We have people among us ready to carry Tiki Torches into bastions of the old Confederacy to sow fear and to stoke still more violence - which, in a nation violent from its birth, is so easily stoked. We have the hate and the trauma left in the wake of racist violence that goes back to the days of the slavers' ships and from the days of genocide when Europeans used pure savagery to remove millions of indigenous peoples from lands the invaders coveted.
But there is even more going on now, beyond the legacy of these old festering wounds. Because of the way humans have ravaged the planet in this quest for power and wealth, we now have a planetary crisis on our hands and it seems fewer and fewer people are missing its cues as the signals of it grow increasingly dangerous, threatening, and permanent.
Okay, so let's help one another here in this country understand what is happening, why in the very face of these realities we have in places of governmental authority some of the most incompetent, destructive, venal, resentful people in the nation's history. I mean, we have seen our share of corruption and incompetence, but not like this, not a situation that threatens to bring down the constitutional order itself.
Well, there is no empire that has ever gone down quietly. There is no empire that has not fallen apart in some sort of unraveling that brings the pathologies of that empire to the surface. The psychological reality of it is that the decline of an empire creates profound fear and anxiety because by its very nature empire has created dependencies and meaning frameworks for its subjects, and when those are threatened, people go a little crazy.
We are in a time of imperial decline. And that is happening in the context of "the Great Unraveling," the imminent end of the age of industrial capitalism. It was built upon the foundations of cheap, abundant, economically efficient and productive fossil fuels, and the mass destruction of ecosystems all around the planet in its service. Add accelerating, exponential human population growth rates and, well, yes, you have a massive crisis on your hands. There is already more demand than what the Earth can meet, and the resources to meet that demand are not only shrinking, they are being carved up and distributed with great injustice. That means that the greater percentage of the population is falling into greater vulnerability, insecurity, poverty, and exclusion as those with power and wealth consolidate their hold on the financial resources of that failing system.
Things begin to fall apart, and the more they fall apart, the faster they fall apart. The speed picks up. And this past year, that speed has become dizzying, disorienting in the extreme.
The massacre in Las Vegas comes directly on the heels of three massively destructive hurricanes, one of which has destroyed the island of Puerto Rico, the worst wildfire season in our nation's history, growing evidence by way of both experience and science that our stable climate system is no longer stable, and the growing awareness that our system of government in this country is in a state of collapse (some of this by way of pure dysfunction, some of this by way of intention). Throw in the escalating tensions with North Korea and talks of nuclear war. Throw in Steve Bannon and his publicly expressed determination to destroy the GOP "establishment." Throw in the growing irrelevance of the Democratic Party and the collapse of the two-party system.
Feel the unease out there around the nation? Yeah, there is a reason for it.
In this situation, a lot of people tend not to act rationally. Those feeling the loss of control over their lives get scared. And without the social, psychological, and spiritual support to understand what is happening, a whole lot of people begin to act irrationally, aggressively - violently.
I mean, the empire does not inform its subjects of the unraveling. Rather, it tries to hold on to power as long as it can, even when the number of victims created by the unraveling continues to grow. As the empire unravels, those with power and wealth begin to hoard more fiercely than ever. Wealth and power concentrate, and those with wealth and power become even more resistant to things like democracy, social safety nets, or concern for the common good.
Are we running out of conventional sources of fuel? Well, then open up more fragile lands and coasts to drilling. Are global warming, deforestation, industrial agriculture, metallic and mineral mining, accompanied by, or cause of, the sixth great extinction threatening future supplies of arable land and potable water? Then start buying farmland and water sources all around the planet so that you have control of them as scarcities grow. No sharing for the powers-that-be! Scarcity creates enormous opportunity for profits, while ensuring that the rich and secure remain rich and secure (or so they believe) while the rest of the world suffers and dies.
Nothing new under the sun here. It's not a bad overall summary of many eras in human history. What IS new is the scale of the crisis. This time, there is nowhere else to go. I know Stephen Hawking says it's time to leave the planet, but really, we are evolved from this planet, we belong to it. We exist only within its biosphere which exists nowhere else we know of. Like it or not, there is no escape this time. We're going to have to figure out how to get through this.
Unlike the real doomers who predict human extinction in our lifetimes (they annoy me greatly), this supposed doomer believes we are facing a defining moment in the evolution of the human, a moment when one trajectory that began with the first weapons used to take land from another tribe thousands of years ago, that moved from taming fires to iron tools to steam engines to steel mills and the Alberta tar sands, is ending because it has to, because it is killing everything, while the new trajectory is just now trying to get itself birthed.
Which trajectory do we want to be part of? To which path does it make sense to devote our lives?
This era is collapsing into chaos. Trump and Bannon did not create the chaos, they are evidence of it. The time of chaos is real. But what kind of fuel do we want to throw into that fire? Because these people are stoking it with a lot of hate and appeals to the worst in us. We cannot make new creation out of that kind of atmosphere. We need our best spiritual, psychological, cultural gifts, and a willingness to make drastic changes in our lives commensurate with the scale and causes of the crisis itself, if we are to move through this with the kind of human solidarity, all-hands-on-deck, approach so urgently needed now.
This is the work I want to do now - to help us see this moment more clearly, to understand what is really going on, and to be a part of the birthing of that new trajectory, of seeking out a new path for the human because this one has become so destructive. The creative energies at work right now among many culture workers, American Indian Nations, urban farmers, young black leaders, immigrants, and more are inspiring, often amazing, and loci for that birthing that must take place. Venice Williams, executive director of Alice's Garden Urban Farm where I have my garden plot here in Milwaukee, has referred to herself as a midwife, helping to nurture the spaces and the communities where new life can be birthed, can emerge out of "the womb" of culture, of people, of Mother Earth, into the world.
I love that image and metaphor and think it can serve us well right now. It might also help to look at what this economic culture and what this empire in its waning days is actually bringing about, what is now emerging from it. Doesn't that tell us what we need to know about it? Are there still those who think it just needs a little fixing here and there, another election cycle, a commitment to solar and wind, and then everything will be okay? What's going on here is a transition of grand scale in the evolutionary journey, and we have to decide who we want to be in it. The title of Margaret Wheatley's latest book begs this question: Who Do We Choose To Be? The way I put it ten years ago now, the title of chapter nine in my book, Living Beyond the 'End of the world:' A Spirituality of Hope, is similar: "What kind of human beings will we be as we go through the crisis?"
Everything depends now on how we answer those questions. So let's begin to engage this process. I love to speak on it, facilitate conversation about it, gather stories from "the roots," share with others the energizing work of "new creation." Retreats, reflection days, ritual and spiritual journeying together - so many possibilities for awakening within us the creativity so sorely needed now. The work of resistance is powerful and growing, but without the vision of what comes next, without a tangible way to work toward it, that work cannot last. It needs the energy that comes with "seeing," and with "seeing-in-community." Each one of us has our own unique gifts to offer to this work of new creation. Each one of us is needed.
Which is for me a more energetic way of seeing who I am in the world than a mere participant in an economic culture that has no future.
~ Margaret Swedish
|CENTER FOR NEW CREATION|