At the outset, I want to emphasize three beliefs that I share with many others:
• Peace, freedom, equality, justice, community, love, truth, health, beauty, frugality, self-reliance and self-fulfillment–despite frequent conflicts with each other–are all worthy goals, and should be pursued for all people worldwide.
• The old paradigms or ways of thought are obsolete; new and broader paradigms offer more promise for the intelligent conduct of human affairs.
• Hyper-industrialized societies are in deep trouble, as are “developing” countries seeking to follow their example; major changes will be necessary if we are to survive in any dignified fashion.
Although a transformation in values, perceptions and institutions is desirable, it is far from inevitable. Despite an urgent need, change in a humanly desirable direction may not be taking place at all, or may be taking place at such a miniscule rate so as to be irrelevant. Indeed, I strongly suspect that the wide- spread belief in a transformation that is happening in fact keeps it from happening. We need reasonable hopes, of course. But making a religion out of social change–developing a body of unquestioned belief, derived from concern for the human condition and hope for a better world–only serves to deflect energies away from the hard work that must be done.
To illustrate, imagine that you are an agent of the FBI or CIA. You are called into the office of the Big Chief and informed that there may be a subversive movement afoot– some call it the Aquarian Conspiracy. It threatens the American way of life by seeking to disarm the U.S. and make peace with the Soviet Union, by redefining national security, by weakening the nation-state in favor of global peacekeeping, by weakening the global economy in favor of national and local self-reliance, by slackening U.S. participation in world competition for high-technology leadership, by encouraging individuals to be more self-reliant and not to consume as much, by promoting environmentalism at the expense of commerce, and by decentralizing economic and political power through wider participation in corporate and community decision making. This is clearly subversive. Your mission is to stop it. What should an effective agent do?
Being wise in the ways of the world, you realize that the 1950s strategy of fighting the Red Menace will no longer work in the sophisticated 1980s. In our age of infoglut, why give valuable publicity to the Green Menace, when the movement, at least in the United States, is largely invisible? Rather, you would exploit the widespread tendency of the movement, such as it is, to render itself politically impotent. You understand the dynamics of the sandbox: an enclosed area where children safely play, while adults carry on, undisturbed, in their usual wicked ways. Two complementary forces promote this condition: Adults place children in the sandbox to get rid of them, and children volunteer to play there because it is fun.
To stop the potential subversion of America, all you have to do is go with the flow and promote the Sandbox Syndrome. It’s easy. Here are some tips:
(1) Encourage Belief in Success
Promote the view that cosmic change is coming, and taking place. Similar to the fundamentalist Christians, who believe that Armageddon is about to take place, to be followed by a millenium for those who are saved, preach that the Transformation, or the Third Wave, is happening now –that we have reached the turning point, and that people are now seeing that we can’t continue the old ways. Don’t attempt to offer evidence for this change, other than a one-time 1977 Harris Poll based on leading questions, or some fuzzily estimated data sanctified by association with Stanford Research International. Anything else would involve left-brain quantifying–an artifact of Consciousness II.
(2) Confuse Goals and Results
It feels good, and it won’t hurt anyone’s feelings, to proclaim that we are working for peace, we are changing minds, we are healing. Perhaps we are; perhaps we aren’t. The intention and the process are primary, not the outcome. Any hint of a managerial, performance-oriented approach is fascistic.
(3) Don’t Criticize
That’s related to asking embarrassing questions about results. Just let it be. Being peaceful, loving, supportive and cooperative means treating everyone equally and saying ill of no one. After all, everyone means well. Prickly questions are hostile and best ignored, or met with a hug.
(4) Add a Dose of Hubris.
Stand on the leading edge, the crest of the Third Wave, amidst the New Age. You’re superior to those unliberated, linear cluckheads out there. You know; they don’t. Write a guidebook to networking or bartering, the magic processes of the alternative culture–but don’t acknowledge the networks and barters used by the rest of the world. Your folkways, too, are superior: To enhance communication invite them to your saunas and hot tubs–don’t even think of visiting their bridle trails and tennis courts, or, among the masses, their corner bars and bowling alleys.
(5) Promote Your Own Dialect
Tired of pedantic jargon? Create your own hip language. Turn nouns to verbs such as “peacing” and “futuring.” Use adjectives such as “incredible” to describe every experience. Blows the mind, but who needs it? Use positive words such as “network,” “caring,” “holistic,” “creativity,” “synergy,” “foresight,” “cooperation,” “transcendence,” “win/win,” “human scale” and “human values.” Don’t use negative words like “competition,” “corporations,” “communism” or “crime.” Maybe they’ll go away.
(6) Extol the Informal and the Nonacademic
Your intuition is a safe guide, as is the common sense of the people. Ignore the elitist academics, with their ponderous footnotes and interminable data. Accordingly, the academic journals and commercial publishers should also be dismissed, in favor of small book publishers and honest, alternative periodicals.
(7) Get the Holistic Picture
You can acquire instant wisdom by taking the general systems point of view, or viewing whole systems. When you have the Big Picture of humanity, nature, and society, you know it all, and there is no need to learn any more. A historical perspective isn’t needed because these ideas are obviously new.
(8) Create Instant Equality
Forget the rich and the poor. The rich have great power, which is too much to contemplate. So don’t. The poor can’t meet their basic material needs, which is also a downer, best ignored. Preach that we all have enough and that more self-help is needed. Fits nicely into the anti-poverty strategy of the Reagan administration.
(9) Be Self-Centered
You have the power of the New Age in your head; change your consciousness and you can change the world. We have met the enemy and he is us. The responsibility for health, for change, for peace, is within you.
All of the above–and more, no doubt, could be added–add up to the Sandbox Syndrome: a set of behaviors guaranteed to keep an individual or an organization in a childish state of innocence, content with building sand castles, instead of real-life structures.
But what if you read some books by Lester R. Brown, Willis Harman, Hazel Henderson, Ivan Illich, Amory Lovins, James Ogilvy, James Robertson, Theodore Roszak, Kirkpatrick Sale, Mark Satin, E. F. Schumacher, Robert Theobald, William Irwin Thompson, Alvin Toffler and others, causing you to believe the Green Message? What if you see the necessity of a sustainable, decentralized, human-needs-oriented society–the Jeffersonian vision of America as the real American way of life, rather than the Hamiltonian, corporate view? With a flush of true patriotism, you decide to be a counteragent and to work for genuine eco-decentralism. What do you do? Here are some general tips:
(1) Grow Up
All of the above-mentioned positions are simplistic. An upward growth requires a broader, more subtle, and complex view:
(a)Develop a wide range of indicators that describe both successes and failures.
(b) Don’t confuse goals and results, but insist on measures of performance and on standards.
(c) Be constructively critical: Point to good work and how it can be improved–and also to work that is useless or damaging.
(d) Be humble: We all have much to learn in an age of ignorance. Identify your opponents and their arguments, and learn*from them.
(e) Use the English Language correctly as a tool of thought, and to enable communication with those in need of hearing your message.
(f) See the best thought from both academics and non-academics; use your intuition as one of many learning tools.
(g) Similarly, holism should also be used as a tool for learning, and recognized as an ideal to strive for ceaselessly both in space and time.
(h) Recognize that inequities in wealth and income are increasing, that the poor need help to help themselves, and that even good help will not necessarily help.
(i) Understand that there are many sources of problems in both individuals and society, that the two are interactive, and that individuals are often not at all responsible for their problems.
(2) Connect Some Disconnected Yins and Yangs
In advocating a Taoist framework for dealing with reality, Fritjof Capra notes that a dynamic balance between yin and yang is good, and imbalance is bad. Several balances are mentioned above (success and failure, academic and nonacademic, individual and society). Several additional pairings are also needed:
(a) Inspiration and Perspiration. Our spirits can benefit from the uplift of preaching and cheerleading. But exhortation toward the promised land is not enough; we must work very hard to bring it about.
(b) Realism and Idealism. We need idealists with a foot on the ground of reality, as well as realists who can keep some ideal in mind. Both, in dialogue with each other, should replace the great number of Utopians with no sense of reality and “realists” with no appreciation of any ideal.
(c) Cooperation and Struggle. In our age of instant gratification by video and drugs, many think that social change should be instant, painless, and non-reversible. While seeking out opportunities for cooperation, a dialectical view of struggle is also needed. Indeed, those who ostensibly share your views may not necessarily be cooperative, and your greatest struggle may be with such “movement killers.”
(d) Intellect and Spirit. In trying to escape from what is seen as too much rationality in modern society, an excuse is often provided for anti-intellectualism in the name of the neglected “right brain.” We need a more rational rationality, not less rationality,
(e) Critics and Lovers. We should avoid the extremes of unloving critics and uncritical lovers. Another way to consider more productive behavior is to note the traits of Abraham Maslow’s self-actualizing people, which include: fighting untruths, not needing to be loved by everyone, enjoying greater efficiency and being effective, looking at facts courageously and avoiding illusions.
(3) Get the New Age Act Together (to Some Degree)
The pervasive condition that must be faced is the fact that we live in an age of info-glut. Another book, journal, conference, or newsletter about peace, healing or environ-mentalism will not necessarily help people, and might simply add to the pervasive prob lem of information overload and fragmentation. The transformational message must be recognized as “the world-crisis solution with a hundred names”–green revolution, human scale, person-centered society, human economy, conserver society, solar age, meta-industrial alternative, Gandhism, and so on. As long as this message is fractured into a hundred or so labelings, The Transformation, or whatever, will continue to be stillborn.
(4)… and Take It on the Road
If we are serious about a genuine transformation of values and perceptions, the world must know that desirable and practical alternatives exist. Despite the great volume of New Age literature, “the world-crisis solution with a hundred names” still remains invisible to mainstream culture, or is readily dismissed as “small is beautiful” romanticism. New Age literature is seldom reviewed in mainstream periodicals. It seldom enters textbooks or political campaigns. The old ways of thinking are still very much in power.
(a) One-dimensional, flat-earth politics, restricting all possibilities to “the” left-right political spectrum of liberals and conservatives, still prevails in our political analysis.
(b) One-eyed economics, ignoring the informal and household economy, continues to define “the” economy.
(c) One-directional social evolution, involving more economic growth and a service society, continues to be the only definition of progress.
(d) One-time education, assuming that an individual has completed learning upon leaving school or college, continues to inhibit adults from discovering ignorance and learning needs.
To improve on these paradigms in power, there must be widespread and genuine debate and discussion, rather than smug isolation and loose talk of paradigm change.
(5) Aim High and Don’t Shoot your Foot
There is a frequent tendency to underestimate the transformational task, while overestimating the progress that has been made. This is complicated by the use of images and ideas that are intellectually laudable but politically inept: for example, a “no-growth society,” in contrast to the more attractive notion of a human-growth society. Western science is another illustration: rather than rejecting it, and creating an easy target for the charge of being anti-science, a better strategy would advocate a more scientific science–a superior world science that incorporates various scientific traditions.
This advice is for the counteragent, who would seek to promote an actual transformation. But the task is difficult. The agent, who embraces the Way of the Sandbox, follows the path of least resistance. Both the agent and the counteragent are at work. Who will win? Probably the agent. Still, the counteragent may prevail–the slender hope that prompts this essay. Whom do you want to win?
Excerpted with permission from the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (Winter 1983). Subscriptions: quarterly, $19.80/yr., from Sage Publications, P.O. Box 5024, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Back issues: $6.00 ppd. from same address.