As events unfold, this needs nearly daily rewriting. The book is under major revision. This the new opening to the first chapter. Sorry for the length.
We are near and possibly past the point of no return on climate warming. People are divided between hysteria, depression, or tuning out. But fortunately an increasing number are tuning in and ready for news about what to do. The future for humanity must include technology, democracy, science, biology, human history, personal life, culture, civilization and a theory of governance. It has to do with putting the ambiguous “human” together with the ambiguous “nature.
But we are stuck at a bottleneck of interlocked issues we are all aware of but in isolation from each other, not together as a system: population, inequality, robotization, climate, war, weak and corrupt governance, and poor quality of life, all issues of human making on the planet, that keep us from getting to the future. I would like to add that culture too is in decline: the appreciation of art and music, poetry and dance, architecture and landscape. The pain felt by almost everyone is not represented in the press or policy. It is all kept numerical and cool.
The vision of GardenWorld, or something like it, is necessary to have an organizing leverage point for our efforts at making a better world. Popular culture tends to be pounding and rude, not encouraging of creativity, reflection and compassion. The book is about GardenWorld as a viable and shared image of the good life in the future on this planet in this century, what it is and the politics of and economics and the legal structures for getting there. We cannot get to GardenWorld without some serious rethinking of politics and economics. Corporations, “bodies”, are designed to treat the society outside themselves as food to digest, not a source of partnerships among peers. Politics, which was hoped to be representative, only allows the choices it wants.
We have discovered our interdependence with nature, but don’t have a view of what to do with it. GardenWorld replaces that vacuum with a promise. Whether the world falls apart, or hangs together, GardenWorld would be helpful. It is, as the futurists say, robust across scenarios. We need an image of what we are trying to accomplish and how we want to live. There is so much green talk, but we lack a vision of how it coheres around the way we might live our lives. An uncomfortable result now is that we are both anxious to hold onto old ways and anxious to move to new ones. Should we give up on economic well being for the environment? No way most have been saying. Should we ignore the ecological impact of a full speed economy? Not wise, most would say. So we are stuck between these two plausible attitudes.
Much of the life as we have known it is over. The apocalypse is not coming. It is here. We are in it. Living it. As the weeks go by it seems increasingly more essential to understand, develop and broadcast what I’ve called it GardenWorld. We need a view of greening our world and loving our children that is aesthetic, providential, flexible, and doable. We need an image of where we could evolve to, starting in the very near future, that is positive.
We need to like each other which means we have an obligation to be likable. Adam and Eve were beautiful in the Garden of Eden, and we have to learn how to find the garden of the future also beautiful and to find ourselves beautiful in it. We need to learn how to make each other feel secure in the world that, for a while a least, will be full of anxiety.
GardenWorld is essentially a return to the core of human life, production and reproduction, companionship, culture, and food. Early human communities grew people and used the environment to do it. Its meant knowledge of plants and animals and of each other. The use of the land was to nurture communities that blended the human and the organic in a fully engaging culture. Art and meaning were central to the project of growing humanity. Human activity was simultaneously pragmatic and aestheticized. Utility was always embedded in stories, myths and design. We have reduced too much of the land to a commodity owned by corporations for the purpose of growing more commodities.
The present emerges from the past over many generations. In one important aspect the past contains a clue to our present and future possibilities. The word for capital come from the greek cap, meaning head, as in baseball cap, capital of a country or the top of a column. For the romans it meant also a new head of cattle (chattle, cattle and capital all related words). Cattle was the main measure of wealth in the Roman Empire, as it had been for the Greeks. A new head of cattle, one plus one equals three, is hence about growth, and the question has been, who owns that cap, who gets to decide its fate and its use? The rules around cattle reproduction moved with commerce n cattle to commerce in things as the Italian city states emerged with more affluence an complex tastes in decorative things.
Hence what we mean by economy has its roots in the most profound aspect of the universe, the production and reproduction of life in all its organic messiness. Sex and growth and economy are thus deeply connected. I conclude that treating the economy as about managing growth in its organic connection to biology and evolution and the environment is the basis for GardenWorld and its politics. GardenWorld is about generativity, and how to manage it so that the next generation is, as it often has been, a blessing and not a problem.
GardenWorld is about sex and children and parents and food and flowers and art and culture and reflective adults who appreciate having lived.
We have unfortunately built up habits and expectations that are going to be hard to give up. But as you know from experience private spaces for quit with books or friends and family are harder to find as th space of relationships is replaced by the internet of all things and we experience ourselves as points in the grid rather than as a person. To get the attention of another, which used to mean just being ourself, we now have to break trough their concentration of the flow of information they are a part of.
The idea that relationships with people and the land would replace these technologies seems a bit far-fetched though we are ambivalently attracted to such a future. In too many ways we have learned to dislike each other and to live with it. As a result we are not good at growing food nor each other.
Things we thought we like, all the technology, the availability of data, the numeracy in the accounting of things, efficiency, and industrially supplied and corporate manipulated markets are beginning to wear down and we do not know how to replace them with things that are more deeply spiritual and organic, and lets face it, humanly successful in terms of lives we are happy to be living.
The very idea of organic frightens many people. And spirituality for many is Halloween and nightmares, the mumbo-jumbo of the ju ju man whose wife is selling unwholesome looking hot food over a kerosene stove down the street in some unpronounceable city.
I am not prepared for the world I think is coming. I am too soft. Too old. Maybe too sentimental. Maybe too indoctrinated by technical perspectives to be truly warm hearted. But we will all need to extend our basic skills of material reuse and basic habits of compassion and companionship – and broad eclectic study of the world.
Quality of life choices are easier in the GardenWorld context because such a context tells us about what we are trying to achieve. If people are facing a deteriorating social and physical environment the choices they make will not be the ones that align personal well being with the environment. In moving toward GardenWorld, where alignment of the human and nature is the intent, a convergence of desires and actions is more likely. Simply being in a more natural environment, a city garden, a suburban back yard, often reminds us of who we are and how to live a little better.
Living in a por neighborhood of rundown houses does not encourage us to fix up our own. Not because it looks bad, but because the landlord will raise the rent.
The Garden of Eden beckons, but we have lost our way – Waiting for Godot – like people milling around the gate after the flight was cancelled. We act as if we no longer know where we are going, and tend to drift off, one-by-one to nowhere in particular. But I think this is only on the surface – what we are willing to show. Hidden inside our private experience I think we have a robust image – often without words – of what we want from a good life. Good people and an attractive setting. Most people, across class lines and national boundaries, would like to live in a blend of nature and civilization. Why do we not use our resources and technology – our wealth – to go there?
Most people would like to live in a blend of
nature and civilization. Why do we not use
our resources and technology– our wealth
to go there?
GardenWorld is a turn away from the rationality of production with its irrational conclusion that more stuff means more happiness. Clearly “happiness” is a deeper problem to which “more” is a pathetic and destructive answer. This book is based on the core idea that we have lost a public vision of the future and our education has stunted individual imagination for the better life. Democracy and technology no longer seem to mobilize hope, but apprehension. And yet a direction already exists in the minds of most people, and they would vote for it, if were offered by the political leaders. And it will not be, at least in the early phases. Politicians vote for what is. The hope is that people will do some inventing and creating themselves. With the Internet creating the possibility of discussing everything, including why, and how to live, the hope is not impotent.
GardenWorld is that vision, a world where advanced technology and natural growth are blended through design (including architecture, city planning, landscape planning, food, recreation and institutions, and more) in a robust economy of local and regional experimentation in restoration, development and local business initiatives, all under the guidance of GardenWorld as an intent, blending aesthetics and pragmatics. In GardenWorld health and education are seen as enablers of participation, and tough environmental regulation drives technical innovation. Doing a better job on local development and retrofitting for energy conservation, and growing green for energy and food independence creates potentially a very large number of local jobs that are much harder to export. Democracy would expand and complexify locally, moving from mere voting to conversational networks across generations and class lines.
GardenWorld is more of an intent to experiment than a plan to follow. The idea is simply, from the window box or roof top in the inner city, through the malls and the suburbs, to the fringe wilderness, we should be looking for ways to enhance the aesthetics and the usefulness through landscape design, from the micro to the macro: gardens, food, parks, paths, climate amelioration through tree planting in hot cities.
GardenWorld is not just the sum of these practical activities but an intent to realize a vision. It is how we can put together a goal, with the positive potential of technology, capital, human lives and politics. By vision I mean something like what the Impressionist painters, Monet, Renoir, Bonnard and all their friends, did for the emerging bourgeoisie middle class life – enhance every space with color and life, mixing nature and human relationships in a new harmony and meaningful discord. From the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to Central Park, the British estate gardens, Architectural Digest, and the impact of simply putting flowers in our living room – bring human relationships into a better balance with plants, as food and beauty, as a core design principle, throughout our entire environment.
GardenWorld is not a plan for what you should do. It is an invitation to creatively participate as you help invent, from the very local, to neighborhood, regional, national and global as we explore how to replace the techno-mechanical image of the potentialities of the use –and misuse – of our wealth with a goal of a more humane, democratic, organic and natural environment. If this isn’t the world you want, what do you want? As Socrates asked, “What is a fit life for a human being?”
But readers might be surprised that i think Technology must be a major part of the future. The problem will be the mix technology with sensitivity to the needs of a cultural and spiritual humanity. The people who tend to develop the technology tended to see him in mechanistic and digital terms. To get the cut the logical future will require a lot of serious The people who tend to develop the technology tend to think in mechanistic digital terms. Achieving the technological future will require a lot of serious thinking.
I have been deeply influenced by Erich Fromm’s books, especially Escape From Freedom and The Sane Society, and GardenWorld is an answer to the question I have mulled over for a few decades:, “If we don’t escape freedom, but stick with it, what then?” Fromm talked about the ways our fears shut down our social imagination, but he did not explore what kind of realizable society might support freedom. GardenWorld is my project to explore the realizable possibilities, given our moment in history.
Many new books and articles point in the direction of GardenWorld. If I make any claim it is to showing the common source of the problems of both the Democratic and Republican leaderships to fail to respond to real needs yet, the existence in the minds of most people of a common agenda around the desirable qualities of living, and the need for a vision of GardenWorld to bring that agenda to life. I am also profoundly influenced by the work of Fredric Olmstead. He created the design plans for the Stanford campus, Berkeley, the entrances to Yosemite and Niagara Falls, the Fens in Boston, and most famously, Central Park in Manhattan. The design was always to purify the pollutions from the city using natural processes, and in the same design, to create attractive spaces for people.
The context of current events in which I write and probably you reading is dynamic. Our leaders have a too narrow focus on extremely complex events. We have been drawn into a financialized and militarized frame of mind, rather than facing our real problems, which would support dealing with the climate, environment, strengthening the people through education and health, and thinking about the quality of life and its distribution. Better security would follow.
I am proposing three groups of ideas.
1. There exists an agenda that 80% of the population would vote for if it were offered.
2. GardenWorld is an integrating vision that already exists in the minds of many. It would include the 80% and go beyond it.
3. Build a resonance in the public mind with 1 and 2 and a campaign to get us there.
I believe the vision articulated here, GardenWorld, has world-wide application, and there are many vital experiments outside the US we can learn from. There is a valley I’ve heard about in India where “progress” is measured by the increase in biomass and the number of species of songbirds. The US is best at being a beacon, not a bully, and our narrowed views of economy, democracy and governance, the significance of culture, and the aims of life, are due for repair.
The current situation is that the West, with empires and wars, beginning in the 15th Century with Portugal’s intrusion into the peaceful and extensive trade in the Indian Ocean, and represented now by the US and its oil, dollars, and military, has increasingly come to be seen by the rest of the world as a tragic costly culturally narcissistic outrage that did not live up to its own values, the ones the world admires: success with participation and justice. We are isolated and broke.
An alternative view is that the country is doing basically well, as we manage the world the US inherited at the end of WW2, and we are in a phase of institutional experimentation with digital tech and globalization. American productive power is still sound and, with the flow of money and ideas in the system, we can remain the most dynamic country.
There is some ambiguity about which view is correct. probably both, but the first seems increasingly salient, conscious and requiring a coherent response.
The narrowing elite in the country have an increasing share of resources available to them, and that money is used for the exploitation of existing or obvious cash producing “opportunities”. There is much less money for R&D. This is not good for business, science, technology, wealth creation, human development nor the environment. It is not a path to “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. The United States is not paying attention to “..the decent respect for the opinions of mankind.”
We need to find a way to, as the musicians say, re-mix. GardenWorld, because of its existing, but latent, attractiveness, in the hopes of people across class and national lines, is very possibly the way to re-jazz our life, and to recall that the Declaration says “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
The book has six core ideas
1. The promise of a better life after WW2 has not been realized. The slavery of the field turned into the slavery of the Factory and then into the slavery of the cubicle. Progress for all turned into privilege for ever fewer in a great game of musical chairs. Chapter 1 and 2. The image of the future and the promise of progress have languished, under the pressures to adapt to “modernism”, through a failure of imagination, leadership, and resources.
2. Both major political parties are stuck. Chapters 2
3. Political attitudes are a way of saying “no” to the whole system when “no” is not something people can vote for. Chapter 2.
4. There exists a political agenda that 80% would agree to. Not an agenda of mere platitudes, but deep, dealing with real issues. (See chapter 1,5,6,7). It requires mixing a new business climate with environmental rigor, and using health and education as enablers. At the simplest, simply turning downward the rising curves of inequality and environmental degradation would be sufficient for a vast increase in hope. Chapter 8.
5. An analysis of why we are in this jam. The merry-go-round economy, working for those who are in it, but marginalizes those who are not but having to compete in the brutal life denying game of musical chairs, Chapter 2.
6. A vision is necessary to make the 80% solution come alive and be evocative. GardenWorld, a blend of the organic and the technological, entrepreneurship, and serious environmentalism, oriented for human development, is that image. Chapters 3 and 4
And there are some more philosophical, historical and psychological discussions in chapter 7, 8, and 9. And some specific discussion of economics and technology in chapters 6 and 8. Chapter 7 is a riff on human nature which is really what it is all about nurturing.
The context as I write, most observers agree, is that:
The economy is making the rich richer and the poor poorer in almost every country (including the Middle East, creating the conditions for chaos there) and that the legal structures of corporations are a major factor. Everyone now knows this and frustration with the politics is increasing. The plausibility of global climate change is also now conventional wisdom. But the actionable conclusions have not been architected by the politicians. There is no easy win win, solid and difficult choices will be made. The idea and practice of democracy have been corrupted and nothing yet replaces them. The Internet is in trouble. Security in a crowded world is better achieved by diplomacy and pinpoint police professionalism than by militarism, but the militarists, driven by those who want to protect the current bad distribution of assets, are in the ascendency. All these problems affect the local quality of life.
The long term divides more or less among three major scenarios .
1. Technocratic centralist control of the world economy as a single integrated machine, a police world with strong media control. This is a new feudalism with corporations and a weakened system of national state. A population scared by climate and migrations, will be attracted to this, maybe even demand it.
2. A shift toward more participation and democratic unfolding and the supporting human development in health and education, toward GardenWorld. This is regional networked market democracy. This scenario fits our philosophical tradition and does not have to invented but renewed.
3. And, of course, one must add, the possibilities of collapse where human needs overwhelm the social system.[i]. Rwanda, Syria, Ukraine, and too many american cities are already there.
The book proposes that GardenWorld, the second scenario, is the viable and more attractive possibility. To get there, as I’ll describe in Chapter 3, might require some more aggressive changes, such as rethinking corporate charters, the way interest on capital works, the way Congress works, land use, and international cooperation. Great progress can be made simply by shifting the rules enough so that increasing concentration of wealth and income stops and measurable and visible decreases are sustained. Rethinking bureaucracy, as Gore rather successfully attempted with the National Performance Review, and a better distribution of resources from the Federal to the local level are probably also necessary.
“Sustainability” has emerged as a consensus word to describe where we going, but “sustainability” for a farmer or soap manufacturer is different than sustainability for a bank or a brokerage house. This second group, the financial houses and extended broker relations, depend on expansion of economic activity beyond population growth and force all of us to align with that financial agenda.
Financial services, which ought to be the oil that makes investment function, is about 15% of all US economic activity, and pulls out about 40% of the profit. This is intolerable. GardenWorld helps give meaning to sustainability, making clearer what can be sustained and what cannot. Choices have to be made. One of the first and most oft-cited definitions of sustainability is the one created by the Brundtland Commission, sustainability “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” A good starting point, but need is too often limited to economic need, such as “basket of goods”, and not the requirements of quality of life based on a better human understanding.
Aristotle wrote a little book, Coming to Be and Passing Away, in which he argues that we can have growth without development, and development without growth. (fn) Pondering this may be the key to the 21st century. When I read it I felt intense relief. It gives license to think beyond the usual growth or climate trade off we are mostly stuck in. Development without growth? The rearrangement of what we have, not extracting from earth or each other. Development without growth provides us with an opening to a more interesting, humane, intelligent, intuitive future we can start on now in this first decades of the 21st century, as we replace more with better. What really is quality of life for humans and the planet, and what have we sacrificed that was precious for growth and the rat race?
We can have growth
There may be a deep continuity running from Napoleon, Bismarck and then Lincoln, through WW1, WW2, and the Cold War to our present situation. Communism and Fascism (think Mussolini) were attempts to solve the problem of how to integrate capital, corporations, governance, status and power. Those attempts fortunately failed. They both tried to be technocratic and control oriented. But the problems of the organization of the state and the corporation, elites and the people, capital and benefits, are unsolved, and current politics may be a replay of the 20th Century, showing we are stuck in an endless loop, “sustainable” in the worst sense. Market capitalism in the US and its partnership with government might be a third attempt to solve the problem of capital and technology, and it too might be failing through narrowing ownership and increasing militarization.
How will we negotiate the difference between the growth forces and the development possibilities? I’m convinced that getting to a sustainable future is possible and attractive, but the story needs filling out, a lot of creativity, a lot of seriousness, and lot of tolerance. In particular, to protect and give hope and some measure of security but the many of us who are not developing time to thinking about it. They didn’t ask for this. GardenWorld is an attempt to provide an integrating vision for action that creates a vibrant and attractive economy without technocratic and bureaucratic over-control, and with concern for the environment and quality of life.
Simply think of what it would be like if our cities and towns were organized like most college campuses, with green space between buildings, where walking to work and small stores is possible, in the midst of green space that mediates between humans and nature, rich in species variety and providing local niche crops. Connections to the global through a ubiquitous Internet would be even easier, and It is entirely within our means to do this local design and global connectedness for everyone. And we may be forced to.
Recent work in hierarchies and meshes, networks, self-organization and emergent phenomena, led by writers like Prigogine, Castells and de Landa, and Chris Alexander’s ideas about liveliness in architecture, provide some helpful ideas for thinking about the future. It is not a question of hierarchies or networks, but how to combine them. Not one issue at a time, but integrated interdependent multi-feedback loops and emergent effects should change the way we think about historical causality and politics. Ideas do help. But the current political leadership is still framed by Democrats and Republicans who, fighting, like Don Quixote over what is not real, define a nearly imaginary landscape of issues, while the real world lies spread out in the face of their voters many of whom see through the fog what is happening, and have no adequate response available on the ballot.
Let’s combine the quality of life vision of a GardenWorld with the practical task of wider participation in income, wealth, education, and health in a vital economy of entrepreneurship and technical innovation that is environmentally and humanely sensitive.