The Power of Beauty

People tend to look to “the government” as the entity that has the power to create a sustainable culture, by enacting laws and policies.

In fact, however, it is we the everyday people who hold most of the power to shape our culture. How? Through aesthetics. We the people define what’s considered cool and beautiful! And that’s a force stronger than any government policy can ever be.

No, none of us can singlehandedly do this (unless maybe you’re a YouTube influencer with like a kajillion followers), but all of us participate in creating and reinforcing the aesthetic standards of the world around us.

One of my favorite permaculture design teachers and systems-thinkers, Mike Hoag of Transformative Adventures, made a great post today about the power of aesthetics.

Mike writes:

“Looking at the world today it is still aesthetic sensibility which most shapes society. Why do people drive gas-guzzling SUVs? An aesthetic sensibility. Why do we own cars in the first place instead of just using public transportation? Aesthetic sensibility. Why do we live in ever-growing sprawling houses made of cheap energy-intensive materials that contribute to climate change? Aesthetic sensibility. Why do we buy a never ending stream of made-for-the-landfill corporate junk we don’t need? Aesthetic sensibility. Pollute the oceans with 7 layers of packaging on everything we buy? No reason other than appearances.”

Go here to see the full text of Mike’s post, as well as the excellent graphic that accompanies it. Mike’s graphic is adapted from one of my favorite books, Thinking in Systems: A Primer, by the late Donella Meadows (another of my alltime favorite systems-thinkers). Mike’s post reveals at a quick glance why so many of our social-change efforts fall short. And how we can be much, much more effective!

Further Reading:

Thinking in Systems: A Primer, by Donella Meadows; Chelsea Green Publishing.

Donella Meadows website ( — a vast wealth of information. It was Ms. Meadows’ writings that introduced me to the invaluable concept of “leverage points”: places to intervene in a system for maximum effectiveness.