Taking up the assignment the Boss has given me, what I’ll try to do here is to establish a number of very basic ideas and principles that we can agree on and that we can build our common work patterns on as we contemplate building Nova Earth.
Today I‘d like to make sure that we understand how a civilization can even consider working together. What makes working together possible in the first place?
In my view, a civilization is able to work together because it has, uses and relies on a culture. What is a culture? A culture is an organization of shared ideas, manifest in act and artifact, by means of which people understand their world and take purposeful action. (1) And not just any purposeful action, but purposeful action together.
We recognize this when we say that a group or a company has a culture. It’s this shared organization of ideas that makes a coordination of gestures possible: that allows a teacher to teach a class or a nation to send a human to the Moon.
To survive, culture must be transmissible. And the only thing among human behavior, artifacts and ideas that can be communicated or transmitted is ideas.
We acknowledge this in our commonsensical expressions: We get the idea (the word, the message); we get it across; we pass it along. We make believe; we pretend; we act as if. We remember; we rehearse; we predict. All of these are operations of transmission that take place with ideas. All of them, in a very short while, become “child’s play.”
We think of working with ideas as intellectualizing, head-tripping, etc. But in effect the use of ideas is the distinguishing feature of humanity. It allows humans to pass along information on matters which are far removed in time and space or matters that are thought not even to exist at all.
We can even make an object of ourselves and talk about ourselves. In fact, we’re constantly talking to ourselves, mediating and trafficking in ideas from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep. Our world is a mediated world. It may not be in the future, but it is to all intents and purposes now.
Take an old guitar; leave it for two hundred years; and, if the people who find it don’t have access to the ideas surrounding a guitar, they may use it for a flower box. A guitar without the idea of a guitar is potentially anything. Or nothing.
Our ideas are transmitted by the spoken word, a picture, the alphabet, a computer code, the arrangement of sticks, etc. Our ideas are shared by those who have access to them; for the most part, this means access to our language.
I stood across from a young Japanese couple on the Skytrain this evening and tried to make out the words they said. Unfortunately they were incomprehensible to me. But they weren’t incomprehensible to them.
Here were two people making what were to me unintelligible sounds on the basis of which they laughed and decided who carried the bags and which direction they’d go in. And, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t understand a word they said.
I’m not a member of their culture. I don’t have access to their shared ideas and I probably couldn’t work with them. But they are members of it and on the basis of that they can work together. Access to the language supports access to the culture.
The miracle of language is something that’s taken for granted in our world but it’s the engine of culture, and culture is the engine of civilization.
Within our culture, ideas are shared in newspapers, on TV, in films, over the Internet, on the basketball court, in school plays, at coffee, in hospitals, on airplanes.
We decide on the basis of our interaction with others how we wish to relate to the ideas we’re hearing. We accept some and reject others, when we’re young, usually on the basis of the direction or guidance of others. We reconsider some ideas and change our minds as we grow older. All these are cultural processes that go on outside our everyday awareness but make collaboration possible.
We grow and hear new ideas that take us in new directions. Ascension. Abundance. Disclosure. On and on the process of socialization goes, calling on some to form groups, on others to go off on their own, drawing everyone to objects and pursuits that fulfill the group’s commonly-shared aims and values.
Until a few years ago, out of it all came a person who’d been conditioned by his or her society to act in certain acceptable and comprehensible ways in response to well-known and predictable social situations that everyone must confront and navigate.
Now we’re being encouraged to step out more boldly, to dream big, initiate, step beyond our fears and our conditioning. We’re being invited to drop false grids, act on our own free will, and step out in outrageous ways to end the unworkability on our planet.
If you don’t think that writing this book is not me stepping out in outrageous ways, well, it certainly is. Now it’s your turn.
That’s where we are now. We stand here at the starting line, armed with our stock of shared ideas, saying we’re ready to build Nova Earth.
Tomorrow I’d like to look at the shared values that also form an important part of our culture.
(1) “Culture, whether considered as a continuum or a class of phenomena, may be seen as an organization of ideas, manifest in act and artifact, though consisting of neither, by means of which man experiences his world and takes purposive action.” Stephen M. Beckow, “Culture, History, and Artifact” in Thomas J. Schlereth, Material Culture Studies in America, 116.