nyc nyc, October 28, 2014

The following is excerpted and adapted from Localization: Essential Steps to an Economics of Happiness, by Hehelenalena Norberg-Hodge, the founder and director of Local Futures (the International Society for Ecology and Culture).  A pioneer of the “new economy” movement, Norberg-Hodge has been promoting an economics of personal, social and ecological well-being for more than thirty years. She will be one of the speakers at Voices of Hope in a Time of Crisis, a day-long event that 350NYC is co-sponsoring at Cooper Union on Saturday, November 8.

Big Picture Activism

People are beginning to understand that something is fundamentally wrong, and that minor tinkering with the current system is not the answer. A critical mass is ready for fundamental change: what they need is a clear explanation of the root cause of the crises we face, and solutions that are meaningful.

Helping to create that critical mass is the goal of what I call “big picture activism”. Raising awareness involves more than just theoretical analysis: every day we can point to inspiring new examples of localization projects. We can show that in North and South, in the city and the country, people are rebuilding connections to others and to Nature, with immediate spiritual, psychological, and practical benefits.

For this sort of activism to succeed, a number of mental blocks need to be overcome. Many people want to move straight to action when they recognize a problem; they say: “we already know that the economy’s the problem and that corporations have too much power – we don’t need to keep discussing that.” But while most of us have a sense that economic forces are behind environmental and social justice problems, few understand how the economy undermines individual and cultural self-esteem; how it exacerbates ethnic, racial, and religious conflict; and how it damages our physical and psychological health. Nor is the majority aware that trade treaties have given corporations and banks so much power that they have become a de facto global government – ruling behind the scenes regardless of whether a “left” or “right” party has been elected. A broad, global-to-local perspective can make even those who already oppose corporate rule more effective.

Unfortunately, many others have completely given up on the idea of fundamentally changing the system.  Even committed activists sometimes say: “there’s no point in trying – governments won’t listen no matter how many of us march in the streets.” It is true that millions of people marched against the Iraq war, and yet policymakers took us into that senseless and destructive conflict. It is true that millions are opposed to gas fracking and nuclear energy, and yet governments continue to promote those technologies. However, the potential for people to really be heard will grow exponentially when they move beyond a fragmented perspective to focus on the common thread that runs through all their concerns. Since the current system is so destructive of both people and the planet, a “new economy” movement – one that is clear about what we are for, not just what we are against – has far greater potential to succeed than almost any single-issue campaign.

There is another stumbling block, one which is particularly common within the vast and growing New Age movement. This is the tendency within that movement to focus almost exclusively on the ‘inner’ dimension, on “thinking positively,” and personal change. And among those who focused on this inner world, many tended to look down on activists who seemed fixated on the ‘outer’ world.

In the activist community, meanwhile, many have ignored their personal, inner needs, while emphasizing “outer”, practical, and political change. Even though their work is usually born of altruism, ignoring the inner dimension has often hampered their efforts. Neglecting peace of mind and inner reflection and focusing on the negative can lead to self-righteousness and helpless anger. Burnout, conflict, and alienation have often been the consequences. But big picture activism makes clear that our problems have both an inner and an outer dimension, and that solving them requires working on both levels.

Big picture activism does not point a finger at individual politicians, corporations or bankers. Our destructive economic system continues to expand primarily because of ignorance. The CEOs of large corporations and banks are driven by speculative markets to meet short-term profit and growth targets, and so have even less ability to contemplate the overall impact of their actions.  Even concerned consumers, taxpayers and citizens can find it difficult to see the many hidden ways that their choices support an energy-intensive, job- and soul-destroying economy. The system has been running on blindness for a long time, enabling tremendous destruction to be perpetrated with the best of intentions.  The way forward lies not in anger and confrontation, but in actively seeking to encourage peaceful, broad-based, systemic change.

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Helena Norberg-Hodge is a pioneer of the “new economy” movement. She is the producer and co-director of the award-winning documentary The Economics of Happiness, and is the author of Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. She is a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (aka the “Alternative Nobel”), and received the 2012 Goi Peace Prize for contributing to “the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.” She will be speaking at Voices of Hope in a Time of Crisis along with 12 other speakers from around the world.

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