STRUCTURES & PROCESSES
PROCESS OF CHANGE
VISIONING THE FUTURE
of worsening environmental, social and economic conditions, most people
are not hopeful about the future; and certainly if we adhere to our
values of unlimited growth, consumerism, individualism, corporate
and technological and curative solutions to ecological, social and
problems our fears will become self fulfilling prophesies. But, if we
our values and move beyond these limited perceptions, deepen our
of nature, community and ourselves, and learn to design and work with,
rather than against, natural processes, then we can certainly achieve a
meaningful, mutually supportive and sustainable future.
This will take
greater awareness, vision, courage, collaboration across difference, a
new kind of political, business and academic leadership, and the
of the driving and restraining forces for such change, and the
of the former and weakening of the latter. At the individual, family
group levels it will involve identifying the "small meaningful steps
we can each guarantee to carry through to completion" and the public
of completions to make such change contagious.
presentation will provide an opportunity for us to reflect on this, and
on the earlier presentations, and decide what we can and will do
this necessary change of direction in the course of human history.
each of us continues doing what we are presently doing, our impact on
planet’s ecological systems will eventually, over a relatively short
of time, cross the numerous thresholds that constitute the interrelated
maintenance processes that make life on earth possible for most
It will be like running the tape of the evolution of the great
of life backwards on fast rewind.
At some level
we all know this, yet we haven’t really got started on the programs of
action that are needed to fundamentally transform our culture and our
to ones that are genuinely conserving and life affirming.
If we are honest,
most of us would have to admit to feelings of being trapped and
and too often naively hoping that this can all be solved by others,
those in science, technology and politics. But also, at another level,
we also know that it can’t, and that we will all be required to make
changes to everything that we have come to think of as normal.
It is difficult
for us primarily because of two groups of interacting factors: the ways
in which we were raised and the nature of the institutional structures
and processes that we have constructed to support us.
most cultures it is assumed that children must be socialised, moulded
guided - that they might have their own internally derived agendas that
need helping and support is rarely taken seriously (deMause, 1982). And
so, in the process of learning how to fit into and be successful in the
dominant culture, most of us give up our power, lose awareness, and
distanced from our internal agendas, visions and values. Certainly
need some guidance, but the balance of external control over the
of internal guidance is excessively in favour of the former.
is that most of us become experts at living from the outside in and
at living from the inside out. I think R. D. Laing (1971) described it
well when he observed that "it is as if we were hypnotised twice,
into accepting pseudoreality as reality, and secondly into believing we
were not hypnotised". This is why, even among the numerous
and grass-roots communities, it remains difficult to develop effective
programs for genuine sustainable change. This is also why most energy
to be put into projects that ameliorate the symptoms of our problems,
keeping attention off and protecting the causes, which persist and
continue to cause further problems.
& Pearse (1938; see also Stellibrass 1989), in a study of health,
this as an adaptive compensatory process - something we tend to
do to survive over the short-term.
STRUCTURES & PROCESSES
problem is that we have institutionalised these compensatory adaptive
to such an extent that they have become the dominant structures and
and are now regarded as the norms - the things that we believe we must
protect to have a civilised society. These include political systems
are based on power over strategies and widespread exclusion from access
to essential information, rather than access together with high levels
of citizen competency and participation; an overly simplistic economic
system that excludes most of the story when doing cost-benefit
that regards success as being synonymous with growth, and that permits
the rich to continue to get richer and the poor to get poorer.
need an economic system in which money is regarded merely as one of a
of helpful tools (along with appropriate technologies, policies,
and services etc.) that can be used to enable us to act on our core
i.e., those relative to our fundamental limited needs versus our
unlimited greeds (Norgaard 1994). This would enable us to develop our
potential while living within the limits of ecological systems. Our
institutions have also become largely compensatory, which is why there
is so much confusion in the area of the spirit and why so many drug
evangelists and cults are doing a roaring trade.
PROCESS OF CHANGE
we acknowledge that on the one hand we are a lost people, and that on
other we collectively still have the capability to learn how to live in
harmony with one another and with the other life on the planet, we will
be stuck on our path of destruction, and this will certainly condemn
future generations to impoverished lives. To change - to be open to
our way forwards into these uncharted waters of living in harmony - we
will have to be willing to move, moment to moment - between unknowing,
so that we can learn, and knowing, so that we can act. Two common
adaptations to our current situation are to either get stuck on
thereby being unable to critique what we ‘know’, hear critique from
or learn anything fundamentally new, or to get stuck on not knowing,
is often evident as constantly critiquing and postponing action.
What I am arguing
for here is a fundamental redesign at the personal, socio-cultural
economic, technological, business, religious, etc.) and environmental
managed ecosystems) levels. None of these areas are immune from the
for critical examination, revision and redesign.
This all may
seem too overwhelming to consider, but this is also a symptom of how
culture has constructed the process of change, which is still largely
as being carried out, or at least led, by heroes, and the result of
efforts, i.e., largely acts carried out by superior others. What is
needed for the kind of change being envisioned here are a symphony of
meaningful actions that each of us can guarantee to carry through to
each serving as a stimulus for further actions and as a support for one
another’s efforts. These very small actions need to be recognised and
and their completions celebrated publicly to assist their contagion.
most small actions tend to be trivialised, and so are eventually
as being ineffective, or they are kept hidden.
VISIONING THE FUTURE
process of change that I am arguing for requires a long-term
and we may not see the benefits immediately, but we really have no
if we are serious about playing a part in the cultural evolution of our
own species. There is no implication here that everyone has to do the
thing - only what you can guarantee to complete.
have some ideas of what a re-designed society might be like, but what
more important than being guided by my vision is to develop your own
collaborate with others to develop group visions within your various
respect to our relationships with nature, some things are already very
clear. We are part of and can never by apart from nature. Most children
need much more opportunities to develop competencies in relating with
and this learning needs to be supported throughout our lives (Hill in
We need to
find ways to live in harmony with other species throughout the world,
just in nature reserves. We need to reframe ‘pests’, for example in
and forestry, as primarily indicators of problems in the design and
of ecosystems, rather than as enemies to be eliminated (Hill 1998, Hill
We need to
become familiar with the potential uses of many more species,
those that occur locally, and to develop sustainable relationships with
them. We don’t need Ministers of the Environment, or indeed any
who are not committed to the sort of vision being promoted here, or the
armies of bureaucrats, academics, scientists, technologists and
people who are keeping our maldesigned and malfunctioning systems in
They all need
our support in helping them change their focus. There are many small
projects that could be carried through to completion in this vital area
of cultural change. However, unless we are engaged in our own process
recovery, healing and change, all our efforts to help others will be
to being undermined by our own persistent adaptive compensatory coping
The main barrier
to what I am proposing is our unfamiliarity with the validation of
acts and our tendency to postpone and leave the initiation of
change to others. Now is the moment when we need to recognise that we
the essential agents of change, and that small actions are the primary
means. It is up to us, let’s get started.
Foundations of Psychohistory. Creative Roots, New York.
Redesigning agroecosystems for environmental sustainability: a deep
approach. Syst. Res. 15: 391-402.
S.B. In press.
Autonomy, sense of place, and conscious caring: a hopeful view of the
and future, in J.Cameron (ed.) Changing Places: Sense of Place
S.B., C. Vincent
& G.Chouinard.1999. Evolving ecosystems approaches to fruit insect
pest management. Agric. Ecosyst. Envir. 72(2):107-110.
The Politics of the Family. Vintage Books, New York.
Development Betrayed: The End of Progress and a Coevolutionary
of the Future. Routledge, New York.
Being Me and Also Us; Lessons from the Peckham Experiment. Scottish
and I.H. Pearse 1938. Biologists in Search of Material. Faber and
based on a presentation at the Nature Conservation of NSW "New
for Sustainability: Integrated Natural Resources Management Conference",
March 4-5, 1999, Sydney University, Camperdown, Sydney, NSW.
Chair of Social Ecology,
Social Inquiry, University of Western Sydney-Hawkesbury,
#1, Richmond, NSW 2753.