A reckoning is inevitable. It will come one of two ways. Soon, as an act of collective awakening, or too late.
It will involve a fundamental shift in our relationships, with each other and with the planet.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I debate World Trends Research

A good friend posted a link to an essay by Van Wishard, host of the site World Trends Research, on “understanding our moment in history.” I gravitate to anyone’s attempt to present a ‘big picture’ analysis of this unprecedented time and our understanding or lack of it. And Mr. Wishard certainly strikes some major chords, addresses some powerful issues insightfully, and point us to some very wise interpretations, if not solutions. It’s a somewhat long piece, but it’s worth your time. I hope it’s equally worth it to read my areas of agreement and my rebuttal.

What boggles me about so many of such analyses, even the ones that ally with my political, social, spiritual or economic rants, is their inability to recognize or break through the massive environmental blind spot that, I argue, is the REAL threat to civilization.

So I’ll try to be brief. I’ll highlight the many very smart observations and hope you’ll read them in their entirety. I’ll point out what I see as gaps, and try to fill some of them in.

Yes, we are at the crossroads between two ages. Who do we (Mr. Wishard and I) mean by “we”? The whole of the human race and the myriad variations of civilizations and cultures we’ve built, but we in the U.S. and the industrialized West in particular, because it is WE who have turned us all toward this crossroads and stepped on the gas. He defines this threshold in terms of a set of technological, social and spiritual shifts. And he seems to suggest, rather subtly, that the solution, or the proper navigation will depend upon a new “globalized” kind of understanding, a widespread change in “world view,” including a readjustment toward spiritual values. I couldn’t agree more.

He cites three aspects of this changing trend: 1. a shift in our view of the earth, and / or of human civilization as having a unified identity and destiny; 2. technology as the driving force behind “globalization” and as the fundamental factor creating this new age; 3. it is not a war between civilizations, but a struggle within an emerging global civilization. While he thinks the view of the earth from the moon changed fundamentally our view of our lives on this planet, I have my doubts; we certainly have not changed our behavior as a result of a more ‘global’ view. Technology, clearly, YES, is the driving force in the shift from the age we are leaving to the one we are entering.

He cites brilliant minds historic and contemporary who have predicted and defined, and tried to warn and redirect us; minds who saw some of the emerging patterns well before the rest of us. It’s worth it to notice his experts and their observations. He raises issues about whether human technologies are part of “natural evolution,” and suggests, as I would, that they redefine “nature” and skew all the arguments we would otherwise make about nature or technology. To our peril, to the degree we misunderstand. He challenges us to imagine that unfettered technological advancements may obfuscate, some would say obviate, a clear moral order in individual cultures and in the civilization at large.

It’s great to see comments that directly parallel some of the experts I cite. He says, ”In other words, we may be fooling around with phenomena that are, in fact, beyond human awareness; possibly even beyond the ability of humans to grasp.” The International Futures Foundation, which I quote several other places, says, “We (the same “we”) are in a Conceptual Emergency. The world we have constructed expands and accelerates beyond our ability to understand or control it.”

And he makes some wonderful references to the “eternal mystery” and the “sense of wonder” it induces. While I lament our loss of a sense of wonder, so deeply have we come to take the many mysteries for granted.

And he also makes the courageous leap to say that the roots of the problem, the nature of the change of age, and the understanding of it, all lie, in whole or in part, in the unconscious mind, and/or the collective unconscious. Though I disagree with his characterization of the unconscious and the nature of its influence.

But, to my dismay, in a 6000 word essay that covers the issues described here and more, there are only two sentences that refer, rather obliquely at that, to the environment, the global environmental crisis, its expansion, severity and acceleration, and its rapidly increasing risk, not only to human civilization, but to the lives of hundreds of millions, if not billions of our fellow inhabitants.

Every argument he cites, every analysis he offers, every piece of history, every note of technological hubris: they all go by without a mention of the historic impact of the industrial revolution, setting up global warming. With only a side note to Bill Joy, he decries the possibility of more destructive new technologies, without enumerating the unintended consequences of the technologies we have let loose in our myopic drive toward materialist excess. He does come down on materialist values and he does point to some kind of a spiritual re-understanding of our situation, as parts of a proper preparation for these millennial changes we face.

My argument is that YES we are at a threshold between Ages, and YES the age we are leaving is represented on the ground by industrialization, technology and myopic materialism. I’d add, with emphasis, we are also in the middle of the Information Age (“Ages” can and do overlap and intersect) without having much of a clue how information and the lack of it perpetuate the problems by leaving us uniformed.

The nature of a Blind Spot, whether optical, vehicular, mental or cultural, is that it does not merely hide information, it conceals the fact that information is missing.

But the age we are entering is yet to be defined and it will be defined by many more factors than economic and cultural “globalization.” And it will not be defined so much by the dangers of new micro technologies. Nor will the environmental catastrophe be ameliorated or reversed by “geo engineering” (my argument only, not his). We are either entering into the Age of Ecology or we are entering a new Dark Age that will likely last, like the last one, for a millennium.

If we assume that this radical shift in global “world view” will be only about technology, or spirituality, or about reasserting some collection of social values, we’ll be navigating that new age without a compass, fresh water, or a predictable next meal. When we forget the NATURE of the world we stand on, and when we ignore the web of life that has allowed us to evolve, and when we take for granted the stability of our “civilized” systems, we risk launching ourselves, and more critically our children and theirs, into a world of chaos and decline.

My final argument, predicted or echoed in no way by Mr. Wishard: there is a critical and deep-seated equation in the global crisis we face. There is a balance between the total value of the accumulated wealth in the world, concentrated in the industrialized West, and the total damage to the planet and to human rights over the last five hundred years. I think that “Zero Sum” equivalency is all three: the explanation for how we got into this predicament, the reasons we are unable to become informed or make democratic decisions about it, and the key to the remedy. Thanks for your attention.