Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 12, No. 8, August 2016
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Cultural Evolution: Symbols, Words, and Realities

Sources: Information in the Biosphere: Biological and Digital Worlds, Michael R. Gillings, Martin Hilbert, and Darrell J. Kemp, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, March 2016, and Sociocultural Evolution, Wikipedia, July 2016


Editorial Essay: Cultural Evolution: Symbols, Words, and Realities

The Greatest Transformation, by Sailesh Rao

Undoing the Ideology of Growth: Hegemony, Path Dependencies and Power in the History of the Growth Paradigm, by Matthias Schmelzer

Beyond Development: The Commons As A New/Old Paradigm Of Human Flourishing, by David Bollier

Dynamic Regulation of Human Activity Through Socio/Biophysical Economics, by Don Chisholm

Energy Limits: Why We See Rising Wealth Disparity and Low Prices, by Gail Tverberg

Free Beer Tomorrow: A Thought Experiment, by Jada Thacker

A Higher Calling for Higher Education, by Cristina Escrigas

Economic Values and Resource Use, by Jan Mikael Malmaeus

Nature–Culture Relations: Early Globalization, Climate Changes, and System Crisis, by Sing Chew and Daniel Sarabia

Measuring Human Development in the Future, by Selim Jahan

Swiss Defeat Basic Income, by Keith Zeff

Real Men Do Cry: Emotions Aren't Gender Exclusive, by Maud Fernhout and Jennifer Luxton

Changing the Model by Putting Sustainability of Life as the Central Principle, by Rosa Guillén Velarde

Exploring Biblical Gender Equality in Kenya, by Barbara Orlowski


Advances in Sustainable Development

Directory of Sustainable Development Resources

Strategies for Solidarity and Sustainability

Best Practices for Solidarity and Sustainability

Fostering Gender Balance in Society

Fostering Gender Balance in Religion

Meditations on Man and Woman, Humanity and Nature

Cultural Evolution: Symbols, Words, and Realities

"We are not living an era of change but a change of era" (Pope Francis). Change of era? What era? How far back we have to go in rethinking "old habits [that] die hard" may be indicative of the magnitude of the cultural evolution that is undoubtedly underway in conjunction with the global socioecological crisis. Should we go back to the information revolution, the industrial revolution, the agricultural revolution, even further back to the emergence of Homo sapiens and the creation of tools and languages?

In the current global system, billions of people are marginalized from the power structures that determine (via the "invisible hand" of the market) who gets to seat at the table. This massive marginalization of people, with billions living in poverty if not misery, seems to be inducing many to seek solutions outside of the existing capitalist or socialist systems. People increasingly understand that socialism is capitalism turned inside out, both systems shaing a common culture of materialism; what matters is money and the material goods that money can buy to satisfy corporal needs. But living human beings are personal subjects, not just living bodies. Humans are body-persons, spirited bodies. Basic corporal needs must be met, but integral development of the entire human person is an existential need that cannot be satisfied by basic, or even superflous, material consumption.

Thus many people, young people in particular, are increasingly seeking ways to live with the system but outside the system, and this translates into a desire for decentralization and personal/local solutions in terms of making a living: familes growing their own food, young adults with secondary education or higher staying at home rather than seeking salaried jobs with no inner development incentives, young couples delaying having children or having them in numbers inversely proportional to their standard of living and educational level, are signs of desire for maximum independence, not necessariy correlated with self-sufficiency and sometimes inducing aberrations of vagrancy and deliquency.

Concurrently and simultaneously, there is an urgent need for further centralization and global solutions to issues that are beyond personal/local capabilities, such as environmental degradation and all forms of waste/pollution accumulation caused by an overpopulated and overdeveloped world. Climate change, real or imaginary, is becoming a focal point for international concern, to the point that some form of global governance is required to adjudicate liabilities and responsibilities among nation states. The principle of subsidiarity (i.e., delegating authority and responsibility for remedial action to the lowest possible level commensurate with capability) could provide practical guidance in formulating the required checks and balances, but it is hard to imagine any such balances being fairly negotiated while billions of people are pulling precisely in the opposite direction, demanding autonomy and decetralization.

So we dealing with a paradoxical situation: we need globally coordinated solutions at a time when people want to exercise self-initiative in seeking self-development. The polarization that ensues is bound to exacerbate the global socioecological crisis, with both the minority elites and the disenfranchised majority resorting to acts of violence. Ubiquitous communication technologies can serve the cause of constructive solidarity and sustainability, but can also be used to propagate ideologies of destructive revenge; and the same applies to renewable energy and all other technologies. The bottom line ia that no bio-digital fusion, or any other "miraculous" technology, can come to the rescue. The only way out of the current global mess is to forge a new mindset that makes people understand that we are all better off, in both the objective and subjective dimensions of human life, when balancing self-interest and the common good becomes normative in making human choices and acting accordingly.

How far back we have to go? What about new tools and new words, and even new languages? "Confusion of sign and object is original sin coeval with the word" (Willard Van Orman Quine). We may have to invent new, more civilized and less confusing signs, words, and languages in dealing with newly emerging global realities.

The Greatest Transformation

Sailesh Rao

This article was originally published in
Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, 3 May 2016
under a Creative Commons License


We are in the midst of the greatest transformation in human civilization in the life of our species. But this time, it is not about concentrating more and more power in the hands of a few, but devolving power to the local level in the hands of the many. As such, this is like a metamorphosis and just as in Nature, the Caterpillar has no choice but to become a Butterfly.

Historically, every momentous transformation in human civilization has been accompanied by revolutionary changes in three aspects of human lives [1]:

1) in the way we harness energy;

2) in the way we communicate with each other; and

3) in the foods we eat.

About 200,000 years ago, we:

1) discovered the controlled use of fire;

2) developed spoken language to communicate with each other; and

3) began eating meat from hunted animals because our controlled use of fire allowed us to cook that meat and made it digestible.

Thus began the dominance of patriarchy as male hunters assumed more importance than female gatherers in human societies. The gatherers no longer had to forage over large distances to gather the nutrition needed for human sustenance since the hunters could provide concentrated nutrition in the form of animal flesh. Simultaneously, this transformation strengthened speciesist attitudes within human societies as animals became objects to be killed for human consumption. Thus sexism and speciesism are the core oppressions from which all other oppressions sprung over time. Hierarchy developed within the patriarchy. The victims of sexist oppression, the women, were partly assuaged when they could oppress other species and feel superior to them.

About 10,000 years ago, during the agricultural revolution, we:

1) harnessed the energy of animals such as cows, buffaloes and horses to plough our fields;

2) developed writing in order to communicate with each other; and

3) grew crops of our own liking instead of relying on what Nature provided in the wild.

Instead of humans belonging to Nature, we began acting as if Nature belonged to us. Not only did we enslave work animals to do our bidding, we enslaved the Earth to produce what we desired. In the resulting agricultural revolution, cities were born where the ruling classes did not do the actual work of raising crops but were fed very well. The social hierarchies developed more layers, resulting in other oppressions such as slavery, classism and casteism.

About 200 years ago, we:

1) began to harness fossil fuels for energy;

2) developed the printing press for communication, to disseminate information far more efficiently than with just hand written documents; and

3) re-purposed our domesticated work animals to be raised as just food animals.

We developed machines to plough the fields and didn’t need the work animals anymore for that purpose, but we continued to enslave them anyway just to milk them and eat them. We developed further layers of hierarchy in our social structures to expand the scope of our human enterprise until it bestrode the whole globe, conquering and colonizing any indigenous civilizations that came in our way. The fossil fuels were to be found in specific locations on Earth and we had to create refining, processing and distribution systems for them. The food animals were most efficiently raised in giant factories as if they were widgets, and then processed into meat packages, refrigerated and distributed to the consumers up and down the social hierarchies. A dominant financial sector arose that siphoned off increasingly larger shares of the wealth, simply as a commission for allocating capital efficiently. Oppressions such as colonialism and racism became much more prominent.

And today, we are poised to undergo yet another transformation, the greatest of them all! This time:

1) We are harnessing solar energy directly and rather than being concentrated in a few locations, it is actually falling on our heads almost everywhere.

2) We are using the internet to communicate with each other and it has put the entire accumulated knowledge of all humanity at each and every fingertip.

3) And, we are transitioning out of animal-based foods to plant-based Vegan foods, which can mostly be grown in local farms without having to rely on large animal husbandry operations with giant processing, refrigeration and distribution systems that are currently spread out over half the globe.

Unlike the previous three major transformations that increasingly concentrated power in the hands of a few and strengthened the social hierarchy, what is occurring today is an entirely radical kind of transformation since all three changes devolve power to the local level, where it becomes easier to implement cooperative and consensual decision-making processes.

The devolution of power is already evident in the US. While the US Congress is quite gridlocked and can barely manage to pass continuing resolutions that maintain the status quo, local governments in cities and municipalities, from Detroit to Seattle to Los Angeles to Tempe, have been promoting urban farming, innovative housing solutions, and other such radical changes. Therefore, the transformation that we’re undergoing now is towards a loosely connected global network of densely connected local communities. But, of course, such a revolutionary transformation will need to overcome the resistance of the power elites in the current hierarchical system, who naturally fear the loss of their perceived privileges.

But the transformation is inexorable. The Caterpillar has no choice but to become a Butterfly…

[1] In 2011, Jeremy Rifkin discussed these three drivers in an interview with Een Vandaag entitled On Global Issues and Future of the Planet.

Sailesh Rao is the Executive Director of Climate Healers. An Electrical Systems Engineer by training, with a Ph. D. from Stanford in 1986, Sailesh switched careers after twenty years and became deeply immersed in the spiritual and environmental crises affecting humanity, starting in 2006. He is the author of the 2011 book, Carbon Dharma: The Occupation of Butterflies and is currently working on the follow up book, Carbon Yoga: The Vegan Metamorphosis.

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"Confusion of sign and object is
original sin coeval with the word."

Willard Van Orman Quine (1908-2000)


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