The Petri Dish of Humanity

Communities and Personal Transformation

Communities are the Petri dish of humanity. The lessons of cooperation and interdependence are best taught in vibrant, close-knit communities because it is in human-to-human relationships, negotiations, settlements and disagreements that we begin to recognise ourselves in others. Community teaches us about interdependence because in a community we begin to realise that people have different skill sets, which are best used in different ways to generate the maximum benefit to everyone. Once we recognise the interdependence that binds us to one another, we begin to notice and challenge the First Dimension’s restrictive ways of thinking and we can move to change them.

The key change in Second Dimension society will be a return to community. The community unit—throughout the history of humanity—has been the transmittal structure for the templates, social conditioning and human relationships that we collectively call culture. If we are to bring a substantial change in human consciousness, we need to invest in communities and place them at the centre of our lives. 

Communities are the basic political, social and administrative building blocks of society. They are vital in that they teach us about cooperation and understanding, and give us frameworks and reference points through which to form and negotiate our identities. When we work and live in close-knit communities, the idea of individual responsibility—let’s call it our conscience—is strengthened because in intimate communities we can see the consequence of our actions on the lives of others. They allow us to participate in society and cooperate with a directness that is lacking in the larger structures of state, bureaucracy and corporation.

The awakening of our conscience is intrinsically linked to awareness of interdependence. Our conscience begins to glow more brightly when we see the interdependent nature of our world and the value of our social relationships. The close interaction that is possible only at community level helps us to develop a moral compass upon which to anchor our conscience. Communities are, in short, capable of transforming individuals.

This, of course, is only true of enlightened communities. Unfortunately, history, both ancient and recent, is replete with examples of how communities have made poor decisions, perpetuated primitive or tribal ideals, or led their citizens to act in wrongful, belligerent or selfish ways, thus promoting violence and ostracism. We need look no further than some recent events covered by the media in India to remind ourselves of this. For example, in October 2015, in a village in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, a Muslim man was murdered by a mob on the suspicion that he had beef in his house. A journalist for NDTV visited the village and reported in shock about the absolute absence of discernible conscience in the community. The village seemed to have lost the ability to see express a collective conscience because it seemed to condone murder of a minority citizen. 

Clearly, community micro-cultures, especially those cut off from modern educational, judicial and communication systems, can encourage and perpetuate some of the most primitive and barbaric behaviour. I am not arguing, by any means, that old-fashioned communities, merely on account of being “traditional”, ought to be praised or emulated or revived. Nevertheless,  communities can play a fundamental role in our transition to higher levels of consciousness. While a personal transformation to a higher level of consciousness can be achieved via a deep practice of introspection, the mental discipline to pursue this course of action may be beyond the reach of many, at least for now. The expectation that a critical mass of citizens will be able to undertake a journey of personal transformation is overly optimistic, and may come to fruition only in a Third Dimension scenario. In the meantime, overcoming the cognitive limitations imposed by the six elements of our context may have to rely on the top-down policy innovations described in the pages of this site, and on the affective capacity of our community environment. Indeed, close-knit communities with Second Dimension identities—communities that espouse enlightened ideals and implement forward-thinking policies—can slowly push even the most recalcitrant members toward a higher consciousness by overcoming any prior, inbuilt mental programming that conditions individual behaviour. For this reason alone, the Second Dimension must be built with an empowered community as its basic building block.

A New Administrative Structure

How do we restore community to its rightful place as a determinant of social identity? How do we make it, once again, the primary locus of human activity and exchange? And, lastly, how do we create communities that are built upon and encourage the highest ideals so that they can help their individual members to achieve higher levels of consciousness? 

To begin with, we must devolve much of the authority and control that currently resides in national or federal government to the local level. In my first book, Making India Work, I stipulated that the hierarchy of governance in India should be restructured into four simple levels, as shown in the table below, such that all citizens reside in a social environment that is appropriately scaled to their needs and in which they have a chance to participate in community activities and local governance. I am suggesting now that the same structure be applied in every country. 

Government level


Max. population


A geographical unit (such as a rural district, or a small municipality, or a neighbourhood in a large city) consisting of approximately 25,000 inhabitants.



Up to 100 contiguous communities

2.5 million


Up to 10 contiguous areas

25 million


All regions within a national boundary



Our argument is not simply a call for smaller government, or greater emphasis on local government. The concept we are proposing is the correct scaling of government. In a nutshell, we can say that every issue or problem confronting today’s citizens and leaders, every aspect of governance and oversight, has an appropriate level of effective jurisdiction. There are issues and concerns that ought to be addressed at a community level, and others that rightly belong to higher perspectives. For example, a decision on repairing the fence of your local park, or whether or not to build a local parking garage and manage the parking on streets, should be taken at the community level. These are issues that have immediate impact on the citizen, and should be adjudged by a jurisdiction as close to him as possible. On the other hand, there are problems that cannot be dealt with at local or even national level, and must therefore be addressed at higher levels, such as maintaining a highway (Area level), managing a resource like an airport (regional level), addressing disease outbreaks (continental level), or issuing policies on climate change or multilateral trade (global level). 

There are, in total, six levels of governance required to manage human affairs appropriately—the four aforementioned levels (community, area, region, nation) plus two supra-national levels (continental and global). Examples of each level’s responsibilities are shown in the table below.


Government level

Example of responsibility


Parks, schools, taxation, healthcare, citizenship, urban design, local roads, local commerce


Water and sewage, power distribution, cultural programs, welfare


Agricultural policy, higher education, major road networks, airports


Defense, national transport systems (railways, air traffic, etc.), currency


Riverine systems, disease control, peacekeeping, development aid


Global commons (high seas, atmosphere), migration, climate change


The rationale for correct scaling is quite simple. The success of decentralisation in some countries (such as Switzerland) has shown that citizens participate actively in governance, both as voters and as elected officials, because (a) they believe they can have a significant effect on decision-making, and (b) they feel that local government is small enough to give each of them a voice and adequate attention to their needs. 

Correct scaling of governance starts with the fundamental recognition that people live in communities. They may nominally belong to a nation state, but they do not live in nation states. A nation state is too vast, both as a territory and as an idea, for an individual to belong to. Most citizens feel much too distant from the national centre of power where decisions are being made that affect every aspect of their lives. Even in democratic countries, casting a vote means sending a representative to a faraway capital, with little or no control over what happens next.

Many of the details of how such a re-organisation of society could take place will be discussed in later chapters, but for now it is sufficient to stress the need for community governments to have far greater powers in important matters that are often controlled by regional and federal governments, such as local taxation, creating a concept of community based citizenship, and healthcare. Restoring such authority to the community will not only re-shape governance at all levels, but it will also revitalise every citizen’s relationship to the structures of local governance and to his fellow members of the community. When individuals recognise the opportunity to have their views heard and to make a genuine impact on the welfare of their village or town, they will participate in decision-making and community activities much more eagerly and frequently, setting the tone for the essential ingredient of democratic government—participation.

Voluntary participation in the various organs of local governance—executive positions, committees, councils and advisory groups—however, is not enough to instil the proper commitment to community values that will be required in higher dimensions. Harmonious communities of the future will also require a new awareness in each community member, an awareness of the interdependence of all individuals. Indeed, we must recognise what every individual can contribute to the daily functioning of a community (in terms of labour, skill, time, and interest), and that a community thrives on the diversity of talent within it.

First Dimension society is often plagued by the polarity of winning and losing. The modern world is structured such that the whole of society focuses on the so-called winners who, while they generate personal wealth, don’t necessarily generate social value: a banker is a winner, but a school teacher is not. This is a dichotomy in which basic respect for different roles, types of work and forms of value creation doesn’t exist. In future societies, community members must be able to contribute their skills, energy and time to the community in multiple ways that will harness their individual talents and interests toward an effective, holistic and harmonious coexistence. 

Third Dimension Communities

In the Third Dimension, all communities will strive to be communities of consciousness. They will consist of citizens who live together and cooperate with the primary intention of supporting the growth and development of individual and collective consciousness. They will endeavour to bring mindfulness to every activity and decision, creating an environment in which generosity, thoughtfulness, sharing, devotion and caring can flourish. The ultimate purpose of a community of consciousness will be to develop higher consciousness in all its members. Accordingly, the community will continually provide opportunities for each citizen, either individually or communally, to practice and enhance their level of consciousness through group meditation sessions, spiritual and natural retreats, and advanced study for those inclined to deepen their knowledge through academic channels. Importantly, the appropriate spaces and venues for such activities will be available to every community member, and the time to engage in them will be built into the regular rhythm of life, i.e., scheduled as part of everyone’s work commitment.

Second Dimension initiatives were meant to bring renewed focus on community life and identity by restructuring the administrative levels of governance, and by giving individual citizens more immediate access to local governance. Once these goals have been achieved, the next step toward the Third Dimension is to give each community even greater cohesion and functionality by re-organising its very labour structure.

Third Dimension communities will require each member to devote a substantial proportion of their time (say, 30%) to voluntary community support activities, and a smaller fraction of their time (say, 10%) to activities that enhance and develop their capacity for meditation, concentration and spiritual awareness. This leaves only some of their time (say, 60%) available for income generation through private enterprise and private-sector employment. These allocations of time would of course be different for individuals who work for the community, or for area or regional government agencies, as their main source of employment. 

If 60% employment seems insufficient, from a First Dimension point of view, to allow for a satisfactory income and to support a family, we must consider that much else would be different in the Third Dimension. Heightened levels of consciousness will lead to greater powers of concentration and focus, for example, resulting in greater efficiency and productivity in the majority of skilled jobs, such that work at 60% time in the Third Dimension would likely be equivalent to full-time employment in the First. Moreover, participation by the entire adult population in the administration of the community and in the operation of its various services would imply reduced government spending, and thus a smaller tax burden, leaving more income at each family’s disposal.

Recall also that the Third Dimension is the dimension of transcendence. At this stage, most adult individuals will be advanced practitioners of meditation and able to recognise and appreciate the inherent logic of a system based on heightened consciousness and cooperation. The dedication of 40% of one’s time to the community and to consciousness-enhancing pursuits will not seem like a burden that needs to be monitored or enforced by others. In fact, it will come naturally to most citizens because through community participation and a shared effort to raise consciousness all Third Dimension citizens will find fulfilment.


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