99.99% of this blog is from either the writer’s own words or a summary of them. I have added a few anecdotes and thoughts here and there, but almost none of these ideas are mine or original.
How To Re-Imagine the World: A Pocket Guide for Practical Visionaries
by Anthony Weston
“This book is a guide to creative thinking in service of radical social transformation. It is a brief and practical how-to book with examples, offered in the conviction that ordinary people, working together, can begin to re-envision the world in unexpected and dramatically off-the-charts ways” (Weston pg1).
I was at the library and wasn’t even looking for this book or this topic specifically. I think it was the small, compact look of the book along with the awesome illustration on the cover of a man’s (or woman’s ) head like an atlas cracked open with amazing things bursting forth. I remember thinking that this was the kind of thing that I have been talking about lately.
I know that many of us are still hopeful for the future and many of us secretly believe it is too late no matter what we do (I feel a little of both), but this sort of creativity is what is needed in our works when trying to be heard about the dangers ahead.
The author’s approach is refreshing. Here I offer a summary of some of his amazing ideas and encourage anyone interested in this to either finding this at your library or even to buy a copy.
So, here we go:
He offers also on the first page that we should not be fooled into thinking that we cannot “change the world” and that the world is already changing and he gives some examples. Oil is peaking, genetically modified foods are invading our stores with no shame, the majority of us now are overweight and the rest are starving, etc.
He tells us that alternative futures are already being considered. If you think about it most architecture programs have already integrated green building into their programs. He mentions even the war and his point being that it is a wonder that we can invest so much time, effort, hope, hate and capital into ANYTHING!!
Many things that Weston mentions I HAVE to quote because I can’t say it any better than him. “I propose that what we urgently need right now is not the social pressure or the political power to enforce changes we already know we want. That is a recipe for more of the same…What we desperately need – first – are ideas…” (Weston pg3).
He mentions the Web and how we need to utilize this tool with the networking and person-to-person dialogue where at a second’s notice I could be talking to someone from Afghanistan and then at the same time be commenting on someone’s photos in Japan. We have forums, blogs, websites, social networks, pages for organizations to network with and causes. My point in this is one I have made before: never have we lived in a time where so MUCH information was available to SO MANY people and for free!! F33DyourHEAD!!
He mentions a world with less work, with an alternative WORLD instead that has less need for transportation rather than finding alternative forms of transportation, and student exchange programs rather than shipping young ones off to war. I like how Weston thinks and I think you will catch on quick to his method. It is not a gimmick, it is creativity, which we lack strongly often in our pursuits! “Goodwill and enthusiasm alone do not free us from the usual political and philosophical assumptions — often unconscious” (Weston pg5).
Work from a vision
“Affirmative vision is crucial. Be emphatically, visibly, clear-headedly FOR something, and something that is worked out, widely compelling, and beautiful — not just against the problems or the-powers-that-be of the moment” (Weston pg9).
This is a concept already well-known to some activists/changers-of-the-world. It is dwelling in the positive rather than the negative. Weston gives an example of the Civil Rights movement and how, while it WAS against some things, it was never a wholly negative movement. He reminds us that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “I have a DREAM..”, he did not say “I have a nightmare”.
Since I started my program of Conservation Biology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry I have been relieved to find that we “naturalists” or “environmentalists” are not a bunch of doomsday prophets and I was refreshed by the ideas that emerge on campus. We often have a stigma as being the ones who are preventing economic growth or always living in the worst-case-scenario frame of mind. I believe, over time, we have found that this approach exhausts and disillusions us and gets us nowhere. We are a NEW kind of environmentalist!! A few of Weston’s examples include:
-Anti-war but being FOR multilateralism or FOR a society that supports our troops by sending them only on honorable and necessary missions
-Ant-business or is it really FOR small-scale businesses, FOR community oversight, or FOR a different kind of business-as-usual
When you are forming an argument of your vision, include ALL aspects of what this vision would affect. Don’t leave out the loss of jobs or maybe that saving one kind of habitat might affect another or that by opposing the building of a new highway there is still the problem of traffic flow in the area. In short, cover ALL your bases.
One of his examples is an organization called the New Apollo Alliance, promoting national energy independence. Their vision includes 3 million new jobs AND serving the environment. Some of the jobs that are possible with new ideas would be skill-centered and allow more fulfilling work.
Another example, that I thought was clever and ironic, is the issue of abortion. This is commonly thought of as a polarized debate. There are many things in common when completing the WHOLE vision. They both could work towards strengthening the family, enhancing prenatal and postnatal care, speaking to the hyper-sexualization of the world in the eyes of our teens, equal access to childcare, etc.
With some of the suggestions we are so used to hearing like “listen carefully” or “look around” he adds “look playfully”. He is referring to ways in which we form new ideas. As he is more seasoned than I at the moment in this area I will list a few of his own examples to illustrate his meaning.
He mentions that while in a meeting about the re-building of New Orleans he hears a story of a little colony of off-season artists that had to flee. Following this thought he suggests that artistic communities are often “expressive, experimental, and nomadic…” (Weston pg24). What if dwellings themselves were nomadic in nature? What if there were homes that allowed the wind and water to flow through with minimal damage like having the first floor be simply a screened in porch? He brainstorms nomadic utilities like portable solar power units or cell-phone towers being like buoys or kite-mounted. What about houseboats?
He encourages thinking that might not seem practical, that at first mention we would almost instinctively shrug them off or feign interest in the spirit of brainstorming only to scratch them off the list as soon as someone suggests it would be impossible. This is NOT listening playfully I imagine. I have sat in group meetings and discussions where an idea, when mentioned, is automatically dismissed by the facial and body expressions of the majority in attendance who claim, themselves, to be progressive.
Here he brings up Edward DeBono and a method called “random word method”. You start with a random prompt and ask what ideas or associations come to mind when this prompt is put together with your problem or question. The easiest way? The old flip-through-the dictionary-with your-pointer-finger technique.
He says “watch for the odd fact” (Weston pg29). His example is that cars have air conditioning because the roads can get hot. What about making roads that are less heat-absorbent? Paint the roads white to be reflective…and easier to see at night! Going in another route, why waste all that heat? Install pipes and run water through to heat it up to go to homes for wash water.
We are constantly settling for smaller steps because this has been the “middle-ground”. the easier softer way to change. Weston suggests taking BIG steps, like off-the-scale big. “Ideas…”, he says, “…can stretch” (Weston pg32). He gives a few examples in this chapter of his book relating to stretching ideas. To summarize one, he mentions Doctors Without Borders. What about Students Without Borders, Electricians Without Borders, etc.
“Thinking ‘in the box’ has a usual, preferred or expected direction, pre-organized elements. For creative provocation, methodically reverse them. Flip the expected directions, think opposites, transpose the constituent ideas” (Weston pg37).
For example we often think that speeding things up improves them, the opposite would be to slow them down. He talks about eating slow and that there is already a “movement” for mindful eating. He suggests slow-traveling, slow-cities, and slow learning (Weston pg38).
“Fixed associations dominate our thinking” (Weston pg39). He mentions the phrase “preemptive war” and wonders what “preemptive peace” would look like. Going further he suggests a federal Department of Peace and a Peace Academy (opposite of West Point) that could train cadets in the cutting-edge, strategic use of nonviolence.
What is the opposite of a terrorist? He says someone who is an ever-present, disruptive possibility but in the other direction. Delightism? Rapturism? “Roving bands of youths, maybe, who transform people’s yards while they’re out. Or paint magnificent murals on freeway underpasses or building sides, or leave flowers on whole neighborhoods’ doorsteps, or stage unplanned Shakespeare performances…” (Weston pg40). The thing with this is that there are already people who aspire to act in these ways but are arrested for vandalism or disrupting the peace. Maybe if it was bigger and more widespread though. He asks why we should only aim for a world without terrorism…GO BIGGER!
The Problem Is the Solution
Why do we consider things that can be used as waste? Why haven’t we found other ways to utilize these resources. This brings me back to a previous scenario of the heat coming off of the roads. He mentions that power plants see heat as a waste. In Scandinavia their power plants are also their heating plants. I love the story he relays of Bo Lozoff who was living in a yoga ashram and realized that his life was not much different from a prisoners daily routine. He saw his life though was liberating. He co-developed the Prison-Ashram Project to enable prisoners to feel that liberation.
He talks about the aging in our communities and mentions Raging Grannie. This is a group of elders who are “promoting peace, justice, social and economic equality through song and humour”, according to their international website.
What’s The Next Step?
He says don’t be so easily satisfied with the immediate conclusion. Persist! Always keep asking, what’s the next step? He tells us that there is a car dealership down the street from his house that flies an American flag. Why not windmills with American flags on them? We could put the stars and stripes on all new technologies. Give it to both sides. Next step? Windmills to pump city water. A big argument against using windmills is that they are ugly and mar the beauty of the land. Why not aim to make windmills more beautiful instead of less and in unseen places. He reminds us that Dutch windmills aren’t seen as ugly. They are a part of the landscape. Maybe buildings themselves could be designed to harness wind. Make the installation of green technology “conservative”. They could be the source, often, of high-paying skilled jobs.
“Right now, inside ‘the system’ and even right around the corner, many of the changes we want are already underway. Find ways to join and accelerate change movements already in flow. Radical change is often an inside job” (Weston pg57). He points out that in the absence of federal commitment, other avenues open up. Oilmen in the White House consistently blocked efforts to join the Kyoto Protocol. Cities like Portland are already taking leadership roles and leaders are rising up in unexpected places. Many products marketed in countries supporting the Kyoto Protocol must meet these standards. Private businesses are already conforming to these standards without our government regulations. Rising gas prices is already accomplishing what 30 years of political infighting could not: which is to radically increase fuel-efficiency. Also, he says he has friends who give away emission permits as gifts. You can buy “offsets”. He believes that offsets will become part of business-as-usual. There are other tracks besides the government is his point.
He says sometimes we can expend a lot of energy and accomplish nothing at all just because of the way something is, structurally. Tiny adjustments can make all the difference. His example is that a tiny change to an ingredients list can make or break a genetically modified – or organic – food. He mentions real-time gas consumption in hybrids can dramatically change driving habits. This is important enough to include: he says internet-savvy soldiers are blogging about the war with pictures and video, making the war real. Agencies are trying to shut them down on the basis that information could be learned from the enemy. He says that there has to be a way for this to still be available without it being dangerous. Why throw out the baby with the bathwater! Small nudges and pushes can make all the difference.
He talks about the work week and that many people polled would give up salary to have less of a work week. Also, unemployment is high. He suggest cutting back and re-distributing the work. “Part of the reason is that we feel compelled to work more in order to afford intensive activities during our ever-scarcer ‘leisure’- and more ‘labor-saving’ devices to free up time for, well, more work” (Weston pg65). He states that we would need to unlearn some deep habits. Part of the problem, he says, is that when people cut back their work-hours they go to part-time status and lose much needed benefits. (I can identify with school – if I don’t have full-time student status or at least 15 credit hours a semester I lose my grants and loans). There was an estimate by economist Juliet Schor that says that by going part-time people essentially reduce their income by 80%. He suggests pro-rating benefits to work hours. Schor has other ideas if you would like to search her name.
“Promote weedy social change. Aim for changes (new patterns, practices, institutions) that are as hardy as possible and that insistently re-emerge on their own. Self-generative, self-augmenting, readily drawing on natural desires and conditions, diffusing widely and wildly” (Weston pg67).
He says currently our changes are like delicate flowers that need constant tending. I can relate to this analogy because have been wanting to get involved in things in my neighborhood and in the world and it always seems “delicate” in that it is hard to find, only a few people are sustaining the cause draining their energy because it is not naturally appealing. There are people out there who want to act, but can’t find the passion.
He says Unofficial Exchange Networks are weedy. He mentions The Freecycle Network, which is a pure giveaway list! He goes off into ideas again saying, what if cities and towns sponsored community exchange networks (like a flea market without money). What about freecycling non-material things like empowerment or political participation.
“Co-operative structures are weedy” (Weston pg68). He gives an example in history. During the Great Depression mutualism popped up all over the place. There were organizations like UNCRO (Unemployed Cooperative Relief Organization) and UXA (Unemployed Exchange Association). More modern organizations like CSA (Community-Suppported Agriculture are present today. Areas that people traditionally struggle in have lead to weedy pop-ups of, for example, co-op medical facilities. Weston always takes the thought one step further and asks how to amplify them and enhance them: “…spreading the seeds more widely and to other receptive soils” (Weston pg68).
P.S.: He adds that the web itself is weedy!!
“Futurist John Peterson defines a ‘wild card’ as a low-probability, high-impact event – a surprise that could change everything” (Weston pg71). There are negative and positive wld cards. “If we orient our thinking only by current givens and probablilities, we will be both conceptually and practically unprepared for radically transformative events that are possible though not so probable” (Weston pg72).
He reminds us of the climate-change disasters we are slowly seeing unfold like environmental refugeeism, drought, monsoons, etc. He warns that disasters can be framed in a reactionary way, such as “the wrath of God”. He says that we should be ready to offer an alternative instead of blaming and calling “I Told You So”. An alternative infrastructure could be ready…and already in place. Turn the theologies inside out too. He says we could see environmental stress as God’s way of showing us the Earth is hurt and that it is not vengeance.
He says many oppressed groups needed to have doors opened for them in order to learn. “What possibilities do today’s actualities hide” (Weston pg 78)? He talks about aiming higher in our schools than we think we can and mentions Prisoner-Victim Mediation. People will come together when they have a common passion to root for or work towards too. He says we don’t need to make people less selfish, we need to fan the flame of intense social energies that are already in our lives. Recovery in all areas can possibly begin with an invitation or gesture.
“Go deep. The word ‘radical’ itself comes from the Latin “radix”, root” (Weston pg83).
Rebuild From the Ground Up
This goes back to his point earlier of when there are roadblocks because of the way things are built up or deigned or are systematically flawed…you start over! The best solution for recycling…get rid of the need for it! Make products compostable or re-usable. I love that he mentions how much time and energy we are putting into redesigning cars to be more efficient or have only water as an exhaust, when the root of the problem is the cars themselves. They are noisy and are eyesores against the landscape and are part of the reason we can justify rushing around in our lives from this thing to that with no enjoyment of the in-between. Get rid of cars, he says. I was writing a paper for a class when I learned about this great city in Spain called Vitoria-Gasteiz. They have totally rebuild their city so cars would not be needed as much. They have bike rental programs, have re-designed streets to be more pedestrian friendly and have put all of everyone’s needs within walking/biking/busing distance!! Look it up, it is VERY fascinating.
Of course, Weston goes further. We feel like we NEED to travel. This goes back to my story of Vitoria-Gasteiz. “Notice that many of the pieces of such a post-transport world are here already: the electronic infrastructure; an energetic co-housing movement and history” (Weston pg87).
He reminds us that all along the SE Coast (not just New Orleans) we have built cities, towns, buildings, structures that are weak and vulnerable. Restoring all the buffering nature can offer is essential. There is actually a movement to restore the Florida Everglades which was a major wetland system that helped the inland not to flood.
Cultures and Practices
“When systematic problems are created by cultural norms and practices, our most creative opportunity is to reshape those practices themselves. Along with issue-based activism we need a culturally transformative pro-activism” (Weston pg 91). Plainly we need to re-imagine our practices and habits. He says the European Union already requires manufacturers to take back their products at the end of their useful life. This might promote products MADE to last!
He asks us to imagine parallels everywhere (like his earlier example of preemptive peace being a reversal of preemptive war). He talks about corporate malfeasance being prevented instead of cleaned up. The Scandanavians answer to welfare is to prevent people from falling in the first place (preemptive welfare).
He mentions (and I don’t smoke weed anymore but I agree with this) the War On Drugs and how social innovations can make some drugs more benign than alcohol. In Amsterdam the bartenders control marijuana use in their establishments.
He adds that we need to look at the reconstructive questions, the basics. Why do so many people want to use drugs? What is the deep compulsion? (Now here is some stuff I know lol). He suggests that they fill a GENUINE need that people have a hard time meeting themselves. He asks, why isn’t learning to reconnect to the land and getting involved in teams part of our education (he mentions it is for indigenous people). I have often wondered the same thing for about 5 years after high school. Why didn’t they teach me stuff i really needed to know, like how to get a job, how to build a network, begin a career, pay my bills??
“Systematic problems trace back in the end to worldviews. But worldviews themselves are in flux and flow. Our most creative opportunity of all may be to reshape those worldviews themselves. New ideas can change everything” (Weston pg 95).
When looking at a problem you want to solve, ask yourself what attitudes and beliefs lead to this problem in the first place. He uses pollution as an example and how did we ever get into thinking that the natural world is our dump?
Poverty? Why do we tolerate radical inequality? He says in many African tribal societies, one homeless person is seen as a disgrace to them all. How did they get to that point that they let a fellow member be homeless?
He brings up many Fundamentalist’s belief that we are living in The Last Days and in The Rapture. Whatever the need to have this belief he says, “…there is an immense energy here for a sense of direction, meaning and for change” (Weston pg96). He talks about poet Nancy Corson Carter and how if they have the rapture, than we can have “Rhapsody”: music, harmony, the singing of epics.
He says native people of the Americas could not understand the concept of a paradise…SOMEWHERE ELSE. Paradise to them was right there. He gives definitions or explanations of modern secularism:
1. Materialism: the world consists of mostly inanimate matter
2. Mechanism: the world and minds work according to reductive physical laws
3. Instrumental and atomized view of nature in which the world exists in disconnected pieces, available for our use…
However, new ideas are coming about that the ‘whole’ is important in ways we may not even understand and reconnecting to the flow of things is our best chance of surviving. Maybe connection is the key, he says.
KUDOS TO THE AUTHOR ON THAT ONE!!!!
Everything would have to be reviewed and seen differently.
“Imagine political communities founded on Affirmations of INTERdependance rather than Declarations of Independence: bioregional, deeply participatory and decentralized; spontaneous, festive and multiple in their forms” (Weston pg98).
Now that the author has taken us through this creative crash course (and what a beautifully-mastered crash course it was) he tells us:
“Re-entering the struggle with creative momentum, let us rethink where and how and with whom we stand, how we take up issues, even how we speak. There is space for inventiveness and originality here too, and big moves to be made” (Weston pg 101).
Play To Your Strengths
We must be the change we wish to see in the world. I have heard that that quote came from Mahatma Ghandi. He gives advice a friend gave him: Make demonstrations into festivals and invite everyone, even the cops.
Humor seems to undercut the powers-that-be. He tells us that there is no right wing version of The Daily Show or The Onion.
Celebration seems to be one of our strengths and can bring together similar values in a community. He goes on about festivals for animal migrations, whale-watching, or return of fire-flies. He says, bring back the solstices and equinoxes. Having funerals before our death I thought was a good idea. You pick the time and place and what happens there.
He brings up the fundamentalists mantra to “teach the controversy” in relation to Creationism or (ahem ) Intelligent Design. He says why not? Maybe that will settle it. Don’t try and block what others have to teach. Learn from it and make your own informed decision (which is what F33DyourHEAD is all about, coincidentally). He says “teach the controversy” everywhere and have teach-ins. However, what about teaching evolution in the church? But we should also not totally rely on Darwinism without all the information available is his point. He mentions (I love this), what about the controversy WITHIN Creationism from different cultures?
Reclaim The Language
“Reclaim the actual meanings of words, including more inclusive and edgier meanings latent in the terms we are already using. Adopt new terms that match our new thinking, or terms that themselves enable new thinking” (Weston pg109).
He says we should all declare ourselves Conservatives “and be done with it”. He says then we can debate on what to conserve first (lol). He throws Social Security in there and asks why it got reduced to only being a pension. He said it should mean having a community, family, and support system. Homeland Security could expand to mean protecting our natural resources from threats. War On Terror could be handled as a criminal offense and not military so there is law enforcement and not invasion. What if we thought of terrorism as if it were Desperationism. Why did they do it?
He says terrorists don’t really inflict terror, that they shatter lives and places and symbols. He believes shattering should not be answered by war. We need to make our lives more “shatter-proof”.
More New Words
Resourcism: adopt it to mean the Earth is essentially just a set of resources for our use. A relentless, single-minded, narrow value system.
He reminds us that we will defend what we love. But, we are removed from the natural world too much to love it.
Nature-Deficit Disorder: coined by Richard Louv
Development: could mean improvement
Disposable: call it Perpetual Legacy instead. Call it what it is.
Fossil Fuels: (this one is good!!) good name because they are outdated, “fossils”.
Secular Humanist: opposite of a fundamentalist (because non-religious wouldn’t work) but still the word secular has been made dirty.
Spiritual Creatives: better term for the opposite of fundamentalists. We could free up the language of “Creation”and “Creationism”.
Evolutionary Creativity: view evolution as the story of self-generative creativity of life itself.
Look for commonalities. He asks that you build alliances from the overlaps. Speak also to the underlying issues and not just the position. The world is not truly black and white like we believe when we are in the heat of battle.
He mentions gay marriage and says that the issue arises because some gay couples affirm a traditional value. He mentions the idea of patriotism and “supporting the troops”. Supporting the troops doesn’t mean you have to support the war, but we sometimes think we ARE supporting them by opposing the war.
The Tao Of Change
“The wisdom of the martial arts: don’t resist the onrushing energy of opposition, but let it rush by, use what you can, and as for the rest, work cheerfully just beyond its reach” (Weston pg127). Reminds me of the Liturgy Against Fear from Dune!!
We don’t always need to meet force with force. Side-step, let it rush by and watch for ways you can nudge things to redirect them. Add your energy TO theirs to change direction.
He talks about reclaiming the flag for us. Why does it have to mean one kind of Americanism? We are Americans too!!grab the flag first, he says!
Legal gay marriage he feels will be a way off but there are other things we can do. I really like this section where he talks about turning all of marriage into something better. A “Covenant” maybe.
I like the Do-It-Yourself money. Communities have been doing this to keep the money local. They have an agreed upon type of exchange between them. He calls what is being done wealth-extraction. You can prevent this by being creative.
Go For Broke
“Never let it be said that you erred on the side of caution” (Weston pg 135). Aim way high!!
To follow up, not only was this book an inspiration but it had real ideas that people so often think are impossible. My brother said to me a few weeks ago that only selfish people believe they can save the world. I would like to prove otherwise!
- Eric Haseltine: You’re More Clueless Than You Think: Becoming a Visionary in 5 Easy Steps (huffingtonpost.com)
- Visualizing the Creative Process (lostgarden.com)
- The Emergence of Localism (energybulletin.net)