Developing a Life-Affirming Worldview
Jeremy Lent, described by Guardian journalist George Monbiot as “one of the greatest thinkers of our age,” is an author and speaker whose work investigates the underlying causes of our civilization’s existential crisis, and explores pathways toward a life-affirming future. His award-winning book, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, examines the way humans have made meaning from the cosmos from hunter-gatherer times to the present day. His recent book, The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe, offers a solid foundation for an integrative worldview that could lead humanity to a sustainable, flourishing future. He is the founder of the nonprofit Liology Institute and writes topical articles exploring the deeper patterns of political and cultural developments at Patterns of Meaning.
Get To Know Jeremy
Larry Greene 00:02
I am so excited about introducing you to Jeremy Lent. Jeremy has written several books that provided me with a more comprehensive integrative view of our world. And particularly in his book, The Web of meaning. He addressed existential questions that we all work to understand. For example, Who am I? What am I? How should I live? What is the purpose of our life? And where are we headed now? And what is the importance of understanding our worldview?
Jeremy's passionate embrace of his deep interconnectedness with and support of all life with compassion and love for all life is truly inspirational. While he never loses sight of the pain and suffering in the world, Jeremy offers ways for us to work collaboratively to create a better future by following a life affirming path that gives our lives more connection with and meaning, love and compassion for all life.
Jeremy is an author and speaker whose work investigates the underlying causes of our civilizations existential crisis, and explores pathways towards the life affirming future. His award winning book the Patterning Instinct, the cultural history of humanity's search for meaning, examines the ways humans have made meaning from the cosmos, from hunter gatherer times to the present day.
His recently published book, The Web of Meaning, integrating science and traditional wisdom to find our place in the universe. It offers a coherent and intellectually solid foundation for a worldview based on connectedness that could lead humanity to a more resilient, regenerative and flourishing future.
Jeremy is founder of the non profit, The Liology Institute, and writes topical articles exploring deeper patterns of political and cultural development, at patterns of meeting.
I hope you enjoy our conversation. And then it stimulates your thinking about them your meaning of life as well. So let's get started.
Welcome, Jeremy, I'm just so excited to have this conversation with you.
Jeremy Lent 02:56
So thank you so much for inviting me.
Larry Greene 02:58
Oh, our pleasure. As you know, I've read both of your books, taken your Web of Meaning course and joined you and the Deep Transformation Network to continue working with you and others to develop a path to an eco-civilization as you call it, and I think other people do as well. I think that qualifies me as a big fan.
Jeremy Lent 03:21
Thanks so much.
Larry Greene 03:23
So it's with great pleasure that I have the opportunity to introduce you to more people in our Salish Sea Bioregion. So to get started, Jeremy, can you just tell me your story? What were the major events in your life to do the work that you're doing today?
Jeremy Lent 03:40
Yeah, sure. Thanks for that question, Larry.
Really, the first half of my life, I had no idea that I would find myself later on doing this kind of work and writing these kinds of books. Actually, the kind of arc of the first part of my life was actually through business. I got an MBA and actually took an internet company public. I actually started a company and took it public during that first ".com" boom. And then I went through a whole bunch of things collapsing around me that caused really like a crucible, if you will, in my own life, and things to kind of melt down.
What happened was my wife at the time got quite sick so I left the company that I founded and took public to look after her. She passed several years later. I left the company too early. It was during the .com boom time like 1999 and the company collapsed within a year or two. Meanwhile, I was looking after my wife, and she was alive for a number of years after that, but she had some cognitive decline. So I lost the person I was most close with and really felt like it everything I built in my life had crashed.
But I decided that whatever I chose for my life going forward, it had to be truly meaningful. That was when I began my own search for what that actually means. I had no idea what it was going to take so it took years of my life exploring the question: where do these ideas that we take for granted come from whether it's ideas about soul or human separation from nature, all these things, and ended up really creating from that, this kind of path that led to the books I wrote. First there was The Patterning Instinct, which I wrote a few years back, which is a history more than anything about different ways in which cultures made meaning from the universe, and then moving to the more recent book, Web of Meaning.
Larry Greene 05:49
As you went into this whole search, you delved into the fields of neuroscience, history, anthropology, various religious traditions, primarily Buddhism, and Taoism, and Neo Confucianism and indigenous wisdom. And when you pulled all of these together, I love your description of yourself being an integrator focused on a really integrative cultural study of life. Could you speak a little bit more about what you learned in that process?
Jeremy Lent 06:28
For sure, and really, integration is one of the key things that I did learn in terms of the value of the way that really becomes part of a truly full, fully lived life and not a false sense of meaning. And so a lot of what I began to discover is that in our dominant culture, we are told to sort of keep things separate. And we have little boxes for things like there's maybe the work I do, and maybe my personal life, there's my mind, and my body, or are humans separate from nature, or is science is separate from spirituality and other almost sacrosanct questions that definitely don't mix those two.
What I discovered is that those are really false distinctions. And that actually a true life that becomes truly meaningful is one that actually integrates all those different parts. Integration is key because it's not just a matter of just mashing it all together, like sort of mashing potatoes or whatever. Integration is this notion of how things can be unified, but still maintaining their distinctions.
And so integration is something where you celebrate all the diversity of the different ways of whatever it might be, different ways of making sense of the world, or different aspects of your life, or a whole society, but they're also part of a coherent whole. And it turns out that's actually a core element in how every living entity actually emerges in the world through this process of integration. And so that's actually a key theme throughout my work, especially throughout the Web of Meaning.
Larry Greene 08:15
Great, wonderful. In the Web of Meaning, you ask some very important questions. Could you quickly go through those questions? And why are they are significant to you?
Jeremy Lent 08:27
Sure. Well, actually, the book is structured, according to some of those kind of the existential questions that pretty much every human being has asked at some point in their life, even though we might not ask it quite as crisply and clearly as those questions go.
But they're questions that describe our source identiy: Who am I? Where am I? What kind of cosmos do I live in? What am I? What kind of entity? What am I versus like, other types of creatures or whatever? And then it goes to other deeper questions like, how should I live? And ultimately, why am I? What's the purpose of our lives? Then the book finishes by going into where are we going, as a global society? Where are we heading? And how can the answers to those first questions affect that outcome?
So those are the various basic things I delved into and happy to just touch on how we deconstruct some of the answers to some of those questions, if there's any. It might be a bit exhausting to look at all of them, but maybe there's one or two that we can look at if you'd like.
Larry Greene 09:43
Oh you just go ahead, Jeremy.
Jeremy Lent 09:46
Sure. Maybe a good one to look at is this thing of who am I?
It's a good way to start because one of the things that we are led to believe from our dominant worldview is that what I am is actually just a part of me sort of in the front of my brain. It's like some sort of sense of a mind, or a soul as the older traditions of Christianity, for example, described it.
This kind of notion comes from Descartes. He has made the most famous statement in Western philosophy "Cogito ergo sum", "I think, therefore I am". And if you think about what that actually is saying, basically it's saying the only source of my true identity is my thinking capacity. And that's actually how thinking has unfolded the last few 100 years.
If that is the case, then even when we consider that we have a body, it's like: Oh, my mind exists in a body. So it's like, I'm that sort of thinking capacity. And I exist in a body. So you know, if I'm enlightened, maybe I should take care of my body, but it still seems like something separate from me.
And what about other animals who don't think the way we do? Well, they actually don't even have a full existence. They're really just machines that just do that stuff without thinking, like automatons. And those ideas became part of our dominant worldview.
But it doesn't have to be like that. So in the book, what I do is oftentimes I'll explore different non-Western traditions. For example, in Taoism, there's this recognition that actually that conceptual way of thinking, like Descartes talked about was a particular form that they call "Yu-Wei ", purposive thinking or purposes action. And then there's Wu Wei, which is just kind of a more effortless way of being, sort of sharing the same kind of way of relating to the world that other animals have.
What's fascinating is that these traditions from the past show what neuroscience is now telling us: that it turns out that thinking capacity that Descartes thought as our own existence, is one important, but just one aspect, of our overall cognitive capacity which has this kind of animate way of being, just like the Taoist sort of knowledge that we share with all of nature.
So that's just an example of how we can look at a dominant worldview idea, and show that it's actually been shown to be wrong by modern science. And that actually what we do find is that this understanding was intuited far more deeply by other cultures.
Larry Greene 12:37
Well, I'm glad you've mentioned the concept worldview a number of times, and you've talked around some of the aspects of our current worldview. First of all, what's the importance of a worldview? In how civilization and society moves forward?
Jeremy Lent 12:57
Yeah, that's a key question. Because a worldview is something that most of us don't really think about too much. And in fact, really, that's part of the power of a worldview: the very fact that we don't think about it essentially. A worldview is a lot like a lens through which we see the world. Just as we look at the world through our eyes, which are our lenses, we attach the changes to the actual vision quite significantly from what's out there. We just don't realize that. So a lens has similarities to a worldview.
When we're just beginning to learn language, and our culture--all the way to when we become teenagers and then grownups, we just make sense of the world in the way in which our culture tells us to see the world. This is how the world works. And that doesn't mean that somebody sat us down when we were a little kid and said, "Let me tell you how the world works versus this and that." We just imbibe it and implicitly make sense of it in that way.
That's why a worldview is so powerful. It tells us that this is how things work. This is how you do things this way, what our values are based on, without realizing there are other ways of seeing the world. We're just totally dominated by that way of thinking. We might think we're being creative, but it's always within that structure of thought.
But when we look and realize that there are other cultures in history that have viewed the world in very different ways, it opens our minds to other possibilities, and then we can begin to see things about our worldview that may be flawed or destructive. Or, we can see positive things about our worldview too, but we get to see it from a different perspective.
Larry Greene 14:46
Yeah, I think that's really important and the challenge here is that our current worldview, which has obviously gone global, around capitalism and around other factors has created problems. For example, how we see the "other" in life has created big problems, aside from all the fabulous things that have been created, say in the last 500 years. Look at all the negative and toxic things that have been building up by kicking the can down the road for future generations to face. Look at the challenges such as the great loss of life that we've experienced to date from the 6th extinction of species on earth. But where are we headed with it? What is your view of society's current worldview and where it's leading us?
Jeremy Lent 15:42
Yes, well, I think our current dominant worldview--and this is what I explored in detail in this book--is dangerous right now. And deeply flawed. And those two elements are what is so crucial to get a better sense of life.
Before you even start to go there and explore what I mean by that, it's important to emphasize that, just like you mentioned, there's a lot to be grateful for the civilization that this dominant worldview has created. There are just amazing advances that have come from science basically, over the last few 100 years -- everything from just things as simple as the germ theory of disease, or development of electrical grids, and the ability for us to talk to each other from hundreds or 1000s of miles away and other people to see that from around the world -- that we can be profoundly grateful for. So this is not just something "bad" versus something "good".
Still, we need to realize that the same dominant worldview that's led to these benefits has led to these massive imbalances. And they're based on kind of flawed understandings of the Cosmos. Based on this flawed understanding, most of us think, "Well, even if we don't like the dominant worldview, at least, it's scientifically grounded."
That's the whole thing about it. But it turns out this is based on science, for the most part, from 400 or 500 years ago, and most of the presumptions of that worldview, such as that Mind/Body split--which I was just talking about -- have been shown to be incorrect. Unfortunately that hasn't yet pervaded the dominant way of thinking, which is so deeply ingrained from these ideas from the past. That's why, right now, this dominant worldview has led to a sense of humans being as separate from nature, and the whole of the living Earth being not something that has intrinsic value in itself, but something that's there to be exploited for human benefit.
That's one of the fundamental assumptions: the dominant worldview, which has led now to this kind of growth-based system, is totally unsustainable and could even lead to the Arctic collapse.
Our civilization is in grave danger if we don't turn it around. This way is dangerous because it's flawed, and is also just so fascinating to look at.
It's not just this notion of mind versus nature being separate, the very idea of nature itself as being like a machine has been shown to be utterly wrong. The idea that humans have some sort of essence that separates us from the rest of life has also been shown by evolutionary biology to be wrong. So when, for example, indigenous people around the world talk about the rest of living beings, as our relatives and a dominant worldview person come across that the first time they kind of give a smile and unknowing sniff. And it turns out the indigenous people's understanding is what evolutionary biology confirms: we are all related to entities and life forces that seem totally different from us. But we all share the same common ancestor and we share a deep part of our DNA, with every other living being around us.
Larry Greene 19:07
I agree with you and along those lines, where is this path leading us? Where we going to be in 10 years, 25 years? 50 years if we don't find another way to move forward with our lives?
Jeremy Lent 19:28
Well, if I think if we keep going this way for too much longer, and there's no current view that says that we can turn it around -- we have to recognize that by the middle of this century, I think it's very likely that our civilization itself may be on the rocks and an existential threat which is coming apart at the seams and is primarily because of this.
Unfettered, oxygen consumption of the natural world is going on right now. There are examples that will give you a sense of such as:
* the reality that since 1970, alone, for example, our global animal populations have declined by more than two thirds by about 68%. And that decline is continuing at an increasingly rapid pace.
* It's hard to even get your head around this notion, but, at the moment, if we continued at the current rate of the plastic production, along with the continued destruction of wildlife in the oceans,there will actually be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the middle of this century.
If we just continue at these growth rates and decline rates in all aspects of life, we're heading for the Sixth Extinction of species since life began on Earth, because of human activity.
What we need to understand is that all of these things are not just,"oh, that's a shame". Like, "the world won't be as rich and abundant as it once was, but you know, we'll get used to it".
Even though we're so removed from the sources of things like our food and our air, and the basic things we take for granted, the reality is that at our essence and our very lived existence depends on the life support system of this planet Earth. So we're destroying our own life support system. With a combination of global climate breakdown and masses of refugees measured (most likely in the 10s, and hundreds of millions of people), big swaths of area will be absolutely unlivable by the middle of this century because of heat. And not to mention cities getting flooded from rising water levels, and an incredible droughts and mass famines. And those are the kinds of core fundamental issues that are going to be leaving our civilization really at risk of just getting fragmented and destroyed, which would be the greatest Cataclysm in all of human history. We're not just talking about "oh, we'll just start again, a generation later", we're talking about just untold devastation that we need to do everything in our power as a global human society to turn around. But we just have not yet gotten to that level of collective awareness.
Larry Greene 22:29
I agree. And that, of course, then brings up the next question, which is, what are our choices? You certainly talked about this, as well as others, that we need a more life affirming worldview, and way to transform to a healthy and more resilient and regenerative path. In communities throughout, for example, our bio region, which is our focus for these conversations those choices exist and not just here but everywhere in the world. What is it going to take for people to begin to view the world differently?
Jeremy Lent 23:08
Yeah, that such an important question. And, there's something people might hear when they're hearing this for the first time. I talk about how close we are to this kind of devastation and then this notion of our need for a different worldview. A very reasonable thought to come up in someone's mind is, "we don't have time to change this worldview of that entire global civilization. I mean, we've barely got time to just shift and invest more in renewables, you know. Like this is a luxury that we can't even be thinking about right now."
And my response to that kind of thinking is: actually, this is something that we can't afford not to be thinking about. And to give you a sense of what I mean, by that way of thinking about it:
Imagine our whole global system being a little like some sort of complex software, which is going more and more out of control. And there are more and more bugs. And you've got these software engineers running around trying to fix one bug. And then the workaround creates an even bigger problem, which is essentially what we're doing in the world right now, the fix a problem, create an even bigger problem that raises years later from that.
And somebody comes along and says, you know, we need to change the operating system. We've got a flawed operating system. That's why these bugs are so bad. And so all these frantic software engineers say "No, we don't have time for that. We barely have time to keep it going for next week. Don't even talk to us about changing the operating system."
But that's what needs to be done. And with a different operating system, all those bugs suddenly vanish, essentially. And you can start again from a different basis. That's the notion of shifting our worldview and trying to build a civilization that is life affirming, rather than life destroying; a civilization which is based on maximizing the flourishing of humans on a regenerative Earth rather than maximizing wealth, exploitation and and an extraction of life from Earth.
So we have to make that change. And we have to do it at the same time, as we're doing all the incremental stuff. I'm not saying ignore a shift to renewables or ignore policy changes. We can make this better by like stopping subsidizing fossil fuel companies, and all these things that have to be done right away. But in addition to that, it's more that we have to do it from a different perspective, the ones we own. And in a way this shift in worldview is profound.
And it's also the easiest thing to do. Because each of us simply can come to our own way of realizing that we've been conditioned in ways that don't make sense. And through our own work, and our own curiosity, and openness to other perspectives, we can shift. It doesn't mean we have to like suddenly change everything we're doing. But it means we can do something and what we are doing from a different perspective, and from a different orientation and look into how it can connect with other life affirming projects going on around the world. So this profoundest shift is required, is also something that can happen in a moment once we're primed and ready for it.
Larry Greene 26:41
Well, that's an interesting point. So how do people shift their worldview, for example, to a more a more complete 360 degree view of what's going on? Let's assume that this message does reach people and let's assume because there's a time factor here, as we've heard, we've heard in eight years, if we don't make these changes, the consequences are going to be irreversible. We know already, even if we make tremendous strides, there's so much baked in already. The losses are going to continue.
But let's assume that this message reaches and changes the hearts and minds of people within the next five years. Do you feel that there is enough time and enough potential opportunity for humanity to really get it and move forward? How many people do we need around the world to become engaged in the work because it's also a collaborative process? We're working on our bio region, but hopefully, other bio regions are moving in the same direction. What if it takes five years for us to get a critical mass of people involved in this movement?
Jeremy Lent 28:00
Yes, I, I hear where you're going on this. And from my own perspective, I think that I sort of try to avoid spending too much time focusing on that sort of question. Am I optimistic about the probabilities orpessimistic about their probabilities?
I mean, to be frank, I'm more pessimistic than optimistic in the sense that if I have to, like make a prognosis, and I see the destruction that seems to be going on unabated, the incredible dominance of corporations have, and the move towards right wing populism around the world and all these things, there, it's very easy to get demoralized. And at the same time, what I feel is most important to do is to really look clearl. Like I try to avoid what I see as false optimism. And there's a lot of stuff like that going on in articles that get published by even people as who I respect tremendously like Bill McKibben or whatever, who look at this great investment in the creative opportunity now from renewables, and the cost coming down, and the things that can be done. And I applaud that, and I want to move towards that possibility.
But without looking at the really deep analysis, the recognition that our growth based economy is leading to destruction and even a wholesale investment in renewables around the world will only lead to more consumption using renewables until we change the underlying form of the system.
We have to look clearly at that, but there is much we have to look clearly at that we also have to look at this possibility that these changes can happen. So my approach is to not be too attached to the question: is this going to work or is that going to work? But this recognition that what life is calling from all of us right now is to just give ourselves entree into this process. None of us can actually predict what will happen, because of the fact that our system, a whole global system is multiplying in a nonlinear fashion, which means that it's not just one nonlinear system makes a cultural shift, but there's the our economic system, and the relationship with the Earth, weather systems and ecosystems, all these things are nonlinear, which means that there's changes we can't predict. Greta Thunberg, who's like suddenly gets 10s, or hundreds of millions people following her in this message of change that we need. That can't be predicted. We don't know who that next person will be a few years from now. But that's why what we need to do what we can do, regardless of our sense as to how or what the probable successes of this will be, so that the knowing that is what life is calling on us right now is key.
Larry Greene 30:59
You've talked about this, other people have talked about this, the importance of iapproaching this on a bioregional basis might be a way for people to come together, in closer proximity, have more in common and so forth and so on. But can you speak to why taking a bioregional approach? In many bioregions around the country like our bioregion? Why do you think that's an important way of getting the movement we need?
Jeremy Lent 31:32
Yeah, I do think it's critically important. And one primary reason is when we look at our lives and our society, from this different perspective of this actual deep human connectivity with non-human nature, and embeddedness, within life itself, then recognizing that we exist in bioregions is one of the foundational stem points for how we can organize our society because if we're organizing with the living Earth around us, rather than just imposing our control over the living Earth, and simply setting fences around things, then it becomes more natural to actually organize our own community and society around the regions that life itself has developed around a watershed or around a particular arid region or fertile region or wherever it is that we find ourselves as part of the the total community of humans interrelated with non-human nature.
And when we look at our social and political organizations, right now, then we can get to realize that these nation states that we have, and the state organizations are big countries, things like that, they make no more sense than the rest of this dominant worldview. They're simply lines that were created by geopolitical forces or by as a result of a war here or there, which side happened to be more powerful in a particular time period, or whatever. And those lines actually have no coherence relative to the human lived experience with the earth.
So if we want to reimagine our future society in a way that can truly be more sustainable, the bioregion would actually be the natural organism, the organizing function of that. And that's in itself would be almost like a mid level within the kind of hierarchy or like nested functional structure of how an organization could work, because it really begins with your direct family and people that you're very close with, like your clan, or whatever the people that you're around every day. And that expands out to your shared group of community that you know, directly, that expands out to the broader community, which can expand out the whole area where you live, the region, which might then go to a bigger region, and then by regions might, there are issues that they want to share with other bigger regions. There's no sense that everything has to be limited to that place. But basically, the ultimately, I think the principle of "subsidiarity" is key here, which is like: you push the decision making power down to the level at which it is felt the most. This is where people are most able to make the right call. And so many of those decisions mean going down even below the bioregion to the very local community. And some of the things like global climate breakdown or controlling transnational corporations has to be at a global level can't be handled by a region. But many of the ways in which we organize around our own lived experience with a living Earth would naturally be at the bioregion level.
Larry Greene 34:50
Exactly right. And I couldn't agree with you more that it starts not only in the community and not only in the family, but also with each individual making that leap. It starts with self awareness. So let's assume that enough people in a bioregion really now have a desire, there's the will to do it. What's the way? This is the question that you and I have come back to? How do we basically get on to that path? How do a critical mass of people, in a community in a bioregion engage, in the nations of the world globally, going all the way up? Fractals* all the way up? How do we get people engaged in the movement? If they have the will? What's the way?
Jeremy Lent 35:45
Yeah, well, I think in many ways, you're probably better able to answer that, in your experience than me in terms of so many of the great things that you've been, and are putting in place right now. But I think in general, what is important is to really keep remembering: that Buckminster Fuller statement "if you don't like the kind of the whole social system, rather than trying to change it directly build something better from within and let people get attracted to it." And what I understand a lot of the work that you and your team are doing, is to basically to focus on what's possible to look at your local experiences. And here's some of those core permaculture principles.
So important things like about observing, and so that there is no one way to do something, right. But it's that deep connection with your region to observe, to really be attuned with it, to look at really everything that's done, being done from the point of view of that expanded identity from just being an individual self, to being part of a community, and maybe even more important and part of a Commons, which is an interesting concept, because it's a very old concept. And yet, it's a very new concept in the way it's being re-understood in the modern world. And, you know, oftentimes, when I first came across this notion of Commons, I was thinking, oh, there's some sort of medieval thing about like, you put your sheep on some pasture that doesn't apply to day to day lived experience today. But it turns out the Commons is not just something you share, like a watershed or a river or something, a commons, it is actually a form of organizing a form of identity of being a human with other people, and working into it interactively with shared resources that are not as resources to exploit but actually a part of your own actual community itself.
And so looking at things from that Commons perspective, gets to be crucial, because then if you've got some ideas, and you think, oh, we should start up some approach to a project, which can ultimately move into some sort of business, whatever, rather than making it a for profit business, and going like, oh, okay, you know, it's reasonable, I want to do well, by doing good and make money.
But as I'm doing this, look at the ways in which you can organize it as a commons, ways in which you can share the benefits with other people around you. And so as you're building something, you're building it for everyone, and not just being part of this capitalist system that leads inevitably to making compromises and undermining those great ideas to begin with, if you're not careful about it.
So those are some of the principles I'd say, are essential in building this different kind of model that that can attract people towards it. And one thing I would just add to is, and I was talking before about the principle of integration, that notion of "unity with differentiation in a system" and how that leads to true healthy systems. So similarly, while it's incredibly important to be focused on your own bioregion and your own community, and that's the core, it's also very important to establish meaningful connections with people in other bioregions, and share with them your best practices, learn from them other practices. And if they're very different, like a very different kind of bio region, very different kind of culture, then be open to what you can learn from those differences. So that when we get to build, and it's called, in systems thinking, small world property of complex systems where there's a lots of connections within a small one narrow part of the network, and then a few connections connected to very different other parts of the network. That's what a healthy system looks like. And that's why it's important to build in our own reorientation of a life affirming culture.
Larry Greene 39:58
Boy that is so well stated, and I think you've used the term "shared" a couple of times "shared identity", "shared purpose", and "shared resources". I think the point is that when you bring people together in a local, bioregional area, and of course, expanding out to the whole world, it's like a two way street. If a community or an individual is a node, and there's a hub like the bio region, there are tremendous amounts of communication and transference of actionable information (intelligence) that flows among the parts, and with the hub. And that, of course, extends beyond when you create a network of bioregions.
So figuring out how to create a model that works and can be replicated, at least the process in other areas, understanding that every place is different, seems to present many opportunities for discourse and action. So how do we educate more people? And this comes back to worldview to make that change, so that we can create that life affirming path forward. Do we need to look at a political process or a social process or both for people to come together and go through this process of deliberation once they have a shared interests and a sense of shared purpose? And, as you have stated, how does this really empower people in their local communities toget engaged? How would you go about doing that?
Jeremy Lent 41:48
Yeah, you're certainly asking the tough questions, and the right ones. So I'm so glad we're looking at these. And of course, you know, just to be clear, some of these are questions to which there's no one simple answer, and I'm certainly not claiming that I've got the answer, but I do have perspectives to share.
I think the one thing we need to recognize is that as part of this kind of global dominance system it is not just a matter of these transnational corporations owning the fundamental financial system, and the economics and the means of production, everything. They also own the media. So we might have the best ideas, but those ideas don't get transmitted.
And the ideas that get transmitted are the ideas that sell advertising basically. And the ones that buttress the dominant worldview and they are designed so that people find them not too intimidating or not difficult to get their heads around. And so that's where your question gets to be even more critical. We need this change, this shift in consciousness, but the means of actual transmitting ideas to people on a mass scale, are owned by the same disruptive sources of profit.
So I think that what we have to do is recognize that it's a little bit like thinking if, for example, you're walking in a forest and you see stuff around you, you see the trees, and you see the birds flying around. What you don't see are those tree roots down below the earth that are all connected with each other through this mycorrhizal fungal network. They're actually transmitting information to each other and even transmitting resources underground. So it's like this hidden network that in some ways is even more powerful than all the stuff that you're seeing above ground.
Similarly, we, ourselves, those of us working towards this life affirming future, have our own mycorrhizal network, which can be manifested in the very things that are happening right now -- this conversation, and those people who are listening to this conversation, then they transmit it to others in their network. They may not make the headlines but it's an incredibly powerful network. And it's not just a network of ideas and like conversation, but it's almost like a deep, below-the-conscious level network of the ways in which we show up in the world, the ways in which we relate to each other with compassion and openness and curiosity.
And so each of us has a part to play. There's not like one solution where somebody comes along and puts a certain colored dye into this whole mycorrhizal network and is done. It's much more about each of us recognizing the "whip" part of that network that is empowering because we realize it's not like none of us are going to change this world system by ourselves. But each of us can actually be part of some force which is so much greater than any of us, but to do that, and this is a crucial shift in orientation, I believe that we have to consciously shift our attention, not just to what we are doing that feels so important and life affirming and right. In addition, we want other people to know that this is what we're doing and to look at how we can support and reinforce what others are doing around us. This is how a network develops its power.
There's this thing called Metcalfe's Law, which is recognizing that the power of a network is actually a function of a square of its connections. What that means is that if you've tripled the connections, you don't just add three times as much power to the network, but nine times as much power! In this way the network exponentially expands, but that only happens when those connections amplify the signal rather than deaden the signal when that connection happens.
This means that each of us, every one of our conversations is one of those nodes in that ultimate massive system. When we're having those interactions, it's important for each of us to think that once my identity gets to expand it's no longer just about me, but it's about my community, and this is a
life-affirming shift. It's natural to say: "Oh, how can I help what this other person is doing?" Then you begin to get as much of a sense of meaning and achievement when you see somebody else achieving something that you had a part in seeing and making that happen. And when your own achievement is seen that's when the network begins to act powerfully off of this ability to create real, true transformation.
Larry Greene 46:39
I love where you're going with this. So in other words, what you're really saying is that while we have all been taught that competition is critical in our life, and this is what you've got to do. There's an old addage that says: there's this person to the right of you and this person to the left of you and only one of the three of you is going to make it." You know that's going be when you get into the competition of it all. You know, collaboration throughout all life, is really how these whole systems actually operate within your body, within a forest, within all aspects of life. So can you speak to the importance of collaboration, and what it can be gained by following this path? Why is the idea of collaboration so powerful? How can it create so much positive, good energy when we're all moving in the same direction?
Jeremy Lent 47:44
Yeah, I'm glad you raised this issue. And it comes back to that discussion we were having early on in this conversation about how our dominant worldview is not just dangerous, but flawed. One of the things that we take for granted, as well as cooperation, is that competition is what really drives everything. In fact we're told that because of The Selfish Gene Theory of Evolution that life itself evolved through competition. And then we're saying competition is clearly what makes humans so successful. We out-competed other species, and then even among human beings, we understand competition is what makes the market work and that all the benefits of our modern life happened because we live in this marketplace-based society. So it's absolutely pounded into us to the point that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because then we become part of this competitive lifestyle. And we see that when we out-compete something we gain some temporary praise from that. We believe that reinforces that so it's true.
Turns out all that is wrong. Actually, what and when evolutionary biologists look at life itself, what they now recognize is that there's only been a few big shifts in the complexity of life since it began on Earth nearly 4 billion years ago. For example, take the evolution to complex cells and multicellular organisms and mammals and the world which we know now. Every one of those shifts came about, not through organisms learning to be more competitive, but the exact opposite, by learning to collaborate with other organisms. So one entity that specialized in one particular skill, then got to collaborate with another specialist in something else. And together, they created a positive sum game. So in fact, there's a secret life discovered that is called "mutually beneficial symbiosis of organisms" -- learning to work together for the benefit of each other, so everyone benefits more than when they were separate.
That's actually one of the great shifts in life's complexity. And it's just as true for human beings. What actually differentiates us from other primates is not the way we out-competed each other, but the opposite. A few million years ago our hominid ancestors found themselves in the savanna. It was a dangerous new environment. What they learned is that those groups that collaborated better were more successful. So we actually developed human instincts for collaboration, human instincts about things like fairness, and respecting people who are generous, and actually being willing to put our own selves on the line, to make something right out of a sense of what's right for the group. All those ideas, or those feelings, are part of our evolved human existence, and that's for 95 plus percent of of human history. We lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers who developed a sense of values based on that kind of shared human instinct.
And if occasionally, a big dude got sort of too big for his britches, and had some of that sort of alpha male type drive that got too strong, the whole community would work together to keep that person from getting out of control in that sense. So they developed really complex social technologies to minimize the risk of something like that. That's what we can organize around today...those the same shared human instincts that we have within us. And that ability to focus on collaboration enables us to really understand a fundamental element to this idea of an ecological civilization, one this is actually built on life-affirming principles, rather than the principles that have caused so much destruction.
Larry Greene 51:50
I agree completely with that. I wanted to go back to another questions before we go to some more or less rapid fire questions for you. And it's something that I've struggled with, I would say, since the 80s. I was in business as well as you, and I worked in media. As a matter of fact, I worked to see how we could bring people together around the same issues. And I had this belief for many years -- and actually, I would say I still do, although it's, it's waning -- that capitalism could be changed into socially responsible capitalism, through B Corporations, and other forms of business arrangements in the economic sphere such as cooperatives, employee stock ownership programs and businesses. We know of examples where the people who control their business have some ethical or moral values that determine how they do business. I'm really beginning to lose a little faith in that belief, but I'm not sure what replaces that in our economic system. The dominant system is so powerful.
Jeremy Lent 53:22
Yeah, yeah, no, this is this is profoundly important. And it's a complex question. There's not a simple way to approach it. A more fundamental way to approach this is to just look at capitalism itself. What does it actually mean? It's no surprise that capitalism first emerged at the same time and place as this worldview of domination of nature and exploitation and extraction of resources came into being. Basically capitalism is the economic system of that worldview. It's one that with the limited liability corporation basically says we're going to give the economic upside to those people who exploit the most but limit their downside. That was a basic aspecdt of corporations that became more prevalent in more recent times -- in the last 100 or 150 years. It's become entrenched in law so that a shareholder company, especially one that is public, actually has to maximize growth and shareholder returns above anything else or the board of directors and CEO can get sued. I mean, it's like they have to do that. And that's part of capitalism. It's not just that it just happened that way. The very goal of the system is to exploit and extract as much as possible to see the living Earth not as something that has dignity of its own, but as a resource and to see other human beings not as part of a shared collaborative, but as other resources to exploit and to take advantage of their labor or to exploit their minds to push consumer goods on them, etc.
So, because of that, I do think that the idea of socially responsible capitalism is truly an oxymoron, that capitalism is desired and is designed to be socially destructive, to extract profit out of people's communal desires. Facebook is a perfect example of an enterprise that seems like this wonderful connector of billions of people around the world. But it's designed not to help people connect, but to suck value from those connections from those eyeballs.
Still I do think we have to recognize that having said that, I don't think that it's harmful for business entities to have a triple bottom line with an emphasis on social and environmental as well as profit goals, or B Corporations, to show what can be done when companies voluntarily make those choices and actually shift their charter to look for a triple bottom line. While I think that's valuable, iI don't believe it is not going to change anything because 99% plus of the transnational corporations aren't going to do that. And even if one did that, if some enlightened board actually chose to become benefit a beneficial corporation, they would then lose out to all the other ones that had no morals.
And so if there's some copper mine that could be bought, and maximized and cause massive pollution, some company is prepared to do that and make tons of money out of the copper. Another company says, "Well, no, we're not going to do that, because we have a triple bottom line philosophy,they'll lose out. In the end, they won't be able to compete in this Dog Eat Dog system of market capitalism.
But the reason I think the triple bottom line and philosophies like that are so important is that they give models for what can then be expanded to our entire society. So one of the things that I'm a proponent of, for example, is to make it so that these large transnational corporations are only allowed to have a charter if it is a triple bottom line charter. And that charter would be up for renewal every few years. If the company didn't meet that triple bottom line, they would be closed down, just like declaring bankruptcy, and the shares given out to their employees and those other stakeholders. And that would be it for those original shareholders.
So one little shift like that, which could be done pretty much overnight -- if there was political will to do it -- could transform the very basis of capitalism and then it's no longer capitalism. We can still have markets and corporations but then they're existing in a system which is not actually capitalism because it's not based fundamentally on exploitation and extraction, but based on a balancing of an integrated way of living in embedded in a bigger system.
Larry Greene 58:16
I feel like we are just barely scratching the surface, and we're coming to an end. But man, I'd love to get back into this one. In any case, here's some rapid fire questions, which in many cases, you've already answered to the degree but I am interested in your quick, off the cuff response. What are you most passionate about?
Jeremy Lent 58:44
Really, it's about serving life. For me, being on my own personal journey of discovery is at some point to realize that actually that's what my life is here for. I've essentially given myself to the survival of life. Each day I ask what is it that I can do that is truly to the benefit of all life, which you know, involves living my own life to the fullest and involves looking at my skills. What can I do to really be part of this great transformation? So that's what makes me passionate and I feel anyone who gets to that place would share that same passion because it's so clear that you don't have to look for it. It's there within us, it's who we are.
Larry Greene 59:38
I so agree with that. That certainly is what gives my life meaning right now. I understand that coming to this realization is really a wonderful feeling. What's the most valuable lesson or lessons you've learned in your life?
Jeremy Lent 59:58
hmm wow, that's a great question. Thank you.
Well, I think maybe the most valuable lesson I've learned in my life is the importance of including everything in this kind of embrace of total connectedness. That's when we look at what it means to recognize this sort of deep inter-connectedness. When we look within ourselves, there are parts of ourselves that every one of us feels. "Oh, that's like a bad part that needs to be fixed or overcome", or whatever. To me, the fundamental shift was when I realized that, actually, I don't have to think in those separate ways but I can embrace everything within myself with compassion and love. And coming from that approach, I can then take that same orientation, embrace that with all the other people around me and to all of life around me. And so really coming from that place of an unconditional love is such a powerful way to approach things.
And that doesn't mean "unconditional niceness". It doesn't mean when some a fascist group is marching down the street, and seeing slogans of hate or whatever that I mean to just always say that's okay. But it means that when I relate to those things, I recognize that even those people have something soft and caring within them that they've had to push down and almost destroy within themselves because of the way in which they have been conditioned. And so turning to even those people and those forces with love, and with this powerful recognition that we need to all connect at a deeper layer is probably the most significant thing I've learned.
Larry Greene 1:01:54
Wonderful. So you've talked about all the joy of being an integrator, and an integrative thinker and doer? What's the most difficult part of that role?
Jeremy Lent 1:02:11
I love these deep, personal questions. I think maybe the most difficult part of that role sort of follows on from what I was saying earlier -- that when you get to this place of really fully embracing every part of yourself, then you kind of notice that each day you're maybe not living up to that intention you set and then you find yourself rejecting this or whatever. This is what is both most difficult, but then it becomes this incredibly powerful response to then turn to that moment and realize you can embrace that, too. So it's that kind of shifting, essentially, to there's like an infinite layer of kindness. Each time we discover that we have failed ourselves, that we didn't meet up to our own criteria, you can then turn to that with a new layer of kindness. So it's kind of difficult in the sense that it's always there as a challenge. But then it sort of takes what is difficult, and then turns it into the most useful possibility, if that makes any sense to you.
Larry Greene 1:03:32
Yeah. I would imagine that because of all the deep self-awareness work you've done, the work you're doing in the world, and how you feel about it. One might think you sleep like a peaceful baby, ut is there anything that keeps you up at night?
Jeremy Lent 1:03:53
Well, I think what keeps me up at night, and what's always there as a source of incredible disturbance is just this horrible path of destruction that I see our society on. I see the world undergoing and the deep, deep suffering with our brotherhood and sisterhood of human beings, the deep suffering from the wars taking place, like we see right now this horrendous set of atrocities in Ukraine, but also the deep sufferings and incredible inequities that our society has created, and the deep suffering of all of life. And when one's sense of identity expands to include all life, you can't get away from this deeply felt sense every day, knowing that I am life and I'm being destroyed by the civilization and it hurts. And so that, in itself, no matter how much we and I do talk about not being attached to outcomes and just giving yourself to what is good, I know that this feeling is always there -- this recognition of this devastation that's taking place and the vastness, the scope of it is kind of almost it's like too much for any of us to hold in its fullness. Just being aware of it out there is a very difficult challenge.
Larry Greene 1:05:26
Yes it really is. I have felt this pain and carried this pain for close to 40 years since I first became aware of this and started doing my work in this area. At the same time, realizing and facing those fears and concerns, and bringing them into close encounter while also finding my balance in life by enjoying the beauty of all life around me and my relationships with people, and so on helps me find my balance. While I never ever lose sight of that pain, this helps balance me out to continue moving forward. One needs to find a way to regenerate the energy and life. And it's through all of the love that you mentioned. So what do you do to ease your concerns? How do you balance your work and your passion with your life?
Jeremy Lent 1:06:43
Well, I'm personally very fortunate to have a partner with whom we share a deep love. And to me that it has been most nutritious, like a fundamental source of energy and life, life-giving sort of wands, if you will. So I'm personally very fortunate in that regard.
And I've been talking a lot about balance, and I try to keep my life balanced in terms of trying to keep practices of mindfulness, meditation and embedded practices like Qigong, a Chinese practice similar to Tai Chi, which is very important to me. This is something I do every day. It's really a way of harmonizing all the different energy flows within me. And I love walking in woods, we call it nature, which I think is such a joke, because we are nature, but walking in some of the more naturally undisturbed parts of of the world around us gives me balance. That's a beautiful way to re-energize and feel more connected with all of life around us. So basically just trying to balance these things.
And while I am doing this, I recognize above all this concept that I call in my book, "fractal flourishing", which is that the flourishing at one layer of identity requires the flourishing of other layers. This means, in one sense, that as an individual, I'm not going to be fully healthy and happy, unless I'm part of a society that's healthy and happy. But it works the other way too, that if I want to contribute the most to life, I don't believe that it means sacrificing so much that I feel resentful, or lost or tight, or, you know, just limited in my own scope. I think it means really living my life to the fullest that I can in a truly meaningful way, allows me to then really take that good energy and offer that out into the world. So I don't believe that our own flourishing as a human being is actually in a zero sum game with what's good for the rest of life. But quite the contrary.
Larry Greene 1:09:12
Yeah. You brought up something that was really interesting about your love of going out into what we call nature. I'm very familiar with the San Francisco Bay bioregion. I lived in Marin for years. Where would you take somebody who has never been out to visit the San Francisco Bay bioregion to give them some sense of what you love about that region?
Jeremy Lent 1:09:42
Oh, yeah. Well, basically, I would take them out to my favorite area, past Point Reyes for people who know the area. If you go past Point Reyes, there's a beautiful peninsula, where there's this almost completely undeveloped area and beautiful hiking trails and beautiful beaches, also this is where it meets the ocean. And there's this wonderful sense that I get of really connecting with the true spirit of this region. So that's just a personal favorite place of mine.
Larry Greene 1:10:26
Boy I agree with you, Limantour beach out there is just fabulous and a favorite of mine as well. Okay, what do you hold sacred?
Jeremy Lent 1:10:38
I hold life sacred. And then recognizing that the universe itself is what sets the conditions for life to arise on this earth. I hold the entire universe and every manifestation of it as sacred has something to reverence.
Larry Greene 1:11:00
So as you know our focus is on the question of what makes a resilient, regenerative, healthy bioregion?
Jeremy Lent 1:11:15
Yeah, well, I think that, in many ways, is the answer to that question and is the same answer to the question of what defines a real healthy ecological civilization. Because as we talked about the bioregion, it is a core part of that sort of organizing system. And so, ultimately, it would come to first and fundamentally: Is the core value for all organizational decision making structures to be based on what is truly life affirming? And to have the objective to set the conditions for full human flourishing on a regenerated Earth where the whole of Earth is regenerated in a way that it can be flourishing. So then, the core principle of mutually beneficial symbiosis being the thing that then infuses both the decisions we make in relation to non-human nature around us, and those that we take in relation to our social organization with others. And just adding to that, basically, do the organizational systems encourage commons-based activities, where new projects and businesses are developed in cooperative forms rather than those capitalistic forms. And one that is ultimately based on a culture of what some people call a "partnership society" rather than a "domination society".
So once you recognize the destructive elements of these deeply embedded beliefs in our culture, like patriarchy, and racism, which shows up in so many different ways, both from the extreme and ugly to much more subtle ways, one recognizes that all those different elements of hierarchical and exploitative systems are not necessary. They're what we learned from childhood onwards. But we can unlearn them and we can develop partnerships societies where we're teaching new generations to actually live their lives according to the basic principles of their true human nature.
Larry Greene 1:13:39
Well, Jeremy, it has been such a fantastic conversation. I've really enjoyed it and and once again, I always learn so much from you. Is there any question that you wished I would have asked you? Is there anything else as far as key takeaways that you want to leave with our listeners?
Jeremy Lent 1:14:00
Yeah, well, thanks. And I really just want to thank you, Larry, for actually an amazing set of profound and wide ranging questions, I feel that we've covered so much. So I don't think there's a particular question that I would liked you to have asked, but maybe just to leave everyone finishing this conversation just on this recognition that we've been talking a lot about the future. And you know, whether we can feel positive or negative about it or how we have to engage with it, it's important just to recognize that, to me, what is really meaningful is to realize that whatever happens in the future, it's not a spectator sport. We're actually all part of it. We can even think of the future itself as this verb. We are all "futuring" together. It's like this collaborative exercise of us in every conversation, we take part in it. Every micro-decision we make, every big decision we make, they're all parts of this systemic shift that is possible. So we're all basically creating the future and realizing that going out into the world on that path is what life is calling from each of us. I would urge everyone to explore what that means to them.
Larry Greene 1:15:22
Well, I'm certainly on board with you and, and engaged in futuring with you, not only in the Deep Transformation Network and all the good work you're doing, but I really want to integrate more of your thinking in what we're doing up here. I think you have a great deal of wisdom to share with the people in our bioregion and maybe we can do some courses or something of that nature, whatever works out. I really want to develop a collaborative relationship with you as we deal with the question that we started when we when we joined the Deep Transformation Network. And that is, how do we get there? How do we get on to that path? And I think that's what I am really focusing on. And I know that's the focus of your third book..
Jeremy Lent 1:16:13
Larry Greene 1:16:13
I hope that we can share our knowledge and experiences in the Salish Sea Bioregion to further that work with our backs, minds and hearts.
Jeremy Lent 1:16:24
That is great. Thank you so much for all that, Larry, and maybe just to leave everybody with knowing what are the next steps they can take with the Deep Transformation Network that you're talking about. Just to give context to people, it is a network that I just helped kick off at the beginning of 2022. It's a network that invites anyone who feels the sense of this deep transformation that is needed in the world and wants to be part of it in one way or another. So I invite your listeners to join this online community. At the moment, it's got nearly 2000 people from around the world. They are invited to be part of our ongoing conversation about what is needed and sharing a sense of shared vision with others from everywhere around. So you can find that at www.deep transformation.network. And you can just sign up and be part of it.
Larry Greene 1:17:29
Thank you again very much for joining with me today. We greatly appreciate your participation.
Jeremy Lent 1:17:34
It has been a great conversation. Take care.
Larry Greene 1:17:37
I hope you found Jeremy's view enlightening and inspiring. When we view our lives through a more life affirming lens, I believe this perspective deepens our understanding and appreciation for our living world. It gives us a better sense of who we are, what we are, and encourages all of us to think more deeply about the purpose of our lives. As Jeremy eloquently puts it, our core values need to be life affirming and set the conditions for human flourishing in mutual beneficial symbiosis with all human and non-human life. We need to develop ways for us to create partnership societies. Jeremy makes the point that whatever happens in the future is not a spectator sport. We all have a stake in the future. And it is our responsibility to get involved in whatever makes sense to each of us so that we can work for a better life for all.
For more information, visit Jeremy's page on our website, www.navigatingourfuture.org/guest/jeremy-lent, along with a copy of this interview, a transcript and more information about Jeremy's work. I think you will greatly appreciate his two most recent video presentations. Check out Jeremy's great two part series describing what an ecological civilization is and how it works in practice.
And if you appreciate our ongoing series, Navigating Our Future, please consider contributing to us on our subscriber donate page. Navigating Our Future is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization so your contribution is tax deductible. Thank you for your support.