Dr. David C. Korten is the founder and president of the Living Economies Forum; co-founder and board chair emeritus of YES! Magazine; and a full member of the Club of Rome. He is best known for his seminal books framing a new economy for the Ecological Civilization to which humanity must now transition.
David worked for more than thirty-five years in preeminent business, academic, and international development institutions before he turned away from the establishment to become a leading critic of what he calls a global suicide economy. He now devotes his life to advancing the global transition now underway to a Living Earth Economy organized around deeply democratic self-governing communities in which people work in co-productive partnership with the rest of nature to meet the needs of all.
He wrote When Corporations Rule the World, which became an international bestseller He also wrote The Post-Corporate World: Life after Capitalism (1999); The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community (2006); Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth (2009, 2010), and Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth (2015)
Get To Know David
NOTE: This transcript had been edited to be more consistant with David's message and, in fact, has been refined by further elaboration by David of the ideas he wishes to share with our audience.
Larry Greene 00:00
I was so looking forward to my conversation with Dr. David Korten because I've been following his work since the mid 1990s.
Dr. Korten is the founder and president of the Living Economies Forum, and cofounder and board chair emeritus of Yes! magazine. He also is a full member of the Club of Rome. He's best known for his seminal books framing a new economy for the ecological civilization, to which humanity must now transition.
David worked for more than 35 years in preeminent business, academic and international development institutions. Before he turned away from the establishment to become a leading critic of what he calls a Global Suicide Economy. He now devotes his life to advancing the global transition now underway to a Living Earth Economy, organized around deep, democratic self-governing communities in which people work in co-productive partnership with the rest of nature to meet the needs of all. His recent article, Ecological Civilization: From Emergency To Emergence, offers a more complete understanding of David's perspective on these most critical issues. And they can be found on David's page on navigatingourfuture.org.
While David understands the dangers we face will cause extinction of life on Earth beyond our comprehension, he believes in the possibility that we can emerge as an ecological civilization because we have so much knowledge about the challenges and the path to solutions.
What we need is the commitment to come together to learn together and collaborate to create a new culture and institutions from the bottom up. Furthermore, he believes the real changes will take place in our communities, as for example, we rebuild our local food systems and support our local farmers. And to do so, we need to establish a new set of values so that we can educate people of all ages, and especially our children on what it takes to actually live in a healthy, resilient and regenerative community. In this way, we can learn things we never learned before.
So let's get into our interview and learn more about how David Korten sees the world.
Welcome to Navigating Our Future, David.
David Korten 03:05
Delighted to be with you. This is a very interesting opportunity.
Larry Greene 03:09
First, what I'd love to do is hear more about you. What was your path in life that led you to do your life's work today and particularly to come live specifically in this region?
David Korten 03:23
Well, actually, I was born in this region, which I have loved for quite some time. But a very interesting question.
I basically divide my life into three segments. The first 22 years growing up here in the northwest of the United States in a small, very prosperous town called Longview, Washington, which had quite a few industries all unionized. I actually had no encounters with poverty and grew up with a very idealized view of the United States and our democracy. By my understanding, we were a democratic, middle-class country that could be an ideal for the world.
Growing up I never had any thought of ever leaving the Northwest U.S. I was destined to take over a family business that was a kind of an idealized local business. We were a music and appliance store with a capacity to repair everything we sold. And we rebuilt the used pianos we sold. I just assumed that was the way business works to serve the communities in which they do business. I also assumed that inheriting and running this business would be my life.
I grew up as a very conservative Republican deeply concerned about the communist revolutions around the world that threatened our American way of life. As a senior at Stanford, a seminar on modern revolution caught my attention. In that course I learned that those revolutions were a product of poverty. This became a defining turning point in my life. I decided to devote my life to ending poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America to make them middle class democracies like the United States. This would put an end to all these revolutions. That led me to the second 33-year period of my life from 1959, to 1992, That took me far, far away from the Pacific Northwest to which I’ve since returned as the base from which I do my now global work.
In preparation for my time far from home, I got MBA and PhD degrees at the Stanford Business School on the assumption that the key to ending poverty and revolutions might reside in bringing the secrets of US business success to the rest of the world. I worked for a number of years in the foreign aid establishment on this mission. Over time, I gradually began to get a whole new perspective, including realizing that most of the people that we consider to be poor in the world, were not really poor, until we taught them that they were poor, and stripped them of their means to create their own livelihoods from the lands they and their ancestors had occupied since the beginning of time.
I became especially taken by the findings of Helena Norberg Hodge, who wrote wonderful books and articles on Ladakh, a remote community in the mountains of India and the beautiful life those people had. They had no sense of being poor until their culture was disrupted from the outside.
Gradually I became aware that what was being promoted as development was pushing people off of the land, which they depended on for their livelihoods and stripping them of control of their means of living. This reduced them to becoming itinerate agricultural workers or sweatshop factory workers making profits for people richer than themselves.
I was gradually waking up to modern society’s systemic domination and exploitation that was not only impoverishing people in what we call the third world. The same basic dynamic was playing out in the countries of Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, the countries we looked to as models of progress.
At the same time, we had this mantra of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher on the far right, saying that there's no alternative to this travesty that was being foisted on the world. I decided to return home to the U.S. from Asia, where I had lived and worked for 15 years. Thus began the third segment of my life—working from my Northwest home to challenge the systemic exploitation that elite political interests in the United States were foisting on the world.
I became increasingly aware that it was the United States that was driving the global crisis, which led to my return to the United States to teach our fellow Americans what we had learned abroad. Fran and I moved first to New York City and then to Bainbridge Island in the Northwest where I'd grown up. My goal was to expose and build resistance to the assault on people on Earth and drive the search for deep alternatives. So that's what led me to become involved in establishing Yes! magazine. In addition to publishing a magazine, we for a time organized a series of gatherings called "State of the Possible" retreats that brought together a racially diverse group of leading thinkers in the United States seeking a common vision of the world we sought to create together.
This search also led me to join a group called the International Forum on Globalization, which was formed back in 1994, and became an amazing global alliance of civil society leaders engaged in awakening the world to the deceits of development processes that were growing the profits of billionaires, while reducing most of the world’s people to lives of desperation.
That led me to write When Corporations Rule the World, which focuses on what we must turn away from. Then in 1999 I wrote The Post Corporate World: Life After Capitalism, which began my search for an alternative vision grounded in an early understanding of life and how life organizes to create and maintain the conditions essential to life’s existence. Of course, these are the conditions essential to our human existence and wellbeing.
1999 was also the year of the Battle of Seattle, which shut down the WTO’s Seattle meeting and ignited throughout the world an extraordinary resistance against the processes that were advancing corporate globalization. This movement grew in power until the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 that became a pretext for the establishment to shut down dissent all around the world while launching otherwise pointless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The crackdown and the wars completely stymied the movement we had built and pushed many of us to focus more on changes centered on local economies and local businesses.
It also led me to write The Great Turning from Empire to Earth Community to put our current challenge in a deeper historical context and frame the larger transition on which a viable human future depended—the future that we can create together. So that's what I continue doing to this day.
Larry Greene 13:16
I am so appreciative of your passion for this work and of course, that of your wife, Fran, who was for some 20 years the publisher of Yesmagazine. You both have contributed so much to our region and it's just greatly appreciated.
So let's take a look at this and maybe go from the global down to the regional and local. You know, you talked about the egoistic aspects of our civilization, as opposed to the "Eco". What would you say is the current state of affairs and the trajectory that we're on in the future globally and regionally? What is the current state of our societal health?
David Korten 14:10
Yeah, the disruptions of the COVID pandemic and growing awareness of the climate crisis have triggered an enormous amount of local organizing. It is happening so fast and in so many diverse ways that it's almost impossible to track. I haven't yet focused much of my attention on it. But you know, you mentioned my wife, Fran. We have divided our labors. Currently, she focuses locally here on Bainbridge on helping us move from dependence on cars to greater use of walking and bicycles, which is part of community building and getting us off dependence on carbon fuels. She is also focused on getting our electric grid off carbon fuels.
My focus is on global discussions with the Club of Rome and with other international groups and initiatives such as yours, where we're focused on the framing of human possibility and building recognition of the deep crisis that we're in. Most people don’t talk about it much, but it's amazing the number of people who currently recognize that we are on a path to human self-extinction, which leads to a recognition of a simple truth: There are no winners on a dead Earth.
We're living beings. We depend on the living Earth. The competition to dominate around which we now organize globally, is an act of collective insanity. As we wake up to that truth we begin to realize the need for fundamental rethinking.
It is unlikely that the leadership for transformation will come from the institutions of business and government that led us into this crisis; it's going to come from people organizing to take back control of their communities. The goal is the well-being of all, and that well-being is not advanced by mindless competition to consume. It's advanced by our recognition of our fundamental spiritual nature and responsibilities.
We have to meet our essential material needs, and we've got to really focus on what kind of an economy will serve that purpose in order to assure that everyone has access to an adequate means of living. It also means getting rid of this ridiculous idea that ultimately we can all live like billionaires and have somebody else doing all our work for us. Life by its nature requires labor. And we all have our responsibility to apply our human capabilities in ways that are beneficial to our community, and to expect in return that the community will support us and we will support each other. We all have an incredible stake in the wellbeing of the community on which we in turn depend.
Larry Greene 18:14
One of the main questions that I'm asking everybody to think about in this process is: what are the various subsystems that we need to consider if we want to create a healthy, resilient, regenerative community, one that is able to thrive?
I think you like others have always pointed to this idea of the interconnection of all the parts, and you use human beings as a great example. We are a self-organizing being and all of our body parts need to work harmoniously together. You talked about that but what you also have done is mapped out the concept of what you call the "ego-nomics". Could you go a little further on that?
David Korten 19:05
Yeah, absolutely. Some years ago shortly after I wrote When Corporations Rule The World, I was at an international development meeting in Spain. This tiny woman of clearly Chinese ancestry approached me and introduced herself as Dr. Mae-Wan Ho.. And she says, “I'm a microbiologist.” It turns out she's one of the most extraordinary biologists in human history. She said, “I'm a new biologist.” At that time biology was not really focused on living beings. It was treating life like a machine. Mae-Wan Ho was one of the breakthrough thinkers of our time. One of the first biologists to recognize that life is alive.
She explained to me that each of our bodies is comprised of 10s of trillions of individual living cells. We exist only because all of these cells are continuously reorganizing, regenerating in a continuing exchange of nutrients, water, energy and information. And out of this cooperative partnership of exchange, they create and maintain this vessel of our consciousness and instrument of our agency we know as our body.
My work and my studies in business school and the courses I taught at the Harvard Business School faculty were all about organization, how to organize businesses to make a profit. But man, is that simple compared to life. What are all these tiny organisms we call cells doing that we can't even see? We have no conscious awareness of them. Suddenly, oh, my goodness, what a miracle. What an extraordinary thing, and then you begin to ask: If all those individual cells can come together to act in such an extraordinary way to create our human body, might it be possible that we human beings can actually come together and cooperate and partner as a now interconnected global species to actually care for one another and for the earth that births and nurtures us? Wow. But then that also takes you into recognizing what an extraordinary being living Earth is.
The findings of astronomy suggest that there are billions of galaxies and many trillions of planets out there. But we have yet to identify any other planet anywhere in the cosmos that we have reason to believe has conditions on its surface similar to those of Earth—the conditions essential for life to exist as we know it? Well, that's kind of interesting. You know, it's quite possible such planets are out there. Certainly, by statistical laws, you would think there would be at least a few.
But the critical question for us at this moment is “What makes this planet so different?” The only viable explanation is that Earth’s living beings make Earth different. The evolution of life on Earth created and maintains the conditions that make Earth different. That is essential to our recognition that Oh, my goodness, we're essentially doing everything we can to destroy Earth's capacity to sustain life as we know it. Oh, oh, my, and by the way, we also happen to be living beings. Oh, my.
Now, we refer to ourselves as an intelligence species. Is this intelligent? This is why my attention is so focused on the frame of an ecological civilization. Putting the focus on civilizational transformation recognizes that we're not talking about minor adjustments. We're talking about deep transformation of everything related to how we live. And that means deep transformation of our culture, our institutions and our choices of technology and infrastructure.
Now, all of these things relate to choices made by humans past and present. The barriers to what we can achieve to actualize the potentials of our human nature. And the potentials of our humaneness (the quality of compassion or consideration for others (people or animals)). There are basically no barriers to that beyond the defective stories that we carry in our human mind. And of course, the leading proponent of our failed stories is the academic discipline that we call economics, which is based on false assumptions about our human nature and the numbers we call money. With regard to the number we call money, economics assumes that money is wealth and that if we just have more money, everyone will enjoy lives of effortless abundance. It appears that no influential economist has yet recognized that we can't eat money.
Larry Greene 26:26
So let's talk about this complex choice and the opportunity that we have to either choose a death economy or a life affirming economy, or I should say society more than just our economy. Could you speak a little bit more about that?
David Korten 26:45
Let’s begin with culture and recognition that we humans are creatures of story. This gives us an extraordinary capacity for creative choice making. In choosing the stories by which we live in our relations with one another and Earth, we choose our ultimate impact on Earth. Maybe we shouldn't say "ultimate" because unless we get into a total nuclear holocaust, life on Earth will probably recover after we're gone. But the recovery could take millions or even billions of years, which would be an enormous evolutionary setback—a tragic consequence of our human failure to fulfill our responsibility to creation. Our choices and their outcomes are all basically a function of the cultural stories by which we define ourselves, our possibilities, and our responsibilities.
Western culture has focused on human rights. It ignores responsibilities, the fact that rights come with responsibilities. We need to bring our rights and responsibilities together in a holistic way.
The next step is recognizing that our institutions, the institutions of business, government, science, education, finance, and religion are all human creations that have no existence outside of the human mind. This is particularly interesting in relation to money. We tend to focus on money because we have created and organized our institutions in a way that make it impossible for an individual human to live without money.
You can't get access to food, water or a place to live if you don't have money. And yet, you can have a bucket full of money on a desert island and it's absolutely useless because you can't eat it, breathe it, or drink it. And it won’t keep you warm on a cold night. Basically it's useless. Curious indeed that it is our focus on a number of no intrinsic value that puts us on a path to self-extinction.
Money is not the only human institution that exists only in the human mind. What is government? Can you show me the City Hall or the US Capitol? But they are just buildings. They are not government. What's the government? Is there anything in nature that could recognize it? Ultimately, government is solely a product of the human mind and has no meaning outside the human mind.
And then we come to the corporation? Oh, yes. You know, in the United States, states issue corporate charters—a piece of paper with writing on it to create a corporation. But show me a corporation. You may show me a building, a logo, or a bank account—maybe a very big bank account. Literally, all of our human institutions are creations of the human mind. Now, why would we create things in our mind to exploit ourselves and drive us to self-extinction? Only if we made a huge mistake.
Since our institutions are purely creations of the human mind, we can change them and change them with the recognition that there is absolutely no reason for humans to create an institution for any purpose other than to serve our wellbeing, which in turn depends on Earth's wellbeing. So if we begin to fundamentally rethink the institutions of business, of government, of education, of religion, of finance, of science, to emphasize their service to humans, to life, and to Earth, oh, that becomes an interesting exercise.
This brings us back to recognizing that life organizes in communities of life. And each of our bodies is a community, a self-organizing community of life. Every other living being is a self-organizing community. And then there are all these levels of life’s organization. Ultimately, Earth is the largest self-organizing community of life we know. My friends who are more on the frontiers of understanding physics suggest that this self-organizing, self-awareness, self-organization may extend out in extraordinary ways beyond Earth. But I haven't gotten into that because it gets a little esoteric. Our first challenge is to get things worked out here on Earth. Once we accomplish that ,we might turn our attention to material and spiritual realms beyond Earth.
Larry Greene 33:08
Yeah, absolutely. You know, you make three really great points that I think touch on those issues. You wrote in your excellent paper, which we have on our site, Ecological Civilization: From Emergency To Emergence, stipulates the following:
First, we have to acknowledge the limits of the regenerative capacities of the Earth community, of life.
Secondly, we need to commit ourselves to the equitable sharing of what remains.
Thirdly, we need to join in shared commitment to restore Earth to full health, while reconnecting us with one another and nature to secure a good life for all people -- and with nonhumans as well, for all generations to come.
And that requires a huge collaborative effort that needs to take place once we understand a different view of the world and also our connection or interconnection with all life on Earth. And so the question then becomes, if people agree with that, how do we get there? What do we need to do? How do we self-organize for the betterment of life for all?
David Korten 34:28
Fortunately, it's what an awful lot of people are doing. One of the groups I'm deeply involved in currently is focused on helping people recognize the connections between the many initiatives and commitments around the world to nature, to equality, and to peace. We are all part of the civilizational transformation that is ultimately grounded in the fact that we are beings of a living Earth. Together we constitute a living Earth movement.
We can't each do everything. We each need to find the things that most fit with our passion, with our skills, and with our connections. Some may be a very narrow piece of a larger whole, like getting our local electric company off fossil fuels. Or developing local biking trails. But each is an essential piece of a larger whole. Acting together, these individual pieces become an unstoppable force. It is essential that as we work on those individual pieces, we be aware of the larger framework to better understand why we are doing what we are doing. And recognize that our success, which may feel kind of meaningless in itself is important. Obviously, none of these initiatives alone is going to change the world. But each is an essential contribution to the larger challenge of bringing us all into a different relationship with one another, and Earth.
It is essential we act on the local scale with this larger awareness which includes an awareness that things like differences in the color of our skin are pretty much irrelevant to the bigger issues that we face. The transformation on which our common wellbeing absolutely depends gets beyond many of these traditional struggles. This is a point brought home to me many years ago by one of my women colleagues who pointed out to me an issue she observed within the women's movement that raised a foundational question: what is the purpose of the women's movement? The same question applies to racial justice movements?
Is the goal to become equal opportunity exploiters in an exploitative system? Or is it to get rid of the current system of exclusion and exploitation so that we are all living and working in partnership to meet our basic needs while supporting one another in actualizing our full human potential?
Larry Greene 38:01
What do we have power to do? How do we have the power to fulfill our responsibilities to ourselves, one another, and all life on Earth?
David Korten 38:13
It's what some of my colleagues call deep democracy. Part of the waking up is recognizing that – as I did only very recently—that the United States is not a democracy. We have never been a democracy. Most of us would certainly like to become one. And it would be a very good idea.
We are also waking up to the reality that while we have been talking about civilizations for 5000 years, so far as I'm aware, none of Earth’s people have yet created a truly civilized civilization. Gandhi suggested that Western civilization would be a good idea. Eastern civilization and global civilization would also be a good idea.
Creating an Ecological Civilization for a living Earth ultimately depends on people power, not people exploiting one another and earth, but people embracing and expressing their power to secure a better life for all. This bring us back to the need to recognize that the institutions by which we live are all human creations. If they're not working for us, it is our right and responsibility to transform them.
But we cannot transform them through the violence of physical revolutions that simply put new people in top positions in the failed institutions of our past. The critical revolution must be in our thinking and in our capacity to partner with one another in ways that our dominant culture and our dominant institutions make very difficult. One of the things that we're just beginning to wake up to in many of so called advanced societies like the United States, is that we are literally moving toward a predominance of single person households. The exact opposite of community.
Single household occupants are running from job to job, dependent on several jobs to make a minimal daily living. They have absolutely no time to step back to enjoy life or to communicate with their neighbors, to experience community—all of which are essential to actualizing our humanity. Even worse is the rise of the homeless.
That's part of what needs to change... No one should be living alone. None of us should be desperate for lack of access to a means of living. We should all be recognizing that the growing numbers of homeless people in the United States is a sign of deep systemic failure. So is the growing number of refugees in the world—essentially homeless people looking for someplace where they can have an opportunity to live and make a living. These are signs of terminal system failure. And bringing more global refugees from the failed global system to the failed U.S. system is not going to solve the problem.
We are dealing with more and more refugees because there are fewer and fewer places in the world that are livable. Overwhelming the shrinking number of livable places with more people will only assure their collapse as well. The issues are huge and we are just beginning to ask the right questions. We're still far from answers that we can only find together.
Larry Greene 42:18
Yeah, I agree. Good points. You know, there are so many other questions that I have for you. It's crazy, but I just need to be cognizant of time. What I would like us to go to is your excellent piece about Ecological Civilization, which we'll have on our site. You sub-titled it: From Emergency To Emergence.
Please take some time to touch on your thoughts as they relate to the question that I'm asking: What is our pathway to emergence? I'm not taking it on a global basis, although that's critical. I'm saying is that I believe we have the most power in our region and in our local communities. What's the pathway to emergence that's open to us? What does that look like? Can you describe what that path looks like?
David Korten 43:10
Let’s start with emergency to emergence. Science tells us that we've got to get ourselves moving in a different direction by the end of this decade. Clearly, we're not going to transform our failed institutional system by 2030. But if we haven't begun to move in a new direction, it may be too late for Earth systems to recover within any time frame meaningful to humans. We have to get started with the institutions we have, which are totally unsuited to the purpose. That’s our reality.
We also have to recognize that the steps we take need to be consistent with the larger and longer term outcome that we are striving for. We each begin by finding opportunities in the place we live. Like you and I are at this moment working to make our local contribution to changing our local discussion as a contribution to reshaping the global conversation about our human possibilities and essential needs. Is our conversation today going to change the global conversation? Definitely not. But it is what we are able to do. And if enough people are doing it in their place using their means, the global conversation will change. We must work together because the problems and the answers are complex beyond our human imagination. And anybody who thinks they have the ultimate answers clearly doesn't understand the problem.
On the other hand, we together have so much knowledge and so much experience. The more we come together to learn together, the greater our potential to get through this. Together we create the essential new institutions and cultures from the bottom up as we learn to live and relate as the interdependent living beings we are. The real initiative, the real changes will take place in our community. Like the work my wife is involved in making it safe to complete more of our trips on Bainbridge Island by bicycle.
There are so many local initiatives that require local leadership to solve global problems. For example, rebuilding our local food systems to support our local farmers working to restore local soils rather killing them with poisons sold by agricultural chemical companies as fertilizer and insecticides to grow the fortunes of billionaires. Through these initiatives we begin to transform our food supplies in ways that facilitate the recovery of the health of both ourselves and Earth. Small local actions that together have powerful global impact.
So that's what the individual pieces are?
Yes. And the individual pieces include essential conversations. If you're a church member the conversation may include asking how your church might contribute to the transformation by deepening our understanding of our nature and the purpose of our being?
And what values do we need to be teaching our children through their religious education to prepare them for meaningful lives? This gets us to deeper questions about our whole educational system.
Can our children learn everything they need to learn out of textbooks teaching theories that are now totally out of date? How do we educate our children to actually live in a community when we don't even have communities anymore? Could we create communities around our children, so they can begin learning things that we never learned? The possibilities are as endless as the needs are endless.
We need to start right now. We do not have a single second to sit back and say, “Well, I don't really have time for that.”
Larry Greene 47:37
Well, the reason why I think it's so important to look at the regional level, to the local community level, and finally to each and every one of us is because there is power in all of us understanding what we hold in common in our region and how we can use that collaborative power to create an ecological civilization. If we can understand what we hold in common, what we value, what we appreciate about living here, then we can basically look at our resources such as our physical resources, our good geographic location, our environmental resources, opportunities to grow our own food, to build local business, to create a vibrant regenerative business economy, and the human assets and resources to understand the power to choose our path to the future, if we learn how to really come together to do this work.
I believe that enough of us have not only shared interests, but also a shared purpose to transform our region for the better. And that's really what this is about.
So very quickly, David, what are the values and principles that guide your life?
David Korten 48:41
I'm 84 years old, just coming up on my 85th birthday. At that age, you have no idea how much time you may have left. But my dream is that before I go, I will have reason to believe that humanity is going to get through this and actualize its potential.
As an objective analyst with doctorate degree from a prestigious university, I must conclude that there is no realistic chance that we can navigate the necessary changes in the time available to us. We have too little time, and we are too far on the wrong track.
I know from the experiences of my lifetime, however, that dramatic unanticipated change can happened almost instantly. For example, the fall of colonial rule in India followed by the fall of conventional colonial rule in the rest of the world. I've seen the end of apartheid in South Africa happen in an instant in time. A week before the fall of the Berlin Wall people were saying, Oh, that couldn't possibly happen. There's no basis for it, and then it did happen. And the disintegration of the Soviet Union followed rapidly.
Of course, there is a deeply sobering dimension to each of these experiences. What followed fell far short of possibilities created by the fall of failed systems. High hopes followed, but with disappointing consequences. In each of these experiences, those involved were clear on what they sought to move beyond. They were far less clear on how to put in place the alternatives they sought.
The communications capabilities now available to us give us an extraordinary capacity to think and act as a globally interconnected species to share insights into both our failures and our unrealized possibilities. With English as a now common language we have a capacity for instant communication wholly without precedent in the human experience. We have scarcely begun to recognize and act on the potential this creates.
We now have potential for rapid change previously beyond the human imagination. Our current capacity for rapid transformation has yet to be tested. If we proceed with the assumption it is too late to act, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy. We can't accept that. We have to act with a belief that it is possible and do everything we can to make the transformation a reality.
Larry Greene 51:20
What keeps you going when you get discouraged?
David Korten 51:24
I just remind myself that I haven't got very much time left, and I better keep working. Another piece of it that you may be searching for is that in my growing up, I spent a lot of time in nature. And I developed a really deep appreciation for what we have here on Bainbridge. My favorite is one of the world's most extraordinary Botanical Gardens. I love to sit and meditate there looking at the extraordinary beauty of the natural surroundings that seems absolutely still and quiet. Yet I know that beneath the quiet surface, the life I am observing is dynamic and constantly evolving. It is this appreciation of life, of creation, and this extraordinary experience that we have been granted here during our time on this living Earth. Many of life’s most important processes are invisible. That is not just true for nature. It is also true for human society.
Larry Greene 52:39
Beautifully said. What do you hold most sacred?
David Korten 52:47
What I hold most sacred is this life. But you know, one of my teachers was Marcus Borg, a theologian I remember for this defining insight: "Tell me your image of God, and I'll tell you your politics." As Marcus explained, if you see God as an old white guy with a beard sitting in a place we call heaven in command of everything, you are probably focused on the institutions of power and the politics of domination. Ever wonder who might have come up with such an image?
But if your image of God is not a physical being, but rather a universal spiritual presence, which is now largely consistent with the leading edge thinking in physics that all of creation came out of the enormous explosion of energy that burst forth on a journey toward ever greater complexity, beauty, awareness, and possibility. I think of creation as a process by which an intelligent spirit seeks to know itself through the process of becoming.
That is my deeper image. And if that is our shared image, then the word God doesn't fit very well. Nor does an image of a dominant being in control of all decisions of all being. The spirit is an image of infinite possibility in which nothing is dominant or controlling. It is a vision far beyond our current human understanding. But maybe we can figure it out over time.
Larry Greene 55:22
I have thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. As I said, before we even get started, this is a big topic, as we discussed, and we're barely scratching the surface. I can continue asking you questions forever. But I think the main thing we want people to do is come to our site. www.navigatingourfuture.org and dig deeper into your great thinking on this subject. But are there any further thoughts you would like to share with our listeners before we say goodbye?
David Korten 55:52
No, I think we've covered it pretty well. There are obviously other topics, but this is a good start.
Larry Greene 55:57
You know, there's so much inspiration in your perspective. Certainly, you inspire me, and I hope our listeners feel inspired as well. And I just want to thank you so much for participating in this project.
David Korten 56:16
And thank you for helping to get these messages and experiences out into the world.
Larry Greene 56:21
It's up to all of us right now. So thank you very much for your time, David. We are very fortunate to have people like David and his wife, Fran, a contributing editor of Yes magazine, living in our regional community. Like others who we have interviewed, David has no illusions about the existential crises we face. But he, like the others, remains hopeful and committed to the possibility that humanity is going to get through this. So he implores people to not assume it is too late, because then we will be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
He suggests we need to act with the belief that it is possible to develop an ecological civilization. He makes it crystal clear that we have the ability to make choices that have an impact on existing and future life on Earth, if, in addition to our rights, we also embrace our responsibilities.
He goes on to say that all of our current institutions, such as business, science, government, and religion, are created by the human mind and revolve to a large extent around our relationship with money. But you can't breathe or eat money. Why would we create these financially based institutions to drive us to extinction, when in fact, we can change our minds and institutions to serve our well-being, which in turn depends upon the earth’s well-being. Power resides with the people to develop a deeper, more just form of democracy, instead of just efforts to weaken our democracy, which unfortunately, we see on full display these days. And that power is most impactful in creating the new, life affirming culture, when it comes from the bottom up with real changes occurring in our communities. To learn more about David's work, visit his page on our website, www.navigatingourfuture.org.
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