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Sustaining a Pattern of Alternative Community Initiatives

Based on their differences from the conventional economic rationale (Part #1)

An earlier version of this document, with regard to a proposal for the creation of a University of the Earth, was prepared for the Spirit of the Land Foundation. The operation of a University of Earth as a meta-organization for post-crisis action was described in earlier documents. Subsequent presentation in University of Earth: Questing for a more comprehensive dream (1999)

A. Design considerations
Feasibility and practicalities

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A. Design considerations

Pattern of initiatives

The purpose of this document is to sketch out some ideas for the design of a pattern of initiatives. These initiatives are to be "positioned" at different "stages" between western economic rationality and a cultural framework more congenial to local or traditional cultures. The paper was originally inspired by the extreme challenges faced by the Aboriginal tribes people.

Those closest to the economic rationale would naturally be easiest to develop and sustain according to conventional business approaches. Those closest to a traditional cultural framework would require most creativity in ensuring their economic viability. They might however offer the greatest opportunities for challenging new insight to conventional mindsets -- as well as being of most value to the local and traditional communities themselves.

Interface contexts

These initiatives can best be understood as interface contexts, whatever their organizational or material form. They are to be designed to facilitate interaction between cultures or paradigms. It is expected that people and processes would transfer with greatest facility between neighbouring initiatives. Cultural acclimatization at any particular "stage" might be required before transferring on to another stage - whether towards western economic rationality or towards a local traditional community cultural context. The pattern of initiatives might therefore be understood metaphorically like a sequence of sub-surface staging posts at which divers can work -- or like a series of camps required in the course of climbing the highest of mountains. They might also be thought of as a paradigm "bridge".

Design challenges

More generally, the sequence of initiatives might be seen as a social experiment in providing institutional staging posts between paradigmatic extremes such as economic materialism and psycho-cultural well-being: Recognizing that ultimately one extreme cannot survive without the other, a first challenge to design feasibility is to find ways to step up or down between them, reframing the design criteria at each level.

A second challenge is to describe the stages meaningfully in relationship to one another and as a whole -- for without creative imaging the pattern as a whole will lack credibility. This is probably as important in terms of economic rationalism as it is, for example, in terms of any Aboriginal Dreamtime perspective.

A third challenge is to recognize the constraints on development of projects according to purely economic criteria -- and the corresponding need for resource-light projects capable of responding both to the progressive erosion of social safety nets within any purely economic context as well as to the increasing demand for meaningful lifestyles. Transitions between paradigms

This transition between paradigms and logics is far from being abstract or unfamiliar. It is most familiar to everyone in daily life when moving between contexts. In some, such as management of a business, the economic criterion may be fundamental. In others, such as recreation, then interest, relaxation or amusement may be the criteria. And again, in community contexts, the well-being of others may be the prime criterion. Spiritual concerns may determine other criteria. In personal relationships, quite other criteria may apply, notably with respect to children and parents. The criteria of one context may be totally neglected in another.

However, in each of the contexts indicated, economic or other "external" criteria may nevertheless have a strong influence - whether beneficial or not. Similarly, even in a purely economic context, other criteria may exert an influence, whether ethical, aesthetic, spiritual, ecological -- or to give form to a personal dream.

The challenge here is to see the proposed initiatives as stepping stones, allowing people to move one way or another.

Initiatives - and their distinctiveness

In envisaging how a pattern of initiatives might be designed, several distinct concerns need to be kept in mind: Differences in domain or focus (eg health, education, etc), which could contribute to the complementarity of the initiatives.

Ways in which each particular initiative could involve more or less resources, whether as initial investment or in its ongoing activities. For example, visitors, participants or residents might be present in a high resource ("first class"), a low resource mode, or somewhere in between.

Differences in preoccupation, communication, attitude or expectation of people who might be simultaneously present and involved in any one initiative.

Ways in which any pattern of apparently external differences amongst the initiatives is in fact a reflection of a pattern of internal differences within each individual - whether consciously active at any one time or not. These considerations make it clearer that the notion of "tethering" initiatives at different "levels" (as discussed above) needs to be treated in a more subtle matter. For a start the notion of "level" can be criticized as unnecessarily hierarchical when the complementarity of the pattern of distinct initiatives offers a more fruitful insight. To the extent that the initiatives can be compared to community energy "chakras", for example, any competitive evaluation could only marginalize vital energy foci. It is not useful to perceive one chakra as "better" than another.

Avoiding any commitment to "better", the general concern is to create environments that allow for initiatives and ways of being that are less governed by economic criteria and their problematic future. This means that whilst each initiative might be said to have a presence at every "level", the main focus or centre of gravity for many of those involved might be at a quite distinct level. It is there that the sustaining processes would be most apparent -- and through them the credibility of that initiative to those participating most actively in it.-- and through them the credibility of that initiative to those participating most actively in it.

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