Saturday night, at one of the regular gatherings at Moos,
a friend and I talked about fasting, fungi & fractals. At one point in the conversation, he said that he finds it admirable what I do and that he doesn’t pay very much attention to his actions being sustainable or not in his everyday life. He mentioned two reasons. Firstly, the city where he lived for the past half-year (a midsize city in the US) couldn’t care less about sustainability. There is - from his experience - zero awareness of these issues. To change anything towards regeneration seems like a too-long stretch to even begin. Secondly, it is not each individual’s responsibility to act, but it is the system’s responsibility to act. He said that only a few companies on this planet cause the most significant harm.
I find both arguments understandable. I have wondered myself for many years about how to prove them wrong or right. I have also heard them many times before. I would therefore like to summarize the answer I usually give.
How moral revolutions happen
The most helpful analysis I came across is from the philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah. He describes how moral revolutions undergo different phases: ignorance, acceptance of the problem without consideration for one’s role in it, acceptance of the problem acknowledging one’s role, acting in a novel ways, incomprehension of how the old could ever exist.
We move from one phase to the next through individuals acting out new ways. It doesn’t feel like it, but complex systems - like the global system we find ourselves in - change through individuals. Each individual is part of its little system.
I might not reach everyone, but I can reach the system I am part of. By affecting this system, the individuals in that system that are part of their system also have the chance to influence their respective systems. It’s almost like a Ponzi scheme.
We are the system
The theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher Stewart Kauffman once said, “We are the system.” And as the system, we are also responsible for the part of the system that we can affect.
Karen Barad says
“Boundaries, properties, and meanings are differentially enacted through the intra-activity of mattering … The very nature of materiality is an entanglement.”
The system is a matter of entanglement. Our entanglement in the system makes the system. Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.”
Understanding that there is no clear boundary between us as individuals and the system is what makes each action worthwhile. No matter if someone is watching. This does not mean, though, that we dissolve into the system. We are and remain distinct human beings, but with a porous boundary, exchanging and relating to the system bidirectional. What’s in the system comes in. What’s in me comes out. Mentally, emotionally, physically.
Quantum Social Change
The transformations research Karen O'Brien describes the transformation as quantum social change.
“When we approach transformation from a quantum perspective, we cannot escape the conclusion that we do matter. How we think, speak, write, and act literally matters, and our manner of "being” matters. As part of a quantum system, the beliefs we hold, the metaphors we use, and the stories we tell ourselves influence the realities we cocreate. Agency is an entangled phenomenon, and the outcomes of our intentions and actions affect us all, whether we are aware of it or not. When we embody universal values such as equity and integrity, we experience that we are connected and entangled In some places, we might be the first person to display new behaviors, like my friend could be in his midsize US town. In some places, we are already one among many".
We might be the first person to display new behaviors in some places like my friend could be in his midsize US town. In others, we are already one among many.
When I talked to my friend, I sensed a slight shift in his perception. If this also resonates with you or doesn’t, I would love to know.