I just finished reading The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community by David C Korten. It was recommended reading in Active Hope, and explores the concept of The Great Turning in much greater depth. This is an over-the-counter book, but I feel like it should come with some kind of warning – READ WITH CAUTION: This book could change your life. I am still absorbing the ideas and their implications, but I am going to attempt to share some of it with you.
The central idea is that we are at a critical time in human history which may be described by future generations as “The Great Unraveling” when out-of-control consumption overwhelmed the world’s resources and threatened the survival of the human population. However David Korten suggests that this time also has the potential to become “The Great Turning” if we can learn to live in partnership with each other and the earth. The main argument is
It is within our means, ..to shape a positive outcome if we choose to embrace the resulting crisis as an opportunity to lift ourselves to a new level of species maturity and potential.
The concept of Empire features strongly as representing a dominator model for human interaction which is based on power and control for the benefit of a few, in contrast to a partnership model which nurtures cooperation and expression for the benefit of all. The idea is to more away from Empire towards an Earth Community which is more inclusive and life sustaining.
The idea which stood out most to me was the map of the developmental pathway from the least mature to the most mature orders of human consciousness which is a basis for understanding how to build Earth Community and to understand what is going wrong now. This has five stages:
First Order: Magical Consciousness – like a yound child who experiences the world as subject to the whims of magical beings. The lines between fantasy and reality are blurred.
Second Order: Imperial Consciousness – like an older child who can distinguish between real and imagined events, and understands that actions have consequences. Influences the behaviour of others for self interested purposes, but with little concept of loyalty, gratitude or justice.
Third Order: Socialized Consciousness: influenced by the norms of the group and able to feel empathy with others in their group, and act for the good of others within their reference group.
Fourth Order: Cultural Consciousness – The ability to recognise culture as a social construct and that there are many cultures outside of our own. There is a concern with justice for all people, not just ones own group.
Fifth Order: Spiritual Consciousness – an awakening to all creation as a complex multi-dimensional, interconnected whole. It transcends the exclusiveness of group loyalties to embrace the whole.
The significance of this analysis is the premise that the past 5000 years or so of human history have been dominated by views and behaviours with reflect the Second Order, which Korten calls the Imperial Consciousness. He sees human history with is large scale wars, invasions and exploitation of people and resources as the acting out of an immature and selfish mentality.
The exercise before us then is to awaken to a broader appreciations of what it means to be human, which involves looking outside our own personal self interest, and the interests of our own family or social group, to appreciate the diversity of the peoples of the world, and the interconnectedness of life itself.
The construct of Empire as the dominant ideology is applied in detail to many of our human endeavours, turning conventional understandings of history, politics and religion on their heads in the search for a more humane and sustainable way of living. Although many of the ideas were not new to me, and many of the observations were similar to my own, I found the process of reading through the interpretation quite confronting. I am still thinking it through, integrating what makes sense to me.
My main hesitation about this analysis is the presentation of the levels of consciousness as a ladder on which we can place ourselves and others. Although the five types of consciousness described make a lot of sense to me, I feel reluctant to engage in labelling other people as being of an inferior consciousness. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that we all have the potential to act from each of the five levels of consciousness. It may be a slippery slope to label greed and ignorance as being wholly outside ourselves. It seems more helpful to identify the value systems influencing particular ideas and actions, rather than to brand people as the opposition in a ideological war of the enlightened against the ignorant.
Suffice it to say, if you are looking for something challenging to read that extends your thinking and challenges your world view, you will certainly find it here.