Archive for the ‘Gaian Democracy’ Category

Chomsky’s Hamster-Work

April 20, 2010

A friend sent me this article on Noam Chomsky.

The author, Chris Hedges,  is notably uncritical of the great man, and I myself would not normally criticise Chomsky.  He does his thing brilliantly  and is rightly revered for that.  But as it came from a friend who knows my work and what I am trying to do, I thought I’d respond to him with a few comments.  And then the comments seemed worth making into a post.

The article states

“he ( Chomsky) steps outside of every group and eschews all ideologies.”

But this  is not strictly true. Chomsky says he is an  anarcho-syndicalist.  And that makes him highly ideological.

As an  anarcho-syndicalist, he vigorously analyses and attacks the evils of existing systems of politics and government but, like all anarchists,  he declines to offer an alternative system of government that could be  viable, just and sustainable AND worth voting for. That for me is his great weakness, and what turns his writings and speeches into an – admittedly exalted – form of what I call “Hamster-Work”. Like a hamster on its wheel, he goes on and on and round and round, and in the end – nothing

It was Marx who said

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.

As a post-grad student, Chomsky offered an alternative, and still in some ways controversial, new paradigm to that which was dominant in linguistics at that time. Inevitably, fellow-linguists have challenged and modified  Chomsky’s alternative model, and he himself has substantially updated it,  but for over fifty  years it has provided an invaluable and still valid basis for research and inquiry.  Thus,  did he change the world of linguistics by heroically leading his colleagues into territory which until that time had not been identified still less explored.

That’s the kind of leadership I’d like to have seen in his political writings. But he never allows himself to take the lead, never offers an alternative model that would be open to rigorous analysis, criticism, development and  debate. Instead, although he

curtly dismisses our two-party system as a mirage orchestrated by the corporate state, excoriates the liberal intelligentsia for being fops and courtiers and describes the drivel of the commercial media as a form of “brainwashing.”

that’s as far as he goes. And today that is old news for many millions of people.  That quote from Chomsky sums up my view of local and national pseudo-democraticgovernment and politics back in the mid-1990s.  In “Gaian Democracies: Redefining Globalisaiton and People-Power” 2002/3) we discussed the complex, component and disastrous consequences of this system and offered a alternative model of democracy from which citizens could co-create just and sustainable societies.

Now, the Chomsky quote is a barely contested truism, representing something near the majority view in the USA and far beyond. . In constantly rehearsing and re-stating these and related arguments, Chomsky is never “wrong”, of course. His always safely cocooned within the outrage that a mere recital of the facts can generate.  However,when Chomsky asserts

that power, unless justified, is inherently illegitimate. The burden of proof is on those in authority to demonstrate why their elevated position is justified. If this burden can’t be met, the authority in question should be dismantled.

he raises profound questions that his  anarchist ideology allows him to ignore. Questions such as:

“If we dismantle illegitimate  forms of authority, then what?  What forms of power and authority would be legitmate in the face of the challenges we face in the 21st Century?”

These were the question that “Gaian Democracies” tried to tackle.  Yet Chomsky shirks them and even seems to think them not worth discussing. I wish that he would address those  and related questions, but it seems that his anarchist ideology prevents him from doing so.  Consequently  it condemns him and millions of his admirers to the ultimate futility of “Hamster-Work”.



April 14, 2010

What Business Are We In?

Thinking, acting and learning together.

Let’s just re-cap a bit. So far we’ve touched on Gaia Theory, Systems thinking, Argyris and Schön’s concepts of Espoused Theories and Theories in Use, Lincoln’s vs Schumpeter’s Theories of Democracy, Cybernetics and Viable Systems, Liberating Leadership, Paulo Freire, Problem-posing dialogues and processes such as Charettes and O.R.A.K.E.L,

We’ve skimmed over a lot of ground . And this is just the start. We will never be able to co-create Viable Innovative Gaian Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies without all of these ideas and many more.

But, we are not alone. We are a network of networks of groups of people. We have every chance to think, act and learn together to liberate our individual and collective competence, confidence and creativity.

It will take a lot of work and thousands of hours of your time over the coming decades, Studies show that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to produce a virtuoso pianist or tennis player or chess master, Those who practice less become less proficient than those who practice more. And similarly, if you spend four or eight hours a week thinking, acting and learning together, the results will come more quickly than if you do one or two hours a month.

All the topics that I’ve raised added together are just a few examples of the new ways of thinking that we will need to apply to make our Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies into Viable, Innovative and Gaian systems .

For practical examples of how to transform every kind of system you will need to see how people with very clear pro-human values like Peter Checkland, Dee Hock, W. Edwards Deming, John Seddon, Jim Lancaster have applied systems thinking in the real world.

How do we do this?  By mutual support, encouragement and improvement.

The Mutual Improvement Model

The model we try to emulate in our groups is the one that the British working classes developed to think, act and learn together for nearly 400 years, from about the end of the 16th Century to the middle of the 20th century.

Thanks to King Henry v111th’s over-active sex-drive, England had shaken off dead-hand of the Roman Catholic in the mid-16th Century and soon, labourers and artisans started to form mutual improvement groups. Some were illiterate but they didn’t just want to learn to read and write. They met semi-secretly at first to discuss the Bible in English and the torrent of new books that were challenging traditional interpretations of the scriptures. Soon, they were widening their range to include books of science, mathematics, exploration, philosophy, and then novels, biographies, classical texts in Greek and Latin and much much more besides,

The whole story is told in a wonderful book by Jonathan Rose, with the defiant title, “The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes”. Until the end of the 19th Century, it usually cost a penny a week to join a mutual improvement group. For a couple of centuries, they had no professional teachers. Each week a member of the group would lead the others in a discussion on something that he – and very occasionally she – had studied.

Over time, the groups became more formalised, created ever-larger libraries, built thousands of halls for their “Mechanics Institutes”and “Literary and Philosophical Societies’, codified rules of procedure, created colleges for the working classes, and Amateur Operatic Societies, sports clubs, and leagues, linked to Trade Unions, supported radical politicians , and were a major force for positive change in Britain.

A penny a week would be equivalent to how much in today’s money? You’ll need to work that out when you start your group. But certainly, it should not be a derisory amount. A penny was between 1% and 2% of an average weekly wage in the 17 to 19th Centuries.  So, what’s 1 – 2 % of the average weekly wage hereabouts?

At one level that penny a week is a statement of your seriousness in wanting to think, act and learn together to co-create Viable Innovative Gaian Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies.

Then, your group will need those subscriptions to  fund the activities that sustain and expand the business that you and the rest of the VIGDEOCS network is in.

What Business Are We In?

The people who have created the Global Monetocracies that got the human family into the mess we are in, know very well that their business is to get their President in the White House, their Prime Minister in Number 10, their majority in both houses of Congress and the House of Commons, their nominees on the Supreme Court, their protégé(e)s in the Cabinet, their technocrats at the head of major national and international businesses and agencies, their Mayors and Governors running key cities and states, their allies in key positions on radio, TV and the print media, their theorists in key university posts, their publications given prominent exposure in their mass-media.

To change the disastrous and dysfunctional system that they have created, we have to be in the business of putting our President in the White House, our Prime Minister in Number 10, our majority in both houses of Congress and the House of Commons, our protégé(e)s in the Cabinet, our technocrats at the head of major national and international businesses and agencies, our Mayors and Governors running key cities and states, our allies in key positions on radio, TV and the print media, our theorists in key university posts, our views and analysis given prominent exposure in the mass-media.

It won’t happen this year, but the sooner we start to think, act and learn together to co-create Viable Innovative Gaian, Enterprises, Organisations and Communities, the sooner our people will be in the positions they need to be in to lead the co-creation of Viable, Innovative and Gaian Democracies and Societies.

However, as the British working classes insisted on all those years ago, the VIGDEOCS networks must not get stuck in any kind of an ideological or intellectual rut. We must not be boringly intellectual, like  Marxists and neo-liberals.

In order to be seriously effective, we must  enjoy asking difficult questions and having fun,  Boring and solemn we must not be.

The only entrance qualification is a willingness to pay a weekly subscription and want to think, act and learn with you and co-create  VIGDEOCS.

At the same time, although the range of concepts and methodologies offered by  the thinkers I’ve suggested are anything but narrow, they have not written great poetry or novels or music.  Do not under any circumstances neglect the lessons that you can learn from great literature and art and history, even though it comes from a tradition that may seem obsolete.  There can be no fundamentalists or ideological commissars amongst us.  If you think that it would be valuable to spend an occasional evening reflecting on “The Wire” or “The Office” or “Hamlet” or “Carmen” or “The Prince” or “Persuasion” that isn’t some kind of backsliding or apostacy. Its broadening your minds.  Equally, linking up with a sports clubs, forming choirs and holding 1970s discoes,  must be a good thing.

Now, lets break for five minutes and then get down to the business of organising your next meeting.

Gaian Democracies: Summary and Intro

March 13, 2010


Redefining globalisation and people-power

© Roy Madron & John Jopling 2003

In the midst of the prosperity and affluence of Western ‘democracies’ there is a pervasive sadness and sense of impotence about the future of our societies, of humanity and of the natural world. Many well-informed people have focused those negative feelings on the idea of ‘globalisation’. For them the very term carries with it a sense of global despoliation, greed, oppression, injustice and irreparable loss. But many of us are uncomfortably aware that the unprecedented material abundance we enjoy in ‘the West’ is being bought at the expense of the rest of the world’s peoples, natural resources and wildlife. Within the societies forced to pay the costs of today’s form of globalisation, tens of millions of citizens are seething with anger, envy and frustration.

Yet today’s globalisation is but the latest – and hopefully temporary – phase of a globalising process that has been going on for thousands of years. In effect, we humans are a global species: we have evolved the capacity to inhabit virtually every corner of the planet. Thus some form of ‘globalisation’ is part of our destiny. What is in question is the form that human globalisation will take in its next manifestation.

Like millions of people, many of whom could be seen as the lucky beneficiaries of the way it operates, we have come to the conclusion that today’s globalisation is fundamentally unjust and unsustainable. Like them we want to make a useful contribution to changing this unjust and unsustainable system of globalisation into a just and sustainable one. But we believe that to bring about such a fundamental change in an enormous and complex system we have to understand its main characteristics as a system. Thus in Chapter 1 we introduce some of the key concepts and insights from systems theory, in particular ‘soft-systems theory’, as the basic grammar of ‘a new language of change’. Soft-systems theory is the branch of systems science that deals with human systems.

In Chapter 2 we apply those concepts to a review of the environmental, social and economic impacts of today’s form of globalisation on the rest of the world’s peoples, natural resources and wildlife. We cite sources and material in Chapter 2 that will be familiar to millions of people throughout the world. However, by adopting the systems concepts and insights from Chapter 1, we are able to shed new light on what might otherwise be a rather familiar recital of the ills that globalisation has produced.

In Chapter 3, by again using a systems approach, we can see that the huge range of unjust and unsustainable impacts we describe in Chapter 2 is not haphazard. The unjust and unsustainable aspects of globalisation stem from the purposes, principles and ideologies of a purposeful human system we have called the ‘Global Monetocracy’. In systems terms, injustice and unsustainability are ‘emergent properties’ of the system a whole. As a purposeful human system, the Global Monetocracy is not designed to deliver justice and sustainability. For this reason, we do not attach blame to any specific group or class. Many people, not just the financial and business elites, have prospered immensely in the service of the Global Monetocracy. There are others who defend it ferociously against its many critics. Even so, they are just minor components of a complex system that has evolved over several centuries. To blame them as individuals, or specific groups or classes, is to make a fundamental strategic error. If we want a just and sustainable global system in the future, it is the Global Monetocracy as a whole that must be re-configured – the totality, not just parts of it.

Our description of today’s global system as the Global Monetocracy originates from our identification of its core purpose as a system. Every human system has a purpose that governs the way it works, and this is true of today’s form of globalisation. The systemic purpose of the Global Monetocracy is the continuation of money growth in order to maintain the current debt-based money-system. It is not widely known that almost all the money we use comes into existence, not by governments creating it, but as a result of a bank agreeing to make a loan to a customer at interest. Only about 3% – the notes and coins – is government-made. The other 97% comes into existence as a debt owed by a customer to a bank. We cite authorities such as James Robertson, Richard Douthwaite and Michael Rowbotham to show that the effect of this is that our economies have to grow in order to avoid financial collapse. The debt-money system is thus the driving force behind the Global Monetocracy. The risk of collapse forces governments to give priority to policies that serve the money growth imperative; and in turn, these policies produce the unjust and unsustainable form of globalisation that we have today.

The blatant injustice and unsustainability of the Global Monetocracy has already aroused a great deal of opposition. In Chapter 4 we briefly summarise the limitations of the strategies employed by its leading opponents.

In Chapter 5 we outline the components of ‘Gaian Democracy’, a model of government that we believe will ensure our societies can use systems concepts to become – and remain – just and sustainable.

Gaia’ is the name of the Greek goddess of Earth. James Lovelock adopted it for the scientific theory he first put forward in 1972, in the journal Atmospheric Environment. The Gaia theory sees the planet’s physical, chemical and biological systems as a single evolving, self-regulating ecosystem. It explores how these systems interact to maintain the overall temperature and the chemical composition of the land, the atmosphere and the sea, within limits that make the Earth habitable by countless billions of living creatures. This way of thinking about the planet – thinking within the framework of Gaia theory – has led to many important new perceptions in the sciences of the Earth, and has contributed to the foundation of a new, multi-disciplinary effort known as Earth System Science.i

Gaia’s systems are all self-organising and interactive. We have called the form of government we are proposing Gaian Democracy, because our proposal is shaped by principles similar to those of the Gaian system itself.

Our proposal is also, crucially, based on the insights from soft-systems thinking that are outlined in Chapter 1. Gaian systems have evolved naturally. If human societies are to purposefully and consciously evolve our democratic and economic systems, we need to make use of the most soundly based and well-tried strategies for bringing about change in human societies. These are to be found in soft-systems thinking.

In Chapter 6 we discuss some of the factors that encourage us to believe that a vision of a global network of just and sustainable Gaian democracies is not a pipe-dream, but is in fact highly practical and entirely feasible.

In short, this Briefing argues that, since today’s Global Monetocracy has been devised to serve an unjust and unsustainable set of purposes, we need to replace it with a global network of just and sustainable Gaian democracies.

Taking on the power of the Global Monetocracy

The elites of the Global Monetocracy use many varieties of power to influence the actions of hundreds of millions of people every minute of every day in every part of the planet. They have always been ready to use the most violent and brutal methods to enforce their aims and to defend their privileges. But these are just the tip of a vast apparatus of power. Power does not only flow from the barrel of a gun, a tear-gas canister or the use of the torture chamber by surrogates of the system. With great skill and determination, the Global Monetocracy’s elites use the power of property, personality, tradition, technology, myth, propaganda, the media, government, professional and technical expertise, the judiciary and the police, patronage and, crucially, the power of ideology.

If today’s unjust and unsustainable Global Monetocracy is to be replaced by a global network of just and sustainable Gaian democracies, the question of ‘power’ must be addressed. What alternative forms of power could be generated to bring about a fundamental global transformation in the face of the huge variety of power that the Global Monetocracy can command? To answer that question we have to understand the difference between change strategies and defence strategies.

Change strategies and defence strategies

To illustrate the vital difference between ‘social defence’ and ‘social change’,ii George Lakey, the veteran American community activist, cites the rapid disillusionment of young Russians in the aftermath of their defeat of the attempted Communist coup in 1991.

Thousands of idealistic young men and women had put their lives on the line to resist the attempted overthrow of Gorbachev’s reforming government by former Soviet apparatchiks. Yet even though they had stopped the communist old guard in its tracks and put Yeltsin into power, they soon saw him and his ministers helping the rich to get even richer and driving the poor ever deeper into poverty. By the time Lakey encountered them a few years later, the young Russians were psychologically devastated by the aftermath of their courageous resistance to a return to totalitarianism. They were finding it extremely painful to have to face the fact that they – or as they saw themselves, ‘the people of Russia’ – had “lost their big move for radical change”.

With his many years of experience in the black community’s protest and resistance movements, Lakey was able to point out that what they had been doing in the streets of Moscow was an hugely courageous example of social defence of their society, but that the kind of social change they ultimately wanted to achieve would take a lot more than idealism and raw courage. “A strategy for fundamental change is a quite different project from what the pro-democracy Russians did, which was to defend Gorbachev and what he represented (the status quo) against the attack by the reactionaries.”

Lakey’s social defence vs social change dialectic opened the eyes of the young Russians. They now realised that to achieve the kind of change they wanted for the Russian people called for a strategy for change. This would entail bringing together the popular movements – who were concerned with defending the things they valued – around a vision of what a genuinely democratic Russia would look like. Upon that shared vision they would then be able to build a viable political movement to campaign at elections for every office in the land.

As this Briefing explains, we need to replace today’s unjust and unsustainable Global Monetocracy with a global network of just and sustainable Gaian democracies. Consequently, as George Lakey makes clear, if such hugely ambitious changes are to happen we must set about building viable political movements to offer the vision of Gaian democracies to people in every country where elections are held.

The Gaian model of democracy is shaped by the conviction that, with the tools provided by soft-systems methodologies, the peoples of the world have the political capacities to co-create global networks of just and sustainable Gaian democracies. As we explain in Chapter 5, the fundamental political and governmental changes we need cannot be initiated and sustained without at first thousands, and ultimately millions of active citizens thinking, acting and learning together to co-create societies that are just and sustainable. We agree with Professor David Held, when he says, “Our established ideas about equality, justice and liberty [and, we would say, sustainability] have to be refashioned into a coherent political project robust enough for a world where power is exercised not just locally and nationally but also on a trans-national scale, and where the consequences of political and economic decisions in one community can ramify across the globe.”iii

By its very nature, the Gaian democracies project must be capable of handling and tackling effectively a tremendous variety of issues, while building and sustaining the trust and commitment of the citizens it seeks to serve. If future historians are to judge today’s Global Monetocracy to have been a painful but temporary cul-de-sac, the Gaian democracies project will have to cross all boundaries and include all disciplines. It will need to have many starting points in order to build the necessary power and range of competencies needed to fulfil its purpose. Those starting points will most likely arise at the margins of the Global Monetocracy’s empire. No matter how small and how tentative those initial steps may be, the Gaian democracies project will gain in strength and certainty through citizens sharing their experiences of thinking, acting and learning in participatory change processes to bring about fundamental social, economic and political change. When active citizens think, act and learn together they build the shared competencies and understanding through which effective forms of people-power can be generated.

With an accelerating accumulation of shared experiences, competencies and people-power at its peripheries, there will eventually be a tipping point at which ‘globalisation’ will come to mean the global network of Gaian democracies, rather than the Global Monetocracy. By that point the vast varieties of power that the elites of the Global Monetocracy have at their command will have evaporated. Instead, the global network of Gaian democracies will be exercising a very different but equally comprehensive variety of powers to serve a very different range of purposes.

The sooner that tipping point is reached, the better it will be for the future of the human family. As we explain in Chapter 2, if it is delayed much beyond thirty years the environmental and social consequences could be disastrous for the human family and many other species. But in order to reach the tipping point as soon as possible the Gaian democracies political project will need to learn from all the practical examples of people-power from which we have drawn much of the material for Chapter 5.

People-power in the real world

As the diagram at the beginning of Chapter 5 shows, the key components of Gaian democracies are:

The Gaian system

Shared purposes and principles

Soft-systems concepts

Paulo Freire’s learning principles

Participatory change processes

Liberating political leadership

Network government

Together these seven components provide the systemic basis of Gaian democracies, enabling them to generate the people-power that will re-define ‘globalisation’ in terms of a network of just and sustainable societies. To illustrate some of the concepts on which we have based our thinking we have chosen the following examples of organisations and governments, which have adopted and applied several of the components of Gaian Democracy. In so doing, the forms of people-power they have generated have led them to re-configure their enterprises and achieve outstanding success. In the space available, we can give only a brief sketch of each example, but fuller accounts are available at

The success of these examples, in highly competitive environments, can be attributed to their development of structures and processes whose complexity matches that of the environments they have to contend with. As Shann Turnbull says:

The challenge for developing a new way to govern is to determine the simple basic design rules to create organisations [or as we would say, Gaian democracies] that manage complexity along the same principles evolved in nature. The reason for following the rules of nature to construct ecological organisations is that these rules have proved to be the most efficient and robust way to create and manage complexity.”iv [Original emphasis]

Examples from business

El Mondragón Corporacion Cooperativa (MCC)

Mondragón is a city in the Basque region of Spain. By the early 1990s, the cooperatives that make up the MCC had annual sales of over £4 billion. Their 53,000 worker/owners were organised in a self-governing network of firms, kept mostly to a human scale of around 500 people. When a member-cooperative grew to about 500 worker/owners, part of it was spun off into a separate business. Thus for many years the MCC grew organically, by cell division, not by take-overs or by unlimited growth in its component parts. Eventually each self-governing cooperative was part of a complex system of self-governance comprising over 1000 ‘compound’ boards or control centres. Contrary to the received wisdom of the Global Monetocracy’s elites, it was this highly complex and devolved system of governance that enabled the MCC to achieve its high levels of productivity and profitability, its stability of employment and its capacity for innovation and flexibility.

Like most of the examples we give, the MCC had ‘hard-wired’ its capacity to generate extraordinary levels of people-power by making very conscious decisions about its financing, organisational structure and governance processes at a very early stage of its development. The guiding spirit behind these decisions was José Maria Arrizmendi-Arrieta, a Jesuit priest who encouraged his parishioners to set up their first cooperative enterprises back in the 1940s.

Visa International

The constitution of credit card company Visa International was designed through the ‘chaordic design process’ invented by Dee Hock, who became its first Chief Executive. We quote Hock’s insistence on the vital importance of purpose and principles in Chapter 1 and discuss them at length in Chapter 5. Once commonly understood statements of purpose and principles have been arrived at by all relevant and affected parties, it is comparatively easy to agree a constitution.

Chaordic design combines elements of competition (chaos) with elements of cooperation (order). The parties involved in setting up Visa had to decide in what respects they needed to cooperate, and in what areas they could compete. The outcome was an institution owned by its functioning parts. The 23,000 financial institutions which now create Visa’s products are at the same time its owners and customers. It has multiple boards of directors, none of which can be considered superior or inferior, as each has irrevocable authority and autonomy over geographic or functional areas.

The whole subject of stakeholder ownership of corporate bodies is closely linked to Gaian Democracy. The principle is the same: people-ownership instead of money-ownership. The record shows that – provided at least some of the components of Gaian democracies are in place – it works.v

Semco Corporation: Sao Paulo, Brazil

Like Visa’s Dee Hock, Ricardo Semler is a liberating leader who emerged from the corporate world. In his best-selling book Maverick!, Semler describes how he used his position as owner and chief executive to transform the decision-making processes and culture of his family company, Semco:vi

My role is that of a catalyst. I try to create an environment in which others make decisions. Success means not making them myself.”

We have absolute trust in our employees. We offer them the chance to be partners in our business, to be autonomous and responsible.”

We are thrilled that our workers are self governing and self managing. It means that they care about their jobs and that’s good for all of us.”

We get out of the way and let them do their jobs.”

Specific changes included the following:

  • All financial information was made freely available and open to discussion, and people were taught the skills they needed to make use of this information.

  • Structures were set up to enable as many decisions as possible to be taken by the people who would implement them – circles instead of a pyramid.

  • Menial jobs were shared; perks, privileges and unnecessary formality done away with.

  • People were encouraged to think for themselves and use common sense.

  • Fewer bosses, fewer bureaucrats. Semler himself, instead of being chief executive, became one of five ‘counselors’.

Semler sees this as merely a beginning: “We have been ripping apart Semco and putting it back together again for a dozen years and we’re just 30% finished.” He is a tireless learner, driven by a belief in unfettered democracy, but he does not underestimate the difficulties: “Participation is infinitely more complex to practise than conventional corporate unilateralism… Nothing is harder work than democracy.”

Examples from politics

The real life democratic innovations of the greatest significance for Gaian democracies are those introduced in Athens in the 5th century BC and in Brazil since 1989.

Athens – Kleisthenes, the inventor of ‘people-power’

Two and a half millennia before Semler, Kleisthenes also came from the ruling class. On becoming chief archon (magistrate) of Athens in 507/8 BC, he determined to break away from the tradition of government by a small ruling elite. He seems to have asked himself: “How can I enable the 40,000 citizens of Athens to govern themselves so that together we can successfully manage the conflicting interests and demands facing us?” It is the kind of question liberating leaders ask, and Kleisthenes’ answer was, “People-power!” By committing his government to people-power, Kleisthenes started the process through which Athens became the nearest thing to a genuine democracy the world has ever seen.1

Like almost all societies until well into the 20th century, the Athens of 2,500 years ago excluded women (and slaves) from government, so this form of people-power was restricted to males over the age of 18. Obviously a modern Kleisthenes would not have to work within those restrictions, but, in systems terms, these historical factors do not diminish the importance of Athenian democracy as the prime example of a system of government based on people-power.

Recognising that elections favoured the well-born, the prominent and the wealthy, Kleisthenes started by re-structuring the political geography of the city, creating ten phylai (brotherhoods) of 4,000 citizens, each representing a cross-section of Athenian (male) society, so that no one class could dominate. The business of the citizens’ Assembly was managed by the Boule (council). Each month fifty citizens were chosen by lot from one of the phylai to constitute the Boule, so that in any one year the Boule was rotated between all the phylai.

Government decisions, including the conduct of wars, were taken by the Assembly itself, meeting up to 40 times a year on the Pnyx, a large theatre-like meeting place on the hill west of the Acropolis. A quorum of 6000 was required. As John Dunn has written: “for the most part, ancient Greek citizens had far greater direct experience of politics than all but a handful of citizens in modern states. Every citizen of Athens was entitled to attend, vote and speak at meetings of the Assembly, which decided the great issues of state: the making of peace or war, the passing of laws and the political exile or death of individual leaders; and they did so by simple majorities.”vii

Professor Dunn argues that the benefits of people-power were enormous: “Kleisthenes turned a motley, insecure and essentially powerless aggregation of residents in a vaguely demarcated territory into a proud and self-confident sovereign people.” Seventy years after Kleisthenes’ death, the legendary soldier and statesman, Pericles, summarised Athenian Democracy thus: “… the city of Athens, taken all together, is a model for all Greece, and each Athenian, as far as I can see, is more self-reliant as an individual and behaves with exceptional versatility and grace in the more varied forms of activity.”

It is no coincidence that it was during this period, while it was engaged in the world’s first experiment in people-power, that the city of Athens saw the flowering of one of the most humane, adventurous, artistic and influential civilisations there has ever been.

‘Orçamento Participativo’ or Participatory Budget Process

The benefits of people-power are being experienced today in over 100 Brazilian cities, and especially by the 1.3 million residents of Porto Alegre, the capital of Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul. It was in Porto Alegre that the Participatory Budget (PB) process was first attempted. Since 1989, Porto Alegre has been governed by a leftwing coalition led by the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT). In a whole range of sectors – housing, public transport, highways, garbage collection, clinics, hospitals, sewerage, environment, literacy, schooling, culture, law and order – the city has made spectacular progress. The key to this success has been its PB, first introduced by the PT the year after Olívio Dutra’s victory in the 1988 Mayoral elections.viii

For the purposes of the PB, the city is divided into sixteen administrative areas or regions. To enable an integrated vision for the whole of the city to be defined, there are five citywide themes: public transport and traffic; education; culture and leisure; healthcare and social security; economic development and taxation; and city management and urban development.

The PB process takes nine months, starting in April. The first round assemblies – in all of which the Mayor participates – are held in each of the sixteen regions and on the five themes. These review the basic components of the budget and major investments of the previous year. Then neighbourhood and sub-thematic meetings are held to identify investment priorities. The second round assemblies take place in June, when investment proposals are presented to the city’s senior officials.

Each region has an elected Regional Budget Forum that coordinates neighbourhood priorities into a list of priorities for the region as a whole. The Forum then settles any disputes with the various city agencies, and negotiates and monitors the implementation by those agencies. The elected Municipal Budget Council coordinates the demands made in each of the regional and thematic forums in order to produce the city’s annual investment plan.

In addition to the improvement in municipal services, the PB has greatly reduced corruption while increasing the incidence of neighbourhood mobilisation and active citizenship. Poorer people in particular find it a more effective way to exercise their rights and responsibilities of citizenship than voting at elections. In 2002 over 45,000 citizens and 1000 local organisations and enterprises participated in Porto Alegre’s PB.

People-power and liberating leadership

Each of the above examples shows some of the components of Gaian Democracy at work in the real world. They are by no means templates for Gaian democracies: women and slaves were excluded from public life in Athens; Semco, Visa and Mondragón all operate within the Global Monetocracy. However, in every case they illustrate the need for liberating leadership, whether in the corporate world – as with Dee Hock, Ricardo Semler or José Maria Arrizmendi-Arrieta – or in the political world – as shown by Kleisthenes and Pericles in Athens and the Workers’ Party in Brazil. They show that people power is immensely rewarding for all the people concerned and for the system as a whole. They suggest the wide diversity of situations in which the model could be applied. And they all show that the kinds of changes involved in creating Gaian democracies can be peacefully initiated and sustained by liberating leaders who are prepared to ‘hard-wire’ people-power into the principles, purposes, structure, organisation and processes of their enterprise.

None of our examples illustrates a society that has succeeded in reforming its economy so as to become just and sustainable. There are of course thousands of projects and initiatives around the world which have these aims and which the Gaian democracies of the future can build on. But, as no society can insulate itself from the Global Monetocracy, there are no examples of modern societies co-existing in a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the Gaian systems. Hence the need to reconfigure the Global Monetocracy itself.

The transition phase

In every one of the examples we have cited above, the fundamental changes were initiated in the most unpromising circumstances. The people of Mondragón had been devastated by Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War and were suffering harsh repression. Dee Hock and a small team worked out the enormously radical organisational concepts that eventually became the trillion dollar Visa International at a time when conventional credit card businesses were losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in the USA. Semco was lurching from crisis to crisis and heading towards bankruptcy when Ricardo Semler converted himself from a command-and-control workaholic to a laid-back liberating leader, and started the process by which the people in the company were empowered to turn it into a huge success. In the decade before Kleisthenes became archon of Athens, the city had been ruined by a violently autocratic tyrant, and suffered the indignity of being policed by ‘advisers’ from Sparta and governed by puppets of the Spartan regime.

When Olívio Dutra was elected mayor of Porto Alegre he inherited a shambles that was getting worse by the day: the city had been bankrupted by the previous Mayor and his party; there were virtually no public services in the poorest parts of the city; and corruption was endemic at every level in the administration. Then, as now, the PT’s political opponents controlled the local newspapers, radio stations and TV channels. The growing electoral success of the Brazilian PT is therefore especially encouraging for political parties engaged in uphill struggles to build people-powered Gaian democracies elsewhere in the world. In each election in Porto Alegre since 1988, the PT has been rewarded for its liberating leadership by an increased percentage of the vote. In the 2000 mayoral elections the PT candidate was supported by more than 63% of the electorate. And, most encouraging of all, the PT’s Lula da Silva won 61% of the national vote in the 2002 presidential elections.

The leaders of these enterprises knew that the old ways had turned out to be a recipe for certain disaster. In each case their new ideas involved rethinking the purposes and principles, the structures, the processes and the governance of the enterprise, whether it was an organisation or government. And at the core of these examples was a fundamental commitment by liberating leaders to people-power as the means by which disaster could be surmounted and a new way of life developed.

Moreover, each of these liberating leaders was working in virtual isolation and faced fierce opposition. Athenian people-power had to overcome the implacable hostility of the Spartan war-machine and a permanent fifth column within the Athenian elite. Porto Alegre had no other city to call on for help and guidance as it painfully learnt how to turn its commitment to people-power into a successful PB process. Moreover, even though over 100 Brazilian cities now have PT administrations committed to people-power and participative budgets, their leaders still have to put their lives on the line. Its officials and their families routinely receive death threats, and within the last two years, two of the PT’s city mayors have been assassinated. No-one had ever devised ‘a chaordic organisation’ before Dee Hock and his small team of middle-ranking bank officers worked it out from first principles, and then implemented it while the rest of the banking world waited for them to fail. Similar stories can be told of Semco and Mondragón.

So, starting in the most unpromising and even dangerous circumstances is the norm for liberating leaders who commit themselves to people-powered, fundamental change. People-power is sometimes hard-wired into the enterprise from its very foundation, as with Visa and Mondragón. Alternatively, and more usually, people-power can be introduced as the key element in a radical strategy for fundamental change in a crisis situation, as with Semco, Porto Alegre and Athens. These conclusions imply an almost infinite range of opportunities to introduce the Gaian Democracy model and initiate fundamental long-term change. There must be a few potential José Maria Arrizmendi-Arrietas, Dee Hocks, Ricardo Semlers, Kleisthenes and Olivio Dutros in every community, city, company, public service and political party.

There is no space in this very condensed Briefing to describe all the examples of people-powered fundamental change that we know about. What they all have in common is the application of at least some of the components that we believe are essential if Gaian democracies are to be successful. By their very nature, these examples help to move the transition process towards the tipping point when a global network of just and sustainable Gaian democracies emerges out of the unjust and unsustainable shambles of the Global Monetocracy. The Gaian Democracy political project will have to identify, encourage, support and connect all people-power change initiatives so that we can reach the tipping point as soon as possible. The longer it takes, the greater the damage that the Global Monetocracy will do to the human family and to the natural world on which we all depend.

Real success can only come if there is a change in our societies, and in our economics, and in our politics. “

Sir David Attenborough in The Ecologist, Vol. 31, No 3, April 2001 p.35


iIntroduction And Summary: Redefining Globalisation and People-Power

For example, see the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research at; and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program at

ii For an excellent discussion of the difference between social change and social defence see George Lakey, ‘Human Shields in Palestine and Pushing Our Thinking About People Power: Part Two’ at

iii David Held (ed.), A Globalizing World?: Culture, Economics, Politics (Understanding Social Change), Routledge, London, 2000.

iv Shann Turnbull, A New Way to Govern, a paper presented to the Organisations and Institutions Network, 14th Annual Meeting on Socio-Economics, University of Minnesota, Minnesota, USA, June 27-30, 2002.

v For example, see Shann Turnbull, ‘Curing The Cancer In Capitalism With Employee Ownership’ at; The National Center for Employee Ownership at; and Employee Ownership Options at

vi Ricardo Semler, Maverick!, Century, London, 1993.

vii John Dunn in the preface to John Dunn (ed.), Democracy; The Unfinished Journey 508 BC to AD 1993, OUP, Oxford, 1992.

viii This is the best known of a number of innovations in participatory democracy being conducted by the PT in Brazil, the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) in Uruguay, and elsewhere in South America. See the MOST Clearing House for further examples at

Chapter 1: A New Language Of Change


February 21, 2010


As I said earlier, networks of VIGDEOCs have also to be thought of as networks of

Viable Innovative Gaian Democracies which cannot function without networks of

Viable Innovative Gaian Enterprises


Viable Innovative Gaian Organisations


Viable Innovative Gaian Communities.

Together they will add up to an immensely diverse array of Viable Innovative Gaian Societies that are constantly learning how to adapt to, and live in harmony with the natural world of which they are a part.

And that constant learning process has to start with people like you in meetings like this.

For the next ten minutes let’s look at the links between Gaia and Democracy. .

Do we all know what Gaia means? More or less?

Originally, Gaia was the Goddess of the Universe for the Ancient Greeks’, the Mother of all the Gods.

Now, thanks to James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, Gaia has a profoundly scientific meaning: their Gaia hypothesis, proposes that all the living and the nonliving parts of the earth combine to form a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism,

That qualification ‘thought of‘ is important, because, unlike real organisms, Gaia can’t reproduce itself. It’s a 4.5 billion year-old planet, after all.

But the interplay of Gaia’s biological and physical systems means that in many ways she resembles a living organism. She adapts and evolves and gets sick and recovers. And like all but the most primitive of real organisms, she has billions of other organisms as her working parts and sub-systems. And they constantly adapt and evolve and reproduce and ingest and excrete, and die and … die-off.

Over billions of years, Gaia has been through many dramatic variations. Very hot, very cold, very friendly, very hostile. She has been wounded by asteroids and comets. Billions of species have evolved and died off and sometimes been killed off. But still she continues to adjust and adapt and new species evolve and die-off, and on and on it goes.

Human beings, like every other living thing on Earth, are all part of the Gaian system. And those systems have been more or less stable for about 15,000 years,  but, today, as James Lovelock says:

The climate centres around the world, which are the equivalent of the pathology lab of a hospital, have reported on the Earth’s physical condition, and the climate specialists see it as seriously ill, and soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years. I have to tell you, as members of the Earth’s family and an intimate part of it, that you and especially civilisation are in grave danger.

Now that global warming (to name just one of the ways we are de-stabilising the Gaian Systems) has passed the tipping point, “catastrophe is unstoppable” , he says.

Moreover, in his view, all the standard green things, like sustainable development, and cap-and-trade, are just words that mean nothing. “They might make us feel better, but they won’t make any difference.”

But when people tell him “You can’t say that, because it gives us nothing to do!” ,  he replies, “On the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do.”

On the other hand, he also said in 2008, “Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.” although, I think that our best course of action is to spend at least as much effort adapting to global heating as in attempts to slow or stop it happening.”

Lovelock never spells out what he means by “adapting to global heating”, but, he seems to think that Gaia may do it for us by reducing our numbers from around 7 Billion to one billion or less. over the next few generations.

Not a pretty prospect. And in future meetings, we need to  thoroughly understand why Lovelock  and every other serious natural scientist, takes that view or something very close to it.  No point in burying our heads in the sand.

But, in terms of politics and economics, he is assuming that our societies will continue with “business as usual” because they know no better.

In fact in political terms he’s something of a dinosaur. Lovelock’s political Theories in Use seem to be  aligned with those of the global elites as John McMurtry summarised them.

Thus, although Lovelock,  above all,  has clearly established that –

  • the world is a system of interacting subsystems that have evolved together and depend on each other

and that

  • Viable Societies depend on a functioning ecological base and a finite, partly renewable resource-base.

He seems not to think that

  • The principle of partnership applies (or could apply) to present and future human and non-human systems.

Still less would he go so far as to say that

  • The self-organising potential and diversity of natural systems is the model for the co-creation of a global network of VIGDEOCs.

Lovelock is an extraordinarily brilliant and original natural scientist, but in the political and social arena, we have to reject his theories in use in favour of alternatives that enable us both to set in train effective processes of adaptation before, ‘it hits the fan’ AND have a pretty good time while we do it.

Lets move on now to what we understand by “democracy”.

Is it, “Government of the people by the people and for the people”, as Abraham Lincoln espoused?

Well, no, it isn’t.  Nowhere in the world are there  “democracies” that fits Lincoln’s description. .

Rather they are best described as

that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote.”  as Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian economist said in his classic work “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy’.(1942)

The role of the people in this “Competing Elites” model of democracy’, in Schumpeter’s view, is simply to produce a government of their betters. The people are sovereign only on election day. Once they have done their job, they should go back to their private affairs and leave governing to the elite they have selected. Dim ill-informed, easily-manipulated and feckless as they are, that is all that the people – that’s you and me, dear friend – are fit for, in Schumpeter’s model of ‘democracy’. And it is a view that is accepted as gospel, as their working ‘theories in use’, by almost all politicians, political commentators and political scientists today.

Moreover, for Schumpeter and his followers, these views are accepted as objective, scientific theory when they are actually an ideological justification for the domination and mismanagement of our societies by incompetent and corrupt elites.

The various ‘competing elites‘ models of democracy, could never fit our vision of using the self-organising potential and diversity of natural systems as the model for the co-creation of a global network of VIGDEOCs.

Rather, we need models of democracy that are ‘about the possibility of collective decision making about collective action for a common good.`as Cliff DuRand puts it

To be Viable, Innovative and Gaian, such democracies would also have to have the self-organising potential and diversity of natural systems

In Viable, Innovative, Gaian Democracies, citizens would learn through their collective decision-making in participatory system-change processes how to re-configure their Enterprises, Organisations and Communities so as to co-exist symbiotically with the Gaian systems on which we depend.

Thus, the adaptability of Viable, Innovative, Gaian Democracies would depend on them having Viable, Innovative Enterprises, Organisations and Communities as their sub-systems.

Which brings us to the topic of Viable Systems and Cybernetics, the science of effective organisation.

Time to stretch our legs again.


David Harvey and the Big Questions

December 26, 2009

From Amy Goodman’s interview with David Harvey,  Democracy Now March 2009

Capitalism historically has grown at a 2.5 percent compound rate of growth since 1750. OK. And in good years, it’s growing at three percent.

Obama, the other day, said, “Well, in a couple of years, we’ll be back to three percent growth.” Gordon Brown says, “Well, actually, the economy will double in the next few years.”

Now, when capitalism was constituted by everything going on around Manchester and a few other hot spots in 1750, three percent compound growth rate was no problem. You’re now looking at a situation where you’re going to say three percent compound rate of growth on everything that’s going on in East and Southeast Asia, Europe, North America and everywhere in the world. We’re looking at a different kind of world.

The total economy back in, say, 1750 was about $135 billion. It was $4 trillion by the time you get to 1950. It’s $40 trillion by the time you get to 2000. It’s now $56 trillion. If it doubles (again) we’re talking about $100trillion. And by 2030, you’re going to have to find three trillion .. profitable opportunities for capital to operate at that point.

Now, there are limits .. and I think we’re hitting those limits environmentally, socially, politically. And I think it’s time we started really thinking about an alternative. In other words, we have to think about a zero-growth economy.

This is a very useful way of putting the current crisis in perspective and he goes on to say that these stark statistics and trends mean that …

DAVID HARVEY: … In effect, you’re going to have to have a nonprofit economy. And how you do that, of course, is a big, big question. I’m not—I don’t have the blueprint for it. But I think that this is one of the key questions we should be thinking about right now.

And what disturbs me is we’re going through this crisis right now, and we’re not asking those kinds of big questions that we should be asking.

Gaian Democracies was written to ask  those big questions – and many more – within the context of co-creating democracies that could live in symbiosis with the Gaian systems  on which all life depends.

Moreover, it tried to offer ways in which our societies could think, act and learn to be ever-more completely democratic by adopting a soft-systems approach to tackling  those big and complex questions.

Critics  of neo-liberalism and capitalism  like David Harvey, and many of the quasi-anarchists in the anti-globalisation movement,  ignored or rejected all the questions we asked, the new vocabulary we used and the new ideas we offered.

And, as far as I know, they  still do.  Yet, as Harvey says,

In effect, you’re going to have to have a nonprofit economy. And how you do that, of course, is a big, big question. I’m not—I don’t have the blueprint for it.

Note:  The wholly wrong-headed idea that somewhere there could be  “the Blueprint” for tackling ‘the big questions ‘.  This is a typically Command and Control way of thinking: “Here’s my plan. Now you go and implement it.”

It also  illustrates the distance that those who say they want our societies to tackle the big questions have to go before they can begin to work out how to think, act and learn systemically so as to re-configure today’s lethally obsolete  political, economic, governmental and security systems.

Note:  Tackling the big questions will require us to “RE-CONFIGURE today’s …  SYSTEMS’

Together those systems and their many components  form “The Global Monetocracy”.

We coined this term to enable readers of “Gaian Democracies’ to see  all those big  questions as ‘emergent properties’ of a profoundly anti-gaian and anti-human system.

Thinking in terms of blueprints, or policy proposals or grass-roots protests and projects will do nothing to change the fundamental purposes and values of  The Global Monetocracy. Still less will they take the reins of global government from its greedy grasp.

What kind of global system of democratic governance is needed for the human family to come through the next couple of centuries in good shape?  That is the really big question and one that all  the  progressive, anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation movements need to start to work on today rather than just talk about  in terms of their obsolete ways of thinking.

If they put their minds to it, they might just do the bulk of the work in time to make a real  impact ‘After Obama’.