We can all feel it — the mental disease of late-stage capitalism is causing widespread depression, an epidemic of suicides, chronic feelings of guilt and shame, and a general malaise of powerlessness.
The lack of economic opportunities is palpable. Major media outlets are owned and controlled by powerful financial interests. Elections in many parts of the world have been co-opted to such an extent that they offer a mere facade of democracy. And the systemic nature of political corruption has become undeniable for the majority of us, as I have written about here and here and others have written enough about to fill an entire library.
The world is changing quickly and there is great need for people everywhere to visualize how it is happening. If we can see our place in the process, we can consciously and intentionally help it happen faster. I would like to offer a mental image to help us do this:
Imagine the surface of a mountain lake in winter. The air has fallen below freezing and the water has not frozen over yet. Thousands of “tiny islands” of ice form as little nucleation spots — each floating separately and in isolation from the others.
Surrounding these tiny islands is the turbulent mixing of water and air, some above freezing temperature and some below. It is this turbulence that keeps the water liquid even though the air is cold enough to congeal the surface. Then a quickening occurs… a number of the ice pockets bump into each other and begin to float in harmony with each other.
And in a flash the thousands of tiny islands become woven together as the crinkle of ice spreads across the entire lake.
This is called a phase transition. It is how liquid and gas perform a beautiful dance and move the water from fluid to crystal phase. It happens energetically as a mixing pattern that is distributed across the entire lake. It happens everywhere-all-at-once — self organizing in many places and achieving synchronicity as a globally emergent pattern.
Now imagine instead of a lake that we are seeing the physical process of social change in culture for an economic or political system. Instead of water molecules you’ll need to think about stories, social norms, and standard practices — how people think about, make sense of, and go about doing things.
In tiny pockets of humanity, there are individual people going about their lives. Early in the process there are only a few isolated people whose life story is broken and they can’t make sense of the world around them by simply listening to the common sense of others.
Work hard and you’ll get a job. Keep paying your bills and you’ll get out of debt. Study hard and you’ll get into a good school. Graduate and start your career. Buy a house and settle down to raise a family.
This has been the standard life story in our capitalist society for the last three generations. It worked for a lot of people fifty years ago (though success was isolated to mostly Western, white, male, privileged demographics at the time) and seemed to “make sense” for a while. Yet now this story is completely broken — it doesn’t match our daily lives and is useless for guiding how we plan and act in the world today.
As more of us feel the disconnect between how the world is “supposed to be” and how it actually is, we become a nucleation point for new stories. We become tiny islands of possibility for the new paradigm.
And as we experience the turbulence and chaos of uncertainty in this condition, we can easily become overwhelmed. Made worse is the fact that elite control of media is used to tell us that the world is made up of individuals, if you fail it is your own fault, and if you have debts (regardless of how ethically questionable the situations were that forced you into them) that you are morally responsible to pay them. In this way, we become slaves to the monetary systems of capitalism.
The disharmony we feel inside is what happens when a social system has broken down. Massive inequality pits us against each other in an unwinnable game where those who rigged the system (setting up tax havens, buying political outcomes, removing taxes from the super rich, gutting social programs, and more) are the only winners.
All the while, wars continue unabated that transfer wealth from populace to defense contractor and transfer nature’s bounty from local peoples to investor/owners of multinational corporations. We are told to blame ourselves. And the media uses the art of redirection and distraction to hide the Occupy Wall Streets, Arab Springs, anti-austerity political parties, and all other uprisings from being seen — the dots have not been connected and so we continue to feel alone.
And yet, just like the tiny ice crystal islands on that supercooled lake, we have become legion. There are now at least 200,000,000 of us awakened to the social values and organizing principles of a new world. We only continue to lose because the “powers that be” who share the ideology of debt enslavement and wealth hoarding keep us trapped in their stories.
They are well organized and coordinated in their actions. We remain decentralized and unaware that our numbers outrank them by several orders of magnitude. The task before us now is to find resonance in our lived experience and weave the tapestry of feelings, thoughts, and beliefs into coordinated actions. I am speaking here of healing, not warfare. We will win by reaching down deep into ourselves and connecting with our common humanity.
A brief survey of human history makes it seem like we are a warmongering species — but that is only the Story of Conquest from the imperial age for civilizations in the last 6,000 years. Go back farther and you will see that our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in egalitarian bands for a hundred thousand years or more. Note the recent studies of empathy in neuroscience, psychology, and sociology and you will see that we are wired for cooperation and capable of inspiring levels of compassion for our fellow humans and the rest of the natural world.
So I offer you this mental image. Be an island crystal of hope. Give structure to your story that speaks the truth of your lived experience. Through this healing process reach out to and engage your fellow men and women in struggle. Find your voice. Speak your truth. And be part of the waves of transformation that will follow.
Onward, fellow humans!