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Lions Roar : September 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2008 46 collapse is another, and it’s much worse. Breakdown is someone close to us getting a bad disease; collapse is when we become so distraught about it that we wreck our car and kill five people. Drawing on something called panarchy theory, he talks about learn- ing to build more resilience into our sys- tems through decoupling (striking a better balance between self-sufficiency and inter- dependence, you might say). Another form of resilience is the collaboration of diverse interests, and Homer-Dixon sees promise in open-source activities, like Wikipedia, in which we “suddenly have a worldwide-net- work technology, where we can basically all have a conversation together.” Above all, we must accept breakdowns as inevitable parts of cycles large and small. After a breakdown, rebirth and renewal can occur, in a process he calls catagenesis: the adaptive, creative, reforma- tive period that follows the breakdown of a system. Although this proves the resilience of the larger system, we haven’t done well in embracing a larger cyclical view. Since we cherish our systems and we want them to be permanent, he says, “we haven’t really understood that our challenge isn’t to pre- serve the status quo but rather to adapt to, thrive in, and shape for the better a world of constant change.” The answer, Homer-Dixon writes, is to develop a “prospective mind,” a mind not fixed on the status quo, one that instead is “comfortable with constant change, radical surprise, even break- down ... and must constantly anticipate a wide variety of fu- tures. With a prospective mind, we’re better able to turn surprise and breakdown, when they happen, to our advantage.” We will, in short, be better able to achieve catagenesis, which he defines as “the creative renewal of our technologies, institutions, and so- cieties in the aftermath of a breakdown.” While Homer-Dixon is not certain about the exact nature of “prospective mind” and how precisely to cultivate it, both indi- vidually and communally, he is clear that we need to know in our bones that we ride on the razor’s edge between order and chaos. To truly know that we inhabit such a world makes us more resilient. But, I point out to him, we really, really like things to be ordered and predictable. “Well, you know what?” he responds. “Get over it.” PAUL HAWKEN is the patron saint of the participative. Almost forty percent of his new book, Blessed Unrest, is devoted to an appendix listing non-profit groups that work to address the environment, indigenous rights, and social justice. Hawken is the consummate “social entrepreneur,” someone who colors outside boundary markers of change like “charity” and “protest,” and applies the ingenuity of entrepreneurship to social development. He has written six books; founded a va- riety of companies, including Groxis, a portal and search engine interface soft- ware provider, and several natural food companies relying solely on sustainable agriculture; and is now heading the Nat- ural Capital Institute, a research organi- zation in Sausalito, California. In the spirit of open-source, wisdom- of-the-crowd collaboration, the institute has created a “hub for global civil society” on the web. The World Index for Social and Environmental Responsibility (www. WiserEarth.org) provides a database of over 100,000 organizations in some 250 jurisdictions. It’s collaboratively written, in wiki style, but organized using a very so- phisticated classification scheme to “map the social landscape.” It’s a well-ordered free-for-all, evincing the blessed unrest, the balancing on the cusp of chaos and order, that is the centerpiece of a new worldview. Hawken, like the others I spoke with for this story, is nothing if not reflective. He can speak in a quiet, ruminative voice about our body being “a backstory of the Earth four billion years ago, the molecular chains, elemental compounds, simple bacteria, and salty fluids that wash our eyes and surround our cells, forming a compendium of life that preceded us.” He’s a storyteller who recalls his boyhood days on his grandparents’ farm, a waste-free world from a time before “recycling” was a movement, where “the barn was full of used washers, bolts, wire, and doodads,” where “paper lunch bags were brought back from school and neatly folded for use the next day,” where a “toy was a bald tire swinging from a sycamore.” But Hawken also has a forthright, declamatory voice that exhorts people to change. He writes that we’re moving “from a world cre- ated by privilege to a world created by community,” and that global themes “are emerging in response to cascading ecological crises and human suffering.” Among these themes are “radical social change, the reinvention of market-based economies, the empowerment of women, activism on all levels, and the need for localized economic control.” To Hawken, this is not a list of separate efforts; it’s an in- terconnected, self-organizing web, the response of humanity’s im- mune system to an assault on its life force. Hawken is very busy meeting with as many members of this web as he can, so our interview had to take place by e-mail, some of his answers written from an airplane seat. I asked him about The enormity of what is passing away is almost unspeakable. It’s not just species and ecosystems, but entire cultures, the seasons, civilization itself. PAUL HAWKEN PHOTOBYTERRENCEMcCARTHY SEPT 40-47.indd 46 SEPT 40-47.indd 46 7/3/08 1:31:06 PM 7/3/08 1:31:06 PM