“To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.” — Raymond Williams
There is a war going on right now, as you are reading this. It is a war that all of us are participating in, whether we know it or not. And it is a war whose stakes are so high that the very future of our economy, our environment and our children’s lives depend on the outcome.
This battle is a battle for ideas — the beliefs and values that govern how the entire world works. And the only way to join the battle is to question your own assumptions and make sure that what you believe — about yourself, the world, and the connections between the two — fits what you feel in your deepest core. You, me and everyone else who cares about our shared future as a species must do this if we are to thrive ourselves; and ensure our world thrives too. As William Blake said: We “must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.”
Below, I share with you five of the most radical ideas any of us can think. They are radical because they challenge the current system and the individuals and organizations that benefit most from it. These ideas fly in the face of five “Noble Lies” (as Plato called them), basic assumptions about who we are and what our role in life is that are the foundation of all modern economics, politics, business, medicine and individual lifestyle aspirations. To embrace the radical, we must first be prepared to give up the comfortable. This can be challenging — a red-or-the-blue-pill moment.
What makes it more tricky is that many of the rich and powerful ridicule these five radical ideas, trying instead to sell us all on a “rational” worldview that puts profit and productivity ahead of just about everything else. They have achieved this feat by claiming: that the way things are fits the “natural” order of things; that survival of the fittest is a genetic imperative; that the profit motive is elemental and benefits everyone eventually; and that we are all self-interested, rational, utility-optimizers.
As a race and planet, we are now paying for the consequences.
In the words of the great critical thinker Michel Foucault, it is time to “excavate” the foundations of our political, social and economic systems and identify the outdated assumptions that lie at the heart of them. Then we can, one assumption at a time, discern if they seem to be timeless and true; or false and failing. Are the ideas we run our lives on creating a world of enlightenment, empowerment and enjoyment — or a world of depression, disease and devastation?
Big 5 Myths
I believe that the Big 5 Myths whose time has come are:
- The myth of the machine: The universe is like a clock. We are cogs within it. We must work and produce to be of value. If value can’t be measured, it doesn’t really exist.
- The myth of the self: We are atomic units, discrete individuals, destined to be alone (and lonely).
- The myth of competition: We are all inherently selfish and naturally competitive, driven by survival to fight tooth and claw for what we feel we need.
- The myth of personal ownership: Whatever we find or make we should own — no matter how much others may need it.
- The myth of growth: We have to constantly accumulate more wealth, and create more value, in a world of unlimited natural resources.
These ideas may look innocuous, but they are profoundly dangerous. The work as a nested hierarchy, one scaffolding on the surface of the other, ever upwards towards rampant capitalism, corrupt politics and painful, disconnected lives.
5 Big Ideas
Instead, if we switch on, we can embrace five bold ideas:
- The idea of the organism: The universe is alive, organic, interconnected. We are here to create and express.
- The idea of interdependence: We are profoundly interconnected in ways that we can fathom and ways we cannot. The more we feel the interconnection, the more we thrive.
- The idea of collaboration: We are all as inherently kind and compassionate as we are selfish; we can always work together towards a common purpose.
- The idea of sharing: We can share resources, even if that means we “lose” personally; we can give before we get to create a win win-win for all.
- The idea of flourishing: We can conserve our resources and focus instead on personal growth and mutual thriving.
These 5 Big Ideas have not been plucked from thin air — more wishful thinking by an unrealistic optimist. Each is grounded in the latest scientific research into physics, networks, social psychology and animal behavior. Each has precedent both in the historical record and in tribes and cultures different from our own. Each has been taught for millennia by countless wisdom traditions and indigenous myths. Each has been leveraged for extraordinary impact by the greatest thinkers and leaders of modernity, from Leo Tolstoy to Nelson Mandela. Each is a systemic “sweetspot” — what Buckminster Fuller, the legendary designer and innovator, called a “trimtab” — where a small shift can create disproportionately large change. This is all about cultural, cosmological, metaphysical acupuncture.
If we are willing to surrender the old assumptions and embrace the new ideas — which fit emerging scientific evidence far better — we can change everything that we have created in the “real” world, global warming and child poverty included. The resulting Inner Revolution has the power to sweep all before it. Our worst problems can disappear remarkably quickly, as they are simply crystallizations of what we collectively believe.
The core of this Inner Revolution has to be spiritual, not political, in nature. As a brilliant historian, Lynn White, wrote in a prescient essay in 1967: “Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious, whether we call it that or not.” We are transforming our understanding of human nature away from a worn out cultural narrative towards a fresh, vibrant one: We get to enjoy knowing ourselves as conscious beings that are intrinsically part of, and inextricably interlinked with, a creative, dynamic, conscious universe.
The Inner Revolution is not simply an intellectual exercise, cognitive sword-play for the educated elite. Nor is it merely a pretty New Age ideal. Far from it. As we embrace the truth of our existence, we begin to deliver it tangibly in all our actions and creations in the real world. We turn inspiration into action in the form of social enterprises, intentional communities, collaborative consumption, digital and real-world activism, conscious capitalism and scores of other practices and principles that build thrivability over negativity. The Inner Revolution — a politics of judicious hope not cynical despair — is our only chance if we want to stop spending our precious shared resources on things we don’t really need, accelerating injustice and planetary degradation in the process.
This kind of radical self-consciousness — bringing with it the often uncomfortable realization of the complicity of each of our everyday thoughts in the creation and maintenance of a system that, well, sucks for most — is the key to bringing into existence the concrete social justice, environmental sustainability, economic equality and inter-racial peace so many truly hope for.
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism. We must move past indecision to action.
“The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.” — Martin Luther King