It is easy to feel as though the world is spiralling out of control, that we’re caught in a downward spiral of our own making.
This downward spiral is, curiously, caused by positive feedback loops. A positive feedback loop is when the result of an action tends to drive more of the same action. Positive feedback loops can be good. For example, feelings of love and joy tend to drive more more feelings of love and joy. They can also be bad. For example, feelings of greed and fear tend to lead to more feelings of greed and fear. We can never have enough and someone is always trying to take what we have.
The self-reinforcing feelings of greed and fear, so prevalent in our culture, make sustainability feel impossible. Those of us devoted to sustainability work diligently to change the world for the better, but things seem to only get worse. It can feel like pushing a rock uphill, like taking one step forward and ten steps back. The numbers are daunting, crazy making.
How do we turn things around so that the positive feedback loops are working in the right direction?
Systems thinkers know that what we really need to do is change our cultural paradigm. We need to shift away from the conventional beliefs that the world — what we often refer to as “the real world” — operates based on scarcity, individuality, competition, greed, resistance, and fear. This is what our western capitalist consumerist culture is all about and is the cause of the downward spiral we find ourselves in.
But what else is there? What do we shift to? R. Buckminster Fuller tells us,
“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”
Luckily, biomimicry thinkers know that we don’t need to create a new model because it already exists — outside, in nature, and inside, in you, in your own human nature. When you’re out in the “real world” engaging in capitalism, you are immersed in the the conventional paradigm. But what is your world view, your beliefs about the way the world works, when you’re gardening or singing, when you’re out hiking or playing, when you’re loving and laughing? Nature’s paradigm, and our own natural paradigm, is based on the belief that the world operates based on abundance, systems, synergies, trust, resilience, and curiosity. That is how nature has survived and evolved on earth for billions of years, despite numerous and tremendous changes and challenges.
So how do we shift from the conventional capitalistic consumeristic paradigm to our natural paradigm? We spiral in control.
Working backwards, if we want to change our paradigm, we need to change our culture. If we want to change our culture, we need to change our individual and collective habits. If we want to change our habits, we need to practice something new until it becomes a habit. If we want to practice something new, we need to learn something new. Simple, except we humans often fall off that spiral path somewhere along the way. We get busy, we lose sight of the goal, we get distracted, it feels too hard and too long.
Many of nature’s processes, including processes for change, work in spirals. The key to positive change in nature is that each step of the transformation spiral provides short-term value for individuals while simultaneously driving towards long-term positive outcomes for the system. In nature, being self-interested results in benefits to the system. In nature, consumption releases resources for others to use. In nature, there is synchronicity and emergent abundance.
If you want to learn more about this transformational process, take a look at Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Transformation, written by Denise DeLuca, Director of the MA in Sustainable Design, and illustrated by Stefanie Koehler, MA in Sustainable Design, 2013.
If you want to make your own transformation, take a look at MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program.
[Image courtesy of Stefanie Koehler and Denise DeLuca]