The End of Starvation: Creating an Idea Whose Time Has Come
by Werner Erhard, 1977
You and I want our lives to matter. We want our lives to make a real difference - to
be of genuine consequence in the world. We know that there is no satisfaction in
merely going through the motions, even if those motions make us successful or
even if we have arranged to make those motions pleasant. We want to know we
have had some impact on the world. In fact, you and I want to contribute to the
quality of life. We want to make the world work.
When you look at making the world work, you are confronted by, and cannot pass
over, the fact that each year 15 million of us die as a consequence of starvation.
This unparalleled failure for humanity enables us to see that the world's
unworkability is located in the very condition in which we live our lives. Thus, it is
not people "out there" who are starving; people are starving "here" - in the space in
which you and I live. You and I are working to make our lives work in the same
condition that results in hunger and starvation.
Starvation both maintains and dramatizes a world that does not work. Persisting
throughout history, it has accounted for more deaths and suffering than all
epidemics, wars, and natural disasters combined. During the past five years alone,
more people have died as a consequence of starvation than from all the wars,
revolutions, and murders of the past 150 years. As you read this, 28 people are
dying in our world each minute as a consequence of hunger, three-quarters of
The bare statistics are so shocking that we rarely examine the further impact of
starvation on our own lives. Hunger, by its persistence, seems to invalidate that
our lives could matter. It seems to prove that we are capable only of gestures. It
suppresses the space in which each of us lives.
Yet, precisely because the impact of starvation on our lives is so great, its
existence is actually an opportunity. It is an opportunity to get beyond merely
defending what we have, beyond the futility of self-interest, beyond the
hopelessness of clinging to opinions and making gestures.
In fact, in experiencing the truth underlying hunger, one comes to realize that the
ordinarily unnoticed laws that determine the persistence of hunger on this planet
are precisely the laws that keep the world from working. And the principles of the
end of hunger and starvation in the world are the very principles necessary to
make the world work.
So this paper is not an explanation, a solution, an opinion, or a point of view about
the problem of hunger. It is an examination of what is so about the persistence of
hunger, aimed at answering two questions:
1. What are the laws governing and determining the persistence of hunger on our
planet? Not the reasons, however cogent; not the justifications, however
comforting; not the systems of explanation, however consistent or clever. If we
were merely looking for reasons to explain the persistence of hunger and
starvation, we could logically deduce them from the facts.
Fundamental laws and principles, however, cannot be deduced. One knows them
by creating them from nothing, out of one's Self. One does not arrive at
fundamental laws and principles as a function of what is already known. Such laws
and principles do not merely explain; they illuminate. They do not merely add to
what we know; they create a new space in which knowing can occur. The test of
whether we are dealing with fundamental laws and principles, or with mere reasons
and explanations, is whether there is a shift from controversy, frustration, and
gesturing, to mastery, motion, and completion.
2. What are the principles of the end of hunger and starvation on the planet? Not
new programs of solution, no matter how saleable or clever; not different or better
opinions, no matter how arguable; not points of view, no matter how agreeable.
This discussion is not about another good idea. It is about revealing the
fundamental principles of the end of hunger and starvation on our planet.
Start by Examining the Examiner
The first step in examining any problem is to examine the system with which you
are going, to examine the problem. For example, there are equations in physics
that would be incomplete if they didn't take into consideration the nature and
consequent effect of the observer.
So, before you and I begin to examine the problem of hunger and starvation, we
are going to examine our own nature and the effect of that nature on our
perceptions and understanding of the problem. Until we understand ourselves, we
won't know the quality of our findings, or how those findings are influenced by the
entity making the examination.
I am not an expert on hunger and starvation. The little bit of knowledge I've
acquired in four years of study is small compared to the knowledge of the true
experts in the field. But as a result of my interaction with tens of thousands of
people, I do have some insight into Self (my Self, your Self, the Self) and a
certain expertise about what a "me" is. I want to take a look with you at what a
"me" is with respect to hunger.
Look inside yourself (not at what you think or what you feel, not at your opinions
or your point of view) but at the ground of being that gives rise to your actions,
thoughts, and feelings. Look specifically at the unconscious, unexamined
assumptions and beliefs which limit and shape our response to hunger and
starvation. This is the territory we are going to cross.
The Assumption of Scarcity
The very first component you see in the structure of beliefs through which we
perceive the world is the component of scarcity. Human beings don't necessarily
think that things are scarce. They always think from a condition of scarcity.
For instance, while you and I might never have had the thought, "Love is scarce,"
it is obvious if we examine our behavior that we are "coming from" scarcity with
respect to love. We often act as if we must dole it out carefully and only to those
people who deserve it. Also, because we assume that everything of value in life is
scarce, we act to protect things (regardless of how much we actually have) because they are "scarce."
Time is also an example. It is something else that people consider to be
desperately scarce. No one ever has enough time. Watch yourself when you do
have enough time and you will notice that you act as if you don't have enough.
I am not saying that you think 15 million of us die each year as a consequence of
hunger because food is scarce. I am saying that scarcity is one component of the
structure of beliefs through which we perceive the world.
It is worthless to know that your ground of being contains the belief that things
are scarce if you know it merely you have been told it or because it makes sense.
You need to know it as a result of looking inside yourself and actually seeing how
the belief in scarcity shapes your thoughts and actions. Pierce into your own
system of beliefs and observe that you do believe in scarcity. While confronting
this belief, get that it is not true that hunger and starvation persist on this planet
because food is scarce.
Just as an example (not as a suggested solution to the problem of hunger) we
could feed all the hungry people in the world every year with the grain fit for
human consumption that is fed to cattle in the United States. I'm not suggesting
that if we stopped feeding grain to our cattle we would eliminate hunger. I'm just
saying that the notion that 15 million of us die each year because of a scarcity of
food is not accurate.
The Assumption of Inevitability
The second component you will find when you begin to look into the condition
through which you are perceiving the problem of hunger and starvation is that of
As an analogy, suppose I told you that you could go through the rest of your life
without ever having another argument. Try to put that into your structure of
beliefs. Everyone knows that you can't not argue. Arguments are inevitable.
It is not true that things are inevitable. What is true is that we perceive the world
through a condition ( through an unconscious, unexamined structure of beliefs)
which has a component called inevitability. You just know that, "If hunger could
have ended, wouldn't we have ended it by now?" It must be that when you have
human beings, you have hunger. Like death and taxes, it has to be tolerated.
It is not enough to hear about scarcity and inevitability. You have to first see for
yourself that you have been looking through these two filters. It is impossible to
ever get clear about anything until you first truly clear yourself. You need to see
that 15 million of us do not die as a consequence of hunger each year because
hunger and starvation are inevitable. These deaths are not inevitable, any more
than slavery was inevitable, any more than smallpox or polio was inevitable.
The Assumption of No Solutions
The last and perhaps the most pernicious and insidious aspect of the unconscious,
unexamined structure of beliefs through which we perceive hunger and starvation
is that component called "no solutions."
There's not a person on earth who would tolerate 21 children dying every minute
as a result of hunger if we thought we had a solution that would prevent their
dying. There is not one person who would be reading this now if he or she thought
that it were possible to get up and do something that would actually stop those
deaths. You and I know that the only reason that we would allow those deaths to
occur is that there is no solution. If there were a solution, we would have to apply
The truth is that people do not die of starvation because there are no solutions.
The failure to grasp that is what makes people ask: "Well, what are you going to
do about it?" As if what we did or didn't do were what caused the problem to
persist in the first place. What they want to know is, what more are we going to
do about it? What better solution have we come up with? What are we going to do
that is different from what the experts have already done?
Look into your own structure of beliefs, inside the condition from which you think
about the persistence of hunger, and observe that you do believe there are no
solutions. While confronting this belief, get that there are solutions. And they are
not merely good ideas. There are, for example, at least four general areas of
solutions which have been applied to ending starvation in more than 30 nations
since the end of World War II.
Fifteen million of us do not die as a consequence of starvation each year because
there are no solutions.
The Result of Taking a Position
In examining our unconscious system of beliefs, we discover the origin of gestures,
that is, behavior arising out of hopelessness and frustration. If you have now
recognized and accepted the existence of your own personal and individual filter (that ground of being, that condition, that unconscious, unexamined structure of
beliefs through which we perceive the facts of starvation and our attempts to
eliminate starvation on the planet) you have begun to move out of the sense of
frustration and hopelessness into no sense at all. You are beginning to be able to
just be with and actually observe the problem dearly. After transcending your
system of beliefs, you can just be with the problem. This is an opportunity
afforded, not by information, expertise or learning, but by taking responsibility for
your system of beliefs.
Now we are ready to look at the problem of starvation itself. Well, what could we
do? What position could we take that would end hunger and starvation?
I looked at a lot of positions that people have taken:
- The position of feeding people through better distribution.
- The Malthusian position of seeing starvation as nature's way of maintaining a population that
the world can feed.
- The position of giving away your excess food.
- The position of having the government solve the problem.
- The position of getting industry to do it.
- The position of getting churches to do it.
I found out that any position you take with respect to the end of hunger and
starvation automatically and inevitably calls up the opposite position in equal
To illustrate: When I say "left," notice I don't need to say "right." If I say "up," I
don't need to say "down."
It is a fact in the universe in which you and I live that any position requires its
opposite position. The assumption of any position necessarily implies its opposite
position. If I take the position "Let's end hunger and starvation," without further
ado I have called up the opposite position in some form or other. Maybe the form
is, "It can't be done." Maybe the form is, "There are more important things to do."
Maybe the form is, "Let them do it." Whatever the form, it is in opposition to, "Let's
end hunger and starvation."
When our positioning calls up the opposite position, we habitually redouble the
energy we invest in our position. That's how we handle opposition, isn't it? When
you're opposed, don't you redouble your force? And when you redouble your force
what happens? Obviously, you call up redoubled opposition.
A term I use to describe the mess that surrounds most issues in the world today
and prevents us from getting at what is really so about the world's problems is
"pea soup." The pea soup is a mass of confusion, controversy, argument, conflict,
and opinions. It is, in fact, composed of positions and oppositions.
The mass of the pea soup is created like this: As a nucleus, you have "yes" and
"no" as position and opposition. Then around the nucleus an enormous mass called
"other solutions" builds up. For example: "That way won't work. Try it this way
instead." "We need to do more. "Oh, no, that won't work, I've got a better idea."
"No, none of that will work, we need to do it differently."
Then this mass of solutions becomes the larger nucleus for an additional round of
more/better/different, which becomes an even larger nucleus for more/better/different and on and
on. That's how you get the mass of the pea soup. That is the way we create the
confusion and conflict and controversy that keep us from even seeing the truth of
what the problem is.
You can't discover this principle of opposites by making gestures. The United States Congress can make an enormous gesture, a billion-dollar gesture. There are
organizations around the planet that can make big gestures, hundred-million-dollar
gestures. There are small organizations that can make small gestures. And as
individuals we can make even smaller gestures.
But as long as you are gesturing (as long as you are asking what more can you
do, what better solution have you got, what have you come up with that's
different) as long as you are asking those questions, you cannot see that the
confusion, controversy, conflict, doubt, lack of trust, and opinions surrounding the
problem of hunger and starvation result inevitably from any position you take.
Once you are clear that you cannot take any position that will contribute in any
way to the end of hunger and starvation, that any position you take will only
contribute to the pea soup that engulfs the problem of hunger and starvation,
then hope dies. And when hope dies, hopelessness dies with it: without hope you
can't have hopelessness.
You are now close to the source of the problem of hunger and starvation on the
planet. If you can see that the problem is without hope, you are no longer
hopeless and frustrated. You are just there with whatever is so. There's just you,
without the structure of beliefs through which you try to look at the problem. By
getting clear yourself, and then getting underneath the pea soup, you can then
look deep down into the problem and see its source.
The Condition in which we Live our Lives
What you discover is that hunger and starvation on this planet are a function of
the condition in which each of us lives his or her life. It isn't what you are doing, or
what I am doing, or what they are doing. It isn't what you are not doing, or what I
am not doing, or what they are not doing that is causing the persistence of hunger
and starvation on the planet. The source of the problem is that you and I and they
live in a condition.
Here is an analogy that will explain what I mean by a condition: Our bodies as
physical entities exist in an atmosphere, and no matter how healthy a body may
be, if we pollute the atmosphere, that body will be damaged in direct proportion to
The environment for living organisms is called the biosphere. You as a living
organism may be very functional, but if I put you into an unhealthy and unworkable
biosphere, you will cease to function.
The environment for you as a human being (the beingsphere, if you will) is a
system of concepts and forces. It is the condition in which your humanity exists.
It is the condition which surrounds us as human beings. And it is in that condition
that starvation persists.
A condition is a position, a point of view or belief, that functions as a fundamental
ground of being. Forces are the processes that arise out of conditions.
The Forces in the World
It is the forces in the world which result in 15 million of us dying each year as a
consequence of starvation. It is the forces emanating from the condition in which
you and I and all of us live that result in those 15 million deaths each year.
Call them political forces, if you like. Study the political forces and you will see
that hunger and starvation on the planet are the inevitable result of those forces.
It doesn't make any difference what form the forces come in, or how you change
them. When you study the various forms of political forces, you see that hunger
and starvation are the inevitable result. If you don't like politics, do it with
economic forces. If you don't like economics, do it with sociological forces.
Psychological forces. Philosophical forces. Or if you prefer, a combination of them.
The forces in the world come from and are consistent with the existing content,
the existing circumstances. In turn, these content-determined forces circle back
to reinforce the existing content, the existing circumstances, in an endless cycle.
This process describes the condition of unworkability in which, no matter what you
do, it does not work.
The point is that when you get your own belief system out of the way and you get
through the confusion, controversy and opinions, down to the source of the
problem of the persistence of starvation on the planet, you see that it is a
function of the forces on this planet.
As an analogy, let's assume we live in a world in which the forces are represented
by invisible horizontal lines. Any attempt to take vertical actions is stopped by the
horizontal forces that turn all vertical movement into horizontal movement. You
can't see those forces. They are like magnetism or gravity. You can see their
results, but you can't see the forces themselves.
To continue the analogy, let's assume that horizontal actions result in the
persistence of hunger and that to end hunger you need to take vertical actions.
But if you do that in a field of horizontal forces, you can see what happens. You
end up being forced to move horizontally. So what you do, even when you try to
end starvation, is consistent with the persistence of starvation. Inevitably. No
matter what you do, it will be ultimately ineffective in ending starvation.
Starvation will persist.
By the way, this is not a justification for doing nothing, either. The truth doesn't
justify anything. Its a place to come from, not something to argue with. This paper
is not an attempt to take a stand. What we're attempting to do is to get at the
truth about hunger and starvation on our planet. And when you get to the truth of
it, when you work your way to the source of it, you see that hunger and
starvation on this planet are a function of the forces in which we live on this
An Idea Whose Time Has Come
Victor Hugo said, essentially, that all the forces in the world are not so powerful as
an idea whose time has come.
If, in fact, the time were to come for the end of hunger and starvation on this
planet, hunger and starvation on this planet would end. That's it. When the time
for things comes, they happen by whatever means are available. When an idea's
time comes, the forces in the world are transformed so that instead of what you
do being unworkable, what you do works. And you do what works.
The Wright brothers would have died bicycle merchants had flight not been an idea
whose time had come.
If you understand this, you begin to understand why things in the world have
progressed as they have. In 1800, slavery in this country, exactly like hunger
around the world today, was seen as inevitable. The attitude was: "When you've
got human beings, one is going to dominate the other."
Remember, it doesn't make any difference what those forces were: psychological,
economic, political. The consensus among people was that slavery was a function
of inevitability. In addition, those people knew that the economy of the country
would collapse without slaves. Everybody would be damaged, even the slaves
themselves. It was better to be good to your slaves than to end slavery. Besides
which, if we ended slavery, all those blacks would overrun the country and play
havoc with the white citizenry. Everyone knew you could not end slavery. You just
couldn't do it.
But when that idea's time came, slavery ended. Now, in the case of slavery, it
took a cataclysm. When something's time comes, it takes whatever form is
available to it, and it happens.
It is not a solution which makes something happen. It is its time coming which
makes the space for creative solutions and enables the solutions you use to work.
If you have traveled in Asia or Africa in the past, you know that smallpox was a
scourge there. People died from it. They were disfigured by it. Recently, there
have been signs in red on the walls of towns in Asia, offering a sizeable reward to
anyone who lets the local health authorities know about a case of fever and spots.
Nobody collected those rewards while I was in Asia the last time. Why? Because,
for all practical purposes, there is no more smallpox on this planet. It was not the
solution that ended smallpox. We have had the solution to the end of smallpox (the vaccine) for over 150 years.
As anybody who has worked with the problem or studied the problem knows,
smallpox persisted, not because of a lack of solutions, but because of the
economic, political, sociological, psychological forces in the world. For example, we
couldn't get into some countries because they didn't want any outside help. Some
people didn't want to be vaccinated. And so forth. But somehow smallpox ended
when the time came for it to end.
When an idea's time comes, whatever you do works, and you do what works.
An Answer You Can't Figure Out
It is clear that any position one takes will only add to the pea soup. It is clear that
nothing we do in this condition will be anything more than a gesture. It may be
ambitious and massive, but it will be a gesture nonetheless. It is clear that given
the current set of forces, given the current condition, nothing will end starvation
on the planet. And it is clear that when its time comes, starvation will end as a
function of what we do and we will do what ends it. It is clear that mere opinion,
argument, doubt, mistrust and explanation only contribute to hopelessness and
frustration. It is clear that making and supporting gestures is only a way of
avoiding responsibility. It is clear that defending a position, arguing a point of view,
only adds to the pea soup. It is clear that when the end of hunger and starvation
on this planet is an idea whose time has come, then this mess in which we have
been living will be transformed into the end of hunger and starvation on this
What Causes an Idea's Time to Come?
When you know the answer to that, you are no longer a mere speck of protoplasm
on a dustball hurtling through space. You know how to have an impact on the
world. You know what can make your life matter. The answer to "What causes an
idea's time to come?" is what The Hunger Project is about.
The Hunger Project is not about doing something more to end hunger. It is not
about doing something better to end hunger. It is not a different set of solutions
to the problem of hunger. It is simply about causing the end of hunger and
starvation on this planet to be an idea whose time has come. The people who
enroll themselves in the project commit themselves to that. What they do will be
derived from that commitment.
The question, "What causes an idea's time to come?" belongs to a particular class
of question. Its answer is not the normal and conventional, reasonable type of
descriptive or explanatory statement that a mind likes, that we are used to
handling. It is not an exposition, concept, or theory. The answer to this class of
question is, instead, a principle more powerful than all the forces in the world.
To answer this class of question, you have to give up your normal way of arriving
at answers. Rather than knowing more and then more as you go along, you will
need instead to be willing to know less and then less (that is to say, to become
somewhat more confused as you go along). Finally you will have struggled enough
to be clear that you don't know. In the state of knowing that you don't know, you
get, as a flash of insight, the principle (i.e., the abstraction) out of which the
While this is work that transcends ordinary intellect, all it requires is an unusually
high degree of openness, commitment and intention. You will need these qualities
to get you past the impatience, frustration and confusion that almost certainly will
result from the feeling that what you are reading doesn't make any sense. In fact,
the statement we are seeking isn't sensible; it transcends the senses. One doesn't
test the validity of such a statement by seeing if it fits into one's system of
beliefs. The test is whether there is a resulting shift from controversy, frustration
and gesturing to mastery, movement and completion.
Answers in this class are fundamental principles; they are the source of parts,
rather than the product of parts. They come as a whole, which whole can then be
divided into pieces. You cannot reach the whole by adding up pieces; obviously
the pieces don't even exist as pieces until there is a whole of which to be a piece.
Answers in this class (fundamental principles) can be known only by creating
Causing an Idea's Time to Come
What causes an idea's time to come? An idea's time comes when the state of its
existence is transformed from content into context.
As a content, an idea expresses itself as, or takes the form of, a position. A
position is dependent for its very existence on other positions; positions exist only
in relation to other positions. The relationship is one of agreement or disagreement
with other positions. This agreement or disagreement manifests itself in various
familiar forms. For example, your position is similar to, cooperates with, or supports
other positions; it is independent from or ignores other positions; it protests,
conflicts with, or opposes other positions. Positions exist by virtue of contrast,
such as being different from, or more than, or unrelated to, or better than other
positions. A position cannot stand by itself; it is not self-sufficient.
To come at this from another direction, we can look at content as thing, because
an idea as a position is a thing. That which is without limits is either everything or
nothing, and therefore not something, not a thing. It follows then that a thing
requires limits to exist. These limits are expressed as the boundary of that thing.
Since the existence of a thing is dependent on its boundary, and a boundary, by
definition, is that place between a thing and not-that-thing (i.e., something else),
the existence of a thing is dependent on something else-anything else. Therefore a
thing, a content, is dependent on something outside itself for existence. Content is
Context is not dependent on something outside itself for existence; it is whole and
complete in itself and, as a function of being whole, it allows for, it generates
parts-that is to say, it generates content. Content is a piece, a part of the whole;
its very nature is partial. Context is the whole; its nature is complete.
When an idea exists as a position (when it is a content) then it is an idea whose
time has not come. When an idea's time has not come, whatever you do to
materialize or realize that idea does not work. When an idea's time has not come,
you have a condition of unworkability in which what you do doesn't work, and you
don't do what works.
When an idea is transformed from content to context, then it is an idea whose
time has come.
When an idea is transformed from existence as a position to existence as a space,
then it is an idea whose time has come. Now an idea as position literally requires
other positions for its existence, while an idea as space is both self-sufficient,
requiring nothing else in order to exist, and allows for (is the space of) the
existence of other ideas. When an idea is transformed from existing as a function
of other ideas to being the space that allows all other ideas, then it is an idea
whose time has come.
When an idea is transformed from content to context, then it is an idea whose
time has come.
Creating a Context: Putting a Man on the Moon
Contexts are created by the Self, out of nothing. When you stop identifying
yourself as a thing, as a position, and start experiencing your Self as the context,
as the space, for your life (when you start experiencing that you are the context
in which the content of your life occurs) you will automatically and necessarily
experience responsibility for all the content in your space. You will experience that
you are whole and complete and that you are aligned with other Selves, with the
When you experience your Self as space, you create contexts from which you can
come into the world. One such context is the end of hunger and starvation on our
planet within two decades.
You are probably not yet clear about what context is (at least, not how it works) so we'll use an example. On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy initiated a
context when he told Congress: "This nation should commit itself to achieving the
goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him
safely to the earth."
By creating the context, "A man on the moon in 10 years," Kennedy transformed
space travel from merely a good idea (which had not succeeded despite
considerable attempts, the feasibility of which had been questioned, argued, and
discussed) into an idea whose time had come.
The result of what Kennedy did can be understood by analogy. It is as if he
created a building named, "A man on the moon in 10 years," and inside that
building he put offices for all the various ideas, positions, notions and people that
had to do with space flight. The first office inside the front door of the building in
1961 would have been called, "It can't be done." This office would have been
inhabited by the skeptics and cynics.
A content or position is threatened by any opposite position. Given two opposing
positions, only one can survive. On the other hand, a context gives space to, it
literally allows, it even encourages, positions that are apparently opposite. In fact,
the most important position in a newly-created context is the position which
appears to oppose the context.
It is important to get that opposing positions actually contribute to establishing a
context. In the case of the civil rights movement during the 1960s, for example, all
those people who opposed civil rights for blacks actually contributed to creating a
national dialogue that demonstrated to the country that the issue could no longer
be ignored. Every government official in the South who stood in the doorway of a
school and prevented black children from entering had been a cause, a part of the
persistence, of the problem, of the oppression. After the creation of a context ("equal rights and dignity for blacks") the very same action that had been a part of
the problem's persistence became an action contributing to the end of legal
discrimination against minority races. Then, every such action contributed to an
increased awareness of the issue, to the passage of civil rights legislation, and to
the gradual change in attitude that ultimately evidenced itself in the recognition
that civil rights was an idea whose time had come.
In a newly-created context the most important position is the position, "It can't be
done." That is the first and most important content to be processed, to be
realigned. Anyone who has created a context knows that context generates
process; process in turn grinds up content, it changes content so that it becomes
aligned with the context.
In the building of "A man on the moon in 10 years," the skeptics and cynics were
working on "It can't be done" in the context of doing it, so that instead of being a
threat or a stop to the goal, suddenly their skepticism and cynicism started
contributing to the achievement of the goal.
All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.
Context generates process. A contextually-generated process transcends the
existing forces; it transforms those forces. A contextually-generated process
aligns the existing forces within the context. Then the aligned forces provide a
condition of workability. Every action taken in a context is a fulfillment of, an
expression of, and a manifestation of that context. The pessimism, the cynicism,
the position, "It can't be done," are ground up by the process generated by the
context, and are transformed into the material out of which the result is achieved.
When an idea is transformed so that the apparently opposing idea actually
validates and gives expression to the idea, then it is an idea whose time has come.
Pretty soon the it-can't-be-done people became aligned. They were still skeptics
(that's their nature), they were still cynics (that's their nature), but they were
suddenly now cynical and skeptical and in alignment with the context called "A
man on the moon in 10 years."
Then they just moved out of the way and the new office in the front of the
building was: "You can't put a man on the moon without this specific kind of metal
and we don't have this specific kind of metal."
As we all know, the metals were invented and produced. Then what moved up
was: "But you don't know whether to do it with high technology or high energy."
We know that that one was resolved. The Russians said high energy. The United
States said high technology. It didn't make any difference. Within the context of
putting a man on the moon in 10 years, either one of the solutions would have
Unlike the problem of hunger, in which solutions already exist, there were no
solutions to the problem of getting a man to the moon in 1961. President Kennedy
created a context called "A man on the moon in 10 years," and out of that
context, in which the question of feasibility was merely one of many positions
within the context, came the workable solution: the Congressional approval,
appropriations of money, technological breakthroughs, NASA, and, ultimately, men
on the moon. Before then, space travel was not possible because the attempts to
make it real existed in a condition of unworkability.
In 1961, the people all the way in the back of the building called "A man on the
moon in 10 years" were optimists. Much less than 10 years later they had the first
office, the office of "it will be done." In 1969, it was done.
The Position "It will be done" and the position "You can't do it" are merely positions
within the context of "A man on the moon in 10 years" B or within the context of
"The end of hunger and starvation on this planet in two decades."
The Hunger Project should not be compared literally with the space project. It is
the power of a context to cause an idea's time to come that is analogous; nothing
The Context of an End to World Hunger
Within two months of the initiation of The Hunger Project, the National Academy of
Sciences published a report based on a two-year study announcing that we have
the ability to end hunger and starvation on the planet in two decades. The report
stressed that a key factor in ending hunger is the will to reach that goal. As you
can see, the facts support that the end of hunger and starvation is an idea whose
time has come.
A month after The Hunger Project was initiated I was in Honolulu having dinner.
The man sitting on my left was a retired aerospace executive. He had been so
successful that he became a consultant. Then he'd become even more successful
and he retired.
He was polite. He listened to my whole presentation, and finally he got so riled up
that he stood up and shouted: "I am tired of listening to people talk about hunger
who don't know anything about it! What are you going to do about hunger? You
can't end hunger with words! You've got to do something!"
At that point everything calmed down a bit. I stood up, to even the game out a bit
so people at the table wouldn't feel strange, and I said: "You know something?
You're right. And we'd like to invite you to be the person in The Hunger Project
responsible for, 'You've got to do something."'
The point is not that I somehow one-upped him, but that his annoyance and
apparent opposition were simply signs of frustration at his inability to affect a
situation that he cared about very much. Since that evening, he has gone out of
his way to support The Hunger Project.
Let's not be stupid. Obviously, something has to be done. Anybody can see that.
When people say, "But don't you see that you can't end starvation with words?"
that's like saying, "Don't you see the floor down there?" Of course, but that isn't
the point of The Hunger Project. Everybody sees that something has to be done.
The point is to create a climate, an environment (specifically to create a context,
a commitment to the end of starvation) in which what is done is effective.
Instead of the condition in the world creating lines of force running horizontally and
our activities to eliminate hunger running vertically, the context will generate a
process to realign the forces so that the lines of force start running vertically.
Then, within a realigned set of forces, what you did that didn't work before
suddenly works. It's the same thing you were doing before, except that suddenly it
now works. Every action taken in a context becomes a fulfillment of, an expression
of, and manifestation of that context. In that context your intention to end
starvation can be realized.
The Hunger Project is not something more to do. It is not something better than
what is being done. It is not some new and different and wonderful thing which
makes everything in the past obsolete. No. The Hunger Project is about causing
the end of hunger and starvation on the planet in two decades to be an idea
whose time has come, by causing the end of hunger and starvation in two decades
to exist as a context for what we do and for the process of decision and
discussion by which we arrive at what to do.
The Power of Context
There isn't a person reading this who does not know the power of context in his or
her own life. Whether you were conscious of it or not at the time, there have been
times when you created a context in your life. As a consequence of your doing so,
suddenly things started to work: That which previously did not work, that which
was stuck and not moving, suddenly began to move and start working. When you
create a context, it's not that you are now doing something very much different
from what you were doing before or even that you now know something very much
different from what you knew before. It is that there is a shift in the climate, the
space (specifically, the context) in which you work, that makes things suddenly
I tell you that the power of context is real. True, it doesn't seem very real if you
operate out of a system of reality that says that the body of the person over
there is more real than the love that that person experiences. My love for you is a
lot more real to me than your body is. Your love is an experience more real for me
than your face. The context (the end of hunger and starvation on the planet in
two decades) is very real for me. It's more real than the "yes-buts,"
"how-abouts," the confusion, the doubt, the controversy, the conflict. This
context is now more real for me than the facts regarding the persistence of
starvation. For me, the context created now has a power greater than those
facts. It has the power to generate a process, to generate a set of forces which
are aligned with the end of hunger and starvation and which will create the
circumstances within the next 20 years for the end of starvation.
I have something I want to tell you which is very delicate. Perhaps delicate things
should not be said in public because they are apt to be misunderstood. This is
something so delicate it requires intimacy. So I say this to you not as a public
statement but in the intimacy of the relationship which we have now established
Until now, each time someone has died as a consequence of starvation, that death
was further evidence of the persistence of hunger and starvation. The instant you
create a context (the end of hunger and starvation on the planet) then deaths
resulting from starvation occur in that context, and suddenly the same deaths that
had been a manifestation of the persistence of the problem become a
manifestation of, virtually a contribution to, the end of the problem.
When a space in which something happens is transformed, the same happening
takes on a different meaning and therefore leads to a different result. No one
would ask anyone to die as a contribution toward the end of death and it is a
fact that when you create a context around death and make that context real, it
does shift the meaning and result of the event.
A person can die as evidence of the persistence of hunger and starvation, in which
case that person's life and death have been reduced to meaninglessness. A person
can die in the context of the end of hunger and starvation, and the context
affords meaning (almost purpose) to that life and death.
What can the little individual do?
There are four generating principles of The Hunger Project and I want to discuss
The first generating principle comes from a question Buckminster Fuller asks.
Bucky's question is: "What can the little individual do?" What can you do as an
individual that some big organization or government can't do?
What you can do that no other entity can do is create a context. Only you have
the power to create a context. It cannot be done by a group. It cannot be done
by an organization. It must happen within the Self. The home of context is Self.
Only within your Self can you create the context: The end of hunger and
starvation on the planet within two decades. That is what the little individual can
I know that underneath our facades, underneath the junk that we bother
ourselves with in life, right underneath the surface (and I have been underneath
the surface of tens and tens of thousands of people) is the experience of an
innate and natural responsibility for the world in which we live. It is not something
you have to jam in there or convince people of.
I want to convince you of nothing. I have nothing to convince you of. The
experience of responsibility already exists within your Self. All you have to do is
experience your Self as the space of your experience and you will automatically
and necessarily experience responsibility for everything within your space. The
Hunger Project is a natural consequence of the experience of individual and
personal responsibility, of your Self's experience that hunger and starvation exist in
your space, in your world.
Now as a practical expression of that, you will ask: "What can I do?" The Hunger
Project does not answer that for you. It goes out of its way to not answer that
question for you. Instead,
it creates a context in which you get to answer that question yourself, so that the
answer is your own answer.
The first generating principle of The Hunger Project is that it is a project of
individual and personal responsibility.
It has nothing to do with guilt. If you want to feel guilty, fine. Keep it to yourself.
It's not part of the project. The Hunger Project has nothing to do with feeling
sorry for starving people. I consider feeling sorry for those people demeaning to
their humanity. If you want to feel sorry, please don't get it on me. The project is
not about being ashamed. You do not have to be ashamed about what you eat,
even about what you waste. Being ashamed of what you waste is a mere gesture.
It's a cop-out. It's cheap. The project is not about blaming anybody. It's not even
about your personal interest. Of course, it is very much in your personal, selfish
interest to eliminate starvation. If people don't get fed, your life is going to get
very miserable in about 20 or 30 years, according to the experts. And this project
is not about your selfish interest.
People have said to me: "Sure, you can talk to 40,000 people and get them all
fired up. How long will that excitement and commitment last? What will happen
after it wears off?"
If I have to keep people fired up, this project is a joke. If this project isn't natural
to your Self, this project is a fraud.
This project is about you, and I suggest that if you get in touch with your Self,
you will experience a natural, spontaneous sense of responsibility.
An Alignment of Wholes
The second generating principle is that the project is an alignment of wholes, not a
sum of parts. In this project you do not do your "part." There is no "part" for you
to do. This is a project in which you are the whole project.
If you enroll yourself in the project you become the source of the project. It
becomes your project and anyone working to eliminate hunger and starvation
around the world will be working for you because you have taken the responsibility
to create the context of the end of hunger and starvation on the planet. When
you do that, anybody doing anything is working for you.
Let me give you an analogy. If you take a transparency, a photographic slide, and
you cut the transparency in half and you project one half on a screen, what you
see is half a picture. On the other hand, if you take a holographic transparency
and you cut it in half and you project it, what you see is the whole picture. In a
holographic transparency, each part is not a part. Each part is a whole that
contains the entire picture.
Similarly, The Hunger Project is not you doing your part. It is a transformation from
you doing your part, to you being the source of it all. The Hunger Project is an
alignment of sources, an alignment of wholes. You are the source of The Hunger
Project. You make the project completely yours in a way that allows others to
make it completely theirs. No one gets credit for the project, and each of us is
allowed to own the project completely.
This is not a movement. This is not a bandwagon. There is no movement or
bandwagon to join. You can't be a part of something here. You can only be the
whole thing, aligned with other people who also are the whole thing.
Alignment is the spontaneous cooperation of wholes coming from a context or
common purpose. Agreement, on the other hand, is a banding together of parts in
support of a position or point of view. You don't need anyone's agreement to
create a context. You don't need anything from anybody.
All you need to create a context is your Self. The Hunger Project is an alignment
of Selves taking responsibility for creating a context.
Context, not Content
The third generating principle of The Hunger Project is the one I've already
discussed with you: the creation of a context, to cause the end of hunger and
starvation on this planet in two decades to be an idea whose time has come. It
can be done only within your Self.
And you create a context from what? From nothing. Within your Self and from
nothing you create the space, "The end of hunger and starvation on the planet in
two decades," and in that space you put all content and all process, and within
the space, process is generated, which reorganizes and realigns the process and
content. In that context, everything that happens in every moment is really the
end of starvation manifesting itself. Each position that used to contribute to the
pea soup now becomes a position manifesting itself as contributing to the end of
An idea transformed from content to context is an idea whose time has come.
Create a context and you have mastery. I promise you that at the point in this
project when you actually experience the context, "The end of hunger and
starvation on the planet in two decades," you will experience a transformation in
the quality of your own life. You will experience a kind of mastery that you have
never experienced before.
I said mastery, not force. Many of us have a lot of force. Mastery requires no
force. If everything is going vertically, what do you have to do to get something
to go vertically? Nothing, just do whatever you're doing.
Out of the context, "The end of hunger and starvation on the planet in two
decades," sometime in the next month some opportunity to do something to make
real the end of hunger and starvation on the planet will cross your path. Instead of
interacting with it out of a position, you will be able to interact with the
opportunity out of this context. Then, what you do will be wholly appropriate to
the end of hunger and starvation.
A Transformed Space
The fourth generating principle of The Hunger Project is the principle of
transformation. I cannot predict exactly what will happen to end starvation on the
planet. In fact, any prediction begins to place a limitation on what can occur.
If you and I were caterpillars talking about flight, can you imagine what the talk
would sound like? "We don't have the power to fly. Caterpillars don't fly. They
wiggle. We're too bulky and fat and we don't have wings. We can't do it."
To which someone might reply: "But if a caterpillar could fly, by what method do
you suppose it would happen?" Don't you see that you can't answer that with a
caterpillar mentality? Whatever answer you figure out comes from the limited
condition; it is deduced from what already exists, that is, the form of the
caterpillar. The creation of a context dissolves the limitations; it transforms the
condition of unworkability and creates an opportunity for solutions to occur.
I talked to about 40,000 people in a series of presentations of The Hunger Project
in September and October of 1977. Those 40,000 people experienced alignment and
began to talk to tens of thousands of other people, who, in turn, will enroll tens of
thousands of other people. Soon there will be over 100,000 people enrolled in The
Hunger Project, people committed to causing the end of hunger and starvation in
two decades to be an idea whose time has come.
We can predict what 100,000 people banded together in a movement, each doing
his or her part, could do about hunger and starvation-but no one has ever seen
100,000 aligned people. No one can predict what 100,000 people can do who are
aligned out of themselves, out of their individual sense of responsibility, out of
being whole, out of being willing to create new contexts within themselves: within
themselves as individuals, within themselves as relationship, within themselves as a
group, within themselves as organization or institution, within themselves as
society, within themselves as humankind. We have no idea what a group of
100,000 aligned people can do. And I say that any attempt to predict it limits it.
So I only Predict Miracles
Twenty years from now, when we're looking back at how hunger and starvation
ended, it will not look as if miracles had happened. Everyone will know how it
happened. They will point to events that were pivotal, that made a difference.
There will appear to be an obvious relationship between what was done and the
logical consequences of what was done.The weather got better; there were bigger
crops; this government changed; the president said that; the government did this;
and it all resulted in the end of starvation on the planet. In retrospect, that's how
miracles always appear to happen.
Butterflies can explain how caterpillars came to fly.
Nothing Is So Powerful As An Idea Whose Time Has Come - Graduate Review publication of The Hunger Project, The end of starvation: Creating An Idea Whose Time Has Come - at Internet Archive
The Hunger Project - An Idea Whose Time Has Come - Graduate Review publication with images and more information - at Scribd
- Werner Erhard