Artishia slid into her sleeping bag nearly dizzy with the creamy swirl of the Milky Way across the sky. Never before had she seen such stars – not even in the darkened areas of the city like The Gardens – which had years earlier transformed the urban core into a beautiful, vibrant center of interaction and cultural expression. Gardens like these in cities across the nation produce hundreds of tons of vegetables, giving urban residents local sources of fresh food and practically eliminating hunger in America.
Artishia, 12 years old, lay there quietly, guarded against the fresh cold of the Sierra night, and gazed into the timeless sky. Orion was high above and the Dippers circling. For Artishia, not only were the stars fantastic but the whole experience of school seemed fabulous.
To her right was her new friend Juanita, also 12 years old, who came up from Mexico as a Bioregional Exchange student, as had Mike, already asleep on her left, who lived in the Vancouver, British Columbia area. Both Juanita and Mike had chosen, as part of their education, to spend six months exploring neighboring bioregions and their cultures.
Around the small fire in the distance, Artishia saw her father speaking and gesturing with the parents of the two friends on either side of her. Parents were an important part of the Shasta Bioregion Semester, providing not only the logistics of the mountain portion of the trip but also a great deal of the basic skills instruction, enhancing the very special talents of their teaching team.
The teaching team was led by a Kurok native elder who told stories nonstop. He seemed to be the grandfather of everyone on the trip. There was also Michelle, the oceanographer from France, who was great at cooking delicious meals over the open fire, and Mat, an African-American man who had spent several years teaching in rural areas of Africa.
As she drifted to sleep, Artishia thought of the next day, the journey to the Central Valley and the start of the environmental service project in which they and students from other bioregions would participate. The ecology of the Central Valley had been severely compromised during the last century, she had learned, by destructive monocultural agricultural practices utilizing pesticides and huge amounts of water. Now, however, because the inner cities across the state and nation had been made over into extensive gardens feeding millions, the Central Valley agricultural conglomerates had been broken up into smaller farms, cooperatives, and learning centers for organic agriculture and ecological restoration. Thousands of families had taken part in the opportunity to homestead there, where they could enjoy a rural lifestyle and the values of community, simplicity, and stewardship.
Tomorrow, they would journey to a small community and continue the extensive restoration of the valley. This project had already been going on for 30 years and had given new life to many thousands of acres of farmland, and fish and wildlife habitat, such as those adjacent to the great rivers on their way to the bay and ocean.
One of those rivers, the Sacramento, would serve as a project site for the last two weeks of school for the Bioregion Semester. Artishia and her friends, their parents and the teaching team would paddle rafts from the Central Valley to the San Francisco Bay.
Running Grass is executive director of Three Circles Center, a nonprofit organization in Sausalito, CA, which focuses on cultural issues and environmental education.
by Elise Boulding
Fred Polak was one of the first thinkers to call attention to the atrophy of our capacity to visualize a wholly different future. His Image for the Future (1953) was written for a Europe paralyzed by the experience of World War II.
According to Polak, the human capacity to create mental images of the "totally other" – that which has never been experienced or recorded – is the key dynamic of history. At every level of awareness, from the individual to the macrosocietal, imagery is continuously generated about the not-yet. Such imagery inspires our intentions, which then move us purposefully forward. Through daily choices of action, individuals, families, enterprises, communities, and nations move toward that which they imagine to be a desirable tomorrow.
Polak points out, however, that historically alternating waves of optimism and pessimism about reality roll through time, as do alternative views about the end of the world. Sometimes humans are seen as partners with God or Nature, other times as helpless objects of supernatural action.
In Polak’s reading of history, optimism about reality combined with a utopian sense of human empowerment set in motion a powerful dynamic. Utopian optimism has characterized the Western worldview of recent centuries – but not of the last few decades.
In eras when pessimism combines with a sense of cosmic helplessness, the quality of human intentionality declines and, with it, the quality of imagery of the not-yet. Societies in that condition live bounded by the present, with no social dynamic for change available to them. This is our situation in the post-World War II Western world.
A Way Past Destruction
My own lifetime of 75 years, and my reading of history, has shown me over and over again that no matter how bad things are, the human race has been there before – been there, and found a way past destruction. It is finding the way past destruction that makes imaging so important.
At a time when spreading ethnic conflict is inducing something of the same kind of paralysis that people felt at the close of World War II, it seems urgent to undertake imaging a world three decades hence, when new social identities, social structures, and social processes have emerged that will bridge the chasm between the One-Third and the Two-Thirds Worlds that looks so unbridgeable today.
What can keep imaging from being escapist is that it is grounded in a deeper spiritual awareness of the human condition, grounded in an intellectual awareness of human folly, and grounded in an historical resonance with human groupings from the earliest hunting and gathering bands, whose oldest tales tell us of fireside imaginings of human beings living together in a green and lovely world, in peacefully shared abundance, knowing love and joy.
What gives me confidence that the imaging process is basically a sound one, is that, despite cultural differences, the same basic image themes appear in the imagined utopias of the ancient past as appear in the imagery of our late-20th century imagers – a clean, green world of abundance, joyfully shared by men and women. This kind of imaging is a special human gift, that no follies have been able to extinguish. And as long as we can imagine a better world with minds adequately equipped for the complexities of the 21st century, we will be able to work for it.
Elise Boulding is Professor Emerita of Sociology at Dartmouth College, now living in Boulder, Colorado. Active in the peace research community since the 1950s, she has also written extensively on women’s roles and in the field of future studies.
This piece was drawn from articles about the World Without Weapons workshops developed by Ms. Boulding and Warren Zeigler. For more information, you will find the workshop protocols in Building a Global Civic Culture: Education for an Inter-dependent World by Elise Boulding, published by Syracuse University Press. A collection of essays called The Future: Images and Processes by Elise and Kenneth Boulding, was just published by Sage Publications.