Earth Viability Center LLC
Report for June 2020 to September 2021


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Executive Summary

A number of us, representing multiple disciplines and five different countries, spent 35 weeks in study and discussion to identify the root causes of the inter-related ecological, cultural, economic, and governance crises facing humanity today. At the root of all of these wicked problems are the stories we live out of. The following are examples of outmoded and terribly damaging stories that much of humanity still lives by:

  • Humans are outside of and above nature.
  • Economies must continue to grow without end.
  • Hierarchies, where power flows from the top down, are the most effective way to organize governments and corporations.

Humankind has little chance of transitioning to a viable civilization unless we manage to adopt better stories, stories that underpin radical changes in our lifestyle, economy, and governance structures.

We are now shifting from trying to understand into an action mode. We are continuing and expanding several action projects (briefly outlined below).

Ecology of stories. The stories we live by form an ecology, an ecology with keystone stories and invasive species. We are continuing to study these dynamics and are beginning to articulate ecologies of stories for various cultures.

River stories. Rivers as the arteries of the continents and river variables as the indicators of health within watershed ecologies. The rivers software tool will show changes in river health over time, provide stock and flow models for policy analysis, and store vivid stories from the humans living within a given watershed.

Virtual Community Center. The existing social media platforms are a major part of the problem in spreading/supporting the damaging stories. We are developing a completely different social media platform, one designed for serious discussion and action by all the relevant stakeholder for either 1) a region or 2) a wicked problem. The Virtual Community Center will be a non-profit and the governance system will include all of the relevant stakeholders.

New Stories. We are actively recruiting writers, especially creative/fiction writers to work collaboratively on short stories, novels, and videos to create and disseminate better stories, stories that will support a viable civilization.

New Governance Structures. We bring considerable expertise with the Viable System Model and syntegration and want to collaborate with groups such as e.g., the New Democracy Foundation (David Schecter).

New Economy. Many groups are working on this issue but few have clearly articulated that the purpose of an economy must shift from wealth creation to supplying people with what they need.

We are actively seeking colleagues for all of these action projects.

1 Introduction

1.1 A Brief History

Two of us (Barry and Hans−Peter) wanted a tool that would show, at a glance, 1) the health of a given river and 2) how the health of the river was changing over, say, 20 years. There are huge masses of data on rivers but hardly any that is easy for a layman to understand. For instance, the nitrogen content or salinity of my local river doesn’t mean much to most of us because we don’t know what it should be. The solution is to define a healthy state for the river and then form ratios between the healthy state and the actual state. A healthy river will have ratios near one while a sick river will have ratios closer to zero. Presenting these ratios as a graph over ten or 20 years shows at a glance whether the river is getting better or worse.

As we worked on defining river health, we realized that the critical variables for rivers include most of the critical variables for understanding the health of the entire watershed ecosystem. We began to think of rivers as the circulatory system for the continents and, just as blood work tells the doctors a great deal about a person’s health, the river variables tell us a great deal about continental ecosystem health.

In addition to the data on rivers, we wanted the human connection to rivers. We needed “river stories” that would connect us emotionally and spiritually to our rivers. This led us to consideration of what drives human behavior and action.

We invited others and now have about a dozen scientists from various disciplines and five countries working with us.

The neurologists and psychologists have found that our emotions are the primary driver of our behavior, that reasoning and logic come into play after our emotional decision making determines what should be done. In short, we live out of our stories. As we worked on this insight we realized that essentially everything we believe is a carried by stories. Some of our stories, e.g. gravity or Newton’s laws of motion, are very well established and useful. On the other hand, the story that humans are separate and somehow above nature is not only completely false but also extremely damaging, so much so that it is threatening our very future. We began to examine our “ecology of stories” and especially the “keystone stories” and the “invasive species stories” for our culture.

Finally, we examined the role that science, the arts, social media, and the mass media play in formulating and popularizing stories. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) is particularly important in promulgating “invasive species stories” and ensuring that these damaging stories spread very rapidly.

To facilitate our own work we are developing a radically new type of social media, one designed for a group that is serious about tackling either a wicked problem or that is intent on revitalizing a particular locality. This platform is designed to facilitate the collaboration of all the relevant stakeholders, including scientists and laymen.

Structure of document

Personal statements: in the next section, each of us who has been participating in the Tuesday meetings provides a brief statement about these meetings and the value of them for each of us.

Our Findings: Section 3 reports our main findings that we arrived at in the many Tuesday meetings.

Work we considered/plan to do/are in progress with: Section 4 provides an overview of the work we are planning to and the work that is already in progress.

2 Personal Statements

Barry Clemson: Why am I still here after 35 meetings?

Several years ago I was thrown into a deep depression when I realized that humankind was on a path that, if continued much longer, would end with the destruction of our civilization and perhaps the planetary ecosystem that sustain us.

The Earth viability core group managed to face these hard truths while maintaining a joyous determination to do our damndest to save humanity from catastrophe. We are from different disciplines and five different countries but are united in love and laughter, a deep commitment to understanding the root causes of our global crises, and action to save ourselves.

I think, after 35 probing conversations and a lot of study, that we have a good understanding of the multiple inter-connected crises facing us and the changes needed for a transition into a viable civilization.

We are now ready for effective action.

Lori Filipek: Why I Attend These Meetings

I attend the discussions because I heartily agree with the goals of the group and find the conversations inspiring. I very much like the idea of River watersheds. Everyone lives in one, and it affects our lives. I’m an aqueous/environmental geochemist. The other members are mainly systems/cybernetics experts. I have a long-time interest in complex systems, especially in cognitive and behavioral science, but I am not an expert.

I started attending the discussions about 20 weeks after they began. For that reason, I have had quite a bit of “catching up” to do. At first, I felt like the token female non-cybernetician, and was afraid to make comments. Especially at first, most of the references and ideas I “contributed” had already been discussed previously by the group, sometimes from different perspectives. Now, I feel like I have begun to make some real contributions.

I continue to attend the discussions because I hope both to learn more and to contribute more within what I consider a highly intelligent, challenging, yet congenial group with goals I feel strongly about. I agree with Jon that we need a project we can sink our teeth into and to co-evolve with as we continue our discussions. I am looking forward to producing something concrete to share with the world--something that we can do together that I could not do alone.

Jon Walker: What is important for me? What have I learned?

Three themes attracted me to these meetings:

  1. The very deep understanding that the way our minds have been programmed by our upbringing determines the sort of world we create. Best expressed by Bateson in 1969: I believe that the massive aggregation of threats to man and his ecological systems arises out of errors in our habits of thought at deep and partly unconscious levels.
  2. That the way we organise ourselves (referred to here as governance) is one of those pathologies emerging from our programming which has to change fundamentally before there’s any hope of a sustainable future (Sustainable, meaning we shift from extractive to re/generative practices in all areas of life at all levels.) The EVC conclusion that one aspect of this shift involves the demarcation of administrative/political boundaries using rivers and watersheds resonated very strongly. Our book came to a similar conclusion , but the river systems took our ideas further as it embraces recursive levels : a big river and it’s associated watershed is composed of smaller rivers, and each of these is composed of smaller tributaries and so on. The fractal nature of a river system maps very neatly onto the levels of recursion of the Viable System Model. Very simply: at all levels you can define a boundary which is appropriate for a neighbourhood/village/town/region and use it to design organisations which provide food, energy, transport, education (etc etc) within a context defined by water, with a clear over-arching policy of sustainability.
  3. That the best way forward is to tell stories, deeply immersed in the new habits of thought.

Our Tuesday discussions have clarified and deepened my understanding all these areas - especially the idea of framing the discussions as “myths” and the idea of an ecology of myths.

Brett Buzzanga

For what it’s worth, I continue to participate in this effort because I think understanding the world through the stories we tell is a powerful concept. I think you all have quite a lot of wisdom, with different but complementary perspectives, that we can all learn from.

Came across this relevant quote today: "I suspect that a feeling for stories, for narrative, is a universal human disposition, going with our powers of language, consciousness of self, and autobiographical memory." - Oliver Sacks

Hans-Peter Plag

I was very lucky to meet Barry as my neighbor and over the years finding out that we have similar concerns about humanity's precarious trajectory. When Barry suggested that we should meet regularly with a number of people to have conversations about the reasons that drive humanity along a rapidly narrowing precipice and what we could do to help humanity on this path, I had no problem in saying yes to this - and the Tuesday meeting started. I also was very supportive of Barry's suggestion to found a not-for-profit company focusing on Earth viability and bringing people together who want to ensure the viability of our planet for us and for future generations.

Having found this group of a few concerned people and meetng with them on a weekly basis has been a great gift for me. Having a place to express my thoughts, get the reflections of the others on these throughts, listening and reflectng on their thoughts has been a constant stimulation and has greatly improved my insight into what is going on, where this might be leadiing, and what we can do to slightly change the trajectory.

3 Our Findings

3.1 Errors in our Habits of Thought

Much of this has been around for many years: Gregory Bateson originally - but Fritjof Capra’s Turning Point really clarified the way the scientific revolution of people like Newton, Descartes and Bacon can be identified as the source of many of the deeply held beliefs which have created the world we live in today. These are the myths we have been working with.

At the core of this is the way that reductionist science - which says the best way to understand anything is to separate it into bits and study the bits in isolation – has created a view of the world where the bits matter more than the whole. Descartes used this perspective to separate mind and body, Bacon separated humans from nature, and wrote how we must “torture” nature to obtain her secrets.

Capra writes persuasively about all of this - and argues that we need to drop the world-as-silos way of thinking and adopt a world-as-system approach.

I guess the attraction of the use of the word “myth” is that we can never be sure that our assumptions are “right” or “true” - but that continuous review and adjustment (error controlled feed-back) is always necessary.

Our discussions led to this table:

Old Destructive MythNew Regenerative Myth
1We humans are separate / above /exploit the natural world.We are part of Nature
2 The best way to understand anything is to split it up into smaller and smaller parts and study the parts in isolation.
Only the parts matter
The best way to understand anything is to study the interactions as well as the parts.
The whole matters as well as the parts
3 Most things are predictable – the world works like clockwork Most things are too complex to be predictable – the world works like a drunken monkey.
4Things happen by cause and effect. A leads to B leads to C in straight lines. Things happen because of multiple interactions and loops - everything affects everything else.
5 What we see is real. What we see is mostly the result of the way our brains work.
6 We can extract and dump whatever we want We must take care of the planet.
7 Only the individual matters. I can accumulate massive wealth while people starve. Society matters as well as the individual. Wealth should be shared.
8 We can initiate a plan which will achieve our objectives as expected. Five year plans which must be kept to. We need to continuously review and adjust as things go wrong.
9 Bosses instruct managers who instruct workers who obey without question. Everyone interacts - everyone has an important contribution.
Autonomy is key.
10 I can be certain of what I see and act with confidenc I need to review my assumptions continuously

As discussions progressed, we started to see the way that all of these old destructive myths mutually reinforce each other and that there is an ecology – which is shown in Fig Undefined.

One of the insights emerging from our discussions concerns the old-myth that we humans are separate from nature and thus see natural resources as something to exploit. A systemic view (that we are an inseparable part of nature) makes this impossible: it would become as difficult to cut down a tree as it is to cut off a finger. And the Silo view also extends to society - if we are all disconnected everyone is on their own, and thus to survive one has to compete with the rest of humanity for resources. Our highly competitive society and the dominant myth of the strong individual who triumphs over everyone else (log-cabin to Whitehouse) comes directly from the World-as-Silo myth. A systemic view would involve cooperation and a focus on the whole of society. Similarly for economics: systemic economics would look at the whole system and thus the massive polarisation of wealth which accelerates every day would not be possible. Silo economics assumes that if everyone and every business is exclusively focused on making bigger and bigger profits, then everything else will sort itself out.

Traces of the transition from silo to system can be seen. Quantum physics can (according to many physicists) be best expressed as the understanding that nothing can be understood in isolation. Mycelial networks reveal how every tree is connected to every other tree. Donella Meadow’s claim that “There is no away to throw anything” becomes obvious as the plastics we discard end up in our guts in the form the micro-plastics.

3.2 An Ecosystem of Myths and Stories

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3.3 Hydra's Head - Or How to Identify and Deal With Invasive Species in the Ecosystem of Myths

What is the purpose of the myths within the ecology, or the 'unconscious'1 basis of the metaphors used in framing2?

Time for my usual critical (Marxist) refrain: to perpetuate the interests of the global ruling class (GRC).

Disentangling this could help to understand several of the things that have come up as important, such as

  • the keystone myths
  • the metaphors that guide a person's upbringing
  • why some people are more open to irrational reasoning than others

There’s no doubt that the myths we have been discussion perpetuate the power and influence of the GRC - (called by others the “global monetocrasy,” e.g. Gaian Democracies: Redefining Globalisation and People-Power (Schumacher Briefings Book 9) : Madron, Roy, Jopling, John.)

An important question is: did the GRC member engineer it deliberately or just go along with what worked for them? Max Neef says economics was invented because the Renaissance made it difficult to justify the juxtaposition of the super rich (kings) and grinding poverty as the natural order . Economics provided “ the rationalisation of mechanisms by which the continuous siphoning of wealth and thus power from the creators (those who work) to the wealthy could be justified as right and proper. (Economics Unmasked page 24) We might be able to identify a small number of Keystone Myths:

    Only parts matter. The fragmentation of evevrthing.
    The basis of reductionist science leading to all the schisms we’ve been discussing : us separate from nature, us separate from society, no such thing as society. Leading to the current feeling of alienation, of being alone in the word, and thus needing to justify yourself in comparison with others. So leading to the need to dominate and out-compete and rugged individualism. World as machine rather than evolving ecosystem.
  1. People are Mean and Selfish. The fragmentation of society (I’m persuaded by Rutger Bregman - in his book Humankind - that this is nonsense and when it matters we are kind and compassionate ) But this myth clearly underlies current economics (people are only motivated by persona gain ) and Politics and Law ( we need strong authoritarian leadership to keep us in line : if we’re left alone we’ll soon dissolve into selfish brutes fighting over everything). Also propped up by misquoting Darwin to persuade us that evolution proceeds by the fittest out-competing the less fit : instead of the survival of that which fits best – which is often the collaborative and friendly.
  2. Straight line thinking. Causality. A only leads to B. Fragmentation of Process. Right at the heart of most models of the world which take a simple path and ignore everything else. So production ( see Story of Stuff) goes from extraction to production to distribution to consumption to disposal ignoring all the multiple feedback loops which actually determine what’s happening.

Is this it? Are these three keystone myths the root of all the others? More and more, it’s looking like the shift means the transition from competitive hierarchy to collaborative network is the key. Wikipedia rather than Encyclopaedia Britannica. (Note: collaborative network includes nature ) .

The idea of an ecosystem is that it’s impossible to disentangle all the myths - they all interact and support each other. So it’s the whole emerging word-view which underlies everything.

We identified three perceptions that myths can promote:

  1. Perception of ourselves: emotional vs rational
  2. Perception of community: competition vs cooperation
  3. Perception of our relationship with environment: humans as apart from nature vs within nature (I'm not sure this is fully distinguishable from Perception of community)

Jon's comment: I see this as a Yin-Yang. It took me years to understand Stafford when he says a viable system is both centralised and decentralised at the same time. You need to abandon the “either one or its opposite” and see how they work together as a cohesive whole. We need both day and night (would management consultants design a new world to be one or the other ?) To be and not to be ! So both : emotional and rational, competitive and collaborative.

Some questions we (or maybe just me) find important:

  1. Is there a keystone myth for each of these perceptions in western society? Or some that transcend categories? E.g., rugged individualism
  2. How do they individually and together combine to serve the interests of the GRC?
    • Weaken an individual's capability to reason?
    • Weaken an individual's capability to experience empathy?
    • Legitimize the social structures that maintain inequity?
    • Was it in this group we were talking about the divine right of kings?
  3. How are they codified in society?
    • Economic 'science'
    • Property law
    • Citizens united

And this fits with the points Jon makes in the governance article that hierarchy only works if people are persuaded they are powerless and incapable of bringing about change. Strong leadership in a hierarchy requires strong followership. (Interestingly the UK women’s football team (!) said their success was because the team was “leader-full” - which I took to mean everyone was a leader.)

What could be our role?

The scientific revolution of people like Newton, Descartes and Bacon can be identified as the source of many of the deeply held beliefs which have created the world we live in today. It is a keystone species in the ecology of myths.

Jon, I think a nuanced but important distinction is that it was not the scientific revolution itself, but the ways the ideas were used. The following is paraphrased from The Domination of Nature by William Leiss [review]:

Science's accomplishments explaining the world aren't necessarily increasing power over nature. They could equally be informative about decreasing fear of nature - pacifying man's nature, a task which science shares with religion, philosophy, and the arts, indeed with human culture in general. The problem comes in that realization of the ideal; in practice we are still all in intense conflict over resources. Information can only be incorporated through technology, technological control. Here enters power and domination, which enhance the power of the ruling.

Technology is wielded by the ruling class [totalitarian or market generated] under the guise of attaining security. but the security is for themselves and generates conflicts and the technological arms race that threatens all.
Comment HPP: This is a view dominated by the colonial thinking of white people. The white male's nature needs pacifying. Not all sapiens are like the white bulldog.

1I don't fully understand un/sub/conscious, and am not sure where the boundary is in time (within a person, if something at some point was consciously understood, when does it become un/sub conscious) and interpersonal space (if a myth is consciously planted in one individual, does it remain un/sub conscious?)
Comment HPP: The more recent outcomes of neuroscience do not really support the distinction between un/sub/conscious. We have modules, models, representations, metarepresentations in our brain that create a "feeling of live itself", and this feeling is consciousness. The myths impact the models, representations and metarepresentations we have and the decisions we make.

2As used by Lakoff

3.4 Metaphors, Framing, and Stories

In the discussions we’ve often considered aspects of how our upbringing and environment influence how our minds, as complex adaptive systems, “see” the world. One important issue is that the metaphors we hear and use frame how we think about everything. As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson wrote in Metaphors We Live By (1980, p. 3):

“...metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature…Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people.”

Framing is the particular choice of metaphors that make people think one way or another. In psychology, “the framing effect is the cognitive bias wherein an individual’s choice of a set of options is influenced more by how the information is worded than by the information itself.” ( For example, debate as “war” recalls a mindset of winning and losing, attacking, and defending; whereas, debate as “cooperative growth” recalls a mindset of contribution, sharing, and complementing. Of particular relevance to us, are metaphors for earth and nature. Nature as “other” and “less than” humans—nature as an exploitable resource—produces a different mindset than earth as “Mother” or “we are part of nature.”

A semantic frame is a conceptual structure that defines the relationship among a group of related concepts and the words that describe them. For example, people familiar with restaurants, when hearing the word, automatically associate it with such words as menu, food, drinks, waitress or waiter. Similarly, the words hospital, war, nation, and family each conjures up its own particular group of related concepts and words, based on a person’s life experience with that concept. How our mindsets and values were originally formed came mainly from our family upbringing. Lakoff and Johnson also pointed out that “The most fundamental values in a culture will be coherent with the metaphorical structure of the most fundamental concepts in the culture.” (p. 22) If our goal is help create a healthier future for humankind and the ecosystem we live in, then we need to understand why people think/behave the way we do.

In the mid-1990s, Lakoff went on to look at politics because he was trying to understand how clusters of seemingly unrelated metaphors produced the different value systems and cultures of the two dominant political groups —conservatives and progressives—in the United States and some other countries. He realized that we have a metaphor of the nation and government as a family because our first acquaintance with governance comes from the governing system of our family. Each culture tends to be built on, and further proliferate, the metaphors and framing first developed as a child grows up in its home environment. Lakoff identified two dominant family worldviews he noted in the US to explain this: the Strict Father Morality Model and the Nurturant Parent Morality Model.

According to Lakoff, the conservative group tended to follow the Strict Father Morality model, with its attendant myths and cluster of metaphors. He suggested that this model emerged in response to the perception that life is hard and dangerous, and it has been with humans of many cultures for a very long time. It is based on the metaphors of moral authority and moral order. Moral authority of the parent over the child is based on the physical dominance of the parent over the child. Moral order justifies the moral authority of certain people in a natural hierarchy, for example, such that God is higher than man, clergyman is higher than non-clergy, man is higher than woman, adults are higher than children, humans are higher than nature, CEOs are higher than workers. In the family, the father is the family’s highest moral authority. He teaches right and wrong with a set of strict rules enforced by rewards and punishment whose purpose is to help the child succeed in a world of competition and struggle. Children must learn discipline and must develop strong character in order to compete and survive. Competition is crucial because it builds discipline. Obedience teaches children self-discipline and self-reliance. Ideally, when they grow up, they become self-governing and self-legislating—obedient to their own internalized moral authority.

According to Lakoff, those who espoused progressive values tended to have been raised predominantly in the Nurturant Parent Morality model. This set of morality metaphors and myths is fundamentally different from that of strict father moral authority in that it focuses on the responsibility to care for other people. Moral nurturance is based on the need of all organisms for nurturance in order to grow. Children require physical, mental, emotional, and moral nurturance to become healthy adults. Moral empathy is required of parents in order to understand what their children need, and the parents then have the responsibility to provide it. Not to do so is to act immorally—to rob the children of their right to become a healthy adult, in all senses of the word. Proper Nurturant Parent morality sets bounds on what people are allowed to do because genuine nurturance teaches respect and responsibility. Ideally, children learn obedience not out of fear of punishment, but out of love and respect for their parents. Open, two-way, mutually respectful communication is crucial to this parenting model in order to allow children to understand why the parents’ decisions serve to protect and nurture them.

When Lakoff first considered politics, he saw mainly these two opposing models in the US. However, many people were raised with aspects of both models. Others have been raised by Permissive parents who let their kids do what they wanted. Other more recent types of parenting noted in the US, often as a reaction to how they themselves were raised, include Tiger parents, who are seen as pushing their children to succeed according to their parents’ terms; Helicopter parents, who take over every aspect of the child’s life; and Snowplow parents, who remove obstacles to make life easier for their child. Lakoff focused on the US; other countries have other parenting models that work within their particular cultures.

Each parenting style has a different cluster of metaphors, resulting in different sets of values and behaviors in their offspring. These are bases for many of the stories, or myths, that people tend to believe, often unconsciously. Sometimes, as a person grows, they rebel against their original upbringing and use that reaction to form a new story. Understanding people’s upbringing, and their later reactions to that upbringing, helps us both to understand them and to develop new stories that can resonate with them.

People are multi-dimensional, not just conservatives or progressives. We play different roles in different circumstances, such as parent, child, spouse, friend, parishioner, employee, employer, patient, vender, customer, as well as voter… Each of these has its own set of metaphors, myths, and often automatic behaviours. How a situation is framed tends to trigger the thinking and behaviour associated with the perceived role. Thus, if we want a particular outcome from someone, we need to find the proper frame and story that will motivate that person.

3.5 Governance for an Ecological Civilization: another piece in the puzzle

The puzzle which has to be put together in order to create a life-affirming civilization has at least one more crucially important piece. No matter how many wind-turbines and agro-ecological projects we build, nothing significant will change until we change the basis of the way we organize ourselves.

An ecological civilization will require a new form of governance. If we persist with the myth that the best way to organize involves hierarchies based on authority and obedience, with a few people wielding extra-ordinary powers while the rest of us are told our role is to listen and obey, the prospects of a significant transformation are negligible.

The key to a new form of governance involves a shift in perspective away from the current authoritarian approach to an understanding that the best way to organize our businesses and institutions is to begin with self-organising, autonomous people and work groups and then build upwards by defining management as the roles and mechanisms required to ensure the autonomous parts come together into a harmonious, effective, adaptive whole.

And these new wholes, again join together into larger systems to deal with issues at larger and larger levels. Eventually, this will mean a way of dealing with issues which can only be resolved at the planetary level. This new form of governance will need to be fractal, reflecting the same ideas throughout. It has to be at the heart of the economic and societal transformation and, as the reader will no doubt have realised, means that the basis of the way we organise almost everything on planet earth has to change.

The best bet we have found to guide this transformation is based on the way the brain coordinates the muscles and organs and, in our opinion, offers the only coherent theory which has the ability to deal with issues of governance at all levels from the individual to the global. It is called the Viable Systems Model or VSM and was invented by Stafford Beer 50 years ago while he was working in the steel industry in the UK.

After many decades working with the VSM and struggling with the theory and the strange language, it all comes down to some very simple conclusions which have dramatic and far-reaching consequences. It looks at deep structures and resolves many of the destructive tendencies of current ways of organising.

  1. Authoritarian structures require the acceptance that decisions need to be made by a small number of managers , and that the rest of us to follow orders and wait for our leaders to sort things out on our behalf. It is now obvious this is not going to work and it’s only when the vast majority of humanity feel they have the responsibility and agency to bring about change that solutions will start to emerge. This understanding will flow from governance structures which begin with autonomous, unleashed individuals.
  2. Authoritarian structures inhibit innovation. The lower down the pyramid you are, the less freedom you have to innovate. Traditional structures generally cannot handle a flood of new ideas. The lack of autonomy means these new ideas have to be assessed and approved by a small number of managers, who often have to refer to their managers, and most of the new ideas are strangled at birth. But with a structure designed around autonomy, the more new ideas and creativity, the better. In fact a Viable System actually requires a continuous stream of new ideas to cope with a rapidly changing environment.
  3. Authoritarian structures find to impossible to handle too much diversity. People are expected to follow the rules and work in acceptable ways, otherwise their managers would find it impossible to maintain control. In a structure based on autonomy, the more diversity the better : new ways of working means new possibilities for improvement.
  4. Our economy is based on the myth that competition is the best way to produce and distribute goods and services. Once you begin to see things from a fractal perspective it’s clear that the same kind of collaboration which makes teams so effective also works with larger organisations. The key to effective organisation must involve collaboration between businesses and institutions : the failures of a competitive market can be seen everywhere.
  5. Viable systems are always designed to be in balance with their environment. The complex, dynamic interaction between any organisation and its environmental niche provides the focus for the way the organisation is designed and run. Most businesses focus primarily on their market environment, but the VSM opens new possibilities for widening this perspective to embrace local and global ecological factors. The VSM paints a picture of any organisation co-evolving with its environment.

Once you see that structures based on autonomy are more effective and that the old authoritarian approach just doesn’t work very well, then lots of things become clear

  • Everyone needs to be creative, innovative, empowered, involved.
  • The more diversity the better.
  • Collaboration is the key.
  • Co-evolution with the environment is critical to effective organisation
  • Society is built from nested, fractal systems.

The almost universally accepted myth that authoritarian, hierarchical structures are the best way of running things makes all of this impossible. As long as we continue to expect powerful men and women in positions of power to deal with all our crises, and for competition to result in an ecological economy there is little hope.

We are in transition from a world based on competitive hierarchies to one working with collaborative networks. It is our conviction that new governance models involving autonomy, collaboration, and co-evolution with our environment must be right at the heart of this transition.

This how nature organises everything. It’s time for humanity to begin adopting the same principles.

3.6 Community Building and Social Media

In our discussions, we often raised the question of how we could make an impact on society. In these discussion, the role of social media for outreach and community building came up frequently. In recent years, a number of collaborative virtual tools have emerged (e.g., Google-docs, sharepoint, basecamp, Microsoft Team), but these tools are not designed to develop open, inclusive and cross-sectoral communities. More recently, knowledge hubs are emerging, but these hubs are not designed to provide an environment where, on the one hand, experts can work and where, on the other hand, at the same time societal agents can tackle their wicked problems. There is a need to tackle these problems with a participatory transdisciplinary approach (Brown et al., 2010), and the emerging collaborative platforms and knowledge hubs offer limited capabilities to meet this requirement.

The existing social media and web-based forums do not provide sufficient community-focused means to facilitate the building of an open, inclusive, value-based and mission-focused cross-sectoral community that could improve collaboration and communication between all stakeholders in a wicked problem such as tackling the challenge of current myths. In fact, there is evidence that the current social media are divisive (Horowitz and See, 2020) and increase polarization (Pew, 2014). Human perception of the world around them and the challenges in this world depend on an ecosystem of stories they have access to (see paragraph 3.1 above). Our lives, our communities, our self perception, our culture, all is around stories. It is not about faces, despite the success of Facebook. What really lives on social media are stories, and these stories have an enormous impact on our society and where we are heading. The existing social media have many systemic flaws that allow marginal and misleading stories to gain center stage (Rand and Pen, 2021) and "poison" many minds (Marantz, 2020). The ecosystem of stories on social media is one where dangerous predators can easily emerge, become invasive and consume other stories and occupy the minds of many people. The minds that come to the social media have little support for the choice of what to consume, and so to some extent they randomly pick what is pushed to them and often fall for fallacies and misleading stories.

There is a need for a new social media platform that aims to overcome the systemic flaws in the existing ones. Humans are inherently social animals and we all need to belong to "our" community. The current social media allow for some forms of community to emerge in informal and often transient ways. Examples are twitter threads and WhatsApp groups. But these communities are not very visible, have only very limited ways for the members to interact, and do not contribute much to the identity of the community members. Most of these communities are neither cross-sectoral nor cross-generational, and they are not inclusive. Above all, any such community has little community control over the development of its ecosystem of stories, and invasive elements can easily manipulate a group and push it into directions at odds with its purposes.

It is important that a virtual space is created where communities can exists and develop their ecosystem of stories around a geographical location or a topic and mission. This space should be designed for inclusive, participatory, cross-sectoral and inter-generational communities. It should support these communities in providing informal learning opportunities and allowing for the development of skills and capabilities. It should give community members ample ways to interact and contribute to the ecosystem of stories of which the community is an integral part.

In order to provide such a space we have developed the concept of a Virtual Community Center (VCC) and initiated a small number of pilot VCCs. One of these pilots is the Marine Debris VCC. It is intended as a place where all stakeholders in the challenge of marine debris ranging from the origin and pathways to the monitoring of what is in the ocean, the understanding of the current and future impacts, and the development and implementation of actions to reduce the threats marine debris poses to the marine biosphere and humanity can meet, collaborate, and develop the story of marine debris in a way that can inform society and lead to action. Embedding the ecosystem of marine debris stories into a recognizable community increases the authority of the stories and ensures that invasive attempts to modify and distort the ecosystem of stories will be less successful. The mission statement of the VCC and its governance are additional elements that ensure that both the community and ecosystem evolve in a constructive way. Aspects covered by the mission statement include increasing literacy, providing for informal learning communities, aiming at more participation in writing the stories, focusing on the reciprocity between humans and nature, and making progress toward an ecological society.

Currently, all the VCC pilots are disconnected and under different domains. We are in the process of developing a platform to host all VCCs under one domain. On this new platform, it will be easy to establish a new VCC, although the process for that will be a bit more demanding in terms of justification and getting permission than setting up, e.g., a Facebook page. The platform will be operated by a non-profit corporation and it will have a very broad Advisory Board and a strong Steering Committee.

4 What to do?

Our understanding seems to be at a stage where it should be clear what we could do to make some small contribution to create a better, saner future. However, the best way forward is not at all clear. Various suggestions have been made:

  • Write a book
  • Publish magazine articles
  • Write blogs.
  • Set up a social media platform for Virtual Community Centres
  • Utilize the VSM to identify core fragilities in the global economy.

I think we all need a project to get our teeth into - otherwise we’ll just be indulging in (highly informative) discussions for our own benefit. We are also aware that we need to avoid any sort of stance as experts providing solutions (a new kind of colonialism) and co-evolve with other people as we attempt to put some of these ideas into practice.

4.1 Ecology of Myths

While we are pretty clear on the importance of myths / stories and the concepts of an ecology with keystone species, it seems to me that we are much less clear on the specific content of the keystone stories for any given culture (including our own). There are folks who specialize in the study of myths/stories and it seems to me that we should try to include a few such people. Perhaps the starting point would be to contact a few relevant university departments.

4.2 Rethink Governance: Progress towards ecological governance

Jon has agreed to lead this effort and will reach out to Allenna Leonard and others within the Stafford Beer group for assistance.

4.3 Diagnosis of Global Economic System with VSM: Utilizing the VSM to identify core fragilities in the global economy

Jon is also leading this effort along with recruiting others from the Stafford Beer group. Allenna spent quite some time as a consultant to the Canadian Accounting society and might have some insight from that effort.

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4.4 Contribution to a new Economy

Our contribution to the deliberations on a new economy start with the thoughts on an economy for humanity expressed by E4H. The vision of the E4H is This vision is based on the understanding that the de facto purpose of economy is a supply system that meets the needs of humanity. The official purpose of the current mainstream economy is to generate human wealth, and this official purpose is in direct conflict with the de facto purpose.

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4.5 Progress the River Stories

Barry is trying to find activist groups to work with us on this. In particular, I will give some thought to finding indigenous peoples who are already working to save their rivers, e.g. the Klamath River in Oregon. I think the indigenous people might be particularly helpful in defining river health.

4.6 Setting up a social media platform for Virtual Community Centres

As outlined in Section 3.6, there is an urgent need for the development of a social media platform that aims at communty building and communty support. The concept that has been developed for Virtual Community Centres (VCCs) seems to respond to this need. The next step is the development of a platform that can host all VCCs. Ths platform should allow easy establishment of new VCCs and the adaptation of a VCC to the needs of the community active in this VC. We have acquired the domain for the platform.

There are several separate threads for the development of the platform:

  1. Design and coding of the platform;
  2. Implementing a novel governance model for the platform that ensures a community-based development of the vision, mission, and implementation of the platform;
  3. Using the platform in several pilot VCCs, including our own Earth Viability VCC;
  4. Research into what works well and what needs to be changed, e.g. by a sociologist or psychologist interested in online issues.

We might be able to find a good bit of assistance in the coding from university computer science departments.

Governance Structure for a Place4Us:

The structure and functionality of the governance for the place4us platform requires very careful considerations. Our goal is to implement a goveranced that ensure a development of the platform that is serving the needs of communities globally while not being dominated by interests of some groups or individuals. The governance needs to be value-based and not guided by economic interests. The overall goal of the platform will be expressed in a widely accepted vision statement, and the development and maintenace of the platform will be guided by a detailed mission statement.

The implement of the Place4Us platform will be under the Earth Viability Center LLC. Decision on the design, functionality, and business model for Place4Us as well as the criteria for use and eligible users will be made by a Steering Board. Membership on this Board will be based on global polls, with the details being regulated in Terms of Reference (ToR). The ToR will also define a governance body for the acceptance of proposals for new VCCs and all other governance bodies and processes.

For individual VCCs, the platform will make available a template for VCC-specific ToRs. The VCCs will be able to adapt these template ToR to the specific needs of a VCC.

Governance Structure for individual VCCs: The potential governance structure for the individual VCCc is being discussed using the Earth Viability Virtual Community Centre (EVVCC) as an example.

The EVVCC provides an on-line facility that explores new ways for the public to improve literacy and to learn about activities of governmental and non-governmental organizations and to interact with these organizations. The EVVCC provides a series of virtual spaces which include the following:

  • Exhibition: Walk through or take virtual tours organized.
  • Classroom: Participate in courses.
  • Meet the Experts: Communicate with experts.
  • Environmental Gym: Exercise your knowledge & acquire new skills.
  • Citizen Science: Participate in citizen science projects.
  • Chat Rooms: Join chat rooms to talk about relevant issues.
  • Town Hall: Participate in Town Hall meetings.
  • Newsroom: Get local news and post news.
  • Events: Hear about and announce local events.

The governance structure of the EVVCC is designed to ensure that what it does and the way it is organised is under the control of the people who use it. As a community centre it must reflect the wishes of the community of users.

However, many day-to-day tasks need to be devolved, (there’s no point in asking the entire community to change a light-bulb) and thus a structure must be put in place to decide how the various functions fit together.

Decisions are made on a one member - one vote basis. Money can be invested as shares or loaned to the EVVCC, but a financial interest does not translate into greater decision-making powers.

The Governance Structure

The virtual Annual General Meeting (AGM) is the primary decision making body of the EVVCC. It include the whole EVVCC Community and has the ultimate decision authority.

Each year an AGM is held and all members of the community are invited. This meeting makes all the important decisions: it reviews the vision and values of the EVVCC, looks at what happened during the previous 12 months, appoints the Steering Committee, and generally points the EVVCC in the direction it should follow.

Most decisions are made by a poll. Most decisions require a simple majority. Changes to the governance structure, vision and mission, and key policies require a 75% majority.

There are rules about advance notice, only discussing items which have been put in the notice and so on.

Rules also cover the eligibility for membership. This is usually open and requires a $1 annual fee. A member will have to sign up to the basic values of the EVVCC as expressed in the vision.

An emergency General Meeting with the same powers as the AGM can be called at any time if 10% of the members think it is necessary.

The Steering Committee (SC): The members of the Steering Committee are elected in a staggered pattern by the AGM. The SC is responsible for the running of the EVVCC during the year. It may do this directly or appoint others (paid or unpaid) to undertake specific responsibilities. It monitors and assesses progress and acts accordingly. It presents accounts and a report to the AGM explaining what it has done and what has been achieved during the year. The number of SC members will be agreed by the AGM (usually not more that 10). The SC meets at least 4 times a year and more often as needed.

Officers (treasurer, secretary, chair ) are appointed if relevant.

4.7 Writing a Book or Stories

Regenerative Fiction Workshop: Barry is attempting to pull together via Zoom a network of fiction writers to develop stories and novels to support our efforts.

4.8 Publishing Magazine Articles

4.9 Writing Blogs

4.10 Videos, Books: A list

We should probably develop a list of carefully selected key books, articles, videos, etc. that are central to our understanding of the global crises and what needs to be done for a transition to a viable society.

4.11 Recruiting Others

Each of us has a network of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I think our Progress Report gives us the tool to approach these networks to inform people and to request assistance. A low key request to these networks would almost certainly result in some folks deciding to assist.

Concluding Thoughts - by Barry after the Event

I feel like I am caught in a cheap TV drama, one where things go from bad to worse to hopeless. A Trump supporter just won the gubernatorial election for Virginia and the scientific evidence continues to pile up, documenting that the ecological crises are here NOW and are rapidly getting worse. In the TV drama, the downward trend is merely setting us up for the dramatic resolution. In the real world, we are going to need miracles.

In such a situation, it is important that we act out of love and joy … because love and joy are the strongest forces in the universe. And also, love and joy are what sustains us for the long haul. Our best chance of surviving these crises is for each of us to do what brings us joy, that which allows us to spread love around.

As Ken Boulding said “An ill-founded optimism is still to be preferred to a well-founded despair”.

Let us go forth, let us confront the abyss with love, joy, and hope … plant a rose and pass the bread and wine!