Archive for September, 2009

Facing the Abyss

The last several posts have been about navigating the gritty realism before us. This one follows suit. And gives the reason I choose to focus on thrivability.

Months burn by bringing ever more forecasts of catastrophe. Ocean ph, glacier melt, that crazy island of plastic in the Pacific, economic meltdown, emergent disease, famine, and so much more. Those who believe that we are god’s chosen people stand in stoic denial, and the rest of us can sense the weight of imminent convergent crisis. At first I was hopeful that we could address these issues. Then I was saddened as the bombardment of horror stories of a terrible future kept coming. Before long I felt myself on the edge of the abyss. I have always been concerned with the ethics of our future and what we are doing today that will set our trajectories for tomorrow. The darkness ahead got darker. US politics made it seem like we were on a completely suicidal course to revel in our own collapse. The abyss loomed grandly.

I took a drive in 07 across half the country (and back). I looked at the Grand Canyon. And wow, we are surely facing erosion of possibilities on that grand of a scale. Except ours is not so lovely. And then I went to the Petrified Forest park. Time grew very long. Here were huge trees, very likely older than my life span. They grew, they died, they fell into a swampy area, and they became rock. I looked above me at the gorgeous night sky that evening. Stars whose lives span millions of years cluttered the desert sky with their energetic light (racing light years across the universe). We are so incredibly tiny. The hugeness of our crisis faded. We may destroy ourselves or fall back into earlier states of culture as current structures massively fail. Or not. On some future path, we could destroy half the planet or all of it. The vast universe will hardly note it. It is always in a state of change, existing in time frames that are simply incomprehensible to the human mind. This is an abyss – the edge of the mind’s ability to grasp time and space and our incredible vanity at thinking that we or the planet matter to anything outside ourselves.

Zooming in and out is such a powerful skill in managing awareness. But I will explain that elsewhere. Here, let’s stand at the abyss together. Look out into the everythingness…and the nothingness. Our own destruction…and how our frail existence as individuals and even as a planet is infinitesimally small in the space of the universe.

I accepted that and some peace came to me. But what now? If I can hold a perspective in which my heart doesn’t collapse from the suffering we have and bring on ourselves in our present and future, then what? What do I do now with this frail, precious, wild, and very temporary life I have?

My email signature reads: “Act always as if the future of the universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.” — Buddha

Let’s imagine the arcs of the future streaming before us. To the left, let us see the future that stems from inaction – failure to change course. It is riddled with crisis and vast human and living system suffering. Likely large scale migrations as one area becomes toxic (in actuality or in energy and access to resources). Disparities in wealth, aka access to the things we need, escalates into greater and greater Extremistan. To the right, let us be powerfully visionary and imagine the best possible future. Turn off the inner skeptic. Imagine future generations enjoying natural areas and clean air, imagine everyone having ready access to water and healthy foods, medical care, shelter, etc, where they are free from gross conflicts and free to pursue their passions.

The real future is somewhere in the middle, I suspect. But, for this thought experiment, let’s assume that one can either be a pessimist (left) or an optimist (right).

If I live my day to day life believing that the only possible outcome is the future to the left, why should I take any action? Why should I even get up in the morning? My brief life might be full of some immediate pleasures, but it will end with no inspiring legacy and a terrible shame that thousands and thousands of years of human evolution collapsed in my day. Personally, choosing to believe that feels like suicide of the spirit to me. It is all for naught. Don’t bother leaving a sign to mark the grave.

If I live my day to day life believing that the possibility (without being totally blind to the brutal facts before us) – that there is some possibility to move from the stream on the left to the stream on the right…in my lifetime it might not be 100% to the right, but maybe 70%? Where might it go? What might I do to move that path to the right – toward possibilities of humans evolving in dynamic relationship to the systems around us – toward thriving?

I can’t tell you what the future holds. We are not there yet. Sure we can do trending and trajectories, but in a world of tipping points, phase shifts, and extremistan logic, I don’t trust those very much. (It could be much worse or suddenly shift course). I can tell you that I am choosing, consciously choosing, the belief in the possibility of the future on the right – the thrivable one. It is not about truth – philosophy makes a mess of truth… It is about what is useful to believe. It is about believing in something so I can get up in the morning and greet my friends with a heart bursting with love.

The steps we take each day determine the fate of our present…and guide us into a future together. Which future do you want to head toward? Which dream do you want to believe in? For all visions of the future are only dreams in the mind. Which dreams are useful to you today?


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Choosing Life

In a recent conversation about thrivability, population issues came up. Will co-creating a thrivable world mean that we control population and to what extent? I am sure some could make an argument for a radical altering of the human population as a strategy to get to a thrivable world, considering what a drain on resources so many people on the planet are. This is not what the person in conversation with me was suggesting. However, I can imagine it. And I can imagine the case for it. Do we all die from impending crisis, or do we make some difficult choices about who gets to live so that the species and the planet can continue. Let me be super clear, I do not think that particular choice is feasible nor worth pursuing.

However, something very clear emerged for me in that conversation. We are already choosing who gets to live and who dies. Sure we don’t usually use guns or put them in camps. Well sorta…if you consider refugee camps. And no, we don’t have their names and their ID numbers. But as long as we have the technology to save lives AND we aren’t using them because we claim money is a scarce resource…then we are choosing for people without adequate access to money to die. Maybe not all of them…but  far too many than we would like to admit and keep our conscious clear.

Sometimes people have to die for others to live. Sometimes war might even be worth having. I can’t feel right about making some unilateral claim that all death is bad nor that many should end up dying so that some other maintains their right to live. I think this is a messy business. I am talking about life and death here, but it is present in other less charged spaces too – the responsibility we are not owning collectively.

If we know what it takes to save a life, and we don’t save it… then we are already choosing life and death for others. If we know what it takes to save a life, and saving it won’t take anything away from our ability to live… then we have made an “interesting” ethical choice. And we better thank our lucky stars we are on this side of the equation.

Creating a thrivable world is not about becoming responsible for the lives of others and their well being. A thrivable world is about recognizing that we are already responsible for the lives of others and their well being, and then making conscious compassionate choices.

The big example that comes to mind here is malaria. The US used to have tons of malaria in certain parts of the country. Then DDT killed it off, mostly. But before DDT killed it off in Africa, we realized how horrible it was on the environment. So DDT is used in very limited circumstances in Africa (and elsewhere). And we run charity programs – voluntary programs – to disperse insecticide treated nets. In some cases we hope a market option will work (although we killed the DDT market option). Often the charities involved play on our pity and compassion. And it works and is true… Malaria is a horrible disease, clogging blood flow, preventing people from working and learning, weighing down the possibilities of large sections of Sub-Saharan Africa. But we try to hold it at arms length – them over there…those poor things can’t help themselves… Hello? We participated in this situation. Maybe not you personally, but the culture and country you belong to has. We are complicit in it. It is not them over there…the ones we…over here…are allowing to die…because there isn’t enough pity to go around. It is us over there, under a different set of circumstances – ones we are partly responsible for…and it is not pity, but our shame that pulls us under into inaction.

Do we hang our heads in shame, complicit in the collapse of humanity and evolutionary progress? Or do we shake off the malaise, acknowledge our responsibility, and leap forward to help ourselves and our kind? You have both a responsibility to do your part and a responsibility to make sure that others doing their part are networked with you to address the issue. You are one of the lucky ones future generations need most. You may not be able to change all your behaviors, nor live some pure life of no moral gray space. I know I can’t. Can we admit that while we strive for a thrivable future, the path forward is complex, and it requires us all holding metaphorical hands. Together, we can become less complicit in our own destruction. Together, we can hold our heads up high singing halalujah for our actions taken under our shared responsibilities. Together, we can co-create a thrivable world.

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