HAVING WRESTLED with this question for more than a year as we envision the planetary village growing around the Chinook Learning Community, and recently returning from Findhorn’s One Earth Conference on Building a Planetary Village, I have come to realize the answer is really quite simple, but very incomplete. Simply, the idea of a Planetary Village is a set of expectancies many of us share about the future of our changing culture. We expect that humanity will learn to live in ecological balance with the rest of nature. We expect that our way of life will be sustainable – not dependent on non-renewable resources. We expect all of humanity will become aware of its interdependency and will learn to cooperate globally. We expect that human consciousness will deepen and become more perceptive, loving and wise – become more spiritually sensitive. The vision of the Planetary Village imagines all of these qualities pervading a community with the scale and dynamics of a traditional village.
This idea of bringing together in villages the values of ecological integrity, global responsibility, community and spiritual sensitivity has received its recent impetus from such visionaries of cultural change as David Spangler, William Irwin Thompson, and Margaret Mead. They intuited independently that villages would be a critically important part of future world culture. While the idea is utopian, given the contemporary world, so fraught with potential peril from nuclear war, ecological catastrophe, etc., it is an image of the kind of future many of us are committed to creating.
As we work with the practicalities of such a positive future, villages seem increasingly an appropriate cultural size to work with. A family is too small to express all of the values in practical ways. For example, most of us are too dependent on the culture at large to create right livelihoods, and steward ecosystems. Even large communities do not have the scale necessary. Cities are too big to take on at this time. Villages seem a manageable dimension. In fact, many people and communities around the planet are intentionally setting out to build Planetary Villages.
The specific phrase "planetary village" was coined by David Spangler. In the pamphlet, Conversations with John, he anticipates that the reemergence of villages will be critical to the next step in human evolution. For David, villages are not so much physical places as a reuniting of the human spirit with the spirit of the Earth, a reidentification of communities of people with the places they inhabit. He anticipated that the consciousness of the villagers would include the planet as a whole in their identity – an identity that keeps in mind how everything that occurs in the village affects the whole earth.
A village is an incarnation not only of human will, intent, and social structure, but of the character and quality of the land. Such villages could invoke and express the power of the land, but this power included elements that were not truly human. To become more aligned with and understanding of your human nature, you have had to move beyond the land, beyond the village. This is the gift of your industrial, technological culture. It can break some of the patterns of attachment to the village and the land in specific ways and provide room fore larger planetary context and attunement to emerge and develop. For example, you can now process and distribute information, images, experiences, foodstuffs, clothing, and styles of life and culture around the world, creating a planetary mosaic and exposing people in physical, mental and emotional, as well as spiritual ways, to planetary influences. This is very important in developing and incarnating within humanity a sense of planetary beingness, a sense of being part of a single, unified species and ecology. It attunes you to a planetary context rather than just to a local geographical one. The globe, the sphere, the image of wholeness, becomes your topographical influence and symbol, not just the physical boundaries of mountain and river, ocean and valley.
You pay a price for this. The industrial culture has rendered the world into an abstraction, allowing you to deal with it in ways that would have been unthinkable for earlier cultures, such as that of the North American Indian. Some of you have lost touch with the personhood of the earth, so real to the village consciousness, which is a consciousness co- created with the spirit of the surrounding land and ecology. You can thus act toward the world in ways that ultimately are damaging.
You must return to the mind and spirit of the land from the strength of a deeper human consciousness. This means that the movement back toward villages and communities will increase, but now these will be planetary villages that deal with the land in new ways and that draw not only on local environmental influences for self-definition, but on the planetary perspective as a whole. This would be true even if local conditions necessitated reliance on purely local resources. The present challenge to industrial culture is how to adapt itself and its technology to the village and to networks of villages (even to creating "villages" within your present cities). The form of these villages will vary, of course, but they will be embodiments of a common consciousness – one of integration with land, with self, with others, and with the planet. Such villages will then become true centers of training for the next step in human evolution . . .
William Irwin Thompson termed his intuition of future villages "the meta-industrial village". Once again, his vision anticipates a critical role of villages in the next stage of human evolution. He sees sustainable, ecologically sensitive villages providing a cultural alternative to continued industrial growth – the "Los Angelization" of the planet, and subsequent ecological disaster. He anticipates cities decentralizing as global networks of electronic communications allows the remotest places on Earth to access and interact with the leading edge of human culture. He expects the limitations of raw materials and increasing pollution to require humanity to redefine wealth in terms of inner experience rather than possessions and consumption. The values of community form a basis for a new economics that allows for right livelihood and local self reliance.
Evolution occurs in small populations or demes [See the beginning quote in "Notes From Auroville"] in which a mutation has taken place. The metaindustrial village is such a deme; it is a place in which the four cultural forces are completely expressed. [1. The planetization of nations. 2. The decentralization of cities. 3. The miniaturization of technology. 4. The interiorization of consciousness.] The metaindustrial village is a turn on the spiral back toward the preindustrial village, but it is not the preindustrial village; for with electronics, complex informational flow on a global level, and higher states of consciousness from a contemplative education, it is not a return to the "idiocy of rural life."
Margaret Mead challenged John and Nancy Todd, the founders of the New Alchemy Institute, to apply their genius in appropriate technology to the needs of villages. She pointed out that while bioshelters, and Ocean Arks are excellent models of ecological sustainability they are beyond the means of the 60% of the Earth’s population who live in the 3rd world, and increasingly beyond the resources of most Americans. She saw villages as the appropriate unit of ecological sustainability, and cultural integrity.
While these visionaries give us the hope and inspiration that Planetary Villages are actually possible, indeed vitally necessary, they give us few clues on how these villages will be built. How such a Planetary Village actually works, is left (in the style of true prophets) to our imaginations, creativity and hard work. How do we design and build communities which contributes to the health of our local ecosystems? What kind of life style can we adopt which does not depend on exploiting either the third world or future generations? What is the new technology that will bring villages around the world into intimate relationships? What will we want to say to and hear from people in China or Brazil? How do we nurture cooperation, care and wisdom in ourselves and our communities? And for those of us who grew up in cities and suburbs – what is a village, anyway?
Any one of these questions seems overwhelming. As individuals it is hard to imagine being able to research or create the necessary knowledge, let alone put it into practice. But we are not alone. Many groups and inspired individuals are committing their lives to answering these questions. Indeed much of the necessary knowledge of ecology and appropriate technology is at hand, thanks to the work of such groups as the New Alchemists and the permaculture movement. Many of the social patterns of new villages are being pioneered by such communities as Findhorn, the San Francisco Zen Center, and Ananda. The growing spiritual deepening of all forms of religious communities are beginning to offer the basis of a new level of ethical and spiritual understanding.
We don’t have to answer all the questions ourselves, but we each have our piece. Villages obviously don’t work without villagers – people with the imagination to adapt the new technologies and social patterns to their unique situations, the openness to learn new skills and habits, and the commitment to their place, their people, and their vision to stay and work on a new way of life for a lifetime. It is an exciting prospect. And many of us fully expect that in fifty years we will be able look back at these times the way our grandparents reflect on the unimaginable changes they’ve witnessed, and remember the tenuous beginnings of our planetary village.
Tim Clark is a long-time member of the Chinook Learning Community on Whidbey Island, Washington and is the coordinator for their upcoming conference on Building A Planetary Village (see Strategies & Resources for details).