Episode #38 Fractal Flourishing in the Symbiocene: Building an Ecological Civilisation with Jeremy Lent
Jeremy Lent writings investigate the patterns of thought that have led our civilisation to its current existential crisis. His recent book, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, explores the way humans have made meaning from the cosmos from hunter-gatherer times to the present day.
He is founder of the nonprofit Liology Institute, dedicated to fostering an integrated worldview that could enable humanity to thrive sustainably on the Earth. His upcoming book, The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe, will be published in Spring 2021 by New Society Publishers (North America) and Profile Books (UK & Commonwealth).
In this podcast, we explore the thinking behind the idea of an Ecological Civilisation – and how we might get there.
Jeremy: [00:02:29.12] Yes, I was just checking in on what’s going on with the rebellion. And I guess there were like 300 people arrested yesterday or the day before.
Manda: [00:02:38.90] Yes, I think so. The interesting thing is it’s I don’t know about you media, but at the BBC is treating it as if it’s not happening, which is deeply distressing.
Jeremy: [00:02:50.66] Yes. I had to search to find the one little article even in The Guardian. It’s certainly not there on the main feed. I read The Guardian every day, the US version, but it was just not there. I had to really search on the web to find any mention about it.
Manda: [00:03:10.61] Yeah, I think if you have XR on your feed, it will come up. But otherwise – I was there for the October rebellion. I think you were there in the October rebellion last year when you because you did that video.
Jeremy: [00:03:21.71] I was, yes. I was able to to speak to the group for fifteen minutes before the police moved us on
Manda: [00:03:34.61] And that was videoed and it’s online and I will share it, but. This time, they’re moving people much faster and much harder, and last time I was part of the group that sat outside the BBC for pretty much all of the first Friday of the first week. And I can see why they didn’t report that, because then anyone who chooses to sit in the steps of the BBC suddenly becomes newsworthy. And that’s that’s a very steep downward spiral. But they didn’t report any of it and they’re not doing it again. And we have this pretence that we have a neutral public broadcaster and we just don’t. So that’s part of part of the problem that we will have to address.
Manda: [00:04:21.09] So let’s pretend we haven’t started. Jeremy Lent, welcome to he Accidental Gods podcast. Thank you for this. I read your book way back when I was doing the Masters in Regenerative Economics at Schumacher. And the head of department put it in my hands and said, you have to read this, you will love it. That was the patterning instinct. And I did. And I did. And now I’ve been reading your blog about the ecological civilisation. And it feels to me that of all the people I’m reading, you have the most coherent concept of a way forward. So welcome. And I look forward to talking about that.
Jeremy: [00:04:56.64] Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Manda. I’m really looking forward to this conversation, so thanks and thanks for the kind words about the book.
Manda: [00:05:03.54] Everybody will run out and read it. I hope so. Let’s go back a little bit and start more or less at the beginning of your beginning to think about how we might go forward because you did an AMA at Cambridge and then an MBA in the States.
Jeremy: [00:05:20.31] Yes, actually, it was just a B.A. at Cambridge in English literature. And then I left England and came to the States. This is back in 1981 at the time of Thatcher’s neoliberal takeover of England. I felt I wanted to explore the world. England just felt so limited to me and still living in the past in the in the Commonwealth, in the Empire and then with Thatcher and all the horrible things she was bringing.
What I didn’t realise, of course, is that I came to the states thinking it was some sort of I was transfixed by the films from Woodstock and stuff like that, and then had no idea I landing in Reagan’s America even worse than anybody could dream about. But I ended up with somebody who I later married, who had been all through the hippie era and had travelled all over South America.
And I spent time with her in Central America, which was very formative for me in the mountains of Guatemala, with the indigenous people. But then she had two sons who became my stepsons, and wanted to settle down. So we agreed that I would do an MBA. And in the words we used at the time, let’s ‘Go into the belly of the beast for a few years’ and and give a solid background for the for the two sons to grow up and have have a good start in life. That was the idea behind this redirection of my life, which was a very strange thing when I look back on it, because it wasn’t where I expected I was going to go when I was a student at Cambridge.
But as you say, I ended up getting an MBA and the absolute heart of neoliberalism, the University of Chicago the home of Milton Friedman.
Manda: [00:07:20.70] Yes. And the whole neoliberal school basically came from Chicago. It’s called the Chicago School. And so were you completely imbued with neoliberal concepts being there, or were there more radical people?
Jeremy: [00:07:33.34] Well, you know, that’s what’s so interesting. On the one hand, I always maintained some sort of sense of values different from that whole business ethos. On the other hand, it did have an impact on me. Like so many others, I did get transfixed by the this sort of alchemy of this way of thinking that actually the free market works so well and it works for everyone’s benefit by everyone pursuing their selfish ends.
The whole system is more efficient and that works for everyone’s everyone’s good. And that made sense to me. It was drummed into me so much that I actually believed it. Which as I look back and now think how could I? And I think it’s interesting because it does show me the power of ideas to set the frame for what people believe is good.
And the thing is, what is so seductive about that way of thinking is that what it tells people is that and they can be selfish, look out for themselves and that’s a good thing to be doing. So you can feel morally justified by being like a selfish person, taking advantage of others. And I think that’s why it’s so seductive to people. They can actually pursue these these kind of drives that our society instills in people and actually feel good about it.
Manda: [00:09:16.62] And not only is it morally good, it’s part of your heritage that you cannot escape. I think it’s an incredibly seductive narrative of this is who you are. And if you are very, very good at it, then you are the best of people.
Jeremy: [00:09:30.66] That’s right. So you can and of course, the downside of that narrative is for the vast majority of people who are shut out of these sort of escalator’s of power that, you know, basically the escalators, because all you got to do is step on it at once you’re there. You don’t really have to move a muscle and you just automatically find yourself in this place of privilege.
But for the vast majority of people shut out of it, then that whole not just that it’s not fair and that they they feel the sense of envy, but they believe they instill in themselves this notion that it’s their fault. So they feel really bad about themselves. And that’s just opens them up for this kind of fascistic way of thinking or pointing fingers at others. And hate and self-hate turns into hate for those who are not like you and all those all those horrible situations we’re seeing right now.
Manda: [00:10:23.70] And there’s a very odd kind of doublethink which is definitely coming to the surface now, which is the white supremacists, believe that certain people are genetically superior to other people. So basically white men are superior to anyone who isn’t male and isn’t white. And yet, at the same time, we can hold this belief system that says anybody works hard enough, they can get themselves to the top because that then excuses the total excess of behaviour that we display. And there doesn’t seem to be any mismatch between these. I couldn’t hold both of those simultaneously. I wouldn’t want to hold either one of them. But I keep coming up against people who seem to be able to hold them both, (including the entire government of the United Kingdom at the moment), which is kind of interesting.
I think nobody’s ever really questioned it in a way that they’ve heard the questions. But anyway, let’s move on. I had gleaned from the biographies that I read that you were in the belly of the beast because that’s where you wanted to be. But actually, it sounds like you were in there as an insurgent from the beginning. But then you set up a company.
Jeremy: [00:11:31.14] Exactly. What my story shows is that if you can go into that world with good intentions, but when you are surrounded by it, day in, day out, year after year, those good intentions easily get eroded. So, yes, I started I started my own company during the first Internet wave. It was actually a credit card company, it was the first company ever to allow people to apply for a credit card online and get approved in real time. And it was a big success.
And I got this blue chip venture capital funding. I was the CEO and took the company public and did the whole the whole sort of thing. This whole IPO and and things were it was a little bit like sort of becoming a rock star, you know. You don’t even recognise yourself and you start to see yourself on TV or on the articles or whatever. But then all of this crashed around me quite soon after the IPO. And my wife at the time – she died some years back – she got quite seriously ill with some of the things that ended up causing her death.
And I wanted to really look after her. So I cut back the time I was with the company and then I just basically left. I stayed around to the serve on the board, but I left my full time position as CEO to look after her. And I left the company too early when it was still in its early stage. And within a year or two it really started falling apart. And meanwhile, my wife was suffering severe cognitive decline, as a result of some of what she was suffering. And so I lost her. So even though I was looking after her for a lot of years after that, the the person I had loved and known was really no longer there.
So I was so isolated. I had virtually no network of friends, I’d left people behind that I’d been close to in those earlier years and it felt like everything I’d built around my life was crashing around me. And this was a moment of deep transformation for me and I realised I still had a life ahead of me. It wasn’t like my life was over by any means.
But I had this kind of choice, really: where I’m going to redirect my life. And I vowed to myself at that time that whatever path I took was going to be truly meaningful.
But I realised that this path that I had taken was a dead end. And I built my values, my ideas around things that other people had told me rather than really understanding for myself what was meaningful. So then this began this whole journey for me of trying to understand, where does meaning actually come from? I could throw out the whole idea of this neo-liberal ideology, but if I wanted to let my soul be fulfilled, what is my soul, what does that even mean?
And the things that we’re told in Western culture – where do these ideas actually come from? So I started doing this multi-year research project, reading anything I could get my hands on. A little bit like a detective puzzle: if I’m looking at some idea, like the separation between mind and body – why is that? Why do some cultures not think that, and others do?
So it was like peeling the onion. And I began to go back in time all the way to earliest ancient Greek ideas and then all the way back to early indigenous ideas. And then I started to look at and the sort of scientific takes on things and came across the whole Richard Dawkins reductionist approach, that ultimately we’re all just about selfish genes and ultimately the universe has no meaning whatsoever.
And I just couldn’t accept that, not because they didn’t want to because I felt in my core being that that was just plain wrong. But I also wanted to make sure that whatever I believed in as meaningful was really coherent. To your point you just made earlier, I wasn’t willing to hold things in my head that didn’t fit together. So this was a real puzzle to me. And then as I was really deep in this research, it began to come together and I began to recognise how wrong those reductionist were. And I began to recognise a different way of understanding, meaning.
Manda: [00:16:27.94] And it seems to me that what you are doing is single handedly trying to answer the big question of humanity, which is, ‘What are we here for?’ And that you have a Cambridge education. So you have gone back to the absolute roots of what humanity is and explored what meaning has been for people down the ages. And I read your book and you go right back to when we were all forager hunters and then through the agrarian millennia to where we are now and we could look a little bit about that in a minute, but I’m wondering along the way there, did you find a sense of meaning that was personal to you, that you can get up in the morning and powers you through the day?
Jeremy: [00:17:17.06] Thank you for asking that. And the answer is yes. And largely that was driven by a parallel path of discovery that I was on. Because while I was doing all this reading, I was also doing my own embodied exploration of meaning. And that involved all kinds of paths. One of the most important for me was discovering meditation, which for most of my life, if you’d asked me what meditation was, I would have really had no idea, like some sort of mystic state you get in or whatever. And once I actually discovered it, it felt like a real coming home. And it really transformed my sense of being in my own consciousness. And I still meditate regularly to this day. And I’m so grateful for that amazing tradition that is there.
Manda: [00:18:11.26] Which tradition do you follow?
Jeremy: [00:18:13.54] Mostly the Buddhist based sort of mindfulness meditation and without necessarily having any religious trappings. There’s a sort of like secular Buddhist type of approach which speaks to me. There are issues about that way of approaching Buddhism and I don’t call myself Buddhist. But I very much respect and love that tradition. And a lot of what I believe is meaningful arises from what I’ve learned from that tradition. So that was one very important for me.
And also and more embodied approaches. I discovered what is really kind of big in California and also other places around the world, this notion of Conscious Dance where you just dance and and you don’t try to do that in some formal way of learning steps or whatever, but really get in touch with your body in community, with others around you, with music. And that was hugely liberating for me and then traditional Chinese practices. Qigong is something that when I first discovered Qigong, had no idea what it was.
And the very first day I did a session, I felt I was at home. I thought that this was a feeling that it felt like as if I’d felt it all my life but never knew what it was. And it’s something else that I do every day now and I’m incredibly grateful for. To me it’s as important as meditation, as a way of really feeling a sense of integrative being with yourself in a meaningful way.
Manda: [00:20:03.57] Brilliant, thank you. And for people listening, I think one of the things that we try to emphasise in the podcast is the difference between declarative knowing and performative knowing. And declarative is ‘I know that meditation is a really good idea and I can list all of the really amazing things that it would do to my physiology and my neurochemistry and my blood pressure and all of those things’. And performative knowing is actually sitting down and doing it. And you’ve done that. You’ve done all of the embodied work, which is sounds glorious. Is the dance linked to the Five Rhythms work?
Jeremy: [00:20:39.71] Absolutely, yes. It’s a larger sort of practice area of which five rhythms is one approach to that. But you five rhythms is definitely one of the richest approaches to that kind of conscious dance.
Manda: [00:20:55.47] Sounds amazing. I want to come to California. In all of this just again, from my own curiosity, your stepsons were growing up or had grown up and left home by then?
Jeremy: [00:21:05.49] They had left home at that point. One was in college and one was already at a doctor and already had his own family. So that’s why I was even more isolated and really on my own during this period of transformation.
Manda: [00:21:30.39] I am very impressed. A lot of us faced with a double collapse like that, would it would slide into the slough of despond rather fast. But you chose to see it as as a time of growth. And so having done the embodied practice, having found the personal meaning that arises out of that, where did that take you? Because at some point, presumably the research stopped and the being active and sharing the results of your research began?
Jeremy: [00:22:02.34] One of the things I was doing in the first few years was looking for a book or some writer or some kind of book that would help to map out for me what I was looking for. It would help to take me through where these different ideas came from and peel the onion for me. And as I began to realise that book wasn’t there and I thought maybe I should do that myself, for others who were on a similar kind of path of inquiry and discovery. So that’s actually where The Patterning Instinct came from. Was this realisation at some point that by putting all these pieces together, I could not just help myself to make sense of things, but offer something of value to the world.
And really what I was putting together was not just that book, the patterning instinct, but the the book that I’ve just finished writing right now that’s actually going to be published next spring called ‘The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to find our place in the universe’. And originally, these two books were going to be one, but the topics got big. I realised there was no way that could happen.
And so the The Patterning Instinct really looks historically at how different cultures have made meaning out of the universe all the way from Hunter-Gatherer times, as you mentioned, to the present day. And as I was doing that research and I was beginning to put things together myself, it began to dawn on me that the ways in which our current society had mismanaged this process of meaning-making essentially and has become so consequential, the imbalances so extreme, that it’s actually putting our very civilisation at risk and is causing massive, horrendous devastation for the natural world while it’s also causing horrendous misery for the vast bulk of humanity.
And it took me a while because of the fact, as we talked about when I was in that business world, I was just not that aware of some of the and environmental devastation going on around. Just reading mainstream media, just like everybody else, just not getting it.
And as I began to look deeper and understand what was going on, I got to be driven by an absolute imperative to do anything I could in my life to try to redirect where our culture and civilisation is going. And that’s really what I see my life as being about right now. I do see myself at this point, as a kind of an agent for life.
And this is not to put myself up in somebody special. I believe millions of us around the world are waking up to what’s going on, see ourselves in a very, very similar place. Just look at the horror of what’s happening, feel how wrong that is, and really dedicating ourselves to transforming in the interest of life, in the interests of humanity, in the interest of future generations. And so I see myself as one of those people really devoted to what I can do, along with others, to transform our direction.
Manda: [00:25:36.51] And you are acting as a trailblazer, I think. am so looking forward to the book that’s published in the spring. Who’s your publisher?
Jeremy: [00:25:43.86] There are two publishers. In the U.K, it’s Profile Books, a wonderful independent press who really get behind progressive ideas a lot. In North America and its New Society Publishers.
Manda: [00:25:59.37] You’ve evolved the Web of Meaning, which is the title of your book, and you’ve evolved this concept of an ecological civilisation as the next step of human civilisation and how we might get there. So can we begin to have a look at what it is that we could be if the millions of us who want to be agents for life were able to make that happen, perhaps in the face of and in spite of those who don’t quite get it yet?
Jeremy: [00:26:29.22] Yes, I think that is so important because one of the things we need so much is to be aware of the possibilities that do exist in the future. It’s very easy to see the devastation around us right now – to see what’s wrong. It’s much harder to see what’s possible in a positive future because that’s very rarely talked about. And in the frames of our culture, it’s almost impossible to even envisage something like that.
Manda: [00:26:55.83] And yet if we can’t envisage it, we can’t get to it. That’s the key, isn’t it? If we don’t know where we’re going, we won’t get there.
Jeremy: [00:27:01.62] There’s this sense that we don’t want to get too idealistic because then it becomes unrealistic and all that kind of stuff. What I began to realise is that actually what is unrealistic is maintaining any sense of trying to incrementally improve things in our current destructive paradigm and believe that that can lead to a positive outcome.
That’s what’s truly unrealistic. What is realistic is to realise how deeply wrong things are and to realise that there is a possibility of change, but only if we transform at the deepest levels, deepest layers.
So yes, this idea of an Ecological Civilisation, is inspired by the indigenous wisdom that’s been around for millennia. So it’s not a new idea. It’s really a very old idea. But it’s one that in recent decades, a few leading thinkers have begun to sort of piece together. What could be possible if we had a civilisation framed under a different kind of foundation.
And the simple framing idea behind it is if we look at our current civilisation and we realise that ultimately it’s based on wealth accumulation, it’s based on extraction, it’s based on a sense of separation. And the fundamental of it is that the power structures. are based on extracting wealth.
And an ecological civilisation would be based on one that is life affirming. So the foundation itself is whatever actually affirms life. And the concept is that the way in which we structure the civilisation uses the same kind of principles, that life itself has evolved over billions of years on Earth to develop its own stable, rich, healthy ecologies, which, if they were left alone away from human depredation, can last for millions and millions of years in health, always changing along with the environment, but always remaining stable at the same time. What would it be like if we actually structured our civilisation on that kind of basis?
Manda: [00:29:18.16] And how would we go about doing that, because in a way it’s biomimicry or even a cosmic mimicry. I read a paper about Cosmo-mimicry the other day – that we would be following patterns that already exist within the natural world. But in a practical level, how can we begin to make that happen? Or – let’s take a step ahead: what would it look like when we get there, if we begin to do that?
Jeremy: [00:29:45.34] That’s a great place to begin. And before I do that, was it a paper by Freya Matthews that you were reading about? She’s an ecological philosopher. She wrote this great paper looking at biomimicry just from a much deeper perspective than people usually do.
Manda: [00:30:05.50] I would need to go look it up. It was called Cosmo Mimicry. I have read so many things in the last few days. I’ll go and find it and I’ll find a link and I will send it to you. I could have been. And if not, I need to read the Freya Matthews because there is so much. Yes, I think the richness and depth in the home biomimicry concept.
Jeremy: [00:30:21.22] To get to your question. The first thing to do is look at some of the core principles of what that how that civilisation would be structured and then ask, what does that actually mean in practice? So in terms of the principles really like the same sort of principles that have enabled colleges to thrive for you for so long. So one of the fundamental principles is symbiosis, which is this recognition that the way that life actually evolved, its complexity is by different parts of living systems, different organisms working out how they could offer something to another organism, and so that it was a win-win situation, so that together they were able to help each other.
And rather than a zero-sum game that we’re told in the Selfish Gene concept, in which everyone’s out to beat everybody else. And that’s actually not how evolution works. It works by different entities getting together and sharing their particular skills to create something bigger that is better for all. And so simple examples of that would be the way in which Fungi take all that debris and decorator’s of plants and animal matter and they reorganise that to make the soil fertile for four plants.
And other simple things are that plants are superb at photosynthesis, but then they need help in moving their seeds around.So then they offer nutrition to animals who then in turn move the seeds of the plants to enable the whole ecology to strengthen.
Every single element of life is like that: we work together to create something better. So that’s the way that an Ecological Civilisation would work. And one of the principles that comes from that is that in an Ecological Civilisation and in an ecology, the health of the overall system relies on all the different individual parts also being healthy.
So rather than one group trying to take advantage of the other group, there’s a recognition that all the different elements together rely on each other’s flourishing for a full flourishing ecosystem. And that’s a concept that I call Fractal Flourishing. Probably people are familiar with this notion of fractals – they’re patterns in nature that repeat themselves at multiple scales from tiny atoms within a cell all the way to an ecosystem. And Fractal Flourishing is simply this recognition that when the smaller parts are flourishing, the whole system flourishes and it works reciprocally in both directions.
So imagine a civilisation that was like that, where and the flourishing of every individual actually matters in order for the society as a whole to be healthy. And when the society as a whole is healthy, it helps individual groups to flourish themselves.
Another principle in an ecological health is diversity. So rather than a system where everything is meant to be homogenised or where one McDonald’s paradigm or one Uber paradigm works well, then it applies flatly across the whole the whole world – in a truly diverse ecosystem, all the different unique elements actually, by pursuing their uniqueness, become part of the richness of harmonic richness of the whole system.
So the system as a whole gets to be fuller and healthier by really recognising, embracing and celebrating diversity. These are some examples of that. We could go on, but maybe I could move a little bit now, which just touched on some of those principles to what an ecological civilisation might actually look like in real practical terms.
The thing is that we’d be looking at a situation where you have circular economies so when when we were making things, manufacturing things, and it would be done just like in in an ecosystem where the waste products of one process become the food for another process. And it may not be possible to be 100 percent circular in that regard just because of the sort of the law of entropy, but vastly close to that possibility. We’re able to and make sure that things are produced not just to reduce or eliminate pollution, but to actually regenerate the earth.
If we go back to this notion of symbiosis, in symbiosis, you don’t relate to the other agent or the other entity by saying, ‘How can I reduce harm to that entity?’ But rather ‘How can I make that entity actually healthier? So then it’s good for me. And similarly it would be processing things so that they actually made the natural world and the environment around healthier rather than just less polluted. So a regenerative economy.
So that’s one one big concept. When you apply that to agriculture, you’d have none of this mono cropping that we do right now that is absolutely destroying the living earth. But instead, you’d have regenerative agriculture, agro-ecology and permaculture, which really leverages off the traditional ecological knowledge of indigenous cultures throughout the millennia. But also applies modern scientific principles to that and which looks at how you can stack functions in a particular place so that you can produce far more goodness with virtually no negative effects through these kind of processes than mono cropping, which uses fossil fuels for fertiliser, then creates this horrible, massive dead zones in the oceans that destroy life in the ocean, too.
Manda: [00:37:00.62] And strip mines the soil so that there’s nothing actually left to grow.
Jeremy: [00:37:04.67] It’s this extractive way of approaching the living earth in a way that destroys it for short term benefit and short term profits. And you will see countless articles written out there by these gigantic big ag companies or people who are in their pay or people who have been manipulated by them to believe it, to think that this form of mono cropping is necessary to feed the seven and a half billion people in the world – suggesting it’s necessary because ‘How else can people get fed?’ And that is just dishonest because in fact, there have been studies showing that agro-ecology, regenerative agriculture, when applied properly, is far more productive with, of course, far less waste. So that’s that’s would be a huge part of an Ecological Civilisation.
Manda: [00:38:00.47] So how do we get there? Because Amsterdam just became the first city to take on board the Doughnut economic model and to endeavour to become a Regenerative City. Regenerative agriculture in the last five years has become a reasonable buzzword to the extent that Farmers Weekly in the UK, which is not one of the most progressive journals one could see, but it devoted an entire issue to Regenerative Agriculture. So it’s beginning to take off.
But it seems to me that one of the things standing in the way, is something that you mentioned in a YouTube that you did, which is that 69 of the biggest 100 economic units in the world are Transnational Companies, and they are utterly devoted to extractive profit, as far as I can tell. And they wield a lot of power and some of them are beginning to come round. There’s a thing called the Ellen MacArthur Foundation over here, which is devoted to helping companies become circular in their way of working, but they still need shareholder value. They still have a fiduciary duty to pay their shareholders. How are we going to step from here to there? Do you have an idea of that?
Jeremy: [00:39:23.42] I do. And I’m so glad you raised this because I think it’s one of the biggest elephants in the room, if you will, that people rarely talk about. It’s so vast that people don’t even want to look at it. And and the reality is, just as you say, these Transnational Corporations at this point, literally control every element of the human experience.
They control our culture. They control our media. Through the massive, massive political corruption, they now control most of the political structures of the world, including, of course, in the country I’m in, in the US and in the U.K. And they control all the other parts: the finance. And what is so terrible about this drive for shareholder value is it’s kind of it’s pathological. And in the United States, corporations are allowed to be considered as persons, which is this absurd thing that gives them even more power in politics.
Manda: [00:40:27.62] But they’re not actually taxed as if they were people. It’s another of these interesting couple of things.
Jeremy: [00:40:33.65] The structures are designed to give them as much power as possible. But the reality is that if they were really persons, they would be sociopaths, because to your point, they’re driven only by one thing, which is increasing shareholder profit at all costs. And if that were a person, they they would be ready to break rules, have no empathy basically just on this path of destruction. And if you’re lucky enough to recognise that person is a sociopath or psychopath, you stay away from them.
Manda: [00:41:08.45] Or you elect them to run your country.
Jeremy: [00:41:11.06] Exactly. And in fact, it has been shown that if you look at senior executives and politicians and there is a much, much higher percent of sociopaths and psychopaths in that group than in the population at large, which itself is a terrifying statistic. So what we absolutely have to do is recognise that power, start talking about it, and look at ways to undo that power.
And there are simple ways. The thing is, because that power is so strong, people can’t even think about them. But it’s really quite simple because if a human being has something wrong with their DNA, it’s very difficult to change that. You can change through through culture, but you can’t actually go in and and change that DNA. But with corporations, you can do that. You can actually through laws, you can change the way they’re structured.
There’s this concept that seemed hopeful at first but then got to seem ineffective: what’s called the triple bottom line. You can have a corporation called a B corporation or a benefit corporation where you can actually change your charter to say ‘We are going to have a triple bottom line of not just profits, but also people and planet,’ meaning that we are actually going to be legally obligated as a corporation to manage for our employees, for the people who live in the plant or in the areas where we where we do our work and for the environment, for the planet as a whole.
So that sounds great. But the problem is, as long as that’s voluntary, it’s meaningless because the playing field is dominated by these corporations that don’t have these other the bottom lines. And so it’s almost impossible, even if you’re a good person as a CEO and you want to do good, but you’re not going to keep your job if there’s an ability to buy a copper mine somewhere in the global south and you have to involve in corruption to buy it, you have to pay slave labor wages and the cheaper form of extraction involves and causing massive pollution. And if as a good person, you say, ‘No, we’re not going to do all those things,’ well you’re going to miss out on the opportunity to buy that mine. Your shareholder price will go down and you’ll lose your job.
Corporations are only there as a result of governments actually initially allowing them to and to be incorporated to do what they do. So what has to be done is we have to change the laws saying that corporations can only be incorporated under that triple bottom line.
So they have to actually look out for the benefit of the planet and the benefit of the people, their employees and all people affected by them, including the consumer. Those who buy their goods, and that has to have teeth in it. So you have to have some kind of system where they have charters renewed every few years. And if they haven’t met those three bottom lines, then they lose their charter and they go out of business. And having been a CEO and knowing what you think about when you’re a CEO: if you knew that you were literally going to lose your charter, if you didn’t meet those bottom lines, you would actually go out of your way to make sure you did. And we’d see this incredibly powerful force for destruction in our world right now could be basically harnessed and moved in a different kind of direction.
Manda: [00:45:03.20] So we have the snake eating its own tail at the moment, though, because the Transnational Corporations hold the reins of political power, they hold the media – as we said, right at the top, the BBC is not mentioning extinction rebellion here. They’re offering the kind of bland pabulum that keeps the government happy or keeps the public happy with the government.
How are we going to get to a point where we can change those laws? Because what I’m watching in the U.K. and I think in the US are the extractivist instincts pushing the current government are changing laws in the opposite direction faster than they have ever been changed. They’re removing all restrictions on extraction and wealth gathering as if it’s become a frenzy, an end of world feeding frenzy, as far as I can tell of, ‘We have to take as much as possible before it all falls over’.
And I wonder if they’ll secretly read Jim Bendel’s Deep Adaptation paper and they’re just deciding to enrich themselves as fast as is humanly possible before it goes really, really bad. And yet and yet Mondragón exists. And yet there are small, thriving community bakeries, all over the world. There are things that were growing during covid lockdown, little green shoots of people actually beginning to build communities, to really work with their local community supported agriculture in regenerative way. So the things are happening. But if we can’t change the laws at the top, I’m not certain they’re going to happen fast enough. Do you have ideas of how we can reach the people who hold the power and persuade them to do things differently?
Jeremy: [00:46:50.25] I think that the changes that need to happen ultimately will only happen when there is massive, massive grassroots movement coordinated around the world, just telling the status quo, ‘This is unacceptable. This is not going to happen anymore’. And I think that the kind of actions we’re seeing through Extinction Rebellion are the beginnings of what we need.
Extinction Rebellion gives me tremendous amount of hope, even though it’s got its issues and then deals with controversies and all kinds of things. But that’s to be expected because the more successful you are in having an impact, the more and you’re going to be dealing with with complexities as you have more and more of a larger impact on change.
But this is what we actually need. We need and to see things like the schoolchildren movement following Greta Thunberg last year can just explode out of the blue and because people are driven ultimately by their heart. And so for any individual person, I think the transformation begins with your heart. It begins with the sense of what you know is right. The sense of life and caring for future generations and caring for other human beings around you and caring for the natural world.
That is actually good and that matters.And that’s worth transforming things around in order to really strive for life. And if you begin with your heart like that, then it takes a level of just simply looking at the drivel and the lies that are put out there in the media and just realising how far that is from what your heart is actually telling you.
And then it gets to be a lot about connection, realising that there are so many others around who actually care in the same way. And making those connections because none of us is going to do anything on our own. It’s only through being part of bigger and bigger networks that we’re actually going to see these changes happening. And I think that the transformation really can happen at a different level, different layers, all interacting at the same time for each of us.
So one of those transformations has to happen within us. We’ve ot to believe in what’s possible, believe in life. And that doesn’t mean necessarily being optimistic.I’ve had a number of interactions with Jem Bendell on that topic. And he and I agree on a lot. But there is a a slight difference in our outlook, in the sense that I believe that it’s not about sort of putting odds on how likely is it that things are going to end up OK or not. But it’s about actually and having hope. Not hope as a as a form of optimism, but hope as a way of living into each day. Hope is more like an active verb – just knowing that there’s a mystery in the future. We don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s far too much complexity to ever actually put odds on whether civilisation is going to collapse ten years from now, 100 years from now? If it does collapse in our current form, which obviously is very likely in some way or other, what’s going to take its place? None of us knows. But we do know that what we do is part of building into that future. So that’s the kind of hope I’m talking about, it’s just believing in the mystery and knowing that as an agent of life, each of us has the ability to actually create that future.
Manda: [00:50:41.55] Excellent. And so you you have written about Liology. Which is which is basically, as I understand it, about the creating of a future. Can you do you want to tell us a little bit about that?
Jeremy: [00:51:00.02] Yes, for sure. Well, Liology is a word that I coined to describe a different world view, if you will, a different way of making meaning out of the universe, which looks at our intrinsic connectivity. And it actually comes from ancient Chinese word Li, which means literally ‘The organising principles by which all of the Chi (Qi), which is like all the matter and energy of the world, connects up with each other’. So this is really about the organising principles of connection. And the word ‘ology’, of course, is a Greek based word, meaning the study of. So the idea that the very word itself ‘Liology’ combines and traditional Asian thought with Western scientific ideas.
[And so it’s a very much an embodied framework. It’s this recognition of our deep interconnectedness and the to understand things. To your point that you said at the beginning of this podcast, it’s not just about understanding it intellectually, but understanding it from our embodied existence as well in a fully integrative way.
And so the framework is all about integration and realising that there is no one part of our lives that’s actually separate from everything else, that we live in a universe of deep interpenetration where everything ultimately depends on everything else. There’s this Buddhist concept of ‘dependent origination’, which is very similar to that. And that’s a beautiful concept put out by Thich Naht Hahn, a Buddhist teacher, because Inter-Being, which is really what Liology is about, that everything exists as a result of everything else.
And so each of us as individuals and are part of this interconnected web of meaning. And so the framework is looking at the different skills from traditional cultures, as well as modern scientific insights from systems science and complexity theory and evolutionary biology to form an integrated framework of understanding that could really allow us to make meaning of the world in a way that our current reductionist paradigm doesn’t allow.
Manda: [00:53:15.53] And so if we could create a narrative based on Liology and bring that out into the greater narrative – Because we started at the beginning talking about Thatcher and Reagan and what they did very cleverly was to say, There is No Alternative. To shape it as if this was the way the world was and all you could do was work within that framework.
And what seems very exciting to me was your Liology idea is that if we could begin to normalise that, it breaks down the concept that there is no alternative. It makes it obvious that there has always been an alternative and we’ve just been lured by the bright, flashy, shiny things to look in one particular direction. But we could instead look around us and grieve at the devastation and yet have hope as a way of moving forward. So I will direct people to your blog. Is there a community built around geology? Are you finding ways of getting this out into the world or is your book intended to do that?
Jeremy: [00:54:22.34] This new book, ‘The Web of Meaning’, is in some ways a sort of a launchpad pad for this framework of Liology. I don’t actually use the word Liology in it because I wanted the book itself to be more available to anybody without people worrying that it’s a new belief system or something. But it really is the launch pad of this different kind of framework.
And in terms of Liology, here in the Bay Area, for a number of years, I’ve given workshops which actually explore Liology, which are really fun. They’re this kind of integrative workshop where there’s a little bit of guided meditation and a little bit of qigong and some dance and then focused conversations around topics either coming from traditional Chinese or Buddhist wisdom or coming from modern systems thinking and understanding how that affects our lives. And in the future, probably starting next year, I might start to offer some of these workshops online in webinar formats so that we can start to expand these ways of thinking.
But above all, I love what you’re saying, is that this is a response to this notion ‘There is no alternative’. There absolutely is an alternative. There is a way of living our lives that is deeply meaningful. There’s a way of structuring our society and civilisation that can be life affirming. And there is a possibility for us ultimately to move from this Anthropocene, this period of human supremacy and extractives and destroying the Earth to what some people are calling ‘Symbiocene’ – a far longer period, one that could last for millennia, indefinitely into the future, where humans and the living earth actually work regeneratively together, where we have a healthy and a rich natural world and humans themselves are able to not to try to go back to the past, to still develop technology, to look into the future, but to do so in a way that totally transforms our way of living so that rather than technology being about how to control nature, technology would be about how to integrate with these deep natural processes of billions of years and allow true flourishing for humans and life on Earth.
That is possible. We just need to persuade enough people around us to look into themselves, to feel into what’s real and to work together to and get rid of this destructive and really suicidal collective pathology that is rampaging right now.
Manda: [00:57:15.11] Which is exactly what this podcast is all about. So if we were going to offer the people listening a couple of things they could do here and now when they switch off the podcast, go out into the world – have you any ideas of things that we could. Do actively to get this going, other than reading The Patterning Instinct and waiting for your new book, which we will do.
Jeremy: [00:57:42.74] Well, thank you so much. I think that one of the most valuable things to do is to really look to connect with others, because these transformations really take place in community. And our whole current mindset is all about the individual and individual freedom and individual autonomy and all these things that end up being so self-destructive.
And this different way of looking at things is about connecting. And so one of the best ways to do that is to is to connect first with your own heart to find what is really meaningful to you. And then through that to connect with others who also share in those those ways of feeling about things. And then to look at the different layers in which you can connect.
So one is with community: one of the core things is to working to transform your own community in ways that are life affirming. But at the same time, not to just close to the larger national and global implications of everything that’s going on. So therefore we can begin to look at ways in which you connect up with movements such as Extinction Rebellion or others that are out there that are truly making a difference on this kind of global system.
And to not allow that sense of doom and gloom to disempower you. To remember that that just plays into the hands of those very destructive forces that are destroying things. And to realise that to feel in to the depths of what is going wrong, recognise how bad that is, and but then recognise that we do not know what the future holds. But that what each of us does is actually what’s going to create that future together.
Manda: [00:59:32.12] Yes, that’s an incredibly good place to stop because we’ve pretty much reached our hour and if everybody listening to this could go out and do that, then the world would be a different place. Because the ripples will ripple outwards. It doesn’t take a huge number of people who really are committed to change to make that change happen. So, Jeremy, thank you very much indeed. We will all do what we can to be part of the transforming future. Thank you.
Jeremy: [01:00:04.64] Thank you so much, Manda. It was great speaking with you today. Really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you.
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