Pando Populus’ Mission

Pando Populus’ Mission

By   |  Aug. 12, 2015

By John B. Cobb Jr.

The mission of Pando Populus is to promote ecological civilization, or what the Pope calls integral ecology. 

That can be done in many different ways, and we are glad that there are many organizations and publications that deal with overcoming racial prejudice and injustice, saving the whales, reducing the concentration of wealth and power, reforming prisons, opposing imperial wars and a hundred other causes.  Pando Populus’ aim, however, is to recognize the larger goal to which our specific efforts contribute.

The distinction of Pando Populus lies in our conviction that much of what is wrong today stems from a worldview that ignores, or even denies, relationships.  We are committed to promoting a worldview that displays the profound interconnectedness and mutual dependence of all the entities that make up our world. 

We have selected Pando, the aspen grove, to highlight the illusory character of apparent separateness.  We recommend Whitehead as the greatest philosopher of interdependence.

Big ideas and the Earth

Pando Populus takes on the task of showing how the ideas that make up a worldview are expressed in the way we look at particulars.  We say that Pando Populus is the place “Where big ideas come to Earth.”

One big idea that quite directly expresses interrelatedness is human community – a way of describing person-centered societies in which interrelationship is appreciated and fostered.  We who are committed to ecological civilization look at what happens in current history and judge it in terms of its effect on community.

A second big idea that grows out of our appreciation of universal interrelatedness is that we humans also are part of the natural world and that human community requires for its health sustainable community with other creatures.

When we view what is happening in our world with these big ideas in mind, we are struck by the rapid deterioration on all sides.

Human communities are under stress and rapidly eroding.  Meanwhile, we more and more treat our environment of other creatures exploitatively.

The problem of consumption over wellbeing

We ask why?  And the most apparent answer is that we are organizing ourselves for efficient production and consumption rather than for community with one another and the world.

We can take a further step toward specificity.  When we organize society for the sake of human wellbeing, we are likely to want people to play a major role in the decisions that shape their lives.  Those who have thought this way have supported rule by the people, that is, democracy.

Of course, democracy can take many forms, and discussions of this variety can go on, often quite fruitfully, without much interest in big ideas.  So a lot of political science as taught in our colleges seems to leave those ideas alone.  But today the rule of the people in most countries is severely challenged, and it is important to remind ourselves of the big ideas that call for it.

Those who are destroying democracy seem much clearer about their big ideas. These big ideas are those that for several generations have been taught in graduate departments of economics.  They are based on the view that each person is a self-contained individual whose primary aim is increase in ownership or consumption of the things that can be bought in markets.

From this perspective, increasing market activity is inherently good and is indeed the major good to be sought by society as a whole.  Market activity is based more and more on “money” which is controlled by financial corporations.

Corporatism over democracy 

From these assumptions one commonly derives the conclusion that corporations are the best way to organize for market growth, their judgments should take preference over those of “the people,” and financial corporations are essential to all the others.

Since democracy is still the official nature of many governments, the people have not been entirely disempowered.  Accordingly, corporations have the task of persuading people to give up what power they still have when it gets in the way of corporate interest.

Since corporations control so much of the media and, to a large extent, education, they have been quite successful at persuading the people to give up this power.  But we are still able to observe this process and even to work against it.

We focus on the assumptions at play

Pando Populus believes that if defenders of democracy understand the big ideas that support them and the big ideas that oppose them, they will be better equipped for the fight.

One track at our “Seizing an Alternative” conference was on “political collapse” and dealt with how democracy was being destroyed, as well as discussed some positive responses.  Since the conference, we have published on specific instances of democratic threat, such as the Congressional surrender of the power of Congress in favor of “fast track” for bills that establish international courts heavily controlled by corporations to judge disputes between corporations and governments.  We have also published on the overruling of the will of the people of Greece by the banks.

We are not neutral on these matters.  Pando Populus opposes the Congressional decision to surrender national sovereignty to corporations.  We noted favorably and hopefully that there are proposals for Greece to reject control by foreign banks and to develop its own national economy.  

The difficulties would have been immense, but the Greek people could be a much healthier community if its economy were under its own control.  We look to Ellen Brown, who spoke at our conference, for guidance on the subject of public banking as an alternative to control by international financial institutions.

We may occasionally publish more on the consequences of the Greek capitulation to financial institutions.  However, we will follow events elsewhere as well.  For example, Puerto Rico missed a payment on its bonds the first of August.  The banks are ready to pounce.  But in this instance there will be additional complications because Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States.

Ecological civilization requires big ideas

Where there is democracy, there is no assurance of ecological civilization.  The further crucial task is to persuade citizens to view the human community as part of a larger one.

Where corporatism rules, this topic cannot even arise in a deeply serious or thoroughgoing way.  Human communities are fractured and disempowered. The nature of corporations is to treat people as workers and consumers (or capitalists) and the natural world as resource as opposed to having value in and for itself.  The best we can hope is that the time horizons of corporations, typically tied to incredibly short-term expectations, be somewhat extended so that resources will be treated more sensibly.

It is sad that in this day when a changed attitude toward nature is so important, corporatism is winning the battle for just those big ideas that have already brought us to the brink of final disaster.  But we must play with the hand that has been dealt us.

We will play our hands better if we keep the big picture in mind and understand the big ideas that shape it.

Members of the Pando writing team include Rich Binell, Alexi Caracotsios, Amy Goldberg, Rebecca Schmitt, and Eugene Shirley.

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