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 compexity-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.
Blue Dragon or Sea Swallow: Elegant, electric, swimming expression of 14 billion years of evolution. The Dragon lives on the ocean surface, eating stinging bluebottles storing their stinging cells in its own body to repel predators. Found in the ocean kelp forests off Cape Point, South Africa, one of the most diverse ocean ecosystems in the world. 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 New Evolutionary Political Cosmology
We now have available a sweeping new creation story which dwarfs in scale, grandeur and precision all past cosmologies. It provides an ever more inclusive narrative integrating Indigenous cosmologies and the history of world civilizations, 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. No wonder we are in trouble. Nevertheless, we can take encouragement from the fact that this new cosmology resonates with the ancient wisdom of primal and indigenous societies that 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 consequences of our choices on the Earth community. This comprehensive understanding of evolution should change everything. But it has changed almost nothing . . . until now.
The larger vision has been unavailable to many because the old cosmology permeates our institutions, culture and everyday lives. In addition the material struggle for 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 the truth of the good of the whole--the truth quest. These practices are rooted in the evolution of self-reflective consciousness and thus intuitive and accessible to all. We draw on them when one worldview is dying and a new one being constructed. When this activity is made conscious, systematized and cultivated as a way of life, it catalyzes the rapid transformation of consciousness and culture. It also does so in a way which promotes the flourishing of the entire Earth community. The mission of the Institute is to accelerate this transition to the new cosmology, by researching, teaching, disseminating and living by the truth quest. Education, in the broadest sense, now becomes the driver of large-scale historical change.
The Old Cosmology--Classical Liberalism
The most obvious fact hidden in plain sight about our planetary crisis is that our ruling cosmology is dangerously obsolete. Our global, industrial--capitalist-consumerist way of life is rooted in the 17th century political philosophy of Classical Liberalism. Feudalism was disintegrating after centuries of famines, plagues, peasant revolts and religious warfare. Liberal philosophers responded the crisis by focusing on liberating the individual from the irrationality of the divine right of Kings, oppressive aristocracies and a corrupt Church. However exclusive focus on rights and freedoms of the individual meant ignoring duties to, and responsibilities for the good of the whole.
Thomas Hobbes declared that human beings were primarily isolated, selfish, greedy, and aggressive. Humanity was understood as fundamentally separate from nature. Renee Descartes, like other founding philosophers of science, assumed that we were recent arrivals planted by God to do what we wish with the natural world. In the words of John Locke, wild nature 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 responsibility 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 market. Like the hand of God, the market was assumed to convert private profit seeking into a better life for all. Wisdom seeking became irrelevant to both economics and democratic practice. Cultivation of the whole person was left to be a private choice and building wisdom-loving community ceased to be a concern of public education.
For all its spectacular achievements it is now obvious for those with the stamina 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 new way of life on Earth follows.
Liberal Cosmology: The Failing Political Economy of Selfishness
If as Classical Liberalism assumes, the universe, the earth and human nature are complete and unchanging, then government should not be trying to improve humanity. Instead, it should be minimal, confined to protecting the rights and freedoms of the individual and the security of private property. Responsibility for the common good should then be left to the "invisible hand" of the market which is assumed to convert private profit seeking into a better life for all. The consequence of this formula for society is that democracy becomes fatally separated from wisdom-seeking, and both separated from the cultivation of the whole person and authentic community life. Civic life becomes increasingly corrupted as we continue to destroy the living biosphere on which everything depends.
“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 the world is 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." This is an example of the sort of prophetic insight fostered by the larger evolutionary picture.
The Earth Community in Extremis
The entire human family finds itself in a super-heated pressure cooker as the absurdity of relentless economic growth on a finite planet drives ecocide on all the Earths continents and oceans. The climate crisis is fueling mega-fires, floods and droughts, accelerating the collapse of ecosystems, triggering social chaos, famine, and mass migration. Because the world is connected through instantaneous global telecommunications local suffering is amplified and experienced as inescapable. The world appears to be going mad.
Truth and Delusion in Political Cosmology
As the 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 erosion of education into job-training. Solutions based on the old cosmology simply make things worse. Effective action is blocked by self-interest and partisan 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 becomes 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, and knows it can always learn more, and the more the better. The human search for knowledge is catapulted into the realm of philosophy, religion, ethics and politics. This means we are all responsible for our worldview and the consequences of our choices. We all have some responsibility 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, like the quest as a whole, is guided by an experience of 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. Rewilding of self and the world becomes the foundation for all 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. To put it simply, a critical mass, living by these practices could rapidly catalyze an evolutionary leap-in-being for the entire Earth community.
The Institute includes the work of University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu professor
Dr. Louis Herman.
Click on the book cover to learn more.
The Institute 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.