31. Do We Need a Disaster?
"History shows that risks should be taken, but not blindly".
- Marshal Zhukov (1896-1974, USSR Marshal in WW2, the Great Patriotic War).
We are sorry victims of a historic collective amnesia. As a result many of the standards and norms of previous generations are lost, forgotten or rejected. Some of these norms are worth losing, though many worthy standards of basic human and communal behaviour have also disappeared into the misty past. Each generation tends to re-define its benchmarks of acceptability or desirability, its 'quality-control' in matters of civilisation, environment and psychological standards – and often in a downward direction.
Unless, that is, there is a corrective standard-raising movement or an impulse to counteract this. In our modern civilisation, standards have risen for a proportion of people, though for the rest, and for nature and for the general psychic field of humanity, standards have sunk – brown seas, wastelands, violence and hurt psyches have increased in number and magnitude.
Once something is sufficiently common, it becomes normalised and accepted as a given reality - especially by younger people who have no past to compare with. As they grow up, they themselves build on this normalisation. The urbanism of recent centuries has moved these parameters a long way, downgrading environmental awareness and basic rules of human decency in favour of commercially-driven metropolitan values – values in which things and people become production resources in an accelerating value-adding process without limits.
Property has become more highly valued than humans. Such an ongoing historic deterioration – counterbalanced by only occasional evolutionary improvements – has compounded the damage humanity has caused to nature and to itself. This leads today to an exponential growth in critically destructive factors which now are becoming disastrous in their actual and potential consequences.
Disasters are already with us, and the evidence is widespread. When murky smoke from man-made forest fires hung over a wide area of Malaysia, Indonesia and SE Asia in September 1997, the occasion was disapproved of, yet it was soon forgotten. Large-scale world changes arising from chronic and acute disasters have already been overwhelming and irreversible in localised areas and in every department of life – and since the 1980s these have been linking up and exacerbating each other in an increasingly globalised and total manner. Damage-output is rising annually toward a brinkmanlike horror point in which the concatenation of a large variety of critical factors could precipitate a major global crisis.
In this light, only a radical change in the core tenets and practices of world civilisation will prevent precipitous outcomes. It comes down to three simple central factors in human society: money, sex and power (or greed, lust and envy). These basic motivational issues, and the levels and standards which are set in relation to them, stand at the core of any social arrangements which define any society, regardless of the political or social philosophy behind them. Today, these three raw forces continue waxing strong, unbridled and unbalanced.
We are aware of this, yet we bury our awareness because we fear its implications. Deep in our souls, we fear disaster – a full-frontal confrontation with the outcomes of our history. This might not be acknowledged, yet the dread lurks there, deep down. We fear disaster of a totally nightmarish, sci-fi variety – disaster in which people, in terror and confusion, run hither and thither under a sky turning dark, while enormous uncontrollable forces rumble the thunderous resonances of destruction and destitution. The Cold War nuclear overkill of the 1970s-80s certainly invoked such a spectre: a dread scenario of obliteration of all life, of mass-incineration, deadly radiation, nuclear winter and decimation on both victor's and loser's sides.
Similarly, environmental fundamentalists foresee a time when nature suddenly decides to hit back, seeking to re-establish ecological balances by cutting back or eliminating human life. The fear of social breakdown and a cruel descent into chaotic disarray, retribution and depravity has been a long-standing fear, going back at least to medieval times. The decline and fall of Rome left painful memories of this kind in the Western psyche. The likelihood of experiencing nightmarish scenarios increases as the inherently destructive tendencies in our civilisation continue to grow. Such deep-lurking horror-scenarios reflect humanity's hidden guilt over its rampantly deteriorative activities and values.
However, what we fear is not necessarily what is likely to happen. It could be better than what we anticipate – or it could be worse. This depends a lot on our choices: contrary to some doomsters' opinions, the future is not fore-ordained or precisely mapped-out. Some of us might visualise big-screen disaster scenarios of epic, crashing proportions, yet more realistic and likely disaster scenarios need examining too. Not only this, but we need to factor into this equation the responses of people themselves, since perceptions of disaster vary greatly, depending on one's disposition and susceptibility to fear of change.
Nightmarishness is in the eyes of the beholder: for many people, simpler disruptions such as hyper-inflation or electricity black-outs can be sufficiently nightmarish to send them into a spin or cause them to break down as a nervous wreck. Yet, to other people, disaster, paradoxically, can also be a relief, even an opportunity. Why? Because, in many people's experience, we are already in a disaster, a time of great tribulation, and therefore any motion or change can, for some, represent the end of an ongoing current nightmare.
For exile Palestinians in refugee camps, for mill-treading executives with tense lives and protruding bellies, for farmers who have been turned from agriculturalists into lonely engineers, debt-ridden businessmen and pesticide-chemists, and for countless other winners and losers of many kinds, release from the prison of their lives could be a breakthrough. For some it will be a relief never to have chocolate or tobacco any more!
If we work on the basis that human life on Earth has meaning and purpose and that our evolutionary story is not yet over, then, from the god's-eye viewpoint of higher intelligences overseeing our history and our current time, disaster has a purpose. If we look at life and events as mirroring reflections of the dynamics of our psyches, then disaster is an expression of a disastrous condition of humanity's psyche. It also represents a teaching opportunity, a chance to take hold of ourselves and get the message: that we are the creators of our reality and of our future, and it's up to us. Seen from this viewpoint, potential disasters have a fine-tuned and benign purpose: to awaken and transform us, not necessarily to destroy us.
In this light, we are perhaps unconsciously creating disaster-conditions in order to force ourselves to act and to change ourselves. As with cancer sufferers, an outbreak of disaster confronts us with a deep, total choice: to affirm life and mobilise our will-to-live, or to give up as victims of circumstance and to let pain and death take us. Many people continue to believe there is no cure for cancer – an idea tragically reinforced by official, medical and public opinion – and so also, under the surface, many people believe that disaster is unstoppable, brings no benefits and simply kills everyone. This kind of attitude needs to change if we are to get anywhere.
However, in the light of the above proposition – that disaster has meaning and purpose – it follows that, if we are to be confronted with a big lesson, disaster needs to be great and momentous enough to cause us to change, but not sufficiently disastrous to actually destroy us. This line of thinking changes a disaster scenario quite fundamentally.
In fact, the objective magnitude of a disaster isn't as important as the subjective impact it has on us: if we are capable of learning fundamental lessons from such relatively insignificant though symbolically poignant events as the death of a British princess in 1997, then genuine catastrophes might be avoidable.
This brings up a secondary question: how much shock and horror do we need in order to awaken us? How far do we need to take things before we get the message? No one really knows – including 'higher intelligences'. We don't know how much force humanity requires in order to overcome its complex resistances to change.
We have had sufficient opportunity throughout history to learn many basic lessons – such as the lesson of war, the lessons of bad leadership or the lessons of overlooking the needs and rights of children – yet we have not learned. Even when the writing has been clearly on the wall – episodes of which, recently, took place in the mid-1960s and the late-1980s – we have turned the other way.
However, there seems to be a 'holding strategy' at work. Many people who work in the business of awakening humanity are surprised that blatant disaster has not yet hit us, during perhaps the 1980s or 1990s. It cannot be said that our world is in good health, yet the Big One hasn't fully hit us. What does this mean?
It could mean that disaster is being held back, in order to give us last-chance learning experiences and opportunities to choose. Of these, we have in recent decades had many windows of opportunity. Every single localised outbreak of tragedy, acuteness and intense change is a collective opportunity to learn – whether it is a clash between Palestinians and Jews, an outbreak of Ebola disease or a long hot summer. It is a chance to precipitate a process of change and awakening. If, that is, we choose to learn from it.