Over the last 500 hundred years, Western civilization has attained global dominance through its mastery of technology, or what the critic Lewis Mumford called “technics”. New scientific technologies were accompanied by innovative social technologies, such as the joint stock company. The modern corporation became an extraordinary engine for efficiency, progress, and growth. However, we have learned that the social and financial systems connected to this corporate form depend upon instability and waste. Excess labor capacity is marginalized, while environmental costs are externalized.
We will soon realize that capitalism was a transitional system. Humanity arrived on the earth only recently, and we are still in an immature, adolescent phase of our development, and often act unconsciously and destructively. I believe we have entered an initiatory crisis for the human species brought about by Western Europeans’ sense of separation from the earth. This separation has led us to dominate nature, and defined the natural world as a set of resources to be extracted for human consumption. Industrialization has unleashed processes that have reduced soil fertility, depleted basic resources like fresh water, and accelerated climate change.
Traumatic changes in climate can happen suddenly. Glaciologists found that “roughly half of the entire warming between the ice ages and the postglacial world took place in only a decade,” writes Fred Pearce in With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change. The average temperature increased by 9 degrees during that time. In the past two centuries, humanity has increased levels of carbon in the atmosphere by about a third. Our continued tinkering runs the risk “of producing a runaway change—the climatic equivalent of a squawk on a sound system.” Even conservative projections from scientists now have the climate warming 3.5 - 5 degrees Celsius by 2100, which would be cataclysmic.
Through studying the work of Rudolf Steiner and other thinkers, I believe that humanity’s unconscious, chaotic, and destructive behavior has a secret, esoteric purpose. We are inciting an evolutionary crisis to bring about an alchemical transmutation of human consciousness, a quantum jump to a new level of knowing and being. This jump will materialize in new social systems, different technologies, a renewed spiritual kinship with the natural world, and the displacement of the current financial system by new mechanisms for exchanging value. The devastating scenarios proposed by scientists like James Lovelock, who saw the population crashing down to a few million over the next decades, can be averted—through mass collaboration and through the rapid dissemination of a new kind of initiative, one that is not just material but also spiritual, or psychic, in nature.
On the material level, we need a worldwide initiative dedicated to re-localization, self-sufficiency, and community resilience. Ironically, the interactive environment of the Internet—a system developed by the US military-industrial complex as a distributed network capable of surviving thermonuclear war—provides the technical infrastructure needed to distribute practical tools, sustainable technologies, and concepts that can bring about a rapid movement toward local thrive-ability. We have already witnessed the power of social networks like Facebook and Twitter to galvanize unanticipated social movements overturning entrenched despotic governments in the Middle East. We have seen how a new instrument like Bitcoin can become a reserve currency, outside of the dollar-based financial system. We do not yet have a popular social network to facilitate collaboration, sharing of resources, deeper analysis of issues, and group decisionmaking. As a tool built for personal display that has been fully absorbed into the corporate system, Facebook is not designed to be a medium for the deeper process of inquiry and transformation we need now. It might spark revolutions - but it will not finish them.
We also require a structural transformation of the financial system to support a transition to sustainability. As Bernard Lietaer, a Belgian economist and one of the architects of the Euro, notes, there is no way to create a sustainable planetary culture within our current monetary system, which rewards competitive and aggressive behavior. By the logic of the stock market, publicly traded corporations are forced to maximize profit for the benefit of their shareholders. This means they will automatically seek to avoid or lobby against environmental safeguards, worker protections, and so on. As one remedy, Lietaer proposes the development of a trading currency, the Terra, indexed to a bundle of resources and goods that remain stable over time. A currency with a negative interest, or “demurrage” charge, would be a counter-incentive to hoarding value, and would instead promote sharing and collaboration. The current monoculture of money would be replaced by a suite of instruments for exchanging value, each serving different functions.
Ultimately, I agree with the design scientist Buckminster Fuller that unemployment is not the problem: work is the problem. Fuller noted that it would be much cheaper, from the Gaian perspective, if we subsidized people to live in their home communities, grow their own food, and develop a local culture. The new planetary culture would adapt William McDonough’s proposal, in Cradle to Cradle, to reinvent our industrial processes so they use closed loop manufacturing, and redesign industry to release byproducts that are harmless rather than toxic.
We do not have a coherent mass movement to create sustainability, reduce economic inequity, and develop a rational approach to social and environmental problems because we lack a civil society infrastructure that informs and educates people. Television reduces our public discourse to stereotypes and sound bites that deny the complexity of the crises we face. We require a new form of education and a new media system to promote analytic reasoning, independent thought, and coherent collective action.
My perspective is informed by my work with shamanism, and my engagement with esoteric thought. Rudolf Steiner, like other visionary thinkers, recognized that human beings can be trained to develop “supersensible” capacities, and that our level of psychic development is linked to the present incarnation of the earth. While I began as a skeptic, my experiences with shamanism in the Amazon and West Africa convinced me of the validity of psychic abilities and spiritual forces, as well as the existence of a “synchronic order,” a direct non-dual relationship between human consciousness and the physical world. Many modern Westerners are making this discovery. To take one example: Cambridge anthropologist Peter Whiteley spent years with the Hopi in Arizona, and witnessed the ability of Kachina ceremonies to produce rain, along with other phenomena he was “unable to explain rationally.”
At the same time, we have increasing scientific evidence from groups like the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton University, Institute of Noetic Sciences, Maharishi University, and others, supporting the existence of psychic phenomena. Dean Radin, a scientist at IONS, proposes we could be at a threshold of inquiry similar to what happened after the discovery of electricity. After isolating this power, it took decades of experiment before scientists learned to reliably conduct and store this energy in order to make use of it. In a parallel procedure, we may be at a similar point with psychic energy, where we are learning how to transmit and make use of it. What if our unconscious activity has impelled the planetary crisis so we are forced to access the latent capacities of the mind and apply them systemically in solutions? If Hopi dancers can change local weather patterns, could planet-wide psychic exercises mitigate the effect of global climate change?
One prospect is to engineer a global epiphany through a live event - a worldwide spectacle. Global meditations or prayer summits could lead to a moment of planetary unity with measurable effects on coherence - a gigantic synchronous meetup. As our indigenous ancestors did, we must learn to pay attention to our surroundings and recognize, as Rudolf Steiner wrote, “…that our entire earth which we inhabit as whole humanity is a kind of great living being, and that we ourselves are included as part of its greater organism.”
If thinkers like Steiner, Fuller, and Barbara Marx Hubbard, - as well as indigenous shamans - are correct, we have the option to become co-creative with the evolutionary process. We do this by elevating our consciousness with a visionary focus. Our intention must be backed up by unstinting service and dedicated action. Since consciousness is inextricably linked to the material universe, our thoughts and our psychic energy directly impact the moment-bymoment reality we manifest. This is the grave—and joyful—responsibility we must accept, if we would like to break the “mind-forg’d manacles” that restrain us from striking a new tone of harmony and reuniting with the earth that sustains and nurtures us.
Original Article appeared, in modified form, in RSF Quarterly