What If It’s All Connected? Humanity and the Global Crisis

April 12, 2016

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This article was originally posted on Kosmos Journal on 22 March 2016.

The 21st Century is a time of great converging challenges—we need to think, feel and act systemically like never before in our history. In reality the threats are all connected, yet we continue to deal with them separately in a piecemeal fashion. This simply will not be good enough.

Climate change cannot be addressed in isolation from the wealth-hoarding of capitalism that has made the world so unequal that a mere 62 individuals have the same aggregate wealth as 3.7 billion. Terrorism cannot be tackled in the absence of deep inquiries about what happens when money is treated as more sacred than life or spiritual tradition. Political corruption cannot be wrangled in without taking account of the commercialization of electionsthat treats each candidate like yet-another-product to be bought and sold in the marketplace of ideas.

And so on and so forth…

Mystics throughout the ages have told us that separation is an illusion. Western science has come to the same conclusion with the discoveries in quantum mechanics showing how the great diversity of distinct objects we perceive are, deep down, interwoven patterns of energy that cannot be fundamentally divided into pieces. Similarly, the findings of Darwinian evolution tell us that all life is connected in a woven tapestry of mothers birthing daughters in an unbroken thread for 3.6 billion years that gives us a web of life on Earth. Psychologists and sociologists remind us that there is no monolithic self (the Buddha was right!) as we observe how social norms shape and influence our behavior in profound and powerful ways. We are social networks functioning as tribal groups.

These truths—whether garnered from spiritual practice or the empiricism of scientific inquiry—are a reminder that all apparent differences arise from a prior unity that often remains hidden from view. Everything IS connected. And we must hold this truth in mind as we go about the business of transitioning our civilization away from its runaway growth curve of mass consumption. The Earth is finite and there are boundaries which we must not cross if we want to continue to be part of the cosmic dance that is life on this beautiful planet.

More specifically, the local struggles in different places around the world are also connected. Peasant farmers kicked off their land in India share a common plight with sex workers trafficked into the Netherlands alongside illicit flows of money, drugs, and guns. Rising food prices in Mexico are linked to the explosion of student loan debt in the United States. The Syrian refugee crisis in Europe is linked to chronic droughts in the Middle East over the last few decades which were shaped and influenced by factory pollution during Western industrialization. And these patterns of human displacement are meshed together with the empire-building of the United States in its unquenchable thirst for control of the world’s oil supply.

We could easily let this massive clockwork of complexity overwhelm us. If it’s all connected, where and how shall I intervene? Isn’t it all too big for me to do anything about? Again, this is the beauty of interdependence. Tug at the right piece of frayed string and the whole rug will unravel before you. In the case of the global economy, there happens to be a singular string that ties it all together—the central logic of growth at all costs that says the only measure of progress is rising GDP (Gross Domestic Product, the aggregate price of all goods bought and sold during a given period of time).

We have been told that the only way to end poverty is to grow our way out of it. That all boats will be lifted with the rising tide of consumer purchases. Yet this half-truth deceives in at least two ways—having to do with dots that are not connected by their arguments—the first being that many valuable human activities do not involve the exchange of money (mothering, for example). The second is the biological fact that some kinds of growth are good for an organism while others are not. Growing up to be healthy and strong is good. Runaway cancer in the bowels will probably kill you.

Humanity needs to think systemically. We need to act from a place of holistic insight. And we need to do so collectively, as the singular humanity of 7.4 billion souls living together with the rest of our biological kin here in Earth. A good place to start is by acknowledging prior unity and then immediately going about dismantling the logic of economic growth. Tug on this narrative string and the rest of the story gets weaker. Pull enough of it out and you can begin threading it into a different story, one that recognizes our common plight and holds up life as the sacred principle at the heart of it all.

But to do so, we’ll have to connect the dots.

Onward, fellow humans.

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Trump: Join us in connecting the dots

The election of Donald Trump has left millions, maybe even billions of us in shock. Although we may be looking with bewilderment at the US today, we should remember that he is not an isolated phenomenon. He is a symptom of a sickness that is raging all around the world. People are hurting, disillusioned with mainstream politics and increasingly angry at a neoliberal economic system that is destroying lives and the planet with increasing ferocity. And in their desperation they are willing to consider extreme measures to make themselves heard.

Demagogues thrive amid fear and insecurity, which is why they paint the world in such dark terms. It’s a strategy that has put right-wing populist leaders in power in an Axis of Egos: from Brazil to Turkey, the Philippines to Russia, authoritarian strongmen like Trump are on the rise. Meanwhile, many centrist liberals, like the Democratic Party in the US, have been so intent on rejecting left-wing populist solutions, and so sure of their ability to beat anyone running on a white supremacy platform with its misogyny and homophobia, that they opened the door for Mr. Trump to walk straight through. Their preference is always to maintain the status quo that has served them so well.

As dangerous as the election of Trump is for the world, we can also see in this moment the truth that we simply cannot rely on the electoral political system to save us, because it is designed to prevent the fundamental change we need. Its own survival is at stake and it will marshal all its champions and resources to defend itself and stop the emergence of a new system. But when we work, or continue working for change from the ground up; when we build or keep on building new ways of living and being with each other where we live; when we construct or keep constructing the future we know is possible with our own hands, rather than hoping distant leaders will build it for us, we find our true power. Finally, when we combine that with the unbending hope that has powered change through the ages, we know our power has meaning.

A 400-year-old economic system is dying and another is struggling to be born. Change on this scale is not going to be smooth or easy. We should not be surprised, then, that moments like this — where the establishment is dealt a body blow — become more and more common. We can despair when that blow comes in the form of right-wing extremists, or we can step-up. We are the ones we are looking for, who can and must grasp the opportunities in these crises that are undoubtedly there.

So it’s time to come together, taking time to remember the earth. Remember all the successful struggles for justice that came before us, and imagine all those to come. Remember that social movements are growing all over the world and realising the common struggle. Remember life. Then, organise. Find each other and help midwife the inevitable transition that brings forth from the ashes of neoliberal capitalism a system that works for the good of all life on Mother Earth. This is not just activism; this is our responsibility as human beings alive as this all unfolds.

This is why we are here.