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Face-to-face discussion, secondly, confronts our personal truths with that of a diversity of others, each on his or her own trajectory through life. Such communication offers a direct way for grasping the dialectical logic of truth through contradiction, since it confronts us in the most inescapable way possible with our in-between situation. We are constituted by a larger shared reality which each individual experiences differently. Honest, empathic engagement of the other is essential to grasping a larger whole. The previously cited example of Mandela's transformation of his jailers exemplifies the synergy between individuation and face-to-face discussion. Individuation promotes coming to consensus through discussion and discussion stimulates individuation. It is significant that the Greek polis that gave us philosophy and direct democracy grounded both in face-to-face discussion.

The face-to-face situation is at its most universal in the primal band. Bushman politics, for example, swam in an ocean of discussion and storytelling. In such a situation the individual was stimulated and challenged to keep thinking and move around the medicine wheel of life – to keep growing as an individual.


Direct democracy, thirdly, expresses the value of communication free from the distortions of concentrated wealth and power. It also expresses a society's commitment to providing the education and resources necessary to maximize the individual's participation in face-to- face decision-making.

Nelson Mandela (4) again gives us a vivid description of direct democracy from his youth, when he lived with the Regent at Mqhekezweni, the seat of the tribal chiefdom of his Thembu people. For Mandela:

Everyone who wanted to speak did so. It was democracy in its purest form. There may have been a hierarchy of importance amongst the speakers, but everyone was heard, chief and subject, warrior and medicine man, shopkeeper an farmer.

We also see something approximating direct democracy in the early days of the kibbutz (5), for example, when all adult members of the community gathered in the general assembly to make collective decisions for the community though face-to-face discussion. The San Bushmen give us our most complete model of direct democracy where each individual participates directly in decision-making. Each also relates directly to the entire non-human community of being – surrounding wilderness – as an integral part of political reality. Each is free to come and go as he or she pleases. As is typical among many hunter-gatherer societies the San have no powerful chiefs. As one individual remarked to a visiting anthropologist inquiring about chiefs in this much vaunted egalitarian society: "Of course we have chiefs! Each one of us is a chief over himself."

We now turn, finally, to the "big picture".


Big pictures are symbolic representations of the whole. They are visions, paradigms, worldviews and epic narratives that serve to connect the lives and passions of the individual to larger, more encompassing realities – family, tribe, nation, civilization, species and ultimately the living earth and the evolving cosmos. Without such nested pictures of wholes within wholes, or stories within stories, we drift, unprepared, easily surprised and distracted. Our energies become dissipated, and we lapse into selfishness and cynicism. These big pictures only become politically significant and morally compelling to the degree that they are processes through the mill of the other mandala components – self-reflecting individuals, similarly motivated, in free discussion within the community. Today, according to Herman, we are in crisis because we are in between cosmologies. We have no consensus about a story of origin and meaning that expresses the reality of the contemporary human condition.

Herman offers the mandala dynamic as the core organizing feature of a new story. It is unlike any previous story in its reflexivity; it recognizes the gradual emergence of storytelling in a community of individuating individuals as the defining feature of a future primal politics. He shows how this dynamic emerged in small-scale, self-sufficient, self-organizing communities still living close to nature. He then describes it reappearing in history in times of social upheaval and transformation. We see it most emphatically in the creative explosion of classical Greece; we see it in the ferment of the Renaissance, with its sudden interest in the natural world and the celebration of the whole person as "Renaissance Man"; we also see it emerging again out of the chaos of the English Civil War in the 17th century before the institutions of Liberalism had hardened, when peasants driven off manorial estates seized public land and organized themselves into a variety of democratic and spiritually based communities like the Levellers and Diggers.

We find elements of the primal complex now reappearing during our contemporary crisis. We saw it in the early Israeli kibbutz which built up the country; and we see it now in a steadily growing eco-village movement and the co-operative model outlined in Chapter 13. We can see primal principles emerging in the small Buddhist nation of Bhutan, and we see them exemplified by spiritually attuned leaders of liberation movements, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

The lesson of the primal polis is that all moves to decentralize power need to proceed in parallel with strategies for universalizing commitment to the truth quest. Democratizing wisdom requires cultivating the ability to move between opposites: local and global, the individual and the collective, humanity and wilderness. Decentralization backfires if it focuses exclusively on electoral mechanics, which can simply privilege the lowest common denominator of prejudice – for example racists voting to expel foreigners. Every step toward devolving power requires a corresponding effort to augment the truth quest – to grasp the bigger picture and see the connections between part and whole, self and other, enemy and friend.

Since the mandala of primal politics, for Herman, is rooted in the deep structure of what it means to be human, it can function effectively as an ideal and offer criteria for development, without having to be fully embodied in small-scale communities. Its values can guide us whatever institutional or historic setting we find ourselves in. The more completely we understand the big story, the better able we are to respond creatively to the challenges of our moment by applying the discipline of the mandala. What, in the final analysis, does this all mean for how we go about coming to an agreement about a vision of "the best way to live" – the Good Life?

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