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Willis W. Harman

Our best hope for the future lies in a global dialogue. As a society we're not serious enough about planning for the future. Either we tend to treat matters at a superficial level and not go deeply enough, or we pursue a piece of a problem when a holistic approach is really what is needed.

Three questions should be addressed. Where are we in history? Where do we want to go as a society (what kind of world do we want to live in)? And is there at least one pathway from here to there?

These questions are much more profound than they seem. They require people to re-examine some cherished assumptions. They can and should be addressed by everyone on the planet. And the resulting global dialogue will be the source of the change that is going to bring the modern era to a close and bring us into the new era.

At the Institute for Noetic Sciences we have been tracking the evidence that this dialogue has already begun. Most people now believe that we're in the throes of a transformation so fundamental that it is changing our world view. One forcd behind this change is a growing subculture of what Paul Ray calls the "Cultural Creatives," people who emphasise spiritual, ecological, and feminine values rather than the materialist, economic values that currently dominate society.

Another transforming force is the growing awareness that the problems we face are not like the problems of the past. Formerly, problems were of such a nature that if you had a little better management or a better technology, you could solve them. Today there seems to be an interlinkage of problems that get progressively worse, and if you try to do something about one part, you push it down and something else rises up.

To take a medical analogy, at one level you could say, "Well, I've got a headache and a sore throat and a pain in my belly and I'm going to do something about each one of those symptoms." Or you could say, "I have a collection of symptoms of some more fundamental illness; let me try to find out what it is and what has to be done to deal with it." That's asking the question at a different level and then you act at that different, deeper level.

Having decided where we are as a society, answering the second question of where we want to go is fairly easy. People the world over have quite similar responses to what the "there" is, what kind of world they want for their children and grandchildren.

So the sticky question is the third one: How to get from here to there? Continuing the medical analogy, you could say to your doctor: "I have these symptoms, I'm not quite sure what the illness is, but I want you to take care of it. But I do like certain foods and I want to be sure you don't change my diet, and I do like to smoke, and I don't want any interference with my sexual habits, and I don't want to change the work I'm doing even though there's a lot of stress. Subject to the fact that you don't change any of these things, please deal with my illness." Though it's a bit embarrassing we must admit that to a certain extent, every one of us is doing that sort of thing. We're saying, "Let's do something about the environment, but I don't want to change my investment portfolio in any way that would reduce my income."

We should not be looking for a perfect solution, but rather look for at least one set of things we can identify that would allow us to get from here to there smoothly, without a lot of disruptions, without a lot of subcultures going through misery. Not to say that's the way we'll go and that there aren't other paths as well, but just to indicate that there is at least one way in which, if we really talked about this and got our minds together, we could do it. Just the process of dialoguing this way would help raise global awareness so that we would begin to make decisions on a totally different basis than we're used to in such things as the recent presidential campaign. I don't want to overly berate the political election process, but it seems so ludicrous for us to go through something like that while everybody listening or participating understands that there are much deeper issues that we ought to be dealing with, and we're pretending that we don't have to.

Another key is not to assume the problem is so complicated that there is no solution at all. Take the example of South Africa under apartheid. Many felt that there was no way they were ever going to have a future without going through a bloody revolution. At the same time there was a small group of people talking, creating scenarios about the various alternative futures. It was a quiet dialogue not visible to the media - and that's very important. Until finally what we saw happen in South Africa was made possible because the other possibilities had lost any legitimacy.

Any viable path to the future must deal with the economy, reducing the amount of economic product - particularly the nonrecyclable portion, achieving greater equity in meeting material needs of all people, and addressing the problem of the numbers of people on the planet. The many needed actions include strengthening women's rights in various societies around the world, businesses adopting new concepts such as those embodied in the Natural Step program to bring economic production into long-term compatibility with the natural systems that support human life, and shifting some of the tax burden from income taxes to taxes on the use of energy and other resources.

Dr. Willis W. Harman, author, social scientist, president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and a contributing editor of the People-Centred Development Forum died of brain cancer on January 30, 1997. This article was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum based on one of his last public presentations shortly before the diagnosis of his cancer.

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