Posts Tagged trends

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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Facing the Brutal Facts

Pretext: I have been enjoying Good to Great which talks about great companies and how they face the brutal facts (and other qualities of great companies). And it really feels to me like we must be absolutely sure that while thrivability is about thinking positivitly, it is NOT about avoiding the brutal facts of what is. Only by facing those facts can we co-create a future that can really be different from what we have now in ways that work for us.

Today I read a dialogue Published on Tuesday, August 18, 2009 by The Guardian/UK Is There Any Point in Fighting to Stave off Industrial Apocalypse. The collapse of civilisation will bring us a saner world, says Paul Kingsnorth. No, counters George Monbiot – we can’t let billions perish by George Monbiot and Paul Kingsnorth.

I must disagree with both gentleman. For some reason, it all calls to mind some lessons I learned from the Black Swan about extremistan. Yes, many of our charts are going vertical. And yes, that seems to suggest that overlapping crisis will compound into catastrophe. But while it holds our current activities and technologies fairly stable, it assume complete vertiginous rise of problems. However, if you look at charts for our technology, you also see the strong vertical assent of the line on the chart. And let’s also hold all this a little lightly, as we all know statistics can be tricky business, all determined by perspective and rarely able to capture system dynamics (at least not these silly bar and line charts). But I leave it to my friends in visualization to explain the pitfalls better.

So why, when I admit the compounding crisis that we are already in the midst of (not just near the brink of), do I passionately pursue thrivability? Is it a little too optimistic and sunny-dispositioned for the brutal facts we face?

I am not sure if millions or billions will die. But this is not some future to be avoided, it is already the present. Millions already die–from measles, malaria, water borne disease, AIDS, lack of access to healthcare in general. Three years of working on savekids.org taught me that. What is more terrifiying than millions or even billions dying is that is won’t come as a shock to the system…it may ramp up from current rates, but I am skeptical that we, as a whole, will pay much attention. That is horrifically sad. Yet, we can see it happening all the time – millions of Americans hardly noticing, if they notice at all, the death of thousands of farmers in India (by suicide because they honor was crushed by financial crisis). So, millions or billions may die. As humans have died throughout our whole history. Some tragically and by preventable methods. I accept this at a deep spiritual level, even as it makes my heart shudder.

The brutal facts of our current state, I acknowledge – whether it is death from overpopulation (in the form of disease, starvation, and poverty) or the crisis in our oceans and air, our plants and farms, our ecosystems as a whole. A massive downward spiral as many downward spirals converge and amplify each other.

And, there are breakthroughs in this breakdown. Consciousness evolving, collective intelligence emerging, upward spirals seeding, evolving and growing.

I am less concerned with paper vs plastic and whether that has an impact on the environment or how much impact changing your lightbulbs will have. And I am much more interested in how the awareness that we are connected -that your use of everyday items impacts the world and our collective being – how that awareness, the new myth for us to operate within, emerges. The Story of Stuff being told, passed on, and repeated until it permeates our whole culture. And it has been emerging, from what I gather, for my whole life. I was born in the early 70s, and it feels to me like this was seeded then, if not earlier.

Will we come together, as we did during the world wars? Will there be victory gardens again? Will we, as we have before, make willing sacrifice so that humanity may face a brighter day? I believe thrivability is about inspiring that possibility of a brighter day – naming it, taking action toward it, and collectively shifting from downward cycles to breakthroughs and upward cycles. I think those trend charts don’t take into account that our world is more a world of extremistan than ever before. And while we may face extreme crisis, we may also see extreme innovation, connection, cooperation, and transformation.

That does not mean I think we will be saved by technology, be able to remain as we are, or won’t face huge losses (on many fronts). It does mean, I think there can be a positive outcome that makes it a worthwhile transformation to undergo. That this is part of a greater evolutionary flow raising our consciousness and our myths and the actions that come from them. A thrivable world will not fall into our laps with ease, it is something we will commit to with all our heart and being, making something much more amazing than what we have now – possible, plausible, indeed, powerfully and magnificently real.

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