A paradigm is a set of patterns: of thoughts, actions, beliefs, and practices, under which people operate. We all were born into the paradigms of our current age: where money, colonization, domination, and the myth of progress are embedded into the foundations of our current civilization. This paradigm is replicated and interwoven in nearly everything our present civilization produces: from mass industrial agriculture to mass education, from big government and big corporations to the exploitation of native peoples and environmental degradation. It is replicated on the individual level, with the treatment of each other to the treatment of workers in a variety of fields to the commodification of our bodies and data. It is woven into the assumptions present behind the creation of any new technologies, such as AI. These destructive capitalist and colonialist paradigms that have dominated the planet for 400+ years have not only shaped human societies, but they have also engaged in biological annihilation and created an increasingly stable climate and have put nearly all life on this planet at risk. This paradigm, which once was restricted to parts of Europe and the Old World, thanks to European colonialism, has now impacted nearly the entire world. This paradigm has taken root everywhere, and the whole planet is feeling its effects. There is no escaping it on a larger scale, and no escaping the effects that it has created and the ongoing threat it now poses to all beings. It is a form of collective insanity.
I’m obviously not mincing my words here–the time for being subtle is over. think that now people are agreeing, with increasing urgency, that the current paradigm we are working under has to go. I’m certainly feeling this, and while these thoughts are accompanied by a lot of fear, my feelings are increasingly accompanied by a lot of determination to do something better and create a better future. We are realizing collectively and individually that it doesn’t matter how sustainable you are, how many better products you buy or avoid buying, how much fossil fuels you eliminate, how many trees you plant, how many petitions you sign—in the end, if we don’t change the entire paradigm, the dominant paradigm is still hell-bent on continuing its path of destruction to fuel greed and power. It’s not that these small actions don’t matter–they do. If enough of us do them, we can change the world. But individuals are not enough–we need larger systems, values, and actions to counter and fight this current paradigm. This, my friends, is why we are all so tired of straddling the edge. The impetus for this is the survival of all life–including human life–on this planet. Ultimately, if we don’t change this paradigm and quickly, the earth’s broader systems will change it for us, and much life on this planet may not survive.
The term “paradigm” has its origins in ancient Greece, where it referred to a “pattern” or a grouping of similar occurrences. Just as we live in the dominant paradigm, whose capitalist, colonialist, and narcissistic tendencies are replicated in workplaces, families, politics, means of production, governments, education systems, and more–we can also look to alternative groups to see the emergence of a new paradigm, a paradigm I believe will replace the current one if we can help nurture it into fruition. This new paradigm, which yet doesn’t have a name, offers us hope and it is embedded in a wide range of people, cultures, practices, and communities globally. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s back up and start from the beginning.
Today’s post isn’t about the old, worn-out, and destructive paradigm that we live in. Today’s post is about a hopeful future: I outline my thoughts on a new paradigm that is emerging, one that I believe can take the place of the current destructive myth of progress. By tracing conversations, experiences, and my analysis of a wide range of communities in North America and beyond, I work to pull together the threads of this emerging new paradigm to help give us hope and direction for the future.
Signs of the New Paradigm in Wide-Ranging Communities
Those of you who have read this blog for a while know that just based on the scope of topics in my posts, I have a wide range of interests and communities I belong to. I frequently move across a variety of communities to learn new things and connect with new people. It is in this experience in visiting a lot of different groups doing different things that I have come to understand that there is a broader movement that is taking place–a new paradigm emerging. Over the last 20 years, for my entire adult life, I’ve gone to gatherings far and wide of different people focusing on returning to the earth, learning how to live more gently, learning how to work in communities of reciprocity, and learning how to connect with the earth in a myriad of ways. These communities have included: earth skills and ancestral skills, bushcraft, natural building, rewilding, primitivist, herbalism and holistic healing, permaculture, natural building, earth-based arts and crafts, wild pigments, mushroom and plant-based foraging, community environmentalist groups and conservation, and druid/neopaganism. I’ve attended gatherings, visited and stayed at ecovillages, taken courses face to face, read books, taught, participated in activities, started groups, and spent time with folks in the list above. The other piece of this that is relevant for developing and sharing this list today is that I’m a social scientist in my day job; as part of that, I engage in a lot of data-driven research. Thus, one of the things I’m particularly skilled at is looking at large datasets and generalizing meaning from them–this is essentially what I’ve done here.
Thus, in spending time in these communities, I am seeing a broader consensus and pattern emerging. This new paradigm isn’t unique to a single community or place, but pieces of it are emerging in very diverse communities—even communities that wouldn’t have a great deal of overlap. This new paradigm appears to be emerging in so many individual and community-oriented ways globally: the nature spirituality movement, ecovillages, natural building centers, herbalism, reiki and other alternative healing modalities, folk art centers, community gardens, reskilling and transition town movements, ancestral and earth skills gatherings, permaculture convergences, individual backyards, in choices and ways of life, and so many more ways. It is being enacted with increasing emphasis and frequency, and it is growing in scope and magnitude.
This new paradigm is not any one single person’s vision, but a confluence of many different people sharing, learning how to reconnect, how to heal the earth, and grow together in a community. This is not my paradigm or my ideas specifically, I’m just drawing experiences and knowledge from many sources to articulate it in a way that might be helpful. I’m giving it a voice, but it belongs to all of us. And also, as you’ll see–this “new” paradigm is not new at all. It is a return to older lifeways and understandings, understandings held by many groups of people across time, particularly tied to indigenous ways of knowing and being in the world (and if we all go far back enough, we are indigenous to somewhere).
Defining the New Earth-Honoring Paradigm
The new paradigm does not yet have a name, or rather, the paradigm has many different names. And this new paradigm is emerging stronger than ever before. In order to give it some definitions, I find that it is helpful to think about human activity in three ways: values, practices, and experiences. Values are what we hold to be important, of worth, and also the standards to which we can hold ourselves to particular sets of right behavior. Practices are these values enacted, which vary considerably by community, but as you will see, consensus does emerge. Experiences refer to some things that as people interact with values and practices in this new paradigm, they report experiencing. This is just one way to split these observations as a way of starting to have a conversation; there are a myriad of others. So without further delay, lets examine the features of this new paradigm:
The primary value of the new paradigm is an affirmation that the earth is our home and mother and should be nurtured, honored, and respected by humanity. All life on earth has a right to exist, and part of being a good human is learning how to work in a respectful way to honor all life and still meet our needs. Tied to this primary value are respectful interactions for all beings, human or otherwise. These values obviously are a strong pivot and stand in contrast to the current paradigm. Some of the values are:
- Affirming that the Earth is sacred and should be honored, respected
- For some communities, the earth is acknowledged as a sovereign being
- Recognizing that humans can be a force of healing and good in the world and that we all can make that happen individually and on a community-wide level
- Reciprocating with the land and each other is a critical value
- Recognizing that this work can be healing, nourishing and joyful
- Knowing that the earth can provide for our needs and recognizing the value of learning the skills through which this happens
- Rejecting the common stereotypes, consumption-driven behaviors, and identities of capitalist culture and embracing individual expression and identity
- Acknowledging that our communities are better when we support polycultures of people
- This includes embracing diverse people of all races, genders, body types, abilities, nationalities, socioeconomic status, and religions and creating safe spaces for all.
- Like everything else on this list this is an ideal, and many communities still have serious issues with these areas, but there is work and movement in this direction for most
- Agreement that the dominant paradigm with its systems of mass consumption, capitalism, and colonialism are destructive and should be rejected
- Many communities/groups/ways of knowing directly serve as a counter to these systems.
- Acknowledgment of connection of holism rather than fragmentation both in the broader earth and within ourselves:
- On a planet-wide scale, this is recognizing our own interconnectedness of all life and our place in the broader ecosystem through whole-systems thinking
- For ourselves as human beings, this includes acknowledging and connecting mind, body, spirit and the need for healing/growth/attention on all three levels
- For some communities, this involves recognizing the physical/metaphysical aspects
- Recognizing that we are all human, not perfect, and have room to learn and grow.
- This translates in several ways ways. First, each of us needs to learn skills of deep listening, self-reflection, action, and awareness so that we can address our own biases, limitations, and so forth.
- Second, each of us needs to honor our own bodies, needs, and limitations.
- Third, embracing a mindset that allows us to learn from our mistakes and keep growing in ways that are honest, open, and meaningful.
- For a growing number of communities: An acknowledgment of the ancestors of the land and the value of indigenous teachings and ways of knowing
- This doesn’t mean some communities don’t have issues with appropriation, they do.
Practices are values in action, they allow us to manifest these value systems in the world around us to enact change, live differently, and engage in different kinds of activity. Practices are our best attempts to manifest the growing value system of this new paradigm and often appear differently in different communities/individuals depending on focus.
- Offering gratitude for each other and for the land in all things and in multiple ways:
- This may manifest as simple statements of gratitude (before meals, at the beginning of the day, etc)
- This may also include offering gratitude to the land before the harvest
- In some communities, this may manifest as formal circles and ceremonies where gratitude is a core part of the community and practice
- Reciprocation and interaction with the earth to recognise that we need to both give and take for the earth to be fruitful and abundant.
- When anyone takes anything from the earth, engage in respectful interaction and do so in ways that do not damage ecosystems but that nourish and regenerate. This is done in a variety of ways depending on the community and may involve growing materials for medicines, crafts building, etc; foraging invasives; scattering seeds; and so many other practices.
- Being in community with each other and working hard towards cultivating healthy communities
- This may include clear discussions with community members, formally creating codes of conduct, calling out problematic behaviors, and a lot of individual attention and action toward honoring each other’s needs, diversity, voices, and needs
- Games, icebreakers, and regular ways of bringing the community together each day
- Cultivating and honoring diverse peoples, bodies, beliefs, and abilities through words and actions
- See the points directly above as well as scholarships for bringing in diverse individuals; and recruiting diverse leaders and teachers, elevating different voices a wide variety of ways
- Learning some set of skills in a collaborative and community-supported setting with often very accessible, nurturing, and low-stakes teaching practices.
- This includes nurturing and expressing growth mindsets – the idea that people can learn through making mistakes, figuring things out, and trying again and that we were all beginners once
- Practices that honor our own intuition, creativity, and individual skills
- Honoring the individual creations and ideas of individuals through formal and informal activities
- Weaving various forms of human expression as central to the activity (even if it is more pragmatic in nature)
- Sustainable and regenerative practices where the emphasis is on being local, situated, and reciprocal.
- All activities regardless of the community are tied to the land as much as possible and locally sourced; foraging for baseket material from invasives growing on the land; large dye gardens at folk schools, etc.
- Localizing connection to the earth and meeting one’s needs, gathering or growing local materials
- Attention to creating and building specific, contextualized, and local knowledge.
- Emphasis on connecting with a local place and honoring the differences in ecosystems or people.
- Appropriate uses of technology and appropriate technologies and valuing the role of human labor over fossil fuels
- This may be an implicit community norm that minimizes or does not depend on dominant efficiency technologies used in other contexts
- Recognizing the wholeness of a person, the need to heal on multiple levels, and holism.
- This manifests in different ways based on the community, but it is almost always present in some form
- Emphasizing whole systems thinking, thinking in cycles and in longer time frames, mirroring the patterns of nature.
- Functioning in slow time, where there is an emphasis on doing things well rather than quickly or efficiently
- May manifest as creating time for people to think through a problem and talk through it from multiple angles
- Scheduling large blocks of open time and enough time for meals.
- Engaging in ceremony for each other and for the earth.
- This one somewhat surprises me, as it shows up in many communities that are not spiritual in nature still have quite a lot of ceremonies; thus, I’ve experienced a range of beautiful ceremonies at earth skills gatherings, permaculture events, herbalism courses, natural building courses, and so on.
A final addition to this list is the set of experiences, feelings, and outcomes that people have from experiencing, participating in, learning, and embracing the values and practices above:
- A sense of coming home (as though you found a home and/or a name for what you already were)
- Feeling empowered and excited by the new knowledge that you have
- For events/gatherings, having a “hard return” when you come back where shifting back into the old paradigm can be disturbing, unbalancing, and depressing
- Making quite deep connections and friendships even over short periods of time
- Time dilation, where you are feeling like you’ve been immersed in this community/experience longer than you have been
A note about the experiences category: seeing these experiences over and over again is one of the things that kind of “clued me in” to this larger pattern I was seeing. It is amazing to experience, again and again, the hunger that new people who come into these communities face. Sometimes they can’t even express what is wrong or what they want, but when they find it, it resonates. They weep with joy and feel so at home among those they found who share this vision. Often entering one of these communities–through a course, gathering, or event–even for a short while is deeply impactful and may continue to resonate or help them shift their individual lives in some way.
Caveats for the Paradigm Outline above
A few caveats about my list above: 1) not all communities I’ve listed embrace the full list above and some may still be working on large pieces of these or in the process of shifting or emerging in new ways–but there is movement in the above directions. 2) Different communities are inherently local, individual, and unique and individual actions may differ than larger groups/ 3) As a permaculture practitioner, I believe in polycultures, not monocultures, so while these beliefs, practices, and experiences may transcend any single community, not all communities would agree or see things the same–and that’s ok; 4) as a person holding a specific identity (druid, female, white, able-bodied, learning disabled, cis-gendered, straight), my own experiences may not mirror those who hold different identities.
Why this list now? The Paradigm is Shifting and there is Hope!
Certainly, these ideas are not new. They are woven into almost every indigenous belief system and are inherently tied to human survival and thriving on this planet in a long-term, balanced, and sustainable way. In a modern sense, at least here in the US among white people, most people are disconnected by sometimes millennia from those systems of belief and those ways of knowing are fully lost. Hence, I believe that many of us are going through a time of rediscovery and relearning now. So there are many different foundations. Culturally, the foundations for the present movements and communities have been laid for this for quite a while (since the 1970’s here in the US, at least, with a resurgence in the last 15 or so years). There is a new generation of indigenous teachers who are also sharing their knowledge–like Robin Wall Kimmerer and Tyson Yunkaporta–and these teachers are reaching very willing and open ears. Things have changed for good and more and more people are finding their way into this alternative paradigm than ever before.
The pandemic/post-pandemic (or whatever you call the time we are experiencing right now) combined with the increasing realities of climate change and mass extinction on the earth has people with a stronger desire for an alternative paradigm than ever before. With the foundation laid, but it was the pandemic created the kind of hard shift that seems to have brought much larger numbers–including large numbers of young people–into some of these longstanding movements. As they come in, they push these movements further in the direction they should go.
But also, the basic social fabric is unraveling. Present human society works for less and less people. Look at how many people were “left behind” in the pandemic due to illnesses. Look at how many people are now being left behind and losing entire life’s work and careers due to AI. Look at how, at least in US culture, young people are given so few options for a good, stable life that doesn’t involve drowning in debt. We keep being told we need to push forward, move faster, do more…and people have had enough. A lot of people can see firsthand how the system has failed them, again and again, and they have had enough.
I have seen some of this major paradigm shift firsthand. As one clear example, in the druid community—the Ancient Order of Druids in America used to get about 125 or so new members a year—and since 2020, we now get over 300—and there’s no sign of that slowing down. It’s almost like as people see more and more direct evidence of climate change and the severe need to protect the earth, and as people get more and more disgusted with politics, human society, threatening technologies, social media, poison food, pollution, factory farming, and ultimately the wholesale destruction of nature, we have had enough. And seeing the kinds of people who have been joining AODA in such large waves—people have a hunger for learning how to be better human beings who connect deeply with and revere the earth. I could give you 100 examples of this paradigm in action, but hey, this post is already over 3000 words long, so perhaps I’ll save a deep dive into some of this for next week’s post! :).
In sum, I’ve just laid out what are some potential features of a new paradigm–a paradigm that is emerging through millions of people in tens of thousands of communities, groups, and events all around the world. This paradigm is gaining steam and it is gaining in popularity as people seek to create a better future for themselves, take responsibility for their own actions, and recognize that if we want to have a future for all life on this planet, we need something radically different.
I would really love your input on this post–what have you been seeing? What am I missing? What blind spots or issues do you see in this? I’m but one mind, one voice, and I realize much of what I’ve written here may be far from accurate. But I want to get this conversation started and, honestly, I’m so excited to have this kind of conversation. This paradigm needs all the voices and help we can give it! Like a seed just breaking through the soil, let’s help it grow! So yes, please share your own thoughts, and let’s give this new movement voice.