Nature. This will be the foundation of the generative and circular living economy that Julie is seeing emerge — not a reckless extractive linear economy and culture that celebrates greed, domination of Nature, and extreme individualism and exalts brash one-man megabrand ‘disruptors’ who make their fortunes by flagrantly ignoring laws, regulatory standards, and norms of common decency.”
Captain Bob overheard our conversation and came over to share his experiences building Kalea in Tahiti over a period of four years with the help of some locals:
“My life as a general contractor in Florida before the financial crisis of 2008 was financially rewarding, but very isolating. I was going down that path of more and more communication with clients and subcontractors being done via electronic means. I rediscovered the joys of personal connections and shoulder-to-shoulder work when I took on the four-year boat building project. The friendships and relationships I made during that project were far richer and more rewarding than any I had made during the last decade of my life as a contractor. I had forgotten how wonderful it is to be connected into a larger community, a circle of belonging, where there is no shortage of people happy to help in times of need.”
“Unfortunately, we are losing social skills, human interaction skills, how to read a person’s mood, how to read body language. People are having difficulty being patient, waiting for their moment to make a point. I think this is due to obsessive use of electronic gadgetry. It dehumanizes what should be a very, very important part of community life and living together.”
Lua expressed her opinion that on the mainland, we have a generation bloated with trivial information and starving for wisdom.
Smartphones offer more access to knowledge, but these same technologies are seducing us away from moments of solitude and the ‘still point’ that reconnects us with our deep intuition — the seat of our wisdom.
Fast and furious has been the rise and impact of social media in our lives. And trending quite neatly right along with the latest viral videos and Twitter tantrums is the rise in stress-related diseases and clinical depression rates.
We are becoming unconscious slaves to this addictive, soul-deadening experience.
“Of course, these tools can be used — in moderation — to enhance well-being and build meaningful connections with each other. Meaningfully connecting is what matters.”
In my own life, I had learned that an important part of fulfilling one’s potential is connecting with other people who genuinely share your interests — bikes, boats, books, and music, in my case — and who desire to make the most of their natural aptitudes and passions.
Finding this ‘tribe’ of fellow aficionados can be extraordinarily liberating, especially if you’ve been pursuing your passions alone, as I had for many years.
The transformational effects of your tribe on your sense of identity and purpose come from validation — affirmation that you are not alone.
A ‘tribe’ is also a source of inspiration and can provide the alchemy of synergy — the amazing results that derive from creative teams of collaborators having diverse, dynamic and distinct talents.
Jack, who had done some math and science tutoring overseas for a time during his extensive training as a scientist, added:
“It seems to me that any really mature, grown-up, advanced society would put learning professionals — teachers — at the center of community, as hubs of social connection and nurturers of curiosity. We don’t honor their work enough — teaching is, after all, surely the noblest profession — and we surely don’t pay them nearly enough for the essential role they play in shaping human society and cultural values and connecting us to larger purposes.”
"And we must acknowledge that ‘community’ extends beyond human societies. People tend to abuse land because they regard it as a commodity that belongs to them. When we see land, and the environment in general, as the larger living community to which we belong — when we genuinely connect with it that way — only then will we go back to interacting with it with love, with respect, with reverence, and with restraint. Make no mistake, this connection will matter a great deal in the coming years.”
Like me, Lua was an avid observer of social trends.
She told me that she believed social activity and commerce will most likely return soon, by necessity or by deeper wisdom, to local and regional scale as global culture transitions away from growth economies and toward more desirable and sustainable community-centered local economies that are resilient and mostly self-supporting.
Strong local economies composed of many small locally owned businesses are healthier, more prosperous, more committed to place, and more resilient — like natural ecosystems.
They also have the advantage of being less dependent on the corrupting (but legal) government ‘attract and retain’ bribes than economies dependent on a few large, shareholder beholden publicly traded global corporations that have weak commitments to local people, places, and community prosperity.
Local economies are also unique expressions of particular places; value diversity, self-reliance, and resiliency; and are more interested in what is practical and feasible rather than some bland, universal Utopian ideal.
Lua claimed there is an emerging ecological mindfulness that is challenging the ‘collective sleepwalking’ resulting from several artificial and destructive divisions: an ecological divide — a disconnect between self and Nature, resulting in overuse of Earth’s finite resources; a social divide — a disconnect between self and other, resulting in two societies: the 1 percent ‘winners’ vs. the 99 percent ‘losers’; and a spiritual divide — a disconnect between self and deeper Self, resulting in suicides in recent years taking more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined.
In fact, the root cause of our current economic and civilizational crisis and rising militarism, nationalism, and corporatism may not be Wall Street, as many claim, although the decoupling of the financial and the real economy is a huge problem.
It may not be infinite growth either, although overusing Earth’s finite resources is another obvious concern.
It may not be Big Business or Big Government, although their disconnect from the real needs in our communities has to be fixed.
Leadership, governance, or ownership may not be to blame either.
No, the root cause of our expanding ecological, social, and spiritual emergency may be more fundamental than any of these structural issues or systemic disconnects.
The root cause may be our outdated models of economic thought.
Lua explained that this crisis originates in a profound and illusory disconnect between our dominant model of economic thought today — what could be characterized as ‘ego-nomics’ — which revolves around a very limited ego-system awareness where stakeholders maximize benefit only for themselves, and the collaboration imperatives of our global eco-system, in which stakeholders need to improve the well-being of all, including themselves.
We have an enormous and dangerous divide between narrow ego-system thinking and a wider eco-system reality in which we are embedded and on which we ultimately depend, she insisted.
Indeed, the broad field of ecology emerged in the mid-twentieth century as a science centered around the ideas of holism and system integration and away from the reductionist Newtonian physics model in order to develop a more accurate worldview that is adapted to deal with actual complex living systems; not abstracted linear, separable, mechanical subsystems that operate independently.
In fact, ecology should really be thought of as the dominant scientific paradigm of our time, as it is an inherently interdisciplinary, ‘systems’ perspective where groups of interacting, interdependent parts are linked together by complex exchanges of energy, matter, and information.
Ecological thinking recognizes that wholes are much more than just the sum of their parts.
The foundation of real living wealth are healthy ecosystems.
These are naturally complex adaptive systems because they are evolutionary rather than mechanistic in nature and exhibit a rather limited degree of predictability.
Healthy ecosystems are characterized by their vigor, organization, and resilience.
The vigor of a system is a measure of its activity, metabolism or primary productivity.
The organization of a system refers to the number and diversity of interactions among the components of the system.
The resilience of an ecosystem refers to its ability to maintain its structure and pattern of behavior and recover in the presence of disturbances such as pollution or predation or other stressors.
Biodiversity has two major roles in the self-organization of large-scale ecosystems: it provides the units, energy flow pathways, and nutrient cycling through which energy and materials flow, giving the system its functional properties; and it provides the ecosystem with the resilience to respond to unpredictable surprises.
It is not simply the diversity of species that is important, it is how that diversity is organized into a coherent whole system.
Solar energy is the prime driving force of ecosystems, enabling the cyclic use of materials and compounds required for system organization and maintenance. Solar energy is captured through photosynthesis by plants. It is necessary for biogeochemical cycling — the conversion, cycling, and transfer of energy to other systems of materials and critical chemicals that affect growth and production.
Energy flow and biogeochemical cycling set an upper limit on the sustainable number of organisms and on the number of trophic levels that can exist in an ecosystem.
In terms of benefits to the human community, a healthy ecosystem — marine, forest, or desert — is useful and necessary in that it provides the ecosystem services supportive of the human community, such as food, fiber, the capacity for assimilating and recycling wastes, potable water, and clean air.
Moreover, Lua felt strongly that every ecosystem has its own particular enchantment and sacredness, its delicate balance, its quiet music worthy of care and respect.
It seemed rather insane to her that much of humanity worships an invisible god while destroying a very visible natural world, not realizing that that very same natural world is the invisible god deserving of worship.
She explained that the great challenge of our time calls for an evolution of the dominant logic and operating system of human societies from one that is based on limited ego-system thinking, understanding, and care to one that is based on broader eco-system connections and limitations.
The trouble with today’s short-term extremist corporate capitalist culture is that we are trying to solve large and complex eco-system level problems with the same narrow and limited ego-system levels of consciousness and awareness that created them.
Shifting the state of awareness from ego- to eco-consciousness will begin by awakening the intelligence of the heart — by re-connecting.
I asked Lua,
“What do you think it will take to wake up from this ‘collective sleepwalking’ you talk about?”
“Well, Mister Rico, I think it will require applying the power of mindfulness — deep moment-to-moment awareness— both individually and collectively, to how we conduct our daily business, how we practice democracy, and how we structure society. I think we are entering a period of disruption and transition where big systems around us will continue to crumble and collapse. We will need a fundamental shift in the quality of our relationships — a shift of the heart — that will allow us to co-create, test, and grow new forms of collaborative institutions that recognize our embeddedness in Nature and our deep human need for connection to one another and to the natural world that supports and sustains us all. A seismic Copernican-level revolution in our human story and collective consciousness would be helpful to de-center us and place us back into a cosmic evolutionary narrative from which the Enlightenment wrenched us — before we overload the planet’s regenerative capabilities.”
Lua felt that a collective sense of atonement was emerging as a result of our lack of ecologically-sound growth and for the elevated risk of whole-system collapse that we have created from global environmental threats such as ocean acidification, disintegration of Antarctic ice sheets, and destabilization of the climate system.
Fortunately, there are many grassroots ‘re-’ initiatives: re-greening the planet, restoring damaged ecosystems, recycling wastes, and reducing carbon footprints.
Many of these projects and movements will fail, no doubt, from bad timing or bad information or bad execution. Nevertheless, those who are engaged in re-greening and restoration feel a moral duty to pass along a world at least as good as they found it and are striving to ensure all living beings are granted a fair share of Earth’s natural resources.
There is growing awareness that the current linear take-make-waste economic model is rapidly depleting the resources that make life possible and is a fundamental moral wrong. Wastefully gorging on fossil fuels, as we are doing today, clearly jeopardizes the full flourishing of life’s possibilities on this planet for future generations.
“The new emerging economy requires a new economics. A system which offers a different model than the outdated and oversimplified neoclassical approach founded upon coldly calculating, self-interested individuals striving to ‘maximize personal utility.’ It must transcend market civilization and its corresponding market vocabulary like ‘natural capital,’ ‘cultivated natural capital,’ and ‘ecosystem services.’ What’s really needed is a shift of consciousness to a culture of caretaking, balance, and renewal based on a deeper understanding of our fundamental embeddedness in Nature and connectedness with other living beings. This is very important, Mister Rico.”
“We need to expand our spheres of care and act not just for ourselves and the people we know, but in the interest of the entire ecosystem in which human activity takes place. We are connected to that system. What happens to it, happens to us! Economists should be educated as specialists within the broader field of ecology before they attempt to measure and guide the health, wealth, and well-being of individuals and communities. They should focus on the long-term sustainability of human, social, and living natural well-being — not just ‘human-made capital.’”
“You seem to have a remarkably deep understanding of these things, Lua.”
“Well, Mister Rico, connectedness, embeddedness, and natural limits to growth is a consciousness very familiar to all islanders.”
“Yeah, I suppose it would be.”