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A New Consciousness For a World In Crisis

Geopolitical activist Dr. Don Beck shines new light on our greatest global challenges
by Jessica Roemischer

When Dr. Don Beck speaks about our most pressing humanitarian issues, he reveals disarmingly intuitive insights into what often appear to be irreconcilable situations. Having developed and championed Spiral Dynamics—arguably one of the most accurate models of cultural development—Beck's thirty-year career has led him from corporate boardrooms to government offices to inner-city schools. Most notably, he spent eighteen years traveling to and from South Africa, where he tirelessly committed himself to helping catalyze the peaceful transition out of apartheid. Willing to risk his own safety to create open channels of communication across highly polarized racial divides, Beck conjured a vision of a future beyond apartheid that played no small role in convincing the de Klerk government to release Nelson Mandela from prison.

In the spring of 2004, Beck established the Copenhagen Center for Human Emergence (CCHE)—the first public institution dedicated to this new paradigm of solution- making, and the next and perhaps most significant chapter of his work. Beck's ongoing conviction is that we must understand the fundamental and often widely differing ways in which both individual human beings and entire cultures think about things and prioritize their values. Only then can we address the root causes of social fragmentation and conflict and create a form of global governance that will guide the emergence of a new society in the twenty-first century.

WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT: Why do you feel that the old models of global governance are no longer adequate for addressing the problems and challenges we face?

DON BECK: Since the dawn of civilization one hundred thousand years ago, humans have migrated over islands, continents, mountain ranges, steppes, deserts, and other landforms, and have even escaped Earth's gravity. We have formed clans, tribes, holy orders, enterprises, and egalitarian communes. There are now six billion of us, and while we are more culturally fragmented than ever before, we are also more interconnected. Everything is both global and local—everywhere. Yet the models for global governance that we have in the League of Nations, the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and others simply do not have the complexity of understanding to deal with the fragmentation we're facing. In short, our problems of existence have become more complex than the solutions we have available to deal with them.

While on the surface it often appears that conflicts are tribal or involve competing empires, or ideologies, or even national interests, the real issues are in the underlying worldviews—the deeper human dynamics that can dramatically differ from one culture to another. It is these underlying cultural dynamics that shape the actions and choices we make, that determine how we live our lives, how cultures subsequently form, and why they often collide.

WIE: Can you give an example of how perceiving the fundamental differences between cultural worldviews could change our perspective and therefore the ways in which we endeavor to solve global problems?

BECK: The issues surrounding the Arab and Muslim world are awakening us to the fact that there are very different thought structures and value structures in different parts of the planet, and if we don't know how to deal with these, it will come back to haunt us. It already has. For example, we went into Iraq with a disastrous assumption coming from the White House, based on our free-market, multi-party democracy, in which each person is a free and independent agent acting on their own behalf. We assume that everyone else in the world is like us. And so we entered Iraq believing that democracy would be embraced there—that anybody, no matter who they are, can become anything they want and will do so once given the opportunity.

What this fails to take into account is that a tribal worldview is still very, very powerful in the Muslim world, with the primary emphasis being on the extended family and the intermarriage of cousins. Because these cultures come out of heavy tribal enclaves and power-driven kingdoms, nepotism is almost a civic duty. Even today, the Arab countries are not really nation states, and they are nowhere near being democracies. The “people of the sand” have not yet developed the infrastructures that would support a one-person-one-vote/majority-rules system. I mean, it's just insane to think that's got any chance. At the same time, money has poured into these tribal family kingdoms from the West because of oil, benefiting immensely those in the royal family lineages. And those who don't benefit become the “Arab street,” and that's where the anger is generated.

So the real source of terrorism is the brotherhoods that are assaulting the current system, assaulting the patronage and the family heritage of the old order that has kept the commoner out of the booty, and which is keeping fifty million Arab males trapped in archaic kingdoms. And these terrorist brotherhoods are networks, as opposed to regiments of armies. So dropping bombs on them is simply going to spread the problem.

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