Sunday, May 9, 2010

The bright side of impending doom

Humankind is converging upon its collective annihilation. This is, unlike so many other things, an objective reality. As we come closer to realizing this reality, the intensity of it's felt heat may yet serve as a catalyst for effective pushback against its arrival.

People are fond of saying we are more conscious and enlightened now than ever before. I'm not sure I agree. But if there is one thing that sets us apart from historical humankind it is that we are being forced to organize collectively in the face of pressures we've never faced before, a process that is being facilitated by technologies that are equally unprecedented. Population pressure has forced us into uncomfortably close proximity - culturally, socially, nationally - and into increasing competition for increasingly scarce resources. To contend with this we are organizing collectively on an unprecedented scale, a scale that includes the whole of humankind.

I am not saying we should do this, only that we are. Even people that would rather have nothing to do with each other are being forced to come to the table. Globalization is a reality. The market has made us interdependent, while transportation and communication technologies have made our societies increasingly interpenetrating. These technologies are also serving to facilitate our collective organization.

With this convergence of pressure and means, we may yet be able to avoid final catastrophe. What we are in the midst of is a massive reorganization of our social realms toward a body capable of working as one in the face of certain necessities. I do not think there is any avoiding this. Things will be lost, cultures will be partially absorbed, but dominance will also be forever compromised. In order to organize collectively, we will NEED to respect difference while identifying the real non-negotiables and achieving real solutions. This is a promising predicament. As promising as it is frightening.

At Burning Man I was once at the center of 30,000 people converging around a quarter-acre bonfire. We in the innermost circle were so close to the fire that each one of us could be exposed for only a couple seconds before needing to weave back into the whirling mass or be burned. Despite the inward pressure of 30,000 people, none of whom could know how close we at the center were to imminent doom, we weren't driven into the fire. I believe it was the seriousness of our predicament that resulted in pushback sufficient to keep the crowd from pushing us in. Between pressure and pushback, an equilibrium was established. This was not engineered. It happened spontaneously in response to real pressures.

But it didn't happen until it had to. It held right there at the cusp, at the very limit of feasability before the people at the center burned.