Reclaiming Community: Histories and Futures (2001)

By Sohail Inayatullah

I start out with a simple question:

1. Who are the carriers of the codes of the future?

In the middle ages, interestingly enough, it is the exact social formation many of us find troubling today.

I quote extensively from Macrohistorian Johan Galtung.

Thus a class of burghers (living behind the burg, behind the city walls – expanding with city growth) eked out an existence and grew increasingly wealthy. They were marginal to the system, they did not fit into the feudal hierarchies at all, their origin was dubious. What they did was similar to social outcasts such as Arabs and Jews. They were outcasts because what they did was contrary to the dominant ethos, the dominant cosmology of at the time, with its emphasis on inward looking, and because they were social outcasts they could do what was extra-paradigmatic (and yet demanded, like the brothel in a puritan culture) and hence, possible, destined to become the basis for a new dominant cosmology lurking in the corridors of history. But there road toward increasingly elevated status in the modern period – finally formalized through the french revolution – was long and tortuous indeed, persecuted by aristocracy and clergy alike, defending themselves through a complex system of guilds, strongly class divided within and in harsh competition with each other. (page 5, Western Civilization in the Contraction Mode, Galtung).

3. Are we at a similar period?

4. Who then are carriers – in this struggle between the nation-state (closed borders, what is good for the nation is good for the individual) and capital (open borders, what is good for General Motors is good for me). Who is outside of the discourse of Prince and Merchant.

Are they the Social Movements – NGOs? This is Ibn Khaldun’s question: Who are the bedouins. But we must go even deeper than that. For Khaldun, the bedouins did not change the nature of the system they merely took over power.


Perhaps it is thinkers such as Sarkar, his Prout movement and his dozens of other movements.

His movements are:
(1) Third World oriented, hoping to be the carriers of oppressed yet also seeing the oppressors in humanist terms;
(2) Tantric, focused on reinvigorating mystical culture and not necessarily on immediate efficiency;
(3) Comprehensive, working on many issues (and not just on the issue of the day) from women’s rights and workers’ rights to the prevention of cruelty to animals and plants;
(4) Very very long term oriented, hundreds of years, that is, structures and processes that cannot fulfil their goals for generations ahead;
(5) Committed to leadership creation and not just organisational development, thus avoiding the bureaucratic tendency;
(6) Trans-state oriented, not solely concerned with nation-states and ego-power but acknowledging that there are four conventional types of power – worker, warrior, intellectual, economic – and the challenge is to develop processes that create a fifth that can balance these forces.

This of course relates to the larger concern for Future Generations Thinking as practices by those outside of the dominant Western mode of instrumental thinking.

Generally these are indigenous movements. Partly their cosmology supports these perspectives, and partly they ascribe to these as a reaction, defense, as opposite to normal, dominant society.


(1) Commitment to the Family
(2) An expansion of the family, of the notion of being, to include all Sentient beings – plants and animals;
(3) An Intergenerational approach
(4) Primarily values-based, not forecasting but with balancing the fundamental forces of the universe: “Man”, Nature and God(s);
(5) Repeatability, a view that the future is the past, that ensuring the survival of future generations is in fact keeping alive the dreaming of ancestors (as in Aboriginal dream time epistemology
(6) A Spiritual and collective view of choice and rationality.
(7) Pedagogy that has a strong focus on enhancing wisdom.
(8) Sustainability or reproducibility.

Of course, much of this has now, if not become, mainstream, at least become part of innovative education and planning. At least part of the discourse, if not the reality.

1. Going seven generations out.
2. Including future generations in planning
3. Developing of governance that is both leadership and democratic orientation
4. Concern for nature – the sustainability discourse

At the same time, there is a great deal of Orientalism in this discourse.

1. First, just because one has an enlightenment experience or is indigenous does not necessarily make one closer to the earth or more spiritual. One can be in bliss and still racism, sexist, nationalist.
2. Second, local cultures are constructed as the opposite of the dominators. However, this is partly because they were local – living in small scale, in community – but also because they are constructed that way by the dominator culture.
3. Local cultures as well have been dominating toward others. But since their size was smaller, the impact on others is from a system view less, from a personal community view, however, it is as important.

This then is the problem of efforts to reclaim community, the return to community.

As in the middle ages, it is a search for safe future, a stable future, a future where honor and higher values are more important. However, like the middle ages, this future is often feudal, strong notions of hierarchy, and no capacity for meritocracy, for the excellent to innovate. While group work certainly creates partnership, it also, as in Australia creates a cut the tall poppy syndrome.


Return to community generally is an image when:

1. West was rising, forgetting that other cultures where marginalized, women were not working. This is the constant image evoked by moral groups> Islam in the 7th century, India during Rama Rajya, New Zealand and Australia in the 1950s and 1960s.

2. Nations were supreme and able to handle big capital. Part of the critique from leaders such as Mahathir is not that there is something wrong with big capitalism but that his own billionaires are disadvantaged in it since they make money of the local economy (and can lose when exchange rates do not go their way). This was George Speight’s concerns as well. His clan was not getting enough of the pie, or that others were calling for distributive justice (those not of his kind).

In Asian nations, it is not return to community or even reclaiming community – since communities are strongly hierarchical – but a move to individualism. Of course, this does not mean a disintegration of asian societies but a move closer to the individual instead of the collective. This is especially so for the middle-class, for the poorer classes, community, even while oppressive, still leads to a better existence than modernization, development or globalization – as Nandy says: there is poverty but not misery.


What this means is that we need for more critical view of community – At the very least:

1. community must have doors open for those who desire to leave
2. community must be inclusive of other cultures, or at least open to dialogue with them
3. community, while perhaps having an alternative local economy – LETS, Local Dollars, Barter – must have a way to raise capital in the external world, if needed (for travel, for example).
4. Community must be critically reflective of its own pathologies
5. Community must be every expanding, ie from a local area to the planet as a whole, making everything positively local, meaning a neighborhood, as opposed to negatively local, meaning, I live here and you don’t.


There is a third claim to the carriers of the future.

1. Young people concerned not with cyclical time but with quick time
2. Internet as the global brain, uniting us all
3. Internet being the new multiplicity, allowing many perspectives of everything
4. True global democracy, cyber democracy
5. End of capitalism as the net becomes the worldwide barter system. Middle man collapses since perfect information is possible
6. Capitalism transforms since ethical and smarter markets are now possible – eco and health-bots.

While certainly, as with the movable type, the printing press, it will challenge other modes of knowledge presentation, reducing authority of publishing houses, reducing authority of those who interpret the text (mullahs for example in the Islamic system), place-oriented manufacturing centres, is it really a foundational transformation?

What of studies that correlate net use with depression?
What of studies that show that the net is basically a utopia called virtual porntopia?
What of studies that show net use among young persons actually hinders their physiological development?
What of the shakedown in the markets and the winners being traditional giant corporations such as GE and others, and not small home-office businesses?

Certainly the Net help creates the end of modernity but does it create a new global future, with its own name, and not just a post –

Of course, for the globalists, the carriers of the new civilization are obvious.


1. Scientists creating new technologies – gene enhancement (increasing our collective intelligence, repairing the damages human genome), nano-technologies (ending scarcity) and AI (linking as all, and letting us develop our human skills as bots conduct our household and basic informational chores).
2. Multinational corporations are the best vehicles for this, they spread wealth, ideas, and technology. And while income in the short run – up to 50 years – is not spread evenly, overtime all ships rise as the water gates of innovation enrichen us all.
3. Intelligentsia providing theories that support such an expansion. This is different from intellectuals whose mission is to cultivate the mind and dissent when a system becomes hegemonic.

What this is missing is that globalization clearly excludes the marginal, women, young people, many elders (even as they live longer). The balance between the poorest and richest is beyond comprehension.

As elisbet sahtouris argues from a biological perspective, it is if only one organ was getting all the blood while the others where dying.

Using her work further, she argues that if an initial state of affairs is an imagined state of unity. The next phase is diversity and difference of opinion. This leads to foundational conflicts.

At this stage, there are three possibilities. 1. Destruction. 2. Accommodation (no real change, but a balance of power, détente. 3. Negotiation and Resolution at a higher level.

What this means is that yes we need to return to community but a transformed community.
This also means that yes we need globalization but a transformed globalization.

In the short run, certainly movements against language, culture, worker exploitation are needed at the national level. But the long run has to be creating a planetary civilization outside of national borders.

1. Move from nations to associations. To confederations. To world governance. Technology can make the local global and the global local.
In China, this means moving to six Chinas.
2. Challenging certain types of science – far more public science, spiritual science, postnormal science.
3. Alternative energy – solar, wind, etc.
4. Taking the spiritual seriously, that is living it, but also being cognization of scientific studies that correlate meditation with health and enhanced intelligence.

But essentially this is about power, ie why we don’t follow the facts – in health, for example.

We don’t follow the realities because we exist in different worlds. Part of the challenge is to create new foundational metaphors.


At a planetary level, Duane Elgin asks the question. If we humanity was a person, how old who he or she be:

His conclusion is that humanity would be a teenager.

Teenagers are rebellious – prove their independence (As we do from Nature)
Teenagers are reckless – tend to live without regard to the consequences of their behavior (Reckless consumption, pollution of natural system and species extermination
Teenagers are concerned with appearance (As in materialist society where what you own, how you look, are primary identity determinants)
Teenagers are drawn toward instant gratification (We seek our own immediate pleasure, forgetting about others, particularly the poorest, weakest, as well as other species and future generations)
Teenagers tend to gather in groups or cliques and often express us versus them or in versus out (We divide ourselves into nations, ethnicities, religions).

Can we become young adults and:

1. Embrace the other
2. Be future oriented
3. Start planning for the global family
4. Not just drift through life (as with teenagers) but move according our purpose.
5. Become responsible for ourselves and our evolution
6. Move outside of the real but simple dichotomies of self/other and community/global.

At least in the US, there is some good news in that there are claims that a new force in social politics, the cultural creatives, are arguing for a third way of politics. However, the evidence that this is a universal movement is far from conclusive.


Generally there are two preferred scenarios that reveal themselves in visioning workshops on preferred futures as well in the media.

The first is the globalized artificial future and the second is the Communicative-Inclusive future.

The globalized scenario is high-technology and economy driven. Extreme features include, the right to plastic surgery and an airplane for each person. Generally, the vision is of endless travel and shopping, and a global society where we all have fun by having all our desires met. It is the Western vision of paradise.

Community in this future is based on genetic ties or virtual communities as well as on intended. For example, rural communities will be so not because they are agricultural based but because they are different from the city, indeed, they provide areas of respite for Earth as City: City as planet. Rurality may become redefined as areas of elite wealth and not as areas of cultural backwardness, as areas of limited choice, as, for example, the Australian Bush or the South Asian village are seen today.

More specifically, this scenario of the future can be defined as:

· Genetic Prevention, Enhancement and Recreation – New Species , Germ Line Engineering and the End of ‘Natural’ Procreation
· Soft and Strong Nano-Technology – End of Scarcity and Work
· Space Exploration – Promise of ET Contact or at Least, Species Continuation in case an Asteroid hits Earth.
· Artificial Intelligence and ultimately the Rights of Robots – development of personal artificial bots
· Life Extension and Ageing – Gerontocracy and the End of Youth Culture
· Internet and the Global Brain
· Globalization, large transnationals organizing production of needs and desires.

The underlying ethos is that technology can solve every problem and lead to genuine human progress.

At a grand level, this vision of the future challenges traditional notions of truth, reality, nature, Man and sovereignty. Truth is considered multiple, socially constructed. Reality is physical but as well virtual (cyberspace). Nature is no longer considered fixed but can be challenged and changed by humans, largely through genetic manipulation. While previously human evolution was stable, with cultural evolution quicker and technological evolution the quickest, now the technology has the potential to quicker human biological evolution itself. This fundamentally shifts the tension between culture and technology, to technology and biology, leaving culture where? The category Man has been has been deconstructed by feminists and shown to be historically constructed. And finally economic globalization makes sovereignty problematic and cultural globalization makes the sovereignty of the self (one stable self) porous, leading to far more liminal selves.


In contrast is the communicative-inclusive society, which is values driven. Consumption of every possible good in this scenario is far less important to communication. It is learning from another about another that is crucial. While technology is important, the morality of those inventing and using it is far more important. Instead of solving the world’s food problem through the genetic engineering of food, for example, the reorganization of society into layered communities and softer more nature-oriented alternatives such as organic foods are far more important. Food is not only necessary for our biological growth but food is social (creating community) and food is spiritual (the correct foods helping one become more subtle and incorrect foods, crudifying one’s body/mind/spirit).

The goal is not to create a world that leads to the fulfillment of desire but one wherein desire is reduced (the Buddhist perspective) or channeled to spiritual and cultural pursuits. While earlier incarnations of the scenario were to make everyone into a worker (the Marxian distribution dream) or everyone into a shudra (a worker, the Gandhian sentiment) or a peasant (the Maoist), recent articulations are far more sophisticated and focused on what Sarkar has called Prama – or dynamic balance. Prama means inner balance (of material/spiritual), regional balance (of nations, no one nation can be rich if the neighbor is poor), of industrial/agricultural production (not leaving the land but seeing it as part of national development) and of economic balance (self-reliance in basic needs plus export orientation of non-essentials).

More specifically the communicative-inclusive scenario has the following characteristics:

· Challenge is not solved through technology but through creating a shared global ethics;
· Dialogue of civilizations and between civilizations in the context of multiple ways of knowing is the way forward;
· A balanced but dynamic economy. Technological innovation leads to shared co-operative economic system;
· Maxi-mini global wage system –incentive linked to distributive justice;
· A soft global governance system with 1000 local bio-regions;
· Layered identity, moving from ego/religion/nation to rights of all;
· Holistic science –life as intelligent.

The underlying perspective is that of a global ethics with a deep commitment that communication and consciousness transformation can solve all our problems.

The trends that underlie this scenario are as with the earlier scenario challenges to Truth, Reality, Nature, Man and Sovereignty but with a different angle. Instead of genetic science it is new paradigms in physics. Instead of a world ruled by multinationals, it is the growth of Green Parties and social movements associated with transparency that are far more important.

Truth and Reality are seen as both ultimate (spiritual) and physical. It is multi-perspectual in that we make are own realities, however, there is an underlying non-constructed unity to reality – that of a moral universe driver by cause-effect. In one word: karma. This comes out from the growth of the spiritual movements and cosmological exchange (the non-West creating cultural bridgeheads in the West) as well as through the dramatic new health paradigm, which while essentially spiritual focuses on integrating mind-body, seeing both as essential to well-being. Nature, however, is not to be tampered with. Urbanization is the problem and nature is given, indeed, a sacred trust given to humanity. Man is contested as humans are among the many species on the planet – nature, animals, with spiritual entities, Gaia herself. Sovereignty is challenged as nation-states are considered passe’ – part of the problem. A solution could be a planetary civilization based on the self-reliance model.

However, this scenario should not be seen as anti-technology, although there are certainly groups that prefer aspects of this vision who are more luddite than others. But most likely technology is likely to be driven by ethical values. For example, technology could be used to give information on the caloric count of foods, so as to avoid high-fat foods. These health-bots could also immediately let one know the level of pollutants in the food, where the food was produced, and over time the social conditions that the food was produced in. Thus the net, cellular phones could be used to transform globalization from within, giving consumers information on products so that they could make choices consistent with their worldviews. Technology would thus serve as a moral guide, an angel over one’s shoulder, helping one do the right thing.

However, while this is a change in paradigm, at a deeper cosmological level, it is not a foundational change, in that this scenario represents the alter-ego of the West. It is the West, contracting, searching for that identity it has unconsciously repressed.

Which scenario is likely to come out to be the world we live in. While technology and centralized power is moving us toward the Artificial Society, social movements are moving us toward the Communicative-Inclusive future. However, both will create new forms of community.

Which future will you choose?