36. Humanity's Soul-Education
To educate, or educe, means 'to bring out or develop from latent or potential existence', to elicit principles from experience – to get the message that life is teaching us. This happens collectively as well as individually, and history and current events are thus there to be learnt from.
The key issue is to learn from events, such that the event-experiences which cause us pain or difficulty may be changed. Learning from events makes a success and a breakthrough out of a failure and a problem. In other words, wars will continue until we learn to stop creating them, until we finally grow tired and turn swords into ploughshares.
The pattern of large-scale war acted out in recent centuries has now been rendered obsolete by dint of our global learning – though there is a time-delay in the recognition of this, mainly because most people wish the problem would just disappear so that they don't need to think about it. There is thus still risk of reverting to large-scale war since we have not yet fully acknowledged that we have learnt this lesson. The playing out of mutually-assured destruction scenarios during the Cold War period, simulated on computer rather than in the battlefield, helped in the learning-process – by data-analysing warfare to such a degree, we have become more aware of the full costs of war.
In wars such as the Falklands war of 1982, grown-up British soldiers found themselves getting emotionally upset over the death and suffering of 'the enemy', 'the Argies'. Yet, today, the bloody enactment of small-scale and civil wars, of lethal disturbances and terrorism still thrives. People wring their hands and rue the violence ordinary folk wreak upon one another, yet we still await a shift of consensus which disallows such wars and brings large-scale disarmament and psychological change. Will the war equation, as but one of many ills of the past, be carried over into future times? Who chooses?
Seen in the light of historical process, we might well go through momentous waves of crisis in the 21st century. Issues are likely to be presented in surges, shocking us deeply enough to provoke corrective action, giving only just enough time to digest things before the next surge. Such surges are needed because they stretch us beyond our habituated comfort-zones and fear-thresholds, causing us to discover and change to a higher gear. They force us up against the wall.
Yet times of relative calm are necessary too, to allow assimilation and to regenerate the underlying wish for change. It is as if current world history constitutes a crash-course in identifying key issues we must get to grips with, before it is too late. Yet humanity has genuine security needs: we need a few knowns to live by, children still need to get born and cows still need to be milked. From a mass-educational viewpoint, we need a measure of normality in order to preserve human sensibilities, yet we need sufficient crises to oblige us to change. It is as if the collective unconscious of humanity is bringing its death-wishes to the surface, in order to force a fundamental decision: death or life? It is as if we are saying to the collective unconscious, or to 'higher powers', "please force us to stop, because we cannot stop ourselves".
There is also the question of conservatism and resistance to change, which can delay and temporarily stop positive steps. Conservatism has two aspects: natural adherence to tradition and regularity, and outright opposition to change. The former is a stabilising influence arising from human sensibility, while the latter is a blocking influence arising from matters of control and power. If change is excessively thrust upon ordinary people, they resist changes and crave stability.
In 1950s-60s Maoist China, industrialisation, collectivisation and cultural revolution created at least as many problems as they did solutions – some benefited and some lost from them, and also most Chinese people lost their roots in the past. The relentless force with which these reforms were applied led to a period of exceptionally materialistic and individualistic freedom-seeking in China in the 1980s-90s. This itself brought with it big changes favouring some and harming others.
This gave birth to a political battle in 1989 between traditional party hierarchies and a generation of young individualistic, modernised go-getting students, reaching its symbolic climax in the battle for Tienanmen Square. In this case, political resistance to the sweeping changes of the 1960s became a force for change in the 1990s, while the paternalistic revolutionary fathers driving the collectivist changes of the 1960s became avowed political conservatives after 1989. Conservatism and radicalism can change sides over time yet, as forces within the collective unconscious, their interplay stretches over the generations.
During the 20th century, political visions have gradually given way to economic systems as the nexus of change. While political systems have, despite many changes, retained certain patterns, techno-economic change has romped forward. In countries where such changes have prevailed in recent decades, political conservatism has become an ever-stronger defining force: faced with networked telecommunications, multinational conglomerates and air travel, electorates have sided for but small political changes. Nationalism and parochialism have been strong in the face of globalisation.
Maintenance of the power of vested interests and the status quo has very much been the dominant pattern of the late 20th century – betraying an unconscious anticipation of changes to come. Yet keeping a lid on fundamental change has brewed an underlying imperative for change from root to branch, a grass-roots, apolitical need which grows marginally stronger and faster than the capacity to suppress, divert or contain such forces. Increasingly sophisticated social control, bureaucratisation, consumer temptations and data-processing has led to escalating cost, complexity, superficiality and capacity for blunder. Subtly increasing worldwide public skepticism over politicians, products, science, medicine, law and secrecy, and increasing fatigue with media bombardment and senseless organisational changes pervades many countries – impetus to maintain the world system as it now stands derives mainly from countries hitherto deprived of modern material benefits – such as China.
However, even in the Asian Tiger economies which enjoyed mushrooming prosperity and modernity in the 1980s-90s, belief in promised incentives and acquisitions was not as strong as it could be. Materialism, in the minds of millions, is becoming a means to an end rather than an end in itself. However, a question now arises as to what our ends and goals might be. The world's population is increasingly jaded with official culture and thousands of things – especially when many are put out of a job and a way of life (and thus a place in society) by robotisation and technical rationalisation. Consumer satiation accelerates, and diminishing returns arise from each new development – people's first family car means much more to them than their third.
With this comes a quiet, creeping apathy or antipathy, manifesting nowadays as an indistinct disappointment in society and its structures, edging slowly toward endemic resistance and vocal pro-test using new tactics. This unconscious tide at present rears up in heated outbreaks of public concern over beef supplies, education and health, the credibility of traditional authority-figures or other issues, which act as a focus for vague yet charged frustrations lurking in the public domain. Thus, on top, conservative forces dominate, while underneath a para-political tidal wave slowly builds up toward breaking-point.
While stability and conformity have been strongly encouraged – even enforced – during the Reagan/Thatcher-inspired 1980s and 1990s, something has been surreptitiously shifting underneath. The world is experiencing crisis-multiplication. This arises not only from instant global media coverage or rising social awareness – it is hitting even the most sheltered enclaves of humanity.
The Kogi Indians of Colombia have been but one lucid voice from the jungles, warning of things to come: "Now they are killing the Mother. The Younger Brother, all he thinks about is plunder. The Mother looks after him too, but he does not think. He is cutting into her flesh. He is cutting into her arms. He is cutting off her breasts. He takes out her heart. He is killing the heart of the world."
Crises are breaking out in places and sectors people have never heard of before, in increasingly unpredictable and worrying ways. These are unlikely to diminish, since we are experiencing unavoidable, inevitable repercussions of past human activities – reverberations which cannot now be stopped.
Stopping production of CFCs does not instantaneously cause the ozone layer to revive – vast quantities of CFCs already float around and leak continuously from equipment in use, obsolete or scrapped. Thus atmospheric ozone holes will not be repaired for decades, even if tough worldwide legislation were enacted tomorrow. Reverberations from past acts can continue some time after the issue has turned around in social and legislative spheres. Being interrelated, single factors can replicate and repercuss down the line in ways which now mean that no return to previous natural and historic balances is possible. During the coming century a new balance needs to be sought, found and established. Humanity is responsible for finding that new balance.
Industrial demand for timber causes serious deforestation of such places as the Himalayan slopes of India and Nepal, which leads to irregular rainy seasons in the subcontinent and increased flooding in the Ganges plain. This leads to social disruption in north India and Bangladesh, bringing personal loss, community splintering and social restiveness. It leads to such seemingly unrelated phenomena as the awakening of Bangladeshi women to their needs and rights, which leads to ructions and insecurities amongst male Islamic conservatives – not only in Bangladesh. This fuels a tide of Islamic popular opinion worldwide, igniting fundamentalist protest elsewhere against any encroaching, insidious modern influence seen to be at work, sparking social divisions between modernists and conservatives from Morocco to Egypt to Afghanistan to Indonesia. Even the Million-Man March of American blacks in USA in 1995 was Islamic inspired.
Thus Washington and Paris are also affected through protests, pressures and bomb-threats, affecting confidence in international money-markets. Such uncertainties can lead to the stockpiling of agricultural and pharmaceutical chemicals by farmers everywhere, hedging against future shortage, which itself leads to subsequent over-use of chemicals, leading to potential large-scale out-breaks of certain kinds of ailments in widespread countries 20-30 years later.
Over-use of antibiotics and pesticides leads to diminishing immunity levels in wide swathes of population, giving indirect rise to outbreaks of infections such as Ebola, AIDS, asthma and even possibly BSE-related diseases in disparate parts of the world... and so on go the cycles of repercussions in a frighteningly multiplying manner! The logging activities of Japanese timber companies in Sikkim can affect hospital wards in Pennsylvania and truck drivers' wives in Peru. This global interdependence has grown enormously, leading toward ominous possibilities for the future.
The question which then arises is where do we start? Everything seems so complex and interrelated! It is certainly possible to legislate and plan action-programmes on identifiable issues – such as to engage in reafforestation of Himalayan slopes – but much more is necessary. An additional problem arises too: once we acknowledge one problem, we have to acknowledge others too, and we stand the risk of being overwhelmed with more problems than we can handle.
Here we come to the value and usefulness of crises and of appropriate responses to them. When humanity makes it a habit not to correct errors at an early stage and not to learn from experience, crises become necessary! It does not have to be this way. This is the way we have made it. To render crises less necessary, collective action and learning are crucial. Otherwise crises become disasters.
The benefit of a crisis is that it focuses minds. It moves hearts, reveals issues, precipitates soul-searching and provokes definitive action. It gives concrete, immediate, urgent challenges to surmount – with a motivating measure of threat and conscience to back it up. It presents us with hard facts. The disadvantage with crises is that someone usually suffers – though, if used positively, individual sacrifice. though regrettable, can be turned into collective benefit.
Martyrs and innocent victims do have ways of turning the hearts of the public – but can our hearts not be turned earlier before harm sets in? While crises charge their price, they also pay dividends. We should also remember the long, slow, grinding suffering inherent in stable, affluent and regularised societies! Stability, comfort and security also levy their charge – if they charged no price, Americans and Europeans of today would be happy and blissed-out, unequivocally living in a heaven on earth. Yet we don't.
One further advantage to positively-met crisis is that it tends to lead to resolution of many more than single questions. Crises draw in interrelated issues and variables, causing a conflagration of crunches and revealing a massive concatenation of causes. These themselves then lead to new, irreversible and blatant outcomes, moving everything forward into a wider context. When USSR ended the Cold War and went through its internal changes in 1986-93, geopolitical balances and the map of the whole world changed, all of a sudden, affecting even countries not directly involved. Reform in the USSR shifted the whole world context, even though the primary intention was simply to address Russian issues. A can of worms was opened and, a decade later, they're still crawling.
Crises often assist the emergence or resolution of issues which have no obvious link or possible connection with the problem at hand – the large number of orphans in post-Ceaucescu Rumania have helped childless couples in other countries (and vice versa), and the Kobe earthquake in Japan helped solve unemployment problems in California and Scotland. Crises amount to holographic, many-angled, urgent situations where the cards are laid squarely on the table, yet they cannot be put down to single causes or effects even when they are identifiable.
They draw attention to the many strings of confluent influences which make up a situation, and they precipitate multi-faceted and wholesale progression in all directions. If, that is, people respond to them openly and honestly. When this is the case, a crisis can become distinctly advantageous, and the price it charges can yield valuable results in the longterm.
During the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1989-92, the 'playing of the nationalist card' by Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Franjo Tudjman of Croatia led to a civil war of disastrous proportions, involving atrocities everyone thought were left behind in the 1940s. Had the European Union concertedly leaned on the region and its provocateurs at an early, timely stage (1989-91), without complacency or hypocrisy, then ethnic insecurity might well never have been permitted to boil over into strife and atrocity. Social, ethnic and boundary issues in Yugoslavia could have been resolved otherwise – if Czechia and Slovakia could do it peacefully, why not Yugoslavia? The reasonable, moderate majority in then-Yugoslavia could have prevailed during these trying transitional times if the European powers had slowed and tempered the growing crisis, offering genuine gestures of assurance and incentive at the right moment.
Absence of constructive intervention led to barbarity, schism and devastation beyond contemporary parallel – a deep stain on European integrity which peace doesn't heal. Such conflict soured inter-ethnic relations throughout the world: this was a triumph for narrow-minded, bigoted intolerance and destructivity, a mass psycho-virus possessing much potency today. It was a negative precedent for our times, easy for others to emulate – just when global security has become uppermost. Yugoslavs gave the world a European thumbs-up to civil wars and ethnic disturbances worldwide – atrocity was re-legitimised.
The powers which failed to prevent the disaster demonstrated that the principles of civilised cooperation do not yet stretch beyond immediate self-interest. Yugoslavia was economically dispensable – neither a rich market nor a strategic oilfield. The impotence or unwillingness of world powers in intervening constructively in early-1990s disorders in such places as Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Somalia, Timor, Tibet, Peru and Afghanistan, and their complicity in arming such disaster-zones, sends a message that the new world order cares only when there is big money involved. Such geopolitical cynicism encourages a world culture of self-interest which is ominous for the future.
Such tragedies can be avoided or reduced if there is but an application of foresight and preventative action, at the right time. Yet tragedies abound, worldwide, both newsworthy and overlooked tragedies. Though Bosnia is a small place, the symbolism of its troubles is large. The precipitous complacency and feigned impotence of those in a position to affect the situation was a classic symptom of our times. This is a symptom of what some would call the 'end times'.