HOW DO HUMAN CULTURES CHANGE, and how can we help to shape those changes? These are questions that have always interested philosophers and politicians, but in today’s world they have a much broader application and urgency. The indications are all around us that the whole planet has come to a major watershed, a time of momentous choice. The possibilities of global devastation are obviously with us, whether it comes in the form of 20 minutes of nuclear mega-tantrum or 20 more years of ecological mismanagement. Not quite so obvious, but I feel just as real, is the possibility that we will survive by going through a cultural transition as profound as the transition from tribal cultures to what we call civilization. The hope on which IN CONTEXT is based is that this next stage in the evolution of human culture can be both humane and sustainable.
The challenge, of course, is to translate that hope into reality, but should we even try? For many people, conscious attempts at "social improvement" have a bad reputation. While a few such efforts have had good results, such as the American Revolution, history is littered with well-meaning attempts that either got nowhere, or turned into grotesque mockeries of the original ideals, as in Cambodia. It is enough to make one throw up one’s hands and say, "We should do nothing!"
But history is also full of the pain brought on by neglect, and by the comfortable excuses of those who could have helped, but didn’t, as in Germany during the 20s and 30s. What’s more, the pace and scope of today’s challenges have no equal in history. It is unlikely that we have the luxury of simply muddling through.
So what are we to do? The articles in this issue offer a vision that lies between those who claim to be captains of history, imagining themselves all powerful in their freedom to shape the world to their whim, and those who claim to be mere passengers, imagining themselves to be powerless and absolved of all responsibility. Rather, the vision you will find here is that we can, if we so choose, be cultural midwives, cultural gardeners, and consciously part of the crew of spaceship Earth. Like midwives, we know we are working with a powerful process that we did not start, but if we are sensitive and skillful, we can help it be as graceful and joyful as possible. Like gardeners, we know that plants grow themselves, but by providing the right conditions we can allow that growth to attain its full potential. And like good crew members, we know that our actions, while not the whole story, are needed and at times essential.
The guest co-editor for this issue is Robert Theobald, who has been strategizing about cultural change for more than 25 years. He is well-known as a futurist, is the author of many books, and is currently the coordinator for Action Linkage, a national network of social change activists. We first got to know each other through co-authoring At The Crossroads. We look on this issue as a continuation of that work.