Signs of the Times
You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. — Matt. 16:3
The intent of An Other Kingdom is to interpret certain signs of the times. These signs have to do with the need to depart the consumer market culture we have come to take for granted. This culture, with its constellations of empire and kingdom, produces endless conversations about climate warming, restoring the middle class in the northern economies, worldwide immigration driven by poverty, and political instability. We talk about financial bubbles, accessible health care, economic growth and contraction. We all want more companies to come to town, more factory jobs, more graduates in education, less crime and violence, everywhere. We seek more consumption and faster growth.
The premise of this book is that these conversations, generationally passed on as seemingly based on knowledge, science, and the assumption of progress, miss the signs of the times. All of these conversations are painfully predictable and at times despairing. They are symptoms of something more fundamental. Our belief is that the current programs, investments, or changes in political leadership will make modest improvements but little real difference. If we want to follow the signs of the times, we have to look at how our core economic beliefs have produced a culture that makes poverty, violence, ill health, and fragile economic systems seem inevitable.
Economic systems based on competition, scarcity, and acquisitiveness have become the kingdom within which we dwell.
Economic systems based on competition, scarcity, and acquisitiveness have become more than a question of economics; they have become the kingdom within which we dwell. That way of thinking invades our social order, our ways of being together, and what we value. It replicates the kingdom of ancient Egypt, Pharaoh’s kingdom. It produces a consumer culture that centralizes wealth and power and leaves the rest wanting what the beneficiaries of the system have.
We invite you to a journey of departure from this consumer culture. We ask you to imagine an alternative set of economic beliefs that have the capacity to evoke a culture where poverty, violence, and shrinking well-being are not inevitable — a culture in which the social order produces enough for all. This, like reading fiction, requires a suspension of belief. Except in this case, what we take as true and inevitable is the fiction. This departure into another kingdom might be closer to the reality of our nature and what works best for our humanity. This other kingdom better speaks to the growing longing for an alternative culture, an alternative way of being together.
Imagine an alternative set of economic beliefs that have the capacity to evoke a culture where poverty, violence, and shrinking well-being are not inevitable — a culture in which the social order produces enough for all.
We use the word kingdom in the title to remember the ancient stream we are drinking from. Kingdom, in its ambiguity, also speaks to both the sacred and the secular: sacred as in the Kingdom of God; secular as in the Chinese Middle Kingdom and the prevalence of kingdoms before the nation state was imagined and constructed in the nineteenth century. We use the word departing to remember and re-perform the Israelites’ Exodus into the wilderness away from Egypt, for the journey into a social order not based on consumption seems equally imposing.
Luckily, the exodus from a consumer, globalized culture into a neighborly, localized communal and cooperative culture has begun. We join the chorus of other agents of the alternative economy: food hubs, cooperative and social enterprises, the climate change activists, health activists, plus beacons of light like Yes magazine, the Democracy Collaborative, the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, Mondragon, and the Happiness streams emanating from the Dali Lama, Bhutan, economists like Mark Anielski, and architects like Christopher Alexander and Ross Chapin.
Our intent is to give name and visibility to these signs of the times, to add a small thread in solidarity with the un-credentialed voices and uncollateralized entrepreneurs who are rewriting our economic and communal narrative.
Excerpt adapted by permission from “Signs of the Times,” in An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture, by Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann and John McKnight (Wiley, 2016), pp xviii-xv. Copyright © 2016 by Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann and John McKnight. All rights reserved. Home page image: Louise Le Gresley