Monday, January 30, 2012

Changing Society

“I have therefore come to the opinion that the most reasonable recourse for the humanization of society and its institutions is to abandon them and begin again to build a society with a just, equitable and compassionate economy with justice, equality, and reverence for all life insured by the goals and forms of all its institutions.”   -Manitonquat

In order to have a truly happy life we probably need to address three areas, at least, that affect our well-being. We need to feel good about ourselves, about our relationships, and about our society.

We need to feel good about ourselves first, to believe we are living our lives to the fullest, using all our potential talents and creativity toward some worth-while purpose balanced with fun, learning, and growth – a sense of always becoming more than we were.

We also need closeness with other human beings, relationships that are supportive and caring, in which we continue to learn and grow and expand our horizons. For myself, I discovered twenty-five years ago that the tool of co-counseling contained all I needed to work both on myself and on my relationships. It has also been easy to teach others and perfectly fits my world view of a being Creation in which all of us can learn to live in a good way.

We also need to have a pride in our organized society, which exerts powerful influence over our lives and fortunes. The majority of people believe they have very little control over the organization of that society, and they just try to get along in it without calling attention or injury to themselves.

I want to tell you about my way to change the society.

What’s wrong with society, in my view, is that it is organized as a pyramid, with power coming from the top down and the fuel that makes it function is fear. We who were raised in this society do not find that remarkable. Like goldfish raised in a bowl, we cannot imagine another possibility. The bowl gives them order, definition, safety. Anything beyond is unknowable, hazardous and threatening.

A society without a hierarchical power structure conjures chaos to our minds. Without an executive authority and a military or police to enforce that authority, we would live in continual fear of encroachment by others, of the loss of possessions and even of life or limb. But throughout history and before it, and down to this present moment, there have been innumerable cultures and societies that lived and live now in freedom, equality, and safety. Our problem has been a 10,000 year history of violence and greed that informs all our culture, our public and private institutions, our education, and tells us our only options are conformity or ostracism and isolation. So we escape into the culture’s diversions, into reading, viewing films and television, playing electronic games, drugs, shopping, isolating ourselves further.  We even go on vacations alone, or with only our nuclear family, never really getting close to other people.

But human beings are tribal by nature. People need closeness to other people. The greatest crime of our culture is to make us suspicious and fearful of each other. The importance of human beings in our lives is reduced to what goods or services we can buy or sell each other.

I saw that the society of my ancestors was fundamentally different from that of the dominant culture of today. It was a more human society. Its basis was in respect. Respect for life, for the earth, for all the earth’s dependents including the family of humankind. Native American society was rooted in the family and in our relationship to all beings. The extended family was the heart of the tribe and its attitude of respect and caring for all.

Most importantly, I saw that this tribal society based on respect which supported the family and all its members was a society that worked. It was a system that worked well for over a million years, whereas the civilization of today, only a few thousand years old, was clearly not working. It was coming down around our ears in violence and alienation.

The reasons for this became quite clear to me.  They were centered in the concepts of fear and domination that characterize the motivating forces of this society. Societies that worked well for all people were societies based on trust and mutual respect. The dominant culture of the world, whether capitalist or socialist, is dominant because it dominates. I don’t know which came first, the fear or the domination, but they feed each other. The institutions of society protect the domination of the earth and its resources by a few people. Every social ill we suffer is a result of that fundamental fact.

If we are going to fulfill our potential for love we must at the very least put an end to every form of human beings harming human beings. We must agree and be omitted to a simple, obvious moral necessity – that every child born to woman is entitled to a fair and equal access to the resources of the planet we all share.

These goals are what I have derived from the teaching of my elders about the Original Instructions for human beings, to live respectfully in a circle of equals and devote ourselves to the care of our children, our elders, and all people of earth, including our plant and animal relatives, our Mother Earth, and all the coming generations.

By grouping together in cooperative, sharing communities people can satisfy all their basic human needs with a fraction of the income it takes to survive individually,  and these communities can be further strengthened by bio-regional networking and trading. The more self-sufficient we become the less we contribute to the military and prison industrial complexes and to the oppressive economic injustice of obscene wealth and wretched poverty and the destruction of the environment by our consumerism.

The notion of living together in more communal closeness has been growing in the past decades, after a temporary revulsion from the chaotic confusions and dissolution of many of the communes of the 60s.  New, consciously designed communities are flourishing. Ecovillages are appearing everywhere.  Networks of communication among all these are broadening.

This is the area I feel has the most promise for changing the world. Unless society changes utterly from its foundation in power over, in punishment, violence, in the amassing of hegemony through the wealth of the few in the oppression of the many, unless we can breathe freedom, equality and fellowship in every breath we take, we will not be all that we long to be in human creativity, love, and joy.

I have therefore come to the opinion that the most reasonable recourse for the humanization of society and its institutions is to abandon them and begin again to build a society with a just, equitable and compassionate economy with justice, equality, and reverence for all life insured by the goals and forms of all its institutions.

Human beings stay human in their relationships to the extent they are close and know one another, which possible only in groups small enough for each individual to be heard and known to all members. Such groups, agreeing to respect and equality for each member, will be sure to look out for the welfare and happiness of all.

The way for large groups in society to provide for the welfare and happiness of all individuals is for those groups to consist of active small groups which have the power to safeguard their own interests. For a city that would mean many small neighborhoods consisting of even smaller circles, like the circles we call clans in this village vision, which would meet often and actively address the concerns of its members. A circle of representatives of these clans would oversee the governance of the neighborhood, and a circle of representatives from the neighborhoods would oversee the governance of the city. 

Many, probably most of the responsibilities of municipal government could also be handled within the neighborhoods, which would be like small villages. Education, recreation,  sanitation, health, law enforcement, and all the other functions that villages manage could be largely managed within those neighborhoods, with municipal departments facilitating cooperation among the neighborhoods and handling matters beyond their scope.

The important thing is to keep as much of the ordering and decision-making as possible in the smallest units where power is vested directly in the people. But more important even than the functional organization is the coming together of the people to open and follow their hearts together. In this way I believe even cities may become human and friendly, free from fear, corruption and injustice – really still villages that are concentrated together sharing resources and culture.

My book Changing the World is a vision of a village of the future, functioning tribally,  where each person of any age is a member of a smaller circle, or clan, which guides the whole and in which every voice is equal. Basic human needs of food and shelter and fuel and health care, as well  education and creativity, are supplied self-sufficiently within the community. 

For many years we have been making summer camps which  explore and function under this “Circle Way” system, and the response has been uniformly positive. The common comment at the end of camp is, “this is how human beings are meant to live together, how can we live this way for the rest of our lives?” 

We need to get closer. You and I – all of us. We need to take back control of our lives, our society, our earth. We need to communicate and open our hearts and minds to each other.  We need places on the earth where we can get closer to each other, to our families, our children, to be safe, to relax and slow down and get away from stress, to live simply without harm to others or to the earth, to play, have fun, create, get close to the natural world.  Without having to join any religious or political movement, follow any particular tradition or creed, but allow and respect and appreciate all the diverse ways that others engage in. It is such a beautiful world we have been given, we are endowed with such fantastic capabilities, and every baby born is a miracle, a delight, a shining star of hope for the future.

We have begun to approach the next step. We are having conferences in Europe now to begin to build our first Circle Way Village. (Contact us at circleway.org).

So I daydream now of this first Circle Way Village, and then of another and another and another, proliferating throughout Europe and spreading to other continents, around the world.  I dream of a network of Circle Way Villages that will communicate and learn from each other, help and trade with each other. There are already networks of various kinds of communities, spiritual communities, egalitarian communities, ecovillages, for instance, and I would like to see our Circle Way Villages join with them and bring all networks together to broaden and strengthen the tribal movement.

What is special about the Circle Way is how it helps us get closer to each other, to deal with emotions of all kinds, to encourage and appreciate the best in all of us, to listen to each one and work together to solve our problems, and to keep our children free from more of the patterns that oppressed us when we were young. I would like, as we have in the past, for people from our villages to be available to teach the Circle Way, to any group or community that requests it.

Here is an excerpt from my book Changing the World:
“This is certainly nice,” another of the group says, “But part of your vision here is to be a model for the world of peaceful cooperative living. You are only a thousand here, and there are, what – another thousand villages like it around the world?”
“Some are larger now, but none larger than 3,000.”

So maybe they could amount to three million or so in a while.”

“We have more visitors all the time, and more villages keep sprouting up.”
Say more villages might grow the number to six million eventually. But there are ten billion people in the world today - and growing.”

“Our idea is that when people notice how happy, how relaxed and safe we are here, and how much fun we have, creating instead of consuming, they will want to give up all the stress of the rat race and join us. With all the villages in every part of the world having more and more visitors, we figure the growth will be exponential at some point in the future and transform all of society’s notions. But we need to be growing slowly in order to learn and make it right. A lot of society’s problems have come from moving too fast and not seeing where we were going.”

“So the Circle Way grew quite slowly?”

“Naturally it didn’t happen overnight. We started from nothing but a dream and figured it out as we went along. Building homes, planting and harvesting, creating businesses for everything we need little by little. Slow growth – but that’s the easy part. Human beings are builders. It was the excitement of creating our own world as we want it that carried us over the lean hears. By sharing everything and inviting people to come and help we got by and it just kept getting better and better. Because we kept too the circle, stayed close to each other, kept on listening and caring and helping each other.

“And to the children. You know, when ever your energy gets a bit frayed, whenever you may feel a bit low, discouraged, wondering if it’s worth it, all you need to do is go hang out at the playground. Watch the little ones and restore your faith in the human race. Then join them, let them teach you to let go of your seriousness and just play. You will get your hope refill. And then you’ll be able to lose yourself in creativity and find your purpose again. We need the children to remind us who we are.”

Climbing onto the wagon we could hear the shouts and laughter from the playgrounds and the sport fields. We are all quiet. Thinking perhaps about when we might come back or visit another Circle Way Village, perhaps even join one and change our lives. Change the world. A whole society of fun and play and creativity, of closeness, friendliness and love”

As we pass under the gate and look back one more time we notice another sign with a quote from Manitonquat who long ago had a vision of a Circle Way Village:

TOGETHER THERE IS NOTHING WE CANNOT DO

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