A Manifesto for Personal Action

by Dr Bob Rich, continued

The Solution

Who can change the world?
    Edward Goldsmith once wrote that a leader is someone who sees a rushing crowd, and runs ahead of them, shouting, "Follow me!" He leads only while running in the direction chosen by the crowd.
    In his monumental A Study of History, Arnold Toynbee studied the life cycle of civilisations. He showed that civilisations are born through the influence of people peripheral to the centers of power within an existing civilisation. Two examples are the Christianisation of the Roman Empire, and the birth of what Toynbee calls Western Civilisation: the now-dying technological society.
    Later-day Rome was being conquered by two competing foreign religions: Mithraism, which was favored by soldiers, and Christianity, the religion of the powerless. Both came from the periphery, not only geographically from Persia and Palestine, but also in terms of influence. Christianity eventually won, partly by incorporating some of the more attractive Mithraist rituals (eg Christmas, the Midwinter Fest). This was not because Christianity was True, for Mithraism was also a noble religion, but perhaps because soldiers were not peripheral enough.
    According to Toynbee, Western Civilisation was born in the Monasteries. The Church was corrupt: supposedly celibate Cardinals' sons received preferment, gifts bought salvation. Decent Christian men and women voted with their feet, and established devout rural communities on the degraded soil of the abandoned latifundia (previously slave-worked plantations). Their rule was: five hours' prayer, five hours' work, five hours' study each day. They raised children, rejuvenated the land, studied and prayed. They were the direct precursors of the celibate monastic orders, which arose after the ascendance of St Paul's misogyny in their philosophy.
    Hundreds of years of work and study made the Monasteries wealthy and innovative. They reinvented water power, improved the plough, found the lost treasures of Classical knowledge in the Arab writings, and became influential when Royalty sent their sons to study among the Brothers. So, the peripheral, powerless, pious voluntary peasant communities of Dark-Age Italy led to space travel, the Internet -- and the hydrogen bomb.
    It took 400 years for an Emperor to espouse Christianity. We don't have 400 years, or even 40. The first book warning of the environmental consequences of technological society appeared in 1949. Since then, the conservation movement has grown exponentially, but always too slowly, and always subverted by commerce: for example, revulsion with excessive packaging turned into the 'Keep Australia Beautiful' campaign; 'don't wrap it' became 'put it in the bin'.
    But, whatever can be done, can only be done by ordinary people, acting as individuals. By me. By you. And if it's too little, too slow, then we are doomed.
    Certainly, the famous wield disproportionately more influence than the rest of us. People like David Suzuki, David Bellamy, Noam Chomski and E. F. Schumacher have swung public opinion away from hate, waste, destruction. But they can have an effect on the course of history only insofar as they have an effect on us. On me. On you. They can lead only those who are already following.
    The illimitable ocean consists of drops of water. Each drop of water counts. When a myriad drops of water move in the same direction, there is the irresistible tide that destroyed Hitler, stopped the Vietnam war, saved the Franklin river in Tasmania from damming, and on a local scale, time and again confounded the powerful.
    The cliches of the alternatives movement can teach us:

*     Think globally, act locally.
*     The New Age is now.
*     Cooperation not competition.
*     Make love not war (but with a condom please!).

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