Tikkun Magazine, March/April 2009
A New Economy and the End of Empire
By David Korten
There must be some prophetic minds at Trinity Wall Street, an Episcopal church in the heart of New York's financial district. For its thirty-ninth theological conference this January, the Trinity Institute chose the topic "Radical Abundance: A Theology of Sustainability." The institute booked David Korten, a well-known critic of corporate America, as one of its speakers. Then the economy melted down. In response to the meltdown, Korten wrote an analysis of the economy that became the cover article for Tikkun's final issue of 2008. Prompted by a fast-working publisher, Korten developed that article into a book, which was published in time for the late January conference at Trinity. This article is an edited version of the speech he gave when launching the book, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth. Videos of the conference presentations may be viewed on the Trinity Wall Street Institute website: www.trinitywallstreet.org/education/?institute-default.
Part I. Inner Spirit vs. Public Myths
Our nation today stands on the brink of a giant step forward. With a new leader of great promise who embodies our multicultural society, we are poised, perhaps as never before, to shed our historical adolescence and move on to a new national maturity. We must declare our national independence from Wall Street and set about to build a new economy devoted to meeting the real needs of life.
That advance can only be achieved through the co-leadership of religious institutions that are once more driven by their informing inspirations. Outmoded assumptions and false values must be put aside and replaced by a rededication to the nation's founding ideals of universal liberty and justice, as well as to the core teachings of the world's great religions.
Many problems confront us, but they ultimately come down to two defining issues. One is our wanton destruction of God's creation—of the living earth that sustains us and is our home in the vastness of the cosmos. The second is the unjust division of what remains of that abundance between the profligate and desperate in our society—a division perpetuated by widespread, ongoing, and self-destructive violence.
Both are crimes against God. Both are crimes against ourselves. Both are by our own collective hand.
It is a curious thing. As individuals, we generally appear reasonable and intelligent, but, collectively, our actions are often pathologically suicidal. Today, we have no choice but to resolve that contradiction in favor of intelligence—collective intelligence. Given the path we are on, we must either heal our collective self or perish as a species. A necessary centerpiece of that project is to replace the culture and institutions of a failed economic system with the culture and institutions of a new economy.
The Myth of "Lifting All Boats"
Our problem begins with a pervasive cultural story—continuously reinforced by the corporate media—that would have us believe our economy is functioning splendidly, even when it is quite literally killing us.
All of us have heard this story many times:
Economic growth, as measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), creates the wealth needed to provide material abundance for all, increase human happiness, end poverty, and heal the environment. Since this rising tide lifts all boats, the faster we consume, the faster the economy grows and the wealthier we become.
The story is familiar, but have you ever suspected there is something not quite right about it?
What's wrong is that GDP does not in fact measure our progress toward a better life for all. Instead, it tells us the rate at which the economy is extracting useful resources from nature, running them through the economic system, and then disposing of them as toxic waste in our air, water, and soil. I was stunned when I first realized the truth that our current economic policies and institutions are all based on the stupid idea that the faster we convert useful resources to toxic garbage, the richer we are. It is rather like burning down our house to keep warm and fanning the flames to make it burn faster. As individuals, only the terminally insane would make this foolish error, but as a nation and as a species we seem not to notice.
We have yet to translate our individual intelligence into an effective collective intelligence.
The only true beneficiaries of our current collective order are a small group of very rich investors who reap the financial gains generated by large corporations. They are positioned to benefit financially from every economic transaction—irrespective of whether the transaction is beneficial or harmful to society.
Here, in summary, is the big picture: we are taught to believe that economic growth is making all of us better off; in fact, it is only benefiting the people who are already rich, while impoverishing us all by destroying the environment. The result is a growing class divide that is destroying both the social fabric and the moral foundation of society. The economic growth system is a failed system.
We cannot resolve the issues of environmental destruction and extreme inequality by treating the symptoms. In most countries—particularly the most profligate, such as our own—it is necessary to reduce overall consumption; redistribute available resources from rich to poor; and transition from destructive and non-essential uses of resources to those that are essential and beneficial.
This requires turning our present economic system upside down and inside out. It requires ending war and converting to a peace economy; eliminating automobile-dependence in favor of compact communities that bring home, work, recreation, shopping, and other aspects of our lives into close proximity; curtailing advertising and redirecting those creative resources to education; ending financial speculation; and redirecting investment to productive sustainable enterprises devoted to meeting community needs. This list is just a start.
Serving Two Masters
It comes down to a basic question: what purpose do we expect the economy to serve? The answer is ultimately spiritual. The choice is framed in this well-known scriptural verse from the Sermon on the Mount:
No one can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon (Matthew 6:24).
Mammon refers to wealth as an object of worship; the worship of a false god; a form of demonic possession; an evil force in opposition to the God of Life.
Nothing in our world personifies the worship of the false god of mammon more starkly than the Wall Street financial institutions. Money is their only value, and the pursuit of money their only purpose. Controlling our access to money in a world in which most every aspect of daily life and survival depends on money, these institutions rule the world. They are the masters to which we yield our allegiance, the agents of the destruction of God's creation. They house the moneychangers who, in Jesus's day, defiled the temple of God by turning a spiritual ritual into a quest for unseemly profit. Jesus, in his one reported act of violence, sought to drive them out.
The financial implosion of Wall Street in 2008 has exposed the corruption of our modern moneychangers for all to see. We now bear the consequences of their immoral philosophy—which holds that greed is good and the interests of society are maximized when we each relentlessly pursue our own financial advantage without regard to social or environmental consequences. We have given the institutions of Wall Street the power to decide the values by which we will live and to make the decisions about who will prosper and who will live in desperation. The result has been the devastation of millions of lives in our own country and billions around the world.
We face a choice: We can accept the status quo of an economic system devoted to the worship of money and the pursuit of individual greed. Or we can create a new economy devoted to the service of life. More than an individual choice, it is a choice we must make as a society, a community, a collective body.
The Fundamental Questions
Why have we given over control of our government, our lives, and our collective future to institutions devoted to the service of mammon? I suggest it is because we really haven't thought through as a nation and as a species the answers to three questions that should be at the center of any theology: What is real wealth? What is our image of God? And what is our human nature?1. What Is Real Wealth?
As defined by our public culture, wealth and money are largely synonymous. Conflating these two concepts leads us to easily believe that those who make money are creating wealth and that financial and housing bubbles are engines of wealth creation. You surely recall that, as housing prices were inflating, we were regularly told how much wealth or value the rise in market price was creating. As housing prices deflated, we heard regular reports on how much wealth or value was being destroyed.
Curious, isn't it? Absolutely nothing about your house changed except the price: no difference in space, location, functionality, or state of repair. It was just a change in price—the number of dollars the house would fetch in the market. It's actually nothing more than a form of inflation. Money increased, but real wealth remained the same.
And what is money? Most money in circulation isn't even represented by a number on a piece of paper. It is an electronic trace in a computer file. Aside from the metal in coins, what we call money has no meaning or existence outside the human mind. It has value only because, by social convention, we agree to accept it in return for things of real value: our labor, knowledge, and natural resources.
Most money is an accounting chit created from nothing with a simple bookkeeping entry when a bank issues a loan.
When you take out a loan from a bank, the bank opens an account in your name and enters the amount of the loan. That becomes a liability on the bank's accounts, offset by the corresponding asset of your promise to repay with interest. With two simple accounting entries, money magically appears from nowhere. That simple process makes it possible for the institutions of mammon—the institutions of Wall Street and its global counterparts—to rule the world. As the economist John Kenneth Galbraith once famously observed, the process is "so simple it repels the mind."
Money, consequently, can be defined as phantom wealth. It has no substance or intrinsic value, particularly when it is created from nothing and is not used for the creation of anything of corresponding value.
But what, then, is real wealth? In diametric contrast to money, it can be defined as anything that has true intrinsic value: land, labor, knowledge, food, education.
Most valuable of all are those forms of wealth that are beyond price: love; a healthy, happy child; a job that provides a sense of self-worth and contribution; membership in a strong, caring community; a healthy, vibrant natural environment; and peace. In a national poll, 93 percent of adults agreed with the statement, "We are too focused on working and making money and not focused enough on family and community." Generally, this insight remains our unspoken personal truth. It is not what we hear in public discussion. So collectively we act to increase phantom wealth even at the cost of destroying the real wealth of the earth's abundance.2. What Is God?
Some years ago I was privileged to share a conference platform with Jesus scholar Marcus Borg. I will never forget his defining statement: "Tell me your image of God, and I will tell you your politics." Borg explains that the many scriptural images of God are of two basic types. One is the patriarch with the flowing beard: the God we visualize in human form, the God of Michelangelo's famous painting in the Sistine Chapel, who lives in a distant place we call Heaven. The other image of God is as a spirit manifest in all being.
The patriarch image sets up a hierarchy of righteousness and domination running from those closest to God to those most distant. It leads to a competitive individualistic politics of separation, domination, favor seeking, and wealth accumulation. It is the foundation of the Calvinist belief that the rich and powerful are by definition God's most favored, and that financial success and Earthly power are marks of special righteousness. Within this belief system, the world is whatever God the patriarch wishes it to be, and it is beyond our means to change it for better or worse.
By contrast, the spirit image—by which we recognize the face of God in every human being, animal, insect, and grain of sand—leads to a politics of community, shared purpose, and mutual service. Everything in creation is both manifestation and agent of a great spiritual intelligence seeking to know itself through the creative exploration of its possibilities. Within this belief system, to do harm to another being is to harm oneself. We see ourselves as agents of that creative journey and find our ultimate fulfillment in devoting ourselves to it.
There is a striking difference between the image of God evoked by the language of public discourse and the image of our inner understanding. The God of our public discourse and of most formal religious liturgy is the male patriarch to whom we pledge our faith and obedience in hope of winning favor now and in the afterlife. Because the very word "God" so strongly evokes this image, I generally prefer to discuss matters of faith in the language of spirit or creation. This may well be, in any case, the way most people see things.
Bob Scott, director of the Trinity Institute, recently sent me the results of a national survey he commissioned in his earlier capacity as editor-in-chief of Spirituality and Health magazine. The findings suggest that most people's private beliefs align much more closely with the spirit image of God than the patriarch image.
Eighty-four percent of Americans view God as being "everywhere and in everything," rather than "someone somewhere." Given a list of characteristics and asked to pick the one that describes God best, 71 percent chose "loving." Only 5 percent chose "remote," and only 2 percent chose "judging" or "controlling." I find quite stunning the contrast between what these results reveal of our private images of God and the image evoked by the language of our public discourse and liturgy.3. What Does It Mean to Be Human?
Finally, in preparing ourselves to demand a life-serving economy, we need to come to grips with the meaning of "human nature." We have become by now so accustomed to cultures and institutions that reward and celebrate our pathologies of individualism, greed, hubris, deceit, ruthless competition, and material excess that we have come to doubt even the possibility that we humans, as a species, might have the capacity to cooperate in the interest of a common good. We may even fail to notice that most people daily demonstrate an admirable capacity for caring, sharing, honesty, cooperation, compassion, peacemaking, service, and making do with what they have.
Scientists who use advanced imaging technology to study brain function report that the healthy human brain is wired to reward the positive traits. An act of cooperation and generosity triggers the brain's pleasure center to release the same hormone that's released when we eat chocolate or engage in good sex. In addition to producing a sense of bliss, it benefits our health by boosting our immune systems and reducing our heart rates. These findings are consistent with the pleasure that most of us experience as a member of an effective team, or in extending an uncompensated helping hand to another being.
On the other hand, merely thinking about another person experiencing harm triggers the same reaction in our brains as that of a mother who sees distress in her baby's face. Negative emotions suppress our immune systems, increase our heart rates, and prepare us to fight or flee.
It is entirely logical. If our brains were not wired for life in community, our species would have expired long ago. We have an instinctual desire to protect the group, including its weakest and most vulnerable members—its children. Caring, cooperation, and service are the healthy norm and wonderful tonics—and they are free. By contrast, behavior contrary to this norm is indicative of serious social and psychological dysfunction. While it is true that aggressive violence, greed, and destruction in disregard of others are all within our human capacity, they should be understood as the pathologies they are—not part of our inherent nature. It is our human nature to love and create.
Public vs. Private Understanding
The contrast between our public and private understandings of wealth, God, and human nature offers a great source of hope for the human future. The views promoted by our public culture affirm the mammon economy of Wall Street. But our private understanding affirms the spiritual unity of creation and the human potential to create an economy dedicated to the service of life, love, and spirit. This is the understanding implicit in the message of Jesus, who sought to drive the moneychangers from the temple.
How different our societies would look if our economic cultures and institutions were based on the truth we find in both our inner experience and the teachings of Jesus! We need only replace the fallacies of our public culture with the inner truth shared by nearly all humans to radically change the human course. Given the possibilities of electronic communication, it may be far easier than we might imagine. The steps to take are clear. We have to break the silence, make our private beliefs public, and then join in common cause to align our institutions with our true values.
For perhaps the first time in history, we now have both the imperative and the means to do these things. It is an epic opportunity.
Part II. From Empire to Community
Empire: Its History and Dynamic
We humans have a 5,000-year history of organizing societies by dominator hierarchy, with a few folks on the top and most on the bottom. We can call it the Era of Empire, and we're still in it. In an earlier time, the rulers were kings and emperors. Now they are corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers. Wall Street is empire's most recent institutional stage, and hopefully the last, in a tragic drama we need to stop repeating.
Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Rome were three of history's most celebrated empires. They were led by vain and violent rulers who played out the drama of empire's inexorable play-or-die, rule-or-be-ruled, kill-or-be-killed competition for power. Each of these powers had its moments of greatness, but at an enormous cost in lives, natural wealth, and human possibility.
During this time, the creative energy of the species was redirected from securing the well-being of the tribe to advancing the technological instruments of war and the social instruments of domination. Resources were expropriated on a vast scale to maintain the military forces, prisons, palaces, temples, and patronage for retainers and propagandists on which imperial rule depends. The underlying dynamic favored the ascendance to power of the most ruthless, brutal, and mentally deranged.
Much of this troubled history remains familiar still. But 5,000 years is enough. We now have the imperative and the means as a nation and a species to bring forth new cultures and institutions that affirm our human co-inheritance, our interdependence, and our devotion to the service of life—the world of our shared human longing.
The World We Want
In 1992, I participated in the civil-society portion of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This was a gathering of some 15,000 people representing the vast variety of humanity's races, religions, nationalities, and languages. Our discussions centered on defining the kind of world we would create together.
Out of our conversations emerged a vision of a world in which people and nature live in dynamic, creative, cooperative, and balanced relationship. The Earth Charter, which is the product of a continuation of this conversation, calls this vision "Earth Community."
I have lived in places with starkly different cultures: Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Indonesia, the Philippines, California, Massachusetts, Florida, Virginia, Washington State, and New York City. I have learned that we humans are a lot more alike than we generally realize. Most of us want to breathe clean air and drink clean water. We want tasty, nutritious food uncontaminated by toxins. We want meaningful work, a living wage, and security in our old age. We want a say in the decisions our government makes. We want world peace.
It is a stunning convergence. The world we must now create, if we are to survive as a species, is the world we want—the world our brains are wired to create, and the world that religious prophets down through the ages have sought to inspire us to create. Bringing it into being will require, among other things, replacing an economy devoted to the service of mammon with an economy devoted to the service of life. Fortunately, we have a positive base on which to build.
From Wall Street to Main Street
We hear frequent reference these days to the distinction between the Wall Street economy and the Main Street economy. The difference is crucial.
The Wall Street economy is devoted solely to the use of money to make money. It has no other purpose than to make people who have money richer, without the responsibility to produce anything of value to human life in return. It is a world of financial bubbles, speculative gains, sophisticated Ponzi schemes, corporate asset stripping, monopoly pricing, deception, fraud, and the generation of unearned claims against the real wealth of the rest of society.
The Wall Street economy and its institutions are corrupt beyond repair. We had best use this opportunity to replace them with new institutions, as we reclaim and restructure their useful bits to serve the new economy we must now build.
The Main Street economy is composed of local businesses and people who work within a framework of community values to meet community needs. Some local businesses may be as predatory as any Wall Street corporation, but these tend to be the exception. The Main Street economy has been battered and tattered by the predatory intrusions of Wall Street corporations, but evidence abounds that it is now in the beginning stages of revival. All across the nation, communities are declaring their independence from Wall Street and rallying to rebuild the community-serving economies they once knew. Main Street is the logical foundation on which to build a new real-wealth economy based on green jobs, responsible community-oriented businesses, and sound environmental practices.
Here are some of the measures we can take now to hasten the fall of Wall Street and advance the building of a new, life-serving economy on the foundation of Main Street. These measures are elaborated in detail in my new book, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth.
1. Measure What We Want
The first item on our economic transformation agenda is the creation of new performance indicators. The only legitimate function of an economic system is to serve life. At present, however, economic performance is evaluated solely on the basis of financial indicators—think GDP and stock prices—while social and environmental consequences are disregarded. It is not a wise choice. We get what we measure: phantom wealth in the hundreds of trillions of dollars at the expense of the real wealth of people, community, and nature.
We can instead evaluate economic performance against indicators of what we really want—healthy children, families, communities, and natural systems. This would place life values ahead of money values, and dramatically reframe both our public and private economic decision-making.
2. Manage for Fairness and Equity
Most corporate profits and excessive executive compensation are funded by externalized social and environmental costs, and by direct public subsidies in the form of direct payments, unfair tax exemptions, and special access to public services. To have a healthy economy, we must eliminate the subsidies and assess compensating fees to recover the public cost of substandard wages and working conditions, the expropriation and contamination of environmental resources, and excessive use of public services. Predatory businesses will be forced to close their doors. That will open space for responsible businesses serving real community needs to prosper.
In alliance with the Federal Reserve, Wall Street players have used a combination of control over the money supply, predatory lending practices, and lobbying and campaign contributions to suppress wages, dismantle social safety nets, capture the benefit of productivity gains and tax cuts for financial speculators, shift the tax burden to working people, and reduce the poor to debt slavery. To help repair that damage and rebuild the middle class, we must restore progressive tax rates, increase the minimum wage, implement public funding of elections, establish a universal single-payer health system, use the tax code to make financial speculation unprofitable, and direct the benefits of productivity gains to the people who produce them. This project is of course immense, but it is not without a prophetic foundation. It can be thought of as our American equivalent of the biblical Jubilee—a time to restore balance to our society by forgiving the debts that hold the poor in bondage to the rich.
The Living Economy of Main Street
A healthy Main Street economy is a living economy that mimics the dynamics of healthy, locally rooted ecosystems. It is about people and community, efficient use of energy, and the restoration and maintenance of a healthily functioning natural ecosystem. Profit and money are seen as means to these ends, not as ends in themselves.
In living economies, the most important return to local business people is the benefit they derive from being part of a healthy local community with a healthy natural environment. The performance of such economies is properly evaluated, in part, by the role they play in building the relationships of trust and caring that are the foundation of healthy communities.
Evidence suggests that living economies do in fact help build trust and caring. One study has found that people shopping at a farmers' market have ten times as many conversations as those shopping at a supermarket. I experienced it when I lived in New York City and did most of my food shopping at the Union Square farmers' market. I got to know the farmers who grew my food—and my neighbors. I also patronized the small local hardware store across the street from my apartment and the small local pharmacy around the corner. I got to know the clerks and the owners. I had no need of a car because most of what I needed was within walking distance and there was great public transportation.
As the Wall Street economy disintegrates, the communities with the best future prospects are those that have been rebuilding local supply chains; supporting local, low-input family farms; developing local financial institutions; reversing the trend toward conversion of farm and forest lands; concentrating population in compact communities that bring home, work, shopping, and recreation in easy reach by foot, bicycle, and public transportation; and retrofitting their buildings for energy conservation to become substantially self-reliant in regard to food, energy, and other basic essentials. This is what organizations such as the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and the American Independent Business Alliance are about—building a people-friendly, earth-friendly new economy of locally rooted businesses.
The Unsustainable Wall Street Money System
Now let's turn to the money system. Wall Street bankers have diabolically created a money system designed to crash if the economy does not continuously grow their profits. Recall my earlier mention of the bookkeeping entry by which banks create new money when they issue a loan. That entry creates only the principal of the loan; it does not create money for the interest the borrower must pay in addition to repaying the loan principal.
This means that in order for the financial system not to fall into default and thereby collapse the economy—much like we are now experiencing—the economy must continually expand fast enough to generate a demand for new loans that will be sufficient to create the money required to make the interest payments on previous loans.
The demand for the eventual repayment with interest of nearly every dollar in circulation virtually ensures that the economy will fail unless the GDP is constantly growing. The consequences of that growth are ever-increasing debt, increasing income inequality, and the destruction of the natural environment and the human social fabric.
It is illogical and deeply destructive to maintain a financial system that creates an artificial demand for perpetual growth on a finite planet. If evil is that which is destructive of life, then our existing money system is profoundly evil.
A Money System for a Life-Based Economy
There is an alternative with far less pernicious consequences: a system run by the federal government in the interest not of bankers, but of the people.
Most Americans already assume that money is created by the federal government. In fact, it is not. But it should be. As new money is required to maintain an adequate and stable money supply, the federal government can and should spend it into existence to fund public infrastructure and meet other public needs. Publicly issued money would reduce debt, taxes, inequality, and environmental harm—and increase financial stability. The Wall Street moneychangers would lose power and profits. I'd call this choice a "no-brainer."
So how do we make the changes necessary to turn our economy away from service to mammon and toward service to life, when the world today is ruled by the agents of mammon?
To answer that question, we need to go back to the earlier observations about the stark contrast between our public and private images of wealth and God. In fact, the transition to the service of life has already begun—through thousands upon thousands of conversations that are bringing our public culture into line with our private beliefs. We are slowly replacing a culture fabricated by the rulers of empire to legitimate their rule, with a culture grounded in authentic values of caring and compassion.
This is a tall order, but it can be done. YES! magazine, for which I serve as board chair, spotlights the people and organizations that are demonstrating our human possibilities through their actions.
Breaking the Silence: The Power of Conversation
So how do we bring down the walls that hold us captive to false stories? How do we cast out the moneychangers from the temple of life? How do we put an end to Wall Street's imperial tyranny? My answer: through the power of conversation and a new story.
It is a simple, but rarely noted truth that every movement for transformational social change begins with a conversation.
Take the women's movement as an example. Not long ago, the prevailing cultural story maintained that the key to a woman's happiness was to find the right man, marry him, and devote her life to his service. Any woman for whom that story was not working was conditioned to believe she was at fault.
When a few courageous women came together in small groups in their living rooms to share their personal stories, they came to realize both individually and collectively that the flaw was not in themselves, but rather in the story. By making this personal truth public, through an ever-expanding conversation among thousands and then millions of women, they eventually changed the public story, liberated themselves, and unleashed their power as a force for social transformation.
Many other social movements, such as the "voluntary simplicity" movement, have also been the products of widening conversations among people who were motivated to share their stories about what made them truly happy. As we go public with the truth of our private stories, we help to expose as fabrications the false values of the public stories that hold us captive to empire.
Thus liberated, our individual intelligence becomes the intelligence of the group, which, in turn, allows us to act as communities and societies to declare our independence from Wall Street, refashion our institutions to put service to life ahead of service to mammon, and break the self-replicating spiral of competitive violence of 5,000 years of empire. Our charge is to bring this conversation to the national foreground, beginning with conversations in our homes, churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.
Spiritual Awakening and the Institutions of Religion
The foundation of our economic crisis is spiritual, not financial. By sharing life-affirming stories of possibility and working together to restore the essential bonds of community, we humans can bring forth the life-affirming cultures and institutions of a new era and align ourselves with the sacred purpose revealed in creation's grand trajectory.
We have been living in a trance in a world of illusion. We have lost sight of our spiritual nature, just as we have lost sight of the distinction between money and real wealth. We have lost sight of ourselves as manifestations of the spiritual force of creation.
It is now within our means to unleash our positive potential and create the world of which we have dreamed for millennia. Success depends on an awakening to the truth that we humans are spiritual beings having a human experience. As our primary institutions for the examination of values, purpose, spirit, and the human place in creation, religious institutions of all faiths have a special and essential role in this awakening.
Today, our spiritual awakening is already underway, sometimes within our religious institutions, but more often beyond them—sometimes in spite of them. It is essential to our collective future that our religious institutions refashion themselves as centers of spiritual inquiry and community-building dedicated to drawing from the whole of human knowledge and experience to deepen our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to the larger whole of Creation. No other human institutions are comparably positioned to facilitate this awakening, give it visibility in the public discourse, and help it find coherence and direction.
For 5,000 years, we humans have wandered through the valley of the shadow of death. Perhaps it was part of our necessary learning, preparation for the next step in our own evolution as a self-aware species to which Creation granted the power to choose its own future. It is now ours to choose whether we take the step to species maturity and learn to share earth's abundance for the good of all, or suffer potential self-extinction in a daring but failed evolutionary experiment, and thereby turn back the evolutionary clock by millions of years.
We are privileged to live at the most dangerous but also the most exciting moment of creative opportunity in the whole of the human experience. There is no wall too tall. We have the power to turn this world around for the sake of ourselves, our children, and Creation's grand journey. It is up to us. We are the ones we've been waiting for.
David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World and The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, is cofounder and board chair of YES! magazine and a board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. See davidkorten.org.
Korten, David. 2009. Spiritual Awakening: A New Economy and the End of Empire. Tikkun 24(2): 33.