Since the ongoing debate on Brexit, the British Parliament has been in the news a lot. Few can have escaped noticing John Bercow in his role of Speaker in the House of Commons, repeatedly shouting ‘OOORRRDDDEEERRR’ in an attempt to quieten down the noise of the House. Obviously it is a tradition that is not taken too seriously. But all the same, it expresses something very important about the prevailing Western notion of order: something that must be imposed from the outside to reduce or end conflict. As I will show below, in our time we are (re)discovering another kind of order, the natural order that manifests itself as the self-organized wholes of all living beings and systems.
Imperial thinking and ruling
This idea of imposing order has a long history. For millennia it has inspired people to build empires which one after the other primarily aimed at expanding the domination over as wide an area as possible, in which all colonized people were forced to bow to the imperial rules. We all know about the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire and about much later empires like the Dutch and the British ones. Brexit and the Dutch discussions about the colonial slave trade show that we are not yet free from imperial influence.
What all imperial thinking has in common, is the firm belief that order is all about imposing order externally, often with the use of propaganda. Usually empires are headed by ‘strong men’, who secure their position by surrounding themselves by a circle of privileged and loyal followers. Understandably they need soldiers and weaponry to protect their power structure, and to keep control of life around them, which to them appears disorderly, chaotic and threatening. Empires are the result of ruling societies exclusively by the masculine principle of power over – of which women and the natural world have always been the prime victims.
Although the imperial dreams of Hitler and Mussolini should have made everyone aware of the unavoidable destructive shadow side of empires, imperial thinking has never fully disappeared from the human scene. The current nationalistic movements that want to make the weakened nation states ‘great again’, might on the surface appear to be just protecting imagined national identities, expressed by legal measures to keep unwanted foreigners out. But I am afraid that an imperialistic urge to expand, and to dominate the countries where they came from, is never far from their minds.
It is no coincidence that today both #MeToo and climate change have become global issues. Not only have women and the natural world suffered mostly from imperial thinking, they are in fact interrelated issues as, for instance, was already pointed out in 1980 by Carolyn Merchant in her book The Death of Nature, and more recently by Sharon Blackie. But more importantly, they are wake-up calls. In this respect, the much quoted saying attributed to Einstein comes to my mind: ‘No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.’ Unfortunately conservative, imperial-oriented minds do not recognize it yet as a challenge.
The Earth Community
But a fast-growing number of people do actually recognize the challenge and also the urgency. In a grass-roots way they are organizing themselves into a powerful global network, an Earth Community. In a previous blog I referred to the important ideas of David Korten on this theme. He has pointed out that the rise of the Earth Community is linked directly to the end of the imperial ways of organization and thinking. Seen from an Earth Community perspective, in retrospect the impulses to create empires through the principle of imposing order externally have been clumsy, immature attempts to unify humanity across the globe, lacking the necessary level of consciousness to turn them into a sustainable reality.
Inhabiting larger and smaller bodies
One of the ways to join the Earth Community is to reconnect with the natural order, which powers and self-organizes all living beings and systems – like ourselves, landscapes, the earth, and so on – from within. For instance, you can try to open your heart and mind to the borderless landscapes that surround you everywhere with their diversity of trees, plants, perhaps mountains, hills, a lake or a river, but also including the sky above with its clouds or stars at night. When you fully immerse yourself in it, become an inextricable part of it, you can see that even though all the different details are spread out unevenly, with all the spaces in between they somehow create a harmonious whole that has a calming and healing effect on your being. Likewise you can learn to fully inhabit your own body again, descend into it, realize how all the trillions of different cells and many different organs spontaneously cooperate with each other in a self-organized harmonious whole.
Transformation and reconnection
Truly inhabiting the landscape and our own body also has a transformative, expanding effect on our consciousness. I believe it triggers the necessary (spiritual) change in thinking that Einstein was talking about. It also reconnects us to ‘primitive’ cultures that have been suppressed by imperial thinking: after all, this ‘new’ reality was already recognized and valued by many indigenous people all over the world, as expressed – for instance – in their notion that the land owns its inhabitants (and not the other way around), or that the human body is one of the many gifts of life to be cherished. Importantly, the natural order is always open and alive, ever changing and communicating with its larger environment. It reflects the essence of who we are and feel comfortable with.
To conclude, I think we can deduce one important rule from this: the more internal natural order we experience, the less external order needs to be imposed. And this is relevant everywhere, not just in politics, but also in contexts like at home or at work. John Bercow’s public performances have made me realize that in our time, imposing external order can sometimes become quite absurd and hopeless…
Photo on top: Lough Gur, County Limerick, Ireland