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Regeneration is the process that delivers sustainable living systems as the outcome of that process. Therefore, intelligent system design (and appropriate humility) would suggest using the same universal patterns and principles the cosmos uses to build stable, healthy, and sustainable systems throughout the real world as the model for our human economy.
This idea is grounded on three premises:
We have distilled our research into a pattern of key interconnected principles that underlie systemic health and collectively represent the eight principles or qualities of regenerative vitality that can be used as the theoretical foundation of Regenerative Economics. We are not suggesting that the complexity of living systems can be reduced to eight (or any other number of) principles, nor that these eight define some universal Truth. But collectively, and seen as a single unified whole and not a checklist of pieces, this unity does point in the direction of how we now understand life to work, life creating the conditions for ever more life in an upward spiral of complexification. Therefore, these eight principles, taken as a whole, can serve in a very practical way as the vital compass for our journey to the emergence of regenerative economies adapted to each unique context.
Humanity is an integral part of an interconnected web of life in which there is no real separation between “us” and “it.” The scale of the human economy matters in relation to the biosphere in which it is embedded. What is more, we are all connected to one another and to all locales of our global civilization, as both our lived experience and quantum physics tell us. Damage to any part of that web ripples back to harm every other part as well. So the principles of reciprocity and mutualism found in both biology and indigenous wisdom, and even the Golden Rule common across all the World’s religions, are foundational to a regenerative economy.
True wealth is not merely money in the bank. It must be defined and managed systemically in terms of the well-being of the whole. This can only be achieved through the harmonization of multiple kinds of wealth or “capital” — to use economic language — beyond the conventional financial, material and technological capital to include social/relational capital, cultural, experiential and yes spiritual capital, however one defines it. But all of these forms of capital rest on the foundation of natural capital and in particular healthy ecosystem function, upon which all life — inclusive of our human economies — depend. Critically, the whole is only as strong as the weakest link.
In a world in which change is both ever-present and accelerating, the qualities of innovation and adaptability are critical to health. It is this idea that Charles Darwin intended to convey in this often-misconstrued statement attributed to him: “In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals.” What Darwin actually meant is that: the most “fit” is the one that fits best i.e., the one that is most adaptable to a changing environment. Therefore, the entrepreneurial dynamism associated with a free enterprise system and the free flow of capital is essential. Yet both must somehow be channeled in a way that is responsive to the changing dynamics and essential needs of systemic health rather than short term individual desires of wants and greed.
In an interdependent system, fitness comes from contributing in some way to the health of the whole. The quality of empowered participation means that all parts must be “in relationship” with the larger whole in ways that not only empower them to negotiate for their own needs but also enable them to add their unique contribution towards the health and well-being of the larger wholes in which they are embedded. Thus while “inclusiveness” may be morally desirable, empowered participation is a non-negotiable quality of systemic health for the entire system.
Each human community consists of a mosaic of peoples, traditions, beliefs, and institutions uniquely shaped by long-term pressures of geography, human history, culture, local environment, and changing human needs. Honoring this fact, a Regenerative Economy nurtures healthy and resilient communities and regions, each one uniquely informed by the essence of its individual history and place. While the pattern of eight universal principles apply to all places, each place must define how the pattern applies based on their own unique contexts. Just as every snowflake looks like a snowflake, every snowflake is also unique.
Creativity and abundance flourish synergistically at the “edges” of systems, where the bonds holding the dominant pattern in place are weakest. For example, there is an abundance of interdependent life in salt marshes where a river meets the ocean. At those edges the opportunities for innovation and cross-fertilization are the greatest. Working collaboratively across edges – with ongoing learning and development sourced from the diversity that exists there – is transformative for both the communities where the exchanges are happening, and for the individuals involved. Specialized silos of expertise, while necessary in our complex world, also create barriers to new ways of manifesting regenerative potential.
A living economy demands a healthy metabolism to flush toxins and nourish every cell at every level of our human networks. Just as human health depends on the robust circulation of oxygen, nutrients, etc., so too does economic health depend on robust circulatory flows of energy and materials in a “circular fashion” where waste is food as in all biological systems. But it also demands robust circulation of money out to all extremities of the system, the robust circulation of accurate information enabled by the internet (but severely damaged in our post truth society), and even the circulation of empathy to help raise consciousness, support trust and healthy dialogue. It should go without saying that a healthy economic metabolism also demands healthy, toxin free material and financial inputs, while disposing of wastes in a way and on a scale that does not undermine the health of the whole.
Being in dynamic balance is essential to systemic health. Like a unicycle rider, regenerative systems are always engaged in this delicate dance in search of balance. Achieving harmony requires balancing paradoxes with both/and thinking rather than either/or thinking. Healthy systems harmonize multiple variables in a unified whole instead of optimizing single ones at the expense of others. For example, a Regenerative Economy seeks to balance masculine and feminine energy and qualities such as analytical thinking with intuitive ways of knowing, and competition with collaboration. It also balances efficiency and resilience; diversity and coherence; and supports fractal structures that balance small, medium, and large organizations in healthy hierarchy, all in service to the health of the whole.
Regenerative systems in the real world — that is to say the miracle of life itself — hold for us the promise and concrete reality of infinite regenerative potential. Just as fractal patterns that repeat from the microscopic to the cosmic define the living and non-living world, so too can we dare to believe that the universal patterns and principles of regenerative vitality can apply from the economy of the individual home to the local and bioregional, and all the way to the global economy. And critically, the regenerative process unlocks previously unseen potential with no limit, all the way to infinity, just as we can dare to believe that consciousness has no limit. It is this regenerative potential that holds the promise of exponential and unending prosperity for humankind and the living world in which we are embedded just as life expands in the face of entropy. Such is the promise of simply participating in — and contributing to as only humans uniquely can — the journey of evolution itself. But, and this is an important but, such promise is open to us if and only if we shed our arrogant ignorance and learn to live synergistically with these patterns and principles that describe living systems and just so happen to be aligned with the wisdom traditions that have stood the test of time. Let us choose life as the basis of our economic system design.
This course is centered on how the eight principles of a regenerative vitality can be used to build a vibrant and self-sustaining economy that is in service to all life.