Some 75th Anniversary Reflections
By Guy Dauncey
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will
Listen here: Sam Cooke
To the left of me, to the right of me, in front and behind, I see people giving up on the belief that we can change the world.
Saying awful things about humanity, fearing awful things about the climate crisis, feeling awful things about the future. Feeling panic. Feeling trapped. Good people, kind people, thoughtful people, drowning under all the bad news. Just can’t see a way forward. Concluding that it’s all too late.
It’s an easy case to make. Just combine Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine, the ever-worsening climate catastrophe, the collapse of nature, the multi-billion profits being made by oil companies and other selfish ruthless corporations, the struggles of ordinary folk to pay their bills, the smugness of the billionaires as they avoid paying their taxes. Throw in the struggles of the migrating refugees, the food crisis that has put hunger back in people’s bellies, the attacks on democracy by ignorant people who think they understand it all. It doesn’t take much to feel discouraged.
Yet here I am, at my 75th birthday, still believing with all my heart, soul and mind that the moral arc of the Universe bends towards justice, towards reconciliation with nature, towards kindness with our fellow humans, and yes, towards wisdom. I love this world so much, and the amazing life it gives us. This doesn’t come from the thoughts in my head. It comes from life itself, that beats within me. So let me share seven reasons why I continue to feel positive, no matter how bad things are.
1: The Achievements of our Ancestors
I love history. I hope that when I reach the end in that big white bed I’ll still be enjoying it. My hope doesn’t come from the myriad awful things our ancestors have done. It comes from the amazing things:
- From their persistent commitment to kindness, which has allowed most children to grow up knowing love, and being able to pass it on.
- From their commitment to cooperation, which has kept alive the practice of mutual care and its modern expression in a million non-profits, in the welfare state, in non-dogmatic religious congregations, and in the many institutions of the emerging cooperative economy.
- From their commitment to political struggle, and their determination to challenge the power and privilege of elites, forcing open the doors of democracy and social justice.
- From their commitment to human rights, mobilizing through endless meetings to win rights for workers, for women, for Jews, for Blacks, for immigrants, for gay people, for people with disabilities, for children.
- From their commitment to confront and oppose the thousand cruelties and injustices that have been imposed on people by colonialism, racism, caste, fascism, and Nazism.
- From their commitment to free enquiry. By discarding superstitions and throwing wide open the doors of science they have enabled us to begin learning the secrets of the Universe. If you doubt this, then give up your cellphone, your TV, your car, your washing machine, your antibiotics, your anaesthetics, your overseas holidays, your freedom from oppression by nonsense and superstition.
Our ancestors worked so hard to achieve so much, and most people’s lives today are so much the better for it, in spite of our many challenges. If you doubt this, pick up a history book. If we turn our backs on their achievements, we are saying in effect that their efforts and their sacrifices don’t matter.
2: The Many Glorious Movements for Social Change
My second source of hope – and pride – comes from the work that engages so many people in the many glorious movements for social change. If you are not in one of these movements, you may not know they are happening. Your despair, perhaps even your cynicism, may be grounded in not-knowing.
If you are in one of these movements, on the other hand, whether it is the movement for gun control, for climate action, for women’s rights, for democracy, for prison and criminal law reform, for animal rights, for the protection of nature, for affordable housing, for Indigenous rights, for Black Lives Matter, for a living wage, for the education of girls, for #MeToo, for LGBTQIA+ rights, for disability rights, for global justice, for the success of a progressive political party, or any one of fifty other causes, you know how determined their members are.
If you are watching your favorite sports team play and they are behind in the final period, you can be optimistic or pessimistic, for you have no control over the outcome. If you are a player, these thoughts are irrelevant. You have only two choices – to be determined or to be defeated, and if it’s the latter, your coach will hopefully replace you. If you are a player, you do whatever you can, however small your resources.
Every day, we wake up to learn about some new awful thing that has happened in the world. And yes, I know how much grief, death and disaster the climate catastrophe will continue to deliver. My defense against depression or anxiety is action. I don’t need to do everything. I just need to know that I am doing whatever I can, through my work in the West Coast Climate Action Network, my new book, and other activities.
3: Cooperation and Kindness
My third source of hope comes from knowing that most people want to live by values of cooperation and kindness, not by selfish values of status and self-importance. In 2015, when the Common Cause Foundation in Britain surveyed people, 74% said they wanted to live by compassionate values, regardless of age, gender, religion, or political preference, while 26% preferred status values. For 300,000 years or more, our hunter-gatherer ancestors emphasized mutual kindness and cooperation, going out of their way to suppress selfishness and self-importance. It’s in our blood, and our genes. We can do it again.
A team from Harvard created an Intergenerational Goods Game which came up with a similar result. When they put people in groups and gave them resources they could share across future generations, 68% chose to sacrifice profit so that future generations could benefit, while 32% took the profit, ignoring future generations. Most people want to live with kindness and cooperation. Even when they feel hopeless, deep down they have compassion for other people, and hopefully for nature too.
I share Bernie Sanders’ belief, whose book It’s OK to be Angry About Capitalism I am currently reading, that, “very deep in the souls of most people is a desire to be a part of their community, and to contribute to its well-being.” Clearly, things can go askew when people face severe adversity, as they did in Germany in 1933, when six million people were unemployed and people flocked to the Nazi party, setting off one of humanity’s worst self-inflicted disasters. If we allow the billionaires and their political buddies to have their selfish ways for much longer, the impulse towards fascism will become stronger, which is why we need to achieve the things that will neutralize the impulse: economic democracy and rights, full employment, decent wages for all, and the economic security that comes with a proper welfare state.
4: An Inspiring Cohesive Vision
My fourth source of hope lies in my belief that somewhere out there, somewhere in the pregnancy of the future, is a luminous call that will inspire us to unite in a huge citizens movement, proclaiming:
“We need a new economy!
We need a new social contract!
We need a new ecological civilization!
We need to make this happen – NOW!”
I work in the realms of social, economic and environmental change, and I have no trouble listing policies and changes that could unite millions. To express this hope, I have just finished writing The Economics of Kindness: 247 Ways to End the Economics of Selfishness and Build an Economy that Works for All, for which I am now seeking an agent, or a publisher. Around the world, millions of people are busy building a new economy that expresses kindness and cooperation. It’s only a matter of time before our work coalesces into a cohesive vision that is not capitalist, and not socialist in the negative way most people think of socialism, but cooperative. The market economy itself is cooperative, if you strip it of the abuses excused in its name by greedy corporations and individuals. For kindness to win, we must resist the tendency to self-importance wherever it shows up, since it is the gateway drug to domination and abuse.
5: The Power of Compassionate Agency
My fifth source of hope is personal. It is the knowledge that I have agency – that I can choose to make things happen. I have used it to work with others to start several non-profits, most recently the West Coast Climate Action Network. This is, admittedly, a two-edged sword, for a million bullies and thuggish CEOs have similar agency. In addition to agency we need compassion, so that we use our agency to heal wounds, not to cause them.
The creativity of compassionate agency can be very powerful. The people of Finland, when they faced being swallowed by Russia in 1899, formed the Pellervo Society, dedicated to spreading cooperative enterprise. By 1909 they had formed 1,800 cooperatives, and Finland today is the most cooperative economy in the world. In India, in 1974, when villagers in the Garhwal region of the Himalayas saw that their forest was about to be logged, they linked arms around the trees, launching the Chipkomovement, and winning control of their forests from the hands of distant bureaucrats. In Europe, in 2022, Greenpeace dropped boulders onto the floor of English Channel to stop industrial trawlers from destroying all with their metal-toothed nets in their selfish quest for profit. The only limits to compassionate agency are limits of courage and imagination.
6: Science, Spirit, and Syntropy
My sixth source of hope is scientific. The Universe is almost fourteen billion years old. During that time, something inspired sparkles of stardust to form molecules, molecules to form organisms, and organisms to create an explosion of living beauty. Evolution has generated a steadily increasing organizational complexity within life. Most scientists, who hold that the universe is a strictly material phenomenon, believe that this all happened by chance. When you ask them about consciousness, however, which is the origin of agency, they twiddle their thumbs and look at the floor.
I believe that there is more than entropy at work in the Universe. I believe there is a balancing principle called syntropy – a cooperative, self-organizational tendency that operates through consciousness, which I believe to be pervasive throughout all being. It is syntropy which generates the drive to create order and to seek new possibilities, which causes atoms to cooperate to become molecules, couples to put in the effort to make their marriages work, and humans to devote their lives to ensuring that the climate crisis does not become a global catastrophe. Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but it is also cooperative in soothe and paw. The tension between the two will probably continue forever. Which side do you want to be on? Seen through the eyes of syntropy, the felt urgency of the need for radical change has its origin in this ancient cosmic impulse. This means that my faith that good things are possible is as ancient as the Universe itself.
My seventh source of hope is spiritual. When I was three our mother became very ill, and with my two sisters we were packed off to various institutions, where we spent three months discovering the joys of full parental abandonment. At the age of eight I was packed off to a boarding school, where my nickname was ‘mouse’, because I spoke so little. I was shy, frightened, and inwardly traumatized. There followed five years of being bullied at a second boarding school, awakening my sympathy for everyone on the wrong side of abuse, and years of feeling myself to be not really worthy, not somehow as I ought to be.
Fast forward to my late twenties, and a new wave of abandonment-grief when the woman I was living with left me very suddenly. In my grief, once I had determined that suicide was a selfish action, and not being drawn to drugs or drink, I had but one option – to surrender entirely, to let the grief wash through me as I lay collapsed on the floor, asking the Universe for help. That was when I discovered that the bottom is solid, that Life itself wants you to live. After five months, with help from friends, I picked myself up, enrolled in a program of psychosynthesis therapy, and came out the other end with my negativity banished, scattered to the winds by one powerful thought that arrived during therapy, that, “If God – the Universe – The Great Spirit – believes I am worthy,” which I believe it does, “who the f**k do I think I am to think I know better?” I have been consistently happy ever since.
I know from personal experience that the Universe is not just a material thing. It is imbued with spirit. It wants us to speak kindly to our wounds, to find healing, to enjoy the wild celebratory reality of this astonishing thing called Life. So when I say ‘surrender’, I also mean happy surrender to beauty, to Nature, and to the astonishing gift of being alive.
Like all activists for social change, I experience many disappointments. I also know that a chance event can destroy your life in a moment. Just ask the 51,000 people of Eastern Turkey and Syria, who kissed each other goodnight on February 6th and woke up suddenly at 4:17am to be crushed to death, either then or several awful days later. I survived a car crash in 1973 which killed two of my friends. That was luck.
I also acknowledge that I lucked out in the ovarian lottery. I was born into a white, privileged, well-educated English family whose lands had not been stolen (except from my Scottish ancestors in the Highland Clearances), and whose people had not been enslaved, abused, or forced into residential schools. It was my ancestors, or their fellow citizens, who did the stealing, enslaving and abusing. I also understand the challenges of depression and other forms of mental illness, which can make living such a hard, uphill task. I have also been fortunate in that when I asked the Universe to send me a partner with whom I could share my life’s journey and fulfil my life’s purpose, the Universe responded in a very hands-on tangible manner, using the Findhorn Foundation as an intermediary. That was 33 happy years ago. I am fortunate too that we live without the burden of unmanageable debt, and that we live on the right side of the housing crisis (thanks to a gay aunt), so we don’t have to be stressed by unaffordable rent and fears of eviction.
The hope that supports me is bigger than death. It will persist long after I am gone. I believe that it comes from Life itself, and the Universe that created Life. It knows the promise that lies ahead, and things of which we have no inkling. It knows that if we can say yes to kindness and to helping each other and Nature, and no to self-importance, domination and abuse, many wonderful things will come to pass.
It is we, in this life, who have the agency, the opportunity and the responsibility to make these things happen.
Guy Dauncey is an author, organizer and futurist, based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. He works to develop a positive vision of a sustainable future, and to translate that vision into action. His website is www.thepracticalutopian.ca