‘The stakes are as high as they can get…’

Posted March 17th, 2007 in Blog 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

I like to mention particularly good books that I’m reading, and I have just begun a fascinating, if sobering, one — The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, by Thomas Homer-Dixon. Homer-Dixon is director of the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies and political science professor at the University of Toronto.

I’m only into the second chapter so can’t judge the book yet, but the first was fascinating. Homer-Dixon is writing about what causes empires and civilizations to break down, and believes, as I do, that ours is on the verge. He tells us that such moments require us to think differently, creatively, because they mean precisely that the old way of doing things, or merely trying to manage the crises and their impacts, will be often ineffective or could even make things worse.

We have already entered a time of upheaval, and there is no going back to an old norm. Turbulent change is upon us and will continue to mark this generation and the next — and probably a few more after that. How do we live through such a time?

The prospective mind…looks for ways to prevent or forestall horrible outcomes, not just through managing things — an approach that’s often ineffective and sometimes even counterproductive — but also by imagining and implementing more radical and far-reaching solutions. It recognizes that we’re unlikely to prevent all forms of breakdown and that sometimes breakdown can open up opportunities for deep and beneficial progress… if men and women of courage and good sense are prepared to act. Most fundamentally, the prospective mind seeks to make our societies — and each one of us — more resilient to external shock and more supple in response to rapid change…

We are entering a crucial time in our history. In coming decades we’ll come upon one critical juncture after another in rapid succession. The choices we make and the paths we choose at each junction will be irreversible. The stakes are as high as they can get.

As high as they can get. Sometimes when I think I am over-dramatizing the stakes, I read something like this and realize how many others are seeing exactly this predicament, the very high stakes that face our every decision right now in regard to how we will live on this planet.

From 9/11 to the Iraq war to the reconsolidation of the Al Qaeda network to ecosystem breakdown to irreversible climate change to living beyond the capacity of the Earth to support our consumption to our bloated military budget and unsustainable debt — we are headed for breakdown after breakdown, crisis after crisis, challenge upon challenge, and we will have to be resilient indeed.

And we will have to be at our creative best. Breakdown doesn’t always mean something bad is happening, though the impacts are very painful. It does mean that something unsustainable has reached its limit, and we are approaching many limits all at once.

A terrible time? Or a time of re-creation? It all depends on how we decide to approach it — as doom, or as opportunity for the human species to rise to something very special, something with deeper meaning than we have ever known.

Just a little thought for the day.

[tags] the upside of down, thomas homer-dixon, turbulent change, social breakdown[/tags]

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One Response

  1. Sheila Murphy

    Dear Margaret,
    I am reminded of Jared Diamond who shares stories of the demise of various societies in his book Collapse (although I have not managed to wade through the entire volume). How long will it take for humanity to begin to think/act creatively? I suspect we will have to endure the worsening of conditions before we begin to see enough light to realize that more of the same won’t work. But that will challenge our comfort, self-satisfaction, and individualism, and call us to recognize the unity of creation and our responsibility to all.