It’s the 21st Century and we are witnessing change at an exponential speed. We are constantly building new technologies that did not seem possible two centuries ago. However, due to our hyper-consumerism and rapid globalized industrial development we are abusing Mother Earth in ways that are creating a profound climate crisis. This type of crisis will put our ecosystems and livelihoods at the risk of extinction. We are, as far as we know, the only species that affects its environment to such a degree of irresponsibility.
The problems that we are facing as a species are not new, their roots are old, in our estimates around 5,000 years old. These problems have inspired people from around the world to create new ideologies and strategies with the purpose of mitigating problems, resolving conflict, and creating a better society. This work of social change, of improving the world, has existed in conjunction with our problems.
In recent times, we have seen many traditions of change grow, with various schools of thought, efforts like:
- The Slavery Abolitionist Movement,
- The Revolutionary Marxist Tradition of Class Struggle
- The Anti-Colonial Movement
- The Indian Independence Movement
- The Anti-Apartheid Movement
- The Suffrage Movement
These movements and many others that have taken different forms and in their lineages have created cooperative and alternative institutions (i.e. alternative commerce, credit unions, cooperatives, alternative schools, alternative cultures, etc.). Each new tradition innovates on the lessons of past experiments while continuing the mission of making the world a better place.
In those journeys we have seen many dreams being built, theories being developed around why the world is in the place it is. We have also seen many people give their lives for efforts that worked to create a new world. We are not the first ones in this journey and we won’t be the last.
Today we can feel in the air the desperate need for change. Some young people feel it in their bones that the previously mentioned climate crisis is threatening their future. By the year 2050 one billion people will be climate refugees. This number is separate from those who are being threatened by warfare in their homes. The system we have in place, the system of domination and capitalism, truly doesn’t work for the majority of species within Earth.
At the Institute we know that the solution we need must be as bold as the problems we are facing. The level of collaboration that we need must be unprecedented. We know that our ecological crisis is caused by human civilization and the way we misuse resources and damage the environment. Yet, just talking about our problems, theorizing about them, and working with small solutions won’t make the type of difference we need.
The alternative system we need, needs to simply be better. That is why at the Institute we believe that we must change the way people meet their needs and replace it with system(s) that meets people’s needs at a higher level. When you find something that fulfills you and meets your needs in a better way it can begin to make other systems obsolete. This is the challenge of our current and upcoming generations.
“Una tierra sin memoria no nos cobijara jamás; nuestra luz se irá apagando desamparada morirá.”
– Victor Heredia
2. Our Forgotten Past
Where are we going? What is the kind of system do we need in this current era? Can technology saved us? What can we do?
There are many questions and proposals around which direction we need to take to move forward. But absent from many of these conversations is the Memory and wisdom of the past. Again, the genesis of our problems does not exist solely in this past century, or in the last 500 years, but rather in the last 5,000 years. Yet we as a species have been in tribes for over 200,000 years since our genesis in Africa. So the question is not just – What happened in the last 5,000 years? but also What did we do in our first 195,000 years of human history? or in other words the last 97.5% of our history.
In our history, we have spent the majority of our existence living in tribes and in nomadic groups that pooled resources together to survive. Even some of the latest anthropological research proved that one our most beneficial survival traits has been our ability to share the responsibility of raising children with the whole tribe instead of just one or two parents. As author Sarah Blaffer Hrdy of the book Mothers and Others says;
“I had realized that there was simply no way an ape with the life history traits observed in humans could have evolved unless our ancestors had been cooperative breeders. By this I mean a species where alloparents, individuals other than the parents, had helped to care for and also provision the youngsters. That’s the best explanation for the life history traits that you have in humans, these very long periods of dependency that anthropologists studying hunter-gatherers have documented. In other apes, once youngsters are weaned they’re basically nutritionally independent. But in humans offspring are going to be between 18-20 years old before they are producing as many calories as they’re consuming. So the dependency is lasting a very long time”
In hostile environments and less than ideal situations people came together, cooperated in order to survive, and continued our legacy of life.
As tribes we collaborated, traded, and built cultures around our collective identities. We created federations and large and loose organizations of reciprocity across groups. Not every tribe became sedentary or strived to create their own empires.
Those arrangements created practices, rituals, wisdom that sustained life for thousands of years. Colonialism forcefully made many of us forget these customs and submitted us to become workers and now also consumers that embody capitalism.
At the Ayni Institute, we don’t romanticize these tribal groups as there still exists conflicts within them and between them. However, they never generated the kind of crises we are creating today. War, poverty, and the destruction of our ecosystems has reached unprecedented levels.
Alongside colonialism has been the project of individualism, which has made us believe that we do not need others (that we can be self-sufficient) and is breaking us apart while making us feel isolated, afraid, and unfulfilled. Many of us attempt to meet our needs within project of individualism through buying our happiness, consuming, and seeking fulfillment alone but we can also find what really fulfills us within our community and the people around us.
Our history if not a history of competition, rather a history of collaboration. We must develop alternatives that have memory, that seek to bring the evolutionary wisdom of the past in relationship to our current reality.
We must learn from the traditions that have kept thousands of years of interdependence alive.
Right now, there are thousands of indigenous tribes that are still living with the land in reciprocal exchange. Tribes that still observe the stars, that are still exchanging across communities, that practice rituals with the wisdom and history of thousands of years. Some tribes have three or four gender identities. Others have words like Minka, the Quechua word for collective work, or Ubuntu the Swahili word for coming together.
We must learn from them, not to replicate the past but translate their wisdom to our present context and engage in mass movements to create meaningful change. The work of restoring a worldwide interdependence cannot be done individually instead we have to work together to change the dominant system of nation-states and global capitalism.
3. Forces Against Change
We must be aware of the forces that break reciprocity. The world is a very different place from what it was just 200 years ago. Our technological developments and the tremendous growth of industrial capitalism has changed much of our human condition. We cannot return to the past but we can certainly learn from it. At the Ayni Institute we strive to use the past to contextualize the present and provide the lessons needed to create a new future.
In the Long View Training we explored to great detail how we as a species lose our Ayni (reciprocity) and the causes behind how reciprocity is broken.
The dissolution of reciprocity has many origins; our negation of Mother Earth, our negation of the feminine, and the negation of our interrelationship with other species. There’s also our history of warfare, conquest, and pursuit of accumulation. At the Ayni Institute we view accumulation as a direct consequence of broken reciprocal exchange.
Furthermore, our dissolution of these relationships and the beliefs that stems from this endeavour has created an ideology of individualism. The belief of self-sufficiency negates our relationship to others, our tribes and Mother Earth, and argues that we are made by ourselves.
The breaking of reciprocity has taken an extremely brutal effort of conquest and encompassing system of accumulation. Since Roman Imperialism, this practice of conquest, has been refined and used over and over again to break reciprocal relationships and impose the will of a few individuals on others for the purpose of accumulating resources.
Capitalism as it exists today is the result of a 5,000 year process of conquest, accumulation, and imperialism. Whether our labor is performed by machines, humans, or animals the story of conquest over others is long. Feudal, industrial, and now globalized capitalism in their different forms come from this process.
We belief that we must deeply understand the process of conquest and accumulation because any alternative that seeks to become dominant in the world has to know how to mediate the violence of conquest and the greed of accumulation.
4. Alternatives & Movements
In the midst of all the struggle and change, millions of people today are engaged in social movements, economic cooperatives, and alternative cultures. It is estimated by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA), that over 120 million people — two of every five people — are members of 48,000 U.S. cooperatives, and worldwide, some 750,000 cooperatives that serve 730 million members.
The force of change is out there and millions of people are engaging in social movements that are seeking major reforms to the state and to the market. Every year through social media and new modes of communication we are witnessing more and more active protest that is challenging the current crisis that capitalism is imposing on many communities.
Yet many people that are working in social movements are not connected to the world of alternatives. The problem with this disconnection comes from attempting to change the world without a proposal or vision of an alternative that can work as a solution. When we are fighting a cause without also working towards a solution, we never really minimize the power or the influence of the dominant system. Even when a movement wins the fight, without an alternative, we wouldn’t know where will be going next.
However, cooperatives and alternative communities that are not engaging in social movements have a similar issue. Insular alternative institutions that are challenging the status quo cannot make meaningful and systematic change if they are solely looking inward. Without popular support around alternative communities, the solution can become isolated and remain small.
But what if movements and institutions could come together? What if movements could become the political force and backers of thousands of alternative institutions? What if alternative institutions invested in movements so they could reach more people and begin to scale?
This is why we at the Ayni Institute argue that there can’t be a movement that creates meaningful impact on society without working hand in hand with strong alternative institutions that can win the heart, minds, and pockets of the population. We need breakthroughs as movements and organizations to realize the vision of a just and reciprocal world where people are actually taken care of and live a better life.
Currently, we are in the process of creating a new training called Social Movement Ecology that seeks to address some of the major conflicts around this collaboration. It is being developed from our study on how practitioners of both alternatives and movements have tackled these issues in the last 100 years.