Change the World with Gentle Action

By Peter Deitz, Social Actions

Ask David Peat of The Pari Center for New Learning, and he’ll tell you that changing the world requires gentle action.

Gentle Action: Bringing Creative Change to a Turbulent World is the name Peat’s latest book. In 172 pages, he makes the case for individuals and institutions to hold back their quick judgment on what it takes to effect positive social change, and instead, enter a reflective state of creative suspension.

In the course of suspending their judgment, the author encourages individuals and institutions to think deeply about the inherent limitations and uncertain consequences of any effort to improve a community.

Peat draws on quantum physics, chaos theory, and real world examples to demonstrate that any action, regardless of its good intention, could just as likely produce disastrous outcomes as positive outcomes.

But not to worry, Gentle Action was not written to parallelize all efforts to effect positive social change. Instead, the book encourages individuals and organizations to take light and community-generated actions before turning to dramatic and top-down programs.

The author also contends that the good intentions of everyone from citizen philanthropists to international organizations are best served by leveraging the creativity and assets inherent in the human communities they intend to serve. In cases where individuals and institutions find they are living within the targeted communities, then all the better.

Peat concludes his short book by asserting, “Gentle Action is not some fancy, idealistic dream but a highly practical proposal.” I couldn’t agree more. On the other hand, I’m not sure that the author’s call for humility alone will convince big-time philanthropists and stuck-the-mud institutions that their perceived knack for choosing the right course of action on any given issue is part of the problem.

Review of Gentle Action: Bringing Creative Change to a Turbulent World (2008)

By Gordon Shippey (Anarchist)

Prof David Peat Lives in Pari, he is in fact surrounded by communities that have anarchist tendencies.

Part 1: Gentle Action/natural science

In fact I have pointed out to David some time ago that he appears to be a Crypto-Anarchist when it comes to his systems analysis and his conclusions with regard to Gentle action.

In fact David has unknowingly achieved something, by finding a link between nature and the anarchist theories of Peter Kropotkin. For in Kropotkin lived in the early part of the 20th century, during that time scientist were not fully aware of the application of nonlinear systems or analogies present in quantum physics to that of economics, politics or society. Also Kropotkin's was (unlike David) a positivist, which also limited his views of nature.

David rightly points out that Self-organization is the process that has not be recognized by the public at large, well that echo's the quote from Colin Ward (1973) which can also be found on page 8 of Chomsky on Anarchism (2005) which says:

'An Anarchist society, a society that organizes itself without authority, is always in existence...buried under the weight of the State and its bureaucracy, Capitalism and its waste, privilege, religious differences, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties and their superstitious separatism'.

An Anarchist would go on add that this illusionary dogma of control is then used in order guide society to meet the needs and goals of elite groups.

Later in the book David implicitly calls for a raising the level of people awareness of there own self-organizations, well is merely a different angle on self-emancipation.

If the approach to Action appears to be to simplicity so be it, however as David tries to highlight the fact is that something are so simple that it's hard for people to see them, especially with the pressures of our present day life style! So in the case of society it is already a given therefore as David Peat points out there is good reason to put some trust with its organic functions (even if we may not be fully aware of).

To strengthen the argument we see how Bakunin mirrors the concerns of 3 quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli, David Bohm and David Peat with regarding the power of science. Bakunin suggests that where the gap between scientific abstract ideas and reality become apparent (Pre-empting Alfred North Whiteheads notion of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness), the scientific priesthood attempts to mould reality in the image of the abstract idea. As science feels its 'vital impotence' in the face of the intractable complexity of life (this was prior to non-linear research), it seeks to discipline life (social life and nature) to fit its abstract models. Hence, the scientific will to knowledge becomes a will-to-power! (pre-empting Prof W.Pauli), as Prof David Peat points out (in Gentle action 2008) recent discoveries have shown that any form of control is merely an illusion!

Now Bakunin like Kropotkin were not anti-science, in fact they thought that science and technology could give us examples in ways of existing and supporting life, but should not be used to dominate. As far as I know neither W.Pauli nor David Peat have ever read these anarchists, however I believe they came to the same conclusions independently, thus showing that much of this is self-evident well at least within scientific circles!

Part 2: Trust & myth of the social contract:

However where I part company with Prof Peat must be his section on trust, for trust maybe misplaced when it comes to trust in State or Private Institutions (for the former is to control and the later is to deprive/exploit).

This is because David holds clings to the myth of the social contract. However Philosopher David Hume while not being an anarchist was still puzzled over why we obey any form of authority? He pointed out that historically there was no social contract, for States (& Corporations) were merely imposed themselves on society by conquest, force or coercion. They also made the laws that give them rights far beyond individuals or society, and while they mimic organic functions they have structures similar to tyrannies, there was no consent or definition given by the society in which they developed.

Therefore they are illegitimate, so trust in them would be not only misplaced but would counter any attempt to develop a fully organic society from below free from imposing institutions.

Now I think if Prof Peat dropped this assumption, I am sure Gentle action could then be properly applied to trust and ethics, instead of being merely grafted on to them?

It's a good book because it gives weight to Kropotkin's arguments, shows that nature her self is anarchist!

Comment Social Contract

By David Peat

Gordon Shippy’s review of the book Gentle Action refers to “the myth of the social contract”. Maybe it is a good idea for me to add some remarks on this aspect of his review.

The notion of a social contract arose in the Age of Enlightenment with philosophers such as Hume, Hobbs and Rousseau. Originally man supposedly lived in “a state of nature”, which according to Hobbs was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." But then, through self-interest and for protection, these individuals formed themselves into society and engaged in a contract whereby they would agree to sets of rules of behavior and to a form of government. In other words, out of self-interest and mutual protection, they agreed to sacrifice some of their natural rights and freedoms. Thus we begin with free individuals with no sense of right and wrong and out of this human societies were formed.

I’d like to contrast this position with what I have learned through discussions with a number of Native American groups. For them society is the basic starting point and the individual emerges out of that society and his or her behavior is formed by thevalues and traditions of the group or tribe. One traditional story, for example, tells of the man who wished to leave his tribe and rode off with his wife and all his possessions, yet as he travels away first he looses his wife, then his horses, then his arms, finally his legs – in other words the “free individual” has no existence apart from the group. Thus the most severe punishment is banishment where the individual must become like a tiny child again and learn a new language – and within that language is enfolded a new world view and new codes of behavior.

In other words, while the Enlighten assumed a starting point of free individuals the Native American starting point is the tribe. In turn the tribe would be linked to “all my relations” – the animals, plants, rocks, etc – which would all emerge out of a story of origins.