Ruben Nelson, Canadian Club of Rome member, affirms:
I am a hopeful pessimist. (EDIT: Please send comments to Ruben)
It is my considered judgement that in the coming years and decades we in Modern Techno-industrial (MTI) cultures will be blindsided by great tragedy and despair. These are now irrevocably baked into the next several decades. As of today, because we have not yet developed the capacity to see it, we are utterly unprepared for the coming chaos and disruption. Because we are so utterly unprepared, the trauma will be needlessly magnified. The question is not, “Can we avoid it?” We cannot. The question is, “Can we manage to survive it in a manner that does not destroy our humanity as well as most of what we love about this Earth?”
The answer, of course, lies with us. Are we willing to work our way through a fundamental reassessment of who and what we have become as Modern Techno-industrial (MTI) peoples and cultures, of what we have done and are still doing to the Earth, one another and ourselves, and of the future towards which we are now so steadfastly moving? As of today, this seems to be unlikely. At best, it is a very long shot.
In my view, we are as unprepared for the emerging realities of the coming decades as were the Germans in 1910. In both cases, the mismatch between the emerging requirements of the times and the existing capacities of citizens, their institutions and their leaders is profound. It is now clear that the 19th Century German culture of 1910 was almost wholly unfit for success in the early 20th Century. To make matters worse, in 1910 this insight was wholly unimaginable to them. In 2020, it is becoming clear that we are in the same boat. Our 20th Century cultures, leaders, institutions and citizens are simply unfit to cope successfully with the emerging character and requirements of the next several decades of the 21st Century.
So there will be despair.
And, there is hope. I see the possibility of a path through the coming terrors that enables us to out-grow our MTI aspirations, identities, economies, and habits of spirit, psyche, mind and body. There is a basis for a grounded hope that will enable us to cope with despair; to embrace and stay committed to the new work of consciously co-creating the next form of human civilization.
The major insights that unpack this summary of my current understanding of our situation follow.
First, some bad news: The “normal” world we in Modern Techno-industrial (MTI) cultures have come to take for granted, and to which so many long to return, is on a path that leads to the disintegration and death of much that we love about human life and this planet. We are headed for societal, even civilizational, collapse because our MTI cultures are in a state of both ecological and civilizational overshoot 1. Worse, we do not know it yet.
Second, some very bad news: Our MTI cultures cannot be rescued. They cannot be made to be sustainable. The dominant belief that they can is simply wrong-headed. The core reason is that in the 21st Century a sustainable culture requires that a trustworthy and intrinsic personal and cultural ethic of self-sacrificial self-restraint is effective at every scale of human conduct. It has become clear over the last few hundred years that MTI cultures do not and cannot offer a secure foundation of such an ethic. The best that MTI cultures can offer is to operate on the basis of the business ethic of tit-for-tat mutual obligation. Such an ethic has no basis for either self-restraint, including the concept of “enough.” Tragically, the ethic which now dominates our MTI cultures is not adequate to ensure either our humanity or the future of life as we have known it. Therefore, I am among those who argue that we need to nurture a truly new form of human civilization – one based on a profoundly different grasp on reality; one resulting in a new trajectory for history. Sadly, as yet, none of the serious attempts to develop strategies to save the future appear promising enough to achieve this result.
Third, some really bad news: While a majority of citizens and their leaders in MTI cultures are openly worried about the future and a plurality are hungry for a future this is both better and different, few have more than a dim and as yet unfocussed sense of the depth, breadth and complexity of the actual mess of living messes we are in, how and why we got here, or how we might get out of them. Little of the brave talk about our need for a “life affirming culture of interdependent community and love” shows much grasp of the depth and complexity of the messes which now roil within and beyond us. Worse, in spite of our protestations to the contrary, there appears to be little indication that we in MTI cultures have the stomach for what will be deeply humiliating work, especially for white males – identifying, exploring, understanding and coming clean about the deepest sources of our troubles and the price required to redeem the future.
Fourth, some heart-breaking news: We must pay an extraordinarily high price for an Earth that is truly fit to live in, among persons and in communities which are truly fit to live with. This is especially true for those of us who are MTI peoples and cultures. We must come to terms with the reality that the root source of the threats to all we hold most dear is our own Modern Techno-industrial way of grasping and responding to reality, to ourselves and to others as persons. What we commonly take to be “flaws” of our MTI cultures, flaws which we are intent on “fixing,” are not flaws at all. Neither can they be “fixed.” Rather, they are inherent features of the systemic nature of our MTI form of civilization. Walt Kelly, speaking though Pogo Possum was right: those hands at our throats are our own MTI hands, guided by our own MTI minds and affirmed as good by our own MTI cultures.
Fifth, some bad news, that is really good news. Given the above, we face utterly new work: We must become humble enough to be willing to learn that the only future worth living and dying for lies beyond, transcends, our MTI form of civilization. Our work now and throughout the 21st Century is no longer to seek to improve and extend our MTI ways of knowing, being and living. Rather we are now called to let go of and transcend our deepest MTI aspirations, identities, habits, institutions and imaginations. Such transcendence is required if we are to undertake the new, history-shaping work to which we are now called: learning to nurture into robust being the next form of human civilization – a Meta-Reflexive, Co-creative form.
Sixth, some truly daunting news: There is no play book for work that is “utterly new in human history.” Clearly, it cannot be “planned, managed and lead” in the sense that our MTI cultures understand and affirm these activities. Rather, the path forward must be improvised at every scale of our lives. This calls for small steps taken with great good care and exquisite sensitivity to what we are learning. Such sensitivity is possible if enough of us, as persons and sub-cultures, become wise, integral and meta-reflexive. These capacities will enable us to develop a fresh and increasingly coherent perspective on the overall situation we are in, how and why we got here over what periods of time, the constraints we face, the assets we possess or can access, and the clues we have about what is now required of us.
Seventh, some deeply hope-filled news: Ways of understanding the nature, dynamics and evolution of human consciousness, cultures and forms of civilization are now becoming available to us. These new ways make it possible, at least in principle, for us to face and successfully undertake the new core work of the 21st Century – cooperating with our own evolution as persons at every scale of our lives as we nurture the next form of human civilization into robust being..
Eighth, some great and good news: There appears to be a way out of the Wittgensteinian fly bottle in which we who are Modern Techno-industrial (MTI) peoples and cultures have trapped ourselves and the world. If we have the humility to see it and the courage to grasp it, hope lies through but beyond the despair of having to let go of and transcend our MTI selves and cultures.
Ninth, news about my intentions: I intend to devote the rest of my life to the work of establishing Civilizational Transcendence as the new work of the 21st Century; the work to which we must now turn, embrace, undertake and succeed at. The first phase of the “Civilizational Transcendence” Project run from roughly August 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. It shall be a joint venture of the Transformation Research Network and Foresight Canada and others to be determined. I shall have an initial draft of the project by June 30, 2020 should you be interested.
I need your assistance. I need your gut reactions, comments, reflections, questions, challenges and offers of support in whatever form works for you.
Please respond by arranging a Zoom call with me, or phoning me (+1-403-609-1016) or emailing me: firstname.lastname@example.org
For the sake of our shared future,
Transformation Research Network