On Writing eGaia
How eGaia came to be written.
Would you like to hear how I came to write eGaia: Growing a peaceful, sustainable Earth through communications? How is it that I came to immerse myself into getting as clear as I can about the kind of society I and most people I know would really like to see? And how did I come to believe that kind of society is possible, that many people are now working on it, and that the next big steps towards it becoming widely accepted are within reach? I think it was a series of stages in my life that accidentally led me to becoming the person I now am, for good and bad.
I was born during the Second World War, growing up in Brooklyn, New York, to a Romanian-Jewish family. New York was a great city of immigrants, all of whom were very aware of their ancestry, while culturally they were actually mostly New Yorkers. So while there were some clashes, mostly we all got on well together. We celebrated each others’ holidays because the schools were closed on those days. We enjoyed each others food, literature, music. For me, a reasonably well integrated multi-cultural world just seemed normal.
With my Jewish background, living in a completely Jewish neighbourhood, we were well aware of the holocaust, anti-semitism, and many other forms of injustice. My family were not at all religious, and in fact my father was quite hostile to religions, believing they were a major cause of the world’s problems. So I very early found myself a non-believer too, arguing with my friends about the Bible, about governments and much else. (I still have a copy of the Bible in which I marked ‘proofs’ of inconsistency such as the day the Earth stood still, or a perfectly round lake 10 cubits across and 30 cubits around, so ignorant of the value of pi!)
I grew up rejecting all sorts of conventional wisdom and very comfortable about doing so. I was naturally drawn to struggles for racial integration and then nuclear disarmament.
Later, I was working on my Ph.D. in non-linear circuit theory at Purdue University in Indiana in the late 1960s. I found myself, along with many other students, caught up in the political struggles of those years. We learned about looming environmental problems (which are now really hitting home), tried to make sense of and live with more equal gender roles (the gender stereotypes on the radio and TV of my childhood now seem laughable), and had passionate arguments about the ‘new left’ visions of governance: run for community benefit but local and decentralised, unlike the conventional socialist and communist ideologies of the time. All of these ideas are much clearer and more fully developed in eGaia, as I kept following their development.
But it was probably my early years at the UK’s Open University, newly formed, in the Electronics Department of the Technology Faculty, that had the most effect. Many of us young academic staff were determined to bring our new environmental insights into our teaching. During the mid-1970s a group of us decided to produce our ‘grand course’, which we referred to as the Human Ecology Course. We wanted to put environmental issues into their context: show their historical and social roots. We saw a great contradiction between what was considered desirable for the economy and desirable for the environment and social wellbeing. And this is still the key issue.
For various reasons, I ended up researching the processes of social change, and the roots of economic behaviour. I read extensively in the anthropological literature and was impressed with the variety of human cultures, some extremely peaceful and others very warlike. Money was a late invention, and before that people lived in co-operative bands where people just looked after each other. That was what it meant to be human, the ultimate co-operative ape. I became clearer about what it meant to live in a peaceful culture, with lots of customs to maintain that. Exchange was more like formalised gift- giving than markets.
The Human Ecology course was never finished, for various reasons, but was always a major influence on me, although most of my work was in electronics and computing. I would occasionally give talks or write papers about these insights, together with a few colleagues, and they gradually became clearer. The nearest I could get to acting on them was to bring collaboration and communication into my teaching. I was one of the people who invented online learning, especially with a collaborative learning approach. I was researching and writing about ‘Electronic Open Universities’ and learning how to keep on-line groups working effectively, with conflicts handled constructively.
As the 21st century started, I started work on eGaia, and published the first edition in 2002. Climate change wasn’t yet the bogey man it now is to the political right. We were all using email and the Web by then, so further connection for exchange and governance seemed quite plausible.
By the time I updated eGaia for the second edition, in 2013/2014, the world had moved a long way. The world’s population had reached 7 billion (3 times as many people as in my childhood), extreme weather was hitting most of the world, oil prices had shot up and seemed to be an underlying cause of the economic crash of 2008, the financial system seemed very fragile, and bankers became popular villains. On the other side, such movements as Transition Towns had started, and there was a growing sense that really radical changes were needed. Our sense of connection through mobiles and social media is now pretty well ubiquitous, even in the poorest parts of the world. I had learned about cooperative social organisations that were locally autonomous but coordinated to provide synergy, and a common sense of identity.
eGaia pulls together what I have learned from many different people and projects, both successful and failures. All of the necessary ideas and the technology are now available for a collaborative, bottom-up society. We who share the values of serving people and planet can now build an embryonic version of such a society for ourselves, where we provide the goods and services of modern life in ways that serve to people and planet, not pursuit of profit. Huge numbers of people are doing this now, and the urgency is great.
Mostly these are individual efforts, working in their own area (local food projects, community transport, eco-villlages, and so on). But many of us are saying that now is the time we can link up, to take our efforts to the next level. We don’t have to wait for sympathetic governments to take power. We don’t have to wait for a financial collapse, for an end to capitalism.
The next big steps, according to systems theory, (and you can download the “Next big steps” chapter in eGaia) is simply to declare our values publicly, so that we can see how many of us share them. We can then find the ways of linking that suit us locally, while aware of the global dimension too for inspiration. Beyond that, we shall have to learn, and my hope is that the quite detailed visions in eGaia will help and inspire many to do just that.
eGaia very much compliments: