I know it is difficult and painful to contemplate what is happening to our world. Most of us are experts at distracting ourselves from the mega-catastrophe that threatens to engulf all of us, even laughing it off. But if we are brave, I believe we can come to see it as a necessary and even positive threshold in the life of our species. It is only by embracing this crisis, in all of its mind-bending complexity, that we can find the will and the incentive to change ourselves and our world.
Expanding our Vision
From the 1960s until today, many people have taken personal journeys of initiation, rediscovering mysticism, shamanism, and embracing an expanded awareness of psyche and cosmos. This collective voyage of initiation can’t be completed, however, until those who have taken their personal vision quests are able to bring their new knowledge back into our society – to have it fully absorbed, welcomed, and integrated. The best option is that we undertake a peaceful, deliberately designed, and non-destructive system change.
We can think of our current civilization – its technical and sociopolitical infrastructure, its ideology and beliefs – as an operating system, much like the software that runs our computers. Now we need to reboot and install a new system software. A new social design could, eventually, give every human being the opportunity to flourish and thrive, to live creatively, without fear for their future. Accomplishing this is a great mission that will require a truly rational, empathic application of our technical and creative powers.
Culture is our Operating System
We must build this new program – engineer this global reboot – within the next few decades. If we can accomplish this, we will have passed the test that the universe set for us. I realize that some people will worry I am proposing a nefarious form of ‘social engineering’. The truth is that we have already been socially engineered. As Terence McKenna noted, culture is our operating system. We have been conditioned since birth to accept a system of global control, elite privilege and military domination.
Identity is, to a great extent, a social construction. Oscar Wilde wrote:
The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development.
I think this is true. It points toward the enormous task as well as the great opportunity confronting us now. The Earth will not be able to support a global civilization based on hyper-consumerism and hyper-individualism for much longer. Therefore, we must change human nature as it is currently known. We must do this, not only to survive but to reach our full potential as a species.
Our technocratic society uses the mass media as an instrument of mind control and threatens those who dissent or resist with violent reprisals. Through incessant media bombardment and government fear-mongering, people are conditioned to believe that oppression, injustice, violence, and inequality are normal and inevitable. What we require is a new social design to liberate humanity from its prison. This redesign must also reckon with our darker and more destructive impulses and find ways to channel them.
My mission is unabashedly utopian. To quote Wilde:
A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.
Postmodern civilization is already a pseudo-utopia. Over the last few centuries, we have constructed an artificial paradise of consumer goods – the society of spectacle – for those with the resources to enjoy it. Unfortunately, this artificial paradise is built on excessive waste and ecological destruction. It has created misery for those on the margins; the victims of famines, wars, and genocides. By addressing its flaws, we can realize the next manifestation of our genius as a species and achieve, in comparison, a true utopia.
I know it seems strange to discuss the imminent prospect of an ecological meltdown on the one hand and the attainment of a practical utopia on the other. But such is the schizophrenic nature of our time. As we shall see, both outcomes seem plausible. In the near-term, we may get a bizarre mix of the two.
Reducing our Burden on the Earth
I don’t think a massive die-back of the human population is inevitable – perhaps I refuse to believe it. But the longer we wait to relaunch our social operating system, the more difficult it will be to avert planetary catastrophe. We have already waited too long.
I seek to bring together the archaic and the postmodern, the visionary and the rational, the corporate and the anarchistic, in a viable synthesis. I don’t expect us to revert to old-fashioned 18th Century agrarianism, although I do think communities will need to grow more of their own food and become as self-sufficient as possible.
I also don’t think we can regress all the way back to small-scale bands of hunters and gatherers, although there is a great amount we need to learn from indigenous and aboriginal cultures; that supported their local ecology for thousands of years. Out of unconditional love, we must seek to maintain the current human population even as we radically reduce our burden on the Earth.
Proceed with Caution
I don’t reject the potential of futuristic technologies – artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and so on – out of hand. But I think we must explore them with great caution, and with constant oversight from civil society. Right now, crucial decisions that impact the biosphere in its entirety are left to engineers, corporations, and financiers. Our current form of government was established in the late 18th century when, news as well as progress, moved at a much slower speed than today. To deal with our rapidly changing circumstances, we need more than a reform – we need, I think, a new political-economic operating system.
In many cases, the promise of advanced technologies has been far greater than what they delivered. Each new level of technology also brings with it unforeseen negative consequences, requiring more innovation to fix. As the dark ecologist, Paul Kingsnorth, has noted, this has created an increasingly alarming, even world-endangering ‘progress trap’. As our civilization becomes more technologically complex, it also becomes more fragile. The prospect of the Singularity, promulgated by Google engineer, Ray Kurzweil, and other techno-utopians, is one we must investigate carefully. It is something like a ticking time bomb we must defuse.
We possess working models for nonhierarchical, non-commercial societies in the blueprint of many indigenous and traditional cultures. The design of tribal societies reflects the wisdom of thousands of years of social innovation, and trial and error. We can rediscover these basic principles. We can look at how various tribal societies handled power dynamics, for instance, while maintaining egalitarian communities and also use modern technologies to support the creation of a better world.