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As an evolution biologist, it is obvious to me that we humans are part of Nature
and that Nature has been doing business for billions of years, if we take a broad
definition of business to be the economy of making a living, of transforming
resources into useful products that are exchanged, distributed, consumed, and/or
recycled. So, to talk about the biology of human businesses, I could simply point
out that all our businesses are systems made up of people, who are living beings,
and that therefore businesses are living systems or biological entities. However, to
say something more useful I need to go back through history to show why most
human businesses, despite being made up of people, do not function like living
systems, at least not like healthy living systems. Those few that do are swimming
upstream against the norm, usually with great difficulty, and that just should not
be, need not be, and must not continue to be.
The Biology of Business
Crisis as a Gifting Opportunity
Our businesses, unlike those of other species, are organized and run in a socio-
political cultural context, and that context has a history. Historical context has a
great deal to do with what we believe about ourselves and our world, and when
I sort through that socio-political history looking for the most salient influences
on contemporary business from my own perspective, I am naturally drawn to
the history of science.
Four very important publications by two great nineteenth-century scientists
have so strongly shaped our beliefs about our world that they affect everything
about human culture including our definition of human nature and the way we
do business. They are: Rudolph Clausius’ On the Motive Power of Heat, and on
the Laws Which Can Be deduced from it for the Theory of Heat (1850); Charles
Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859); Clausius’ (1865) paper on Thermody-
namics reformulating the fundamental laws of the Universe as energy constancy
and entropy; and Darwin’s The descent of Man (1871).
I will argue that Clausius’ model of a universe running down by entropy and
the Darwinian model of biological evolution as an endless competitive struggle
for scarce resources both give us half-truths about Nature that seemed appropriate
in their historical context, but are now seen to be fundamentally flawed, thereby
seriously misleading us and holding up our own natural evolution. The full
truth—including the other half of a more holistic view in physics and biology
respectively—reveals that Nature is on our side in role-modeling the evolutionary
leap that would rapidly bring about an energy efficient and globally beneficial
human economy that functions like a truly healthy living system.
The bottom line of human experience is that it all takes place within our con-
sciousness and that our minds form the beliefs on which we act by collectively
creating a uniquely human world. Change those beliefs and that world changes
How could science have failed to rectify hugely important flaws in nineteenth
century science even in the twenty-first century? I believe the answers lie in the
fact that science, for all its protestations about being value-free, has never been
an independent cultural endeavour free to pursue unbiased inquiry into Nature.
Science was raised to the status of a secular priesthood—in the sense of being
given the mandate and power to tell us how things are in our universe and who
we are within it—by an even more powerful political economy, in turn for the
great power of science in its engineering applications that keep that political
economy in power.
Our world is now in sufficient crisis that transparency in all our endeavours
is critical to our survival. Light shed on the relationship between science and
political economy can, I believe, show us the way to true freedom and a healthy
economy for all the world’s people. It is Business that will lead the way, provid-
ing it, too, adopts transparency and belief in the mission of creating value for all
stakeholders from people to planet.
Science and Political Economy: in which God Gives Way to Man
Only a few centuries ago in Europe, a new alliance of industrial entrepreneurs and
scientists forged the industrial revolution, bringing the modern age successfully into
being and replacing the prior cultural hegemony of the alliance between Church
and State. Let me address a few details of this process, while noting here the cur-
rent attempt to reinstate the Church/State alliance in the U.S. at present.
Over the past few centuries, science became far more than a vast research
enterprise that gave us an advanced technological society with more commercial
products than any previous culture could possibly have imagined, along with
“progress” at a breakneck pace that leaves us breathless and wondering if we
can even hope to catch up with our own children and grandchildren. Science,
in addition to spawning that technological society, also became the cultural
priesthood appointed to give us our cultural worldview: our beliefs about How
Things Are in this great universe of ours, and on our planet Earth in particu-
lar. This is a relatively new and very important historical phenomenon in the
history of civilization, as the priesthoods of most previous civilizations (large
organized sociopolitical entities with urban centers), with notable exceptions
such as China, were religious, getting their worldviews more from revelation
than from research.
The scientific worldview founded by Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Bacon, and
others was of a non-living, non-intelligent mechanical universe—a clockworks
projected from human mechanical inventions to God’s as the “Grand Engineer’s”
Design of Nature in which humans were just complex robots, the males alone
imbued with a piece of God-mind, according to Descartes, so that they, too,
could invent machinery. As models of celestial mechanics, the Newtonian
motion of stars and planets, became more elaborate, social institutions as well
were increasingly seen and modeled on mechanism, and expected to run like
the well-oiled machines of factories. Time/motion efficiency studies of work-
ers turned people themselves into machines as Charlie Chaplin movies so well
caricatured. Most of today’s businesses are still conceived, organized, and run as
As men of science had come to feel increasingly competent and knowledgeable
about the physical world, and in consequence felt themselves to be in control of
human destiny, they had formally abandoned the “hypothesis” of God, thereby
removing any notion of Nature, including humans, as existing through sacred
creation. Rather, Nature was redefined as a wealth of natural resources to be
exploited by Man, the pinnacle of accidental, natural evolution.
One of the most pervasive and persistent cultural beliefs we have been given by
science is the concept of this godless universe as non-living, accidental, purpose-
less, and running down by entropy, with life defined as a transient “negentropy”
opposing this force of decay, yet never overcoming or even balancing its inevitable
slide into heat death. To me, this is like describing the life of any one of us as
a one-way process of decay toward death, with a negdecay process of birth and
growth opposing it, though overall unsuccessfully.
This dreary view of life made me wonder deeply about the very concept of
non-life, realizing in the process that it was invented by western science. All cul-
tures have understood life and death, but non-life is something that never was
or will be alive—a concept that came into human culture with the invention of
mechanism in ancient Greece and resurfaced some dozen centuries later in a new
era of mechanics. Was it really appropriate, I asked myself, for science to force life
to be defined within a context of non-life? Could one really explain the existence
of living things as accidentally derived from non-living matter? Could one derive
intelligence from non-intelligence, consciousness from non-consciousness as I was
consistently taught in the graduate science departments of several universities and
It was German theoretical physicist Rudolph Clausius, who first formulated the
two basic laws of Nature in 1865—exactly halfway between Darwin’s publication
of The Origin of Species in 1859 and The descent of Man in 1871—as:
The energy of the universe is constant.
The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.1
Clausius’ work on the thermodynamics of entropy, openly acknowledged by
Maxwell in England, was based on Sadi Carnot’s experimental work with energy
transfer in the closed mechanical systems of steam engines and applied (by Clausius)
to the universe as a whole with no evidence that the universe was a closed system
in which such extrapolation might be valid. Yet these two “inviolable laws,” along
with the more basic conceptualization of the universe as purposeless non-life, have
persisted since as absolute dogma in physics and all other areas of science.
But this model is a less satisfying conceptualization from scientific observa-
tion than the ancient Taoist, Vedic, and Kotodama model of a universe built on
fundamental dualities within the Oneness of Cosmic Consciousness. Dualities
are essential to the process of creation and the primary duality is often described
as outward/inward, centripetal/centrifugal, expansion/contraction, translating
in contemporary western science to radiation/gravity as the most fundamental
forces or features of Nature.
Elsewhere (Sahtouris 2001), I have cited Walter Russell (1994 ), as well
as Nassim Haramein and Elizabeth Rauscher (2004), for their models of a uni-
verse in which entropic radiation and centropic gravity are in a perfect dynamic
balance of expansion and contraction that constitutes a unified field. Haramein
and Rauscher’s theory is so conceptually and mathematically elegant that universal
forces are reduced from four to two and the need to postulate hypothetical dark
matter and energy in the universe is eliminated. In short, the work has been done
to show that a universe of unified opposites satisfies our observations better than
a one-way entropic universe, and shows that the universe is not running down
The still “official” entropic universe, conceptualized after Einstein as begin-
ning with a Big Bang and deteriorating ever since, is in sharp contrast to previous
worldviews of Nature as alive and vibrant with intelligent creation and purposive
direction—a view closer to my own model of a self-organizing, living universe in
which planetary life is a special case of extra complexity, now actually measurable
as being halfway between the microcosm and the macrocosm, where “upwardly”
and “downwardly” spiraling energies collide on physical surfaces where such life
can evolve (Sahtouris 2003).
Historically, the social consequences of the proclamation of an entropic uni-
verse by the scientific establishment were enormous, giving rise, for example, to
belief in the Malthusian struggle for existence in a world soon to end (see below),
interpretations of Darwinian evolution theory as a “dog eat dog” world, and a
philosophy of existentialism extending this view of the purposeless and hopeless
human struggle into psychology, art, and western culture at large. Such beliefs
fostered the growth of our current consumer society with its “get what you can
while you can” outlook in which advancing in the “job market” to increase power
to consume became the driving force of modern and post-modern western civi-
lization. Humanitarian social values and morals were left to religions with lesser
persuasive clout than science, which came to openly pride itself on being value-free,
and therefore even more scientific (read: unassailable in its conclusions about How
Things Are.) Small wonder that businesses carried out the competitive struggle
justified as “social Darwinism” and deemed inescapable.
Darwin, Global Conquest and Evolution
Darwin himself had concluded with great elaboration in his magnificent opus on
The descent of Man (1871), that humans must exercise their evolved capacity for
moral behaviour, as David Loye has so beautifully pointed out in his book The
Great Adventure (2004), but this aspect of Darwin’s work was not promoted by the
science that took up his theory of evolution, focusing rather on his explanation of
struggle in scarcity as the driver of evolution, which is best understood as rooted
more in Darwin’s historical context than in Nature itself. Had Darwin been able
to see beyond that context, he might have noticed that highly evolved natural
systems evolved long before humans display cooperation, mutual support, altruism
and other features we define as ethical, but that is getting ahead of my story.
Columbus’ voyages in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries had inspired
commerce between Europe and the New World, including such feats as Pizarro’s
plunder of 24 tons of treasure collected for the Andean Inca Atahualpa’s ransom
before his murder—exquisite art works of master craftsmen that were melted
into gold bricks for transport to Europe—and trade in African slaves that were
used to build colonial infrastructure, care for the colonists, etc. The American
colonies were, in fact, settled by a corporation—the Massachusetts Bay Company,
chartered by King Charles in 1628 for the purpose of colonizing the New World
and its commercial ventures (Debold 2005).
Magellan’s global voyage in the sixteenth century had established that all the
world’s territories were finite and could be owned, and the East India Company
was founded in 1600, Queen Elizabeth granting it monopoly rights to bring
goods from India to challenge the Dutch-Portuguese monopoly of the spice trade.
Eventually the East India Companies of eight European nations functioned as
the world’s first great multi-national corporation or multi-national cartel of cor-
porations. Though it incited American colonists to riot in the Boston Tea Party
rebellion of 1774, Betsy Ross was commissioned in 1776 to sew the circle of stars
representing the first thirteen states of the new union over the British emblem in
the top corner of an East India Company flag to create the first U.S. flag. To this
day we retain its thirteen red and white stripes with a blue corner field.
In Darwin’s day, Thomas Malthus had been commissioned to inventory the
Earth’s natural resources as head of the Economics Department vof the East India
Company’s Haileybury College. Malthus concluded from his work that the world
would end soon because human populations would overwhelm food production,
causing an inevitable dying off of humans. This prediction justified the East India
Company’s “us or them” policy of assaying and acquiring all the Earth resources
possible for Europeans so that they, at least, could survive.
Darwin, after doing his own Earth inventory work as a young shipboard sci-
entist, could find no better way to explain the driver of evolution for his theory
than simply to adopt his family friend Malthus’ theory of human competition in
scarcity and apply it to all of nature. This came to give scientific validity to our
socioeconomic vision of scarcity and fierce competition for resources, of human-
ity doomed permanently to win/lose economics and warfare. As Darwin put it
in The Origin of Species (1859):
...Nothing is easier than to admit the truth of the universal struggle for
life, or more difficult ... than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind.
Yet unless it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, I am convinced that the
whole economy of nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance,
extinction, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood.... As
more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every
case be a struggle for existence.... It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with
manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms; for in this case
there can be no artificial increase of food, and no prudential restraint from
Thus, Darwinian theory as Darwin himself established it, not just through later
misuse as “social Darwinism,” was very essentially rooted in political economy,
which was itself rooted in a scientific worldview of a godless, mindless, coldly
mechanical universe ever running down.
From Competition to Cooperation
My own work as an evolution biologist shows a very different picture of How
Things Are in Nature and in our human world. Once I adopted Francisco Varela,
Humberto Maturana and R. Uribe’s (1974) definition of life as autopoiesis—that a
living entity is one continually creating itself in relation to its environment—and
Vladimir Vernadsky’s (1986 ) definition of life as a disperse of rock (which
I paraphrased as “life is rock rearranging itself”), I quickly recognized that the
Earth itself qualifies as a living entity. Its crust continually creates itself from
erupting deep magma and recycles itself back into that magma at the edges of
tectonic plates; its pervasive biological creatures are continually formed from and
recycled into that same crust—all this in relation to Earth’s Sun star, moon, other
planets and greater galaxy.
Further, oceans, atmosphere, climate, and weather are all global systems, while
biological creatures from bacteria to mammoths and redwoods are created from
the same DNA, the same minerals and largely from the same proteins. Therefore,
evolution is better understood as the biogeological process of Earth as a whole
and the changing species patterns, both physiologically and behaviourally, over
time within that larger context.
This leads me to include in my view of evolution the observations that the
process of biological evolution goes well when individual, species, ecosystemic,
and planetary interests are met simultaneously and reasonably harmoniously at
every such level of organization, and that human behaviour is as much a part of
biological evolution as is the behaviour of other species.
Nested levels of biological organization were called holons in holarchy by Arthur
Koestler (1978), and are a useful contrast to the hierarchies humans have tended
to model in machinery and build into socio-cultural organizations. In a healthy
holarchy, no level is more important or powerful than any other; rather, all are
vitally important, so none can dictate its interests at the expense of interests at
other levels. All levels must continually negotiate their interests with other levels.
In our bodies, for example, cells must negotiate their interests with their organs,
organ systems, and the body as a whole, just as families (the next level of holarchy
beyond individuals) must negotiate family interests with family members. A clear
violation of healthy holarchy occurs when cancerous cells cease to negotiate and
consider only their interests in proliferation at the expense of the body as a whole.
This is, of course, a self-defeating strategy on their part.
The process of evolution is universally recognized as leading from the simple
to the complex. Early Earth was a homogenized mass of mineral elements and
evolved to the extremely complex planet of which we are part. Its first organisms
were invisibly tiny archebacteria, while we ourselves are vastly more complex multi-
celled creatures. Multi-celled creatures are relatively huge cooperative enterprises
that could never have evolved if individual cells had been doomed to a struggle
in scarcity, so they cannot really come about at all by the Darwinian hypothesis.
Even the single nucleated cell—the only kind of cell other than bacteria—is now
known to be a cooperative enterprise evolved by once hostile bacteria.
Note that I said, “once hostile.” Indeed it seems that the first half of Earth’s life in
which bacteria had the planet to themselves, was for much of its existence indeed
a Darwinian world of stiff competition, great crises caused by the archebacteria
themselves and wonderful technologies they invented in the course of it, not at all
unlike the human world’s current situation. In fact, the archebacteria harnessed
solar energy, invented electric motors (now coveted by nanotechnologists), and
nuclear piles. They even invented the first World Wide Web in devising their very
productive and universal information exchange in the form of DNA trade, as I
have described in great detail in my book Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution
(2000). Eventually, however, as we know through the work of microbiologist Lynn
Margulis (1993), they created the collaborative nucleated cell, turning these very
technologies to good use in cooperative ways and streamlining themselves, as well
as committing to community, by donating some of their DNA to the collective
gene pool we call the nucleus.
What (r)evolutionary learning process made this shift from competition to co-
operation possible? The key to answering this question and developing a complete
model of biological evolution is suggested by the standard classification of natural
ecosystems into successive Type I, II, and IIIs. A typical description of succes-
sion—defined as the replacement of species with other species—is as follows:
Ecosystems tend to change with time until a stable system is formed ... pio-
neer organisms modify their environment, ultimately creating conditions...
under which more advanced organisms can live. Over time, the succession
occurs in a series of stages which leads to a stable final community called a
climax community. This community may reach a point of stability that can
last for hundreds or thousands of years.2
Type I ecosystems are populated by aggressive species establishing their niches
through intense, sometimes hostile, competition for resources and rapid population
growth, while the species in Type III ecosystems tend toward complex cooperative
or collaborative systems in which species feed or otherwise support each other to
mutual benefit. Type IIs generally lump together various “transitional” ecosystems.
It seems reasonable to ask where the “more advanced” species that can “build
stable final community” come from? How did they evolve? Logically, there must
have been a time when only pioneer species existed, yet somehow evolution led
to the existence of mature, cooperative species. It would seem there had to be
some kind of evolutionary learning process in which species discovered through
their experience that cooperation pays!
Why not recognize the evidence for this ancient learning process revealed in the
different types of ecosystems? We are certainly familiar with learning and matura-
tion processes human life, especially the transition from immature adolescence,
so often feisty in its competitive stance, and socially cooperative maturity in
adults, who at their best become wise elders role-modeling the finest in human
behaviour. The ancient adage “as above, so below” has proven itself again and
again in seeing the similarity of patterns at different levels of Nature from simple
to complex, from microcosm to macrocosm. It is in the similarity of its patterns
that we see the true elegance of Nature.
We know the stages of evolution in the archebacteria, from intense competition
to their huge leaps in cooperation forming nucleated cells. We also know these
cells’ collaborative process in evolving multi-celled creatures, all the way to our
own highly-evolved bodies containing up to a hundred trillion cells, each of which
is more complex than a large human city, each containing some 30,000 recycling
centers just to keep the proteins of which they are built healthy.
Again and again our close looks at Nature show this sequence from intense
competition to the discovery that peacefully trading with competitors, sharing with
them, feeding them, providing homes for them, even helping them reproduce, all
the while collectively recycling resources and ever enriching the shared environment,
is the most efficient and effective way to survival, and even thrival, for all.
It is in this mature cooperation that we find the ethics Darwin thought could
only be evolved by humans. Indigenous tribal peoples learned such ethics by rec-
ognizing them in Nature, copying reciprocal gifting and insuring food and shelter
to all tribal members, even working consciously to ensure tribal and ecosystemic
well-being seven generations hence. Like most Indigenous peoples, ancient Greeks
advised cooperating with Nature by giving back as much as we take from it, yet
our advanced civilization seems to be the last to learn this. We seem stuck where
Darwin was stuck, believing we are doomed to remain in hostile competition
forever. How fond we are of repeating, “you can’t change human nature” without
ever really looking clearly at the nature of Nature itself.
Glocalization as an Evolutionary Leap
For some eight to ten thousand years up to the present, much of civilized human-
ity has been in an empire-building mode that is immature from the biological
evolution perspective. From ancient empires ruled by monarchs we progressed to
national expansion into colonial empires and more recently into multi-national
corporate empires. All these phases have increased our technological prowess
while also increasing the disparity between rich and poor that is now devastating
the living system comprised of all humans, as well as the ecosystems on which
we depend for our own lives.
As we have seen, healthy, mature, living systems are dynamically cooperative
because every part or member at every level of organization is empowered to ne-
gotiate its self-interest within the whole. There is equitable sharing of resources
to insure health at all levels, and the system is aware that any exploitation of
some parts by others endangers the whole. Clearly, internal greed and warfare are
inimical to the health of mature living systems, and humanity is now forced to
see itself as the single, global living system it has become, for all its problematic,
yet healthy, diversity.
Therefore, I see the formation of global human community—including but
not limited to economics—as our natural evolutionary mandate at this time. We
are actually achieving quite a few aspects of this process in positive, cooperative
ways; for example, in our global telephone, fax, postal and Internet communica-
tions, in air travel and traffic control, in money exchange systems, in the World
Court initiative and international treaties on environment and other issues, in
most United Nations ventures, through ever more numerous and complex col-
laborative ventures in the arts, sciences, education, and sports, among religions
and the activities of thousands of international NGOs. Yet the most central and
important aspect of glocalization, the glocal economy, is still following a path that
threatens the demise of our whole civilization.
Let me draw once again on the historical context of the alliance between sci-
ence and industry. Hazel Henderson (2005) points out that Adam Smith related
his famous theory of “an invisible hand that guided the self-interested decisions
of business men to serve the public good and economic growth,” as set forth in
his 1776 book An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, to
Newton’s great discovery of the physical laws of motion. Also, that economists
of the early industrial revolution based their theories not only on Adam Smith’s
work, but also on Charles Darwin’s,
... seizing on Darwin’s research on the survival of the fittest and the role of
competition among species as additional foundations for their classical eco-
nomics of “laissez faire”—the idea that human societies could advance wealth
and progress by simply allowing the invisible hand of the market to work
its magic.... This led economists and upper-class elites to espouse theories
known as “social Darwinism:” the belief that inequities in the distribution of
land, wealth and income would nevertheless trickle down to benefit the less
fortunate. Echoes of these theories are still ... propounded in mainstream
economic textbooks as theories of “efficient markets,” rational human behav-
iour as “competitive maximizing of individual self-interest,” “natural” rates
of unemployment and the ubiquitous “Washington Consensus” formula
for economic growth (free trade, open markets, privatization, deregulation,
floating currencies and export-led policies). (Henderson 2005)
All these theories, as Henderson points out, underpin today’s economic and
technological globalization and the rules of the World Trade Organization, the
International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, stock markets, currency exchange
and most central banks.
When the Bank of Sweden’s economics prize, incorrectly but widely considered
as one of the Nobel prizes, was awarded in December 2004 to economists Edward
C. Prescott and Finn E. Kydland for their 1977 paper purporting to prove, by use
of a mathematical model, that central banks should be freed from the control of
politicians, even those elected in democracies, there was a wave of long-building
protest. Scientists, including members of the Nobel Committee and Peter Nobel
himself, demanded that the Bank of Sweden’s economics prize either be properly
labeled and de-linked from the other Nobel prizes or abolished on the grounds
that economics is not a science, but a set of increasingly destructive policies.3
It seems high time for our dominant western culture, especially the United
States, to learn the economic lessons that were learned by many an other species
in the course of their biological evolution. In human economic terms, Henderson
(1981) long ago made the analysis of the relative costs of destructive wars and
constructive development, showing clearly how making war to destroy enemy
economies was vastly more expensive than peaceful development of economies.4
More recently, Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s beloved ice cream company made an
animated video for the web-based organization True Majority using stacked Oreo
cookies to show the amount of money the U.S. Pentagon requires for its military
and the comparatively trivial amount it would take to feed all the world’s children,
build adequate schools, and provide other basic services at home and abroad.5
The unsustainability of present economics has now become widely discussed
around the world, but it is still not clear we understand deeply that the word
unsustainable means cannot last, and therefore, must be changed. Knowing how and
why current economic policies are unsustainable is not enough; we must become
more conscious participants in the process I call glocalization, rather than letting
a handful of powerful interests and players lead us all to doom.
Capitalist free markets can only succeed in the long run if a) they really are free,
which is not currently the case; and b) if that freedom leads more and more towards
friendly (rather than hostile) competition and increasing collaboration—not as
exploitative cartels, but as ventures consistent with global family values. Profits
can be increased by treating people well and forming cooperative ventures such
as Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), a scheme I helped
pioneer in the Social Venture Network (SVN) that is dedicated to building alli-
ances among locally networked businesses for the common good.6
Reclaiming human communal values and acting upon them in ways that renew
our economies while reversing the ravages of colonialism, and what John Perkins
calls the “corporatocracy’s” more recent predations as he so horrifically describes
them in his new book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (2004), is absolutely
necessary if we are to turn our economies from unsustainable paths of destruction
to sustainable paths leading to thrival.
Fortunately life is resilient, and we are witnessing a growing tide of reaction
and dialogue on the present nature of economic globalization. These natural and
healthy reactions have in common the recognition that communal values have
been overridden in a dangerous process that sets vast profits for a tiny human
minority above all other human interests. For a World Trade Organization to
dictate economic behaviour that does not meet the self-interests of small, strug-
gling nations, as it is increasingly discovering, would be like trying to run a body
at the expense of its cells. We are living systems, whether we like it or not, and
the only way to build a healthy world economy—to glocalize successfully—is
Nature’s way. (I use the terms glocalize and glocal economy to indicate all levels
of economic holarchy from local to global.)
Economic success has so far been measured in monetary terms rather than in
terms of well-being for all, focusing on GNP/GDP accounting rather than on
quality of life accounting such as that pioneered by Henderson (2005) and now
taken up by many progressive economists and at least one nation—Bhutan—by
decree of its king, while others, notably Brazil, are leaning in that direction.
The Biology of Business
In my book Earthdance (2000), as well as in my article “The Biology of Globaliza-
tion” (1998), I set out the Main Features and Principles of Living Systems, as:
1. Self-creation (autopoiesis);
2. Complexity (diversity of parts);
3. Embeddedness in larger holons and dependence on them (holarchy);
4. Self-reflexivity (autognosis—self-knowledge);
5. Self-regulation/maintenance (autonomics);
6. Response ability—to internal and external stress or other change;
7. Input/output exchange of matter/energy/information with other holons;
8. Transformation of matter/energy/information;
9. Empowerment/employment of all component parts;
10. Communications among all parts;
11. Coordination of parts and functions;
12. Balance of Interests negotiated among parts, whole, and embedding
13. Reciprocity of parts in mutual contribution and assistance;
14. Conservation of what works well;
15. Creative change of what does not work well.
This list was derived from my observations, as a biologist, of living systems from
single cells to complex multi-celled creatures, and of healthy ecosystems. These
features should also be present in any healthy human system from family to com-
munity, business, government or other social system up to our global economy.
But it became quickly clear that few businesses show these features.
Note that numbers 9, 10, 12 and 13 on the list, in a business that functioned
like a healthy living system, implies the active empowerment and participation
of every employee of that business in what it does and how it is run, with open
communications among all. This, in short, means full inclusion and transparency,
features totally abused in recent cases brought to public light, such as Enron and
WorldCom, which glaringly highlighted what happens to businesses that see
themselves in fierce competition rather than as healthy, collaborative aspects of
their greater (stakeholder) communities. In sharp contrast, Bill George, former
CEO of Medtronic and author of a book called Authentic Leadership (2003), once
made headlines by boldly declaring that shareholders came third, after customers
and employees. In his address to the World Business Academy annual meeting
in 2004, George expanded on this, saying, among other things, he had told all
employees on becoming CEO that none of them would be fired on his watch.
In a time of unprecedented job insecurity at all levels of employment up to the
top, this was bold leadership toward a very healthy company, whose shareholders
had no complaints on his watch either.
The Internet, which is playing a huge role in business now, is a vast boot-strap-
ping, self-organizing system that, however young and chaotic, shows all 15 of
the features in one way or another and must therefore be considered a real living
system. One of the big problems remaining to be worked out on the Internet
is its ethical self-governance. A Wired Magazine article on Wikipedia, the phe-
nomenal self-organizing web-based encyclopedia that rapidly outstripped—in
numbers of articles—existing encyclopedias fashioned by experts over very long
periods of time, showed it to be an exciting example of how this self-governance
is now coming into practice. While anyone with web access is free to initiate,
amend, or extend articles at any time, fleets of dedicated contributors monitor
the changes and quickly catch malicious insertions. As reported in the March
2005 issue, the average time it took to detect attempts to sabotage Wikipedia’s
integrity was 1.7 minutes!
Cooperation, collaboration, and community empowerment are, as Nature
role-models them and as I cannot repeat too often, more efficient and effective
ways of doing business than living in fear of drowning in a competitive race or
wasting energy and resources on beating down the competition.
Tachi Kiuchi, former CEO of Mitsubishi Electric, and Bill Shireman, an ecolo-
gist, put it this way in their important book, What We Learned from the Rainforest
(2001): “There is no problem ever faced by a business that has not been faced
and solved by a rainforest.” A rainforest is a Type III ecosystem in which mutual
support among all species has proven more efficient and effective than spending
energy to make war among species. (Note that predator/prey relationships are
actually cooperative when seen from the ecosystem level of holarchy because prey
feeds predators while predators keep prey species healthy.) The rainforest (like
a prairie or coral reef) creates enormous new value continually by very complex
production and trading systems as well as by recycling its resources very rapidly.
Kiuchi (2003) has proposed a clear program for corporate accountability that
he calls “The Eightfold Path to Excellence.”The eight steps of this path, related
to the rainforest lessons, are:
1. Adopt a bold and visionary corporate mission, one that envisions how your
2. Conduct a regular assessment of your success in maximizing return to
3. Develop incentive structures that reward the creation of real stakeholder
value on behalf of the corporate mission.
4. Adopt management systems to help you manage the company toward maxi-
mum stakeholder return, and measure your step-by-step progress.
5. Establish a stakeholder engagement system, to monitor and solicit feedback
6. Create value for the poorest in the world, the stakeholders through whom
the greatest mutual benefit can be delivered.
7. Issue an annual report to stakeholders that is as systematic as your annual
report to shareholders.
8. Live the mission of your business. Make that—not your 90-day earnings
report—the map to guide your course.
From an evolution biology perspective, glocalization is a natural, inevitable, and
desirable process, much broader than economics and already well on its way—the
latest and greatest evolutionary instance of cooperative collaboration in a living
system. Consider all the collaboration required for global communications from
telephone and fax to television and the Internet, for money exchanges across all
cultures, for international travel, scientific cooperation, world parliaments of
religion, the many global activities of the United Nations, and so on. All these
instances of cooperation remind me of the formation of the nucleated cell a few
billion years ago, when the technologies invented by archebacteria in their hostile
competitive phase were put to cooperative use in building the new communal
cell. This glocalization process is not reversible, though it certainly could fail, with
the consequent destruction of human civilization as we know it. The critical link
will prove to be how we change the way in which we carry out our economic,
business activity as a global species.
As we have seen, unopposed universal entropy and Darwinian evolution
through struggle in scarcity, presented as official scientific Laws of Nature, have
prevented us from seeing them as half-truths requiring completion from a more
holistic perspective. The entropy of radiation balanced by gravitational “centropy”
is, at the biological level of Nature, the life/death recycling process that creates
overall abundance—on Earth some 4.8 billion years of value creation despite
huge accidental extinction setbacks. Darwin’s struggle in scarcity is, therefore, not
permanent for any species, because young pioneering species can and do learn to
share, recycle, and support each other. We humans are such a young, pioneering
species, and I believe we now stand on the brink of our own evolutionary maturity,
ready to do business as it is done in the rainforest.
Once we convert our economies to more natural ones showing the features of
healthy living systems, it will not be so big a step to move into the ultimate eco-
nomic phase of the gifting economies proposed by Genevieve Vaughan (1997).
Elisabet Sahtouris is an internationally acclaimed evolution biologist, futurist, and
author who teaches sustainable business and globalization as a natural, evolutionary
process. She is a fellow of the World Business Academy and a member of the World
Wisdom Council. Her venues include the World Bank, Boeing, Siemens, Hewlett-
Packard, Tokyo dome Stadium, Australian National Government, Sao Paulo’s leading
business schools, State of the World Forums (New York and San Francisco), and the
World Parliament of Religions. Her books include EarthDance: Living Systems in
Evolution; A Walk Through Time: From Stardust to Us and Biology Revisioned
with Willis Harman. Visit her websites: <www.sahtouris.com> and <www.ratical.
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Op-Ed in Sweden’s main newspaper, dagens Nyheter, December 10, 2004.
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calvert-henderson.com and is Executive Producer of the new financial TV series,
“Ethical Marketplace,” airing on PBS stations in March 2005.
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