Set against the rich tapestry of mankind’s evolution on this planet the current era seems increasingly to be characterised by escalating turmoil and disquiet. The scent of suffering uncertainty hangs eerily in the air.
A feeling that our lives are spinning out of control is made all the more palpable by three overwhelming factors:
- The first is excessive affluence in the post-industrial world compared to the crushing poverty, inequality and injustice experienced by citizens elsewhere.
- The second is the Western petulance and hubris that allows empires in decline (together with the institutions responsible for initiating and perpetuating this madness) to believe it is their exclusive right to resolve all its problems. Even if they had the capacity to do so, which they do not.
- The third is our willingness to give up serious intellectual debate in return for a media intent on diverting collective attention via a squalid mix of sanitized news, entertaining pap and a seemingly endless parade of celebrities behaving badly.
Progress itself has become a dangerous delusion. One has only to reflect on the news headlines that bombard us throughout our waking hours: an unremitting nightmare of horror, corruption, ecological catastrophe and the spiraling costs of even the most basic elements required to sustain life – clean food, potable water and plentiful energy.
In all of this our humanity has gone missing. Higher intentions have been lost. We are in thrall to materialism; obsessed by economic and political power in ways that could easily wreck our way of life - if the past collapse of previous civilizations is any judge.
The future is indeed grim if we remain adrift in circumstances that threaten to undo everything beneficial and abundant and beautiful we have struggled to create.
Unknowingly perhaps, but frighteningly real nevertheless, our actions have spawned almost perfect conditions for the mass extinction of homo sapiens. The truly terrifying thought is that we have developed an awareness to know this is the case as well as the intelligence to do something about it. But is it too late for wisdom?
Over the coming decades we will need to undertake something we have never done before. We will need to redesign the material basis of our civilization. There is no precedent for this. No process flow chart. No rule book. No training manual. No compass to direct us to more desirable futures…
Nor is there much leadership evident as yet. Politicians, bureaucrats and business tycoons appear traumatized by the extent, scale and complexity of the problems facing society. Like rabbits caught in the headlights, their inclination is to wait and to wonder.
Astonished by global forces they happily unleashed, particularly their systemic nature and fickle twists and turns, our leaders seem paralyzed within the here and now of business as usual. Except now there can be no business as usual.
As a consequence their reactions are typically confined to an evasion of long term issues. Denying realities that resist conventional analysis they choose instead to quibble about today’s trivia in their concern to protect so-called national interests, dithering and chattering about matters that are ultimately of negligible consequence.
But perhaps all is not lost. Perhaps we have been looking in the wrong places for viable solutions. After all, despair does not loom large in humanity’s chronicles. The human spirit is far too resilient and adventurous for that. Optimism and hope can spread its wings once again. Already a new consciousness is evident in certain quarters – particularly among the young who are not weighed down by the gravitational pull of the past.
A cadre of enlightened and connected individuals is emerging. Many of these people live in places where their voice has been hard to hear above the clamor of developed world bluster. Their ideas have been excluded from mainstream debate because of poverty, geography, blackballing or oppression. Which is crazy. Their unique experiences can help us comprehend what needs to be done and we need to listen loudly to their propositions.
It will not be easy. The way forward is not locked-up in conventional approaches, competitive states, nor in dominating nature. On the contrary it is embodied in integral intelligence, collaborative networks, appreciative systems and, above all, the liberation of wisdom.
But in order for these new voices to be heard, their ideas incorporated into global dialogue and their advice acted upon, we need to think differently. Only then might we begin to see differently. And we need to see differently in order to behave differently.
This piece was written as a Foreword to Designing Better Futures - a new book by Michael McAllum which will be published later this month - and is reprinted here with his permission. In this wonderful book Mike unerringly follows a path intended to liberate wisdom – a path that may lead us all to wiser decisions and more coherent actions than has previously been the case.
The Chinese have a saying: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today. For our society there can be no further delay. If life is design then Designing Better Futures is a fitting primer for helping humanity move into this new age today.
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