The Vision Thing

Imagining the world we really want

by Terry Ross (Cleveland Move to Amend member)
Medium, Oct 25, 2020

We have a problem. We don’t know what we want. We complain to anyone about how things are going wrong, but we can’t seem to share a vision of what it is we really want. We haven’t learned to envision the world that could be. On the contrary, we are taught to believe and obey. We learn to be realists, not dreamers. Our imaginations are limited by old political and economic systems inherited from centuries past.

The illusion of progress

We like to think of ourselves always at the pinnacle of progress. With advances in science and technology, life must surely be improving. This is the story we tell ourselves. But throughout history there have been periods of brilliant invention and creativity, followed by centuries of darkness and suffering. Works of sublime beauty have been created and destroyed, over and over. Eras of peace and wisdom have alternated with episodes of unfathomable cruelty and human suffering.

Historian Yuval Noah Harari studies the past and assures us that “you wouldn’t want to live there.” But most people don’t want to live in the present either, not the way it’s going. We look around and see worsening crises — species extinctions, pandemics, climate calamities, addiction and rage. Too many of us feel a growing sense of economic irrelevance and social breakdown. Still, some like Steven Pinker try to convince us that things are much better than they used to be. This is obviously true for some measures, but not for others. Many other important aspects of life are not measured at all.

All this points to a fundamental flaw in our thinking — comparing the way things are now with the way things used to be. It’s a pointless comparison that either romanticizes the good old days or seeks to justify the present. It’s a framing that leaves us passive observers — the past is said-and-done, and the present is mostly what we’ve inherited. The comparison we should be making is between the way things are with the way things could be. This is the framing that empowers us.

Ah, but there’s the problem. We haven’t imagined how things could be wonderfully better — our ideal world. Or if we have, we’re afraid to talk about it, lest we be mocked as pie-in-the-sky utopians. Imagining utopia is not something we feel safe to do. We need to become citizen philosophers, and the sooner we start, the better.

How to have a vision

The visioning process starts with the end. Forget about what is possible or practical. Forget about tearing anything down, or canceling anything. Forget about convincing anybody. Forget left versus right; socialism versus capitalism. Most importantly, forget what you think about human nature — whether we’re selfish or sharing. These are bullshit choices that block you from seeing what you really want. These are the ideas that result in our current world.

Your vision is not a plan. It’s not a map. It’s a compass!

Try to imagine your ideal world. For example: what do you want — access to healthcare, or to be truly healthy? I don’t mean not sick. I mean vibrant good health, the best health you can imagine. Strong and relaxed. You feel great. You sleep like a baby for eight hours and wake up restored, alert and brimming with energy and enthusiasm for the day ahead. This is what I mean by “what you really want.”

Here’s another example. Do you want a lower unemployment rate, or even just a good job? Or would you like to do really meaningful work, that actually produces real value for people? Work that is respected, where you actually fulfill your potential, and profit from the fruits of your labor.

Sharing your vision

Sharing your vision with others is an act of courage. It makes your dream solid and real. This creates tension between your experience of the world, and the world as it could be. Surprisingly, this tension can be exhilarating. Instead of drifting about, you find yourself magnetized toward a new enlightenment, at once energized and at peace.

So much openness makes you vulnerable. You’ll be attacked, but you won’t be alone. When they hear your dream, others will find the confidence to share thoughts they’ve held inside for too long. A shared vision will come from us listening to each other, and allowing ourselves to be inspired by new possibilities. Together we can wake up to our power and our right to live in the word that could be.

And then what?

What do we do after we have a shared vision? How are we actually supposed make it a reality? I don’t know. But without the vision, the question of how to get there is actually absurd. First we need to know what we want. Every day we make choices that affect our future. But at the same time, powerful elites in government, business, and academia are making choices that produce the results we see around us, both good and bad.

Over time we’ve become resigned to terrible outcomes. We’ve learned to be helpless, even in the face of threats to our very survival. We need to wake up to our collective power to choose the world we want. We will need a massive grass roots movement. We need to learn and think differently, to come together and be politically active. There’s so much to gain — and so much to loose.

Aligning with a shared vision — not of a better world, but of a wonderful world — will point us in the right direction. Realizing our vision will have costs, even unintended results. We may make mistakes. It’ll be a never-ending process of trial and error, and re-evaluation. But without a shared vision we’re all wandering in the dark, working against each other. Without it, there’s no legitimate authority, no legitimate policy, and no legitimate government.

Inspiration for this post

Dana Meadows’ Down to Earth
Marjorie Kelly’s The Divine Right of Capital

I support democracy. We need to amend the U.S. constitution to make clear that corporation are not persons with inalienable rights, and that money is not speech. None of the changes we all want are possible without this amendment. Learn more at Move to Amend.