[December 23 2015]
How Soon Is Now by Daniel Pinchbeck, to be published by Watkins Press, looks at the ecological crisis as a collective rite of passage, an initiation, for humanity as a whole. The book proposes how we can address the situation, exploring how we would have to transform our technical infrastructure (energy, agriculture, industry, etc), as well as our socioeconomic system, also our media and education system, which shapes the collective consciousness. Pinchbeck explains, “A few weeks ago, the governments of the world came together in Paris, seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow down climate change. While the meeting was important for focusing global awareness on the problem, the final agreement, based on voluntary compliance, is not enough to prevent global catastrophe. Unfortunately, our current capitalist system, based on debt, requires constant growth and unsustainable development to perpetuate itself. In How Soon Is Now, I explore the structural problems we face. We will have to make fundamental changes if we are going to transition to a sustainable or a regenerative society. This goes far beyond what our leaders are willing to discuss. How Soon Is Now took me a long time to write, partially because I had to study many unfamiliar areas, including political philosophy, social theory, and economics. I also connect the material and tangible aspects of what’s happening to the Earth with subtler and more internal aspects – looking at it as a psycho-spiritual process, expressing the evolution of consciousness, to a new dimension, or realization. I see the ecological crisis confronting us – as harrowing as it is – as a tremendous opportunity for inner transformation.” You can support Pinchbeck by donating to his Patreon. Read an excerpt from his book here :
There are two central elements to my thesis. First, I believe our social and technological development is an extension of biological evolution, following the same paradigm we see in the natural world, in many respects. Second, I see the ecological crisis as an initiation – a collective rite of passage – for humanity, forcing us to reach another level of consciousness , individually and as a species.
In traditional cultures, the function of initiation is to impel the young member of the tribe or community to overcome their ego-based identity. They undergo a dangerous, frightening ordeal which forces them to realize a visionary or transpersonal state. Once they have survived this passage, they have the capacity to take responsibility for the community as a whole, overcoming self-interest when necessary.
Similarly, I believe we have subconsciously self-willed the ecological mega-catastrophe in order to force ourselves to break free from limiting constructs and egotism. By undergoing a universal calamity, humanity can overcome hyper-individualism and alienation, becoming self-aware agents of a regenerative biosphere, constructing a new social design based on shared responsibility, mutual aid, and universal empathy. I also believe we require this crisis as it will force us to access dormant capacities of the Psyche – our psychic abilities, which include intuition, telepathy, and more.
We can understand the process we are undergoing as purposeful, teleological, and even, implicitly, designed – in the same way that nature designs, or orchestrates, conception, fetal development, and birth on the level of an individual organism. We find ourselves in an evolutionary trajectory that will ultimately lead to our extinction or to the collective realization that humanity, as a whole, constitutes a planetary super-organism: one unified being. We are in an ongoing, symbiotic relationship with the ecology of the Earth, as a whole system. The more we can prepare and awaken to our situation now, individually – choosing to pass through the portal of initiation, before disaster strikes – the less collective suffering may be experienced by humanity, as a whole.
In Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Robert Wright proposes, “the entire 3-billion-year evolution of plants and animals is a process of epigenesis, the unfolding of a single organism. And that single organism isn’t really the human species, but rather the whole biosphere, encompassing all species.” Wright noted that humans keep developing increasingly larger and more complex forms of social organization over time – from the small tribe to the city-state, to national governments today, to extra-national bodies like the United Nations and the European Union. For Wright, this suggests an eventual transition to global government. I look at it slightly differently, and propose we will eventually transcend national governments by establishing a harmonic planetary orchestration, where local communities function like the cells and organs in an efficient, self-regulating body.
Wright gives credit to the earlier work of the Catholic mystic and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, who introduced the idea of the Noosphere (from the Greek word, Nous, meaning mind), which he described as a layer or envelope of thought that encompasses the Earth. Writing in the first decades of the Twentieth Century, Chardin proposed that, just as the Earth has an atmosphere, a lithosphere, and a hydrosphere, it also has a surrounding layer made up of thought. For Chardin, the Noosphere already exists, in nascent form. Humanity would eventually reach a point where we would activate it by attaining a collective realization.
Chardin anticipated humanity’s realization of the Noosphere as a mystical process through which we will discover, and celebrate, our inherent communion with the cosmos: “Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire,” he wrote. If we were to consider love – what Sigmund Freud called Eros – as a biological drive, we might define it as the instinct that binds separate entities into greater aggregates. The switching-on of the Noosphere represents the inception of a harmonized planetary collective, where our social and political reality would be shaped by wisdom, encompassing a long-term vision for human beings to live in healthy communion with our shared sister Earth.
For Chardin – also for Wright and a wide range of other thinkers – humanity’s social and technical development, seen as an extension of the Earth’s biological processes, suggested that our evolution has an underlying teleology, a purpose and direction. Just as a plant flowers or a caterpillar morphs into a butterfly, we are inexorably, whether we like it or not, undergoing a metamorphosis into a harmonized collective – a super-organism. As we attain that state, we may find that our interests and capacities change profoundly, just as a butterfly, no longer crawling or devouring leaves, gains an added dimension of flight, and starts to pollinate.
What I and a number of other thinkers have proposed could be seen, in a sense, as a new story or framing of our journey as a species – a new mythology – which supersedes the current cultural belief in a reductive scientific materialism, which Rupert Sheldrake has called “the Science Delusion.” Mainstream ideology combines scientific materialism with an equally reductive social Darwinism, based on ceaseless competition and the “Survival of the Fittest.” We are now overcoming this old way of understanding and thinking about our world, as a new worldview crystallizes.
As we reflect on the biological and historical past, as we step away from the subconscious darkness of primitive impulses and needs, we can choose, collectively, to engage in a consciously directed evolution. As a species, we can work together to give birth to our own higher mind. To reach that stage requires passing through this epoch of chaos, confusion, and destruction. As with all initiations, there is a very real danger that we will not emerge out of it, that our species will fall by the wayside, as the vast majority of species have.
The study of biological evolution – the history of life on Earth – reveals an inveterate tendency, in nature, toward greater levels of cooperation, coordination, and symbiosis. This idea may seem surprising at first. As part of the paradigm we inherited – the one we are now leaving behind – many thinkers and scientists placed their focus, instead, on the competitive, aggressive, and destructive aspects of nature. This view of biology as a constant struggle for life meshed perfectly with the predatory economic mode of Capitalism. This idea has now been superseded by a new view of life as an intricately networked phenomenon, where organisms support each other far more than they compete.
According to biologist Lynn Margulis, who developed the Gaia Hypothesis with James Lovelock, “The trip from greedy gluttony, from instant satisfaction to long-term mutualism, has been made many times in the microcosm,” she wrote, in Microcosm. “While destructive species may come and go, cooperation itself increases through time.” Life is marked, inherently, by web-like, fractal, patterns of organization, on all scales.
Text Daniel Pinchbeck