THE INSTITUTE FOR
PLANETARY POLITICS FOR THRIVING EARTH COMMUNITIES
Mandala by graphic artist Marianne Murphy
Diagram by Cyril Rothenberg
WHAT IS POLITICAL COSMOLOGY?
In the Beginning...
Some fourteen billion years ago, the entire cosmos, what would become the great wheeling galaxies with their trillions of blazing suns, burst into being from a single point, in an unimaginably violent, unfathomably immense explosion of light and energy. Since that "Great Flaring Forth" the universe has been expanding, cooling, and growing in complexity…and consciousness. The delicate beauty of birds, flowers, forests, and oceans, the glories and tragedies of self-conscious humanity—all of this grows out of that single, infinitely mysterious, explosive beginning. The cosmos is not so much a place as it is a continually unfolding event. The discovery that the entire universe is evolving, growing from the utter simplicity of the Big Bang towards ever greater complexity-consciousness over vast expanses of time, has been called the limiting case of credulity. If you can believe this, you can believe just about anything. Yet our best science tells us it is so. The foundation of our new cosmology is that we are an integral part of a creative, evolving universe. We are living inside a miracle.
14 Billion years of evolution produced this Blue Dragon or Sea Swallow: Elegant, electric, swimming expression of an unfolding universe. The Dragon lives on the ocean surface, eating stinging bluebottles storing their stinging cells in its own body to repel predators. Found in one of the most diverse ocean ecosystems in the world, the ocean kelp forests off Cape Point, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Craig Foster.
Political Cosmology as a Worldview
A political cosmology is a worldview, a reality map developed from a story of origins, destiny and meaning. It answers the big questions of life--Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? And the most critical question of all---how should we then live? ‘Politics’ in this, its original and deepest sense is the exact opposite of its common corrupted meaning of greed and power struggles. Instead it refers to the great work of aligning the highest good of each individual with society and that of the entire Earth community.
Cosmologies are thus social and cultural constructions which guide us toward what is real, true and good. No society can endure without a functional cosmology. Political cosmology then becomes the most inclusive of all domains requiring a broad, deep and ever expanding understanding of the nature of humanity and its place in the universe.
How do we know our cosmology is grounded in Reality?
The Old Cosmology – Classical Liberalism
The most obvious fact hidden in plain sight about the planetary crisis is that our ruling cosmology is dangerously obsolete. The global, industrial--capitalist-consumerist way of life is rooted in the 17th century political philosophy of Classical Liberalism. By the 16th century West European Feudalism was disintegrating after centuries of famines, plagues, peasant revolts and religious wars. Liberal philosophers responded to the crisis by focusing on liberating the individual from the irrationality of the divine right of Kings, oppressive aristocracies and a corrupt Church. But exclusive focus on rights and freedoms resulted in ignoring duties and responsibilities. Concern for the good of the whole was eclipsed and through the invisible hand of the market place, selfishness was ennobled as its opposite.
Thomas Hobbes saw human beings as primarily isolated, selfish, greedy, and aggressive. Renee Descartes assumed that we were recent arrivals planted by God to do what we wish with the natural world. In the words of John Locke, wilderness was "waste," without value or meaning until transformed by human labor into valuable private property. The Earth was treated as a space for human activity, a source of raw materials and a dump for our waste.
The prime task of government was to protect the rights and freedoms of the individual, leaving responsibility for the common good to Adam Smith's "invisible hand" of the free market. Like the invisible hand of God, the market was assumed to convert private profit seeking into a better life for all. The practices of seeking wisdom--knowledge of the good of the whole--became incidental to economics and politics. Democracy increasingly degenerated into competition between wealthy, self-interested factions. The cultivation of the whole person ceased to be a public virtue and civic life became steadily corrupted as we accelerated destruction converting wilderness into wealth.
For all its spectacular achievements it is now obvious for those with the fortitude to look at the larger picture, that continued obedience to this outdated worldview means catastrophe.
The point is not to throw out Liberalism but to miniaturize, encapsulate and transcend its truths in a vastly deeper more expanded understanding of reality-consciousness-culture. A more attuned way of life on Earth will follow.
The Earth Community in Extremis
“We are moving into a time of steel-gripped necessity—a time of intense planetary compression . . . the world is becoming a super-heated pressure cooker in which the human family is crushed by the combined and unrelenting forces of an expanding world population, a dramatically destabilized global climate, dwindling supplies of non-renewable resources and mounting environmental pollution. The circle has closed and there is nowhere to escape . . . The world will seem to be going insane . . . and because we are wired in global telecommunication networks, all of this suffering will take place right in front of us. The “electronic intimacy” of television and the internet will intensify the pain by showing us the global dimension of our local suffering. These forces are so unyielding, and the stresses they will place on our world are so extreme, that human civilization with either descend into chaos or ascend in a spiraling process of profound transformation.”
Duane Elgin wrote this prescient description of the global crisis in 1993 in "Awakening Earth: Exploring the Evolution of Culture and Consciousness." An example of the sort of prophetic insight fostered by the larger evolutionary picture.
The New Evolutionary Political Cosmology
We now have available an epic creation story which dwarfs in scale, grandeur and precision all past cosmologies. It provides a meta-narrative, as an all inclusive frame for integrating Indigenous and traditional cosmologies, together with the astounding revolutions in astronomy, physics and biology—the great discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo, Darwin, Mendel, Einstein and others. It tells of the underlying unity in the diversity of life forms; how humans share a genetic coding with all living creatures; how all life, including the Earth itself, is made from elements manufactured in colossal stellar explosions. The stars are literally our ancestors; human beings are the self-reflective consciousness of the growing, living Universe.
The fact that humanity emerged from the living tissue of the Earth over immensities of time contradicts the founding assumptions of the worldview of Liberalism and its way of life. We are currently following a reality-map that does not match the terrain. No wonder we are in trouble. But we can be encouraged by the fact that the new cosmology resonates with the ancient wisdom of primal and indigenous societies which served humanity so well for so long: that the natural world is the primary sacred community; that consciousness both connects us to, and separates us from this larger reality; that we are responsible for the degree of our awareness; accordingly we are also responsible for the impact of our choices on the Earth community.
This comprehensive understanding of evolution should change everything. But it has changed almost nothing . . . until now.
'Dendro-thrope, part tree, part human.' Face of //Kabbo, 19th San shaman and teacher on a Kokerboom tree in the Northern Cape, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Craig Foster.
The larger vision has been unavailable to many because the old cosmology permeates our institutions, culture and everyday lives. In addition the struggle for material survival has left little time for wisdom seeking. We are in-between worlds. An old, dysfunctional worldview is dying and the new one is not yet in place.
A surprising way forward can be found at the heart of this new cosmology in the form of a set of primordial practices for seeking knowledge of how to align the highest good of the individual with that of the whole---all of creation. The practices of this truth quest are rooted in the evolution of self-reflective consciousness itself and so are immediately available to all. We all draw on them implicitly in making our life choices. We also draw on them more intentionally when one worldview is dying and we are challenged to create a new more functional cosmology. When this activity is clarified as a series of related practices--the truth quest--it can catalyze the rapid transformation of consciousness and culture in an ever deeper understanding of the human condition and a more attuned way of living on Earth. When the quest becomes the core of our way of life--our politics--it promotes the flourishing of the entire Earth community.
The mission of the Institute is to accelerate this transition to the new cosmology; to do so by researching, teaching, disseminating and living by the truth quest. Education, in the broadest sense, now becomes the driver of large-scale historical change.
Truth and Delusion in Political Cosmology
As global turmoil becomes unbearable, ruling institutions lose authority. Gullible and ignorant populations become vulnerable to the simple stories of good and evil told by dictators and demagogues. Cults, conspiracy theories and mass delusion infect politics, scapegoats are targeted and the most vital issues are neglected. The crisis is compounded by the relentless shrinking of education into job-training and work-force development. Solutions based on the old cosmology simply make things worse. Effective action is blocked by self-interest, religious and ideological dogma and partisan power politics, leaving us paralyzed as we confront the abomination of human choices driving the sixth great mass extinction of life on Earth.
The heart of the crisis is that our political culture lacks an effective method for coming to agreement on what is real, true, or good. We are caught up in a meta-crisis of epistemology. Education once again need to become a critical arena for radical transformation.
The Truth Quest as Personal and Social Transformation
Modern evolutionary cosmology empowers the morally autonomous individual as a creative change agent. It shows us that freedom grows from the unfolding of self-reflective consciousness and imagination. With freedom comes choice, and with choice creativity, culture, and the reality of good and evil. Homo sapiens sapiens is the species which knows it knows. It knows it can always learn more and the more the better. The human search for knowledge becomes inseparable from the realm of ethics, politics and religion. All our choices have consequences for good or evil. We are all ultimately responsible for our collective crises. We are still struggling to grasp the world-changing implication of this extraordinary evolutionary novelty.
Focusing on this new story of what it means to be human, enables us to find in the societies of early hunter-gatherers the co-ordinates of our ethical nature. Here we discover four perennial practices of wisdom-seeking we call the truth quest. They are: 1) individuation or cultivation of the whole person through the continual expansion of lived experience and the psychological integration of that experience; 2) face-to-face dialog with a diversity of others (the dialectic); 3) participation in the give and take of democracy and authentic community life and 4) constructing a big picture of reality integrating science, history and direct personal experience into an open-ended story of the universe.
Each practice is energized and guided by the reality of human beings emerging from the living Earth. The world of nature is experienced as the Source of everything---supremely valuable, exquisitely beautiful, profoundly mysterious—‘sacred.’ Wilderness is our temple. Re-wilding of self and the world becomes a holy mission and the foundation for the practices of truth-seeking.
Each practice requires the other three. Together they constitute a single dynamic tensional complex represented by a mandala, a circle divided into four quarters.
The truth quest provides a model for personal and social transformation towards an ever more conscious, more attuned way of life. Accordingly the quest also provides a method for cosmology construction (a 'meta-paradigm' for paradigm construction) since it embodies and illuminates the paradoxical and continually changing mystery of being.
No previous cosmology has made the method of its own construction so clear and so accessible. No previous cosmology has explicitly offered the practices of its own truth-grounding as the beating heart of a more life-enhancing politics. Putting it simply, a critical mass of human beings, living by these practices could rapidly catalyze an evolutionary leap-in-being for the entire Earth community.
THE TRUTH QUEST
The Institute includes the work of University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu professor Dr. Louis Herman.
Click on the book cover (above) to learn more.
The Institute was consulted on the Oscar-winning Netflix film
My Octopus Teacher.
Click here to watch
Dr. Louis Herman discuss aspects of the film during the making of the documentary.
The Institute works for cultural and social transformation by promoting the truth-quest as the heart of the new cosmology, in education, politics and private life.
We see humanity poised on the edge of a planetary transformation of evolutionary dimensions: either a spiraling down into global devastation or an opportunity for an unprecedented awakening. Our vision is of rapid peaceful transformation of consciousness and culture towards a world where all living creatures have their needs fulfilled and the entire Earth becomes the primary sacred community.