We are in the midst of profound global disruption. The materialist, economic and social systems and associated paradigms that underlie our neo-liberal capitalist, hyper-consumerist and disconnected civilisation are undermining its viability and the measures of human and nature’s wellbeing. The elitist power structures of the very few continue to manipulate and control these systems to further concentrate power and wealth within the rich minority. Their nihilistic blindspot of maintaining systemic inequity and unsustainability is the death knell for their future, taking much of humanity and a sickened civilisation with them.
The mainstream and nationalist politicians, the media barons, the corporate chiefs and their shareholder investors, the financiers of the extractive industries are all part of this demagoguery. Through active or passive involvement in maintaining these systems of oppression, despite its positive contributions to millions of people, they have wilfully and unethically played their part. Within the myriad of theatres where these agents of tyranny ply their evil trade, the extra layers of societal and ecological disruption from the COVID pandemic, financial insecurity, increasing nation state control and climate breakdown is accentuating the failures of our civilisation and finally awakening many to the possibility of societal breakdown.
You could interpret the global pandemic and shifting climate patterns as a planetary immune response in the shape of a lethal and disruptive virus and debilitating climatic changes. The pandemic is a vector that arose from human interference and ineptitude, a predictable yet inexcusable event. Humanity seems unable or unwilling to avoid or manage the risks associated with plunder of the biosphere. The exploitation of human and natural systems has created the ideal breeding ground for inter-species viral mutations and the ideal civilisational environment for their transmission. The health, social and financial impacts of COVID-19 is making many people awaken and see the world afresh, especially at the failure of governments and institutions (WHO?) to prevent and mitigate this threat. There appears to be increasing recognition that we in the relatively affluent West are all complicit in this faltering and failing civilisational experiment.
The obvious actors driving the destruction of nature and society – national and global governments and governance institutions, immoral parasitic corporations and their representative detritus feeders – are criminally negligent and responsible. Yet most of us adults are spectators to this theatre of horrors and as such have some level of complicity in being a part of to varying degrees in the economic, social and political systems that have led to the pandemic, the ecological breakdown and suffering and suppression of much of humanity. Just think of the exploitation of kids in third world nations to supply the rare metal for our smartphones, we know this yet accept it as the price of our convenience.
So how do I as a middle-aged white male that has benefited in various ways from being part of this white patriarchal consumeristic society acknowledge this and the pain of the Earth, the decimation of biodiversity and the persecution and suppression of millions, if not billions of people? The first step, after acknowledgment that I have some level of complicity and responsibility for the mess, is to bear witness to the ecological and social breakdown and the actions of perpetrators rather than wilfully denying or ignoring them. This first step requires, apart from moderative approaches to not be overwhelmed, the humility to acknowledge my ignorance and complicity and the desire to shift my perception of my world, my sense of self in relationship with it. Expanding and deepening my perception requires a shifting not just how I encounter my experience of my world but how I can come to understand how I must come to know it, a phenomenological knowing.
This process of experiential learning and knowing is critical to self-renewal, its about becoming more honest with who we really are and how we relate to our world. But the essence of the context for self-renewal is creating a deeper perspective towards our mortal life to feel into some inner truth, into our own authenticity. When so much of the global changes are out of our individual control, when there is nothing that we can do individually to prevent the coming catastrophe (apart from linking with collective social change movements), we need more than ever to create an inner North Star that may guide us towards resilience and courageous stability. This moral and empowering beacon prevents us from becoming lost and disempowered to the emotional overwhelm from bearing witness to dastardly actions of the elite, to the natural reactions of fear, sadness and anxiety.
The Great Disruption has been with us for some decades and now it is hitting more of humanity squarely around the face. There will be more epidemics, more catastrophic climate change induced events, increasing rates of extinction, likely armed conflict between the US and China, ecosystem destruction and increasing food insecurity, even in the wealthier nations. More than ever those that have awakened to the breakdown and associated threats need that inner North Star, a stable, resilient and expansive and creative mind and inner space to play an empowered part in this stage of civilisational and human transformation.
Each of us as witness and active agent needs to have our own personal vision and plan for guiding our preferred emerging self, one based on the future rather than downloading the past. The more individuals that take up this challenge of self-renewal the higher the chance for becoming a part of the collective beacon for the world to align towards a coherent, sustaining and life affirming future. We need to live more consciously, to surrender who we think we are and our old world-based aspirations and habits and prepare for the end of our sick and life denying civilisation and associated impoverished, fragmented worldviews. In these times of discombobulation and anxiety of living in “weird” times (as I’ve heard many people express), more than ever we need to exert control over our attention and intention, and so direct awareness towards creating and nourishing our own guiding beacon within.