The New Storytellers

Life Choices

Engaging the Future

excerpted from the book

The Post-Corporate World

Life After Capitalism

by David Korten

Kumarian Press, 1999, paper



The culture of materialism has been created by the world's most sophisticated and highly paid propagandists.


The New Storytellers

Hazel Henderson
Women and men everywhere are behaving in an unprecedented way: audaciously taking responsibility for the whole human family and the future of life on the planet.

Responsible Wealth

Some of the new storytellers are appearing in unlikely places. In January 1997, a small group of wealthy Americans who take exception to the policy agendas of the greedy rich banded together to form an organization named Responsible Wealth. With a membership limited to individuals in the top 5 percent of the U.S. population in household income (those having $125,000 or more in annual income) or assets ($500,000 or more net worth), Responsible Wealth is an elite organization with a difference. Its mission is to change the economic rules that are tilted in favor of people like themselves at the expense of others less fortunate. The group educates policy makers and the public about the devastating consequences of growing inequality and supports measures intended to close the wage gap, limit the influence of big money in politics, and increase the share of the total tax burden carried by corporations and the wealthy. Many of its members have pledged to act on their commitments by donating their gains from the 1997 capital gains tax cut to organizations working for equity and against tax breaks for the wealthy. By June 1998, 125 members had pledged more than $1 million to such public interest causes.

A similar commitment to placing the public good ahead of private profits lies behind the formation of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. Led by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc., ice cream company, the group brings together business leaders who believe government has a responsibility to serve the needs of society rather than the bottom lines of corporations. Its primary focus is on reorienting the U.S. federal budget from military to social and local economic development priorities. Its members spearheaded a successful attack against new funding for the B-2 bomber and are publicizing the fact that 54 percent of the U.S. government's discretionary funding goes to military spending. The group's members believe this money would be better spent on such decidedly noncorporate agendas as creating living-wage, community-based jobs, providing health care for America's five million uninsured children, paying U.S. arrears to the United Nations, protecting the environment, ending world hunger, funding the National Endowment for the Arts, and advancing any number of other positive agendas.

Responsible Wealth and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities involve people of wealth and connection acting in their personal-in contrast to their institutional-capacities. They thus have a freedom to bring their conscience and moral sensibilities into play in ways that persons acting in institutional roles often do not. They are telling, through their actions, yet another piece of the new story-that equality and business accountability are essential to the well-being of society and that those who enjoy the benefits of wealth and privilege have a special obligation to use these resources to create a better world for all.


Life Choices

... the essential elements of good living. Alisa Gravitz, the executive director of Co-op America, a membership organization focused on positive use of economic power, observes that people most everywhere, when asked about those essential elements, come up with much the same list:


* A secure means of livelihood that provides for our basic material needs while earning us a place of respect in our community;

* A strong, nurturing family, friends, and a supportive, peaceful, and secure community that allows us to explore and develop our capacity for loving relationships;

* The opportunity to learn and to give expression to our awareness and understanding of ourselves and the world around us both intellectually and artistically;

* Good physical health and the opportunity to engage in athletics, dance, and other forms of physical expression that make our bodies tingle with life's energy;

* A sense of belonging to place, community, and life, yet with the freedom to make personal choices-and sometimes to wander and explore without the obligations of place;

* A clean and healthy environment vibrant with the diversity of life; and

* An assurance that our children will have an opportunity for the same.

So long as we rely on indicators of money-world health and performance as the measures of our well-being rather than on indicators of living-world health and performance, we will surely continue to give preference to policies beneficial to money over those beneficial to life.


Engaging the Future


Our task is no longer one of creating countercultures, engaging in political protest, and pursuing economic alternatives. To create a just, sustainable, and compassionate post-corporate world we must face up to the need to create a new core culture, a new political center, and a new economic mainstream. Such a bold agenda requires many kinds of expertise working at many levels of society-personal and household, community, national, and global. It requires breaking the bonds of individual isolation that leave us feeling marginalized when in fact we may already be part of a new majority. There are thousands of useful tasks to be undertaken.


Starve the Cancer, Nurture Life

Cancer feeds from the energy reserves of what remains of the healthy body. It expropriates life's energy to sustain its own deadly growth.

Virtually the same is true for the capitalist cancer. Capitalism, however, is more insidious than a conventional cancer. By establishing its control over our jobs, investments, food, medical care, clothing, transportation, energy sources, and increasingly even our schools and prisons, it makes us depend on its presence and then blackmails us to yield to it ever more of our life energies as the price of our survival. If we had the means simply to remove its institutions from our midst by some equivalent of radical surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, our economy would collapse and we would be left with no means of sustenance.

Again, we must turn to life for an analogy in our search of a more viable approach. One of the body's natural defenses against cancer involves denying the cancerous tumor access to the body's bloodstream. The cancer is thus starved to death as the body's available energy stores are devoted to rebuilding its healthy cells. This analogy holds the key to eliminating the capitalist cancer from our midst: withhold legitimacy and energy from the institutions of capitalism as we redirect our life energies to building and nurturing the institutions of a life-serving, mindful market economy. A simple phrase says it all: Starve the cancer, nurture life. Or more specifically: Starve the capitalist economy, nurture the mindful market

The large goal is to displace the institutions of global capitalism with a global system of mindful market economies. The process involves gradually increasing the options the mindful market offers us as we reduce our dependence on those offered by the institutions of capitalism. For example, I buy my wine from the local Bainbridge Island winery, located within walking distance from my home and run by a wonderful family who add something of their love of the earth and our island community to every bottle of wine they produce. (See "From the Earth with Love.") Each time I buy a bottle of wine from my neighbor rather than one bottled by the Gallo corporation, or purchase a head of lettuce at our Saturday morning farmer's market that is grown by another wonderful neighbor on her organic farm rather than a lettuce from our local Safeway corporation outlet that is grown thousands of miles away by the Del Monte corporation on a factory farm, I act to nurture the mindful market economy while withdrawing legitimacy and resources from the capitalist economy. And each time I forgo the purchase of something I don't really need, substitute a product made by my own hand, or engage in a cooperative exchange with my neighbor, I weaken my dependence on the money created and controlled by capitalism's institutions. And, in most instances, I also reduce my burden on the planet.


Start from Where You Are

Obviously, we are not going to bring down the institutions of capitalism just by buying a locally grown head of organic lettuce, though it is a useful start. We must work in many ways at many levels. The best that can be done here is to offer a general framework and a few illustrative suggestions that you may find helpful in defining a personal strategy to help starve the cancer and nurture life. There are no universal blueprints. Indeed, the one universal response to the question, "What can I do. is "Start from where you are." That means making use of the resources at your command, and most important, doing what allows you to become more of who you really are.

If you are a member of a church, you might organize discussion groups and events to examine the issues raised in this book and explore how individuals can act on them as an expression of their spiritual values. Or you might initiate a study group that deepens the group's sense of connection to place by gathering and sharing information on such things as the history of the locality where you live, the foods that are produced there, the source of your water, the distinctive characteristics of your native species, and how your local ecosystem has changed over time. If you found this book useful, recommend it to a friend.

If you are a parent, you might campaign to make your local schools advertising-free zones. If you are a teacher and your school requires students to watch Channel One, you might use it as a resource for teaching students to deconstruct advertising and propaganda messages to help immunize them against media manipulation. Or you might engage your students in projects that deepen their understanding and caring about their local ecosystems. If you teach in a university, especially in a school of business, organize a course on the moral defense and critique of capitalism to engage students in a critical examination of the issues relating to the design of an economic system.

If you are a natural networker, you might work with others to develop a guide to local organizations and initiatives for people in your locality who are looking for ways to become positively engaged. Or you might compile and publicize a directory of local, stakeholder-owned businesses. Your efforts might even lead to the formation of new alliances among these groups to strengthen the newly emergent whole.

If you are the CEO of a large corporation, you could establish a policy that your corporation will not make political contributions or otherwise seek to influence elections or legislation. Better yet, organize the breakup and employee buyout of your corporation to turn it into a network of independent stakeholder-owned, community-based businesses. If you are an investment counselor or money manager, build a specialty in socially responsible investment and the financing of stakeholder buyouts. If you are a small-business owner, build your identity as a values-led community-based enterprise and engage in the formation of networks and alliances of like-minded businesses.

If you are a union member, campaign for applying a social responsibility screen to the investment of union pension funds, with special attention to investing only in companies that hire union workers and have good employee relations. Promote the use of pension funds to finance a labor buyout of selected corporations to convert them into stakeholder enterprises.

If you work with small farmers in a low-income country, encourage them to save and use local seeds and not become dependent on the seeds and chemicals of transnational corporations. Help them organize to resist the takeover of their lands by corporations and development projects such as those funded by the World Bank and other foreign development agencies. If you are a citizen of a low-income country, join the citizen resistance against IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs. If you work for the World Bank, the IMF, or the World Trade Organization, help break the veil of secrecy by getting key internal documents into the hands of citizen groups working to hold these institutions accountable to the public interest.

If you are a politician, consider building your campaign on a pledge to take only small contributions and to support serious campaign reform.

Sponsor policy reforms consistent with the policy agendas set forth in Chapters 9 and l O. If you are an economist, become active in the International Society for Ecological Economics and participate in building and popularizing a market economics for a living planet. If you are a lawyer, connect with one of the groups ... working on issues relating to the legal status of corporations and help develop a legal strategy to overturn the doctrine of corporate personhood.

If you are a resident of a low-income neighborhood, especially a minority neighborhood, your community is likely to be a favored site for polluting industries, waste disposal, and the routing of new highway construction-and will likely be underserved by public transportation. If existing groups are working to stop harmful projects, demand the cleanup of existing facilities, and promote public transportation suited to your community's needs, consider getting involved with one of them. If an effective group does not already exist, create one.

If you have talents as a speaker, develop a presentation on the relationship of the business system to the health of the environment and make yourself available to groups interested in delving into such issues. If you are a journalist, write stories about the newly emerging culture; values-led, stakeholder-owned businesses; and the many citizen initiatives moving us toward a post-corporate world-the stories that corporate PR specialists don't want told. If the publication from which you earn your bread and butter has no taste for such stories, do them on a pro bono, freelance basis for independent publications that still believe journalism has a role beyond generating advertising dollars.

If you are inclined to political activism, you might get involved in campaigns to end corporate welfare in all its many forms, strip corporations of their rights of personhood, and get big money out of politics.

Whoever you are, you have an important role in changing the system-for change will only come from the actions of millions of people and each of us is important.

Intervene at Multiple Levels

Although the most important changes generally begin within ourselves, they must eventually be translated into changes in community, national, and global institutions. We must be mindful of the changes needed at all these levels and contribute to their realization. The basic themes, however, remain the same. Start from where you are to starve the cancer and nurture life.

Let's take the levels one at a time and explore some of the possibilities. Bear in mind this is a list of possibilities focused on changing the economic system. It is neither prescriptive nor comprehensive, but only a partial answer to the question, "What can I do?"


At the personal and family level our opportunities to shift the energy of the economic system center on issues of consumption, where we live, and how we obtain and use our money. The following are some specific things you might consider.


In a capitalist economy, cutting back on consumption is a revolutionary act. Cut back on clutter and unnecessary consumption. Sort out which expenditures are really important to you and which are not. Figure out your real take-home pay after deducting taxes and the costs of transportation, clothing, and tools used in your occupation. Then calculate what you earn per hour and translate each prospective purchase into the hours of your life energy that you must devote to your job to pay for it. Each time you make a purchase, ask whether the item is worth that many hours of life energy you might be using in other ways. For greater support, form a voluntary simplicity group to share ideas and experiences.


Making your purchases at small stakeholder-owned firms and buying locally produced products are also revolutionary acts against capitalism. Patronize your local farmers' market or organize a community-supported agriculture program with a local farmer. Participate in the "Thanksgiving conspiracy," which involves planning and producing your Thanksgiving dinner based exclusively on foodstuffs produced within thirty miles of your place of residence, and encourage others in your community to do the same. In good market fashion, you are voting with your dollars. It may take some research to figure out what is produced locally and how you can adjust your consumption patterns to meet more of your needs through the market-rather than the capitalist-economy, but that is part of the consciousness-raising process. Again, consider forming a support group to share experience and information.


Consider taking a lower-paying job doing work that has real meaning with a values-led, community-based organization or enterprise that is contributing to the life of the community and the planet.


Reach out beyond the mainstream media by becoming a regular reader of journals and books published by reliable alternative press groups that report on news and issues relating to corporate agendas.


Do your banking with an independent bank or credit union committed to serving your community. If the banks in your community are all branches of one of the large national or international banks, ask the branch manager for the figures on how the local deposits to that branch compare with the branch's total lending in your community for local businesses and home ownership. If local deposits are substantially greater than local lending, you know that local money is not supporting the local economy Consider banking by mail with a community bank located elsewhere. At least you will know your money is supporting someone's local market economy rather creating economic instability in the global financial casino.


if you participate in the stock market, choose a mutual fund that screens investments for social responsibility or make use of an investment service or adviser who specializes in socially screened stocks. Use your ownership vote to support positive shareholder initiatives. Also, avoid consumer debt. Those who maintain debt balances on their credit cards mortgage their lives to capitalism.


Living without a car is no small challenge in most American localities, and auto manufacturers, oil companies, and construction contractors all benefit from keeping it that way. We serve ourselves and life by reducing that dependence. When deciding where to live and where to work, try to choose the location that allows you to waIk, bicycle, or take public transportation to work, shopping, and recreation. In many households, just eliminating the need for a second or third car is a positive step.


Support nonprofit organizations that are challenging the capitalist system and working in favor of equity, environment, and community. Whatever your level of income, reserve a portion for charitable giving to these organizations. You can even support groups doing work in which you believe by such a simple act as signing up with a long-distance phone service that offers discounted rates and donates a portion of your payment to groups working for systemic change.


At the community level, action opportunities center on strengthening the local market economy, creating a healthy livable environment, and building a sense of community based on mutual trust and caring. Contributing at this level requires that we reach out and become a part of our community's public life. The following are a few ideas you might consider.


If your community has a sustainability or livability indicators project, get involved. If not, consider organizing some friends to initiate one. The more people involved in dialoguing on the nature of the community in which they want to live and in selecting the indicators by which they will know when they have it, the more likely the effort will have a meaningful impact.

Create a Sustainable Community Economy The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) offers a variety of technical and organizational resources for increasing community sustainability. See its Web site at for current information, or contact RMI, 1739 Snowmass Creek Road, Snowmass, Colo. 816549199. For those interested in organizing a program to create a strong community economy based on the use of local resources to meet local needs, see Michael J. Kinsley, Economic Renewal Guide: A Collaborative Process for Sustainable Community Development Available from RMI, it is an excellent practical guide and also includes an extensive directory of additional resources.


A barrier to supporting the mindful market economy is figuring out which products come from values-led local firms. Perhaps you have created a support group and you are developing a serious information base. Your next step might be to publish, distribute, and publicize a community directory to your local mindful market.


Local currencies reduce dependence on money controlled by capitalist banking institutions, build a sense of community, strengthen the identity of local businesses and products, and make visible the distinction between money that stays in the community and money that doesn't. If your community has a local currency, give it your support. If not, consider forming a group to establish one.


The move to establish urban growth boundaries to limit sprawl, reverse urban decay, create pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, and increase the viability of public transportation is an idea whose time has come. If your community has a growth management plan designed to increase its livability, consider getting involved. If not, then consider organizing support to create one. Be sure affordable housing is an element of the agenda, so that people at all income levels will have access to the improved livability of your area.


There is a growing divide between localities that approach economic growth by providing subsidies to attract facilities from global corporations and those that are strengthening smaller local businesses. If these issues interest you, find out who is responsible for economic development policies in your community and get involved, either by seeking a seat on the relevant local commission or by organizing a watchdog and lobbying group to mobilize support for sensible economic policies.


There is no democracy without an active citizenry. The only way we are going to bring change to our corrupted political system is through greater involvement by ` citizens who care about their community. Run for office and bring your values ,,J into the political mainstream. Build your campaign in part on a pledge to finance your election with small contributions and avoid obligations to big-money interests. Much of the impetus for change is coming from local levels and there are important opportunities to make a difference as a local officeholder. Furthermore, to reclaim national politics we must first build a local base. If you're fed up with the pandering to big money by the major political parties, consider joining a smaller party, such as the New Party, which is engaged in building its base on a platform of citizen democracy in both political and economic life.


At the national level, the action agenda centers on political education and changing the rules of the game to favor democracy and the market economy.


Study the issues, check the voting records of your legislators or parliamentarians, find out who finances their campaigns, and use your vote to favor the politicians who are trying to serve the public interest. Let the politicians who represent you know you are watching their records and that you favor serious campaign finance reform that gets big money out of politics, strong environmental regulation, a living wage, strong antitrust enforcement, small and medium-size local business, stakeholder ownership, strong unions, and a progressive tax policy. Let them also know that you oppose international trade and investment agreements that increase the rights and reduce the accountability of global corporations and financial institutions; funding for the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization; corporate subsidies; the privatization of social security; capital gains tax cuts and other tax breaks for the wealthy; bank deregulation; patents on life; and corporate intellectual property rights monopolies-to name a few issues that bear directly on the balance of power between capitalism and democracy and the market economy. If the politicians who represent you don't represent your interests, others probably feel unrepresented as well. Consider running for national office yourself.


Although the major political parties may be hopelessly captive to big-money interests, there are many political movements and advocacy groups that are not. These groups are vehicles for mobilizing broad grassroots support behind initiatives that advance the public interest on issues such as those listed in the previous paragraphs. Pick out one or two with a strong grassroots base that align with your interests, get involved, and give special attention to campaign finance reform.


At the international level, a positive agenda centers on people-to-people exchange and dialogue that builds a globalizing civil society as a potent force for positive change.


There are many global citizen organizations working in solidarity on issues ranging from voluntary simplicity to opposing international trade and investment treaties that are designed to strengthen corporate rights and weaken their accountability. If the issues you are working on at community and national levels have an international dimension, you may want to link your local and national efforts into a related international network or alliance.


Global institutions are an especially appropriate concern of global networks. Citizen groups have come to realize that the most powerful of our international institutions are generally those-such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization-that have been created to serve and strengthen global capitalism. Groups of concerned citizens worldwide have responded with well-organized initiatives aimed at holding these institutions accountable to the human and environmental interest. There is much to be done to weaken and ultimately close these harmful institutions as we work to replace them with institutions dedicated to protecting the economic rights of people and communities. If this agenda interests you, find a relevant network and get involved.


As national governments have pursued foreign policies largely alien to the values and interests of many of their citizens, a number of towns and cities have put forward their own positions on key foreign policy issues. For example, some have boycotted corporations that do business with repressive regimes, such as in Burma or apartheid South Africa. In many instances local governments around the world are reaching out to work directly with one another to prod and challenge their national governments on official positions relating to such issues as global warming, nuclear disarmament, and human rights. While national governments have been negotiating the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), aimed at virtually eliminating the ability of national and local governments to regulate international investors and speculators, a number of towns and cities in the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, and other countries have passed official resolutions declaring themselves MAI-free zones to underscore their protest against this attack against democracy.

Those who define-values and progress in terms of money define international cooperation primarily in terms of financial relationships As we awaken to life as our defining value and measure of progress, we come to see that the foundation of more meaningful international cooperation centers on people-to-people communication and the free exchange of friendship, information, and technology. We are learning that international relations are too important to be left to national governments captive to corporate interests. If your municipal government has an active foreign policy, get involved. If not, learn what other local governments are doing and campaign to get yours involved. Give special support to initiatives aimed at strengthening the rights of peoples to protect their economic and environmental interests against predatory global capital.

Start from where you are. Do what's right for you. Give yourself permission to be the one. And together we can and shall create a positive, life-friendly future for humanity and the planet.

Enchanted by the Sirens' song, we have yielded to the institutions of capitalism the power to decide our economic, social, and technological priorities. Intimidated by their power, we have been reluctant to see the naked truth that they bear the Midas curse, appropriating the life energies of whatever they touch to the end of making money. Finding our choices narrowed to the options capitalism finds it profitable to offer us, we seek meaning where there is none to be found and become unwitting accomplices in fulfilling the deadly curse.

Given the seriousness of our situation, it may seem anticlimactic to suggest that our survival depends on something so obvious and undramatic as embracing the living universe story as our own and making mindful choices for democracy, markets, and healthy lifestyles. Perhaps we have been so busy searching the distant horizon for exotic answers to our deepening crisis that we have failed to notice the obvious answers that are right in front of us.

Or perhaps we have been reluctant to face the troubling truth that it is our voice that sings the Sirens' song. It is we who divert our eyes from the emperor's nakedness. It is by our hand that the Midas curse turns life into money. We can sing as well life's song, find the courage to speak of the emperor's shame, and put our hands to life's service-discovering along the way more of who we truly are as we live a life-fulfilling future into being.

The gift of self-reflective intelligence gives our species a capability for mindful choice well beyond that of any other. Yet we have avoided the responsibility that inevitably goes with freedom by assuming it is not within our means. We have further diminished ourselves by developing elegant ideological arguments to rationalize our irresponsibility.

Thus, we have approached democracy as though it were a license for each individual to do as he or she wishes when in truth it is about acting on the faith that each individual has the capacity for full and equal participation in making responsible choices mindful of the needs of all. We have approached the market as though it were a license to amass unlimited individual wealth without individual responsibility, when in truth it is about meeting basic needs through the mindful participation of everyone in the equitable and efficient allocation of society's resources. We have treated the good life as a process of material acquisition and consumption without limit, when in truth it is about living fully and well in service to life's continued unfolding.

Whatever the barriers to our taking the step to species maturity, our era of adolescent irresponsibility is ending for the very reason that we have reached the limits of the planet's tolerance for our recklessness. It is now our time to accept responsibility for our freedom or perish as a species that failed to find its place of service in the web of life.

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