Sunday, 30 May 2010

The Missing Piece

The past three years have seen a maturing of my vision of the world of the 21st century. As reported in my last post, none of my earlier conclusions seem to be contradicted by current trends, but several refinements in understanding have occurred.

The world is now entering its second global financial crisis in three years. I suggested in an earlier post that the transformation towards a "peripheralized world community" requires/required a series of economic crises across a period of twenty-five to thirty years. At the time I wrote this, there was not a cloud in the sky. However, within 18 months of the first discussion of this issue, the United States economy passed through a major crisis with enormous consequences world-wide... we are still recovering from this context. And now, this year, the Greek economy is in collapse and the ripple effect may carry a good chunk of the European Economic Union with it. We are not quite yet in a global crisis, but there are signs it may evolve into that. In any case, two major shocks to the global economy result in a weakened system which is susceptable to additional crises. It seems likely, now, even to the most naive pundit, that we are in the middle of a series of crises. If my "predictions" play out, we are not "in the middle" of a series of crises... we are at the beginning of a long cascade of crises that will result in the transformation of the world as we know it!

In addition, the move towards a social economy is growing. The social economy, almost invisible until the final years of the 20th century, is growing by leaps and bounds, driven at least in part by the still changing internet. Internet businesses such as Google operate on a different basis than businesses of the past. Yes, they make money, but their "bottom line" is as much about improving the state of being of humanity than about making money. The new business model is, to paraphrase David Meerman Scott (in his fascinating book "The New Rules of Marketing and PR"), to link a money making model to the information-sharing modes of operation of what is often called the Web Two Point Oh so that people are drawn to the paying service via the information sharing. They are given the option of paying for additional, targeted services or just sticking to the freely offered basic services. Basic services are free, only the value added elements cost money. This model is transforming businesses in the internet era - what was considered a marginal and untried business model only a few years ago has now become main-stream! In addition, the internet, including Web Two Point Oh services, is enabling the emergence of mega-organisations of like-minded individuals focused on humanitarian goals. Often these goals are environmental in focus, but a growing number of organisations with other goals are emerging (think of, for example, for pursuing humanitarian aid goals as well as environmental ones).

Despite these increasingly important changes, many people and organizations continue to function as if the world were the same as it always was - what I call the "business as usual" model. Remember, as laid out in my early postings here, the business-as-usual model cannot be right! In today's world, for the first time in human history, the rate of growth of the world population is declining. The world is connected, for the first time in history, by a vast computer network to which almost everyone has access (there are, however, economic factors which limit access by some, but there are also efforts underway to overcome even these barriers). For the first time in human history, we have reached (well, surpassed) the resource limitations of the planet we live in. Under such conditions, business-as-usual is impossible. What we do today has IMMEDIATE consequences on what happens tomorrow - there are no decade long delayed reactions as was the norm before! The "business-as-usual" models suggests that one may act as an indivual (person or organization) with no regard for the feedback effects ("what goes around, comes around") of one's actions. This is NOT the world we live in - today, what I do today bites me in my rear end tomorrow, and the time between action and consequence is shortening all the time!

However, one of the challenges I faced in my earlier postings was the following : what difference does it make to know these things? These changes are not directly under our control - they are part of a large "systems" movement that has been in operation for years, decades, even centuries. How does my understanding that we no longer live in a "business-as-usual" world affect my ability/interest in acting in the present? How do my actions count?

This is not a banal question. Despite the growing focus on the "individual" in our media culture, in some ways the individual seems to have less power to change things than was apparent earlier. If you are a "viral" internet figure, perhaps you have the ability to "be heard", but there is no obvious way to engineer a "viral response" to what one has to say! Viral internet response seems to be pretty haphazard, and also a bit too heavily doped towards media "hype" than dealing with real-life issues in their complexity! But if you have no "viral audience", how can you be heard, never alone have a sustained effect on the world?

The answer I have to offer is multi-level. First of all, one needs to go back to the nature of a paradox. In earlier postings, I described a paradox as "contradictions within being that can be resolved", noting also that the word's roots are found in the idea of being "beyond thought" - so "contradictions within being that can be resolved, but in a process that is beyond thought". We don't "think ourselves" out of paradoxes - we must maintain contact with a paradox until it resolves. The difficulty of being heard or having an impact on the world as an individual, in a society that is increasingly driven by large groups of people, is a paradox. The way forward is to maintain a clear focus on what one has to contribute and to "stay there", taking opportunities to speak to it, to act from this place, and so forth, until, eventually, the world begins to change as a result. It sounds crazy, but it does work! This blog follows this philosophy... if you are reading it, then you are already part of the "give" in the world!

The second part of my answer, however, draws on some reading I've been doing with regard to religion. In an earlier posting I've already talked about the "problem of religion" and the challenges faced by religions today. I've been reading an interesting albeit contraversial writer concerned with Christian theology - John Shelby Spong. I skipped his provocatively-titled book "Why Christianity Must Change or Die", not because I disagree but because the book was largely a critique and offered little information concerning where the Christian church needs to go. Instead, I went straight to the sequel, "A New Christianity for a New World", a fascinating book by anyone's standards.

Spong's argument is not that far from my own, albeit focused towards the issue of religious thought and perhaps without the more scientific or systems thinking elements of my analysis of the root causes of the current tendencies (he is not, after all, a scientist, although his explanation of evolution is one of the most coherent and well-articulated accounts I have ever encountered!). Spong argues that humankind is in the process of attaining a kind of emotional maturity very different to what was the case in the past. He reaches this conclusion based on an array of readings, including Jung, religious scholars of the past hundred years or so, scientists and others. As I also presented, he doesn't discount the presence of religious "fundamentalism", its popularity and its apparent attempt to "turn back the clock", but like in my own analysis, he views this as a "last bastion" of those who are still resisting changes that have become massive and inevitable. In the face of scientific perspectives that leave no room for a "heaven just beyond the clouds", for God as an "immaterial being" who can "intervene directly in human lives" and "perform physical miracles that defy the laws of physics", that leave no room for the "miracle of virgin birth", etc., Spong claims that Christian doctrine needs to be radically rethought. He "deconstructs" standard Christian doctrine within an attempt to find the "essential core", the part of Christianity (that is to say, the part of the Christ story) that existed before the layers of interpretation were added. His solution is rather subtle, and I won't attempt to describe it in detail here - I'm still thinking about it myself!

However, in an equally fascinating chapter on the nature of evil, he re-situates evil in two places - as a problem of the incompleteness of human beings, on the one hand, and in a kind of corollary, as a problem of the refusal to acknowledge, understand and incorporate one's shadow on the other, following Jung's ideas about the shadow self. Let me quote Spong as he talks about Jung's ideas :

"Carl Jung suggested that a part of every person's humanity was something he called our 'shadow'. This 'shadow' is defined as that aspect of our being which is feared, repressed, denied, coped with, and in some cases even transformed to serve the well-being of the person. However, Jung argued that one's shadow is never healed until it has been brought into the self-consciousness of the person whose dark side it is. Healing, for Jung, comes with the embrace of our shadow, the acceptance of our evil. Evil too is a part of God, Jung suggested, because it too is a part of Being."

Spong calls this a "startling concept" and "one not easily absorbed". He goes on, however, to suggest that 21st century Christianity needs to accept and incorporate this very different idea of evil than the one embedded in current Christian thought. He declares "the primary task of a faith-community is to assist in the creation of wholeness - not goodness, but wholeness". He talks about the "wholeness that comes to us only in community", that "includes our shadow, which is never separate from our being". "Some of us need to be rescued from our goodness to be made whole, while some of us need to be rescued from our evil. But none of us can be made whole until good and evil are bound together inside one being. That... is a community function." Furthermore, "That ... is the work of the church".

I believe that this is the piece I have been missing in my own analysis of the current process of transformation of the world. I agree with Spong that the "shadow work" which needs to be done MUST BE DONE, at least in part, BY THE COMMUNITY. While we must each of us struggle with our own demons, our society also has its own shadow sides, and we must find a way to acknowledge this shadow as a community, so that we can heal ourselves, heal humanity (note that this is related to the argument I spelled out in the post "On Children"). The longer we put this work off, the harder the transition will be. While certain aspects of the transformation (the "convergence") under way are beyond our control to reach and address, this aspect of the transformation is very much our work and very much within our means to act, to be heard and to contribute to the changes underway.


Vridar said...

Mr. Edwards,

Recently, I've been toying with a theory similar to your's and Bp Spong's demon idea. Those who haven't coped with their demons, shadows, or dark side, whatever one desires to call them, are the most adamant in attempting change in others - often through organizations - public office, religious communities, tea and coffee parties or other gatherings. To wit, the public figures who define certain moral failings and speak out against these so called failings and then are outed themselves having these self defined failings - the most recent example being the Reverend George Alan Rekers. The RCC is currently too easy a target in this demon hypothesis.

Geoffrey Edwards: said...

I should point out that this isn't really "my idea" or Bishop Spong's, but the result of the writings and thought of Carl Jung, one of the greatest scholars of the 20th century... The situation is almost surely more complex than you have described, after all, not everyone who has such demons becomes a public figure engaged on a "witch hunt", but there is clearly something very like this approach at work!