The word of David Korten

People person: Author David Korten has a prescription for a healthy society. Photo by marefoto

Several days ago, I had the thrill of interviewing a favoured author, the American writer David Korten.

I first read Korten’s When Corporations Rule the World more than a decade ago and then, by chance, stumbled upon a contact for him when interviewing the 97-year-old leader of The Living Earth Movement, John B. Cobb.

Korten, as it turned out, was also an active member of the same movement and so I was able to set up the interview.

What has Korten got to do with Shepparton?

Well, at first blush, not much, but when examined, his philosophies are the essence of why the Goulburn Valley, and by extension Shepparton, has become what it is.

Korten, along with others from The Living Earth Movement, is aligned with the ‘care-for-the-land’ ideas that have seen the Goulburn Valley become one of Australia’s great food bowls.

And just as he has discussed frequently in his many books, farming and our land and rivers have paid the price as corporations have tightened their grip on those assets.

But there is more to Korten and his concerns about corporate influence and our deluded allegiance to our nation’s gross domestic product.

The 85-year-old, now retired in the United States, spent much of this life working in Africa and South America, and it was there he realised that most people were fundamentally good, honest and would often leave themselves at a disadvantage to help others.

Although he saw examples of theft, violence and dishonesty, he also witnessed repeated instances of people from disparate cultures comforting, co-operating with and helping each other.

According to Korten the willingness to help and be kind is fundamental to most people, but the mood cracks, breaks and vanishes when people such as Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin come to power.

In 2015 Korten published Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth in which he said: “We are eroding Earth’s capacity to support human life. Growth in human population and individual consumption intensifies competition for what remains of Earth’s declining real wealth.”

I’ll jump to the conclusion of that section where he ends by saying: “Public and private institutions lose their credibility, the social fabric frays, and the global system becomes increasingly unstable.”

This descending social disarray demands, Korten argues, that we focus on and emphasise community; we need to embrace the other and in doing so create resilience to help our community through the difficult and challenging times.

Shepparton has a history of being a welcoming community, with the Chinese first making a home here, then post-World War II it was migrants from Europe, and today it is people from the Middle East and many parts of Africa.

However, among all that whooping, hollering, back slapping and chest beating about how good we are in welcoming new people, we have for decades ridden roughshod over those who were here long before us — the First Nations people.

And so while Korten encourages us to put the Earth first, along with the endless array of life forms that allow us to live, he also wants us to embrace our fellows, irrespective of their culture, and remember that almost everyone is kind and helpful.

The author says: “A connection to nature and community is essential to our physical and mental health and wellbeing. It is our nature to care and share for the benefit of all. Individualistic violence, greed and ruthless competition are indicators of individual and social dysfunction. Environmental damage and extreme inequality are indicators of serious system failure.”

I’ll give the final word to Korten, who wrote: “The healthiest societies are not those that have more income, more money — or even more education. They are those that are most giving and loving, societies that share what they have most equitably.”