Some would say that human evolution is a progression and that we stand at its zenith. Some believe that we have lost much and we might even be at a low point. Both of these world-views are true in different respects.
We live in a time when many levels of human evolution are coming to meet. City folk are meeting up with forest and desert peoples, feeling kinship with them - or even fear of them, or a desire to change them. We are at an anthropological crossroads where everyone has something to give.
There is much to learn from ‘first-peoples’, whether it concerns their approach to life and the world, their medicines or ecological management techniques. Meanwhile, many people living simple lifestyles have been dragged into an invasive globo-culture of Pepsi, mobile phones and 4x4s.
Concealed behind all this is a meeting of all cultures of all times. This has cruel, jagged aspects, yet this is a new fusion – or transfusion. We might need to draw on all of our collective historic experience to get through the next phase of planetary evolution.
In the pursuit of progress and development, modern people have indeed lost a lot. We rarely heed the song of the wind or the promptings of our hearts. In 'developed' countries we have lost our communities and clans. We’ve got used to regrettable things. Yet we have gained much that’s new too. Not just airplanes and telephones, but a whole new way of seeing life and a tremendous variety and intensity of experience.
We’re in transitional times: a new tribalism is forming, based more on shared beliefs and interests than on blood, homeland and indigenous values. But it’s early days. Our friends, peers and adopted ‘family’ are now spread worldwide, linked by e-mails, satellite dishes and air-miles.
Yet we hardly know the folks next door – they might as well be from Alpha Centauri. Once, we sought help from our neighbours and family and gave it freely, and now we ring a telephone helpline and pay taxes to devolve these things to government.
This has deep and mixed emotional implications. Today, if we are ruthlessly honest with ourselves, we are quite lost. Our ancient families, tribes and roots are gone, and new connections of intimacy and safety haven’t formed yet. Even the small nuclear family, a reasonably recent invention, is atomising. We are all being thrust back on ourselves. We’re obliged to form our own judgements and make our own decisions from a young age.
This individualism means that we don’t follow along with the herd or meekly accept what we’re given any more. Which is good. However, we are now addicted to ‘choice’ and ‘personal freedom’ – and our emotional bonds and associations come and go. We no longer belong – and superstore loyalty cards aren’t a good substitute. Yet from this rather isolated position new values are brewing.
We’re being forced to face something new: in order to progress as individuals, we must join together and cooperate. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so let’s get on with it. We must reach new social agreements and evolve a new world consensus. This consensus needs to unify us sufficiently for the task at hand without treading too violently on our personal and group character and autonomy. Hmmm.... tricky!
This is exciting. It’s a new agenda for the coming century, a re-forming of the human family. Our differences and our similarities are both relevant. They are less contradictory than they sound: paradoxically, in intense group processes, individuality grows in parallel with escalating collective trust, communication and togetherness. Power can be exerted without depriving others of it.
This involves social inventiveness. In the coming century we’re likely to see new socially interactive processes evolve which allow us to discover what others truly feel and believe – whether by Internet or face to face, personally or en masse.
Having lost much of our social coherence, we have gained a new planetary situation – a beginning-point for something else. There are millions of people out there to discover as friends, family and fellow humans. Humanity might be on the threshold of falling in love with itself. Our boundaries are shifting.
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.