“The present convergence of crises—in money, energy, education, health, water, soil, climate, politics, the environment, and more—is a birth crisis, expelling us from the old world into a new.”
The story of A New Atlantis is the story of our times: of a civilization that is past its peak but doesn’t yet realize it; of a new civilization that is emerging, but is not yet fully recognizable.
Many of us realize that humanity has exceeded the regenerative capacity of the Earth and that our present way of life is simply unsustainable, and is frequently unbearable as well. What we see, when we look at human history, is a vast canvas of tragedy, and cruelty, and of ignorance of the Universe that gave rise to us. At one level, this ignorance is gradually and painstakingly being replaced by scientific knowledge; at another, its real depth is being revealed by our profound lack of wisdom and vision. As a result, we face the possibility of what in systems terms might be called “catastrophic failure.”
Remember that the original story of Atlantis was that of an ancient but highly advanced island nation destroyed by its hubris, and ultimately swallowed by the ocean. How ironic that one of the ways we are most at risk from our own hubris is sea level rise; and like the Atlanteans we are at a loss to hold back the oceans. And hubris, as Wikipedia defines it, “describes a personality quality of extreme or foolish pride or dangerous over confidence, often in combination with (or synonymous with) arrogance.” The story of Atlantis, then, is the right parable for the tragedy that now threatens all of us. “In its ancient Greek context,” the Wikipedia entry continues, “it typically describes behavior that defies the norms of behavior or challenges the gods, and which in turn brings about the downfall, or nemesis, of the perpetrator of hubris.”
Today, most of all, we are waking up to the deep immorality of global warming. It is a threat to our most basic life support systems which, at best, we are only able to address in pseudo-economic terms, as if this threat to our existence could be characterized as an “externality,” an unfortunate byproduct of our economic production, the collateral damage of a runaway but unavoidable form of late-stage capitalism. We are so detached from our true being that we have become like a cancer upon the Earth, extracting its “resources” and building up artificial systems that are ultimately undermining their own foundations.
The irony is that we are all children of Gaia. The Earth may not be “a living organism,” as some have sought to characterize it; but it is a living matrix in which the organic and the inorganic are inextricably intertwined. The planet is alive. The more we understand it, the more we understand how interconnected we are. The very air we breathe is not some random chemical mixture of gases, but is actually the product of life, continually replenished by the respiration of all living things, from bacteria to humans. But as it is becoming clearer every day, the delicate balance of plus or minus about 1°C that the biosphere has enjoyed for the past ten thousand years is being destabilized by our actions.
In Atlantis, so our personal story goes, I played in vain the role of Cassandra, warning of the very real disaster to come, while my companion (not then my lover) was “a spiritual dancer” who sought to awaken the possibilities of transformation. Are we just playing out a version of these same roles today?
Friday, April 5, 2019
“The end of separation will penetrate far deeper than the forms of money and property, technology and medicine, work and education, but eventually will transform the very psychological infrastructure of the discrete and separate self: symbolic language, number and measure, linear time, and dualistic religion. Already we see how play refuses the linear measure of time and the discrete separation of subject and object: we lose ourselves in play’s timelessness and become “an organic agent of the universe’s own creative process.”
— Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity