Another issue I have with Korten’s book comes from his integration of religious views into his proposed solution. He develops a hierarchy of culture and consciousness that implies that the highest form of being is spiritual . His fourth order, Cultural Consciousness, has all the elements necessary to build a society that is consistent with the Earth Charter‘s principles. Including a fifth order, Spiritual Consciousness, seems to suggest that somehow spiritual people are at a higher level than non-spiritual people.
I like that Korten doesn’t buy the idea that we are now living in a democracy that is far advanced from the autocratic rule of kings (and queens): there was a transition from “imperial rule by the power of the sword to imperial rule by the power of money” (p. 140). Korten’s writing about the money system is clear and does not avoid naming the issues: That publicly traded corporations are now yielding the power that kings used to have (and then some), keeping Empire alive and well.
I also agree with Korten when he bemoans that our current democracy lacks the “expansive view [of Athenian democracy] on questions relating to human perfectibility, the good society, civic participation, and the role of the state in supporting each individual in achieving the qualities of wisdom and moral judgment that are foundations of the more robust and mature democracy” (p. 155). A mature society cannot be made up of immature citizens who do not participate in society building.
Korten lost most credibility in my eyes, though, when he makes an intellectual feat of trying to lessen the tension between religion and science by suggesting a compromise solution between creationists and evolutionists. He claims, without giving any evidence, that there are “a considerable number of scientists and theologians [who] hold positions all along the continuum between these extremes” (p. 257). First, evolution is not an extreme. It is not in opposition to creationism. Creationism is not a scientific theory. Evolution is a scientific theory, well supported by a lot of evidence. Second, claiming that a “considerable number of scientists” are non-evolutionists is contradicted by the facts. Of all U.S. scientists, only about 5% are creationists, 95% evolutionists (1991 Gallup Poll). Worldwide, creationist scientists make up less than 1%. Hardly a “considerable number”…
Korten then proceeds to present intelligent design (ID), with a twist, as a viable alternative theory to evolution. He observes that most ID supporters view the creator who supposedly set evolution in motion as extrinsic, apart from his creation. Instead, Korten suggests, “creation may be the manifestation of a creative intelligent consciousness intrinsic to all being, and most particularly to all life” (257). Support for his idea, as Korten points out, comes from religious mystics, not from science. In fact, Korten ignores that ID, no matter what you call the “designer,” has no evidence. It is simply a clever reformulation of creationism, which exploits a gap in current scientific knowledge. The National Academy of Sciences wrote “Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science. These claims subordinate observed data to statements based on authority, revelation, or religious belief” (NAS 1999). It appears that Korten’s highest order of consciousness ignores scientific evidence and thus returns to thinking similar to the middle ages, when the earth was flat.
My take-away from the book:
It is dangerous to avoid facing the issues of the Empire, to continue using Korten’s terminology. And, ultimately, Korten’s book does just that. Instead of giving concrete steps we can take to change things, Korten escapes into mysticism and wishful thinking. His website, where I went in hopes of finding like-minded people to start moving toward an Earth Community, lacks any such networking capabilities, which is in stark contrast to Korten’s celebration of the electronic connectedness of all people. Although Korten sees the issues clearly, describes the ways of the Empire with a refreshing candidness, he does nothing to resolve those issues. Instead he tries to paint a delusional picture that everything will be just fine, that we’re already moving in the right direction, that earth and/or the intelligent consciousness will make everything come out alright in the end. That is, in fact, supporting the Empire because we are not doing anything significantly to challenge it.
Korten is doing some wonderful work at Yes Magazine, which documents encouraging developments that show real world alternatives to the workings of Empire. In order to bring about the Earth Community, we need more than that, though. Instead of relying on earth or some sort of mystical consciousness to save us, we better roll up our sleeves and do it ourselves. And that’s where the real short-coming of Korten’s book becomes clear: Nowhere did he address the question of “how:” How do we move from Empire to Earth Community? That is the question I hoped the book would answer but doesn’t and that is where my disappointment in the book comes from.
Another, more detailed, review that I largely agree with: http://www.radicalmiddle.com/x_korten.htm