Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Great Work: Toward an Eco-Centric, Global Culture

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Great Work: Toward an Eco-Centric, Global Culture

Article excerpt

This article elaborates the concept of an eco-centric, global culture briefly examining five propositions which underpin 'the mindset' essential to the project termed the Great Work. The article concludes by introducing and interpreting the idea of global citizenship as a necessary element in the quest for an eco-centric, global culture.

Thomas Berry, an American cultural historian who also happens to be a Catholic priest, observes:

History is governed by those overarching movements that give shape and meaning to life by relating the human venture to the larger destinies of the universe. Creating such a movement might be called the Great Work of a people (1999, 1).

There have been previous transitions - most cataclysmically 67 million years ago with the destruction of the dinosaurs - but for Berry, 'The Great Work as we now move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner' (1999, 3). Joanna Macy (2000) and David Korten (2006) speak of the same phenomenon, which they claim is underway globally, as 'The Great Turning'.

The Great Work or the Great Turning is a momentous period, not merely of human history but of geo-biological history - indeed, in Berry's terms it is about 'relating the human venture to the larger destinies of the universe' (1999, 1). The Great Work involves a paradigmatic shift in human culture and the relationship of species homo sapiens to the whole community of life on Earth. For Korten, the Great Turning 'depends on awakening to deep truths long denied...and it... begins with a cultural and spiritual awakening...and...requires reframing the cultural stories by which we define our human nature, purpose and possibilities'. hi 2000 in an address to business and trade union leaders, Pope John Paul II (Preston 2002) offered a parallel perspective: 'globalisation requires not only new rules and new institutions at a world level, but particularly a new culture.' These views echo the declarations of the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 which envisaged 'anewproject of civilisation' (Boff 1997, 131) presaging the conviction that the supreme challenge of the twenty-first century is the project of creating a new culture, not a mono-culture or even a multi-culture but rather an eco-culture, which takes seriously differences, and values both unity and diversity. Crucial to this project, many would argue, is the establishment of international agreements and governance measures through which the global interest increasingly trumps the national interest while facilitating the practice of what I describe later in this article as global citizenship.

Cultural formation, particularly on a global scale, is obviously a very complex process operating on various levels of human activity and interactivity impacted by, and impacting on, economic systems, governance institutions, political and familial relationships and so on. Moreover this is an intergenerational process composed of many, many dimensions which largely defies prescription or pre-design. Nonetheless, students of culture underline the importance of language, discourse and conceptualisation in the imagining which is culture creating. That is, however they are formed and whether they are accurately articulated, philosophical presumptions about what we believe about existence and what we value in how to live are central to culture formation. That is why Korten promotes the need for 'spiritual awakening' and Berry insists that we must 're-invent ethics' while Pope John Paul II called for 'ecological conversion' (McDonagh 2006, 163).

This brief article is informed, directly and indirectly, by both the empirical and speculative sciences (interpreted, it must be acknowledged from the author's perspective as an economically secure, white Australian). Obviously it cannot exhaustively analyse the requirements of, or prospects for, the Great Work. …

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