The State Needs to be Re-Invented: A State with Wisdom at its Heart

SEPTEMBER 26, 2017

This week we share a blogpost by Art Earth Tech Institute member Sylvie Barbier titled ‘A State with Wisdom at its Heart’. In it she explores the following questions: “What would a political system look like that allowed our politicians to make wise decisions? What would its values and actions be? How would it work?”.

Photographs by Sarah Hickson

What would a political system look like that allowed our politicians to make wise decisions? What would its values and actions be? How would it work? Our citizens crave a leader, a leader who will drive them out of these crises, someone authentic who would stand for them. We long for heroes but what we truly need is to transform ourselves, for each citizen to be fully responsible, so that we may see the birth of a new state built around wisdom.

Introduction

For a state to be invented it needs to be imagined. At the same time, for our ideas to serve us well they need to be anchored in reality. Imagination is a tool, a technology to use wisely and to do we must ask the right questions; questions like:

  • Why are children coming out of school feeling like failures?
  • Why is the young generation often without hope?
  • Why are the elderly treated like a burden?
  • Why are there outrageous inequalities, and why do we accept them?
  • Why has religion become a source of fear?
  • Why is our science disconnected from our spirituality?

With all these whys, where do we go? We have everything to invent! We have an infinity of possibility. Our perceptions are our own limits. Human beings falsely perceive themselves and the world as fixed although history tells us otherwise: everything evolves, nothing remains the same. Our state is changing but rather than let that be driven by external forces, we can take responsibility and create transformation ourselves.

What are the questions that need to be asked, that have never been asked? Let us shift the major question from what we want our citizens to HAVE to the question of what we want them to FEEL or to BE? This is a way out of the dead-end that we have hit with materialism. With such a question the purpose as well as the shape of the state changes completely.

How do we want our citizen to feel? Powerful, happy, strong, beautiful, compassionate, self-confident and trusting.

Imagine a state whose goal would be to be an enabler rather than a provider? Imagine that we finally cut the umbilical cord from the father figure of the state to one of a joint collaboration and contribution? Imagine that each citizen felt connected to each other, powerful and in touch with their inner talent and focused with a deep sense of purpose.

Our state is to be reinvented for wisdom to arise. If politician fail to be wise today, it is because the system does not foster wisdom. We will firstly reflect on how would the design of a political system help politician to be wise. Secondly we look at what type of program a wise state would have.

Design of a Wise Political System

(The Politicians and the State)

Failures Opposition Dynamic

There is no good or bad politician there is just a failing System. We have a current system based on the dynamic of I am right and you are wrong. How can any wise decision rise from such an aggressive design?

The art of debate is a marvelous one but it becomes more of an argumentative gymnastic than the practice of how to reach a wise choice! Maybe it is time for the end of political parties, because having our identity defined by them is extremely limiting. Indeed we see more and more politicians declaring they are neither for the left of the right. Yet there is a danger that no position is taken and to end up in a floating “somewhere” of decision paralysis . When you are wise you stand FOR ALL, you stand both for the one who agrees with you and also for the one who does not — in fact, perhaps even more so for that one.

Parents cannot treat their children differently if they wish them to have a healthy loving relationship with each other. It goes the same for a state. A dynamic of opposition will only increase judgment, resentment, and separation. Imagine a dynamic where people felt themselves to be in a safe space, where they could discuss without feeling attacked or having to win or lose. This lies in the design in which the state is organized so it can allow us to feel that there is no differences between me and the other and the only way my humanity can exist is through the other. A system designed this way would be extremely powerful.

Political Presence

To be wise is to learn to be present, fully present. How can we help our politician to practice a deep listening so they can truly and fully present to their citizens?

One example is provided by the work of the performance artist Marina Abramovic. In her performance piece at MoMa the artist demonstrated how looking deeply into the eyes of another can unleash our compassion. This practice can truly help the citizen and politician to perceive each other in a loving way. It’s only by understanding each other and truly relating to one another in our humanity that we can create a strong foundation on which to define what it means to be a citizen. To be present in our listening is essential, and to support that we need to be present in our body. How can a politician have a true sense of what needs to be done if he doesn’t spend time in the reality in which the people live. Having experts who guide you in your decisions and having the experience of it to complement it.

Thus, for example, we could begin by giving politicians the physical and temporal space to practice meditation and mindfulness before they go to work. We can foster better forms of speaking and listening by having politicians develop the practice of looking deeply into each other eyes — and into the eyes of their constituents — in silence for 30 second before listening and speaking.

The Design of Political Space

The way our space is designed has a great effect on our interactions so why have we not considered more deeply the space our politicians inhabit and make their crucial decisions in. How can we create a space that fosters more understanding and compassion in our politicians and our political system?

First, consider what they see. If their sight is disconnected from the land which they serve how do we expect them to make wise choices? Thus, the space must allow a great view of the horizon and of the land which they serve. Second, the architecture of the place should invite people to meet and interact. The colors should allow them to feel at peace and be touched by the beauty of nature of which they are a part of.

Often, today, government buildings breathe force and authority but true power does not involve force. We want the buildings in which they work to allow them to sense their humanity rather than their authority. Spaces that encouraged reflection and meditation would allow them to retreat into a deep thinking when making choices which will impact millions of lives.

The design of a political state is also the design of the space in which these choices happen. Often these building are historical ones. Filled with the past, they are a great source of inspiration. Yet, at the same time, if we are truly looking to create change, then change and some “de-tachment” from the past it needed if we are no longer to put our past into our future. Detaching ourselves from the architecture that lead us to our present is one concrete and symbolic way to develop this. We need to imagine an architecture which permits our politicians to feel in touch with nature — and this cannot be achieved by staying inside a building. We need to imagine buildings which give them a great holistic view and a deep understanding of the courage to put their vision into action.

In summary, the human being is a physical entity and architecture and design of physical space can be a key part of supporting wisdom in politicians and in our politics.

Politics and Nature - A Loving Ecology

Today, ecology is presented as a threat not as an opportunity — as a heavy wooden stick with which we will be beaten either today or someday soon. What good can come from such a narrative and violence of force? And how can we expect citizens and politicians to take wise decisions and actions when they are completely disconnected from nature?

Indeed it is by expressing and showing the beauty, by treating nature as a treasure which we are lucky enough to witness, that we find healthier and more effective paths to ecological solutions. The ecological crisis today is often presented to us almost as God’s last judgement and punishment, but if we act from a place of fear rather than a place of love, how can we expect to find a sustainable way to act?

A wise approach to the ecological crisis, is to first see and appreciate our interdependence with all the form of life on earth and beyond. This leads us to think of ways we could design our state so it is deeply rooted in nature. For humans to be present to their interdependence with nature requires a physical experience, ecology needs to be lived through our senses as well as our minds because theory is not enough. Thus, we must seek ways to engrave on the hearts of our citizens and politicians the importance of the soil, the oceans, the forests and the air.

Smaller Numbers

The political heart should be small, a large group of people often creates paralysis. Because wisdom is first of all the art of taking actions which would lead the lives of their citizen into well ways. Wisdom is only truly understood if they can be expressed in the forms of acts. Many people have great insight and no capacity to transform their behavior. A smaller number would allow more effectiveness. Wisdom is to be practiced pragmatically.

Elections, Political Lifestyle and War

Elections should be every eight years and candidates should not be permitted to be re-elected.

For politicians to serve, they should give up all their belongings, both as a sign of their dedication and so that they relate to the life of the poor rather than the rich. This lifestyle would also encourage them to focus on serving their people and state. This system serves to limit corruption both in terms of money but also of ideology.

In addition, and complementarily, in order to foster a greater understanding of the devastating consequences of war, if a politician chooses to go to war they must send two thirds of their family members to fight in it, whether women or men. In addition they will be required to be physically present on the land in which the war happens so that they experience and see the consequences of their choices and are compelled to reflect upon them.

The Wisdom Program

(The Citizen and the State)

Swap, and Love, Our Differences

There is a fundamental truth about the 21st century which is it is no longer possible for people to close their eyes on the other. People from very different cultures live right next to each other. However, it is hard to have compassion for someone who is very different to you. How can we foster deep understanding and connection within our neighborhoods and our societies?

Swapping children for 2 days every two months from eight to eighteen. This would reinforce the understanding that if the other is not well, I can not be well, because the other will have an influence on my child and vice versa. For parents they will understand that the child does not only belong to them but to the entire community and country. Knowing that their child would spend time at another parent’s house could push them to interact and understand each other.

Additionally this will allow the children to understand that each family is unique, functions differently and has different strengths and weakness, as well as culture. This would also create less fractures in comprehension between social classes. By having the child spend a week-end every two months from the age of eight years old to eighteen would allow them to have a greater insight and understanding of the power of diversity.

Interaction with different communities should be supported so that it happens regularly. We need to learn about each other so that we are no longer afraid or judge each other’s differences. What is a source of conflict today can become, through sharing, a source of joy tomorrow. For multiculturalism to work we need to profoundly develop and re-inforce deep interactions between communities. There is nothing deeper than to share your children and let someone different play a role in their education and upbringing. We have to teach how to love: with understanding and acceptance, so we can truly see what links us in our humanity.

Parenting and Population

Why parenting? Because it’s our most profound contribution to society.

Parents would receive free parenting education as being a parent is the biggest contribution to society we make. Every family member would be taught about basic pedagogy, so that they can help grow themselves and their children into well and wise citizens who can contribute powerfully and positively to society

Parents choosing to be parents at home (woman or man) should be seen as doing important, valuable and (very) hard work. This should be recognized through being paid. To receive payment they must undergo regular training in pedagogy and lead parenting introductions in their communities.

With the increase of population on the planet, larger support would be given for smaller families and less support for larger families. Wisdom is also not to look for growth, not quantities but quality and sustainability.

Science, Philosophy and Art

Scientists and philosophers should be working more closely together as their discoveries shape how we relate to the world profoundly. Science opens the door to deeper understanding of the world and ourselves. However, science’s current methodology and the approach is overly biased towards a “Galilean” worldview and it should be balanced with more phenomenological and artistic-philosophical ones. Such a collaboration would truly enrich both philosophical thinking and the scientific approach. By re-injecting spirituality in the way we approach science we will create a more holistic view.

Art should be made open like science since it’s role is to touch and inspire as many people as possible. All digital art should be public and “open source” because no creation belongs to the creator. Artist should be supported like scientific researchers, so their creation are free from financial concerns, their work an expression of our humanity and without debasement by speculative motives.

Education

Inspired by education methods such as Steiner and Montessori, children should have plenty of time to play, to learn naturally how to live and how to find one another. The goal for the educator would not to be to teach them a “topic” but rather to develop in them a sense of purpose and joy.

What makes us human is also our philosophical reflection, thus practical philosophical discussion should have a large part in education so the natural wisdom of the child is nurtured from early age. If the mind is important the body also has a unique intelligence and needs to be equally trained, thus work with the hands on the land and on craft should be taught. This will give them a sense of gratitude for the material and good labor but mostly it will empower them by making them able to create with their own hands.

Health

What is the role of the doctor? The doctor is a healer. We shall redefine the role of the doctor to be a health coach. The doctor role is not to “fight” the disease but rather to create a healthy relationship between the patient and his body and where they no longer perceive their mind and body as separate.

Looking at how many pills we take reflects poorly on our current situation. Taking a pill is often a quick fix to a problem that has very deep roots. Health should be about learning to manage our life so we live well from the start. For our health to improve we must go back to a holistic vision: that we are directly connected to our environment and therefore also with what we eat and with each other. Physical and mental illness can be seen as an opportunity to transform the way the patient lives and how life occurs to him or her rather than something to be quickly eliminated once the disease is well advanced.

Wisdom is Possible

A wise state is possible. Wisdom is universal and this voice has not been heard for a long time. We can re-invent a state whose purpose is different from our current materialistic ways of relating to the world. We can give a new meaning to the role of the state.

One great question is: would a wise state be democratic? Can wisdom and democracy go together? I profoundly believe so but radical changes must be made. The way our political system is designed is no longer working. Politicians today are no longer leaders and rarely have a vision.

Politicians today must make their living through empty promises which they cannot keep. By not being their “word”, they make not only themselves powerless but empty the political space around, filling it with cynicism and disillusionment. A powerless politician is a powerless state. What design can we offer so our politicians are powerful again? There is something bold that needs to be done, there is something extraordinary that sleeps in us that can be awakened. Let not our past define us and our future. Let us be present to our responsibilities. We exist only because there is someone for whom we can make a difference. We need politicians only to be in a position of power if they show the capability to take wise actions and fulfil their commitment to serve the state and its citizens.

But maybe it is the idea of state which fails us in our pursuit of wisdom. Maybe the way to reinvent the state is by destroying the concept of state. The state does not belong to anybody and the citizen does not belong to the state, because loving is not to possess but to set free.

By Sylvie Barbier