A lot of people look to Barack Obama as the enlightened leader, the psychopomp who will lead the world away from the brink of catastrophe and into a new era. I see him in a somewhat different light. I see his election as the American expression of a global shift in consciousness that is already well underway. He may or may not be able to fulfill his promise of hope in any specific policy area, but the fact of his election speaks to a dramatic sea-change in the global Zeitgeist.
An individual in crisis may experience a sudden transformation or awakening as a response to an intolerable situation. The current crisis of civilization is starting to impact hundreds millions of individuals around the globe, especially since the world was plunged into the economic crisis that is further compounding our accelerating ecological, environmental, energy and social crises. The sense of imminence created by this convergence is causing enormous numbers of people to wake up and wonder WTF has been going on while we dutifully lived out the consumerist dream. While we were sleeping that dream seems to have become a nightmare as the materialist utopia we were promised morphed into a cruel, life-destroying hoax .
This uncomfortable awakening is manifesting in a massive, unpredicted global change, as reported in Paul Hawken's seminal book "Blessed Unrest" and documented on WiserEarth.org. A spontaneous global movement consisting of two million or more small, independent, grass-roots groups, working on local environmental, social justice and spiritual issues of all kinds, is spreading like an Australian wildfire through every city in every country on the face of the planet. It is the largest, most diverse, most autonomous, most exuberant, most hopeful movement humanity has ever produced.
This enormous number of individual groups, each composed of a small number of individual people, is unconsciously shifting the consciousness of the entire human enterprise. As they do that they are also fulfilling three roles that are crucial to the short, medium and long term future of humanity:
They are acting as "Gaia's antibodies". They arise spontaneously in response to local symptoms of dis-ease, and work to try and fix the local problems causing the symptoms. They take information, but not direction, from outside their local areas. As there are apparently so many of these groups, their action is somewhat analogous to the operation of an immune system.
They will act as the seed stock for a critical set of sustainable values. These groups tend to share a set of values — cooperation, consensus, nurturing, recognition of interdependence, acceptance of limits, universal justice and the respect for other life — that are precisely the ones a civilization would need to become sustainable. As the groups are so widely distributed and are not bound into a single organization, the movement is very resilient. That resilience maximizes the probability that some groups will survive to transit these values into the surrounding culture, no matter how many areas on Earth experience various changes up to and including collapse. Just as seeds sprerad their genetic material into the new plants they become, these groups act as seeds to spread their own cultural memetic material — their sustainable values. The space for these values to grow will be opened up as the guardian institutions of the old value system rupture due to the converging crisis.
They may act as humanity's imaginal cells. Imaginal are the cells that accumulate in a caterpillar's body toward the end of its adolescence and trigger its metamorphosis into a butterfly. Here's description of the process:
When a caterpillar nears its transformation time, it begins to eat ravenously, consuming everything in sight.Tiny cells, that biologists actually call "imaginal cells," begin to appear in the caterpillar's body. These cells are wholly different from caterpillar cells. At first, the caterpillar's immune system perceives these new cells as enemies, and attacks them. But the imaginal cells are not deterred.They continue to appear, in ever greater numbers, recognizing each other and bonding together, until the new cells are numerous enough to organize into clumps called "imaginal disks".
When enough imaginal disks have appeared (which is only a few percent of the caterpillar's body weight), the caterpillar's immune system is overwhelmed. Attaching to a branch, it forms a chrysalis—the enclosing shell within which the caterpillar's body then become a nutritious soup for the growth of the butterfly.
Will these groups actually promote a broader shift in consciousness? There is evidence that this is already happening. Paul Hawken estimated in 2003 that there were 150,000 such groups world-wide. Late last year the estimate was over 2 million. The growth is truly explosive. Many, many people are being captivated by their messages of hope and healing.
There is a global miracle taking place in front of our eyes, one in which we are all being called to participate.
I am a Canadian ecologist with a passionate interest in outside the box responses to the converging crisis of industrial civilization.
The crisis of civilization is not simply a convergence of technical, environmental and organizational problems. These are symptoms that are themselves being driven by a philosophical and perceptual disconnection so deep that it is best understood as a spiritual breakdown. The disconnection goes by the name of Separation.
Our sense of separation is what allows us to see ourselves as different from and superior to the rest of the apparently non-rational universe we live in. In this worldview the complex mutual interdependence of all the elements of the universe is replaced by a simple dualistic categorization: there are human beings, and everything else in the universe—without exception—is a resource for us to use.
The only way to keep this planet, our one and only home in the universe, from being ultimately ravaged and devastated is to change our worldview and heal our sense of separateness. Unless we can manage that breathtaking feat all the careful application of technology, all the well-intentioned regulations, all the unbridled cleverness of which we are so proud will do little to delay the final outcome, and nothing whatever to prevent it.
My desire is to find ways to heal that sense of separation, with the goal of helping us prepare for ecological adulthood.