Global Civil Society: The Path Ahead

A Discussion Paper - November 20, 2002

By David C. Korten, Nicanor Perlas, and Vandana Shiva

  Energy always flows either toward hope, community, love, generosity, mutual

 recognition,
 and spiritual aliveness or it flows toward despair, cynicism, fear that there is not enough, 
paranoia about the intentions of others, and a desire to control and to turn everything in
 our reality into some­thing that can be controlled

Michael Lerner, Tikkun, March/April 2001

Perhaps the greatest threat to freedom and democracy in the world today comes from the
 formation of unholy alliances between government and business. This is not a new
 phenomenon.  It used to be called fascism. . . . The outward appearances of the
 democratic process are observed, but the powers of the state are diverted to the benefit of
private interests.

George Soros, International Financier

We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its
 future. …To move ahead we must recognize that in the midst of the magnificent diversity
 of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a
 common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded
 on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.
 
The Earth Charter

Summary: Humanity has entered into the final stage of an epic struggle between the forces of imperial rule (empire) — presently represented by the institutions of elite globalization — and the forces of democratic rule (community) — presently represented by global civil society. The stress imposed on social and environmental systems by empire’s exploitation of people and nature has passed beyond the limits of social and environmental tolerance. Even the rich and powerful now experience the consequences of the resulting economic instability and social and environmental breakdown — including terrorism. The undemocratic, militaristic, and largely counterproductive response by the right-wing extremists in control of U.S. military and economic power to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack against the United States underscores the essential role of global civil society in providing leadership toward deep change based on the democratic ideals and principles of community.

Fortunately, the current balance of power between empire and community tilts less decisively in favor of empire than it at first seems. Empire controls the institutions of political and economic power — including military and police. This control, however, rests on a false legitimacy dependent on empire’s ability to perpetuate a falsified and inauthentic cultural trance based on beliefs and values at odds with reality. As empire’s failures mount, the reality is exposed, the cultural trance is broken for increasing numbers of people, and the legitimacy of empire’s institutions is called into serious question — creating space for the forces of community as manifest in the new social organism we know as global civil society.

Global civil society is a social expression of the awakening of an authentic planetary culture grounded in the spiritual values and social experience of hundreds of millions of people. The power of authentic culture gives civil society the ultimate advantage. This paper examines the strategic implications.

I: Democracy at Risk

Global civil society emerged as a major social force in the final decade of the Second Millennium to resist an assault on life and democracy by the institutions of corporate globalization. Initially, the resistance centered on the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the most visible and powerful of the institutional instruments advancing the neoliberal policy agenda of deregulation, the elimination of economic borders and social safety nets, and the privatization of common property assets. Subsequently, global civil society directed attention to global corporations and financial markets.

Global civil society presented its public face in massive demonstrations in countries around the world. As the demonstrations grew in size and frequency, the police response became increasingly violent and repressive; confirming a reality well-known to the world’s oppressed: when the interests of property conflict with the rights of persons, police and military power sides with property.

The full extent of the contemporary threat to freedom and democracy posed by an alliance of economic, military, and police power was revealed, however, only in the aftermath of the dramatic terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The attack awakened the United States and the world to the extent of the terrorist threat to peace and security and the ability of committed terrorists to penetrate the defenses of the world’s greatest military power and to turn modern technologies into weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. administration of George W. Bush might appropriately have chosen to respond to this threat by working cooperatively with other nations through the UN and other international bodies to identify terrorist cells dispersed through out the world, bring their members to justice, engage a dialogue on the conditions that give rise to the terrorist impulse, and mobilize a global effort to eliminate those conditions. In a triumph of hubris and political ambition over reason and principle, the U.S. administration’s actual response was to manipulate the feelings of patriotism and desire for national unity stimulated by the September 11 tragedy to advance a policy agenda that included:

The United States has long played the role of an imperial power, beginning with its westward expansion across the North American continent as it appropriated the lands of Native Americans and what was once the Northwestern territory of Mexico. From that base it projected its power into Latin America and the Philippines and emerged from World War II with a global reach.These developments have occurred against the backdrop of an ever strengthening alliance between the administration that controls U.S. military and police power and the U.S. corporations that dominate the global economy — all supported by a subservient corporate press and endorsed by an opposition party beholden to corporate interests.

  • Accelerating implementation of neoliberal economic policies, including tax cuts and subsidies, designed to advance the global projection of U.S. corporate power and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a powerful hereditary U.S. ruling aristocracy;
  • Projecting U.S. military power globally and militarizing space to secure U.S. hegemony against possible contenders for geopolitical power and claiming the right to use that power unilaterally and preemptively in the event of a perceived threat to U.S. interests;
  • Suppressing civil liberties and demonizing critics to silence opposition, strengthening domestic surveillance under a new Department of Homeland Security; and
  • Initiating a clash-of-civilizations foreign policy against Islam with an invasion of Afghanistan quickly followed by an announced intention to invade Iraq.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States became the world’s sole superpower and the first truly global empire in human history. As the administration of George Bush, Sr. was ending in January 1993, key members of his administration prepared a U.S. Defense Strategy for the 1990s intended to secure a post-Soviet new world order under hegemonic U.S. control. Key participants in that process, who now hold key positions in the present Bush administration, include current Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.  

Approximately a year after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack George W. Bush, began to publicly articulate key elements of the plan as official doctrine, as when he announced a new U.S. policy of reserving the right to unilaterally launch a first strike military assault against any country considered a threat to U.S. interests. Media pundits began discussing the merits of an explicit U.S. commitment to imposing a new imperial order on the world. A Washington Post editor suggested that, “Only if Washington acknowledges it is acting as an Empire will the task of responding to disorder be more coherent….The chaos in the world is too threatening to ignore and existing methods for dealing with that chaos have been found wanting.” The need to impose order on an otherwise chaotic world is the logic of empire and the logic underlying the policies, actions, and rhetoric of the Bush/Cheney administration and its effort to openly align the full force of U.S. military power behind an American Imperium.

We the people of the world have yielded our sovereign democratic authority power to institutions that are now using their military and police powers in ways that threaten freedom, democracy, and security everywhere. Rather than reducing the threat of non-state terrorism, their actions increase it by increasing the injustice, deprivation, suffering, and sense of exclusion and powerlessness that motivate terrorist action. It is a path far distant from the path of international cooperation required to achieve the conditions of economic justice, respect for other cultures and ways of life, and environmental sustainability essential to true human security and well-being.

Global civil society emerged as an expression of the love of life, freedom, community, and democracy that resides deep in the soul of every human being. The increasingly naked extremism and demagoguery of elite globalization further exposes the reality behind its benevolent face. 

II: Epic Struggle

The struggle between the forces of elite globalization and the forces of global civil society is defined by a tension between two deeply conflicting world views. It is the contemporary face of an epic struggle between community and empire that extends back to the earliest human experience. Its contemporary resolution may determine the fate of humanity for many generations to come.

In the worldview of community, the world is a place of creative opportunity best realized through cooperation and the equitable sharing of power and control of resources. This worldview gives rise to the democratic impulse.

In the worldview of empire, the world is an inherently hostile and competitive place. In the world of empire the only choice life offers is to be a winner or be a loser, rule or be ruled. Trust, compassion, and cooperation are for fools and cowards. By the logic of empire smartest, toughest, and most rational players have both the right and the duty to seize and hold power by whatever means available to impose peace and order on the unruly in the interests of all — a service for which they believe they are justly rewarded with wealth and power. This worldview gives rise to the authoritarian impulse.

Concentration and centralization of power and wealth are essential organizing principles of elite globalization. Equitable distribution and decentralization of power and wealth are essential organizing principles of global civil society.

Feminist scholar and historian Riane Eisler characterizes the conflict as a struggle between dominator and partnership models of human relations. The outward political expression of this conflict mirrors an inner psychic tension that resides within each of us. On the one hand, we experience the pull of love, trust, a joyful sense of connection to the whole of life grounded in a perception of the world as a nurturing, caring, and cooperative place overflowing with creativity and abundance. On the other hand, we experience the opposing pull of fear, distrust and alienation grounded in a perception of the world as a threatening place filled with human and natural enemies that must be physically controlled or destroyed to make ourselves secure. At a more primitive level of experience the former pull is associated with the feminine predisposition to bond for mutual protection in the face of danger and the latter with a masculine predisposition to fight or flight.

While one tendency or the other may be more fully expressed in a given individual or society, both reside in each of us — both male and female — which helps to account for the wide variety of the human experience. In societies where love, trust, and sense of connection prevail, we are more likely to find cooperative partnership models of social organization that favor deeply democratic self-organizing processes mediated by an ethical culture that values equality, justice, the creative freedom of the individual, and the willingness of each individual to act with a sense of responsibility for the interests of the whole.

In societies where fear, distrust, and alienation prevail, we may find more competitive dominator models of social organization that extend rights and freedoms to those on the top that are denied to those on the bottom — and a legitimating culture that extols the virtues of the powerful winners and condemns the vices of slothful losers. Societies so organized are likely to exhibit persistent patterns of exploitation, injustice, and scarcity, a climate of fear and insecurity, perceptions of real or imagined threats, political demagogues who play to these fears, violence against suspect groups, and the embrace of coercive institutions that specialize in the use of force to impose order. Such societies easily become trapped in a self-reinforcing cycle of violence and competition for power that provides a fertile ground for demagogues who build their power base on fear and violence by appealing to those who long for vengeance and to those who seek the protection of a powerful leader.

The tendencies toward empire and community exist in all societies and give rise to a substantial range of cultural and social possibilities. Either may become dominant in a given society depending on which of the competing tendencies its culture and institutions most value and reward.  

This leads to an essential insight. Human culture and institutions are human constructions subject to individual and collective human choice. It is within the means of “We the people of planet Earth” to make the choice for a caring and compassionate world of community and to live our vision into being.

III. Development and Empire

At the end of World War II, a series of national liberation movements freed the world from the institutions of conventional colonialism. The world celebrated the end of empire and the rise of a new era of democracy, peace, prosperity, and community. The celebration proved to be premature. The forces of empire soon re-emerged under the mantle of development and a promise to banish poverty from the face of the earth. Development, however, turned out to be largely a program to facilitate a new cycle of expropriation by the strong of the resources of the weak and led to the emergence of global financial markets and corporations as the de fact governing institutions of the planet. 

Development continued a pattern of much longer duration by which the institutions of empire transfer to themselves, and thus to elite control, ever more of the planet’s common heritage wealth that people and communities have nurtured, shared, and protected for millennia — including the lands, water, seeds, and biodiversity essential to life and well-being. The pattern has been continuously repeated. First, the state exercises its power of eminent domain to claim control of common heritage resources, such as forests and communal lands, in the name of development and a larger public interest. Then the state privatizes the assets in the name of economic efficiency.

Once privatized, life-essential resources originally accessible to all as a gift of creation are commodified and monopolized by private corporations that forever after demand private tribute or rent at a price of their choosing. Empire’s current agenda also calls for eliminating social safety nets while privatizing, commodifying and monopolizing essential public services, such as education, health care, water, and sanitation — thus depriving those who lack the ability to pay of the most fundamental of all human rights — the right to live.

The human consequences of the transfer are masked by misdirecting attention to indicators of economic growth — a proxy for growth in the power of the institutions of money — as the measures of human progress to the neglect of more valid indicators of the well-being of people and nature. Insisting that economic growth increases the wealth of all and is a fitting proxy for human benefit, the forces of empire create an illusion of progress that hides a reality of decline in the economic security and well-being of the persons and households that bear the costs.

For example, grain giants like Cargill lobby governments to create globally competitive economic regimes that sacrifice small farmers and food security. The structural adjustment programs of the World Bank and IMF and trade rules of the WTO force the removal of barriers to the entry of subsidized food imports from abroad that undermine small farmers and ultimately drive them out of business and off their land. The lands are then acquired by corporate interest to produce food for export to markets in wealthier countries. This earns foreign exchange to pay for food imports and repay foreign loans — in the process generating handsome profits for international grain traders and bankers, while those without money go hungry. A regime of household, community, and national food security is replaced with a global regime of food security for the rich and food insecurity for everyone else. To mask the reality, the forces of empire point to a growth in food exports as proof of the increasing health of the agricultural sector and evidence of a domestic food surplus — even in the face of widespread malnutrition and starvation.

The legitimacy of badly flawed development projects rests on their claim to create abundance. More often they create scarcity by exploiting natural resources faster than nature can renew them and diverting what remains away from those who have less than they need to those who often have far more than they need. This creates a scarcity of land, water, forest, marine and other essential resources that condemns the excluded to a struggle for survival and fuels growing social conflict. Surrounded by violence and mindful of the incessant competition for power, even the rich feel an increasing sense of threat.

The overall dynamic turns the corporate global economy into a global suicide economy that is destroying the foundations of its own existence and threatening the survival of the human species. The “terminator seed” — genetically engineered to eliminate its natural ability to reproduce itself — is a metaphor for the pathological economic system that created it.

The 2002 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa demonstrated all too clearly empire’s callous disregard for the plight of the poor and the environment. Johannesburg was supposed to have been the third in a series of Earth Summits focused on addressing the needs of life.

The forces of empire were concerned that the meeting might lead to new environmental standards and regulations that could impose costs and restrictions detrimental to corporate power and profits. So with the strong backing of the U.S. government, they highjacked the conference and replaced the human and environmental agenda crafted 10 years earlier in Rio de Janeiro with the corporate agenda of the WTO. First they resurrected the fabrication that environmental protection is anti-poor and substituted poverty for the environment as the priority concern of the conference. They then, in denial of the evidence, brought forward the standard neoliberal fiction that economic growth is a path to prosperity for all and that deregulation, free trade, and privatization are the keys to growth. They did not achieve all their aims in Johannesburg, but they dealt a serious blow to the hope that the conference might advance the cause of people and nature.

An economics of exclusion creates a culture of economic insecurity that leads almost inevitably to a politics of exclusion. As decision making power moves from local and national governments to unaccountable institutions of global corporate rule, local and national politicians are no longer able to build a political base by championing programs responsive to family and community needs.

Political demagogues of the far right emerge to fill the void by channeling the anger and insecurity created by empire’s program of scarcity, injustice, and exclusion into a “we” vs. “they” politics that places the blame on a particular national, racial, cultural, or religious group. The rise of the LePens in France, the Fortuyns in Netherlands, Haiders in Austria, and the Narendra Modis in India is a result. There is a strong affinity between the forces of empire and a politics of hate that justifies policies of domination and exclusion. So long as people’s attention is focused on a fear and hatred of foreigners or members of a particular racial religious group they are distracted from organizing to deal with the system of institutional domination and exploitation that is the real source of their insecurity.

IV: Global Civil Society

As the forces of empire reconstituted themselves to re-affirm their global dominion in the guise of development, the forces of community found parallel expression through a series of popular movements that drew inspiration from earlier national liberation movements. These included the civil rights, women’s, peace, human rights, environment, and gay rights movements — among others — and most recently the resistance against corporate globalization. Each sought to transform the relationships of power from the dominator model of empire to the partnership model of community.

These movements emerged in rapid succession in response to an awakening consciousness of the possibility of creating truly democratic societies that honor life and recognize the worth and contribution of every person. Each sought deep change through non-violent means in the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They challenged the legitimacy of dominator cultures and institutions, withdraw cooperation and support, and sought to live a new reality into being through individual and collective action. Each contributed its piece to an emerging mosaic that is converging into what we now know as global civil society.

The reality and significance of the emerging mosaic began to come into focus at the International NGO Forum at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. This gathering engaged some 18,000 citizen of every nationality, class, religion and race in crafting citizen treaties articulating positive agendas for cooperative voluntary action to create a world that works for all. This was an initial step in forming the complex web of alliances committed to creating a just, sustainable, and compassionate world we now know as global civil society.

In the late 1990s global civil society gained public visibility primarily as a popular resistance movement challenging the institutions and policies of corporate globalization. Less visible was the on going work of articulating and demonstrating positive alternatives. This more positive and proactive face of the movement came to the fore in 2001 at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre Brazil nine years after Rio. It was the first major convocation of global civil society in the third millennium and it reflected a new stage in the movement’s self-confidence and sense of its historic role in light of the failing legitimacy and increasing public awareness of the failures of the institutions of empire.

Global civil society is a manifestation of social energies released by an awakening of human consciousness to possibilities for creating societies that nurture and rejoice in a love of all beings. The energy thus released is flowing toward what writer and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy calls the “Great Turning.” Macy sees three dimensions to the work of bringing forth the Great Turning. The first involves resistance, organizing holding actions like the WTO protests that slow the destruction. The second involves creating new social and economic structures. The third is spiritual awakening. As Macy explains, 

“New coalitions and new ways of production are not enough for the Great Turning.  They will shrivel and die unless they are rooted in deeply held values — in our sense of who we are, who we want to be, and how we relate to each other and the living body of Earth. That amounts to a shift in consciousness, which is actually happening now at a rapid rate. This is the third dimension of the Great Turning, and it is, at root, a spiritual revolution, awakening perceptions and values that are both very new and very ancient, linking back to rivers of ancestral wisdom.”

The foundation of the change ahead is the awakening of a cultural, social, scientific, and spiritual consciousness of the interconnections that bond the whole of life — including the human species — into the living web of an Earth community. The melding of ancient spiritual wisdom with advanced scientific knowledge and a planetary perspective is unique to the present moment in history and opens the way to an evolutionary leap to a new level of human social, intellectual, and spiritual function.

All humans share a desire for meaning, community, and purpose. Some find it in love, hope, generosity, compassion, and a sense of spiritual connection to the whole of life. Others seem to find it in fear, despair, cynicism, hatred, violence, greed, and material indulgence. Belief that community will ultimately prevail is grounded in the premise that for the vast majority of people a life of love, hope, generosity, compassion and spiritual connection is more attractive than a life of ruthless competition, fear, violence, and hate — and that it is within our individual and collective means to consciously choose the former.

V. Empire Under Siege

The struggle between empire and community is moving into a new phase. The underlying dynamics of empire compel it to continuously expand its dominion through conquest and exploitation. There are few remaining frontiers left to conquer and exploitation is accelerating at a rate that makes denial of the consequences of increasing empire’s exploitation of life ever more difficult. The consequences of breakdown are impinging on the lives of even the most protected of the ruling elites, especially in the following three areas:

  1. Financial Instability and Accounting Fraud. The global financial system is one of empire’s most powerful instruments of control and self-enrichment for it creates the appearance of enriching the whole of society even as it silently and inexorably transfers power over the wealth of society and the planet from the many to the few. The system, however, has a fatal flaw. Based on financial bubbles and the endless pyramiding of debt it is inherently unstable. This instability revealed itself in dramatic fashion in the tidal wave of financial collapse that swept through much of the world in the late 1990s with devastating consequences for hundreds of millions of people. The financial power brokers in the United States, however, remained relatively insulated until the beginning of 2000 when the financial debacle wrought by a collapse of the high tech stock bubble and a wave of corporate accounting scandals brought the crisis home. Collapsing stock prices accompanied by daily reports of new corporate scandals revealed the extraordinary corruption, greed, and instability of a financial system based on hype and deception.

  2. Extreme Weather. Increasingly severe weather events are demonstrating the reality of climate change — one of the more visible and pervasive indicators of the planet’s collapsing environmental systems. As always the poor bear the brunt of the burden, but the consequences of violent storms, drought, floods, and wild fires are touching the lives even of the rich and powerful as the human and economic losses mount.

  3. Terrorism and Militarism. The shock waves sent round the world by the destruction of the World Trade Towers in New York City had less to do with the numbers of persons killed than with the message that there is no refuge from committed terrorists even for the ruling elites of the world’s most powerful country. Invisible and globally dispersed, terrorist networks pose a threat against which the use of conventional military force is ineffective, even counterproductive, for the guilty are both everywhere and nowhere.

Increasingly threatened by the signs of system failure, the ruling elites are desperate to restore confidence in financial markets through official pronouncements and cosmetic regulatory action, play down the significance of extreme environmental events, and secure their interests against terrorist attack through a massive application of military and police power without regard to basic civil liberties. These are classic empire responses certain to prove futile in the current context.

In the absence of significant reforms, unregulated global financial markets will create increasing financial instability. The massive unaccountable power of global corporations will continue to invite fraud and corruption. Failure to address the environmental crisis will only assure that environmental disasters become more frequent and severe. Applying the blunt edge of massive military force against invisible and far flung terrorist networks will prove as futile and counterproductive as the application of overwhelmingly superior military force by the United States in Vietnam, Israel in Palestine, and the British in Ireland. The imposition of imperial order may have worked for a limited time on a limited scale in the ancient world. It cannot work on a global scale in a world so interconnected yet divided between wealth and desperation, and with so many opportunities for the disaffected to turn everyday technologies into weapons of mass destruction and disruption.

Empire’s globalization agenda has reorganized the economic, political, and cultural life of the world to secure the power and serve the needs of ruling elites. The more globalized the economy the greater the level of system interdependence and the greater its inherent instability. The more centralized the system’s management and control the further decision makers are removed from the realities of people, communities, and nature and the less responsive they can be to complex and rapidly changing local needs. The more powerful, centralized, and interdependent a society’s technologies, the more vulnerable it becomes to terrorist acts. Empire is no longer a viable organizational model.

Efforts to impose imperial control to defend against terrorism are inevitably self-defeating, as the response to September 11 has already demonstrated. Alarming as they were, the direct cost in lives and wealth of the actual terrorist attacks were miniscule compared to the cost in lives and wealth of the official response to the attacks. Advocates of empire characterized September 11 as an attack on freedom and democracy. Objectively, the attack of the terrorists posed no threat to either freedom or democracy. That threat came instead from the official exercise of military and police powers in the name of restoring order.

The viability of complex systems depends on localizing decision making and keeping interdependence within manageable limits. Elite globalization has created an unstable and ultimately self-destructive system, because it ignores this essential principle. The crisis of social and environmental system failure can be resolved only by the decentralization of power and control based on the principles of partnership and community.

In the contemporary context, the ways of empire become increasingly self-destructive and irrational. Wise and rational leaders would by now have abandoned them in favor of more constructive alternatives. Unfortunately, many among the ruling elites are so wedded to their worldview and so consumed by the task of preserving their personal power and wealth that they have lost touch with reality and are blinded to the consequences of their actions. The wise and rational are being purged from the system or are abandoning it in disgust. The United States no longer has a functioning opposition political party.

We must be prepared for the possibility that in their growing desperation the ruling elites will attempt to usher in a world order even more draconian and destructive than the one we now behold, using the most sophisticated of advanced technologies to introduce new and historically unprecedented forms of control. Already, in the name of missile defense, they are pushing ahead with the creation of weapons platforms in space to establish an offensive capacity to destroy any target on the planet in a matter of minutes. The use of drugs such as Ritalin to suppress unruly behavior in children may also be a precursor to more ambitious efforts to use advanced capabilities in pharmacology, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence to create a more manipulable human species.

The evidence that empire is morphing into a more destructive mutant form no longer concerned with the niceties of freedom, democracy, and human rights is deeply disturbing. Our hope lies in the fact that empire is experiencing a period of vulnerability that opens a window of strategic opportunity for global civil society to shift the energy balance of society from the culture and institutions of empire to the culture and institutions of community. Although empire holds the apparent advantage in political and economic power, the ultimate advantage — the power of authentic culture — lies with global civil society.

VI. Empire’s Vulnerability

There are three primary sources of social power: coercive power, economic power, and cultural power. Coercive power — including the military and police powers of the state — is the realm of government, the political or rule making sphere of society. Economic power — including the financial and monopoly power of financial markets and corporations — is the realm of business, the productive sphere of society. Empire currently holds the power advantage in both these spheres. Cultural power — the power to articulate and defend the values and worldviews of cultural life that are the foundation on which the legitimacy of all social institutions ultimately rests — is the natural realm of civil society.

Culture is an expression of shared meaning and identity — the filter through which we experience and understand the world in which we live. A shared culture is essential to coherent social function. Because we grow up surrounded by the social processes of cultural regeneration, they are as natural to us as breathing. We thus take them for granted — unaware of the extent to which our culturally perceived reality is a product of our minds and only an approximation of objective reality.

The articulation of an authentic culture is a spontaneous, self-organizing, and deeply democratic and broadly participatory and commonly unconscious process that flows from the authentic spiritual and social experience of each individual. Culture may also be intentionally fabricated through the influence of skilled propagandists and advertisers — giving rise to an inauthentic culture that almost invariably legitimates the power and privilege of those who sponsor the fabrication. A truly authentic process of cultural regeneration created through a broadly participatory process is by its very nature more likely to give prominence to partnership values and a worldview of community. 

Because of the underlying tension within each person between dominator and partnership tendencies, however, even authentic processes of cultural regeneration may tilt in favor of a dominator worldview and values. There is also a persistent tendency for human societies to draw a sharp distinction between included and excluded groups — commonly defined by race or religion — with the included group favoring relations of community among its own and relations of empire with members of excluded groups. This bifurcation is made to order for exploitation by right wing demagogues promoting political movements grounded in religious and nationalistic fundamentalism and their myths of moral and cultural superiority, manifest destiny, and claims to be God’s chosen people.

Throughout history, the authoritarian regimes of empire have sought to maintain the cultural legitimacy of their rule by using techniques of mass propaganda, advertising, and the control of media, educational curricula, and religious doctrine to induce a kind of hypnotic cultural trace that aligns our behavior and our loyalties with values and ends not our own. This process is now at play on a global scale. Zbigniew Brzezinski, first director of the Trilateral Commission, advisor to U.S. presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter writes in The Grand Chessboard, that “As the imitation of U.S. ways gradually pervades the world, it creates a more congenial setting for the exercise of the indirect and seemingly consensual American hegemony.” In other words, global U.S. cultural domination is central to global U.S. economic and political hegemony.

The Clinton/Gore administration shared the Bush/Cheney administration’s goal of global U.S. hegemony, but chose empire’s soft path of projecting and consolidating economic and cultural power through trade agreements over the hard path of naked projection of U.S. military power. To this end the Clinton/Gore administration strongly supported a WTO provision to prohibit other countries from restricting the entry of corporate America’s movies and magazines or barring U.S. corporate ownership of their media.

The awareness among geopolitical strategists of the important relationship of cultural penetration to geopolitical power accounts for the deep concern within U.S. foreign policy circles for the so called clash of civilizations, i.e., the clash of competing cultures. Since the success of the American Imperium rests on the global reach of the U.S. culture of hedonistic materialism, any consequential resistance against U.S. cultural hegemony presents a threat to U.S. political and economic hegemony. This is an important source of the U.S. establishment’s obsession with Islam. Irrespective of the merits of Islamic culture, the Islamic world represents the primary center of resistance against U.S. cultural hegemony.

To the extent that the legitimacy of the institutions of elite rule depends on their ability to sustain a falsified culture, authentic creative expression, critical thought, or any other form of resistance to the hegemony of that culture poses a mortal threat to their power. This is why the emergence of global civil society, which is a manifestation of a spreading awakening from the cultural trance of materialism, commercialism, and self-indulgence, is of such consequence for the human future. The distinctive nature and power of this newly emerging social organism flows from its grounding in an inclusive and life-affirming planetary consciousness that is by its nature highly resistant to manipulation by demagogues, ideologues, advertisers, and other propagandists of elite rule.

VII. Civil Society and the Power of Authentic Culture

Global civil society is raising the processes of authentic cultural regeneration to the level of conscious awareness and intentional choice. It opens the way to accepting responsibility for the consequences of the human presence on planet Earth and marks the beginning of a new stage in the evolutionary journey of our species. It is a bold and serious undertaking that calls us to be clear in the purpose, beliefs, values, and the strategic framework that guides the work of global civil society. The following reflects what we, the authors of this paper, perceive to be a convergence of emergent global civil society’s values and worldview. We articulate our perception of this convergence here as a contribution to dialogue.

Purpose: The guiding purpose of global civil society is not to capture power by replacing the present power holders in an inherently violent and unjust system. Nor is it to advance or impose an ideological agenda. It is to replace the fabricated culture and dominator power relationships of empire with the authentic emergent cultures and power sharing relations of community as the foundation of a new planetary civilization.

Beliefs or Worldview: We the people of global civil society believe in the sacred unity of the whole of life and the essential goodness and potential of each person to function as a responsible citizen mindful of the needs of the whole.

Values: We the people of global civil society value life, democracy, freedom, justice, cooperation, active citizenship, spirit, and the nonviolent resolution of conflict. We seek a society that honors and nurtures these values and we recognize that the means we employ must be consistent with these values. [See the following section on “Vision, Values, and Organizing Principles” for a more elaborated statement of these values.]

Culture: Societies define themselves and their purpose by their shared cultural values, symbols of meaning, and worldview. The power to define culture rightfully resides with the people, with civil society. The moral power of an authentic culture that flows from the authentic spiritual and social experience of people is the ultimate social power — the power of the people — because it is the power to grant to or withhold legitimacy from the ruling institutions of the political and economic spheres.

Strategy: Global civil society is appropriately engaged on many fronts — a reflection of its diversity and the complexity of its task. Its emergent strategy can is defined by five essential elements:

  1. Breaking the trance of empire’s fabricated culture and accelerating the awakening of cultural consciousness. The world is awakening to a consciousness of culture itself, and to the ways in which it invisibly shapes the shared values, world view, and symbols of meaning essential to the cohesion and coherence of any community. Once culture becomes visible as a social construct, we more easily see the extent to which the dominator social relations between races, genders, ethnic groups, and classes, and between people and nature that we once accepted without question as simple reality are not preordained by creation. They are a product of cultural codes that may be sharply at odds with reality. Culturally determined, they are matters of choice, not destiny, and can be replaced with democratic relationships of partnership and community. We can also more readily discriminate between those elements of culture that are authentic popular expressions and those that are fabricated by advertisers and propagandists.

    The awakening occurs individual by individual, but each instance creates a new role model to inspire others. The greater the number of active role models the more quickly the awakening spreads and the more easily the culturally liberated are able to find one another to break free from the powerlessness induced by isolation. We facilitate the processes of awakening through our individual engagement and dialogue with others, creating cross cultural experiences, encouraging deep reflection on meaning and values, appealing to universal values, using inclusive language, exposing the contradictions of empire to critical examination, and spreading awareness of unrealized human possibilities.

  2. Defending community against empire’s political, military, cultural, and economic assault on the rights and sovereignty of people and community. This means resisting the institutions and agendas of empire and demanding a rollback of unjust and undemocratic rules and programs that serve elite interests at the expense of community interests. The resistance can be assertive and may involve principled civil disobedience, but it must always adhere to the principles of nonviolent direct action as practiced by Gandhi in India’s independence movement, by Luther King, Jr. in the U.S. civil rights movement, and by other non-violent resistance movements. The discipline of nonviolence underscores community’s moral authority and the illegitimacy of the violence of empire and it breaks the cycle of violence that violent resistance — including terrorist violence — perpetuates and legitimates.

    While most people will take their stand outside the institutions of empire, some may at times work from within to know the ways of empire, counter its arguments, articulate otherwise neglected opportunities, and nurture the awakening of cultural conscious among the less ideologically committed of those in empire’s employ. Those working inside, however, must resist co-optation to the cause of empire by, for example, endorsing proposals that serve to legitimate the institutional power of empire and advance the shift of power from people and communities to the institutions of imperial rule. A case in point is the call to grant the World Trade Organization the power to set and enforce uniform environmental and labor standards that would supercede the right of the sovereign people to democratically determine standards appropriate to their local conditions.

  3. Forming local alliances to create local cultural zones of freedom within which people can experiment with the creation of authentic living cultures, democracies, and economies as building blocks of living societies. The potential embodied in the hundreds of millions of liberated minds around the world is initially realized through the formation of alliances to create local zones of freedom in which people engage with one another in creating the new relationships, institutions, and authentic cultures of living societies. A zone of freedom may be as simple as a local study group. It might be a farmer’s market, a school to develop inquiring minds, or a course on voluntary simplicity.  It might a socially responsible local business, a community currency scheme, or a holistic health clinic. No matter how small or isolated such initiatives my originally be, each creates a protected space in which diversity, experimentation, and learning can flourish to create the building blocks of a new mainstream culture, politics, and economy.

  4. Enlarging and connecting individual zones of freedom to create ever expanding social spaces in which the emergent processes of cultural, political and economic innovation can flourish. As zones of freedom expand and merge, they contribute to the process of liberation from the cultural trance of empire by offering ever more visible manifestations of the possibilities that empire denies. They become attractors of the life energy empire previously co-opted — thus weakening empire and strengthening community in an emergent process of displacement and eventual succession. Sometimes this work may involve principled civil disobedience in exercising natural rights that empire has chosen to deny. For example, civil society participants in the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg suggested that the countries of the South for whom WTO rules are not working might join together to withdraw from WTO agreements on agriculture and reinstitute tariffs and other appropriate import controls on agricultural commodities to protect their domestic agriculture against subsidized food imports from the North. As zones of freedom expand and connect it will be important to cultivate and celebrate a rich diversity of local cultures as a source of vitality and as a protective shield against repeating the patterns of cultural, economic, and political colonization that allow the domination of one people by another.

  5. Engaging in the liberation of contested institutional terrain. It is unrealistic at this point in time to assume that global civil society can turn the institutions of empire to the service of humanity through confrontation, negotiation, or reform. Even where former civil society leaders have gained positions of power in government as happened in the liberation of India from British colonialism, the entry of the Greens in the parliaments of Europe, the people-power overthrow of the Marcos administration in the Philippines, the break up of the former Soviet Union, or the collapse of apartheid in South Africa they have fallen captive to the institutional power they believed they could tame and too often replicate the behaviors of the leaders they replaced. Deep transformation of the institutions of power will come only as the flow of life energy from the institutions of empire to the freedom zones of community reaches a sufficient critical mass to tip the political culture in favor of community. Once that critical mass is achieved the dismantling of imperial institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organization that have no constructive role in living societies, the redistribution of the resources of global corporations to more human-scale and locally accountable enterprises, and the reform of the governance structures and processes of national governments and the United Nations will follow as naturally as day follows night.

The five elements of this strategy are both sequential — in that each prepares the way for the next — and simultaneous — in that elements of global civil society are already appropriately engaged in the work of each. So long as work on each element flows from authentic values, advances the awakening of cultural consciousness, expands the zones of freedom, and facilitates the redirection of life energy from empire to community this diversity is a source of strength and a valuable contribution to the work of the whole.

The underlying principle of this five part strategy might be characterized as “Walking away from the king” because it centers not on confronting the authority of the king, but on walking away — withdrawing the legitimacy and the life energy on which the king’s power depends. Think of it as a conversation with the king along the following lines.

“You have your game. It’s called empire. I have no quarrel with you. It’s just that the game that works for you doesn’t work for me. Please, no hard feelings, but I’m leaving to join with a few billion others for whom the game of empire isn’t working either. We will no longer play by the rules of empire. We are creating our own game based on the rules and values of community. You’re welcome to join us as a fellow citizen if you are willing to share your power and wealth and play by new rules. In any event, we wish you good health and happiness.”

VIII. Earth Democracy

In Indian households it is common to recite a morning prayer: “Let all beings be happy. Let all beings be free of fear. Let all beings be free of disease.” This prayer expresses the values of the living societies of the planetary civilization that global civil society seeks to bring into being.  In India they speak of an Earth Democracy based on ten principles that call us to honor the whole of life, the rights and worth of each person, and the importance of the health and well-being of nature to the health and well-being of people. It is a vision widely share by global civil society and articulated in documents such as the Earth Charter, a consensus document created through a process involving thousands of people throughout the world as an outgrowth of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

The principles of Earth Democracy call us to relearn the art of living in community, not only with one another, but as well in communities of life that bring us into harmonious balance with nature. They add a cosmological dimension to our concept of democracy and acknowledge the role and responsibility of human’s as custodians of nature’s species diversity.

I.     Earth Community

We are all members of an Earth community. Life exists only in complex, self-regulating, self-regenerating multi-species communities in which the health of every individual organism depends on the health of the community that sustains it. We humans are no exception.

2.     Intrinsic Worth and Rights of All Species and Peoples

All species, persons, and cultural communities have intrinsic worth and basic rights. It is the responsibility of each person to protect the rights and welfare of all species and all people. No human person or institution has the right to treat other species or persons with cruelty or violence; deprive them of the ecological space necessary to their survival; or claim rights of ownership over their knowledge or genetic codes through patents or other intellectual property rights.

3.     Diversity in Nature and Culture

Biological and cultural diversity is at once a sacred heritage and a resource essential to the vitality, resilience, capacity for innovation, and self-regulating, self-regenerating processes of all living systems — including human societies. Biological diversity assures the continuity and resiliency of life. Through cultural diversity we come to know the rich variety of the human experience and the vast range of the possibilities available to us as a species. Economic diversity is the foundation of resilient, energy efficient, self-reliant, local economies that serve the needs of people, community, and nature. The defense of diversity is a basic responsibility of all persons.

4.     Natural Rights to Common Heritage Resources

The water, land, air, sunlight, forests, and fisheries essential to life and the foundation of all wealth are the natural gifts of creation. Technology, knowledge, and culture are collective creations of the human species and embody the creative contributions of countless individuals, each building on the gifts of those who went before in a line extending back to our earliest ancestors. The gifts of nature and the gifts of our fellow humans are all by natural right common heritage resources to be shared equitably among all persons and all of life’s children. No state, corporation, or individual has the right to monopolize common heritage resources or to deprive any individual of their rightful, equitable share in the benefits derived there from.

5.     Economic Democracy

Economic democracy — the equitable participation in ownership rights to the common heritage wealth of society and the right of access of every person to an adequate and dignified livelihood — a means of living — is an essential foundation of political democracy and economic justice. Markets respond to the wants of those with money and disregard even the most basic needs of those who lack the means to pay. For markets to allocate fairly and efficiently there must be an equitable distribution of ownership rights and purchasing power. 

6.    Living Economies

We humans have proven our ability to create a global suicide economy that mimics a cancer to the end of making money for the rich. We must now learn to create a planetary system of living economies that provide people with the means of living healthy, full, and meaningful lives through the production and fair exchange of life-serving goods and services. Because conservation of the earth's resources and creation of sustainable and satisfying livelihoods is most caringly, creatively, efficiently, and equitably achieved within place-based communities, living economies have strong local roots. They are comprised primarily of locally-owned, human-scale enterprises that use local resources to meet local needs. They trade their surpluses with one another nationally and internationally for goods and services they are not reasonably able to produce for themselves using local resource, labor, and knowledge.

7.     Living Democracy

True democracy involves the active engagement in public life of every person — the living practice of citizenship — based on principles of inclusion, diversity, ecological and social responsibility, respect for the rights and freedoms of every person, and recognition that all legitimate authority flows from the will of the people. Those who will bear the consequences of a decision must have a voice in making it. The role of a democratic state is not to rule, but to secure the political voice of every person and the popular accountability of the society’s institutions. When the power of the people is usurped by distant politicians who rule in the people’s name without direct popular participation, democracy dies.

8.     Living Knowledge

Earth Democracy is based on the earth-centered and community-centered knowledge created by, embodied in, and essential to the healthful function of the living systems of nature and society. This living knowledge is continuously renewed through the discovery and actualization of unfolding possibilities as life adapts to its ever changing context. Living knowledge is a commons that belongs collectively to all communities that contribute to creating, nurturing, and renewing it. All humans have a duty to share knowledge. No person or corporation has a right to enclose, monopolize, patent, or exclude others from the beneficial use of living knowledge.

9.     Balancing Rights with Responsibility

Freedom and responsibility are inseparable companions, for there is no freedom without responsibility. Among all species, we humans have the greatest freedom of choice as to how we will live and the greatest impact on the life of the whole. We therefore bear a special responsibility for the health and well-being of the whole, including taking all necessary steps to avoid the use of technologies that pose a potential threat to life.

10.    Globalizing Peace, Mutual Responsibility, and Compassion

Earth democracy seeks the connection of people in circles of caring, cooperation and compassion through the globalization of caring, not hate; abundance, not scarcity; sufficiency, not greed; peace, not war. It seeks to globalize the right and freedom of all people to create and explore new ways of being and organizing consistent with their values and experience and to participate fully in local, national, and global public life.

These ten principles are best understood as framing values at the heart of an emergent vision of the human possible. They should not be confused with ideological prescriptions, for the practice of living democracy is an evolving creative process open to participation by all who share in the commitment to create a world that works for the whole of life. It involves the creation of a new living culture, new living economies, and a new living politics.

IX. A New Economy

Political democracy, which replaced the institutions of monarchy with the institutions of representative democracy and the sovereign power of the monarch with the sovereign power of the people, was a historic victory for community. It was, however, an incomplete victory because it brought democracy only to the political sphere, neglecting the reality that economic democracy is an essential foundation of political democracy. The imperial institution of the publicly traded, limited liability corporation, which facilitates the private accumulation of virtually unlimited economic and political power under unified management beyond public accountability, remained in place. By its nature, this corporate form is a legally sanctioned invitation to benefit from behavior that otherwise would be considered sociopathic—even criminal. It is the primary institutional instrument by which empire has co-opted the processes of cultural regeneration and re-asserted its hegemonic control over the institutions of political democracy. It has no place in societies that honor the values and principles of living democracy.

Fortunately, there is nothing sacred about a particular institutional form. The institutions of empire — including the institutions of the suicide economy — are human creations — the products of human choices. When they no longer serve we have the right and the means to change, eliminate, or replace them. The time has come to replace the suicidal economy of global empire with a new life-serving planetary system of local living economies comprised of human-scale enterprises locally owned by people who have a direct stake in the many impacts associated with the enterprise. It starts with taking back our life energy and redirecting it to economic choices that create real value for us as individuals, our families, our communities, our nation, our world, and the whole of life.

In contrast to the global suicide economy, which is devoted to making money for the already wealthy, local living economies are devoted to meeting the basic needs of people, strengthening community, and healing the earth. Largely self-reliant in meeting their own basic needs they trade with their neighbors those things they produce in surplus for those they cannot reasonably produce at home. No longer pitted against one another in a life and death competition for jobs, markets, and resources, it becomes natural for people and communities to share information, knowledge, and tech­nology freely to the mutual benefit of all. With system interdependence reduced to manageable levels, the planetary economy becomes more stable and resilient.

The idea of replacing the global suicide economy with a planetary system of local living economies might seem an impossible dream, except for the fact that so many elements of the new economy are already in place. Despite the dominant presence of global corporations, the vast majority of the world’s businesses are local, human-scale, and independently owned. The majority of the world’s people still grow their own food on independent farms.  Locally owned, human-scale businesses provide the vast majority of the world’s jobs and account for most innovation. There are literally millions of for-and not for-profit enterprises and public initiatives around the world currently or prospectively aligned with the values of civil society. Most, however, operate at the fringes of the suicide economy in a dependent relationship with its institutions. The key to change is to create zones of freedom within which these human-scale, locally-rooted enterprises may withdraw from their dependence on predatory corporations as they grow into being the webs of relationships of new life-serving economies.

Such processes are already gaining momentum around the world. Farmers in India are creating zones of freedom from chemicals, corporate seed monopolies, debt slavery, genetic engineering and bio piracy to create the foundations of a new Indian agriculture based on family farms, local ownership and control, community seed banks, and chemical free organic production methods that bring together the best of traditional and modern practice adapted to local needs and conditions. They envision a world in which every species has a future, every farm is free of toxics, and every person is free from hunger.

Farmers and entrepreneurs in the Philippines are creating zones of freedom within which they are organizing associative economies based on similar principles. Thousands of related local initiatives are underway in the United States in agriculture, sustainable building, energy, local finance, neighborhood development, land trusts, and others with support from thousands of public and non-profit organizations.

Countless similar initiatives are underway in virtually every country of the world. They are creating new agriculture, forestry, media, health care, finance, production, energy, manufacturing, and other systems comprised of life-serving human-scale, local independent businesses. The stronger and more visible these living economy initiatives become the more readily individuals may redirect their life energy from empire to community through their shopping, employment, and investment choices and the faster we can declare the world free of the pathologies of the suicide economy and celebrate the end of empire.

X. A New Politics

As the goal in the economic sphere is to replace a global suicide economy with local living economies, the goal in the political sphere is to replace the dead democracy of money with living democracies of people. In contrast to the economic sphere, however, the agenda of the new politics is more social and cultural than institutional. The formal democratization of the institutional infrastructure of the political sphere was carried out many years ago. Although important reforms are needed to insolate existing political institutions from the distorting influence of money and restore popular democratic sovereignty, the institutional structures themselves are basically sound and the changes needed fall within the range of realistic reform. There is however, a critical missing element: the active engagement of mindful, politically conscious citizens. This is the element that defines the difference between dead democracy and living democracy.

A number of national movements suggest some of the ways in which civil society might most effectively fulfill its democratic function in national political life. Of special interest are major national movements in Canada, Chile, India, and the Philippines that have forged alliances among thousands of organizations representing millions of people in the cause of articulating and advancing national visions of democratic, life-centered societies. We have much to learn from such initiatives as they are leading us to a new and more deeply democratic human era.

The forces of empire prefer that we devote ourselves to shopping, sitting mindlessly in front of the television absorbing whatever messages they chose to present to us, and casting a vote every few years for our preference among the candidates presented to us by we know not who. Empire thrives. Democracy dies.

Even within civil society there is little recognition of the essential nature of democracy as an active practice —a way of life. We noted earlier the unfortunate experience of people power victories in India, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and South Africa where civil society and the forces of community won stunning political victories for democracy and installed respected civil society leaders in key political offices. In each instance, the formations of civil society declared victory and disbanded or redirected their energies to more conventional community development and service delivery functions — abandoning the work of mobilizing civic engagement to hold the political system accountable to the popular will. Political participation died and democracy died with it as the new leaders were captured by the power imperatives of the system and began to act much like the leaders they had replaced.

The experience of the German Greens also provides an instructive lesson. As an environmental movement the German Greens became a powerful force articulating a new worldview, new lifestyles, and a balanced relationship with the environment. Then they reconstituted themselves as the Green Party and moved from the civic sphere of cultural consensus building to the formal negotiation and comprise of the political sphere in the competition for political office. Perhaps inevitably, power considerations came to dominate their decision processes and their choice of policy positions. Rather than aligning the formal political process behind a Green agenda, the Greens became captive to the system’s traditional imperatives — losing both their vitality and much of their grassroots constituency.

Herein lies an important and little understood lesson regarding the division of functions among the political, economic, and civic spheres. There is a widespread, but mistaken, assumption that political participation belongs exclusively to the institutions of the political sphere. In fact, there is an essential division of political roles between the political and the civic spheres. The democratic function of the political sphere is to codify the values and standards of the prevailing cultural consensus in law and public policy through negotiation and compromise, and to provide for legal enforcement when a failure of voluntary compliance presents a threat to the interests and well-being of the community. Thus, in a democracy the proper function of the political system is not to lead or create the cultural consensus that defines the political context, but to seek the possible within the limits of that context.

The most accurate answer to the question, “Who is the leader of global civil society?” is, “Every person.”

Popular participation in the processes of dialogue and consensus formation by which the society defines itself is the heart and soul of living democracy. Creating a new cultural consensus that redefines the political context to create new possibilities is properly the work of civil society. When civil society abandons this role to the political or economic spheres, democracy dies.

When politicians and bureaucrats use their coercive powers to exert leadership behind agendas that diverge from the existing cultural consensus we call it dictatorship. When business uses its economic power to buy the political agenda we call it corruption. When state and business leadership merges to impose a nationalistic rightwing agenda (empire), we call it fascism. In each case the institutions of democracy have failed and the democratic process has been denied. Only when leadership behind the setting of public agendas comes from civil society can we truly call it democracy.

We have the right — indeed the obligation — to hold government accountable when it ignores the popular will. However, when we assail government for failing to provide leadership in directions not supported by an evident cultural consensus, we engage in a contradiction. A truly democratic government is not supposed to lead. It is supposed to respond to the leadership of “We the people.” It can only do so, however, to the extent that civil society fulfills its essential leadership role

In developing this leadership we must be aware of the stark contrast between leadership for empire and leadership for community. The imperial leader builds personal power by motivating followers to submit to his or her personal authority, values, and definition of purpose. Leadership for community involves a process of mutual empowerment that encourages every person to recognize and express their capacities for leadership on behalf of the whole in the service of values authentically their own.

It is significant in this regard that global civil society, the largest, most international, and potentially powerful social movement in human history, is not identified with any individual leader or group of leaders. The most accurate answer to the question, “Who is the leader of global civil society?” is, “Every person.” The deep strength of global civil society comes from the fact that it is a self-organizing, mutually empowering movement of millions of leaders. They lead in different ways and they differ in the scope of their influence and public visibility, but virtually every participant contributes in some way to the leadership of the whole. Understanding this reality is essential to understanding the nature of this unique social organism and its emerging role. It is the product not of an individual leader or ideology, but rather of an emergent values consensus that gains its power from an awakening to human possibilities yet unrealized. These qualities may make the organizing processes of global civil society appear chaotic, but they are also the source of its distinctive strength and resistance to demagoguery.

Global civil society manifests a previously unknown human capacity to self-organize on a planetary-scale with an unprecedented inclusiveness, respect for diversity, shared leadership, individual initiative, and deep sense of responsibility for the whole. It demonstrates a human capacity for democratic self-governance beyond anything previously known in the human experience. It’s rapidly expanding capacity for mutual learning, consensus convergence, and global coherence suggests the qualities of an emergent planetary consciousness or global brain. It is a social organism new to the human experience. We are only beginning to understand its nature, let alone its full implications and potential.

*****

The epic struggle between the forces of empire and the forces of community has reached a decisive moment in the evolutionary experience of our species. Current events now frame in the most dramatic terms the collective choice at hand between love and hate, courage and fear, compassion and violence, democracy and elite rule. The present context of failing environmental and social systems compels a choice for life. The emergence of global civil society creates an opportunity without precedent in the human experience to make that choice, accept responsibility for one another and for the consequences of our presence on this extraordinary living planet we call Earth, and move ahead to create a new human civilization dedicated to the love and service of life. The choice is ours. The time is now. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for.

Posted November 20, 2002

See Critical Commentary by James Robertson