I was recently asked to respond to a short email interview. My response seems like a nice summary of how I’ve spent the last decade and a half of my life, so I thought I would share it here.
As the world grows ever darker, I’ve been forcing myself to think about hope. I watch as the world and the people near me experience increased grief and suffering, as aggression and violence move into all relationships, personal and global, and as decisions are made from insecurity and fear. How is it possible to feel hopeful, to look forward to a more positive future? The biblical psalmist wrote, “Without vision, the people perish.” Am I perishing?
12 Reasons Why People Refuse To Address The Idea That We’re Headed For Near-Term Societal Collapse, By Jem Bendell
As I have been talking with people about this topic over the past few years, I’ve become aware of the barriers accepting near-term societal collapse and therefore barriers to rigorous and creative thinking and discussion about what we might do about it, personally and collectively. I have also become aware of the barriers I had for a few years to avoid addressing this topic with the seriousness it merits. So before outlining either the analysis of our environmental predicament or the new agenda this opens up, it may be useful to outline some of these barriers to useful dialogue. I do that as part of my invitation for you to either avoid – or momentarily suspend – such responses and adopt a “what if” perspective on societal collapse. Only then can one explore what a deep adaptation agenda might mean for oneself, one’s work and wider society.
In 2016, Andrew Harvey and I published Savage Grace: Living Resiliently In The Dark Night of The Globe. In Chapter 1 of the book, we forecasted essentially what is happening in this moment in terms of the demise of the last vestiges of democracy and human rights on this planet. We chose the image of Kali, the Hindu goddess of creation and destruction as the symbol of our current global predicament. Two years later, we are witnessing a virulent, worldwide embrace of white nationalist, authoritarian rule. Ultimately, Kali seeks to transform the human ego and rational mind and bring us into a more permanent residence in the heart, but the process is often excruciating. Might she also want to transform the image a country or a community has of itself? “This is not who we are.”—Or is it? How shall awake human beings respond? What is our work? What is our calling? How do we reconnect with the authentic sources of meaning in our lives and the web of life itself as totalitarian rule is poised to dominate our consciousness and our countries as we stand on the threshold of the potential extinction of all life on Earth as a result of catastrophic climate change? We will be posting portions of Savage Grace in the coming weeks because it is proving itself to be prescient and empowering in this very dark time.
You have written &/or published a book that carries a potent message – whether in text or photos – and we are grateful for the chance to help promote and celebrate your book by making it visible as a Nautilus Award Winner. We hold the intention with you that your book will find much recognition and success with this significant award
As Kali and Trump are disrupting the planet, you are offered the help of Andrew and Carolyn to ponder the 4 strategies and actions that awake humans must embrace going forward into the Dark Night of the Soul. The tools they provide to navigate the crisis are: Reconnection, Resistance, Resilience and Regeneration and each chapter has suggested practices to help the reader focus.
I have to honestly think of myself as deeply cynical and hopeless in relation to what I believe our cultural systems and institutions can ultimately provide us. A new deal with the old dealers won’t save us. New dealers in the same game won’t either. A new game, or an assortment of new games, might. The needed change is fundamentally a cultural change, not a piece of legislation or a piece of technology, and it is a change that is struggling from many directions to break through. The mainstream culture is focused on news-making individuals, institutions and events – not systems – so this cultural shifting is relatively invisible and under-reported. Have faith in it, be on the look out and maybe even jump in somewhere
Those familiar with The Three E’s understand what I mean when I say there are some very sizable disasters headed our way. They are mathematically unavoidable at this point. But while we can’t control *what* will happen, we each can control *how* we will meet and react to it. Advance preparation is essential. But no plan is foolproof. Having the ability to deal with unexpected setbacks is also key — which a tribe helps immensely with.
But action doesn’t depend on what might happen. The authors of Savage Grace want us to do the right thing, regardless of what occurs. In their previous book, Return to Joy, the authors advise seeking not “happiness,” a Jeffersonian goal, but a state closer to such virtues as equanimity and compassion, plus resistance to evil and devotion to service.
“Only a god,” Heidegger famously said, “can still save us.” An atheist would disagree, but I think that on this one, the atheist would be wrong. While we might not need a new religion, we do need a new sense of the sacred or an awakening of the most ancient one: a sense of awe, wonder, and respect for something greater than us. What could that something greater be? There is no need to theorize about it. What is greater than us is the earth itself—life—and we are folded into it, a small part of it, and we have work to do. We need a new animism, a new pantheism, a new way of telling the oldest of stories. We could do worse than to return to the notion of the planet as the mother that birthed us. Those old stories have plenty to say about the fate of people who don’t respect their mothers.