Kate Raworth begins her book with the story of a rebel economics student and her own story of disillusionment with the theories and practices of global economics.
Then she explores the impact of words and images in popularizing modern ideas of economics. By changing the mental model of economics, we can change social systems and the impact of human activity on the living systems of the planet.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
She goes on to open the windows of our minds by talking about worldviews, frames, and paradigms. Our thinking is shaped by our perspective. Our behaviours and habits are shaped by our social architecture. Then we build physical infrastructure and architecture to solidify ways of thinking into habits of behaviour, and, ultimately, the culture of an entire social, economic, and political system.
The systems we design, as we are in the process of discovering, have unintended consequences on our biology and the global ecology when human population and activity are amplified through technology at a global scale. The awareness of the gravity of our situation has led to the naming of a new age: the anthropocene.
The Doomsday Machine
The story Kate Raworth paints begins with student protests against the doomsday machine of global economics, the cancerous, capitalist growth that is killing the living systems of our planet.
The collapse of the steel, glass, and concrete twin towers of the World Trade Center was symbolic of the failure of the modern world we built, which was originally a social democratic utopian vision developed by an international network of artists and architects, the Bauhaus. Disrupted by fascism, the nascent ideas of the Bauhaus movement were scattered throughout the world by the diaspora who escaped the rise of the Nazis, and were subsequently co-opted by the capitalist hierarchy of the corporate culture that drives the engine of the military-industrial complex of the global authoritarian system.
The Bauhaus conceived of the new architecture of the modern world as “rising from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith,” like a church of a new world defined by the spirit of the age, a zeitgeist, representing a fusion of art and technology, design and science. In April 1919, this laboratory for uniting the world through art and architecture was a part of Germany’s initial experiments in democracy in the Weimar Republic. They were rebuilding after the simultaneous crises and failures of the time: industrial dehumanization, economic collapse, political upheaval, a world war, and global pandemic. In 1933, only 14 years later, the Nazis closed the Bauhaus in Berlin as Germany was devolving into authoritarian fascism.
Fascism and Democracy
We are only weeks away from an electoral decision between fascism and democracy. Each side of the political debate seems to think they represent and champion the ideals of democracy: equality, fraternity, and liberty.
I am the rebel design, media, and communications student working over the past thirty years to learn the language of empire and to work with the iterative creative processes of design to craft and produce the cultural artifacts that embody the propaganda, public relations, marketing, and advertising messages of our authoritarian, economic social system.
I wasn’t here to make friends. It seems I didn’t know how. I had lived long enough without them to have practically given up on that prospect as a lived reality.
The exclusion, disconnection, isolation, alienation, frustration, disappointment, disillusionment, and confusion of life was emotionally overwhelming. To suppress those emotions, I focused on my work, trying to excel at the craft and practice of design, as a means of distraction from the lack of a sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging.
Guided by a moral imagination that drew from thousands of years of oral and literate tradition that produced the sacred text of American charismatic, evangelical Christianity, I was trying to figure out how I should live in a secular, Canadian, media environment as a graphic designer with a subversive orientation to the work that I was engaged in.
Born in a deeply religious family, the first-born son of a Chinese Canadian immigrant father born in Hong Kong and a Vancouver-born mother of English Canadian descent, I lived a divided life in suburban Vancouver. The feminine/masculine, introvert/extrovert, English/Chinese, East/West, subject/colonizer, imperial/colonial, rich/poor, sacred/secular, evangelist/propagandist, metaphorical/literal, psychological/mathematical, artistic/commercial, athletic/sedentary, suburban/metropolitan, liberal/conservative, socialist/capitalist, radical/orthodox, aesthetic/pragmatic, listening/speaking, intuitive/analytical, emotional/intellectual, rhetorical/narrative, mystical/empirical, biological/technological, experiential/theoretical, and physical/metaphysical dichotomies loomed large in my questions about identity, purpose, values, and aspirations.
Everyone seemed to have answers. All I had were questions.
Why was the world the way it was? What is wrong with me? Why am I not worth people’s time and attention? Why do others hear God speaking to them and I experience a deafening silence? Why do others have an intimate, personal relationship with God and I feel so alone?
To be raised as a Christian but to feel only the existential threat of eternal, conscious torment is a lonely, terrifying way to live. But there seemed to be nothing I could do to change this.
Yet, with questions came curiosity.
I grew up as an audience, so I never really learned to have a conversation. However, I was fascinated by design, media, and communications.
Work became solace in solitude. Over time, curiosity about the thoughts, experiences, and lives of other people became an obsession.
I was both tormented and mentored by my relationship with the written word.
So, I made a life out of a profession built around the meaning, purpose, and technology of visual language.
A couple days ago, I was sharing a conversation over Zoom with three women. In our Trimtab Space Camp Mission meeting, Lisa Kenner said that she grew up knowing Bucky and he was the warmest, most empathetic person. She said she has so many stories she could tell about Bucky. At the end of our two-hour conversation, she said Bucky would be hugging me.
I teared up.
Yesterday, Carson Linforth Bowley had seconds before the end of our Zoom breakout session and was able to complete his sentence, “Stephen, with every fibre of my being, I want to say that you are on the right track.”
How did I get here?
Once in a lifetime. Water flowing underground.
It was the words of Jesus that stuck with me. If you know that the transmission is going to be cut, there is an urgency to the message you want to convey. His last words before being led away to face the authorities was about love and being one.
How do we reconcile the separations, contradictions, and divisions to find healing, wholeness, and oneness?
The community is the design artifact. The journey is the destination. The particular is a reflection of the universal. The physical is a metaphor for the metaphysical. We are one with the universe and the universe is in me.
Like Samuel, the boy who heard the voice of God, insomnia has been a regular pattern of my life. I try to quiet my mind. I turn on some music or a podcast to absorb my attention and distract my mind. But in the darkness and solitude of the night, my mind lights up. These are the things I think about in the middle of the night: the cosmic scales of time and the patterns of thought and language that got us here.
I am old and tired but I am still wondering, “How did we get here? What are we doing? What is next and where are we going?”
What are we building? An answer is in the process of taking form. We are building a creative, collaborative, self-organizing learning community.