Localism, Consensus, and Transformation


Richard Moore

Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2003 10:01:48 -0700
To: •••@••.•••
From: Tom Atlee <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: NGOs, Accountability & Democracy

Dear Richard,

How do you envision using localism to address the
over-fishing of oceans, the damming or re-routing of rivers
for the benefit of one area, the increasing likelihood of
nuclear war, and the development of nanotechnology (just to
name a few)?

A LOT of people are turning to localism, and remarkable work
is being done in that realm.  I acknowledge and honor that.

I just don't see how that approach adequately deals with the
dangers to the global commons that are growing with each

Coheartedly, Tom


Dear Tom,

You are asking for an approach that "adequately deals with
the dangers to the global commons that are growing with each
day".   I have suggested that localism and consensus are the
keys elements of such an approach.   When I use those terms,
I am using them in the sense that was developed in The Zen
of Global Transformation.  That usage has also been
developed in many previous postings.  I'll summarize again
for you here.

There are two issues to be faced, as I see it.  On the one
hand we need some kind of vision of a system for a better
world.   On the other hand, we need some means of
implementing that vision.  My view is that localism and
consensus, of a certain variety, have a central role to play
 in responding to both of those requirements.


If we want to envision a better world, then it makes sense
to get an accurate grasp on how deep the disease goes that
we are trying to cure.    Is the disease limited to the
current clique in Washinton?  Is capitalism the disease? 
Imperialism?   Corporations?  Corruption?  The media?  The
financial system?

My own investigations have led me to see the disease as
going very deep into the roots of civilization itself.   The
disease I see is more or less the same one Daniel Quinn
sees, as expressed in Ishmael and The Story of B.  He
focuses on the world-view aspects, while I focus on the
political aspects.   He talks about the Taker myth -- the
view that humanity is destined to rule over and dominate the
beasts of the land, the fish in the sea, and the birds in
the air.   I talk about the evolution of elite rule and

We are both talking about the dramatic changes that occurred
in human societies when they shifted from hunter-gathering
to systematic agriculture and livestock raising.   That
shift was everywhere accompanied by a shift of world view
and a shift of societal structure.

The shift of world view, as Quinn points out, was from
seeing ourselves as part of the fabric of nature to seeing
ourselves as the rightful exploiters of nature.  To this I
would add that we also began to see ourselves as the
rightful exploiters of other people, other tribes.  For
everywhere we have uncovered early civilizations, we have 
always found clear evidence of slavery.

The shift of societal structure was from small, autonomous,
egalitarian groups, to larger, hierarchical, authoritarian
chiefdoms.   Ever since then the development of civilization
has been toward ever larger and more centralized
hierarchies, ruled by ever more sophisticated and rapacious

Few would question this characterization -- if we took
it up only to the Enlightenement and the advent of
"democratic republics".  But most people seem to be
entranced by the Enlightement myths of democracy and
freedom.   That's why I put Jerry Fresia's "Toward an
American Revolution" in its entirety on the cj website
(http://cyberjournal.org).   And that's why I frequently
repeat myself in different words in these postings.

The shift from monarchies to republics and elections was
simply a shift from one elite regime to another.  One ruled
openly, the other indirectly.   One simply demanded and
enforced obedience.  The other manipulates the political
system, the economy, and the propaganda machinery to produce
the outcome it desires.

So as I see it, the disease is hierarchy and elite rule, and
it goes back 13,000 years or so to the foundation of our
first civilizations.  We may look with favor on some of the
consequences of this journey -- the benefits civilization
has provided to some -- but the journey has been always
flawed.  It has always been characterized by the elite
exploitation of the many.

I believe that if we want to a world that is sustainable and
livable, we must go back in our thinking to the point where
civilization began, and consider what other paths of
development are visible from that vantage point.   How can
we have a global society that is not structured
hierarchically and which is not dominated by self-serving

We also need a shift of world view, as Quinn points out.
Fortunately, we more or less have that already.  All over
the world most of the population seems to be aware of
environmental destruction, global warming, ozone depletion,
species extinction, etc.  The constituency for a visible
shift of world view toward sustainability and harmony with
nature is here and just waiting for an opportunity to
express itself effectively.

The same can be said about constituencies for world peace,
political harmony, and the application of societal resources
toward the betterment of life rather than the accumulation
of corporate profits.

The Taker myth has been so concentrated in a tiny elite,
that the rest of us in the West have begun to stop believing
in it.  We are beginning to see ourselves as part of the
Taken, rather than one of the Takers.   Third world peoples
have seen that for a lot longer.  I believe the time is ripe
for a major shift of world view from exploitation to
cooperation, as Brian Hill has often pointed out on this

This shift in latent consciousness -- this potential
paradigm shift in world view -- dovetails perfectly with the
non-hierarchical structures that my investigations have led
me to.  If autonomy is centered on the local community, both
politically and economically -- and if the predominate
social ethic is one of harmony, sustainability, and
consensus -- then I would (and have) argued that a natural
and benign stability could be expected to develop.

One argument is from a systems perspective, very much the
same kind of argument Adam Smith presented in Wealth of
Nations.   If each community wants to be sustainable, then
it will also desire that it's neighbors, trading partners,
and whoever else it interacts with be sustainable as well. 
Otherwise their own sustainability could be at risk
eventually.  The argument goes along those kind of lines,
with respect to world peace, management of global resources,

Adam Smith argued that the pursuit of economic self-interest
would naturally lead to a beneficial economy -- if the
economy operated under some specific constraints.   And he
seems to have been proven right.  Wherever markets are
dominated by small buyers and sellers operating in open
competition, one sees productive economic exchange.

I argue that communities pursuing their own enlightened
self-interest -- as communities -- will similarly lead to a
beneficial global society, a society without hierarchy and
without authority.

But a system argument is incomplete on its own.  There needs
to be something concrete to suggest some kind of empirical
validation. An example or two, perhaps, of such societies
functioning successfully on some non-trivial scale in the
real world.

I've actually got a few such examples, but I'll mention just
one, which you may recall. It has to do with the transition
from warring tribes to cooperating tribes.  Our own
civilization used hierarchy as the way to tie together
larger societal units.  The Plains Native Americans found
another way to accomplish the same thing.  They used
consensus within each tribal unit, and they then used
consensus when tribal delegates met in pow wow with
associated tribes.  By this process, they naturally found
solutions to inter-tribal concerns that worked to everyone's
best overall benefit.   They were able to collaborate
effectively when the need arose,  without introducing
central authority.

Here we have a real-world example of a society that
functioned well, based on local autonomy and consensus, and
which was able to scale up one or two levels, from a small
tribal unit to an entire Tribal Nation (eg. The Sioux

Our civilization took the wrong path -- the path of
hierarchy and elite rule.  We now can see where it is
leading and it was always leading.   Certain tribal groups
found another way to introduce collaboration among larger
scale units.  For my money, this offers us the richest vein
if we want to dig for an understanding how a livable,
sustainable world might be structured politically.


That's how I see consensus and localism as playing a key
role in a post-revolutionary world.  But that doesn't help
us accomplish a shift in the regime.  How could we possibly
get from where we are now, with massive inequality and
economies dependent of rapid resource exploitation, to a
harmonious world of cheerfully collaborating enlightened
communities?  And how can we ever dislodge the
well-entrenched and all-powerful super elite who pull the
strings of those who pull the strings of George Bush?

The destruction of the global commons will continue as long
as the current regime of centralized governments and
capitalism continues.  I have seen no strategy which has any
chance of alleviating our situation while that system
remains in place.  Capitalist expansion, in the face of a
finite environment, has reached the stage where elites can
no longer afford liberal reforms, nor limits on their
development plans.

In the aftermath of 9-11 we can see how very determined US elites
are to employ any means necessary in pursuit of their own
designs on world domination during the endgame of the
petroleum economy.  They are introducing fascism at home and
they have declared themselves above the law internationally.
They have abandoned the last remnants of balanced coverage
in their mass media, and now lie as blatantly as Goebbels
ever did.

I think it is pretty clear that top elites intend for this
current US policy line to continue indefinitely.  They have
crossed a Rubicon and there can be no turning back.   They
will not permit the election of a President or Congress who
might want to undo their handiwork.   With their
fear-mongering, flag waving, and incident creation &
management capability, they have a pretty good chance of
actually prevailing in elections with Bush-like candidates.

But they must know they can't count on that.  The popularity
of Roger Moore's books and films -- in the midst of hyper
patriotism and military conflict -- can be taken as a symbol
of the doubt that must linger in their minds.   They pulled
off a successful vote scam when they brought Bush in, and
there is every reason to believe that they are preparing
more sophisticated scams for future elections -- as
insurance against possible bad polling results on the day.

With compulsory machine voting, and the software kept secret
by a private company, the means of scamming an election are
both simple and undetectable.   If deemed necessary, it
would be easy to track incoming tallies in real time, and
make small adjustments on-the-fly to ensure that key
districts tipped the right way, while minimizing the overall
magnitude of mis-reporting.  And media propaganda would be
capable of making a right-wing victory seem at least
plausible, even though a majority might each know privately
that they voted the other way.

I've noted in the past many parallels between the Nazis and
the current Administration, particularly with 9-11 and its
aftermath.  Here's another, related to this vote-scamming
issue.  When Hitler was recruiting support from the highest
German elite, such as Herr Krupp, he promised them, "When I
am elected Chancellor, that will be the last German
election."   Krupp became a firm and invaluable supporter,
seeing Hitler as a man who "had what it takes to lead
Germany".  I see us as being in that same scenario, but in a
more sophisticated and less personality-centered version.

This is one more reason, along with many others in previous
postings, why we must give up any hope of progress through
participation in the political process.  Begging to elites
will not alleviate our situation, nor will protesting to
them, nor will organizing politically within the current


I suggest that we need to back way up in our thinking about
how change can happen, much as we backed up when we were
looking at hierarchy and alternatives to it.  As hierarchy
has evolved, it has evolved anti-bodies (neutralizing
strategies) for each new kind of popular uprising as it came
along.  We seem to have run out of approaches for which
anti-bodies are not in place.

In the final analysis, every person and every movement which
has tried to fix the system throughout history can sing the
refrain, "I fought the hierarchy, and the hierarchy won."

We need a whole new approach to bringing about change,
something outside the box of current or traditional activism
and thinking.  I believe that the consensus and
decentralized aspects of the anti-globalization movement
point the way to, again, a rich vein -- if we want to dig
for an understanding of how radical global change can occur
in a hostile and powerful political environment.  But
considerable digging is needed to get there.  Some practices
of the anti-globalization movement point the way, but they
only point in a general direction, they are just a hint.

I have come to believe (it feels more like 'seeing') that
localism and consensus are the keys to building a new social
structure within the walls of the existing regime.  
Ironically perhaps, the means and the ends amount to the
same thing, only at different stages of development.   It's
localism and consensus all the way from start to finish.

These ideas are the topic of the Zen Transformation book,
and I won't say more about them here.

I apologize for not having enough time to write a shorter

Thanks for such a good question.

best regards,



    For the movement, the relevant question is not, "Can we
    work through the political system?", but rather, "Is
    the political system one of the things that needs to be
    fundamentally transformed?"

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