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The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth…

The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community (2006)

by David C. Korten

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"This is a wise and much needed book that shows we can create cultures where our enormous human capacities for joy, caring, and cooperation are realized" (Riane Eisler). From the back cover. ( )
  strawberrycreekmtg | Jan 31, 2014 |
Any reader of The Great Turning must remember one key fact: You're not reading this book because Korten is a noteworthy psychologist or theologian or anthropologist. Korten has some keen insights and his experience with international NGOs and in academia ensure that the telling of his vision is effective, grounded in reality, and at times inspiring. He finds great metaphors to convey concepts that otherwise might hover just above true comprehension. Korten not only defines and describes a new economy, he does so in ways that help you see that you never really thought logically about our contemporary system—even if you considered yourself knowledgeable in economics before.

Korten is right in that instituting his community-focused system would change everything—but he’s also right that our current system is inherently based on change and therefore everything will change anyway, so why not work to ensure that future changes are improvements and not just helping consolidate the power of the already powerful. In short, Korten is at his best when he stays focused on undoing the conventional wisdom he characterizes as “[Trusting] in the magic of the unregulated market to convert your unrestrained greed and self-indulgence into a better life for all.”

He reaches too far in his vision. His vision replaces an unsustainable global economy driven by conglomerates with a global sense of spirituality which is basically Gnostic garbage, often citing Borg and Fox—nothing new here, what he promotes has been commonplace theology since the dawn of Empires. It’s ironic, since Korten seems to really understand the importance of love and community but doesn’t seem to understand that the spiritual worldview he’s embracing won’t support his vision of loving local economies any better than the greed-centered worldview of crony capitalism. He equates love with tolerance, elevates the feminine above the masculine, and believes that knowledge is power. The economy he envisions requires love that doesn’t tolerate abuse of power, puts men and women on equal footings, and understands that wisdom comes from outside yourself and is marked by humility.

He gets tripped up on this last point because of his reliance on conventional psychological models which are essentially repackaged Gnosticism that encourages intelligent people to believe that they are at the top of a five-step scale of human development. Instead of recognizing that people are a mix of good and bad, he prefers models which basically categorize people as either enlightened or unenlightened—inherently belittling the humanity of children and mentally disabled.

Fortunately, the system Korten promotes would better serve the people his theological and psychological models would exclude. If his economic ideas start taking hold, hopefully theologians whose theology is better equipped to bolster his communities will have more of an impact on his thinking. ( )
  ebnelson | Dec 30, 2011 |
I actually led a book discussion group on this book last year. The discussions were interesting but the book is, I think, inadequate. For anyone with vaguely leftist inclinations, It's sort of like going to see a romantic comedy starring (oh, say) Meg Ryan. You know what to expect, and you will probably enjoy it, but the plot is predictable and it is not going to really challenge you or add to your knowledge. He's pretty sharp about social inequality, but less so about the environment. But the whole contrast between "empire" and "earth community" is just too simplistic and overdone. Empire is evil, evil, evil, but suddenly, we're going to turn around and everything will be wonderful! Moreover, I cannot agree with his environmental ideas either. There is something unsettling about his first example of a "good" industry -- a cattle ranch where they treat the workers well. Cattle grazing is a leading cause of global warming, and according to November/December 2009 WorldWatch article by Goodland and Anhang, meat production actually contributes over half of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Korten says at one point that rulers learned to domesticate people after they domesticated animals. Do you think that these two forms of exploitation are related? In what way? So we're all in solidarity while we kill animals and destroy the climate. There does not seem to be any awareness, either, about peak oil, the financial crisis, and related issues. I've heard him speak: he eats meat, apparently, and he's overweight. Sigh. So, you might want to flip through the book to keep current with what people are saying, and Korten really is a good speaker, but his analysis lacks weight. ( )
  KeithAkers | Jun 5, 2010 |
I share Korten's concern with out-of-control corporations and inequitable societies. I really like his When Corporations Rule the World, and recommended it as an antidote to Thomas Friedman's fantasies. (I'm glad that I read that before I read this.) This book is very disappointing. Korten uses as a metaphor a Star Trek episode; an elite class lives in a city, Stratos, in orbit around the planet, exploiting the majority who live in horrific conditions on the surface of the planer.

Korten is fairly specific on what Empire is, but the not-Empire is rather a hash. There is no particular path to the post-Empire world, Korten is convinced that enough people are disgusted with it and are self-organizing alternatives. I'll accept that possibility, but I have problems with the way that Korten lumps so many things together in the happy assumption that they will all become a harmonious system, and his rosy view of nature.

Korten argues that the natural world is inherently cooperative. For example, there is a tree and a fungus that have a symbiotic relationship: among other things, the fungus kills insects that attach the tree. Korten manages to ignore the fact that the relationship between the tree & fungus on one hand, and the insect, on the other, is competitive. In the book Meerkat Manor, the author tells us that meerkats are an extremely cooperative species. And so they are, when the females aren't engaged in violent struggles for dominance with the group, or carrying out sometimes murderous attacks on other groups.

He also on one hand, admires the cosmopolitan life of his children, who jet around the world and grew up with little contact with blood relatives other than their parents. But he wants us to move to a society where we live and work locally, and among the same people, in order to have tight communities. He holds up traditional lifestyles as an alternative to the Empire, ignoring the fact that many traditional people live within empires. Are they nonmaterialistic, or too exploited and poor to own much? He also doesn't deal with unpleasant realities such as intertribal warfare and traditional customs like genital mutilation.

If you read science fiction, you have probably come across mention of a society like Korten wants. It is something like Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon, except that there are robots, computers, and other pieces of extremely high-technology hidden behind the rose arbors, in lieu of a lower class. The inhabitants lead a simple, fulfilling life freed from such inconveniences as famine and disease which stalk low-tech societies. I like the idea, but its simplicity is all on the surface. Maybe it can self-organize, like the Internet, but there is a long journey through unknown circumstances from here to there. Can we in fact maintain, let alone expand, technology while living a simpler lifestyle?

In the beginning, it appears that everything that is not part of the Empire is anti-Empire and good. But as he gets further into the book, he becomes considerably more specific. I am certainly not one of the dreaded Cloud-Dwellers, but Korten kicks me out of company of the virtuous with his attitudes regarding science (he supports Intelligent Design) and his spiritual requirements. He is by no means so narrow as most religions, but many people consider freedom of religion to include freedom from religion.

I hope that we are in fact turning away from Empire and toward a more sustainable, egalitarian lifestyle. This is more of a cheering section and wishlist than a plan or a trenchant observation. ( )
  juglicerr | Nov 5, 2008 |
too much political correctness and a shallow, naive way of thinking. Utopia's are great for dreaming and I can imagine this book sometimes stimulates thinking how life on earth should be. However, only a small percentage of the people have to be after their narrow self interest and you create a prisoners dilemma. This book seriously lacks in solutions how we should deal with serious problems we are facing, taking our history as people into mind. Also the book is very selective in quoting history, namely only the facts that suit him and omits many others. ( )
  mkriens | Oct 26, 2008 |
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Dedicated to: My paternal grandmother, Lydia Boehl Korten, who taught me that every person has a sacred purpose. / My parents, Ted Korten and Margaret Korten, who made it possible to honor the call. / My brother, Robert Korten, who assumed the family responsibilities I abandoned. / Thomas Berry, Riane Eisler, and Joanna Macy, on whose inspiration, analysis, and language I have drawn freely in framing the human choice at hand. / Timothy Iistowanohpataakiiwa, who initiated me into elderhood on my sixty-fifth birthday and helped me see with greater clarity the path of my elder years. / And George W. Bush, whose administration exposed to full view the imperial shadow side of U.S. democracy, stripped away the last illusions of my childhood innocence, and compelled me to write this book.
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David Korten?s classic bestseller When Corporations Rule the World was one of the first books to articulate the destructive and oppressive nature of the global corporate economy. In The Great Turning he argues that corporate consolidation of power is merely one manifestation of what he calls ?Empire?: the organization of society through hierarchy and violence that has largely held sway for the past 5,000 years. The Great Turning traces the evolution of Empire from ancient times to the present day but also tells the parallel story of the attempt to develop a democratic alternative to Empire, beginning in Athens and continuing with the founding of the United States of America?although elitists with an imperial agenda have consistently sought to undermine the bold and inspiring ?American experiment.? Finally, Korten draws on evidence from sources as varied as evolutionary theory, developmental psychology, and religious teachings to make the case that ?Earth Community??a life-centered, egalitarian, sustainable alternative to Empire based on democratic principles of partnership?is indeed possible. And he outlines a grassroots strategy for beginning the momentous turning toward a future of as-yet-unrealized human potential.… (more)

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