Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Round in Circles: A Review of David C. Korten's The Great Turning

Part Three: Apocalyptic Politics

It’s one of the commonplaces of social history that times of cultural crisis feed apocalyptic beliefs. Our time is no exception, and The Great Turning counts as one of many contemporary expressions of this sort of thinking. Compare Korten’s book to the Book of Revelations, say, and parallels leap out from the first page onward. Like John of Patmos’ mighty myth of violence and redemption, The Great Turning combines diatribes against the evils of the existing order with the promise of a new age in which the old world and all its woes will be done away with forever. Visions of a struggle to the death between the forces of good and evil, baroque portrayals of imminent catastrophe, exhortations to the faithful to stay the course -- all are present and accounted for. The one significant factor that distinguishes Korten’s book from the Book of Revelations is that John of Patmos proposed a religious answer to the world crisis of his time, while Korten’s proposed solution is political.

He’s far from alone in that, of course. The revolutionary tradition of the modern Western world, where last week’s post traced the roots of Korten’s rhetoric, has used political means to pursue millennarian ends ever since its beginnings. Apocalyptic language came to dominate political discourse in the Western world all through the 20th century, and shows no signs of slackening its grip as we move through the first decade of the 21st. This makes it hard for many people to notice just how bizarre this fusion actually is. Though it seems obvious that the political process should aim for the attainment of a perfect world, or at least a much better one than we’ve got, a look back along the roots of our political thinking may lead to a very different conclusion.

Our word “politics” comes from the Greek word politike, literally “that which pertains to the community;” “community affairs” might be a good translation of politike in modern English. The crucible of social and economic change that birthed ancient Greek democracy forced aristocratic familes to yield control over community affairs to assemblies whose membership came from the ordinary citizens. The politike, the arrangements for handling community affairs, born from this process were born of struggles and compromises in which the grubbiest human motives rubbed elbows with the highest ideals. Despite the flaws of ancient Greek democracy – some of which were drastic, and not only by the very different standards of modern thought – the concept of government by consent of the governed had its origins there.

Our notion of an ideal society also has roots in the Greek experience, but in a way that makes modern revolutionary thought deeply ironic. Plato’s Republic, the first major work of Utopian thought in history and still the most influential work in the genre, was deeply reactionary, looking back fondly to the days of aristocracy when, at least in rose-colored hindsight, the common people knew their place. In Plato’s ideal state, an elite of philosophers occupied the top of the pyramid. A military caste took orders from the philosophers and kept social discipline lower down, and everyone else occupied the bottom, with no role in community decisions except obedience to dictates from above. This vision gave an authoritarian tone to utopian thought that still influences the revolutionary tradition powerfully today.

Most of two millennia later, struggles between aristocracies and rising middle classes wracked Europe and the European diaspora, with similar results. In some cases this yielded pragmatic political arrangements like the English and American constitutions, full of discord and compromise but durable and capable of gradual change for the better. In others, it produced a flurry of new proposals for ideal political systems not unlike Plato’s Republic, but with a twist. From the Diggers of the English Civil War on, a very large number of these proposals borrowed the language of apocalypse from religion, and claimed that the arrival of the perfect society would also mean the fulfillment of the entire process of human history.

Plato never claimed anything of the kind, but then he did not live in a society where a religion rooted in prophecies of apocalyptic redemption was cracking under the pressure of a newborn scientific materialism, leaving many people without an anchor for hopes of a better world. The Diggers and their many later equivalents did. As Christianity lost its hold on the imagination of the West, one common solution to the crisis of faith was to transfer the hopes of the Second Coming onto a secular apocalypse. The myth of progress took on its current importance largely because of this factor, and many other themes of contemporary thought have their roots in the same process. Yet the revolutionary tradition, which fused apocalyptic imagery onto a dream of the perfect society profoundly shaped by Plato’s reactionary utopia, represents the most direct heir of this process, the nearest thing to an exact political analogue of the Book of Revelations.

Korten’s mythic struggle between Empire and Earth Community, his elitist insistence that people of “higher developmental stages” ought to govern everyone else, and his claim that partisan political action will open the door to a new and better future, all come out of this tradition. Like his revolutionary forebears, he insists that the existing order can only be changed for the better by overturning it completely. Now one might suggest that the extraordinary expansion of civil and political rights in most Western countries over the last two centuries – the spread of voting rights from white male landowners to all adult citizens regardless of race or gender, the abolition of slavery and most legal dimensions of racial and gender discrimination, and so on – make this a hard claim to support. Still, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Korten’s claim that today’s democracies are irredeemable because they’re imperfect, and ask the next question: does his revolutionary utopianism offer anything better?

The answer of history is a resounding negative. Over the last few centuries, the world has seen quite a few revolutions, some violent and others political, and many of them shared the same aspiration toward a perfect society that underlies Korten’s book. Yet a bitter irony attends this, for the more visionary the new society proposed by revolutionaries, the more disastrous the resulting revolution has generally been. The American and French Revolutions are the classic endpoints of the spectrum – one a straightforward struggle against colonial rule that set out to found a government slightly better than its predecessors, and succeeded; the other a grand project that set out to create heaven on earth, and gave rise instead to the Terror and the Napoleonic wars. Down the history of revolutions since then, right up to the latest Third World struggles, the same pattern stands out from the data.

This pattern, it seems to me, unfolds from the nature of politics itself. As the framework where community affairs are discussed and community decisions made, politics work when they reflects the actual needs and concerns of the community, as grubby and pragmatic as those inevitably are, rather than some abstract concept of what those needs and concerns ought to be. It’s been said, and quite rightly, that all politics are local, and this reflects the broader point that all politics unfold from the issues that actually matter to people, rather that the issues that ought to matter to them. Equally, in a world of inescapable natural limits and unavoidable human disagreements, no possible political arrangements can yield satisfaction to everyone. Attempting to do so guarantees failure, and attempting to do so on the basis of some theoretical scheme of what human needs and relationships ought to be, in place of a willingness to compromise with what they are, guarantees failure on the grand scale.

The emotional power of apocalyptic politics makes this insight a difficult one nowadays. Yet it may be worth looking at how much of the rage and contempt that so many people direct toward politicians come out of the conflict between the unrealistic expectations of apocalyptic politics and the much more pedestrian possibilities available in the real world. Politicians are no better equipped to bring utopia than plumbers, after all. When they’re competent and pay attention to their jobs, both politicians and plumbers spend most of their time cleaning up messes and meeting human needs by setting up systems that are as dull as they are necessary. If the sort of utopian hopes so often imposed on politics today were placed instead on plumbing, though, plumbers would likely have the same sort of bad reputation politicians have now – and the job of plumbing would likely get done as badly as much of politics is today.

This conflict between expectations and realities, finally, is likely to be made far more extreme with the arrival of peak oil and other aspects of the crisis of industrial society. As the modern world collides with hard planetary limits and begins the long, uneven process of contraction and disintegration that lies on every civilization’s downslope, the mismatch between utopian dreams of a perfect world and the difficult realities of the deindustrial age is likely to become a major obstacle in the way of a sane response to our predicament. There will doubtless be many David Kortens insisting that all the evils of the world can be solved by tearing down an imperfect but functional political system and putting in some theoretically perfect scheme in its place, just as there will be plenty of people willing to listen to them. If history is anything to go by, the results are likely to include some pretty substantial body counts; it’s one of the ironies of the revolutionary tradition that, promising heaven on earth, it so consistently produces a good imitation of the opposite.

Does this mean that politics have nothing to offer the world as it begins to stumble down the far side of Hubbert’s peak? Not at all. What it means is that the constructive resources politics might provide to the difficult future ahead are precisely those foreclosed by Korten’s apocalyptic politics, with its demonization of his opponents and its insistence on the unique rightness of his own political stance. More than at any time in modern history, the politics of the near future will demand that all of us – politicians along with everyone else – turn aside from the fantasy that we can have whatever we want, and embrace compromise, pragmatism, and the willingness to build consensus among people with radically different interests and ideals for the sake of survival. To that very modest but necessary turning, Korten’s dream of a Great Turning offers no positive contribution at all.

20 comments:

Sabretache said...

John

Thanks once again for a lucid analysis. Your blogg has become one of my few must-reads. FWIW, that is a sincerely intended compliment from an aging English thinker.

A couple of observations: ".... the constructive resources politics might provide to the difficult future ahead are precisely those foreclosed by Korten’s apocalyptic politics, with its demonization of his opponents and its insistence on the unique rightness of his own political stance

You only have to substitute 'Neo-Con' for 'Korten' to have a scary and equally valid distilation of the perennial but (with the confluence of Peak energy/population growth) increasingly intractable problems facing humanity. TWO enormous, epoch-changing 'elephants in the living room' to which mainstream political analysis appears almost totally oblivious.

I am personally far from dismissive of apocalyptic prognoses; it's just that I do not see any possible solution in 'apocalyptic politcs' - for all the reasons you so eloquently describe. In the final analysis, political parties and programs of whatever hue, are the product of a flawed, universal and seemingly immutable human nature. It seems to me that that simple fact (if fact it be) carries the seed of the sort of climax to human history envisioned by apocalyptic theology. And the only reason such a view is largely discredited and ignored by the mass of humanity is the tendency of those who proclaim it - with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight - to apparently cry wolf so many times.

Timing it (like timing market crashes :-))) is the trick. They never happen until all the doomsayers have been comprehensively rubbished and nobody, but nobody is seriously expecting them.gmspw

Secret Rapture said...

My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions! The Secret Rapture soon, by my hand!
My Site = http://www.angelfire.com/crazy/spaceman
Your jaw will drop!

Erik said...

My UU church is getting ready to host a weekend workshop based on this book... JM, would you mind if I provided them with copies of your review?

John Michael Greer said...

Sabretache, thank you! Of course you're right that the neocons are just another set of ideologues with their own prescription for Utopia, different from Korten's mostly in that it's meant to appeal to a different end of the American middle class. As for apocalypse, well, you know my views by this point; our species has been through the decline and fall of civilizations many times, and each one seems like the end of the world to those who don't view it with perspective.

Rapture, it takes a lot to make my jaw drop, and I have say your site didn't manage it.

Erik, you may certainly hand out my review of Korten's book, but you should probably be aware that it'll probably be about as welcome as a dead rat in the potato salad. Korten's popular because he feeds the popular fantasy that the middle class can keep on living its current lifestyle if they just do it nicely, and challenging that fantasy may land you in some awkward moments.

Loveandlight said...

Erik, you may certainly hand out my review of Korten's book, but you should probably be aware that it'll probably be about as welcome as a dead rat in the potato salad. Korten's popular because he feeds the popular fantasy that the middle class can keep on living its current lifestyle if they just do it nicely, and challenging that fantasy may land you in some awkward moments.

I recall somebody with a LiveJournal blog referring to this fantasy as "The Vegan Green Organic Eco-Groovy Revolution".

Revolutionism was my amphetamine of choice during my youth as a college student. Believe it or not, I actually thought of my comrades in the college "PC" scene as the nucleus of a revolutionary vanguard. The truth was that I was just a fatuous dysfunctional child who was desperately needy for something to believe in and a sense of belonging in an abysmally morally and spiritually bankrupt society. Upon realizing that my "comrades" were dysfuntional and fatuous and that my sense of belonging was an chiffon-thin illusion I had cut from whole cloth, my belief in "PC" righteousness fell right off like a cheap toupee. And despite the fact that it was bitterly obvious how necessary this disillusionment was if I were to have any further growth as a human being at all, I was still utterly devastated. Crikey, I was a shallow and naive young 'un.

I guess my point is, is that people often have dubious motives for "smoking the revolutionary meth", and the hangover can be just as detrimental to an individual psyche as it can be to society.

Erik said...

> welcome as a dead rat

Yes, I know... and that's one of the reasons I want to do it; I'm trying to fight the knee-jerk liberalism and replace it with thoughtful, well-informed liberalism. :)

The next couple of years there will be interesting anyway, as they just drafted me to chair the Religious Services committee... after this it's possible they'll never ask me to do anything again!

riverbird said...

>> In Plato’s ideal state, an elite of philosophers occupied the top of the pyramid. A military caste took orders from the philosophers and kept social discipline lower down, and everyone else occupied the bottom, with no role in community decisions except obedience to dictates from above.<<

A couple 2-3 posts back, you mentioned the Edo period of 17th century Japan. Thaat madee me go do a bit of research. Thier governing philosophy seemed to be similar. An enligtened body at t he top, followed by the samurai, then farmers, artisans, and merchants. It worked for a while, but the merchats apparently finally took over the power structures of the lower strata.
And I suppose t he above quote could have Plato replaced by 'neo-con' asa well.

Additioanlly, there is a local group here associated with the grange that are becoming big Korten fans, mostly a group middle class dems, so-called progressives seeminig to fit your mold of the Korten gang of liberals. I'll likely be the dead rat.

Sabretache said...

John

I agree about the need for perspective but my judgment that the trajectory of human history (as distinct from 20/21st century 'civilization' as one among many predecessors) is headed for something very like the Apocalypse of conventional Christian theology remains. I have nothing to preach; I hear no herald of an earthly (or heavenly) paradise to come. I am just deeply pessimistic about the capacity of humanity to overcome its flaws short of catastrophic events likely to make all previous such 'falls' seem like minor hic-coughs. As both a father and grandfather it pains me to have come to such a view, but my reading of the evidence leaves me no alternative.

Why? - well on pretty well any measure of progress/development you care to name, the graph has gone parabolic over the past 2-3 centuries with the most telling being energy/resource consumption & consequent depletion, population growth, environmental degradation and the destructive power of weaponry. Plot those parabolas on a log scale and they remain near parabolic. In that respect history really does not provide any serious parallels. As I said earlier I make no claim to being able to time it - but I have considerable respect for the old duffer in the mall with his sandwich board reading 'repent for the end is nigh'. For sure I see the existence of humanity emerging on the other side of such events as unrecognizable in terms of the 'articles of faith' of todays 'civilization'.

Erik said...

JM,
Besides, the possibility of being unpopular didn't stop us from pushing World Full of Gods onto the book group (and that turned out about as well as you thought it would :) - a couple of people were genuinely interested, a couple of people actually thought about some of your points for a couple of minutes, and everybody else thought we were nuts...)

Charles said...

People have been predicting that the Apocalypse is coming -- and soon! -- for a long time now. Their timing has been off, but perhaps they are all tapping into a valid insight: there is an irremediable structural flaw at the foundation of our civilization. The flaw expresses itself in many forms, for example the usury-driven exponential conversion of human and natural capital into money. Peak Oil and the exhaustion of the earth's capacity to absorb our waste are two side-effects of this. But even interest-money has deeper roots in our sense of self, our identity as discrete and separate beings.

I think Korten is on the right track with the notion of a Great Turning, but like many, he does not understand how fundamental the flaw in civilization is, and therefore does not understand how deeply the revolution in human beingness must extend. That may be why he imagines a political solution is possible.

John, are you familiar with Silvio Gesell's work and have you thought through the implications? I have a pretty thorough discussion of it at The Currency of Cooperation.

I discovered you when a friend sent me your piece about "Global Liberalization". What you call magic is very similar to the idea of Storyteller Consciousness, and I would love to hear your take on it.

Thanks,

Charles Eisenstein

Ian Graham said...

Indeed Greer is also one of my 'must-read' sites.
Elsewhere you have noted population overshoot as an ecological condition that includes humans. Apart from the self-reflective capacity we share disportionately (more on that below), we breed. So I have come to see that the energy surplus of the last 200 years has merely allowed us to breed more prolifically, hastening the arrival of the decline of the current civilization.

This is quite apart from the apochryphal mythos you have noted in Korten leading backward thru Christianity to Plato/Socrates.

But then we should consider that there is also evolution for the human species, which I would claim to be limited to consciousness in the timeframe we are considering here. I particularly like Ken Wilber, Deepak Chopra, Don Graves, Don Beck and Peter Russell in this respect: they identify plausible grounds for seeing what Korten may be pointing to: the shift in consciousness among larger groups of people towards a more inclusive sense of self-interest.

...no possible political arrangements can yield satisfaction to everyone. Attempting to do so guarantees failure, and attempting to do so on the basis of some theoretical scheme of what human needs and relationships ought to be, in place of a willingness to compromise with what they are, guarantees failure on the grand scale.
Indeed, Vichy France discovered the error in appeasement. However, an attempt to bring about a national consensus has proven successful at times in history, difficult tho it may be. The work of Appreciative Inquiry is one such method for this.

politics work when they reflects the actual needs and concerns of the community, as grubby and pragmatic as those inevitably are,

Now, what about the class struggle? have we not seen an exploitative development in the distribution of income in America and Canada, perhaps England and elsewhere? The elites have managed quite well to bring the ideology of private property rights to the fore. Leo Strauss was one fond admirer of Plato's Republic, I've read, and he is the putative ideological godfather of the neo-conservative movement that propelled extreme entitlement to squash concern for the pragmatic and mundane concerns of the community (think New Orleans post Katrina)

elitist insistence that people of “higher developmental stages” ought to govern everyone else, and his claim that partisan political action will open the door to a new and better future,

Here I return to Wilber et al. It can be shown that there are people of higher developmental stages. Beck in his work called Spiral Dynamics shows data for large masses of people in different parts of the world. But more than that, there have been advanced, even enlightened souls in all ages, who shine a light of wisdom beyond their immediate sphere of influence. Are there more today? I cannot say, but why would there be fewer,when we approach a doubling of the earth's human population every 35 years?

I would submit that the higher developed of us are defined as seeing in our collective humanity the same value as we see in our own survival. Hence a grounds for hope.

Ian in Burlington ON

John Michael Greer said...

Loveandlight, very true -- a lot of what motivates the revolutionary ideologies of the present (and indeed the past) has nothing to do with the overt issues involved.

Riverbird, of course you're correct that Edo period Japan had a feudal ideology; given its history, nothing else would have worked. I hope we can aspire to something better in the deindustrial future.

Sabretache, we certainly agree that what will come out the other side of the end of the industrial age may not have much in common with today's civilization. We disagree about the nature of the transition -- but of course time will show which of us is right.

Charles, I'll take a look at the sources you cite, but from my perspective, once you start talking about fundamental flaws in civilization and revolutions in consciousness, you're mouthing the same slogans as Korten -- just applying them differently. There's nothing new, or particularly helpful, in that approach, however finessed. "Revolution," after all, literally means "going around in circles..."

Ian, you're making the common mistake -- a mistake shared by the people you cite -- of thinking that "evolution" is another word for "progress." What you're suggesting is that consciousness progresses, and that we're on the verge of a breakthrough of some kind. I disagree, and see the "more inclusive sense of self-interest" you mention as more a matter of propaganda than reality. That's a subject for a future post, though.

As for the role of mysticism, here also I disagree with what you're suggesting in almost every possible way. The path to spiritual awakening, as I see it, has to be walked by each individual alone, and confusing that path with the very different unfolding of historical cycles muddies far more than it reveals. More on this in a future post, too.

Sabretache said...

Pardon a third post on this but Charles' reference to an 'irremediable structural flaw at the foundation of our civilization' was something that struck me too. I happen to agree with him. However, I do so only because I see such flaws as derivatives of a similar 'fundamental flaw' in Human nature itself and, as such, next to impossible to irradicate. Seems to me that for politics to have any hope of producing that genuinely better world that we all hope for, it must deal with human nature as it is rather than setting out to improve it. That, IMHO means a clear recognition that our capacity for both saintliness and pure evil have been pretty much a constant throughout the ages, and are likely to remain so - albeit with increasingly impressive tools with which to implement our schemes. I know I'm beginning to sound like an apologist for traditional Christian doctrines here (in this case the Fall), but that really is not my intent. I do however find many aspects of various religious doctrines illuminating when approached with a genuinely open mind and treated as allegory (rather than revealed truth). They do, after all contain the sum of humanity's ponderings on many of these issues and, as such, warrant careful study.

John Michael Greer said...

Sabretache, no argument there -- as I see it, any constructive approach to our current predicament (or to much of anything else) has to start with a recognition that human beings are what they are, and will not become angels any time too soon. We also need to recognize that the world's spiritual traditions are a major and much-neglected resource in this context. More on this in a future post!

Hardleft Millenarian said...

First, JMG, let me say that I am an admirer of your work, which I consider to be unusually thoughtful and level-headed among those concerned about Peak Oil. The latter quality in particular is one that I often seek for in vain in my own private communications on the topic.

That having been said, I do have a criticism of your emphasis on pragmatism and your critique of moralistic idealism as far as the formation of realistic political expectations are concerned. It seems to me that an amoralistic pragmatism that places issues such as principled commitments to truth and justice in an inferior position is an attitude that only the privileged and non-aggrieved can afford to adopt. If one is him- or herself a helpless victim of gross injustice in the political arena, and severely impoverished or deprived in some way as a result, then an attitude of amoral pragmatism will be of no help whatsoever.

I think the concept of political helplessness (perhaps "disenfranchisement" is a better synonym) is the key to understanding my point here. Being in a position to pragmatically bargain in the political arena, as you propose, presupposes being in a state of political NON-HELPLESSNESS. But I think that most people who are filled with anger and cynicism about the political process correctly perceive themselves to be essentially helpless politically speaking, and completely at the mercy of powerful, utterly self-serving and mendacious forces with whom there can be no question of even beginning to initiate a process of compromise - since they hold all the power.

Also, to make a slightly different point: If one is sufficiently aggrieved and victimized by injustice under the present regime of things (if one is serving a 20-year prison term as a black for possession of a very small amount of marijuana, say), then one cannot reasonably be expected to see the political process leading to one's victimization as anything other than evil, can one?

riverbird said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
riverbird said...

I wanted to address the twin notions of 'fundamental flaw of society' and 'revolution (or evolution) of consciousness.' I see these as very much related.
As such, the fundamental flaw in society is that individuals are born into self-conceit, which in the modern society reflects as gross and addictive consumerism. Through the individuals applied effort of the spirit to go beyond themselves, to evolve, to revolutionize their own spirit, to do the spiritual work, as it were, is to be born anew. This is Korten's Great Turning, this is the Apocalypse and Revelation, this is the first solution to our collective consumption.
When one submits oneself to the fire and allows their conceit to burn up, they come out the other side with what you might call 'a monk's consciousness,' wherein they are able to see practical matters clearly and live in thier lives and do with much less.

Maybe there are more 'enlightened' beings on the planet today than fore, but is the percentage any different? hard to say, how many monkeys is the hundredth when the population is always growing?
It seems to me there is a crash on the way. Econ 101 teaches us supply and demand, biology 101 teaches us the sine wave of populations; of which humanity has yet to follow. Call this apocalyptic mythology if you like.
This is where Jm's hard practicality comes in, because I believe it will be pockets of communities prepared for such craches and with the skills and knowledge to provide their own food and energy needs that will be able to ride out the raging surf of a collapsing social network making the Depression look like kiddie waves. and I'm no armageddonist, but I am planting gardens, collecting hand tools, and learning new skills which are not dependent on current structures.
The folks who get hit by the perfect storms of peak oil (resources in general), collapsing economy, and climate change are the ones who are currently in denial about it all, or otherwise banking on technological or political solutions, though these efforts will inevitably soften some aspects.

John Michael Greer said...

Hardleft, it's one thing to recognize that injustice happens, and quite another to do as you've done -- to claim that extreme injustice is the essential shape of our collective life, and to demonize the people who, in your view, are responsible for that. Once you define the world as consisting primarily of evil exploiters and helpless victims, you reinforce the learned helplessness that undergirds your argument. There are more options.

Riverbird, you've joined the crystal ball brigade -- these are all points I planned on covering in a future post!

Colin Wright said...

John,

I have to say if I was David Korten reading your critique I would be pretty upset. You don't seem to have any substantive argument other than Korten is a raging, savage, deluded REVOLUTIONARY.

I have to ask you if you think that's fair. My impression of DK is someone advocating for a little more democracy in how we run our affairs. Sure he criticises institutions like the World Bank and the I.M.F. (and promotes local economies in their place). Will that really lead people astray?

Does that mean he is a closet Chairman Mao ready to launch a Cultural Revolution? Do you think you may be guilty of red-baiting?

Sure he comes from a liberal democratic tradition. But remember the same Tom Paine who advocated for the French Revolution (and was appalled by the Jacobins) also advocated for the American REVOLUTION.

I'm assuming from your article that you do at least support democratic values (and have no hidden demagogic agenda). But there is no clear distinction between Western radical and reform positions. A clear reading of history ought to demonstrate that the radical values of today (women suffrage, gay rights, the 40 hour week, etc.) become the commonplace values of the future.

Silence said...

I was just finishing my own review of "The Great Turning" when I happened upon your own.

In my opinion, the book's abstractions of Empire vs. Earth Community can potentially be applied, like any abstract insights, to the real world with all of its ambiguity. There are hierarchical systems of control. There is an underlying cooperative, bottom-up process that produces real culture and economic wealth. The control systems do exploit and suppress the cooperative systems. Therefore, your claim that Korten is just lumping a bunch of things together that he does not like and calling it "Empire" (and, conversely, calling what he does like "Earth Community") does not seem quite accurate to me.

You have said that Korten treats his abstractions as if they were reality, but in my opinion he understands that these are abstractions, but fails to deal with the difficult problems of applying them to the real world. So, where you say that he confuses abstractions with reality, I would disagree slightly and say instead that he is unfortunately so satisfied with his abstractions that he does not do the hard work of applying them for the purpose of effecting real-world changes. By this I mean that he fails to define a real-world strategy for transitioning from his Empire to his Earth Community.

This is characteristic of a tendency that I personally associate with the New Age movement. The New Age movement allows alienated people of comfortable means to seek abstractions and rituals that symbolize a positive connection to the larger world, thereby making them feel less alone, without forcing them to endure the personal effort and risk required to actually transcend the boundaries of economic and other privilege that prevent them from having a more broad-based connection in fact.

But the abstractions (of Korten's book) themselves, I would maintain, are potentially quite useful, and are extremely well developed and illustrated with historical and contemporary examples. There is value in that analysis, and it would be unfortunate for it to be overlooked just because the author did not take the next, more difficult, steps.

What Korten is grasping for is a metric by which progress or regress can be measured. He never actually refines his abstractions to the point that they can be expressed succinctly, but his copious illustrations take us very close to that goal. If I were to attempt to complete it myself, I'd come up with something like "increase diversity and cooperation at every level of the hierarchy of inclusivity (e.g., family, community, nation, biosphere) in which we hold membership, and when conflicts arise between doing this on one level vs. another, favor the most inclusive level within which one has both knowledge and influence." There are many specific envisionments and policies that could arise out of this kind of an abstract desideratum.

Finally, you have said that Korten has an apocalyptic perspective. I would say instead that he has a conjunctural perspective. I have some doubt regarding the validity of this conjunctural perspective, because it implies that crisis can lead as easily to major changes favoring diversity and cooperation as it can lead to changes favoring more stringent hierarchical control. In my opinion, crisis favors the hierarchical outcome much more than it favors the more cooperative model, because general social and environmental breakdown attacks precisely the kinds of cooperative institutions that could provide the foundation for more bottom-up cooperative and diverse institutions.