If we look on ourselves as individual cells of one larger being - humanity - then two aspects of our mass-healing process need attention. One is humankind’s general health and its ongoing overall problems, and the other is the specific localised crises, some disastrous, which hit certain places and situations, holding back the whole of humanity.
Humanity’s ailments are shown in world events, trends and problems. Social polarisation or civil war is like a virus gripping the body social: it spreads if not contained. Mass-atrocities are like a serious fever, social unrest is like a influenza, famine is like a wasting disease, wars are like rampant cancers and disasters are heart attacks. Affluence is like obesity and regularised security like addiction.
Humanity’s health is influenced by its basic happiness and by the way societies care for their people. Social inclusivity strengthens society’s immune system – its capacity to resist disease. Humankind, unclear about its overall shared interests, is vulnerable to splintering and atomisation. Immunity breaks down when individual social groups – cells within the body social – lose their mutual balance and sense of interdependence, and they start fighting one another.
Health is affected by memory-shadows (‘miasms’) from the past. Past oppression, hardship and pain charge their price even when they’re gone. This leads to chronic social ills. America’s late-20th Century addiction to wealth and security is an understandable product of the poverty and alienation experienced by the many refugees who migrated there in the past, saying "never again" to poverty and oppression – yet today’s attachment to security has bred a deep social insecurity and wealth has bred deepening spiritual poverty.
Meanwhile, in some ‘developing’ countries social revival can be limited by inadequate healing resources – social trust and unity, a sense of future, economic medicine and decent living conditions – to strengthen societies and stimulate new social equilibrium and energy.
Then there are acute cases of social illness – wars, disasters and crises. With better international action, such breakdowns either wouldn’t happen, or they could be turned to good. Societies in disaster are not ‘over there’, outside our sphere – they are part of us. Disaster can hit us too. A civil war in Afghanistan, Lebanon or Bosnia puts the world at risk - it infects everyone else. When such black spots exist, humanity as a whole is held back. In other words, a broken toe or rib affects the whole body.
Though strife between Hutus and Tutsis or Catholics and Protestants have been localised, general world conditions allow such strife and even encourage it. In a sense, these people are in strife on our behalf, living out horror-movies for all of us. To some extent, they save us from living them out ourselves. Hitler was a world, not just a German, phenomenon.
Viruses spread easily, attacking the weakest parts of the body. When Lebanon quietened down in 1991, tired of devastation, Yugoslavia fell into an equally atrocious civil war quite soon after. Such viruses can spread to any place where people nurture denied collective feelings, suppressed frustrations or pain. War has an appetite of its own, minding little who it eats.
We need to give attention to potential, sub-acute crisis-spots before it’s too late. They’re visible in advance. So perhaps we need to look at the causes of social breakdown, not just the effects arising when the deed is done. Even in ‘natural’ disasters, societies hampered by war, shortage or environmental deterioration suffer more than ‘stronger’ societies, which can mobilise emergency services and support those who lose out. Rebuilding social ‘immunity’, the harmonious integrity of nations and localities, is a high future priority.
However, illness is also an opportunity. When we’re ill, we ask questions we didn’t otherwise have time for. In crises, central questions are brought into focus and thrashed out – on behalf of us all. If we elected genuinely to learn from wars, disasters and breakdowns, they wouldn’t repeat so easily and habitually. However, currently the viruses of war and dissent are alive and well, still seeking new customers.
Crisis-zones are important. We can’t just leave problems to ‘experts’ – diplomats, aid agencies and the UN. Crisis-ridden peoples need personal-level contact with secure people – for exchange of moral support, citizen aid, knowledge-sharing and friendship. It helps both parties: there is much for ‘haves’ to learn from ‘have-nots’, as well as vice versa. Aid brings mutual benefit - it’s a sharing.
In addition to rushing aid or troops to crisis areas, we need to build up humanity’s basic condition – psychologically and emotionally as well as materially. To defuse world flashpoints and pressing problems, we need perhaps to review the health of our societies in a new light. Do we still need extremes of wealth and poverty? Isn’t it silly to have aid organisations and arms traders working alongside each other? If recent world climate change is man-made, can we not look wholeheartedly at the causes?
This involves looking at hidden, unmentionable, unventilated issues alive today. It involves examining our ghosts and shadows – the stuff of the collective unconscious. It involves quite a change of priorities. Yet the pay-off is genuine human happiness, peace and opportunity. Which might well be the greatest gift we could give each other.
The Illustrated Guide to the Millennium
© Copyright Palden Jenkins 1998, 2012.
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The Illustrated Guide to the Millennium was partially written in 1997-98 and never published.