Letter to Barack 21: The Need for Fundamental Paradigm and Culture Shifts

Dear President Obama,

Hopefully the failure of the Obama Administration will make it easier to communicate the need for fundamental paradigm and culture shifts.

Your failure is especially instructive because you have done everything right, or at least almost everything right. You have been a rational president. You have based policy on facts and not on unsupported opinions. You have sought the informed advice of acknowledged experts and by and large followed it. You have invited all parties to come to the table to share ideas for solving problems. You have not rushed to judgment, but have carefully weighed pros and cons and the views of others before arriving at a decision.

If you had been a crackpot, it would have been harder to see that rationality in its dominant forms is inherently unworkable.

A major qualification must be made to the thesis that you have done virtually everything right. You have intelligently administered the status quo, but you have not attempted to deliver the change you promised. In your campaign you spoke of “changing the rules of the game” and “change from the bottom up.” In your books you write of your anthropologist mother and of your visits with relatives in Kenya who practice different basic rules. You were moderately credible as a leader who might actually initiate change in America.

Although you disappointed us, it remains an encouraging fact that your message touched hearts and minds. People gave you money. They voted for you. Your campaign provided evidence that there are many people who realize that fundamental change is needed.

Today you are desperately trying to trim the deficit. You are keenly aware –although there are some liberal savants who deny it—that the nation cannot continue to go deeper and deeper into debt. A few months ago I heard you say on television that the point of your policy was to spend more money. Then you were desperately trying to revive a sagging economy. Today unemployment is not going away. Turning off the cash spigot can only make it worse. Turning on the cash spigot can only make the deficit worse.

You are checkmated. The problem has no solution under the rules of the game as it is currently played.

Further, even if you could do the impossible; even if you could get the economy onto a path of steady growth with declining debt and declining joblessness at the same time, you would still be checkmated. Sure we can support green technology to some extent without a paradigm shift, but to really get humanity off its collision course with nature we must get off the growth dynamic that has driven capitalism for the past 400 years. (See for example Ted Trainer, Towards a Sustainable Economy, the need for fundamental change. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.) Now you are desperately trying to get the USA on the growth dynamic.

I am not the only one proposing paradigm shifts today. (See for example any issue of Resurgence magazine.) There are many books with concrete proposals, some of which I have written. There are many on-the-ground experiences, some of which I have participated in and/or evaluated.

Let me close with just one point about culture change. (See my and Joanna Swanger´s chapter on this topic in Handbook for Building Cultures of Peace. NY: Springer, 2008.)
Culture shifts do not come out of thin air. They come out of potential transformations of existing cultures.

Applying this principle to the USA here and now suggests renewed emphasis on volunteering, a practice that is already widespread. Bypass the economy. Mobilize resources to meet needs directly. You could start in your own neighborhood, in the slums near the White House, and you could take a few tips from The Church of the Savior, which is just down the street from you.

A renewed emphasis on volunteering is not just an emergency push to house the homeless and to provide useful and dignified activities for the unemployed during a short period until the recession is over. It is a strategy for beginning a sustainable future now.

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