“The potential for rescue at this time of crisis is neither luck, coincidence, nor wishful thinking. Armed with a more sophisticated understanding of how change occurs, we know that the very forces that have brought us to planetary brinksmanship carry in them the seeds of renewal. The current disequilibrium – personal and social – foreshadows a new kind of society. Roles, relationships, institutions, and old ideas are being re-examined, re-formulated, re-designed.
For the first time in history, humankind has come upon the control panel of change – an understanding of how transformation occurs. We are living in the change of change, the time in which we can intentionally align ourselves with nature for rapid remaking of ourselves and our collapsing institutions.
The [new] paradigm sees humankind embedded in nature. It promotes the autonomous individual in a decentralized society. It sees us as stewards of all our resources, inner and outer. It says that we are not victims, not pawns, not limited by conditions or conditioning. Heirs to evolutionary riches, we are capable of imagination, invention and experiences we have only glimpsed.
Human nature is neither good nor bad but open to continuous transformation and transcendence. It has only to discover itself. The new perspective respects the ecology of everything: birth, death, learning, health, family, work, science, spirituality, the arts, the community, relationships, politics.”
— Marilyn Ferguson in The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980)
I found these words quoted in an anthology of astounding quality called “Peace: A Dream Unfolding,” which was published in 1985, and deals primarily with averting the threat of nuclear war. I have read this passage perhaps two dozen times over the past couple days, and am constantly surprised by how accurate, and prophetic, her words remain, 30-years on.
In recent weeks, I have frequently heard parallels drawn between breakthroughs in the early days of nuclear science, and Craig Venter’s recent successful synthesis of artificial life. While many of the parallels involve the scope of the respective achievements in human and academic terms, many also express concern at what terrors such an understanding may unleash upon our world. Though history has so far shown (knock, knock) the intense fear of a nuclear holocaust to be mostly unfounded, I must admit that I am afraid of what might be lurking in this newest box of Pandora’s. I lack the knowledge of bio-chemistry to really qualify my fears, but I know that human beings have definitely proven themselves willing, time and again, to utilize science to enact great horrors on one another in the name of progress, profits and power. With modern man sitting as we now do, more than ever before, at the “control panel of change,” I am worried about who is doing the driving. The internet has certainly added an immense amount of weight to the power of “the autonomous individual in a decentralized society,” but this true-democratic dream has so far shown little reformative value, except perhaps in identifying pop-culture’s next teen heartthrob, or marginally-witty-catch-phrase.
She does seem to have been right about a lot of things, though. Just as our technology is constantly redefining our relationship with change, allowing us, quite literally, to “intentionally align [or re-align] ourselves with nature” so too has our history armed us with a more sophisticated understanding of how change occurs. The forces of technology and globalization have placed the future of our planet, and our species, in our hands as never before, but they have also provided us with access to information and education unfathomable to the thousands of generations which came before us. As we are handed the most important and complex stewardship in human history, the great question of our generation, may be: ‘have we been paying attention?’.
I suppose the book of life, like any other, can be read only one page at a time, and only time will reveal what the next chapter holds, or how many will follow. Though our generation has proven itself highly capable of ignorance and apathy, the “seeds of renewal” articulated by Ms. Ferguson three decades ago have borne beautiful fruit as well. Our “roles, relationships, institutions and [especially] old ideas” have undoubtedly been “re-examined, re-formulated and re-designed” and while resource exploitation, human suffering, and geo-political inequality remain rampant, much of our population lives in a world that is significantly more equitable and more just than it was in 1980. The promise of expanded “imagination, invention and experience,” has bloomed perpetually, for better or worse, in the “rapid remaking of ourselves and our collapsing institutions,” and new perspectives on practically every element we’re aware of are re-imagined daily into the newer, newest and newest-er frontiers of thought.
“Human nature is neither good nor bad but open to continuous transformation and transcendence. It has only to discover itself.” As a new, exciting and dangerous era in bio-technology dawns, will our ecological wisdom and imagination be up to the task of finally transforming and transcending the persistent disequilibrium in our personal and social world, or will tomorrow’s new society be just another genetically modified strawberry – bigger, brighter and longer lasting, but born bereft of nature and nutrients, in the womb of a test-tube, so that some short-sighted white guy can buy a bigger car to overcompensate for his undersized stem. We most certainly are the heirs to vast evolutionary and intellectual riches. Then again, so were the Mayans.
“In the past, it was possible to destroy a village, a town, a region, even a country. Now it is the whole planet that has come under threat. This fact should fully compel everyone to face a basic moral consideration; from now on, it is only through a conscious choice and then deliberate policy that humanity can survive.” Pope John Paul II was standing in Hiroshima when he issued this warning. Now it is the biological foundations of the life itself that have come under threat. Will we make the conscious choices necessary to sustain the essence of our humanity, or will we follow the cloned lemmings of desire into the great Petri-dish of ‘I-wish-I-could-be-like…?’ Whatever the answer may be, I’m sure it will be found on reality TV.