Marilyn Ferguson is one of the most influential writers of our time. Her book, “The Aquarian Conspiracy,” was described by “Megatrends” author, John Naisbitt as going straight to the heart of the deep structural changes occurring in the final years of the 20th century. Her other books include “The Brain Revolution.” Ferguson is the founder of the highly regarded, “Brain-Mind Bulletin.”
DiCarlo: “Paradigm” is a term that is being bandied about quite freely these days. Could you please offer us a working definition of what a paradigm actually is, and delineate the emerging paradigm as it relates to business?
Ferguson: Paradigm is a fashionable term for a working perspective. It’s your method of explaining something to yourself. For example, there are paradigms in science, where the term first came into use. It is a mental model which makes it comfortable for people to explain things. But since all our knowledge is incomplete, the paradigm ultimately has to be replaced by another one. Eventually it must yield to new information. In The Aquarian Conspiracy, I used paradigms in science as a model for the fate of new ideas in general-paradigms of relationship, education, heath care…
What we know from science is that even people who are supposed to be professionally objective, are very resistant to new information-even if the newly discovered information is more powerful and better explains the data.
DiCarlo: Was there any particular event in your life that served as a trigger, and caused you to look beyond the party line of the traditional and dominant world view of our society?
Ferguson: Well, my parents were people who questioned the establishment a lot. My parents used to talk scathingly about the “almighty dollar,” and yet they gave me the sense that I could be anything I wanted to be. I suppose I was fortunate in that my parents were the children of immigrants from Italy on my fathers side, and Germans Russia on my mother’s. When families have to make it on their own in a new country, they have somewhat of a different perspective.
You see that a lot in the children of immigrants, even today. They are often more ambitious than the natives, even though they’re poorer. When I began to question what was going on in this society, perhaps it was because my father had questioned too. Pointing out how ridiculous the commercials on the radio were for example. Challenging the predominant paradigm came with breathing. I was a poet and later a non-fiction writer. I got interested in the cultural paradigm in 1968 when I wrote a book called “Champagne Living on Beer Budget,” a book about how to live well on a modest income. I was kind of looking behind the scenes there, “Who makes brand x?” for example. When you look into institutions, you become increasingly aware of their moral paralysis. There’s no point in blaming. We got here through our collective ignorance. I also wrote for trade journals and I was a stringer for Time. I got a sense of how creative business people saw things, which was contrary to the conventional wisdom.
When my children were tiny, I became interested in the work of Berkeley scientists who found that the brain changes in response to stimulation. I was amazed too, at the early research on Transcendental Meditation. My next book, The Brain Revolution. looked at the mysteries of the brain and mind-the interface of the tangible and intangible. The physical brain, which is so complex-the most complex bit of matter on earth and so mysterious-and the mind, which is completely intangible.
” If all of this is true about our potential, if human beings can learn as it appears they can learn, why aren’t we doing something,” I said, “about it?” One thing led to another.
I was writing radio commercials at age 17, so I was already peeking behind the curtain that hides the Wizard of Oz. There was this paradox, of this society in which we let people sell us things all the time, and how intelligent and educated are we going to be that we are going to question what it is that we are being sold?
About the time of the Brain Revolution I was also meditating. I also discovered the formal research of parapsychology. This validated psychic experiences I’d had.
After a particularly poignant paranormal incident, which had to do with my fathers death, it occurred to me that what we in Western society think of as being “real”, is a very limited view of the world. From time to time, we all have experiences in everyday life that hint all is not what it seems. Henri Berkson had spoken of the brain as a filter, reducing this whole large body of information to something manageable. Alter the chemistry a little, as William James said, and a whole other kind of experience can happen.
DiCarlo: So even with that book-though you may not have been thinking of it in those terms-you were challenging the predominant paradigm?
Ferguson: Yes I was. Years later, Luis Muchado, who started the first Ministry for the Development of Human Intelligence, a Cabinet position in Venezuela told me The Brain Revolution had inspired him to action. I’d said in conclusion, “If this is all true, why doesn’t somebody do something about it?” So he did.
We have to believe we can throw ourselves into life and change things. If there is something wrong with the product, if there is something wrong in the community do something. “Drive-by shootings” are only a symptom of a “drive-by culture.” We and our leaders really need to stop, take stock of things and ask, “Is this really right or not?” People are doing that more.
DiCarlo: In The Aquarian Conspiracy you discussed at length the paradigm shifts taking place in many sectors of society, from science to education. How would you characterize let’s say, the emerging paradigm in business?
Ferguson: The passing paradigm saw business as the ‘be-all’ and ‘end-all’ of society rather than one of its tools for functioning. Economic needs had been seen as foremost, superseding considerations of family, quality of life, health and so on. It seems that we have gotten confused about just what the ‘American Dream’ is all about. We think it was about rags to riches and Horatio Alger, but the original dream was based upon the freedom to dream. And to make your dreams come true as long as you did not hurt anyone else. It was not to simply ‘get rich’.
Now some people dreamed of amassing considerable financial wealth, but that wasn’t the point. Our founders were a diverse group. They were in a sense, the children of dissenters-people who had emigrated for political or religious reasons.
How this relates to the emerging business paradigm? For a couple of hundred years commercial interests have dominated. As early as the 1800s people were complaining that their Congressional representatives were bought and sold by special interest groups. So the good of the whole has not always been taken into account.
Quite suddenly, the policy makers, the real movers and shakers, have recognized more the increasingly crucial role of education. It is rather ironic in a way, that because of our entertainment industries- music, videos and television-a couple of generations of people have been raised who are not accustomed to finding pleasure within themselves, thinking for themselves, even imagining for themselves. Education per se could not compete with this extra stimulation, the advertising, the glitzy images. With the declining level of educational standards and performance, these very people who become ‘vegged-out’ through socialization, are no longer adequate workers for skilled or even semi-skilled positions.
Another example of this kind of ‘business karma’ occurred in the early 70s when General Motors bought and shut down the main public transportation system in Los Angeles. They had cynically reckoned that Southern California was the biggest potential market for automobiles.
DiCarlo: Just where are we then, in the process of discarding the old paradigms and embracing the new?
Ferguson: At a crisis point, I’d say. If we started doing everything that needs to be done-right this very moment in terms of the environment-it might already be too late. Somebody has said that if it weren’t for the last minute nothing would ever get done. Maybe this is the last minute. Suddenly we’re saying, “Oh my God, the rain forests!” “The ozone layer.”
DiCarlo: Do you find then that these environmental crises are popping up and forcing us to rethink what’s really important in life, to rethink our values and priorities?
Ferguson: The Exxon Valdez oil spill could be seen as a metaphor for our whole society. The captain had gone to his cabin to do paperwork. The third mate who was left in charge was not qualified to steer the ship in such a dangerous area. When he was asked if he could handle it he said that he could. There was no watchman on the bow of the ship and the speed of the vessel was increasing rather than decreasing as they headed for the reefs.
It seems to me that collectively we’re in that same situation. Things are happening faster. Meanwhile, we are the captains who have gone off to do paperwork.
DiCarlo: As gloomy as things appear, would you not agree that they serve a useful purpose in galvanizing mankind to action, and also to a higher state of being? This idea of emergence through emergency?
Ferguson: Yes. Somebody said the other day, “You have to reach breakdown before you can break through.” The chaos we’re experiencing now is just a symptom that the forms that we have been operating under have outlived their usefulness. The health care system isn’t producing health. The schools aren’t producing educated people. Issues of extreme corruption have been coming to light world wide. Our lack of an action is already making a difference.
A challenge shows us what we can do. It’s a shame that we have to wait for a life or death crisis before we wake up. But once we are awake, we find that it’s actually fun. Too often we think, “Someday I’ll have my act together”, as if there is some kind of ‘never-never’ land which awaits us where everything is going to run smoothly and we won’t be challenged. As we begin to see that each person has a heroic capacity, we discover that each of us has a destiny to fulfill.
DiCarlo: Are there any signs that people are getting the message?
Ferguson: The polls suggest that the public is way ahead of the leaders on most of these issues. The so-called average person is more likely in a way to hold, and I hesitate to use the word “radical”-but it is radical position.
An animal rights poll showed that about half of the people in the country embraced the position that the experts would call radically pro-animal. 65% of the people according to this week’s Times magazine, believe that angels exist. 48% believe that they have a guardian angel. Either the New Age phenomenon went wild while nobody was looking, or people had been keeping their thoughts to themselves.
The animal rights people were startled at this. I’m sure the angel-rights people were startled too. The general public, through the polls, have said that they would favor higher taxes if it really helped the homeless and the money wouldn’t be wasted. When Clinton proposed the health care plan, a poll afterwards showed that the majority of people supported it, even though they didn’t think they would necessarily benefit. So there’s more imagination and grace in the populace than there is generally acknowledged by the people who run the institutions.
DiCarlo: Let’s get back to your comments about developing a vision. There’s certainly been a lot of talk about vision lately. There is a verse of Proverbs in the bible which reads, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” From your perspective, just what is the vision that seems to be emerging?
Ferguson: Well, it’s not a vision of just one particular thing. It’s really about the use of our visionary capacity. The formula to achieve this consists of getting you to go deeper into yourself. If we want to get out of the mess that we’re in, then we must realize that our old solutions to problems, our old worn ideas of how things ought to work, are not going get us there.
DiCarlo: We have to rid ourselves of ‘linear’ thinking?
Ferguson: Yes, thinking which is unimaginative, and thinking which lacks common sense. For example, when fire engulfed Yellowstone park in 1988, the foresters adhered to a “Let burn” policy because foresters basically believe that it is better for the ecosystem to let the fires go. But what they did not take into account was the fact that there was a drought. The fires raged out of control as a result. The following year they decided to put out all fires because they were so severely criticized and the tourist industry was so badly hurt. So we seem to lack the ability to make these subtle distinctions. We haven’t been educated to think in terms of third choices, or how to create an alternative if you do not like the way things are. I think that is what this talk of vision addresses itself to. Take the example of kids playing. It is the kid who has an idea of something to do on a boring day who becomes the leader. When leaders lack vision then we have to have our own. This is the kind of grassroots leadership that I had originally talked about in the Aquarian Conspiracy. You can begin to make “mini-revolutions,” people striving to improve things where they are. Out of that might emerge a shift that may eventually cause a change in authority.
DiCarlo: What advice can you offer to those people who want to take a vision and make it a reality?
Ferguson: Let me take some of the key points from some of the chapters of Radical Common Sense…. Improve your ability to visualize. Be sensitive to your gut feeling. It isn’t just the original vision that is involved. There are steps all along the way. You have to become aware of your intuition and your instincts, these guide in the process of implementing the vision. And you also need to be awake. All of a sudden the world changes and your vision has to change too. The vision needs to be continually defined.
DiCarlo: What’s the main difference then, between a vision and a goal?
Ferguson: A vision is a tentative goal. You could even have little goals that you set in order to bring about your vision. For example let’s say you’re a magazine publisher. Your goal could be that by the end of the year you will have ‘x’ number of subscribers. But that isn’t a vision. A vision is a mode of something working-a kind of dynamic.
So that might mean that you see yourself serving your potential subscribership, envisioning what your publication will do for them; what they might understand from it; and how that might affect their lives-what they do and how they think. You could even stretch this to include what might happen in society so that you have an even larger purpose.
Tune your vision to the whole. You might say, “I want to publish a glossy magazine, ” but if there is no market for it-if people don’t want it-then the vision isn’t grounded in cultural reality.
Things don’t generally come out exactly as we envision them-sometimes they’re much better. And sometimes they’re just different, or even disappointing. The important thing is to not give up on your visionary capacity just because one little vision didn’t work out. And realize that no matter the outcome, you are wiser. Most of us fail to cultivate our visionary capacity. Still, most people do have some kind of dream or a vision. But they don’t take it seriously. So they resign themselves to humdrum, everyday lives. Therein lies the dis-ease. With a vision, people get better, not older.
DiCarlo: Is there any other advice you could give people about developing a powerful vision?
Ferguson: Well, I would add that we need to work on our communication skills and quality discrimination. Find out, for example, if anybody else is doing the things that you would like to do. And if they failed, why they failed.
Your vision may be to work for a company because you like their vision. Even if your job is not, in itself as challenging as you would wish it to be, you can “fine-tune” yourself so that you become really good at what you do. It may even be that you find your vision in your private life, to find some cause that you really enjoy-saving the dolphins for example. You might pick up litter around the lake because it makes you feel more alive, as though you are doing something worthwhile. “How do I make my children’s school better?”, or “How do I make my neighborhood better?” So the secret is service.
DiCarlo: Do you have examples of “cutting-edge” visionaries of our times?
Ferguson: Gorbachev, Ted Turner, Mandala….We can look to entertainment or sports heroes who have become very much involved in “Save the world” activities. Turn to the local feature section in the newspaper, the stories of people who are making things happen locally. The “cutting-edge” visionaries I would say, include the people who are stepping forth to help their neighborhoods.
DiCarlo: So, a vision would never be founded upon the mundane pursuit of money?
Ferguson: We got into this situation by first thinking of our personal profits. We only win through each other; we don’t win over each other. We triumph as a group, not alone. In the past it was the “joy of victory” and “beating” one’s adversaries. I recommend a book called Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. The author suggests that we think in terms of winning or losing the game of life. But the real purpose is to keep the ball in play. That’s a whole other way of looking at things. For example, what would happen if you were so successful in business that you buy out all your competitors and completely dominate the market?
DiCarlo: In 1980, you were decidedly optimistic about the brightness of the future of mankind. Do you still feel that way?
Ferguson: There’s a quotation from Virgil that has become a sort of motto for me-“They can because they think they can.”
We have to act from faith. If we are going to go out, at least let’s go out trying our best to save this situation, knowing that we did our best.
Why do the same themes keep getting played over and over again? What are the lessons of history trying to teach us? One of the lessons seems to be that we don’t learn the lessons of history very well.
Right now we would be wise to focus our attention on how basic human beings behave in basic selfish ways. What is there in human nature that impels us to act in certain ways? We need to teach people how to parent, how to get along with each other. Common sense tells us that we are going to have to be more visionary and more compassionate if we are going to survive. That is not ‘Blue Sky’ talk. Nothing short of being imaginative, creative and compassionate is going to save us.
I’m placing my hope in those people who are awake and who have the courage and conviction to see how many other people they can wake up. If that happens, then we will have a Renaissance. Listen to those leaders who encourage us to be better people, not those playing to our fears. As I see it, either we are going to have a very rapid decline into a “worst-case” scenario, or else the dream of a new Renaissance will be made a reality. The choice is ours.
Excerpted from the book Towards A New World View: Conversations At The Leading Edge with Russell E. DiCarlo. The 377-page book features new and inspiring interviews with 27 paradigm pioneers in the fields of medicine, psychology, economics, business, religion, science, education and human potential. Featuring: Willis Harman, Matthew Fox, Joan Boysenko, George Leonard, Gary Zukav, Robert Monroe, Hazel Henderson, Fred Alan Wolf, Peter Senge, Jacquelyn Small, Elmer Green, Larry Dossey, Carolyn Myss, Stan Grof, Rich Tarnas, Marilyn Ferguson, Marsha Sinetar, Dr. Raymond Moody, Stephen Covey and Peter Russell.
Russell E. DiCarlo is a medical writer, author, lecturer and workshop leader who’s focus is on personal transformation, consciousness research and the fields of energy and anti-aging medicine. His forthcoming book is entitled “The Definitive Guide To Anti-Aging Medicine” (1998, Future Medicine Publishing). DiCarlo resides in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Copyright 1996. Epic Publishing. All Rights Reserved.