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Sustainable Ecosystems and Capitalism's Decline

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Brian McConnell has extended a "challenge" to local leaders (and community members) as moderator for Roanoke's U.Lab Hub, a satellite classroom beginning in January as an independent extension of MITx's "massive open online course" (MOOC). Presented by senior lecturer Otto Scharmer, the U.Lab will afford participants an opportunity to "(l)earn how to create profound innovation in a time of disruptive change by leading from the emerging future" (edX). This article is also a synoptic overview of Brian's recently published "Toward Integral Economic Democracy", reflecting aspects of metatheory related to U.Theory.

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"Roanoke's U.Lab Hub: Leading Innovation from an Emerging Future" (McConnell, U.Lab Hub)
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Sustainable Ecosystems and Capitalism's Decline

In preparing to facilitate our local U.Lab hub, I authored and published a paper entitled, "Toward Integral Economic Democracy". Consequently, and beginning with an overview of Robert Ulanowicz and Bernard Lietaer's efforts to better understand "how" (or "why") "certain ecosystems proved more vibrant, robust, or sustainable than others" (McConnell 1), I also included a composite diagram (see Fig. 1) comparing a resilient network (System 1 - below) to one that was by contrast, highly efficient (System 2). Somewhat surprisingly however, and contrary to popular thought perhaps, the researchers found System 2 "proves far more susceptible to dysfunctional pathology or failure due to the greater likelihood of disruption of its single strong-stream (e.g. efficient) path, than does System 1" (Ibid. 2).

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Consequently then, and "as a former Belgium central banker himself, Lietaer expressed a well qualified assertion lamenting humanity's struggle to "create sustainable economies" and the resulting implications for global society"(Ibid.). For these reasons though, he concluded that "(t)he urgent message for economics from nature is that the monoculture of national currencies, justified on the basis of market efficiency, generates structural instability in our global financial system" [emphasis added] (Lietaer 2).

Along these same lines too, the English publication earlier this spring of Thomas Piketty's, Capital in the Twenty-First Century provided unprecedented evidence of how imbalanced the flows of "income and wealth" have actually become (Lloyd). Consequently, where the current gap between the "haves" and "have-nots" in the United States (see Fig. 2) has begun to exceed that peaking with the Great Depression of 1929 (Piketty 24), Piketty's research has served to prove "irrefutably and clearly, what we've all suspected for some time now--the rich ARE getting richer compared to everyone else" (Foroohar).

Likewise, and in his recently published, The Zero Marginal Cost Society, economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin explains why he believes the "capitalist era" is waning (Rifkin 1):

"Ironically, capitalism's decline is not coming at the hands of hostile forces. There are no hordes at the front gates ready to tear down the wall of the capitalist edifice. Quite the contrary. What's undermining the capitalist system is the dramatic success of the very operating assumptions that govern it. At the heart of capitalism there lies a contradiction in the driving mechanism that has propelled it ever upward to commanding heights, but now is speeding it to its death" [emphasis added] (Ibid. 2).
Sleepwalkers, MEMEnomics and "Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction"

From a purview of history over the last century however, these patterns nevertheless impel concerns for global humanity's overall well-being. Or at least this is the inference conveyed by a prominent academic at MIT. Recounting his most notable impressions following attendance of 2014's World Economic Forum, Otto Scharmer shared his insight in respect to Christopher Clark's writing of The Sleepwalkers. Citing the fact that because European leaders involved in analyzing "the larger situation" of events just prior to 1914 did so "from a narrow, shortsighted, self-interested perspective that didn't anticipate the long term consequences of their individual decisions for the whole system", they couldn't foresee outcomes that resulted in "World War I, the Versailles Treaty, the rise of Hitler, World War II and, the Cold War" (Scharmer).

"David Harvey and Gar Alperovitz on Cooperation and Capitalism" (Flanders)

Similarly however, the "inconsistencies" to which both Piketty and Rifkin point in respect to capitalism are nothing new but have in their own way, been reasonably evident for decades. In fact, Jeremy Rifkin's words quoted above are resonant with those of Joseph Schumpeter (see quote below) more than 60 years earlier in reflecting his own understanding of what Karl Marx referred to as "creative destruction":

"Capitalism's prospective demise is not perceived to emanate from "its breaking down under the weight of economic failure. . ." Instead, "its very success undermines the social institutions which protect it, and 'inevitably' creates conditions in which it will not be able to live and which strongly point to socialism as the heir apparent" [1950, p.xiv]. In short, the "paradoxical conclusion" is not the result, but the process: "capitalism is being killed by its achievement" [1950, p. xiv]" (Elliott 45).
As Said Dawlabani so astutely notes in MEMEnomics though, "(t)he premise of Schumpeter's theory" as a strong proponent of innovation and central inspiration for innovation economics, "is that in free market economy, entrepreneurs with technical know-how will always introduce innovation that is disruptive to the existing economic model, but which will improve productivity and that in itself will sustain economic growth" [emphasis added]. As he further explains (see Fig. 3), "the value systems that create innovation and most innovative thought processes and ideas" however, "including those about economic theory, are born out of a utopian ideal that starts with a noble purpose" (Dawlabani 22). Yet, and from both Robert Kegan's and Scharmer's vantage points, "blind spots" inevitably underlie these shared dimensions of consciousness (Scharmer, Grabbing the Tiger). Thus, it's "when the exploitative element of our culture reinterprets the intended use of that innovation through a different prism of values that it turns into a weapon against its creators" [emphasis added] (Dawlabani 22).

"We will now define innovation more rigorously by means of the production function previously introduced. This function describes the way in which quantity of product varies if quantities of factors vary. If, instead of quantities of factors, we vary the form of the function, we have an innovation" [emphasis added] (Schumpeter 84).
In much this same way, but in a paper entitled, "Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction", David Harvey describes neoliberalism, especially since the 70's, as "a project to restore class dominance [see Key Terms: "ruling class"] to sectors that saw their fortunes threatened by the ascent of social democratic endeavors in the aftermath of the Second World War" [emphasis added] (Harvey 22).

"Although neoliberalism has had limited effectiveness as an engine for economic growth, it has succeeded in channeling wealth from subordinate classes to dominant ones and from poorer to richer countries. This process has entailed the dismantling of institutions and narratives that promoted more egalitarian distributive measures in the preceding era" [emphasis added] (Ibid.)
Dating back to the "mid-nineteenth century" then, this "shift from a purely market-exchange economy" of "the late medieval era" to that of our current capitalist economy, has effectively left the world's laborers "stripped of their tools" and subsequently able to reclaim "only a portion of (the) labor" they expend "in the form of a wage" (Rifkin 61). Consequently too, and even under neoliberalism's well disguised "antidemocratic" blueprint, the "more neoliberalism is recognized as a failed if not disingenuous and utopian project masking the restoration of class power [see Key Terms: "power elite"], the more it lays the basis for a resurgence of mass movements voicing egalitarian political demands, seeking economic justice, fair trade, and greater economic security and democratization" [emphasis added] (Harvey 42).

"U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self" (edX, Transforming)

Conscious Practice in an "Age of Disruption": From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies

"The gist of this framework is simple: The quality of results produced by any system depends on the quality of awareness from which people in the system operate. The formula for a successful change process is not "form follows function," but "form follows consciousness." The structure of awareness and attention determines the pathway along which a situation unfolds" (Scharmer and Kaufer, 18).
What's becoming increasingly evident in this Age of Disruption however, is an unprecedented emergence and intermingling of human spirit across a vast array of cultural lines including gender, race, religion, ethnicity and sexuality. Consequently, but as Jeremy Rifkin sees it, the emergence of this co-creative potential is manifesting itself in a "new economic system" entering "the world stage" triggered by "Zero Marginal Cost". Yet at the same time, "(c)ompanies never anticipated . . . a technology revolution that might unleash "extreme productivity" bringing marginal costs to near zero, making information, energy, and many physical goods and services nearly free, abundant, and no longer subject to market exchanges" [emphasis added] (Rifkin, Say goodbye).

Furthermore, but by way of example, it's nonetheless remarkable within this new economic system that "6 million students are currently enrolled in free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)" operating "at near zero marginal cost" and being "taught by some of the world's most distinguished professors" [emphasis added] (Ibid.). In this same regard though, while the U.Lab represents "a new type of learning environment that is personal, practical, relational, mindful, collective and transformative", it will also extend an opportunity for learners to "engage in a deep dialogue-based peer coaching session with five fellow Lab participants" [emphasis added] (Scharmer, U.Lab).

Along these same lines too, and in an article entitled, "Collective Mindfulness: The Leader's New Work", Scharmer explains the importance of mindfulness to the leadership function in "transforming stakeholder relationships that operate based on transactional ego-system awareness into relationships that operate based on transformative eco-system awareness." Consequently, and where "(e)go-system awareness means paying attention to the well-being of oneself", eco-system awareness on the other hand "means focusing on the well-being of oneself and of the whole (all the stakeholders in the system, including nature)" (Scharmer, Collective).

"Wisdom practices such as awareness-based meditation facilitate surrender from conventional separate-self sense to a more subtle, distributed experience of one's self as a part of the underlying ground of presence of our original nature. Ongoing meditation practice familiarizes practitioners with this tacit dimension of self and develops the attentional and know-how ability to surrender at will into these deeper states of being. To support an optimal engagement with this phase of practice, we recommend combining regular meditation with we-space practice" [emphasis added] (Gunnlaugson 111).
Likewise, Gunnlaugson and Moze's paper "Surrendering Into Witnessing", outlines a five-phase approach (see Fig. 4) for working directly "with inter-subjective field dynamics in groups" to "more effectively discern and engage complex emergent collective-intelligence processes". In this same respect though, "engaging [this] we-space for the purposes and outcomes of collective intelligence, such as solving difficult social or organizational problems or bringing about new creative discoveries in different domains of knowledge, continues to remain a comparatively uncharted region of research and inquiry" [emphasis added] (Ibid. 105).

Conclusion - The Challenge of Leading from an Emerging Future

Consequently, and from an evolutionary perspective, although it remains unclear what the future holds in terms of humanity's unfolding narrative, it's fairly evident at this juncture that doing nothing, other than remaining subject to the imposition of a New World Order's centralized control, "for profit" debt-driven operating system, and duplicitous political machinery, won't adequately secure a global citizenry's well-being. As a result however, and in light of these actualities, Gar Alperovitz has subsequently posed the question, "What Then Must We Do?" (Flanders, What Then).

"Our hope lies with the growing millions who work to heal our human relationships with one another and nature in a bold effort to turn the human course. Through thought and deed, they are authoring a new story of meaning and possibility. It is a story with ancient roots and profound implications for our economic relationships" [emphasis added] (Korten 22).
In conclusion then, but for these same reasons, a key premise of "Toward Integral Economic Democracy" is anchored in the supposition "that by better attending to the conscious processes by which we derive meaning . . . co-creative awareness" is capable of birthing "remarkably new modes of thought and system design across multiple disciplines including learning, leadership, economics, and governance" [emphasis added] (McConnell 1). And therein lies the challenge . . . can we talk about it?


Dawlabani, Said (2013). MEMEnomics: The Next-Generation Economic System. New York: SelectBooks, Inc., 2013. Print.
---. "The Obama Presidency and Complex Systems." The MEMEnomics Group, LLC. 17 Jan. 2014, n. pag., Web 28 Nov. 2014.

---. "U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self." Online video clip. YouTube. 24 July 2014. Web. 8 Dec. 2014.

Elliott, John E. (1980): "Marx and Schumpeter on Capitalism's Creative Destruction: A Comparative Restatement." The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Vol. 95, No. 1, Aug. 1980, pp. 45-68, Fellows of Harvard College Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

Flanders, Laura (2014): "David Harvey and Gar Alperovitz on Cooperation and Capitalism." GRITtv 9 Sept. 2014. YouTube Web 21 Nov. 2014.
---. "What Then Must We Do? - Gar Alperovitz." GRITtv 20 Oct. 2013. YouTube Web. 8 Dec. 2014.

Foroohar, Rana (2014): "Here's Why This Best-Selling Book Is Freaking Out the Super Wealthy." Business 23 Apr. 2014, n.pag., Time Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

Gunnlaugson, Olen, Mary Beth G. Moze (2012): "Surrendering Into Witnessing: A Foundational Practice for Building Collective Intelligence Capacity in Groups." Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, Vol. 7, Issue 3, pp. 105-115, Sept. 1012. Web. 6 Dec. 2014.

Harvey, David (2007): "Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction." The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Vol. 610, No. 1 Mar. 2007, pp. 21-44, SAGE journals Web 29 Nov. 2014.

Korten, David C. (2015): "Chapter One: Our Story Problem." Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth. pp. 21-36, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2015. Print.

Lietaer, Bernard, Robert E. Ulanowicz, Sally J. Goerner, Nadia McLaren (2010): "Is Our Monetary Structure a Systemic Cause for Financial Instability?: Evidence and Remedies from Nature." Journal of Future Studies, Vol. 14, #3, pp. 1-21, April 2010. Web 22 Nov. 2014.

Lloyd, Michael (2014): "A Review of Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty." GPI Opinion May 2014, n. pag., The Global Policy Institute Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

---. "Roanoke's U.Lab Hub: Leading Innovation from an Emerging Future." Online video clip. YouTube, 13 Nov. 2014. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

Piketty, Thomas (2014): Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014. Print.

Rifkin, Jeremy (2014): The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014. Print.
---. "Say goodbye to capitalism as we know it" MarketWatch 15 May 2014, n.pag. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.

Scharmer, Otto (2013): "Davos: Mindfulness, Hotspots, and Sleepwalkers." The Huffington Post 26 Jan. 2014, n.pag., The Third Metric. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.
---. "Collective Mindfulness: The Leader's New Work." The Huffington Post 7 Apr. 2014, n. pag., The Blog. Web. 6 Dec. 2014.
---. "U.Lab: Prototyping the 21st-Century University." The Huffington Post 11 Oct. 2014, n.pag., The Blog. Web. 6 Dec. 2014.

Scharmer, Otto and Katrin Kaufer (2013): "Introduction: Breathing Life into a Dying System." Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies. pp. 1-29, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2013. Print.

Schumpeter, Joseph (1939): Business Cycles: A Theoretical, Historical and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process. 461 pp. New York Toronto London: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1939. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.

Ulanowicz, Robert E., Sally J. Goerner, Bernard Lietaer, Rocio Gomez (2009): "Quantifying sustainability: Resilience, efficiency and the return of information theory." Ecological Complexity: An International Journal on Biocomplexity in the Environment and Theoretical Ecology, Vol. 6, Issue 1, pp. 27-36, Mar. 2009, Web. 10 Dec. 2014.


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Brian McConnell, BA has worked with the underpinnings of Integral thought and theory, primarily in the fields of education and psychology since first introduced to Ken Wilber's, Eye to Eye in 1997. His background in contemplative practice stems from (more...)

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