Assumptions on Which the New Environment Association is Based

(Edited version, as adopted by the New Environment Council March 1991 The original version appeared in New Environment Bulletin No. 65 — Jan. 2, 1980.)

I. Looking at the World.

1. "The world" (reality, the universe, etc.) is a highly interactive whole that is continually changing. A way of thinking needs to be adopted which does not obscure this fact but serves as a constant reminder of it. The notion of the "psychophysical complex" (as introduced in "Toward A New Environment" by Harry Schwarzlander) provides a framework for thinking which satisfies that requirement. It directs our attention to the interactive influences within and between our physical environment, the social environment, and our mental worlds.

2. Some of the dominant features of the psychophysical complex (in these times, and especially in the Western world) are "rampant" phenomena: "rampant technologies", "rampant organizational structures", "rampant processes", as well as myths, ideologies, and other rigid behaviors. A rampant phenomenon results from a systemic configuration, created by people, which they become locked into and support even after its initial benefits can be seen to be outweighed by its detrimental impact. In this sense we live in an "insane" world.

3. The course of the psychophysical complex in these times (from personal all the way to global affairs), largely driven by rampant phenomena (and human and ecosystemic reactions to these), has been characterized by much unnecessary suffering and disasters of all kinds. With the possibility of a large scale collapse of civilization now becoming widely recognized, questions of mere survival need to be considered; more important, however, is the urgency of new and creative approaches to an alternative future on a larger scale –– a saner world.

4. The shape of the world today is, in part, an outgrowth of human activities and decisions in the past. Similarly, human activity today has an impact on the future. Each person has some freedom to choose (occasionally, at least) among different courses of action; and to that extent, can choose how to influence the future. However, by and large, this influence becomes significant not in proportion to the amount of energy expended but rather to the extent that this energy is applied toward system building or system changing activities. (This is illustrated by a gardener who every day carries many buckets to water his plants in order to assure a good harvest. A neighbor puts his effort into a method of mulching which retains moisture, suppresses weeds and keeps the ground soft. After the initial labor is done, the neighbor's "system" works for him without requiring further labor.)

5. A "sane world" or "healthy psychophysical complex", where all people live reasonably healthy, happy and meaningful lives and where civilization continues to advance, without exhausting the Earth at a rapid rate, is physically and humanly possible. This is a desirable future for the world. It is sufficiently different from the present situation to be called a "new" psychophysical complex, or "New Environment."

6. Even if civilization is seen as gradually evolving so as to produce betterment of the human condition, and therefore is perhaps inherently striving toward the desirable future mentioned in Assumption I.5, this "natural" evolution is too slow to assure avoidance of some enormous crises in the coming decades. It is necessary to accellerate the process consciously and with all available means.

7. The rampant processes and the kinds of rigid "systems" which abound in the present world (the "Old Environment") are of such a nature that people usually cannot go to work on these major forces directly. However, there are (as yet) enough freedom and resources to allow many people to search out and pursue accelerated pathways into the future by building small islands of the New Environment relatively quickly. (More precisely, these are islands where the local psychophysical complex is evolving more rapidly toward the New Environment and which serve as stimuli to accelerate the evolution of the psychophysical complex in other areas.) This is not an easy undertaking; however, if correctly managed, this approach will contribute in the most efficient way to eventually achieving the New Environment on a larger scale.

II. Looking at Human Beings.

1. Human beings individually, in groups, and collectively find themselves by and large caught up in a situation which has aspects of oppresiveness, hurtfulness, and destructiveness (to themselves and to life in general), and which requires inordinate amounts of work and material resources just to keep it from deteriorating further.

2. Some basic characteristics of a human being are great intelligence, joyfulness, creativity, and a desire to be accepted by others and to cooperate with others. Every person also has a unique individuality, which includes the person's particular special abilities, needs, and interests.

3. All humans suffer from the wounds and burdens inflicted by the Old Environment during the course of their life, so that much of their basic humanness is obscured. This condition of human beings, which results in certain ways of behaving, constitutes an important aspect of the overall psychophysical complex. (For instance, many people continue to carry with them the pain of old hurts simply because they have been taught to suppress their innate means for processing these –– which usually involve crying and shaking. They will then tend to avoid conversations or experiences that might put them in touch with those painful memories.)

4. While it may not be possible for a person to completely overcome the "wounds and burdens" mentioned in Assumption II.3, with some effort it is possible for a person to regain at least some of his/her lost or obscured humanness. In fact, creating a New Environment involves such internal changes, right along with the changes in the external (social and physical) environment. (As an example, a person who has come to adopt a strongly competitive stance in order to disguise a deep lack of self esteem cannot be expected to suddenly embrace cooperation. This person needs, first of all, to work on valuing herself or himself.)

5. Even when prospects for the future look dark it is important that human beings apply themselves in a positive way. Such a positive effort always makes sense, whether one be pessimistic, optimistic, or indifferent about the future. It is better to try than not to try. Furthermore, it is easier to sustain a positive effort if it is carried out in a cooperative manner and in a setting of mutual support.

6. Many people everywhere are applying their intelligence and energy toward improving the world and the general human condition. Their efforts have been, and continue to be, crucial in preventing (or reducing the scope of) many major and minor disasters as well as much private suffering. More is needed, however; namely, a concerted approach to the future. This is difficult because it calls for the cooperation of many people, and because it requires ideas and strategies that will adequately address the true complexity of the problem. (These difficulties, as well as tradition, lead people to look toward existing institutions for leadership in long range planning and approaches to the future in general. But that is precisely where the strongest commitment to preserve the status quo resides.)

7. People who in large measure agree on this set of assumptions should be in communication for the purpose of mutual support in their thinking and living, and for the purpose of helping each other find ways to take action in accordance with their beliefs. These people, furthermore, should be in association in order to be able to work together synergistically and to contribute in some measure to the process mentioned in Assumption I.7.

III. Looking at the New Environment Association.

1. The New Environment Association represents a framework and an organizing principle for implementing Assumption II.7. In view of Assumptions II.6 and II.7 it is important that the ideas, objectives and opportunities inherent in the N.E.A. be publicized so that those people can be found who are in a position to act on them; also (in accordance with Assumption II.5), so that many people be alerted who might, as a result, be affected positively in their thinking.

2. The New Environment Association needs to be viewed as a "process" rather than an organization, for the following reasons: a) Attention is drawn to the dynamics rather than the form. In other words, the essence is not a name, a set of bylaws, an office, etc., but a coming together of people for the purpose of thinking, communicating, supporting each other, and acting on behalf of moving toward the New Environment. b) Implied is a living, dynamically evolving nature, which is not characterized primarily by a specific group of people but to which many different individuals can contribute (and derive benefits from) in different ways and degrees. c) The creation and advancement of the sort of "islands" mentioned in Assumption I.7 inherently needs to be pursued as a "process" where learning, planning, decisions and action alternate, where progress takes place in irregular steps, and where objectives get defined more clearly and changed in various ways as time moves on. The New Environment Association is such a process.

3. The New Environment Association incorporates a set of objectives (basically, to bring about a New Environment) and an ethic (as expressed in the vision of the New Environment and in operating principles for the process). In accordance with its process nature, both the ethic and the objectives are corrected and refined as the process evolves, and at the same time both help to guide the process.

4. Progress toward a New Environment is only possible, or most likely, or much easier, if worked on in many domains (various aspects of the personal, social and physical world) more or less simultaneously. In this way a new totality, or stable interactive pattern, can evolve in miniature. In this way, also, opportunities to move forward can be seized wherever they happen to present themselves; and different individuals can contribute in different ways in accordance with their particular skills and interests.

5. The New Environment process needs some "boundaries". These define a sort of safety zone within which the eroding influence of the Old Environment can be held somewhat in check and the efforts on behalf of the New Environment can be preserved as much as possible so that they may accumulate and can be built upon. Yet, the process cannot proceed in isolation from the existing psychophysical complex. Therefore, the boundaries should not be thought of as rigid barriers, but as a selective interface.

6. The "onion model" is appropriate for the New Environment Association. This means that there can be many gradations of participation and commitment. Many people can be involved who are only interested in some specific aspect of the overall process.

7. It is possible for the New Environment process to evolve in such a way as to eventually encompass a large number of people, a wide range of activities, and a variety of physical manifestations. This does not require unanimity of thought, purpose, interest, etc., on the part of the individuals involved. The assumptions which underlie this process leave room for a diversity of political views, cultural heritage, religious orientations, and personal goals.

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