|TRANSFORMATIVE STRATEGIES AND THE FUTURES OF THE PROUT MOVEMENT|
|Written by Sohail Inayatullah|
For the Prout movement to play an active role in the future, it is important that Prout should redefine itself to meet the challenges of the future. It is only then that it will meet the changing needs of the society and become a viable movement.
Understanding the futures of any movement is by definition problematic. The future, for one, does not yet exist (except from perhaps an absolute spiritual perspective wherein past, present and future exist simultaneously). Yet, it is possible to identify certain patterns within all movements. Charles Paprocki has analysed the rise and fall of social movements based on Sarkar’s Wave Theory. He argues that new movements appear once old movements (cosmologies, ideologies and the institutions that support them) cannot sustain legitimacy. The old movement dies because of its own internal contradictions; that is, its inability to maintain agreement or belief. By providing a more coherent analysis and explanation of reality, the new movement challenges the past and, if it is successful, becomes the new thesis.
Thomas Kuhn has echoed this approach in his classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. He, however, adds a demographic dimension. Knowledge revolutions occur when a particular age-cohort retires or dies off, thus allowing a new batch of scientists with different assumptions of reality to gain hegemony. There is then, a shift in what is studied or what is considered the norm.
Leading educationist Richard Slaughter sees this through the lenses of the “Transformative Cycle.” In phase-I of this cycle, traditional meanings break down and are referred to as problems. In phase II, new ideas emerge that reconceptualise or renew meanings. In phase III, there is conflict between the new and old meanings. Out of this conflict, a few proposals, new ideas, and new movements gain legitimisation. This is the fourth phase. These new ideas then become the paradigm through which we view the world.
Prout asserts that we are in the midst of a transition from an old paradigm to a new one. Recent intellectual history has attempted to explain the world from the position of mechanistic Newtonian physics and materialistic liberal capitalism. While the world has numerous specific problems, many of these are a result of the larger paradigms that we use to construct and explain empirical reality. For example, the breakdown of the family, crime, desertification, global warming, and the global financial crisis appear to be unrelated problems, a litany of unconnected events and trends. But, in fact, they are outcomes of a materialistic worldview that places the individual first and society second; that disowns nature as it focuses solely on technological progress. Moreover, social divisions are blamed on the individual and the family instead of the inequitable structure of the economy. This worldview is also short-term oriented, mortgaging the future for present gains.
Many of the ideas of Sarkar and the Prout movement can be considered as emerging issues. Emerging issues are at the bottom of the s-curve of events. They have a small following, their frequency of mention in journal articles is low and the issues are not considered urgent for world leaders to attend to. Over time, some of these issues become trends – there is more and more data to confirm their reality and importance and eventually a few become global problems. At this stage, the window of opportunity to make foundational or deep changes has decreased since the issue has now become politicised via the tar pit of party politics. It is earlier, in the emerging issues phase, where transformative possibilities abound.
From a Proutist viewpoint, many of Sarkar’s ideas – vegetarianism, the rights of animals and plants, meditation as part of daily practice, world government, the theory of microvita, co-operatives as a model for a national economy – will move up the s-curve eventually moving from fantasy to reality.
In this sense, the Prout movement may be at the same stage in many parts of the world as the ecological movement was a generation ago. From Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to Earth Day to electoral victories in a few nations to Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize for his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, environmentalism has become normalised. Seen with this perspective, Prout and its core ideas is an emerging intellectual force. Like the ecological movement, its ideas are likely to become quickly popular. It will then possibly become a trend and eventually a movement that will have to be grappled with by academia, civil society, business and government.
At present, in any discussion of the futures of humanity, the Green alternative is always raised. In the near future, through publications, movements and social service, Prout too may be in that position. Once Sarkar’s movement enters the mainstream press, they will challenge old movements. Then there will be a debate for legitimacy. Proutists, like the Greens, or the socialists of the past, will argue that their image of the world and future is more compelling, elegant and realisable in the real world of material and emotional suffering.
At this stage, the strength of Prout will be tested. Can it provide a new paradigm surpassing liberal capitalism or environmentalism? Can its image of the world provide new meaning to individuals?
A number of alternative futures are possible.
First, Prout succeeds because it meets foundational needs for survival, growth, identity and purpose. Like other successful social and economic movements, Prout and its core ideas becomes the dominant framework. This occurs because (1) through its alternative economic framework (focus on guaranteeing basic needs) issues of survival for the global population are resolved; (2) issues of growth are realised through increased productivity, healthier lifestyle and higher quality of life (work becomes more efficient and meaningful, higher equity leading to stronger and healthier communities and more social and economic integration); (3) issues of identity are resolved as every language and culture is honoured even as more and more humans become truly planetary, accepting that as the only way forward (other identity formations – patriarchy, dogmatic religion, and conflicting nation-states – point the way to civilizational collapse); and, (4) issues of purpose and direction are served through Prout’s focus on consciousness raising, integrating the spiritual and material, personal growth and collective welfare, nature and technology.
Second, Prout as a movement remains marginal but its ideas succeed. Prout’s main contribution is in helping create a new worldview which leads to foundational shifts in survival, growth, identity and purpose. Prout organisations do not become a global political player (for example, a world Prout political party does not eventuate). Another group that has had a impact disproportionate to their small number are the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends), whose total number in USA are 250,000 or just 0.0008% of the population, yet they have significantly influenced many social justice changes, including the abolition of slavery, educational reform, women's suffrage, the civil rights movement, penal reform, environmental protection, the peace movement.
Third, Prout is unable to play a social or political role and its ideas do not captivate leading thinkers, policy think-tanks and decision-makers. Instead, world capitalism continues moving forward, purchasing and co-opting dissenters every step of the way, and at every bottleneck of accumulation, every world crisis, it adapts. World capitalism appropriates a few slogans and ideas from Prout and other movements, making the capitalist system even stronger and more durable.
Of course Proutist thinkers and activists prefer the first two but not the third. The first assumes a strong hierarchical organisational structure with clear lines of discipline, thus allowing political-institutional success. In the second scenario, it is the replicability of Prout projects that is crucial. Instead of a strong organisational structure, it is the peer-to-peer inspiration and the decentralisation of projects and ideas that creates a wave of transformational change.
Finally, which will become reality depends on individual and collective images of the future. What individuals and groups prefer to happen and believe will happen, is likely to happen. Our future reality will also depend on decisions humans will make over the next decades.
Using Prout’s theory of the social cycle, a change in the system of capitalism, the worldview underneath it (individualism, linear theory of progress, nature and the Other as externalized) and the deep defining story (greed is good) is likely to occur. Because whereas capitalism has been able to adapt and reinvent itself, the current economic crisis is so overwhelming, impacting almost every issue (global governance, climate change, terrorism, change in the images of what it means to be human), and thus the system is likely to either collapse or transform, with the continuation of business as usual very unlikely.
To contribute to global transformation, Prout requires a successful strategy.
Now, this challenge to be successful requires strategy at four levels, moving from the most visible, the empirical litany to the least visible, the realm of myths and metaphors.
The first level of change is empirical litany, repeating the daily headlines over and over until we see them as official reality. Changing these measurable indicators means that Prout must offer new measurements that better reflect its vision of the future. These would measure core areas:
(1) neohumanism (equal opportunity, no discrimination, rights of nature, animals, a movement towards a vegetarian society);
(2) political-economy (movement of money, ratio of maximum-minimum income);
(3) spirituality (spiritual seen as not only a legitimate way of organising society but a preferred measure – percent of individuals involved in spiritual practice);
(4) co-ordinated co-operation (co-operation between genders and also between other groups in the society – worker/management, for example); and,
(5) governance (is there a legal contract between political leaders and citizens, does the constitution guarantee purchasing power, and is there increased movement (conferences, binding treaties, laws) towards regionalism and world federalism?
The second level of change is systemic change. Systemic change ensures that new ideas prosper. For example, governments can change energy use by re-pricing – they can subsidise oil consumption or wind-solar. They can provide grants for the first time home-owners that require solar energy to be used to access the grant. Each state creates systems that support its values. For a new system, such as Prout to become the norm, numerous systemic changes are required. First in schooling, a space and time for quiet meditation time would slowly change the nature of what students value. Given the relationship between regular meditation and enhanced IQ as well as decreased illness, we can expect to see productivity gains and decreased social-health costs.
Second in economic structure, governments can create legislation that favours the co-operative model instead of the corporatist model. This would allow a flourishing of new types of enterprises. They can also enhance employee-managed and owned businesses by changing taxation strategy as well as pension-superannuation funding. Third, creating new global organizations and insurance schemes that solve problems that states are unable to handle (a global tax on speculation, a new world peace insurance scheme to reduce the military costs of nations, a new world currency) would enhance federalism as would reform of the United Nations.
The third level of change is worldview. We are currently in a transition where the modernist worldview focused on shopping ((shop therefore I am), the nation-state (my nation is better than yours), patriarchy (rule of the strongest male or nation-state) and externalising all costs (nature in particular) is giving way to a new worldview. What this new worldview will be is still up for grabs. Will it be transmodern, that is, going beyond the modern (by including other ways of knowing) but keeping the progressive nature of rights that modernity brought or post-modern, with new core values by allowing all perspectives or will it be a return to fundamentalism of the nation-state or religion. For Prout, not only are new indicators and systemic changes crucial but so is being part of the debate of creating a new worldview. This debate is not just "rational" but part of the unconscious – essentially how we see the self, others, and the transcendent. Prout views this as essentially a spiritual transition, an awakening of the self, linked to a new planetary ethical framework.
Currently, the emerging image is ahead of current reality (which is still defined by the narrow boundaries of nation-statism and economic short-termism). Many individuals believe that a new spiritual planetary future is possible but they are unable to reconcile the desired future with the often brutal and irrational realities of the present. However, more and more there is evidence that current reality itself is undergoing a transition.
The final level of change is the mythic and metaphorical. This is about reframing issues at the deepest level. Instead of debating which system is truer or better, more important is telling a new compelling story about what it means to be human. Sarkar offers the analogy of humanity being on a journey together, moving forward like a family and ensuring no one falls behind. This is very different from the modern capitalist story of technological progress and survival of the fittest. For Prout, the new story includes the worldview of evolution that is not only about physical survival, but also an intellectual struggle, a battle of memes, and, most importantly, with a spiritual direction. Life is more than just the economy or society, it is about individually and collectively moving towards ananda, bliss. As Joseph Campbell said, "Follow your bliss." Prout offers this new mythology as well as a practical way to achieve it. But ultimately this is not a path to bliss or Prout, Prout is the path, bliss is the path.
The way will certainly be very difficult and full of struggles, as Sarkar often reminded us. Humans can always quit, choosing the easier downhill path that moves away from our bliss. For this reason, it is crucial to imagine and feel that the future has already arrived, it is not distant, we are living it today. As Sarkar said:
“Even a half hour before your success, you will not know it.”
For more than 30 years, Sohail Inayatullah has been writing on P.R. Sarkar and Prout. A political scientist, he is Professor at the Graduate Institute of Futures Studies, Tamkang University, Taiwan and the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. He also teaches at Proutcollege.org and co-teaches an annual course in futures thinking at Mt Eliza Centre for Executive Education, Melbourne Business School. In 1990, he completed his PhD on the intellectual contributions of P.R. Sarkar. The doctorate led to a series of books on Sarkar including: Understanding Sarkar (Brill, 2002), Situating Sarkar (Gurukul, 1999) Transcending Boundaries (Gurukul, 1999) and Neohumanist Educational Futures (Tamkang University, 2007). His encyclopedia entries on Sarkar include contributions to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Oxford Encyclopedia of Peace and the Unesco Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems.