Become a Fan
I am amazed and awestruck by the immense power we humans have to create the future. Exciting as this power is, it’s also scary. We have the potential to create heaven on Earth, or a living hell. What a huge responsibility that places on our shoulders – individually and collectively – to use our power with wisdom, for the good of all people, all beings, and our planetary home. At present, the world seems to be balanced on a knife’s edge and could tip either way. Lots of good things are happening , but other factors could set us sliding down the slippery slope to destruction of our civilization, and perhaps even to extinction of our species.
I’m well aware of the dangers of exaggeration. A little adrenalin is a good thing to wake us up and stimulate action. But too much can paralyse us like rabbits caught in the headlights. So I don’t want to create yet another catalogue of doom and despair, but to look honestly and clearly at our situation, and to delve deeply into its causes and potential cures. In particular, in my next few articles I want to explore why change seems so slow and difficult to achieve, and how we can more effectively work towards a better future. So please stay with me if I go into some dark places. I promise that my overall message is one of hope.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably very aware of the challenges we face. In short:
• Earth’s climate is changing, bringing rising sea levels, ever-harsher droughts, fiercer storms and more devastating floods.
• Oceans are becoming more acidic, and forests are disappearing, pushing myriad species into oblivion.
• New diseases are bursting forth, and old ones are resurgent.
• The price of energy is soaring as readily available sources of oil and gas are depleted.
• Key minerals on which high technology depends are running out.
• More and more people are crammed into cities, breathing dirty air, and totally dependent for their very survival on the services that provide their food, water, energy and waste disposal.
• Many millions suffer from acts of terrorism, war, civil violence and crime.
• Poverty, exploitation and injustice are ever-present.
• Science and technology create new challenges as fast as they solve old ones.
• Life for many is meaningless and purposeless, leading to soaring use of mood-altering substances, and rising suicide rates.
• More and more people are retreating from the real world of relationship and community into computerised virtual worlds and electronic communications.
• Economic globalization and the growing power of corporations is increasing exploitation, environmental destruction and resource conflicts.
• And so I could continue.
Many people deny that these challenges constitute a crisis, arguing either that their seriousness is exaggerated, or that we’ll find creative solutions to them just as we have when faced with other challenges in the past. But I think our situation is unique in at least two ways. First, civilizations have fallen in the past due to invasion, resource depletion and environmental destruction (eg in Mesopotamia and North Africa), but always there have been other lands where a new civilization could arise. Today, the destruction is global; we have nowhere else to go. Second, our challenges may not appear too daunting when we look at them one by one. But when taken collectively, and when we acknowledge the many links between them, the prospect becomes far less rosy.
When our situation threatens to become overwhelming, it’s good to remember that a crisis is also a time of opportunity for constructive change. And lots of positive changes are happening right now, including:
• Growing global awareness and interconnection fuelled by transport and communications technologies.
• The rising tide of NGOs campaigning on every conceivable issue from climate change and globalization to peace and development, from gender issues and child-rearing, to healthy food and conservation.
• The mushrooming number of people and organisations seeking sustainable and more meaningful ways of life.
• Increasing interest in personal development, new forms of spirituality, and universal values such as love and compassion.
• The rapid growth of socially responsible businesses and ethical investment opportunities.
• The advance of science and technology, opening up new possibilities and solving old problems.
• The emergence of alternative media focused on positive news and activities.
• Success stories in conserving and restoring the natural environment.
• And so on.
Nevertheless, change seems frustratingly slow compared to the urgency of the situation. Why is this? Why are people and institutions so blinkered and resistant to change? What are the most effective strategies for a peaceful revolution and creation of a better future?
Before going further, it’s important to be clear about the prime cause of our predicament. To me, there is an unequivocal answer: we have only ourselves, humanity, to blame. To paraphrase Shakespeare (very inelegantly), the fault, dear friends, is not in our stars, with God, or in our planet, but in ourselves that we are endangered.
Gaia has looked after herself for billions of years. Over that time she has maintained conditions suitable for life and evolved ever more complex, intelligent and conscious organisms. True, she has been through large fluctuations in climate, asteroid impacts, periods of volcanism and rearrangement of the continents. And some of these events led to mass extinctions. But on a cosmic scale, Earth has been incredibly stable and an amazing womb of life and consciousness. I hold no fears for Gaia’s survival, but she may just shrug off humanity in the process.
Today, we are presenting Gaia with new challenges. One is our unwillingness to accept the natural and inevitable oscillations of a self-regulating planet. We look at the history of the last few hundred years, and expect future climate to be similar despite the evidence of longer-term fluctuations, and despite unlocking gases sequestered by Gaia over millions of years in her relentless quest for stability. Similarly, we turn normal planetary processes into natural disasters by building major cities on flood-plains and earthquake faults, and by deforesting watersheds. And rather than adapting flexibly to Gaia’s rhythms, we seek stability through human control, thus risking unexpected and violent side effects.
We have multiplied into a plague species that is monopolising the planet’s resources at the expense of basic life-support systems and other species. When coupled with the restless movement of people and goods around the world, this over-population creates ideal conditions for the evolution of pests and diseases, and the loss of valuable biodiversity. And in our emotional, psychological and spiritual immaturity, from our fear, anger and greed, we unleash violence and weapons of mass destruction upon the planet and other species as well as each other.
In short, we are grossly misusing our incredible ability to create the future. We have become clever almost beyond belief, but have failed to learn the wisdom to handle these explosive powers. In our hubris, we see ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution, masters of the Earth and of our own destiny. But we reap what our parents and grandparents sowed, and we leave our legacy for our children and grandchildren. Again, I don’t want to lay a heavy guilt trip on us all, but to be clear about cause and responsibility so that we may look in the right place for the solutions to our problems. They lie with us, each one of us individually and collectively.
Why do we seem so incapable of acting wisely? Why don’t we learn from history and our past mistakes? Why, so often, do we seem incapable of acting at all? Why can’t we create peace and harmony, relationship and family, community and cooperation, sufficiency and fulfilment, and a beautiful, clean and bountiful environment? Why, instead, do we so often create violence and conflict, social breakdown and competition, exploitation, pollution, ugliness, and a life without meaning?
There are many answers to these questions, from many perspectives and at many levels. I intend to explore quite a few of them within the context of an overarching theory. This is a work in progress. My ideas may not always be clear and consistent. But I feel sure new understandings will arise and creative ways forward will emerge from this process.
THE CAUSE OF HUMAN DYSFUNCTION
I’ll end this article with a very brief outline of my overarching theory, and will expand on it in future entries.
Riane Eisler, in her classic book "The Chalice and the Blade", argued that there are two fundamentally different forms of human society and relationships. These are the dominator and partnership models which I’ll describe in my next article. Early human cultures in many places followed the partnership model, and were egalitarian, cooperative and peaceful. But about 5-6,000 years ago they were over-run by violent, hierarchical dominator peoples. Many of our problems arise from this dominator culture, its forms of organisation and ways of relating.
Most of Eisler’s work in the last 20 years has been devoted to elaborating the benefits of the partnership model, and encouraging a transition back towards it. But there are three key questions that, to my mind, she does not adequately address. Why did the dominator model arise in the first place? Why did it sweep aside partnership cultures that had been stable for many millennia? And why is it so difficult to move back towards the partnership model?
My answer, in a word, is trauma, both individual and collective. Trauma causes emotional and behavioural responses to situations that are inappropriate and lead to more trauma for both the individual concerned and for those with whom they interact. There is thus a circular, reinforcing feedback loop that is hard to break in which trauma creates more trauma. Easily recognised examples include abuse in infancy which may lead the victims to traumatise their own children in adulthood; war-traumatised men who react with anger and violence to family stress; and collective memories of historical atrocities that often fuel modern conflicts. Other relevant traumas include famine and natural disasters, enslavement and exploitation, torture and imprisonment, rape, and accidents.
This theory provides a clear vision and goal: development of a partnership culture at all levels from the personal to the global. And it also provides clear strategies for achieving it. We need to campaign for changes in social, political and economic institutions that will move us towards a partnership culture and thus minimize the creation of fresh traumas. And we need to heal our own traumas, and those of our families, communities, nations and planet. Fortunately, we live in a time when effective ways to heal trauma and enter higher states of consciousness are becoming more and more available, as illustrated by the work of The Institute for the Study of Peak States, and others.
I will elaborate these ideas in the next few articles.