**Note that this journal is in transition. Stay tuned for a new blog at Lunapoiesis coming in September 2012!**
I would like to present an essay I wrote, setting forth Joanna Macy's concept of "The Great Turning," which refers to the conscious, human choice of turning away from destructive empire and life-negating ways of being, towards Earth community and life-affirming ways of being in relation to Self and planet.
After presenting Macy's concept, the next section addresses "A Turning More Personal," in which I attempt to articulate my own social and political organizing activities within the framework of The Great Turning, with a view to illuminating the interconnections between the three "different" dimensions of activity or intention represented by the concept.
I then explore the theme of "The Personal Is the Political," and delve into how my own personal exploration and re-discovery (or perhaps recovery) might be reflected within the collective. Since my primary interests fall within the realm of cosmology (aka poetry), I explore Richard Tarnas' thesis of "the double bind of modern consciousness," which he uses to illustrate the psychological ramifications of the modern, disenchanted worldview of alienation and separation. I also ponder the curious fact that in a Universe such as ours, which is characterized by mutual causality (mutual co-arising), the means are the ends, and ask what might that mean for the evolutionary potential of our species and its social organization?
I conclude that the old organizing mythology of the industrialized world will collapse, indeed it is collapsing as its failures mount up in the form of crises all around the planet. What will fill the vacuum of power and meaning, left in the wake of the collapse of the modern, industrialized worldview? Towards this endeavor, I explore the theme of "History As A Metaphysical Problem" in the final section.
The chambers of my heart echo the French poet Paul Val
ry's lament that, for an artist, no piece is ever really completed, only abandoned. And so I abandon this unfinished piece of writing on an old blog, that others might take inspiration perhaps....
There’s No Salvation from the Myth of Salvation
Foundations of the Great Turning,
February 26, 2008
The Great Turning
The Great Turning is a concept which Joanna Macy helped to develop over her thirty years of social and environmental activism, which seeks to describe the conscious human choice to “choose life [which] means to build a life-sustaining society,” defined as “’one that satisfies its needs without jeopardizing the prospects of future generations.’” (Macy & Brown, 1998). The need to develop a life-sustaining society emerges from the modern, industrialized way of life, which Norwegian ecophilosopher Sigmund Kwaloy named the Industrial Growth Society. While acknowledging the positive aspects of the unprecedented powers wrought by our highly technologized culture, Macy and Brown (1998) highlight the fact that
…[W]e witness destruction of life in dimensions that confronted no previous generation in recorded history. Certainly our ancestors knew wars, plagues, and famine; entire civilizations, such as
The Industrial Growth Society hinges on an “economy [that] depends on ever-increasing consumption of resources. To maintain its engines of progress, Earth is both supply-house and sewer” (p. 16).
The means by which to choose life, and to choose to develop a life-sustaining society forms a central focus of Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown’s 1998 volume, Coming Back To Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World. It focuses on the individual human being, taking a human, rather than an industrial-sized perspective. Joanna Macy focuses on the human capacity for compassion, and approaches the human being as an animal which ultimately cares, as opposed to one which is ultimately a completely selfish, greedy and wicked creature. She notes that people who are living inside of the Industrial Growth Society’s paradigm have little opportunity to question its existence or its bases, and are, in fact, caught up in a cycle of running ever faster, exactly as the paradigm of “infinite growth” demands, further distorting the ability to distinguish primary causes from secondary effects.
Macy and Brown (1998) assert that “[f]or there to be a livable world for those who come after us, it will be because we have managed to make the transition from the Industrial Growth Society to a Life-sustaining Society,” referring to the process as an “ecological revolution” (p. 17). While their book, published in 1998, clearly indicates the authors’ belief that such a social movement is in fact arising, the recent research of journalist and writer Paul Hawken (n.d.) describes the autonomous emergence of an estimated one million, perhaps even two million organizations worldwide, which are working towards ecological sustainability and social justice.
Macy and Brown (1998) characterize the Great Turning in three different dimensions:
…[I]t is happening simultaneously in three areas or dimensions that are mutually reinforcing. These are: 1) actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings; 2) analysis of structural causes and creation of structural alternatives; and 3) a fundamental shift in worldview and values (p. 17).
The first dimension is often the most visible, since it appears as protest and friction against the status quo, often rendering the work of social justice and ecological sanity in deceptively black and white terms.
Work of this kind buys time. It serves to save some lives, and some ecosystems, species, and cultures, as well as some of the gene pool, for the sustainable society to come. It is, however, insufficient to bring that society about (Macy & Brown, 1998, p. 18).
While holding actions are critical to the success of the Great Turning, if left standing alone, they only reinforce the system which is opposed, because they only address the symptoms of underlying, systemic issues.
Thus, the second dimension supports the first, by offering alternatives based on penetrating analysis of root causes. “To free ourselves and our planet from the damage being inflicted by the Industrial Growth Society, we must understand its dynamics” (Macy & Brown, 1998, p. 19). Beyond diagnosis, however, the second dimension focuses on the creation of structural alternatives.
…[L]ike green shoots pushing up through the rubble, new social and economic arrangements are sprouting… Not waiting for our national and state politicos to catch up with us, we are banding together, taking action in our own communities. The actions that burgeon from our hands and mind may look marginal, but they hold the seeds for the future (Macy & Brown, 1998, p. 19)
Equally critical to and supportive of the first two dimensions is what Macy and Brown (1998) refer to as a “shift in perceptions of reality, both cognitively and spiritually” (p. 19). Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown (1998) locate these shifts in some places which mainstream American culture might find unlikely to look.
Profoundly generative, they are present now. In our consciousness and in our lives, they come in many forms. They arise as grief for our world, giving the lie to old paradigm notions of the essential separateness of the isolated, competitive ego. Or they may arise from…breakthroughs in scientific thought, to the new lens on reality provided by quantum theory, astrophysics, and general living systems theory—as we see…that the reductionism and materialism which shaped the worldview of the Industrial Growth Society are about as useful as the abacus in understanding the nature of the universe. Or we may find ourselves moved by the wisdom traditions of native peoples and mystical voices in our own religions…that [remind] us again that our world is a sacred whole…. Now, in our time…three rivers—anguish for our world, scientific breakthroughs, and ancestral teachings—flow together. …We awaken to what we once knew: we are alive in a living Earth, source of all we are and can achieve” (p. 21)
In other words, the cosmological orientation of modern, industrialized societies (where cosmology is defined as the conception of the human being and the human role in the Universe) is suicidal. Precisely because the Industrial Growth Society is unsustainable, it is collapsing in on itself, without much need of any additional push, and so, too, will its fundamental worldview crumble. What is not assured is what worldview will emerge from this self-destruction; human identity and the organization of our cognitive and spiritual experience of life will need to be consciously addressed. “This shift in our sense of identity will be life-saving in the sociopolitical and ecological traumas that lie before us” (Macy & Brown, 1998, p. 23).
A Turning More Personal
For two years prior to enrolling at Antioch University Seattle, I studied nonviolence and social change movements, and participated in the anti-war movement against the illegal invasion of
While I greatly value holding actions, the process of self-education on our global situation, and engagement with the philosophy of nonviolence, caused my desires and energy to turn toward the other two dimensions of the Great Turning, i.e., the creation of structural alternatives, as well as shifts in consciousness. After all, the final battlefield seems to involve capturing the public imagination of what "true security" is, versus the "national security" narrative peddled by the military-industrial complex. 
Owing this shift in perspective, I helped co-found the grassroots community organization, Sustainable Ballard. It emerged partly as a response to the invasion of
While none of the three defined facets of the Great Turning will accomplish the task in isolation, it is often difficult for me to clearly separate them, because raising consciousness is so integral to the effectiveness of holding actions, as well as analyses of systemic problems. Therefore, I think it may be that the process by which a group collectively identifies and implements structural alternatives will itself prove to be the ends which they seek. That is, the evolution of a self-regulating, self-organizing system or web of socioeconomic relationships will itself require a self-organizing process. The transition cannot emerge from the ideologically driven worldview of the Industrial Growth Society, which hinges on absolutism, hierarchical relationships, reductionism and dualism. As M. K. Gandhi (2001) explained the power and efficacy of nonviolence, “the means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree” (p. 10).
Thus I find myself personally most drawn to the realm of cognitive shifts in perception and spiritual awakening. Throughout the year of activist brainstorming which birthed Sustainable Ballard, we three co-founders kept returning to the primacy of the stories which shape human lives, and the critical ways that these stories inform our very existence. We grappled with the various “facts” and “information” and analytical literature on the failure of the Industrial Growth model of human relationships, and quickly came to realize that there could be no technological solution in isolation from a massive shift in our culture’s creation story and its primary symbols. The myth of boundless economic growth and the appurtenant deification of material wealth is itself such a deeply rooted and problematic cultural foundation, that failing to address it would be akin to sticking a finger in a bursting dike, in the hopes of averting a flood. Blithely focusing on a technological salvation of the human condition would be merely addressing the symptoms of planetary dis-ease, not actually treating the root causes.
From this standpoint, I perhaps self-identify foremost as a culture change activist. I’m slowly developing confidence in my natural understanding of cosmology and hope to explore the creation of new cultural forms which might facilitate cultural renaissance, with a view to human evolutionary potentials. The most unusual part of this seems to reside with the fact that I must first attend to the process of “decolonizing” my own soul, before I can even begin to access the creativity which gestates within.  That is, I have to continuously uncover the unconscious assumptions which I have inherited, and which impede my own personal evolution into a non-hierarchical and compassionate being in relationship to life, the universe and everything. Perhaps this realization reflects the Sanskrit axiom, “As the atom, so the universe.”
The Personal is the Political
Taking the view that the personal is the political, what might humanity have to receive, in order to evolve? Is a “cultural renaissance” a rebirth of old cultural forms, in some maudlin exaltation of an idealized and heavily revised past, or might it refer to a return to the basic cosmological question of what it means to be a human being living on this planet Earth? From a dryly secular, scientific perspective, viewing cultural renaissance in this way may indeed appear atavistic, as if it is already pre-given that the “problem of being alive is to be solved through technological progress.” The first thing I notice about this very common, “Western” way of framing the human experience is that being alive, or being human, is viewed as some sort of problem to be solved. Something is broken, it is held, and needs to be fixed. Perhaps this is not inaccurate but purely technological means seem quite disconnected from the ends of “being alive as a human being.”
So often, the presence of the imperfect physical body seems to be overlooked entirely, reflective of a vast cosmological disconnect between bodily existence and spiritual perception, which is often named Cartesian dualism, and sublimely described by Richard Tarnas (1991) in his Epilogue to The Passion of the Western Mind.
Tarnas (1991) illustrates the historical trajectory of the modern Western mind, beginning with the Copernican revolution, which led to the philosophical accomplishments of Rene Descartes’s ontological and Immanuel Kant’s epistemological assumptions.
The Copernican shift of perspective can be seen as a fundamental metaphor for the entire modern world view: the profound deconstruction of the naïve understanding, the critical recognition that the apparent condition of the objective world was unconsciously determined by the condition of the subject, the consequent liberation from the ancient and medieval cosmic womb, the radical displacement of the human being to a relative and peripheral position in a vast and impersonal universe, [and] the ensuing disenchantment of the natural world. …[T]he Coperican revolution…was a primordial event, world-destroying and world-constituting (Tarnas, 1991, p. 416).
As Tarnas (1991) quotes John J. McDermott, “Descartes ‘woke up in a Copernican universe’” (p. 417). Descartes philosophically drew out the Copernican model of a de-centered and wholly relative universe and concluded that
if the human mind was in some sense fundamentally distinct and different from the external world, and if the only reality that the human mind had direct access to was its own experience, then the world apprehended by the mind was ultimately only the mind’s interpretation of the world. …[T]here was no guarantee that the human mind could ever accurately mirror a world with which its connection was so indirect and mediated. …The mind could experience only phenomena, not things-in-themselves; appearances, not an independent reality. In the modern universe, the human mind was on its own (Tarnas, 1991, p. 417).
Immanuel Kant, following the empiricist tradition which emerged after Descartes, articulated the epistemological ramifications of Descartes’s ontological exposition, drawing
attention to the crucial fact that all human knowledge is interpretive. The human mind can claim no direct mirrorlike knowledge of the objective world, for the object it experiences has already been structured by the subject’s own internal organization. …Thus the cosmological estrangement of modern consciousness initiated by Copernicus and the ontological estrangement initiated by Descartes were completed by the epistemological estrangement initiated by Kant: a threefold mutually enforced prison of modern alienation (Tarnas, 1991, p. 417-9).
Subsequent scientific discoveries, interpreted through a worldview of an increasingly indifferent and even hostile universe, reinforced and re-doubled perceptions that the human soul and its need for purpose and meaning is a completely bizarre anomaly within an otherwise unconscious and random, purposeless material realm. “The human soul has not felt at home in the modern cosmos: the soul can hold dear its poetry and its music, its private metaphysics and religion, but these find no certain foundation in the empirical universe” (Tarnas, 1991, p. 418).
The modern belief in human alienation from the universe has evolved into what Richard Tarnas (1991) has named the “modern double bind of human consciousness” (p. 419), which he developed from social scientist Gregory Bateson’s four basic premises of a psychological “double bind” necessary to the development of schizophrenia, based on communications analysis. Bateson depicts a situation in which two contradictory and incompatible streams of information flow from mother to child, e.g., “the mother who says to her child with hostile eyes and a rigid body, ‘Darling, you know I love you so much,’ [such that] the two sets of signals cannot be understood as coherent” (Tarnas, 1991, p. 419). Furthermore, it is an essential, vital relationship in which the dependent child is not able to communicate and resolve the inconsistency, nor can the child leave the relationship.
Tarnas (1991) takes Bateson’s illustration of the impossibly contradictory situation of a child who is bound to a “schizophrenogenic mother” (p. 419), and substitutes the world for the mother, and the human being for the child, noting that “the differences between Bateson’s psychiatric double bind and the modern existential condition are more in degree than in kind…[since] the modern condition is an extraordinarily encompassing…double bind, made less immediately conspicuous simply because it is so universal” (p. 420).
[In Bateson’s formulation] we have the modern double bind in a nutshell: (1) The human being’s relationship to the world is one of vital dependency, thereby making it critical for the human being to assess the nature of that world accurately. (2) The human mind receives contradictory or incompatible information about its situation with respect to the world, whereby its inner psychological and spiritual sense of things is incoherent with the scientific metacommunication. (3) Epistemologically, the human mind cannot achieve direct communication with the world. (4) Existentially, the human being cannot leave the field (Tarnas, 1991, pp. 419-20].
In applying this to the worldview of modern consciousness, Tarnas (1991) says,
We seem to receive two messages from our existential situation: on the one hand, strive, give oneself to the quest for meaning and spiritual fulfillment; but on the other hand, know that the universe, of whose substance we are derived, is entirely indifferent to that quest, soulless in character, and nullifying in its effects. We are at once aroused and crushed. For inexplicably, absurdly, the cosmos is inhuman, yet we are not. The situation is profoundly unintelligible (p. 420).
Bateson concluded that the child subjected to such radically dissonant communications must necessarily distort her perception of realities both outer and inner, generating pathological consequences. Tarnas (1991) then explains the general existential malaise of the Western world by applying Bateson’s diagnosis to the larger scale of the modern human psyche’s attempts to cope with the worldview in which it is formed.
Either inner or outer realities tend to be distorted: inner feelings are repressed or denied, as in apathy and psychic numbing, or they are inflated in compensation, as in narcissism and egocentrism; or the outer world is slavishly submitted to as the only reality, or it is aggressively objectified and exploited. There is also the strategy of flight, through various forms of escapism: compulsive economic consumption, absorption in the mass media, faddism, cults, ideologies, nationalistic fervor, alcoholism, drug addiction. When avoidance mechanisms cannot be sustained, there is anxiety, paranoia, chronic hostility, a feeling of helpless victimization, a tendency to suspect all meanings, an impulse toward self-negation, a sense of purposelessness and absurdity, a feeling of irresolvable inner contradiction, a fragmenting of consciousness. And to the extreme, there are the full-blown psychopathological reactions of the schizophrenic: self-destructive violence, delusional states, massive amnesia, catatonia, automatism, mania, nihilism. The modern world knows each of these reactions in various combinations and compromise formations, and its social and political life is notoriously so determined (pp. 420-1).
Tarnas’s illustration of the modern epistemological crisis embodied in the double bind of modern consciousness clarifies Macy and Brown’s (1998) depiction of the deep apathy present in modern, industrialized societies, as well as the common confusion and mistrust of our own human senses and feelings about the state of the planet today.
Apatheia is a Greek word that means, literally, nonsuffering. …[A]pathy is the inability or refusal to experience pain. What is the pain we feel—and desperately try not to feel—in this planet-time? …[I]t pertains not just to privations of wealth, health, reputation, or loved ones, but also to losses so vast we can hardly name them. …That pain is the price of consciousness in a threatened and suffering world. It is not only natural, it is an absolutely necessary component of our collective healing. As in all organisms, pain has a purpose: it is a warning signal, designed to trigger remedial action. The problem, therefore, lies not with our pain for the world, but in our repression of it. Our efforts to dodge or dull it surrender us to futility—or in systems’ terms, cut the feedback loop and block effective response (Macy & Brown, 1998, pp. 26-7)
Macy and Brown (1998) insist that “by virtue of our humanity we share these deep responses,” for “it is the distress we feel on behalf of the larger whole of which we are a part” (pp. 26-7). But they also recognize that an acceptance and embrace of the very reality of the ability to feel the pain of the world is not all that humanity need receive, in order to open its consciousness to an evolutionary process. For beyond the spiritual awakening that such a painful embrace must produce, there lies the basic assumption of modern, industrialized societies, based on the division of the body and mind, matter and spirit, which would continue to insist that the problem of being alive is to be solved through technological progress. A certain cognitive barrier remains, a certain inheritance of memory lingers.
Accordingly, the greatest questions I carry concern the process of meaningful re-integration of the human body with the human mind, in order to reconnect the human soul to the planet Earth, from which it forever co-arises. Hand in hand with that re-integration is the process of providing hospice to the worldview which birthed the Industrial Growth Society, since it clearly will change or die, as a consequence of the collapse of the industrial paradigm.
History as a Metaphysical Problem
The myth of technological salvation, or “progress,” whether or not the Great Turning “succeeds,” promises to produce a primordial event of apocalyptic proportion, and all of my questions seem to point backwards in time, rather than forwards. Are we bound to be victims of history? Once we feel the pain for the world, and even if we begin to look upon the Earth as the infinitely wise living being that she is, what is next? It seems that we could choose to act out similar, inherited patterns of the recent past, continuing to live the modern myth of progress and fail to meaningfully address the double bind of modern consciousness. Or we could also choose to return to that basic cosmological question with eyes of innocence and wonder, and ask: what is the human being and its role in the cosmos? This deeper possibility for cultural renaissance suggests that mechanically “fixing” or “patching up” the existing worldview would skew the apocalyptic potential of current events towards its world-destroying pole, to the detriment of its world-constituting pole.
Of all the pitfalls of the modern myth of humanity’s salvation from itself and from the Earth, I most concern myself with the Western obsession with idealized goals. Firmly attached to the linear concepts of “future” and “past,” a marked tendency towards projective living in the future seems to underpin the slavish work ethic which drives the Industrial Growth Society. All joy and enjoyment are postponed until tomorrow, when everything will be perfect and “as it should be,” since it is the goal which is privileged, and the means are only secondary. When the perfect destination is found, then we may have the luxury of enjoying our souls’ deepest delights.
To reiterate Gandhi’s (2001) point, the means are the ends, as he explains in another analogy, you cannot plant a noxious weed and expect a rose to sprout from it, just because you’ve convinced yourself that your sole goal of the rose will determine the outcome of your actions. It is the process itself which yields the desired result, and the process is what requires attention. Not inconsequentially, attention to the process also means attention to the present moment.
In order to get beyond the slavish attachment to idealized goals and projective living, a great deal of self-awareness is required, which I have described as the decolonization of one’s own soul.  Thus the evolutionary potential of humanity would seem to reside within the unconscious. As Carl G. Jung astutely observed, “We have not understood yet that the discovery of the unconscious means an enormous spiritual task, which must be accomplished if we wish to preserve our civilization." Making the unconscious conscious is the stuff of dreams, quite literally, and I work within the possibilities that humanity, as a total collective, has the spiritual resources to reconcile or heal the divide between our historical circumstances and our existential realities. With the term "existential," I mean to express my belief that humans are far more than the sum of our historical circumstance, that owing our consciousness we inhabit another realm altogether, one which transcends the linear mind's preoccupations with the concepts of "past" and "future." We do have the ability to make a conscious choice to do things differently, to take a different perspective; in short, to evolve into awareness of the present moment, which naturally and intrinsically contains both the past and the future. The present is where all life actually happens, and is synonymous with the presence of the human body as well as the Earth, which forms the first body of humanity.
And yet I cannot pretend that history doesn't inform the possibilities of our collective future; as Richard Tarnas has said, history is the great unconscious. And much like the unconscious, history strikes me as a profound metaphysical problem, as it is both seen and unseen; recognizable, yet often unrecognized. Depending on your vantage point, what information or events you choose to privilege or weight as “more important,” and your specific worldview, history can be cogently rendered into a nearly infinite number of conflicting yet completely plausible and internally consistent stories. History as such is merely an abstract concept; it does not exist in and of itself, as a separate, objective concrete entity. History only exists through the living, in the stories, the lives and the ways of the people who are in the present moment. And yet there are tangible consequences emanating from history, whether or not one acknowledges the specifics, is conscious of them or gives certain events any weight or significance at all. And as with all such metaphysical questions, the human experience and our lives boil down to the stories we tell ourselves about our existence, whether that relates to some notion of the divine, or our history, or our future, or this present moment.
Our history cannot be unmade, but neither does it have to unmake us. The challenge of our times may indeed be the industrialized world finding a way to both include and transcend our history, by making a conscious choice to turn away from the misanthropy, fear and greed which are both consequence and cause of our cosmological orientation, in order to meet the human destiny of evolution, rather than be gobbled up by blind fate.
Perhaps the great discernment, the great human task of compassion, is noticing and accepting what you can change (one’s freedom, hence one’s responsibility), and what you simply cannot change. This compassion is the essence of the difference between wisdom and vanity, and the difference between a conscious participation in the ever-unfolding mystery of life, and an unconscious Self-negation which paradoxically flows out of self-inflation.
Gandhi, M. K. (2001). Non-violent resistance (Satyagraha). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.
Hawken, P. (n.d.). Paul Hawken personal profile. Retrieved March 4, 2008, from http://www.wiserearth.org/user/paul/.
Macy, J. & Brown, M. (1998). Coming back to life.
Tarnas, R. (1991). The passion of the western mind.
Click here to download a PDF of his comparison, in table format.
 With deep gratitude to Stephen Buhner (The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature (2004)), for the phrase of "decolonization of the human soul."
- current space-time perception:na univerzite
- emotional state: O Vernal blight of nostril
- oscillating pressure waves:10,000 Maniacs - Verdi Cries (in my head)