Here’s an amazing fact: It’s 2016 and humanity is collectively moving toward a future that nobody wants. We are literally going somewhere that will hurt every single one of us.
Mass extinctions are terrible things. Impoverished societies create the conditions for radical extremism and violence. Depleting top soils create food insecurity and mass starvation. Debt-bloated economies become unstable and easily collapse. Extreme shifts in climate cause millions to become refugees. These kinds of things — all of which are becoming more likely with each passing day on our present course — are bad for business, harmful for parents raising their children, damaging to the psyches of people rich and poor, and downright devastating to non-human life.
Billionaires don’t fare well in a world where starving billions could storm the barricades to get food and shelter. Sick people create conditions for the spread of disease. You see what I’m painting here? It is all connected and the global crisis is arising because we have yet to realize this deep truth about the world we live in.
Then WHY IS IT that humanity is going in this very direction right now? Simply put, it is because the “powers that be” are disconnected so profoundly from reality that they have no idea what they are doing.
Elected officials in high office? These days they are bought and sold by the highest bidders. They only care about staying in power.
Corporate CEO’s at multinational companies? All they care about is playing financial incest on each others’ boards, enriching each other with golden parachutes and year-end bonuses.
Everyday people? They are just going about their lives, doing what their cultures tell them will lead to a good life. They just want to live and be free.
And yet, here we are. In late May of 2016 there are more greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere each year than ever before. The human population continues to grow at an exponential pace. And we are literally consuming the trees, rivers, and grassland meadows of the Earth.
What if it didn’t have to be this way?
Now imagine what kind of future most people do want. We would like to be healthy and happy, have time to pursue our passions, become skilled at doing things we love, and — of course — give abundance to our children who will inhabit the earth after we are long dead and gone.
It’s so simple in so many ways. Human beings enjoy leisure and human contact. We find pleasure in being seen and loved by others we care about. It is in our nature to be social, to make music and art, to make love and seek pleasure. Nowhere in our genetic code are we wired for destruction of all-things-sacred in the world.
And it is in this gap — between that which currently is and that which could possibly be — that I find deep hope for the future of humanity. My friends have written about the singular ideology that currently dictates core logics of the global economy. They describe how we are taught to believe in the rugged individual, a human island in the vast sea of self-reliant possibilities.
Yet no man (or woman) is an island. Each of us is born precariously fragile from a mother’s womb. We would quickly die in those first few years if caregivers were not ever-present to feed us, wipe away our excrement, and protect us from harm. Human beings are deeply social creatures. We arise from the natural world and are profoundly immersed in webs of dependency from the first drawn breathe to the last wavering exhale.
The sciences of human nature tell us much more than this. Not only are we social beings, we are also deeply moral in nature. A sure-fire way to piss us off is to be unfair, dominate or oppress us, or take more than your share. Which begs the question: Why is it that wealth and power inequality are the norm today? The answer can be found in the annals of research on hunter-gatherer societies. Our ancestors — once upon a time in the distant past — were strong males who ruled by physical domination (just as silverback gorillas do today).
But there came a time, several million years ago, when hunting technology combined with a good eye and agile shoulders. Some of our ancestors got together and ganged up on the dominator males. Throw rocks from multiple angles in an ambush attack and even the largest silverback can be taken down. Herein lies the great secret of democracies the world over. We use our ability to form collectives (and act as teams) to out-compete the lone bullies who would otherwise take more than their share.
Of course, a key difference between those ancestral times and today is that societies were much smaller then. Everyone knew everyone else. If someone was abusive or prone to cheating, word would get around quick. All of this changed with the advent of complex societies some 8,000 years ago. Empires were born around the settlements of agriculture. Strong men could organize wannabe strong men to form elite cabals and wreak havoc on the newly forming masses. They ganged up on the rest of us and have been dominating the game ever since.
Fast forward to today and you’ll see how our amazing ability to learn from each other and build upon what came before (called “cumulative” culture by the experts) made it possible for empire-builders to refine their craft. They invented things like corporations, accounting and bookkeeping, and the government control of property rights granted to those with existing wealth. This is what we call capitalism today.
For more on how capitalism actually works, see here…
And so it became possible to weave systems of dominance, wealth extraction and hoarding. Those who sought to have the most were able to invest in media institutions, marketing and advertising and make the greedy aspiration of the super-rich a run-of-the-mill aspiration for everyday working folk.
This is how it came to pass that we collectively began to serve power structures in the present that create the conditions for that future world no one wants. If we are to change course, we will need to understand how we got here. It will be necessary for us to pull back the veil and see how systems of wealth hoarding hide in our minds. We will have to understand how the stories that organize our lives are broken and begin to replace them with better alternatives.
And all of this is about healing. Capitalism is dying (can you feel it?) and it is our collective choice whether we die with it.
Now is the time to consciously introspect about what kind of future you want. If no one wants the one we are creating now, it might just be a good idea to start seeking common ground, explore shared intentions, and discover ways forward that the majority of us can agree on. We can cooperate together around these themes and overtake the would-be dominators at the helm today. Change the rules of politics and economies to serve all of humanity and life on Earth.
That will require a credible knowledge of human nature. And it will take some serious visionary thinking about how to get from here to there. I am up for the challenge!
How about you?
Onward, fellow humans.