Escaping the Matrix: the 20 minute version


Richard Moore


Here is a 20 minute talk I'm planning to use 
during my tour, at bookstores and other public 

It's quite a challenge trying to get the main 
ideas of the book into such a short form.

As usual, feedback invited.




Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

Imagine a wide river, flowing swiftly toward a precipitous waterfall.

Our civilization is a ship on that river, 
steaming full-speed ahead downstream, heading 
right for the falls, and the rocks below.

The only way we can avoid that catastrophe is to 
turn the ship around and steam the other way.

Slowing down the ship is no real help, that only 
postpones disaster for a little while. Protest 
movements, political reforms, and personal 
life-style choices are only capable of slowing 
down the ship a bit. And if we look at our global 
track record, despite all our brave activism, we 
aren't even succeeding in slowing the ship down.

Who is at the helm of our ships of state? We all 
know the answer to that: it's people like Bush & 
Cheney & Blair -- and the folks behind them, 
people like Rockefeller, the DuPonts, and 
Kissinger --the elites of business, oil, and 
finance. These folks are totally committed to 
continuing on our current path, what they call 
'economic growth'. As long as they're in control, 
they don't care if there are famines and economic 
collapses. For example, the Great Depression was 
very beneficial to such people -- they foreclosed 
on thousands of farms and launched the modern 
agribusiness industry when the Depression was 
over. They used the depression increase their 
ownership share of everything, at bargain prices.

Ladies and gentlemen, the only way we can save 
humanity is by gaining control of the helms of 
our societies. That is the only way the ship can 
be turned around.  Impossible as it may seem, we 
need to create real democracy. We need to learn 
how to govern our own societies -- to govern 
ourselves. For 4,000 years, ever since 
civilization began, we've been controlled by one 
elite or another. We have finally reached the 
point where we cannot afford to put up with it 
any longer. Either we learn how to govern 
ourselves or we perish. I'd like to share with 
you a quote that I use at the beginning of my 


    "We've lived so long under the spell of hierarchy-from
     god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses-that only recently
     have we awakened to see not only that "regular" citizens
     have the capacity for self-governance, but that without
     their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed.
     The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let
     alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move
     toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel
     meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement.
     Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to
     yield to directives from on high."
     -Frances Moore Lappé, "Time for Progressives to Grow Up"

What I'd like to talk about today is how we can 
begin this kind of 'direct engagement'...  What 
is real democracy? What does it look like? How 
can we achieve it? I'll be talking about these 
things for a while, putting some ideas before 
you. Then I'd like to open it up for questions 
and discussion.


The word 'democracy' is rather abstract. I think 
a better term is 'self-governance'. Democracy is 
about governing ourselves, as a society. This 
isn't something we have any experience at. It's 
something we need to learn how to do.

Everywhere in our society, when we want to get 
something done, we seek solutions in terms of 
hierarchies. When we engage in political 
lobbying, we are asking our hierarchical 
governments to solve our problems. When we join a 
political party, or an environmental 
organization, we are expecting a centralized 
leadership to fight for our causes. If we get 
involved in a local citizen's group, we usually 
end up delegating to some committee, to actually 
'get things done'. Our model is always to 
delegate actual decision making to some central 
organization, some hierarchy. That's how we 'get 
things done' in our society.

And hierarchies do work, they do get things done, 
but they aren't necessarily the things we want 
done. In the long-run we pay a high price for 
this delegation of power, as we can see from the 
course civilization has taken, where it has 
brought us to. Hierarchies, particularly on a 
large scale, always end up being controlled by 
elite cliques and wealthy interests. It's always 
been this way all through history, right up until 
today, with Bush and the neocons. And these 
elites think of humanity as something to be 
exploited, just like resources are exploited, 
just like cattle are exploited. 'civilized man' 
is really 'domesticated man'. The words of our 
politicians are simply soothing melodies in the 
barnyard, played so that the cattle will remain 

Governing ourselves is about learning how to make 
decisions without delegating. It really comes 
down to learning how to work together, and dialog 
together. We don't really have good models of how 
to work together and make decisions on a group 
basis. We are taught to be competitive and we are 
taught to always defend our own self interest. So 
when we try to work together, we end up arguing 
-- 'my' solution against 'your' solution. 
Sometimes we vote, and one side wins and the 
other side loses. Or, as I've been saying, we 
usually end up delegating the problem to others.


Now it turns out that there are other ways to 
engage in dialog. Ways that are not about 
arguing, but about taking everyone's concerns 
into account. This kind of dialog isn't about 
choosing among alternative, but about working 
together to find creative solutions that everyone 
can be excited about.

For most of my life I didn't know these kinds of 
dialogs were even possible. I'm basically an 
argumentative fellow, and I don't get along very 
well in groups. But I had an experience a few 
years back, in an activist gathering in Berkeley, 
that kind of blew my mind, and woke me up to new 

We were arguing, tempers were flaring, and a 
woman spoke up and asked if she could try 
facilitating. I didn't even know what 
facilitation was, but we all decided to give it a 
try. The results were really amazing, and what 
she did turned out to be very simple. She was 
basically helping us to hear one another, instead 
of talking across one another. She started by 
simply asking the upset people why they had come 
to the meeting, and what they hoped to get out of 
it. Pretty soon, the 'space' in the room opened 
up, everyone was sharing stories and experiences, 
and we found ourselves on the 'same wavelength'. 
Not only did the discussion become more 
productive, but there was an emotional dimension: 
a relaxing of tension, almost a euphoric feeling 
-- along with a strong sense of bonding, and of 
'being in this together'.

After this experience, I spent the next year 
learning about facilitation, and group processes. 
I visited some of the leading-edge people in this 
field, and spent many hours -- sometimes days -- 
talking with them. I discovered that there is a 
whole rich world of facilitation, and a whole 
range of methods that have proven effective in 
various group situations.

It turns out, and this has been proven in 
repeated real-world cases, that almost any group 
of people, no matter how far apart they may be in 
terms of their beliefs and their perceived 
interests, can be enabled to have the same kind 
of breakthrough we experienced in Berkeley. By 
engaging in dialog in the right ways, they can 
almost always 'break on through to the other 
side', and begin working together creatively and 
effectively. It's hard to believe, I know, but 
the hard evidence is there. It's been proven over 
and over again, with ordinary people, in 
real-world situations. I can give you some 
examples in the discussion period later if you 

As I continued my research, I learned that early 
societies, indigenous societies, all tend to use 
these same kind of processes when they make 
important decisions. In the Hawaiian culture, for 
example, they have something called 'h'o pono 
pono', where an elder simply listens, to each 
person in turn, with everyone else 'overhearing'. 
Eventually the 'right answer' emerges, and it is 
obvious to everyone. In Native American cultures, 
they had the peace pipe, and pow wows, and again 
they used these kinds of processes to make tribal 
decisions and decisions among tribes. Contrary to 
what we see in Hollywood Westerns, there was not 
a Chief who gave everyone else orders.


This special kind of dialog -- which turns out to 
be part of our primordial heritage -- is the 
special ingredient that can enable us to learn 
how to work together -- to learn how to 
understand one another, make wise decisions 
together, and govern our own communities and 
societies -- without delegating authority to 
anyone. I use the term 'harmonization' to 
describe how these dialog processes work. People 
come in with competing interests, and conflicting 
ideas, and through dialog these differences can 
be 'harmonized' into creative solutions that take 
everyone's concerns into account.

Of course there's a big jump from harmonization 
in a small group, to the governance of whole 
societies. That's really what the book is about: 
thinking through the implications of 
harmonization, and working out how these kinds of 
processes can be used to transform our societies. 
We know harmonization works with small groups, 
that much is proven. Now let's take this one step 
further, and consider harmonization within a 
local community.


Two years ago, in Ashland Oregon, a group of 
local citizens were invited to participate in a 
'Wisdom Council'. A Wisdom Council is a 
particular kind of harmonization process, 
developed by Jim Rough, of Port Townsend 
Washington.  The citizens were selected randomly, 
and they spent two full days in dialog, using 
Jim's method, called 'Dynamic Facilitation'. 
Following the second day's session, in the 
evening, a public meeting was held, where the 
Wisdom Council participants reported back to the 
community on their experience. This was all 
captured on video, and a documentary was 
produced, by Joseph McCormick and Pat Spino.

I watched this video, in the company of Joseph 
and Pat, and I could see for myself that the 
results were truly amazing. At the beginning of 
the first day's session, the participants seemed 
rather shy, didn't have much to say, didn't show 
a lot of energy -- they were just going along for 
the ride to see what might happen.  There was no 
specified agenda or topic, and Jim simply 
encouraged people to start talking about whatever 
concerned them in their community.

What a difference there was at the end of the 
second day! They seemed like a different group of 
people. They were full of energy, and when they 
gave their reports to the public gathering, you 
would have thought they were seasoned public 
speakers. They had decided in their session to 
talk about funding for education, and they had 
come up with some creative proposals. But the big 
thing they talked about was their experience of 
empowerment, what they described as a spirit of 
'We the People'. They had seen how they -- an 
ordinary group of people -- were capable of 
finding their common ground, and capable of 
working creatively together to solve problems. 
They could sense in their bones that a new kind 
of democracy was possible.

Their phrase, 'We the People', expressed not just 
their own group experience, but a broader sense 
that We the People -- generally -- have both the 
capacity, and the wisdom, to govern our own 
affairs. As the participants gave their reports, 
the local citizens in the audience were 
captivated by what they heard. The energy of the 
participants was infectious, and the audience 
were 'getting it' about the We the People spirit. 
The audience broke into small groups, with one 
session participant at each table, and each table 
engaged in its own little dialog process. By the 
time the evening was over, the whole room was 
buzzing with energy, and everyone was excited 
about the possibility of greater participation by 
ordinary citizens in the decisions that affect 
their community.


Now let us consider what might happen if a whole 
series of Wisdom Councils were to be held in the 
same community, say over a period of six months. 
Each time a new cross-section of citizens would 
participate, and each time there would be a 
public gathering to talk about what came out of 
the sessions. Let us also suppose that an article 
would be published in the local paper after each 
event, reporting on the Wisdom Council and the 
public meeting that followed.

This is an experiment that has not been carried 
out yet, so I'm extrapolating here, going out on 
a limb. But based on what happened in Ashland, I 
am convinced that we could expect some very 
exciting outcomes from such a series of 
harmonization events. Each successive session 
would expose new people to the dialog experience, 
and I imagine the public meetings would become 
larger and larger as more people learned about 
the excitement and energy of the events. Before 
long, the whole community would be aware of what 
was going on, and the newspaper articles would 
keep everyone informed of what kind of ideas and 
proposals were coming out of the sessions. I 
believe that these ideas and proposals would 
begin to converge -- that a community wide sense 
would emerge around 'these are the main issues', 
and 'this is what we want to do about them'. Let 
me explain why I feel optimistic about this 
'convergence' process.

If the people that participate in a session 
represent a rough cross-section of the community, 
then we can think of them as a 'microcosm' of the 
community. If there are about 12 people, selected 
randomly, then most of the viewpoints, and 
interest groups, in the community are likely to 
'find voice' in the dialog. When this 'microcosm' 
succeeds in harmonizing its concerns, then the 
ideas they come up with are likely to find 
resonance in the community generally -- because 
most people will see that their own  concerns 
'found voice' in the dialog. If some sectors of 
the community happens to be left out in one 
session, they would be likely to 'find voice' in 
subsequent sessions.  As the sessions continue, 
with reporting in the local paper, you can see 
why the ideas and dialog would be likely to 


I believe that such a series of harmonization 
events would be likely to lead to a general sense 
of We the People -- of democratic empowerment -- 
in the community. The convergence process would 
be likely to evolve into a 'consensus community 
agenda', that everyone would feel a part of. Even 
though some people never got to participate 
personally in a session, they would have friends 
and neighbors that did participate, and everyone 
would feel that their own concerns had been taken 
into account in the process.

Imagine what a powerful thing this would be -- a 
whole community united behind a common agenda, 
and empowered by a dialog process that is 
effective, creative, and that brings in 
everyone's concerns. This is what democracy would 
look like, this is what self-governance would 
feel like. There is no delegation of authority 
here, no central committee, no hierarchy.  Just 
the people working together and making decisions 
together. Democracy is not an institution, it's a 
way of working together.  It's not a form of 
government, it's self-governance. A government 
makes decisions for you, self-governance is about 
you making your own decisions, in collaboration 
with your friends and neighbors. Harmonization 
dialog is the key to making all this possible.

In such a community, the mayor and city council 
would not set policy, they would be carrying out 
the policies that the people themselves come up 
with. These city officials would not be 
politicians, but simply public-spirited citizens 
who are willing to take on the burden of 
administrative and management tasks on behalf of 
their friends and neighbors. Nowhere in such a 
community is there any delegation of 
policy-making authority to anyone or to any 
institution. This would well and truly be a 
self-governing community, an island of real 
democracy in the larger hierarchical society.


Such an experiment has not been carried out yet. 
One of my goals during this tour will be to look 
for communities that might be interested in 
trying such an experiment. The investment 
required would be very small: a bit of funding to 
bring in skilled facilitators, a place to meet, 
and the time invested by the participants. Local 
people could learn how to facilitate themselves, 
public buildings could be used for meetings, and 
the whole process could be locally 
self-sustaining and virtually cost free.  My 
message to this community, and to all 
communities, is this: Why not give it a try? You 
have nothing to lose -- and your own liberation 
to gain.

I'd like to close with just a few brief comments, 
and then open up the floor to your comments and 
questions. I'm very interested in your ideas and 
what you have to say.

What I've talked about so far is a summary of the 
first five chapters of the book. The rest of the 
book goes on to explore how a few self-governing 
communities would be likely to be infectious: 
other communities would see the results and want 
to try it for themselves. It could become a 
movement, but it would be a cultural movement 
more than a political movement. There would be no 
leaders in this movement, and it would have no 
'political platform'. It would simply be more and 
more communities waking up and learning how to 
govern themselves.

The rest of the book explores how this process 
could be expected to lead to a self-governing 
society, a truly democratic society, based on 
local autonomy and voluntary collaboration among 
communities. Rather than governments to deal with 
large-scale issues, we would have councils of 
delegations that would meet and engage in 
harmonization dialog, just as the Native 
Americans had pow wows among tribes. All 
proposals would go back to individual communities 
for ratification. Miraculous as it may seem, it 
would be possible for every one of us to 
participate directly in making the big important 
global decisions.

Thank you very much for your patience and 
attention. Now its your turn to say something. 
Who wants to go first?