Photo by Monika Chace. Learn more about Monika and see all contributors to Planet Project here.

The Planet Project asserts that the pervasive and deeply seated assumptions (memes) of our current cultural stage are the underlying root cause, the common thread, of our multiple existential crises. In response, we advocate cultural transformation at global scale as one pillar of our three-pronged strategy. change the culture strategyOur blog post Positive Culture and the Planetary Perspective (Part 2) provides some hints about the nature of the needed cultural change, characterizing it as a shift from a Material Culture to a Planetary Culture. Yes, we recognize that global cultural transformation is a ridiculously audacious goal. Unfortunately, when dealing with multiple, systemic (which is to say inter-connected) global challenges, anything less than a global holistic approach seems doomed to failure. So… global civilizational transformation appears to be what is demanded of us. But how does one even begin to approach a change of this magnitude? I cannot start to conceive of systems, processes and institutions grounded in a very different worldview until I, personally, have shifted my own worldview. In other words, global cultural change starts with a powerful and deeply personal question: “What can I do?

What Can I Do?

When faced with the magnitude, complexity, and catastrophic effects of the multi-dimensional risks threatening living systems globally, people often respond with either denial or despair. The devastating emotional consequences of accepting the reality of these risks leads many of us to seek rationale for pretending the problems either aren’t real or aren’t as bad as they seem — and then hold to those illusions defiantly, regardless of how poorly supported they are by the facts.

Others may accept the mounting evidence, but feel paralyzed by powerlessness, believing the problems we face are too big for us to do anything about. Many of us simply compartmentalize our denial or despair, i.e., we try to avoid thinking about them at all, just so we can get on with their lives.

How can we mobilize a global movement of cultural transformation when people are either in denial about the crises or so convinced of the futility of their actions as to shut out the possibility of any effective steps they can take?

The good news is that every evolutionary quantum leap has been preceded by crises, chaos and breakdown. Severe crises create the conditions for transformative change. And in response to our current conditions, changes are, in fact, spontaneously emerging globally in all sectors of human endeavor. We are not alone. Thought leaders are offering alternatives to the prevailing memes — new models and practices are being articulated and shared in books, blog posts, videos, podcasts, social media groups, training classes and are being put into practice by awakening individuals, conscious organizations and intentional communities.

But the very magnitude of this positive response creates its own challenges. How can I discover and distill, from this vast array of agents and their cultural expression, those that speak to what most wants to emerge in me? What bite-sized slice of this compendium can help me shape my own very personal response to the question, what can I do?

Elaborating on the Necessary Cultural Shift

In response to this challenge, the Planet Project has begun several efforts aimed at making the requisite shift in worldview more approachable.

The first is to make the macro-shift from Material to Planetary Culture more tangible and digestible by characterizing it with a set of finer-grained transformations referred to as memetic shifts. For example, one of the more foundational shifts is from separateness to integration. The separateness meme sees the universe as consisting of (only) discrete, separate objects. Mind is separate from matter. God is separate from Man. Man is separate from Nature. People are separate and in competition with each other. In contrast, the integration meme emphasizes the interconnected, interrelated and interdependent nature of the universe.

Other shifts are more specific. For example, the shift from punitive to restorative justice.

Memes have benefits and consequences – and 5,000 years of the memes of Material Culture have built up a swelling of consequences that now threaten to consume living systems on the planet. The bill is coming due.

Whereas an individual meme can be viewed passively as a piece of knowledge, expressing a shift from one meme to another defines a change vector that implies action. Each shift can be thought of as a cultural movement from a predominant meme whose consequences are overwhelming its benefits towards an emerging meme that attempts to mitigate those consequences. In general, these shifts represent more of a transcend and include movement than a replacement. The old memes don’t disappear, but rather they are used in more limited contexts due to a deeper understanding of their field of applicability and their positive and negative consequences. Einstein did not disprove Newtonian physics. He placed it in a larger context and demonstrated it was valid only at scales above the super-small and at speeds not approaching the speed of light. The integration meme does not deny the existence of separate identity, rather it sees our individuality within the larger frame of our commonality and seeks a healthy balance between individual sovereignty and group coherence.

Going forward, the Planet Project will begin highlighting these memetic shifts as different aspects of the macro-shift from Material to Planetary Culture. Our website will be expanded with a page devoted to each memetic shift that may include:

  • a description (and 1 or more representative images) of the meme we are shifting away from
  • a description (and 1or more representative images) of the meme we are shifting towards
  • a description of how that shift aligns with the vision, values, and principles of The Planet Project
  • possible metrics — i.e., ways of measuring progress in the shift
  • a dashboard showing where things stand with respect to those measures (including, eventually, trend graphs showing whether the measures are trending in a positive or negative direction)
  • links to the “agent” pages for agents that are instrumental in manifesting that shift in the world.
  • links to the expressions of “positive culture” for films, songs, podcasts, blog posts, videos, etc. that highlight some aspect of that shift.
  • upcoming events relevant to that shift

To further aid searchability, memetic shifts will be mapped to the functional sector or area of human endeavor that is their primary focus. We intend to use the Wheel of Co-Creation envisioned by the late futurist and evolutionary, Barbara Marx Hubbard, as our functional classification framework.

functional sectors of human endeavors wheel inspired by Barbara Marx Hubbard's Wheel of Co-Creation

Foundational and cross-functional shifts such as Separateness -> Integration, will be mapped to the Hub Sector in the center of the wheel. Memetic shifts that are more specific to a particular functional area will be mapped to a specific functional sector. For example, the shift from punitive -> restorative justice is a shift primarily focused on the Justice sector.

Clicking on a sector will take you to a page for that sector that provides links to all of the memetic shifts mapped to that sector.

Curating and Classifying Change Agents and Cultural Expressions

Collectively, these memetic shifts, organized by sector, provide a classification framework for curating our lists of aligned change agents and expressions of positive culture. Each agent or cultural expression will be mapped to these memetic shifts so you can immediately see which shifts a given agent, film blog post, poem, song, etc., is manifesting in the world.

We are envisioning (live and/or virtual) co-creation events where Planet Movement members and thought-leaders from each sector of the wheel are brought together to share their highest vision for that sector in order to seed additional memetic shifts into our classification scheme. Then we will encourage cross-sector groups to emerge to co-create cross-functional memetic shifts that will also be added to the Planet Website and used to enrich our classification scheme for agents and positive culture.

Members are invited to engage in deep self-reflection to discover the memetic shifts for which they feel the deepest resonance. If I feel my heart, mind, strengths, weaknesses, skills and experiences are calling me to help work towards a particular memetic shift, I can use the Planet Project’s webpage for that shift to discover other agents manifesting that shift and cultural expressions that give life to the emergence of that shift. This allows me to move from the question of “what can I do?” to the question of “what can we do?

Overall, our aim is to aid members of the Planet Movement:

  • to deepen their awareness of the systemic nature of our crises,
  • to discover alternative ways for framing who we are and how we interact as people and as participants in the web of life
  • to move from denial and despair to effective, informed action by finding the role that is uniquely theirs to play
  • to connect with others operating in the same space to amplify their agency and co-create solutions to our planetary crises
wordcloud describing fostering cultural change