contact  impressum 

Shaping Globalization: Civil Society, Cultural Power and Threefolding
by Nicanor Perlas


Nicanor Perlas has written a brilliant exposition of a new viewpoint in social theory and practice, one that applies to all of us in our everyday lives. Not many new ideas can say that! The idea of "threefolding" gives equal status to culture alongside politics and the economy. Civil society as the key institution of culture emerges as one of the three global powers in the world today, together with government and business as the key institutions of polity and the economy respectively.

Civil society is a better name for what is sometimes called non-profits and non-governmental organizations (churches, schools, charities, health organizations, civic clubs, community groups and social movements). Rather than say what they are not, civil society organizations say what they are, institutions in the cultural realm of society that restores civility which is often lost with modernism and nationalism and economic development. One way of seeing the significance of these groups is that they are a vital source of creativity at the human level in society. They worry more about bringing values into the other arenas that care only about wealth and power. If they are allowed to decline, then the whole society is the loser. If they take their proper place in the world, then our lives are all enriched.

Perlas is making a very important contribution to seeing how and why positive change can happen. It is the kind of framework that wants to empower us to take our future into our own hands, rather than feel disempowered by impersonal technological trends, by transnational corporations and by globalization. We do not need to generate as much wealth and GNP, at a terrible environmental and human cost, if we can design a society that works for all of us. Perhaps the contribution of civil society is to start us on a new path, which is to think of our future as something we can envision and create together. Ultimately the point to speaking of "threefolding" and civil society is that we need to create a better society that speaks to our hearts’ desire.

What we most long to hear about after reading this exposition are more stories of what the Philippines, including organizations like the Center for Alternative Development Initiatives (CADI), is doing in terms of threefolding and comprehensive sustainable development. The world needs to hear how the Philippines is leading the way in beginning the process of conscious threefolding.

Perlas takes my own research on the Cultural Creatives and rightly points out in Chapter 12 that they are going to be the main supporters of positive initiatives for change, especially through civil society. I call them that because they are literally the creators of a new culture, one that goes beyond both Modernism and Traditionalism. They are appearing throughout the Western world, and evidently in the Philippines as well.

The reason why cultural creatives are going to be the key supporters for positive initiatives is that they each arrived at their values through engagement in multiple social movements over time, the movements over the last 50 years. These include the social movements for civil rights, for social justice, for the environment, for women’s rights, for peace, for alternative health care, for new kinds of personal growth and spirituality, for the rights of Third World peoples, and numerous others right up to the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization. It is worth noting that, when as individuals they get involved in politics, they are taking the position of "neither left nor right, but in front!" They also go beyond "profit vs. nonprofit" and "public vs. private," in the process of dissolving old dualisms as they work to create a new culture.

Because of the initiatives of the growing number of cultural creatives, a new kind of culture is emerging. And the threefolding view offers a more encompassing way to see our world and is thereby strategically helpful to efforts at renewing our world.

Paul H. Ray

Co-author of The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People are Changing the World. New York: Harmony Books, September, 2000