“When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego,
and when we escape like squirrels turning in the
cages of our personality
and get into the forests again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don’t know ourselves.
Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies taut with power,
we shall stamp our feet with new power
and old things will fall down,
we shall laugh, and institutions will curl up like
Escape, by D. H. Lawrence
Regular readers of this blog will know that I believe we’re in for a rough ride over the next few years (or maybe even decades) as we transition from the old industrial order to a new way of being in the world.
The transition is necessary, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.
To recap, according to the analyses of Sir John Glubb and William Ophuls, it is likely that the globalised world is entering an era of major civilisational disruption, or even collapse. Humanity has created a perfect storm of “wicked” problems that are interconnected and constantly evolving, reinforced by mutually reinforcing positive feedback loops: for example, climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, soil exhaustion, overpopulation, economic inequality, and political isolationism, which combine with various quirks of human psychology to blind us to the scale and urgency of the problems until it is now probably too late, given the time lags inherent in the system.
If we had wanted to design our political, economic, and social structures in such a way to guarantee rampant inequality and environmental destruction, we have succeeded magnificently.
They served their purpose for a while, but now the goals, the processes, and the culture of the old paradigm have overshot the inflexion point between productive and counter-productive. These structures are founded upon the principles of domination and disconnection, which lie at the root of all our troubles.
The status quo is, by its nature, self-perpetuating. Those who have the power to change the system are unlikely to do so, as it is the very same system that has given them their power. And those who suffer under the existing system, so would want to change it – they don’t have the power.
Are We Doomed?
We may be (if doom means death, and if you believe that death is the end). For sure, the human species will go extinct at some point, as all species do, but we are still left with the questions of when, how, and what do we do in the meantime. Here are three possible scenarios (among an infinite range):
1. Humanity continues on its current trajectory: Given the evidence of the last few decades, during which we have proved adept at writing pretty resolutions full of nice words (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Millennium Development Goals, Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement, etc.) but less adept at putting them into action, I am sceptical that we will make the radical course correction that is needed in order to avoid significant and negative global impacts within the next one hundred years. But I expect a substantial number of humans will survive, and will adapt to survival in a radically changed ecosphere. We may end up living in an impoverished world where a strip mine sits alongside a shopping mall alongside a landfill, and nature has been entirely subjugated to serving humanity’s needs. Maybe the eco-modernists and transhumanists turn out to be right, and we will be able to escape this miserable planet by moving to Mars, uploading our consciousnesses into a computer, and incrementally robotising our bodies until we are virtually immortal.
2. Humanity takes radical action without a shift in consciousness (and here’s a blog post on what I mean by the shift): We have already by 2020 passed the tipping point on many of the critical planetary boundaries, so it’s likely that we will eventually pay attention and make changes. But without a fundamental shift in the way we think of our place in the universe, any changes will be shallow- rather than deep-rooted, and once the immediate crisis has passed, we are likely to relax and lapse back to our previous ways of being. The inevitable will have been postponed, rather than permanently averted.
3. Humanity takes radical action combined with a shift in consciousness: There may be a painful transition period while we reap the whirlwind of the past, and our actions, no matter how radical, may prove to be too little, too late. But if we subscribe to the model of reality as a web of consciousness, any upward evolution of consciousness at a local level is a contribution to the evolution of the whole cosmos, so no evolutionary endeavour is a wasted effort. The shift in consciousness, then, may yet be enough to mitigate the worst impacts, and even if we are ultimately doomed, will enable us to navigate our final era with some degree of dignity.
A Possible Way Out of Our Predicament
As I said earlier, our political, economic, and social structures, like the problems they have generated, are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. It is therefore “easier” (but still extremely hard) to change everything, than to try and change one thing, and as mentioned above, the change has to begin with the way we understand our relationship with each other and with the cosmos – in other words, the shift in consciousness.
As Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” Or, to use Donella Meadows’ systems thinking terminology, we need to transcend the existing paradigm.
To create the new model we need to step outside our culturally conditioned ways of thinking, and demonstrate a willingness to experiment with new conceptions of reality and possibility. Ideas like The Case Against Reality can help us loosen our grip on our current view of reality, which is reductionist, linear, and bonded to space-time. We need to leave the shores of the old world, and venture into a radical new Terra Incognita. Once there, we can start to glimpse a new conception of reality that is full of possibilities that would seem impossible within our currently prevailing worldview.
Once we have left the shore and find ourselves on the ocean of possibility, we run into the challenge of how to think thoughts we have never thought before. Peering into our blind spots can at times feel like trying to see the back of our own head, but it is vital that we try. As collaborative, co-creative groups, we have a better chance, especially when we use processes such as Otto Scharmer’s Presencing to deliberately cultivate the ground for inspiration, giving rise to emergent insights not possessed by any of the individuals in the group.
This kind of creative thinking and imagining takes place at the edge of chaos, the turbulent border between the old and the new where new possibilities are spawned. We see this phenomenon of co-creative tension enshrined in various instances: between yin and yang, between female and male, between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Diversity is therefore essential to effective and creative self-organisation. A group of homogenous agents will produce more of the same-old, same-old, while a group of heterogeneous agents can co-create surprising new possibilities.
In nature, evolution is essentially a self-organising system. Human society has already started a shift towards co-creative, self-organising structures (teal organisations, crowdocracy, etc.). This seems promising.
But once a complex system reaches a certain point of complexity, results become unpredictable. As Scott Page says, “An actor in a complex system controls almost nothing, yet influences almost everything.” Given this complexity, rapid prototyping combined with high quality feedback is essential, and the feedback needs to be context-dependent, meaningful, and capable of change in response to the real-time needs of the system and its environment.
If the odds seem daunting, it helps to remember that change is not linear. According to the Diffusion of Innovations Theory, once a tipping point is reached, at around 16% uptake, widespread adoption becomes probable. Change agents can improve the likelihood of success by paying attention to five established variables: relative advantage, compatibility with existing practices, simplicity and ease of use, trialability, and observable results. If Cultural Creatives do in fact constitute a large proportion of the population, the task could be as simple as connecting them together into a community of mutual support.
If reality is the product of a network of conscious agents, as per Hoffman, and consciousness is fractal, then anything we think, say, or do as an individual has an actual effect on reality, which may be small, but no individual effort is ever wasted.
Put another way, if (per Lao-Tzu) our thoughts become words, which become deeds, which become habits, which become character, then our consciousness is the sum total of our every thought, and the collective consciousness is the sum total of our individual consciousnesses. On the one hand, this is a great responsibility, as we need to hold ourselves to the highest level of accountability, and on the other hand, it is a great boon, as we understand that tiny actions accumulate to make a vast difference.
If we succeed in this mission to refine our consciousness, individually and collectively, and if it is indeed the case that space-time exists only as a product of consciousness, then the effects of this refinement could go far beyond our wildest imaginings.
Miracles could yet happen.
Other Stuff: TEDxStroudWomen
Tickets are available at the early bird price for about one more week for our livestreamed event, beaming out across the universe to an online audience from Stroud. £5 for 9 amazing speakers is incredibly good value. Please buy at least one ticket, post, and share!
There’s a great video on LinkedIn of behind-the-scenes clips, along with shots of all our speakers and their topics. I’m so excited to be presenting these wonderful women to the world.