New Roads

For most of my adult life, I have watched the outside world like a wild creature in the forest, peering through the leaves in shock and heartache at the cold, cruel craziness of it all, yet far too shocked … and let it be said, far too safe … to risk leaving my hiding place. I was raised with the understanding that I OUGHT to care, and that people were supposed to help one another. But from a very early date I saw the monumental scale of the task. How can a world THIS cold and this unresponsive be saved from its own selfish follies? I knew how people usually respond to do-gooders and wouldbe Samaritans, and I wasn’t going to leave MY fragile heart unprotected. I was secure in my own inner world, and I wasnt going to let Society’s mad dash towards suicide bother me. That’s THEIR problem. . .

But as the seasons advanced and retreated, years fading into decades and eventually a half-century, I saw that things were only getting worse. Back when I was still considering a career as a biologist (biotech was all the rage at the time) I took a course in “Ecology” (another buzzword of the era). One segment of the course dealt with Population Dynamics. For some reason, after looking at all the models in the textbooks, I decided to try plugging in the data for the human species.

It was like the first tolling of a funeral bell. We just don’t have enough planet to support this many people without massive inputs of energy, but most of those inputs are actually REDUCING all the other factors in the equation, at least from a long-term perspective. The human race is going to have to cut its numbers to a level somewhere short of 1 billion (my calculations actually gave a figure of just 3-400 million), or the inevitable population crash will do that FOR us. This is a basic principle of biology. Contained systems just cant go on growing forever. They always overshoot, and then crash.

I dealt with this knowledge the way most people deal with the concept of global warming. I can do my part . . . and pray that the rest of the world will see common sense before it is too late. But the outlook just doesn’t leave much room for optimism. Even WITHOUT the impact of climate change, we are going to have to cut the population by around 85%, or the planet will do the job FOR us. Thinking about such a concept just intensifies the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. Theres no point fighting it. If Im lucky, I wont live to see it . . . .

That is how the picture looked back in the final quarter or the 20th century. Since then the scientific community has seemed to discover a new reason to speed up the doomsday clock every few years. Nowadays there is not even any reason for doubt. In every weather forecast we can see the cataclysm looming over us like the leading edge of the tsunami. Yet it was clear that the very institutions we depend on to keep society on an even keel (ie. Governments, financial markets, corporations …) were too self-interested, too caught up in the coming election campaign or next quarter’s profit statement to take any meaningful action.

For a brief moment, a small group of people seemed to take the problem seriously enough to actually DO something. But the short-lived “Occupy Movement” (not only the one in the USA, but copycat protests in Europe, Hong Kong, and elsewhere) fell apart before anyone could even define it or explain it. You say you want a revolution? Well y'know . . . I would LOVE to see the plan. You tell me its the institution? Well y'know . . . we are all doing what we can.

The people who gathered in places like Zuccoti Park, Frank Ogawa Plaza or Kowloon Central seemed to realise that the whole big SYSTEM was barreling down the tracks toward a washed-out bridge, and that something had to change. But they not only lacked any concrete plans to achieve the change; they didn’t even know for sure WHAT they wanted to change.

And at the end of the day, that is really the point, isn't it. If people really do want to free themselves from the shackles of servitude and put an end to class warfare and human misery once and for all, then the first wall they have to storm is the wall inside their own head. The question that we really face, in this second decade of a new millennium, is how to get beyond the eternal dichotomy of us versus them. People have tried reform in the past. Our entire history is full of movements, revolutions and rebellions, yet they always seem to lead to the same place.

Reform has a poor record in terms of solving the real problems that humans face. Guess what? For every tennis court triumph there has been an opportunistic little general ready and willing to re-forge the shackles; and for every Long March legacy - whether from Selma or Shaanxi - there is a great leap backward.. If people really want to escape the eternal battle between "left" and "right", then they have to stop expressing all of their rhetoric in such monochromatic, dualistic terms.

The only way to escape from this eternal dichotomy is to evolve beyond it. We need to open fresh eyes and see the road not taken . . . ALL of the roads not taken.  What we need to seek out is not a new direction, but a new consciousness. One that recognizes that there are more than just two paths before us. In short, what the world needs is not revolution, but EVOlution.

The real reason for human suffering in all its glorious aspects is the fact that we humans, every one of us, are acting like spoiled children who refuse to let go of our selfish, acquisitive, competitive and destructive habits. Why should we bother to overthrow the existing system - controlled by a small elite group of "Owners"- if the only system available to take its place is one that can be controlled by another (or even, the same) small elite group of Owners.

The reforms that the US implemented in the 1930s, which greatly curtailed the power of the Gettys and Rockefellers and Morgans, have all been undone, while the same small elite remains in control and the vast majority of the people remain in the same unhappy condition. It is time for each and every one of us to admit that it is our own avarice, jealousy and competitive spite that allows this same group to persist from generation to generation. Before we can fix the obvious flaws in our society, we need to first correct the even more obvious flaws in our own characters.

When the Occupy Wall Street movement fell apart, as my instincts told me it probably would, I heard the funeral bell toll a second time. I started to realise that I couldn’t hide in the forest forever. The challenge we face today is one that affects us all, and the only possible solution will be one that involves us all – one that completely reshapes the way we live, the way we think, and the way we behave. No protest movement; no election; no leader; no country can solve the problems we face… at least not on their own. We are all in the same boat, and the boat is sinking. Either everyone works together, or we ALL go down with the ship.  

People do seem to be getting the message – finally! -- that greed is NOT good, and that our fragmented, individualistic social structure is NOT making us happy. We long for community, for comradeship, for a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves. And I believe that this longing reflects our inner desire for REAL change - an EVOLUTIONARY change - in our conceptual model.

James Lovelock is often credited as the first scientist to propose "The Gaia Hypothesis" - the idea that the entire planet is a living organism, or perhaps a better term would be "superorganism", in the sense that the term is used to describe a colony of bees or ants. However, this concept has existed for as long as humanity has pondered its condition on the planet. The idea that we are all components of a larger consciousness, like cells or organs of a vast organism, lies at the heart of most great religions. If you look deeply enough inside yourself this is what you will discover: that we are not simply individuals, adrift in the dark sea of our own petty thoughts. In truth, we are the building blocks of something greater.

 Though the principle is stated more explicitly in many Eastern philosophical systems, Christianity also preaches this same principle of oneness:

"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."

It is not my intention to drag an otherwise practical, mechanical discussion into the realm of metaphysics, and just abandon the practical considerations.  However, I do think it is worth giving some thought to the concept that we are indeed individual components of a living ecosystem, and that our actions or activities have a direct impact on everyone who shares this planet. You might choose to dismiss this as simply a metaphysical or theoretical concept. But the interconnection and intercommunication of our modern era are allowing us - and particularly the younger generation that was born and raised with the tools of instant communication - to see and experience this connection. With the rise of the Internet, and of other forms of transportation and communication, we now have the sensory tools to experience a more holistic view of the planet. We are not only the immediate witness to elections, rebellions, wars, revolutions, famines and feasts, but we can also see how these events expand like ripples on the pond of history, and even take part in the ripple effect ourselves, through an interactive medium.

One could even say that the Internet represents the first feedback system for the planet as a whole. Gaia has grown its first sensory apparatus. Sadly, most of us use it for the most petty of purposes. But the actions of individual cells also seem petty in the eyes of a complete being. Feedback systems all tend to work in the same way, and we should not react with surprise or amazement if THIS feedback system begins to act in ways that resemble a rudimentary form of consciousness.

Despite all the gloom and pessimism expressed in the preceding paragraphs, I did not write this piece out of gloom or defeatism. On the contrary, I see the human race – perhaps Gaia herself – standing at the brink of an Evolutionary event. The organism no longer has any choice but to adapt to the new conditions. Either we Evolve, or we Extinct. That is not a cause for unreasoning fear; it is a cause for action and hope. The system has to change, and we all need to work TOGETHER to effect that change. Surely we can agree on THAT much.

Of course there are still major differences in the ideals, objectives and attitudes of those who are trying to find the narrow path that can take our planet around the chasm of destruction. I expect that such differences will be with us forever, no matter what emerges from the evolutionary bottleneck that our own species created. But there is so much that we hold in common, as cohabitants of this cramped and crowded little world . . . and so much danger to us all if we fail to work together.

It is time to search for more holistic solutions that spring from our ability (and innate need) to cooperate with and help one another, rather than our latent desire to "win" - to compete and outdo one another. Of course this will not be an easy path to follow. After all, it is uncharted, untested, and unexplored. But better to brave the dangers of a new path than to tread the hopeless circle that mankind has followed for ages, with little progress to show for the effort.

From my own distant vantage point, on the slopes of a faraway mountain across a vast ocean from most of you readers, I may not be able to see the details as clearly. But it does appear to me that something new is emerging in the mind of our Mother. A new idea - a holistic consciousness that can more readily comprehend the holistic challenges that face our planet and its people. That is the path we need to travel if we hope to avoid disaster – a path of consciousness. Because protesters, prophets, revolutionaries, rabbis and rabble-rousers . . . all can be silenced or shut out, illegitimized or imprisoned. But once a new idea takes up residence in your consciousness ... and in the public consciousness ... it is VERY hard to evict.

The time has come to start seeking that third path that leads away from the dichotomous dead-end street that dominated our thinking and our consciousness in the past. We have no other choice. The other paths are all worn dusty and dry, and we know where they inevitably lead. It is time to invoke Robert Frost, and look deeply within to see if . . . just maybe . . . we can spy a path that has not yet been taken.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
I marked the first for another day
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.


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